December 31, 2016

All Romance eBooks Closing - Back Up Your Library Now!

All Romance eBooks (ARe)/OmniLit was one of the bigger ebook stores. It specialized in romance (obviously) and offered buy-10-get-1-free codes as well as a rebate system of eBook Bucks. I bought many a book there over the years (and downloaded more from their extensive collection of free books).

Normally I'd be saddened by another ebook retailer shutting their website down, but ARe is doing it in a particularly scummy way, as detailed over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Thus, I'm angry instead.

This is a notice that if you've ever bought anything there, you need to back up your library now. You have less than 24 hours, because the site shuts down permanently at midnight CST tonight.

I try to diversify from Amazon, but it can be so hard, can't it?

December 24, 2016

Bookish Gifts for Terrible Shoppers

If you don't have your Christmas shopping done, you're in a bit of a pickle. You're mostly stuck with e-gift cards. However, there's a few deals on gift cards of the bookish sort:

Litographics has 15% off their gift cards, today only. Use code GIFT15. These cards are nice because you can give the exact amount for one of their products.

Out of Print gift cards are 30% off through Christmas with the code EGIFT30.

Amazon also has a couple of useful deals. The 12-month Kindle Unlimited subscription is on sale for 25% off. Prime Now has free delivery through midnight tonight. No dealing with the grocery store rush if you forgot eggs!

Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

December 19, 2016

Movie Monday: Rogue One

I've been excited about Rogue One coming out, although not as excited as I would be for Episode VIII. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this side adventure.

Jyn (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of weapons designer for the Empire. He doesn't believe in the cause, but it's build or die. His brief rebellion did manage to get his daughter out of the control of the Empire, so they couldn't use her as a hostage against him. When he convinces a pilot to defect with news of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance contacts Jyn because she can help them confirm the tale.

What follows is a story that ranges over several planets as a rag-tag team of fighters attempts to prove that the Death Star exists and can be stopped.

While The Force Awakens assembled a cast of mostly unknown actors, Rogue One goes for more familiar faces like Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, and Donnie Yen. I like those actors, and don't think their higher profile distracted from their story. They faded into their roles quite well. I did enjoy that Rogue One allowed the actors to keep their accents instead of having everyone use an American or English accent.

Rogue One is darker than most Star Wars movies. It shows the side of the Rebel Alliance that veers into terrorist attacks. And the ending is more hopeful than happy. While my dad and I enjoyed the film together, Rogue One is not the best choice for families with smaller children. I don't think it's inappropriate for kids; just be prepared for potential discussion (or calming down upset kiddos) afterward. I think the ending fit the film, but it definitely takes a new tone for the universe. This one is more Empire than Return of the Jedi.

I've seen mixed reviews online, but both my dad and I enjoyed Rogue One. As always, I believe the best way to make a decision is to see something for yourself.

December 15, 2016

Review: The Hidden Oracle

The Hidden Oracle Book one of The Trials of Apollo
By Rick Riordan
Available now from Disney Hyperion
Review copy

Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson novels are great examples of children's books that can be fun for all ages. They're action packed and extra fun for anyone who enjoys spotting classical allusions. I feel like he's been growing as an author through each series, developing more complex plots and keeping his prose accessible but interesting. He's also made an impressive effort to diversify his books. For example, his Apollo is as casually bisexual as the god was in myth.

Apollo has been cast out of Olympus and into a mortal body by his father, Zeus. He must find a demigod to serve until he earns forgiveness. He ends up with Meg, a young homeless girl who is surprisingly capable. While THE HIDDEN ORACLE is best read by those familiar with previous books by Riordan, it is the start of a new series and puts the new characters front and center. Percy shows up a few times and Nico is present at Camp Half-Blood, but neither are that involved in the plot. There's also a stark contrast between Apollo and previous narrators, which gives THE HIDDEN ORACLE its own distinct feel.

I found Apollo's terrifically self-absorbed narration hilarious. Apollo is all about Apollo, and desperately trying to act as if getting knocked down a peg hasn't thrown him for a loop. And his centuries of experience aren't as helpful as they could be since he only has a mortal brain to rely on now (and let's face it, hasn't practiced thinking clearly and quickly in awhile). I found his character development a bit quick, but it is necessary to Apollo being useful. (And as much as he improves in THE HIDDEN ORACLE, he's got a long way to go.)

Meg is not just a sidekick. She's scrappy and clever, two things that are sure to appeal to many readers. And despite the fun, breezy tone of the novel, she's dealing with a rough past. I wasn't surprised by the reveal of her home life with her stepfather, but I'm sure it might be the first time some younger readers discover a story about how someone who seems to love you can hurt you. It's written with great empathy, and in a manner appropriate for the target audience.

This is one of those books where I finished and instantly looked up when the next book is coming out. Unfortunately, the answer is May. I'll have to wait until then to read THE DARK PROPHECY. I'll definitely be there to see what happens to Apollo, Meg, and a couple of surprise returning characters. This is an extremely promising start, and the Trials of Apollo could be the best part of the Percy Jackson universe yet.

December 13, 2016

Review: The Fate of the Tearling

The Fate of the Tearling Book three of the Queen of the Tearling trilogy
By Erika Johansen
Available now from Harper (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I am happy I began this trilogy when all three books were out, since this is the sort of series best read at a breathless clip, eager to find out what happens next. I'm certainly happy that I didn't have to stop at THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING, with Kelsea a prisoner.

The first book set up a fascinating world filled with danger in every corner, and the odd reminder every once in awhile that it was not a fantasy world, but a far future version of our world. The second book delved deeper into this by having Kelsea relive memories of Lily, a woman living at the time of the Crossing, the end of a dystopic period that gave rise to the country of the Tearling. I wasn't a fan of this method of revealing secrets of the Tearling's past, because I prefer fantasy to dystopian fiction, and there was a strong theme of reincarnation, which I've also never been a fan of.

THE FATE OF THE TEARLING, unfortunately, takes this thread up and runs with it, introducing even more past characters to reveal the secrets of Kelsea's sapphires, the Fetch, and the man in the fire. I admire how thoroughly Erika Johansen seeded her surreal twist in the story. THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING never hides that it is supposed to be our world, and the mystery of why it had to be set in our world when it didn't seem to fit was one I wanted answered. I simply preferred the more fantastical setting and the characters from the contemporary period of the novel, so I was sad to see the focus shift away from them.

In THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING, Kelsea was teetering on the brink of her worst instincts, her temper and the burgeoning war giving her a chance to indulge in cruelty instead of being the purely altruistic ruler she wanted to be. I found her corruption interesting, and felt that her arc was not entirely satisfying. For a series that focused much on the consequences of the characters' actions, Kelsea gets to sidestep the consequences of her own worst decision. I'm glad that things ended happily, against all hope, but the solution felt more like cheating than the hard-earned triumph Kelsea deserved.

While the ending didn't bring it home for me, I thought this trilogy was an incredibly fun read and it was full of characters I fell in love with. Lazarus, Kelsea's chosen regent and her most trusted man, was a personal favorite. He's a tough, hard-bitten man who couldn't be more obvious about how much he was searching for hope and someone to believe in. And I loved Father Tyler, an old priest who has a good heart and loves books and becomes the possessor of an important MacGuffin in THE FATE OF THE TEARLING.

