Monday, November 20, 2017

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), by Philip Pullman

Prequels are tricky. Especially prequels to awe-inspiringly awesome series that were penned decades after the final volume of the original was published. Any fan of the original Star Wars trilogy will tell you this (Jar Jar Binks? Really? Was that nerve-grating annyoance really necessary? I ask you...)

So as much as I was thrilled to learn about La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in Philip Pullman's new Book of Dust series, a part of me was very nervous. This series was to be an expansion of the original His Dark Materials/Golden Compass trilogy. Which I absolutely adored, by the way. To me, this trilogy was better than Harry Potter (Rowling), Books of Pellinor (Croggon), Raven Boys (Steifvater), and The Alchemyst (Scott) series combined. I love, love, love everything about it. And to this day it's my "go to" series and the one I measure all other series against. 

So yes, I was extremely thrilled when I learned of La Belle Sauvage, which was supposed to be set when Lyra, the main character in The Golden Compass, was still an infant. 

And yes, I was also extremely nervous. Would the new story be as good as the original? Would it make the original better? Or, like the Star Wars prequels, destroy it somewhat (or a lot)? 

I almost didn't read it.

But then I did. And I'm so glad I did! 

This new story focuses on 11-year-old Malcolm, whose parents run the inn near the nunnary where infant Lyra Balaqua is being cared for by the kindly sisters. Malcolm finds himself pulled into political intrigue involving the child, who even then is prophecized to be The Chosen One. Not your typical hero, Malcolm is rather ordinary. But he is brave and curious and observant and exceptionally likable. He accidently becomes a spy, saves Lyra from the evil Magisterium, and ends up being a key player in how the girl ends up at Jordan College. In that, this story is more like Star Wars: Rogue One rather than The Phantom Menace (thankfully!). No more spoilers, though. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed this story. Pullman did an excellent job returning the reader to the world of Oxford. The details! The world building! The characters! Everything! Reading it, I almost felt as though I never really left this world. I would absolutely recommend this book, both to fans of the original trilogy and to those simply looking for something awesome (because even if you haven't read The Golden Compass, you will want to do so after reading La Belle Sauvage). 

--AJB

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dramatically Ever After, by Bandeira, Isabel

If you enjoyed reading the first book, Bookishly Ever After, you'll probably love Dramatically Ever After, the second book of the series. So, here are my reasons why this book is so great. I hope you don't mind, I have written it into a list.

1. Em is very dramatic. She's always flouncing off, yelling, getting all worked up, or missing the very obvious hits (which is probably why the title is Dramatically Ever After). She is also pretty competitive. She likes performing and public speaking. She doesn't like accepting constructive criticism but she's smart and ambitious. She likes to figure out what things mean for her as person. She has a good character development. She realizes that she's been defining herself with a lot of false dichotomies, and that despising someone else shouldn't be part of your identity.

2. The dialogue was excellent. The flirty dialogue was excellent at building up romantic tension, and the conversations between friends were great, and I really liked the style of the instant messages and emails-- but what was even better was the debates. There were lots of discussions about volunteering and fundraising, and what it really means to make a difference. There were also conversations about politics, as well as faith and belief in God.

3. The background of Boston and college. I think it's really hard for books to find a balance between characters being obsessed with college or not bringing it up at all, but this book gets it just right and I really liked how that part of the story worked. The setting in Boston-- museums, coffee shops, and so on, also added some flavor to the story.

4. It's the perfect companion novel. In a companion novel, the story and format should have a different focus but a similar feel. The author exactly understands what teenagers go trough and it made the story more realistic. I also liked how different Em is to Phoebe (from the first book) which made the story different and they fit together perfectly.

This book is utterly enjoyable and realistic. I loved the hate to love romance and I highly recommend it! *JK*

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Before The Davil Breaks You (Diviners #3), by Libba Bray

Author Libba Bray's Diviners series, a paranormal ghost story set in New York during the Roaring Twenties, started out with a bang. The first book grabbed me right away and I couldn't put it down for anything. It had suspense, mystery, well-developed characters, amazing world building, and even a bit of romance. It was everything a great book should be and more. Even the follow-up, The Lair of Dreams, was excellent...although not quite as much. But the first two books of the series were made of awesomeness. And maybe that is the problem.

The third book in the series, Before The Devil Breaks You, promised equally amazing things, but didn't deliver. From the synopsis, I thought the story would be a horrifying, action-packed trek into a haunted mental asylum. And although the characters did, indeed, visit the supposedly ghost-infested building, the thread felt more like an anecdote than a main plot point. Instead of being the scary thrill ride I was anticipating, the story was a very slow burn that mainly consisted of character development, setup for the final book, and the author's thinly-veiled anger toward the current political climate (This last bit I didn't appreciate at all! I read to escape, not to get an earfull of the same sort of drama I could get by glancing at headlines). The story didn't really get good until the last 100 pages or so. But the author had so many balls in the air by that point that the action that DID take place was more quick flashes than anything with any depth. 

Bottom line: I struggled with this book. Unlike the previous two, I kept putting it down, kept skimming over the boring parts, kept wanting to give up on it and read something else (or do laundry or some other mundane task). 

But all series have slow books. All series some parts that, when adapted into a movie, get greatly shortened or left out altogether. For example, the infamous Camping Saga in Harry Potter or the meeting with Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings ("Tom Who?" say those who only saw the movie. "Exactly," I reply). Even the most EPIC of epic series have books or parts readers just don't care for. And this is the first reason why I typically don't like series. The second is cliffhangers. 