I can see the populace of the Tearling having lives beyond where they intersect with Kelsea's journey, because Johansen wrote them with such nuance. Even the evil Red Queen, who has had her sympathetic moments from book one, gets to be more than evil even as she's moved into the position of the taunting captor.

I'm excited about whatever Johansen's next venture might be, especially if she decides to go for pure high fantasy. I can appreciate how she experimented with genre, even if the end effect wasn't for me.

November 30, 2016

The Tearling Trilogy

I am currently reading the Tearling trilogy by Erika Johansen for TLC book tours. I'm excited to read this series because I've heard very mixed things and I always like to experience a thing for myself so that I can make my own judgment. I trust other people to guide me, but I like having the final say.

It is unfortunately slow going because I've ended up having to run errands on my lunch break pretty frequently the past several weeks, which is my main reading time. Luckily, there isn't a major holiday this week so I'll have more time on my weekend. Keep coming back for my reviews!

November 22, 2016

Review: The Dude Diet

The Dude Diet Clean(ish) Food for People Who Like to Eat Dirty
By Serena Wolf
Available now from Harper Wave (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I knew I was going to love THE DUDE DIET from the moment I saw that lovely plate of nachos on the cover. Serena Wolf is the blogger behind Domesticate Me, which started by journaling her efforts to get her boyfriend Logan to eat better. Now, there are a lot of blog-to-cookbooks out there, and not all of them are worth it. (Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is my gold standard, in case you want to question my taste.) Wolf has experience going for her; she's not just a blogger, she's also a Le Cordon Bleu Paris graduate and recipe developer.

Because THE DUDE DIET started as a blog, it is written in a very conversational tone. This makes it approachable, although I'll admit to liking my recipes in plain jane English. (I think I shuddered when quesadilla was shortened to 'dilla.) For the other downside, I do dislike the intense slant towards dudes. It makes sense in the context of Wolf's blog, where she was developing a diet for a specific dude. But the back copy of this cookbook rubs me the wrong way. There are plenty of women out there who could use a course in how to make easy, filling, and balanced meals. Fortunately, most of the dude focus is just the marketing.

THE DUDE DIET starts off strong with an intro about Wolf's inspiration and her boyfriend's decision to change his life for the better. As I grow farther away from my college metabolism, I've certainly been compelled to cut out more of my cheat foods and up the vegetable content of my go-to meals. I could related. Wolf also gives a quick set of "Dude Diet Commandments" to give you general guidelines to follow even if the recipes aren't floating your boat. Then there's an extremely helpful chapter on which staples to stock your pantry with and which kitchen tools to buy. (Not all at once, of course.) I've lived on my own long enough to own most of Wolf's recommendations, but THE DUDE DIET is very much written to be accessible and useful to cooking novices.

Speaking of life changes, almost immediately after my review copy of THE DUDE DIET arrived I got adult braces.

You know you wish your smile was this metal.
That meant a fun week of eating mushy food and longing for absolutely any texture. You discover a new rock bottom of food when you're contemplating how much the snack you're eating tastes like baby food and you look down and see that it was made by a baby food manufacturer. I'm past that hump, thankfully, but I am still working on expanding my chewing repertoire and have to follow the typical braces restrictions after that. None of those nachos on the cover for me; I can't eat corn (or other hard) chips.

Fortunately, THE DUDE DIET contained foods I can still eat. Scrambled eggs are very friendly to those who don't have much chomping force, and the Big Green Scramble adds some nice soft greens like sauteed zucchini and spinach to the eggs. It's a simple recipe that adds some extra nutrient punch without making the process of scrambling eggs that much more time consuming. And I definitely have the Chocolate Chip Banana Pancakes saved for a slow weekend.

The recipes range from breakfast and dinner to dessert and cocktails. Sometimes, as with the Chronic Chili Cheese Dogs, they might not be that far off what you do already, just with suggestions such as whole-wheat buns and 100% bison dogs.

Others go farther afield, like the Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Chicken Sausage. (Which does remain easy to cook.) I made this without the sausage for a softer texture. I also left out the Dijon (because I don't like mustard) and the panko breadcrumbs (because I do not understand putting a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs on top of creamy mac and cheese and ruining the mouthfeel). Adjusted to my preferences and needs, it was pretty similar to my family's mac and cheese recipe, and I didn't really notice the addition of the cauliflower. (I did notice the lack of egg providing a nice binding element, so I might toss that in the next time I try this with the sausage.)

THE DUDE DIET is a beautiful cookbook full of recipes that got my imagination going. The fact that they're healthy is a major bonus. I look forward to making many more of the meals within. This cookbook is definitely going on my keeper shelf.

November 7, 2016

Movie Monday: We Are X

X Japan is one of the founding groups of the Japanese visual kei genre (arguably the founding group) and have attained international success in their three decades as a band. They have a unique sound that mixes speed metal with pop balladry, driven by the skills of band leader, song writer, drummer, and pianist Yoshiki.

Yet like many foreign bands, especially those that don't sing in English, they've never found mainstream success in the US.

We Are X is a British documentary framed by X Japan's concert at Madison Square Garden on October 11, 2014. It starts with a glimpse of the successful concert, then delves into how the band got there. Yoshiki remains the focus, but each band member gets some time in the spotlight (except for new guitarist Sugizo). Most of the strife facing the band in We Are X is Yoshiki's health problems, including asthma, a torn ligament, tendonitis, and more. It is only toward the end that the deaths of lead guitarist hide and former bassist Taiji are addressed.

There's very little of X Japan's actual music in We Are X. If you aren't a fan, don't expect to get a real sense of their sound, as only tiny snippets are ever played. (And no snippets of my favorite song, "Silent Jealousy".) In fact, a sense of X Japan at all is hard to grasp. For all the focus on Yoshiki, he is a reticent subject in interviews. He can be poetic about his musical journey, but many questions get simple, intriguing answers that he refuses to give a follow up on. (The reason Taiji was fired remains a secret.)

There are some moments of intrigue that will draw viewers in, such as the decade the vocalist Toshi spent in a cult that brainwashed him to believe X Japan's music was demonic. This moment is teased early in We Are X, then more fully explored in the section about Toshi.

I found We Are X to be a frustrating documentary, too shallow for fans and too disjointed for newcomers. The chronology is all over the place, and not much is done to help viewers sort out the timelines or keep the various personalities straight. Stan Lee, Gene Simmons, and Marilyn Manson are all introduced as Yoshiki's fans and American champions of the band, but there's no insight given into what brought them into X Japan's orbit.

The documentary is beautifully shot and edited, with a sense of style more often seen in art films. Archival footage of the band is used to show their more colorful years, and it is genuinely affecting to see lingering close-ups of hide in his last live performance with the band in 1997. There is plenty within We Are X to encourage viewers to explore more deeply into the band's history and discography.

This is a documentary that shows even without sex and drugs, rock n' roll can take a physical and mental toll on musicians. It also explores the question of how such a talented, successful band can fail to break into the American market. Many interviewed scorn America's closemindedness to music not in English; X Japan just laments their inability to learn how to sing in English natively.

X Japan is a fascinating band that deserved a feature documentary. I wanted more from We Are X, and I'm not sure if my high expectations doomed my watching experience from the very beginning. Still, I'm glad it got made and that it's popularity at Sundance has helped bring more attention to X Japan.

November 6, 2016

A Date with a Misprint

Today at Barnes and Nobel, I purchased an amazing misprint of A Date at the Altar, the new novel by Cathy Maxwell.

As you can see, especially if you look at the series title Marrying the Duke, one layer being off misaligns all of them. The main image is too far up, revealing the gutter. (Some alignment marks are visible.) The gloss is left on its own, as is the metallic embossing. You can even see where the X cuts off to accommodate the lady's hair.

I checked and the inside is perfectly readable, so I happily bought this misprinted copy. I love the way it reveals the work that goes into making a perfect copy look so snazzy.

October 24, 2016

Movie Monday: War Dogs

War Dogs If asked to guess what the director of the Hangover trilogy's follow-up project would be, I wouldn't have guessed it would be a political satire about war profiteers and the way the US government enables them.

Miles Teller stars as David Packouz, a masseuse who is drawn to the glamorous life of arms dealing by his childhood friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). The story of War Dogs is based on the Rolling Stone article "The Stoner Arms Dealers" by Guy Lawson and is generally more friendly to David than Efraim. Efraim is portrayed as a sociopath with a hilariously fake, creepy giggle. (Hill's giggle made my theater laugh every time.)

It's a fascinating story, and enough to carry much of the movie. The US government outsourced many contracts for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, giving small outlets a chance to make big money, including two twentysomethings who didn't know anything. To underbid genuine contractors, all they had to do was make shady deals with people the government couldn't work with directly.

Todd Phillips does a great job pointing out how outrageous it is, including the fact that the real Packouz and Diveroli will soon be eligible to sale arms again. At the same time, he's clearly very impressed with two dudes who managed to make a ton of money (unethically).

Teller and Hill do great work, as usual, and Bradley Cooper is strong in a small role as a real-deal arms dealer. I was impressed by Ana de Armas as Iz, David's wife. She gets the role of the nag who harshes David's buzz, but Armas does a great job of selling her vulnerability. She's a woman with a kid to protect, who wants to know that she can trust her husband far more than she wants a fancy apartment.

Phillips injects a great deal of flashy style into the proceedings, keeping the movie rolling along even when there's exposition about just how arms deals work. He even goes for an arty ambiguous ending. War Dogs is a fun movie most of the time, but it is also a sobering one.

October 16, 2016

Ladies' Night at Bedrock Comics

Yesterday, Bedrock Comics held a Ladies' Night of Horror with Hope Larson and Amy Chu at their flagship location on Westheimer. (Bedrock Comics has five locations throughout Houston.)

The night started after regular store hours and included food and drinks, a Skype Q&A with Larson and Chu, a coloring contest, a costume contest, and raffles.

I got there a little late and missed the very beginning of the Q&A. What I did hear was quite fascinating. Women in mainstream comics really have reached a tipping point. In five years, Marvel has gone from having zero female-led titles to 22. I did appreciate that Larson, who started and still works in indie comics as well, notes that women have always been working in comics outside the establishment. I also liked their observations on the growing diversity in comics, and how working with LGBTQ creators helps them expand their horizons even if they don't realize what they're doing at the time.

I did not participate in the costume contest, but there was some stiff competition. I did participate in the coloring contest, although I was too distracted by other things to put in much of a respectable effort. But I did go home with prizes, since I won a raffle -- a Supergirl apron and a DC Bombsells Supergirl bottle-opener keychain.

When I attend events like this, I always want to buy something to support the store. However, I was reluctant to buy too much since Bedrock Comics' giant Halloween sale starts October 28th. Fortunately, they gave all attendees 20% off.

I purchased two clearance T-shirts, one Power Rangers and one Doctor Who. I picked up the issues I needed to catch up on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina plus the first issue of the new Midnighter and Apollo mini.

I had a bunch of fun hanging out with other female comic-book fans. Bedrock Comics intends to hold their next Ladies' Night in March, and I hope to attend that one too. I think it is great that the store is doing events like this and hope they can continue to grow attendance and participation in the contests.

October 12, 2016

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Boy Is Back

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

The Boy is Back I love Meg Cabot. I don't love each and every one of her books, but she has written far more hits than misses in my opinion. Her stories are funny and romantic with a touch of feminist edge.

Recently, she's been returning to old series. Next week, on October 18, a new book in her "Boy" series is coming out. This is one of her adult series, and I remember it consisting mostly of unrelated contemporary romcoms. (I read the last one when it came out in 2005; it's been awhile.)

I'm quite excited to read it, because I love a good cute romance.

Here's the publisher's blurb:

In this brand-new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot, a scandal brings a young man back home to the small town, crazy family, and first love he left behind.

Reed Stewart thought he’d left all his small town troubles—including a broken heart—behind when he ditched tiny Bloomville, Indiana, ten years ago to become rich and famous on the professional golf circuit.  Then one tiny post on the Internet causes all of those troubles to return . . . with a vengeance.

Becky Flowers has worked hard to build her successful senior relocation business, but she’s worked even harder to forget Reed Stewart ever existed. She has absolutely no intention of seeing him when he returns—until his family hires her to save his parents.

Now Reed and Becky can’t avoid one another—or the memories of that one fateful night.  And soon everything they thought they knew about themselves (and each other) has been turned upside down, and they—and the entire town of Bloomville—might never be the same, all because The Boy Is Back. 

Seriously, doesn't THE BOY IS BACK sound fun? I trust Cabot to make a romantic cliche shine.

October 6, 2016

Review: The Bitch is Back

The Bitch is Back Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier
Sequel to The Bitch in the House
Edited by Cathi Hanauer
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Review copy

THE BITCH IS BACK is a collection of twenty-six essays by women in their forties, fifties, and sixties. Many of those women first contributed essays to THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE back in 2002, although some of the contributors are new.

I have not read THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE, but was still attracted to THE BITCH IS BACK due to the promise of stories about real, older women. When there is a repeat contributor, her essay is prefaced by a short explanation of her previous essay and how the two connect. I don't feel that I was missing context, but I do want to read THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE, which is noted multiple times to be the angrier of the two anthologies.

There is no overarching theme to the essays, although they're roughly arranged into four groups (midlife crisis, sex, rocky marriages, starting over). Each one is a personal essay that tackles what the author wants to say about her life and her choices. The contributors all have strong voices, although some of them have stories we've heard before.

Part of the reason there is no overarching theme is because editor Cathi Hanauer solicited  stories from a range of women. Jennifer Finney Boylan is a transgender woman, who writes about maintaining her relationship with her wife through her transition. Kathy Thomas is poor, her life of hard blue collar work a sharp contrast to some of the more privileged contributors. Veronica Chambers is black Latina, and writes about how her relationship with religion isn't traditional but still conflicts with her husband's atheism.

What I appreciate about this anthology is that it not only shows how many ways there are to be a woman, but that life continues. Most of these women have been through terrible things, including divorce, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, but they're still living and breathing and doing.

I wouldn't read all of THE BITCH IS BACK at once, because the essays can get monotonous. But it is nice to dole out these women's stories, because they've been through interesting times.

September 27, 2016

Review: Sunset in Central Park

Sunset in Central Park Second in the From Manhattan with Love series
By Sarah Morgan
Available now from HQN (Harlequin)
Review copy

I felt that SLEEPLESS IN MANHATTAN (my review) was charming, but spent too much time setting up the other two romances in the From Manhattan with Love series. Luckily, SUNSET IN CENTRAL PARK keeps the focus on Frankie and Matt.

Paige and Eva, Frankie's best friends, don't lack romance entirely. Eva's prospective hero is mentioned once at the beginning of the book, and then she shows up only in a friend capacity, both offering support and needing it. Jake and Paige's relationship is referenced, but Jake only shows up briefly, mostly to serve as Matt's best friend.

Matt has been in love with Frankie for a long time, but Frankie doesn't believe in love and is reluctant to trust any romantic partners. Her father cheated on her mom, her mom decided to continually pursue men, and there was an attempted sexual assault. Frankie's issues did not come out of nowhere. But when Matt's flirting gets blatant enough, Frankie realizes that she wants to respond, even if she has no clue how.

SUNSET IN CENTRAL PARK is really Frankie's story. Matt is cute and wonderful, but the focus has to be on Frankie since she's the one keeping them apart. Matt is all in from the beginning. (A bit too all in for my taste, at times. Let a girl decide to date you on her own!) I did like that as Frankie confronted her past, she realized that some things were as bad as she remembered, but that she'd inflated other things in her mind because she'd been a hurting teen girl.

The bright purple cartoons and hearts cover promises a light read, but Sarah Morgan has served up a cute romance surrounded by darkness. There's also a significant subplot about a woman escaping her abusive ex. It's not a difficult read, but I suspect Eva's story will be the most bubbly and effervescent in the series. Frankie has too many sharp edges for a romance that is smooth summer sailing.

I thought SUNSET IN CENTRAL PARK improved on SLEEPLESS IN MANHATTAN and I look forward to Eva's romance to conclude the series.

September 26, 2016

Movie Monday: Morgan

Morgan is the first film directed by Luke Scott, the son of legendary director Ridley Scott. It is a science-fiction thriller, much like his father is known for. It isn't devoid of style, but it felt very direct. What symbolism is present on-screen served only to make the final turn the story takes obvious. But while Morgan isn't the introduction of a brilliant new voice, it is a solidly entertaining flick.

Anna Taylor-Joy stars as the eponymous character opposite Kate Mara as Lee Weathers, a risk-management consultant. Anna Taylor-Joy gave a knockout performance that made it clear she's a future star in The Witch. Morgan is a more closed off character, tasked with being magnetic and childlike and inhuman and creepy and feminine yet androgynous. It's a lot to try to convey through a character whose emotions are internalized until they explode. I definitely think Taylor-Joy seemed to have more fun when Morgan was out of control.

Mara, however, is entirely fantastic as the cold, professional Lee. Most of the other characters resent her for encroaching on their project, which is now in jeopardy. Morgan, an artificial human, is a potential product line for the company. But she's attacked one of her handlers (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and now the company must assess whether she's viable or not. Lee hasn't raised Morgan, and seems disturbed by how the researchers have humanized her. Meanwhile, it seems disturbing to the viewer how easily Lee can dehumanizing something that looks human and appears to have human reactions.

The cast is a parade of familiar faces for science fiction fans, including Rose Leslie, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, and Brian Cox, among others. It's a small cast, but everyone does good work. You can feel how fervently most of them care for Morgan, while only a few have held themselves objective enough to see Morgan's bursts of temper as a very bad sign.

The story won't surprise any long-time science fiction fans. Morgan doesn't bring much to meditations of what does or doesn't make us human. But it offers some well-choreographed mayhem and more than a few powerful performances, which is enough for me. It's a fun way to take a break on a hot summer afternoon.

(I know it is officially fall, but it still feels like summer where I am.)

September 22, 2016

Review: Closed Casket

Closed Casket By Sophie Hannah
Featuring Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I have not read THE MONOGRAM MURDERS, Sophie Hannah's first outing as the authorized novelist of new Hercule Poirot mysteries. I have peeked at the reviews, which don't seem very kind. I didn't mind going into CLOSED CASKET without having read it; after all I've read the original Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie in a very hodge-podge fashion. (The order I read them in depended mostly on what the library had in stock.)

After a prologue featuring a meeting between a Lady Playford and her solicitor, the novel is narrated by Inspector Edward Catchpool, a character invented by Hannah. His voice isn't as memorable as many of Christie's narratives. In fact, I struggle to name a defining feature for the character. He's a policeman who is not as smart as Poirot, and that's about it. He felt a touch like a placeholder, a character there merely to narrate.

This impression may be aided by the fact that many of the other characters are strong personalities. The murder victim, Joseph Scotcher, is a charismatic man and compulsive liar who makes an impression before his untimely exit. Lady Playford, Scotcher's employer and the host of the house party all of the characters are at, is an older woman with a mind for intrigue. She's also a novelist of mysteries herself, and I'd be curious on her view of events. The chapter where Catchpool relates her testimony is certainly one of the most compelling, both clear eyed and blinded by optimism.

CLOSED CASKET does suffer some from too little Poirot. He goes off to chase a lead in Oxford and disappears for what felt like half the book. I wanted more scenes with him, because the curmudgeonly Belgian is why I picked up the book in the first place.

Honestly, the narration is a disappointment to me because Christie's prose wasn't flashy, but it never failed to draw me deep into the story. The mystery itself is well constructed, and I enjoyed the simplicity of the solution to what seemed to be a very complex snarl. It's not an Agatha Christie novel, but it is a fine mystery.

September 16, 2016

Excerpt and Giveaway: Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost I loved Zoraida Córdova's The Vicious Deep trilogy, and I've been keeping an eye on what she's written since, which includes several romances. Then the gorgeous cover of LABYRINTH LOST was revealed and I knew I had to read it.

Today, I have an excerpt and giveaway to share with you so that you can experience the first book of the Brooklyn Brujas for yourself.

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives. 
Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.
The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Book Trailer Link:
Labyrinth Lost Coloring Page:
About the Author:
Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of the Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and the Brooklyn Brujas series. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro or visit her at
Follow our voices, sister.
Tell us the secret of your death.
—-Resurrection Canto,
Book of Cantos

The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.
Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”
But I was seven and asked too many questions. Every Sunday, cars piled up in our driveway, down the street, and around the corner of our old, narrow house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mom’s Circle usually brought cellophane--wrapped dishes and jars of dirt and tubs of brackish water that made the Hudson River look clean. This time, they carried something more.

September 14, 2016

Review: Who's That Girl?

Who's That Girl? By Mhairi McFarlane
Available now from Harper (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Edie and her catty friend Louis are at a wedding for two of their coworkers, but when Edie leaves for a breath of air the groom follows - and kisses her. This is witnessed by the bride and instantly makes Edie persona non grata for trying to break up the happy couple on their wedding day.

I love that Edie never blames herself for this act. Jack's the one who chose to kiss her. However, throughout WHO'S THAT GIRL? she grapples with the messages they exchanged and the attention she encouraged. She's got to figure out why she was content to get strung along by a cad like Jack if she's going to be confident in herself.

Since Edie's boss appreciates her talent, he finds her a job outside the office in her hometown: ghostwrite the autobiography of popular TV star Elliot Owen. Things get off to a horrible start, but Edie soon realizes Elliot isn't just a spoiled primadonna. In fact, she rather likes him, but is determined to be professional and keep her distance. Unsurprisingly, both of them manage to make a hash of actually communicating their feelings.

WHO'S THAT GIRL? is a fun later-in-life coming-of-age (Edie is 36), with a romance that builds believably. It's a gentle read, despite the turbulence of Edie's love life and the sadness in her past. She's learning how to reconnect with her sister, makes a connection with her father's bitter elderly neighbor, and reunites with her two best friends who are both terrific. (I'd read books about them!) There's a good sense of place, and I enjoyed figuring out what the British slang meant.

Don't be fooled by the thickness of the spine. I finished WHO'S THAT GIRL? in a single, breezy afternoon. I enjoyed seeing Edie come to believe that she was as vivacious and attractive as her true friends told her. (And man, there is a great scene in this novel for seeing a toxic person get their comeuppance.) I'm definitely planning on giving Mhairi McFarlane's other books a try.

September 12, 2016

Movie Monday: Billionaire Ransom

Billionaire Ransom is a wonderfully ridiculous film that mostly stars actors from the CW.

Kyle (Jeremy Sumpter) meets Amy (Phoebe Tonkin) at a party where they both get wasted and decide to leave together. He wrecks the car and then leaves the site of the crash without checking whether she's all right. This makes things very awkward when they get sent to the same tiny reform school on a Scottish island.

Fortunately, the school teaches everyone survival skills, which the spoiled scions will need when a trio of mercenaries attacks the school to kidnap the kids for a billion dollar ransom.

The group of students and teachers is international, but Billionaire Ransom makes the odd choice to have Sumpter speak with an American accent. (Sebastian Koch, who plays his father, doesn't.) Sumpter has obviously been acting since he was a child, making his big break in Peter Pan. If I didn't know that, I might think this was his first film due to the strangeness of his line readings. Letting him keep his accent might have helped.

Despite her prominence in the marketing materials, Phoebe Tonkin is mostly on hand to be a damsel in distress. (She does get one cool, if gory, action scene.) The focus is weighted much more towards Kyle than Amy.

As goofy as Billionaire Ransom is, I thought the growing camaraderie between the rich kids was done well and seeing them battle the mercenaries was fun. One of the mercenaries is even portrayed somewhat sympathetically, although the other two are cartoonishly evil. Ed Westwick, at least, gives good Eurotrash.

I'm not going to convince you that Billionaire Ransom is a good movie, but luckily it isn't even aiming for that status. What it wants to be is a fun movie, one that you want to watch late at night with some snacks and a few friends to unwind for the weekend. It accomplishes that just fine.

August 29, 2016

Movie Monday: Hell or High Water

I had high hopes for this bank robbers film set in West Texas. Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) are robbing branches of Texas Midlands Bank to get the money to pay off the reverse mortgage on their recently deceased mother's ranch. All they want is $43,000, so they can make low pressure robberies that don't even open the vault.

Hell or High Water follows both the brothers and their biggest obstacle: two Texas Rangers, played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. All they have to do is narrow it down to which branch of Texas Midlands Bank will be hit next.

I enjoyed the way the story twisted and turned, revealing more about the brothers' motivation and master plan as well as the work friendship between the Rangers. Both sets of partners are antagonistic but fond.

West Texas is a very different place from where I live in Texas, but I know oil workers and they are hurting right now. Combined with the collapse of the housing market, many people have lost their homes. It's easy to see why even a lawyer might want to stick it to the banks, or why a waitress might be won over by a large tip.

Yet something about Hell or High Water left me cold, despite the solid story and performances. It's perhaps too slick, and needs to take a bit of gritty inspiration from its setting. It's a good movie, but more one that might catch your attention when it comes on cable.  But there's some missing element that keeps me from calling it great.

August 15, 2016

Movie Monday: Pete's Dragon

Pete's Dragon in 1977
The 1977 Pete's Dragon was my sister's absolute favorite movie when we were growing up. That meant that I hated it on principle and threw a fit every time she made me watch it. (I would get my revenge with The Lion King, which I think we can all agree is the superior movie.)

When I got a chance to see the new version with a Q&A after with writer-director David Lowery I decided to go for it, if only to taunt my sister with it. (All she really cared about when I told her was if it would break her Pete's Dragon-loving heart.)

The remake has very little in common with the original, aside from being about a young orphan named Pete who is companions with a dragon named Elliot who is sometimes invisible. This has its upsides and downsides. There's little point in a remake that simply retreads the original. At the same time, it feels a bit silly to even call this movie a remake.

The new Pete's Dragon starts with a rather wrenching car wreck that leaves Pete an orphan. The camera stays focused on Pete during the actual wreck, but it is still a harrowing sequence. Young Pete is left stranded in the woods near Millhaven, Oregon. His only companionship for the next several years is Elliot, the dragon who helps him survive. While this avoids comparison with the original, it invites comparison to both Tarzan and the Jungle Book, both of which had new movie versions come out this year.

Pete returns to civilization when a logging operation brings people close enough for him to encounter a kindly park ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). What follows is a fairly predictable tale of finding family that builds up to some explosions for the finish. The story feels very by the book.

However, Pete's Dragon isn't devoid of flair. The film was shot in New Zealand, and the sweeping vistas of endless green forests make a silent but powerful case for the movie's environmental message. The soundtrack might not have the inimitable Helen Reddy, but it does have a lovely folk tune woven throughout that will worm its way into your head. The cast is game, from Wes Bentley and Karl Urban playing two brothers at odds to Robert Redford as Grace's father. Oakes Fegley (Pete) and Oona Lawrence (Natalie, a new friend) both do a wonderful job of interacting with Elliot and making it seem as if a dragon were really on set.

Don't go into Pete's Dragon expecting a retread, but don't go in expecting something staggeringly original either. Go in expecting a beautiful film with strong performances that is suitable for most of the family. (Some sequences might be intense for very young children.) I don't think my sister will be heartbroken.

August 3, 2016

Review: Day Zero

Day Zero Companion book to the Arcana Chronicles
By Kresley Cole
Available now from Valkyrie Press
Review copy

The fourth Arcana Chronicles novel, ARCANA RISING, comes out later this month. In anticipation, Kresley Cole has released DAY ZERO. This companion novel contains profiles of each of the Arcana and Jack, including nicknames, powers, weapons, tableau, unique characteristics, and who they were before the flash. The Fool's file is heavily redacted and The Hanged Man's is completely blacked out since that character isn't known yet.

The meat of this companion book is the short stories that accompany the profile of each character who is still alive. Cole writes about what they were doing on Day Zero, when the Flash destroyed most of humanity. Evie's is the longest, which is a bit of a cheat since hers is the relevant passages from THE POISON PRINCESS (my review). Fans will be particularly interested in Aric and Jack's stories, and I did love that Jack's explains part of why he was such a jerk at first. Cole wisely begins and ends DAY ZERO with their sections.

However, they weren't the standouts for me. Many of the shorts involve romance, which isn't surprising since that is the genre where Cole got her start. (And is, of course, still active with her Immortals After Dark series.) Circe's is passionate and sad and makes me wish that her love story gets an eventual happy end (even though I know it won't happen). Sol's is likewise tragic. Calanthe's turns surprisingly sweet, and Selena's is full of deserved wrath. I thought Tess's was a strong end to the minor character stories, with a beautiful scene of parental love.

DAY ZERO contains spoilers for the three Arcana Chronicles already available, and is truly geared towards fans only. I don't think Cole is shortchanging them. Fans can happily pick up this companion book without feeling they're only getting information regurgitated from the novels. The stories do a wonderful job of bringing more personality to each of the Arcana, even the awful ones (Richter, ugh). It makes their inevitable deaths in the games more upsetting. She lets each of her antagonists be people who all have their own hope of being the hero.

August 1, 2016

Movie Monday: The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I've seen a lot of great movies this year, because it has been a great year for film. One of The Lobster, Swiss Army Man, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the best movie I've seen so far, but each is so different that it is hard to choose.  

Hunt for the Wilderpeople, at its heart, is a story about finding family through difficult journeys. That schmaltzy sentiment hardly seems cheesy at all when it comes in the story of a man (Sam Neill) and boy (Julian Dennison) who become the subjects of a manhunt after they're accidentally stuck in the bush for six weeks.

Ricky Baker has gone from foster home to foster home, and this is the end of the line for him. But Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) has created a welcoming, loving home, and gives him the space he needs to decide to stay (in between hunting pigs with the help of her dog). When she dies, Ricky doesn't want to leave, but social services won't leave him with Bella's partner Herc -- and the asocial Herc just wants to go into the bush and escape from civilization for awhile. We all know the odd couple of Ricky and Herc will love each other by the end, but how they get there is a singularly offbeat journey.

The scenery of New Zealand, of course, makes for beautiful cinematography. Taika Waititi (director and writer of the adaptation) doesn't rest on that beauty. He adds danger, both natural and human, and plenty of fun. He has a way with crafting narratives that are funny even if you aren't laughing out loud every other moment. (Not that there aren't parts that will crack you up.) There's just an ineffable comic sensibility.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople isn't afraid to be sad or to touch on the serious issues faced by kids in the foster system. It gets dark. That only makes the light more exuberant. It's hard, like Ricky finds, not to get caught up in the rush.

July 27, 2016

Review: The Ninja's Daughter

The Ninja's Daughter The fourth Hiro Hattori mystery
By Susan Spann
Available August 2nd from Seventh Street Books (Prometheus Books)
Review copy

I have not read the previous Hiro Hattori mysteries, but it was easy to catch up on the basics. Hiro is a ninja in disguise as a ronin, following mysterious orders to protect a Portuguese priest. Said priest, Father Mateo, keeps getting him involved in solving crimes when he'd rather focus on protecting his charge.

Their latest mystery hits close to home for Hiro, however. Emi was found strangled on the banks of a river by a young man she had been flirting with. The officials are uninterested in her case since she was just a daughter from an acting family. Secretly, her father is a former ninja and uncle to Hiro. He calls upon their family ties to get Hiro interested in who killed Emi.

You don't have to know much about Japanese history to enjoy THE NINJA'S DAUGHTER, but it does make parts more fun. For instance, there are many nods to famous figures of sixteenth-century Japan. Mostly, the outsider of Father Mateo is used to introduce cultural concepts. One he struggles with is the fact that Emi would've been seen as more respectable as a prostitute than what she was -- an actor's daughter who liked to walk with men by the river. (The book is ambiguous about whether Emi ever actually worked as a prostitute to further her dreams.)

I found Emi a compelling murder victim, a woman out of her time and place, who wanted a career instead of a husband and children. There's a good mix of people with motive to kill her. I came to find the title a bit distasteful, since Emi deserved a title focused more on who she was than her father, especially since many people were interested in finding out who killed her for money or ambition or anything but justice for her. The ending brought me right back around to liking it, fortunately.

There's also an ongoing plot about Hiro and Father Mateo's relationship. Father Mateo reveals a secret past that I found disappointing, and I can't imagine long-time readers would find much more satisfying. But I did enjoy how clearly protecting Father Mateo is more than a job to Hiro, and the bond of mutual respect between the men. I'm curious what will happen to them in the next book, since Father Mateo had to flee the city in fear of the shogun, straight to the home of Hiro's clan.

If you like your mysteries with immersive settings and complex motives, THE NINJA'S DAUGHTER is a good choice. I'm not rushing out to read the earlier books, but I'll certainly pick them up if they cross my path.

July 25, 2016

Movie Monday: NERVE

NERVE is a new teen technological thriller opening this Wednesday, July 27th. Thanks to the ever trusty Alamo Drafthouse, I was able to attend an early showing. I mostly wanted to see it since Dave Franco plays the male lead, _ian_.  (Who I shall now call Ian instead of stylizing it like the screenname it is.)

Nerve I didn't know this, but NERVE is actually based on a book by Jeanne Ryan. I haven't read it, but I might pick it up because screenwriter Jessica Sharzer obviously had good material to work with. The technology is more reasonable than many similar thrillers -- phrases like 'open source,' 'dark web,' and more are actually used in the correct manner.

NERVE is a game. You can play for free or pay to watch. Players win by completing dares from the watchers in the time given and move up the ranks by gaining more watchers as they complete riskier dares for more and more money. NERVE scrapes details from players' social media profiles, so watchers can tailor dares to their fears: talking to boys, heights, and more.

I appreciated that NERVE didn't focus on bad things happening to players on-screen. This isn't about seeing a bunch of teens get maimed. It's about social pressure, how much access people can gain to your life through social media, and how making risky decisions can escalate after you overcome previous challenges. I also appreciated that the main characters, like Vee (Emma Roberts), were essentially good people who are doing their best to be ethical even if it goes against the game. I particularly liked how NERVE wove a secondary character throughout the story, building well to the reveal of his true character at a climatic moment. This is a thriller that grounds its story in character.

(Okay, I'll also mention that I loved that Vee's best friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) clearly has a crush on her, but doesn't turn against her when she starts falling for Ian even though he's clearly hurt. He keeps working to help her out, because they're friends. There are just so many good people in this story about how evil people can be when they don't have to face the consequences.)

Vee isn't the type to be a player, or so all her friends say. She can't even hit accept for the school she wants to go to, because she's afraid of her mother's reaction. (Juliette Lewis plays her mother, doing good work in a minor role.) Her brother died a few years ago, and her mother reacted by becoming smothering. But after her best friend accidentally humiliates her in public, Vee is ready to take control of her own life -- by letting complete strangers tell her what to do. Hey, she's a teenager.

NERVE is a fun little thriller with a cool look and winning characters. It wears its moral on its sleeve, but I think the earnestness works for it. Sometimes it is nice to watch a thriller with a heart instead of one that revels in nastiness. There's a place for both.

July 21, 2016

Review: The Devourers

The Devourers By Indra Das
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I was drawn to THE DEVOURERS by the beautiful traditional illustration on the cover.  Chris Panatier did the front and back cover illustration with ink and watercolor on board, and the full piece can be seen on his Deviantart. The lush, claustrophobic illustration pairs perfectly with the way the beauty of the story envelops you.

I found the opening of THE DEVOURERS somewhat disappointing. It seemed to be devoted to being overly edgy, with the narrator Alok meeting a man with a strange story of being a half-werewolf. Alok agrees to transcribe a set of scrolls for him, and starts with the story of Fenrir, a werewolf who rapes a human woman. Luckily, the novel brought up the exact objection I had and takes a turn into the story of Cyrah, the woman pregnant by a werewolf and determined to confront him with the beast of Gevaudan by her side.

I found Cyrah's tale the most compelling part of THE DEVOURERS. She makes tough decisions for complex reasons, and manages to have true empathy for her traveling companion.  I enjoyed the way that she was able to suss out more of the werewolf culture and find a place for herself bargaining with Fenrir's transgression.  She's a clever, determined woman who is allowed to be angry.

I found that the edginess of THE DEVOURERS evened out as I read. Gender and sexuality are explored through both the nature of these nonhuman creatures and the way they interact with humans. The gore is delightfully horrific, both repulsive and drawing on the human love of the macabre. There's also a lot to enjoy if you like explorations of different cultures, as both historical and modern non-Western human cultures come into play and each tribe of werewolves have their own cultures that shape the characters' behavior.

At first I thought THE DEVOURERS was going to disappoint me, another literary book with a faint layer of the supernatural as an excuse to be shocking. But the book grew on me and I fell under its lovely spell, to find out what happened to Cyrah, Gevaudan, her son, and Alok. And to be sure that Fenrir wasn't forgiven or redeemed.

Indra Das does use a very poetic style that might alienate some (as might the content), but it worked well for me. I also found that there was just enough difference in language between the narrators to make them clearly different people but not disrupt the tone. I certainly look forward to Das' next novel.

July 20, 2016

Review Rerun: Returning to Shore

I recently traveled to St. Simons Island, Georgia. When you cross from the mainland to the island using the causeway, you might notice extra large holes in the highway dividers. These allow the terrapin turtles to make it across.

The nearby Jekyll Island is the home of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.  This center offers a chance to learn about these animals and conservation efforts, and to participate yourself. Since it is currently nesting season, efforts to ensure that the turtle nests are protected are in high gear.

Thinking about these animals led me to remember RETURNING TO SHORE, which I first reviewed in 2014.

Returning to Shore By Corinne Demas
Available now from Carolrhoda Books (Lerner)
Review copy

RETURNING TO SHORE is a brief book, not particularly fast paced but a quick read by virtue of its brevity.  It's cover is bleak, but the book is anything but.  It's a simple tale, enlivened with a touch of quirk and symbolism.

Clare has lived with her mother since her parent's divorce.  She loved her stepfather, and still misses him, even as her mother is marrying for the third time.  But she doesn't have much time to contemplate her dislike of her new stepfather before she's swept off to a small Cape Cod island to live with her father while her mother honeymoons.  Her father knows absolutely nothing about raising a teenager, and he's distracted by his work with turtles (terrapins, to be more specific).  It's egg-laying season, and he intends to make sure that those eggs survive.

Seriously, it's a book about a daughter and father finding each other and themselves, and the father is obsessed with turtles and ensuring that their offspring survive.  It's kind of absurd and obvious and it works.  It's partially because turtle conservation is a real, serious thing.  But it's more because the characters are richly drawn and their development is subtle.

In a novel as short and simple as RETURNING TO SHORE, everything hangs on the protagonist.  I think I was first drawn to the clear gulf between what Clare knows and what the narrative insinuates that she doesn't.  That her mother's relationships, particularly that with her first stepfather, are more complicated than she's been led to believe.  Then there's her father, who knows quite a bit that he holds too tightly - knowledge that he should tell his daughter, at least if they're going to have a real relationship.

There's also a small subplot about Clare making friends of necessity with the other teen girl who lives on the island.  There is, of course, inherent friction in the relationship made more out of proximity than true interest in what the other has to offer.  At the same time, it's not like it's two people hanging out who secretly hate each other.  Then, as Clare learns more about her friend, it conflicts with the things she's learned about her dad.  And it's more than just differing environmental views.

RETURNING TO SHORE is a novel that doesn't rely on romance to deliver deeply felt emotion.  It's a wonderful coming of age story, with a picturesque setting and a strong environmental message lurking not-far-back in the background. Is it strange to say that this is a book for Studio Ghibli fans?  Because it is.

July 11, 2016

Movie Monday: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar I find The Lonely Island hilarious. Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer are amazing at combining music and comedy. Their latest venture is a mockumentary about Connor4Real, a rapper who hit it big with trio The Style Boiz and then his first solo record. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping charts the release of Connor's sophomore album and it's subsequent failure. This forces Connor to all sorts of crazy shenanigans to get back on top, before perhaps admitting that he's made some mistakes.

Lots of the usual suspects like SNL alums Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph make an appearance. It's also chock full of real musicians like Nas, Seal, and Justin Timberlake (as an intense chef). The funny people help land the jokes and the musicians help give the silliness of Popstar a sense of reality.

The movie had me hooked from the opening music number, "I'm So Humble (feat. Adam Levine)," which closes with an interview with Mariah Carey stating how much she relates to the song. The jokes in and around the song both hit. I think that's the musical highlight of Popstar, even though there's plenty of humor in the songs to come. (Including Connor's way-too-late anthem in support of gay marriage.)

Samberg has been developing his acting chops on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and his improved acting serves him well. He's more at ease inhabiting a character instead of over-emphasizing the punchline. Taccone is great as the one friend who has stood by him in a see of yes men and just wants to see his friends back together. Schaffer is hilariously intense as his ex-friend who pretends to like the farm he's ended up on.

The jokes in Popstar are broad, but many of them hit. It's a classic tale of hubris and friendship, wrapped up in a gloriously ridiculous package. The date for the video release doesn't seem to be finalized yet, but I recommend Popstar to any fan of The Lonely Island.

July 8, 2016

Excerpt: The Siege (Win a copy!)

The Siege THE SIX by Mark Alpert was a finalist for the Cybils last year. In the sequel, the Pioneers (six disabled teenagers who had their minds implanted in robots) continue their fight against Sigma.  THE SIEGE came out this Tuesday, July 5th.

You can win your own copy by entering the Rafflecopter at the end of the post.

Praise for The Six Series
“Adam is an unusual hero—and he faces a frightening question: Computers can't kill— CAN they? I'm still shaken by the answer. Will the near-future really be this terrifying?” –R.L. Stine, bestselling author of the Fear Street series on The Six
“This is serious YA sci-fi, full of big ideas, big questions, real science, and things that will make you think and wonder and lie awake late at night. And it's all wrapped up in a wonderfully exciting action story chock full of characters you’ll love.” –Michael Grant, bestselling author of the Gone series on The Six
“Alpert's exploration of neuromorphic electronics raises interesting questions about ethics, technology, and human nature…a haunting ending scene will leave readers pondering the line between progress and loss. A thought-provoking clash between humanity and machinery.” –Kirkus on The Six
“A well-researched, hardcore science-fiction joyride, great for fans of first-person shooter video games like Halo and Destiny. Highly recommended.” –School Library Journal on The Six
“The Six are introduced as terminally-ill teens, but there’s plenty of high-speed action in which they engage. Their physical disabilities and limitations through disease are forgotten as the teens’ hearts, minds, and personalities shine through, even though their bodies are now steel data containers...questions of principle, power, and possibility keep this look at our modern, hardwired existence fresh and fascinating.” –Booklist STARRED review on The Six
“Alpert’s innovative science fiction novel explores questions such as what makes people
“human,” when life ends, and what people owe each other.  Alpert pays Crichton-esque attention to the power of technology in human existence.” – VOYA Magazine, Perfect Ten on The Six
Mission: Sabotage.
Adam gave up everything for a new chance at life. Now with a cutting-edge digital mind, he is smarter, faster, better than a normal teen. Except Adam is anything but invincible. He's indebted to the government program that gave him this ability—and freedom comes at a price.
Adam and his teammates, the six Pioneers, swore to defend humanity against Sigma, the most ruthless artificial intelligence program ever designed. The Pioneers are all that stand between the AI and world domination. But Sigma has an advantage. It has learned about human weakness, and its new weapon? Betrayal.
In this war between good and evil, the battle lines have been drawn…but someone is about to switch sides.
Buy Links:
Excerpt from The Siege:
My girlfriend is mad at me, and this is the worst possible time to have an argument. It’s midnight, and Shannon and I are crawling through the grass outside a military base in North Korea.
“Slow down, Adam! You’re going too fast!”
There’s an urgency to her words, though she doesn’t raise her voice. In fact, we’re not even talking. We’re sending messages back and forth on a short-range radio channel. The antennas are embedded in the armor of the robotic crawlers we’re occupying for this mission. Shannon’s words leap from her antenna to mine, then ricochet inside my circuits. It takes me less than a millionth of a second to analyze her message and determine she’s angry, but I have no idea why. Even with all the computing power in my electronics, I can’t figure her out.

July 5, 2016

Review: The Siege

The Siege Book two of The Six
By Mark Alpert
Available now from Sourcebooks Fire
Review copy

In THE SIX, six disabled, terminally ill teens chose to have their bodies destroyed and their minds uploaded into robots.  There was a second cost for the Pioneers (as they're known) as well: they must fight Sigma, a rogue AI.

Their first encounter resulted in the death of one of the Pioneers.  All too soon, their military command are replacing her with another girl.  But what's worse is the task given to Adam: find the traitor.  Recent missions have made it clear that one of the Pioneers is in league with Sigma.  One of the main suspects is there do to her own suspicion; the other due to an act of cowardice.  I certainly hoped it wasn't Zia since she's the only girl not in love with Adam.

In THE SIEGE, Sigma progresses to biological warfare to draw out his enemies.  There was some horror in the first book when the protagonists first transferred to their new bodies.  THE SIEGE ramps up the body horror quite a bit as Sigma retaliates by forming humanity in his own image.  It makes for some intense scenes.

This series isn't my favorite, but I find the action scenes are well done and appreciate that Alpert is writing some rare protagonists.  (In addition to all being initially disabled, not all of them are white.)  They are free of disabled bodies by the end of the first book and throughout the second, but Alpert gives weight to their decision to take such a drastic cure, and they're allowed to have moments of regret for the things they gave up in spite of what they've gained. 

THE SIX and THE SIEGE are recommended for readers looking for fast-paced science fiction with wicked cool robots and a male protagonist.

July 4, 2016

Movie Monday: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates has an actual credits sequence at the beginning, scenes of awesome parties unfolding to an upbeat song.  It's not long before we learn how each of those parties went wrong when Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) took it too far.

Now, their sister's destination wedding is upon them and their family has given them an ultimatum: bring dates too keep them under control.  Being gentleman of a certain age, Mike and Dave turn to Craigslist, where their posting for a free trip to Hawaii goes viral.

Cue the girls: Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick).  They aren't the good girls Mike and Dave are looking for, but they're willing to fake it, especially since Alice needs a vacation after being left at the altar.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates isn't built on surprises.  It's a comedy that leans hard on the charm of its cast as they bumble through various misadventures.  It's a good thing the cast can take it.  I particularly liked Sugar Lyn Beard as Jeanie Stangle, the younger sister.  She's soft-spoken and sweet, but that doesn't mean nothing gets to her.  Sam Richardson gets in an awesome moment as her possibly boring fiance Eric.

If you enjoy comedic shenanigans where people get (non-fatally) mangled and families eventually come together because they love each other, you'll enjoy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.  The romance between Alice and Dave is a sweet counterpoint to the cruder elements of the movie, and I kind of wish the end hadn't back off on Tatiana and Mike never, ever getting together.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates will be released this Friday, July 8.

July 2, 2016

Excerpt: Defending Taylor (Two Ways to Win!)

DEFENDING TAYLOR is the newest novel in Miranda Kenneally's Hundred Oaks series. I reviewed it last month, and now you can win cool prizes!

The first way to win is to enter the DEFENDING TAYLOR sweepstakes, in which you can win a branded water bottle or a gym prize pack with proof of a preorder.

The grand prize pack

The second way to win is to enter the Rafflecopter at the end of this post for a copy of DEFENDING TAYLOR.

Praise for Defending Taylor
“I can’t quite put my finger on what is so enthralling about Kenneally’s newest novel, but it totally sucked me in. I loved that Kenneally didn’t go with an easy, traditional happy-go-lucky ending. I also enjoyed the flawed nature of the characters, which made them feel more relatable. This is a great summer read and my favorite novel by Kenneally so far!” –RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
There are no mistakes in love.
Captain of the soccer team, president of the Debate Club, contender for valedictorian: Taylor’s always pushed herself to be perfect. After all, that’s what is expected of a senator’s daughter. But one impulsive decision—one lie to cover for her boyfriend—and Taylor’s kicked out of private school. Everything she’s worked so hard for is gone, and now she’s starting over at Hundred Oaks High.
Soccer has always been Taylor’s escape from the pressures of school and family, but it’s hard to fit in and play on a team that used to be her rival. The only person who seems to understand all that she’s going through is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra. Taylor’s had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. But it’s hard to trust after having been betrayed. Will Taylor repeat her past mistakes or can she score a fresh start?
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Buy Links (The Defending Taylor e-book includes an exclusive bonus story with Jordan and Henry from Catching Jordan!) :


Excerpt from Defending Taylor:
I now understand culture shock: it’s me experiencing Hundred Oaks High for the first time.
Defending TaylorA lot of kids go here. Five hundred? A thousand? There are so many I can’t tell. At St. Andrew’s, there were only forty kids in my entire class. We lived on a calm, sprawling, green campus. Walking down the halls of Hundred Oaks feels like last-­minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall.
Two guys wearing football jerseys are throwing a ball back and forth. It whizzes by my ear. A suspender-­clad male teacher is hanging a poster for the science fair, while a couple is making out against the wall next to the fire alarm. If they move another inch, they’ll set off the sprinklers. At St. Andrew’s, kissing in the hall was an über no-­no. We snuck under the staircase or went out into the woods. Ben and I did that all the time.
Thinking of him makes me stop moving. I shut my eyes. Dating Ben was stupid. Going into the woods with him was stupid. Thinking about what happened makes me so mad, I want to rip that newly hung science fair poster off the wall and tear it apart.


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