Because Libba Bray is one of my favorite authors, and because the first two books of this series were awesome, I'm going to overlook the faults in Book 3. Because I know it's only a setup for the Final Showdown that is sure to happen in the fourth and final book. All I know is Book 4 better be the bees knees! 

--AJB

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Bone Queen, by Allison Croggon

Prequels seem to be a thing lately. 

Alice Hoffman recently released a prequel to Practical Magic (which inspired a 1990s movie), all about the old Aunts. Philip Pullman just published The Book of Dust, which is set several years before the events of The Golden Compass trilogy. And Laini Taylor wrote A Night of Cake & Puppets, a companion to Daughter of Smoke & Bone that casts the spotlight on a swoonworthy romance between two popular side characters. Seems authors are anxious to tell what happened before, and fans of the original books are gobbling it up. And these are but a few examples of this seemingly popular trend.

Another is The Bone Queen, the latest novel by Alison Croggon. This new novel is set several decades before the author's Books of Pellinor quartet (The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow & The Singing) and focuses on events only hinted at in the series. The Bone Queen focuses on Cadvan of Lirigon's early years, before he was mentor to Chosen One Maerad of Pellinor. Still a young magician, Cadvan is lured to the Dark Side by the promise of powers greater than he could ever learn at the Schools of the Light. In doing so, he unleashes a terrible evil upon the land. Cadvan must regain the trust of his friends if he is to banish this evil back to the Abyss from which it came. But he knows that, even if he is successful, things will never be the same.

Although not as awesome as the original series, The Bone Queen was still amazing. Written in Croggon's Tolkienesque style, which includes incredible world-building, and appendix, and detailed notes on the text, this story gives fans of the Pellinor series some insight into a key character. Those new to the author's books will enjoy it too, but not as much as those who already have a background about this world. 

As for me, I liked this book. It makes me want to re-read the original quarted, which I'm sure I will enjoy even more now that I have more backstory to work with. --AJB

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Mirrormask

Its no secret I'm a fan of Neil Gaiman's weird brand of fantasy. I adored Stardust, The Graveyard Book, and quite a few of his short stories (in particular, How To Talk To Girls At Parties). I even enjoyed Coraline, even though it creeped me out far more than a book meant for children probably should. 

When I learned of Mirrormask, which was written by Gaiman, I was excited. Even better, the film was produced by Jim Henson Comapny, whose films Dark Crystal & Labyrinth I love. What could go wrong? A lot, as it turns out. The film is dark and strange and left an odd taste in my mouth. The storyline feels like it jumps around a lot as well, and I found it difficult trying to follow such randomness. 

The movie centers around Helena, a teenage artist whose parents run and perform in a circus. Helena wishes for a different life and, in anger, lashes out at her mother. When her mother falls ill and must have an operation, Helena blames herself. That night, Helena is transported to a strange world where everyone wears masks and all the buildings resemble her drawings. Here she learns she must find something called The Mirrormask in order to wake the White Queen and stop the darkness from devouring the land and all who reside there. She also learns the cause of the darkness has to do with the Queen of Shadows' missing daughter. Helena is joined in her quest by Valentine, a juggler. As the two travel through the increasingly strange lands, they encounter hungry sphinxs, Very Useful Books, floating giants, and odd creatures that resemble both birds and apes (but don't think Wizard of Oz flying monkeys...think creepier). Helena must confront the Queen of Shadows and find the Mirrormask before it is too late. Because if she doesn't not only the Mirror world, but Helena's world will be destroyed. 

Overall, I'm not certain exactly how to feel about Mirrormask. I didn't love it, but did I hate it? I'm not sure. I'd have to watch it again to be sure, but I'm not certain I want to. 

p.s. I DID love the library in the movie! Just saying. 

--AJB

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dorm Room Feng Shui, by Katherine Olaksen

Several years ago, when I was in the midst of my witchy/New Age-y phase, I read a few books on Feng Shui. I found it interesting, and have since put to use some of the tips I got out of it, but I never really got hard-core into the practice. I don't color coordinate my living space in accordance with the Bagua Map or make certain that particular knick-knacks are placed in particular corners. But I do tend to favor simplicity over clutter. And I value neatness. And I know enough to tell that my current home, and its surrounding property, naturally has a positive Chi flow and a good balance of Yin to Yang (that comes without too much effort on my part). 

At its most basic, the theory behind Feng Shui teaches that a person can improve their overall life and health by becoming more organized. There's a whole lot in there about elements, colors, interior design, and zodiac animals and such too, but we won't get to that here. So in short: Organization.

And what better place to begin that journey to being a more organized person than college? 

College is the first place you're really getting a taste of what it's like to be on your own. It's up to you to go to class, do your homework, clean your room, eat (reasonably) balanced meals...and your mom isn't going to be there to get on your case about any of it. Sounds awesome, right? But if you don't start adulting NOW, you never will. So get organized.

I picked up Dorm Room Feng Shui because it looked interesting and because I wanted to see how author Kathleen Olaksen applied the (actually quite complicated) principles of Feng Shui to college life. The book was short, less than 150 pages, so I didn't expect much.

I was surprised. Olaksen did a great job of packing a lot of info into a small space without losing too much essence. And she made it relative to younger readers. The book is fresh and fun and not at all dry. I would recommend this to anyone (college student or otherwise) who is looking for an intro to Feng Shui or who is just trying to improve their organizational skills.

A fun read :) --AJB

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Zoolander 2 (dvd)

Last week, my husband challenged me with the quest of renting "a comedy we haven't seen" to watch over the weekend. Being that I pretty much built much of the teen DVD collection and had already seen quite a few of the films of that genre featured there, the task was indeed daunting!

Or so I thought.

While straightening the shelves in the DVD area, I stumbled upon Zoolander 2. We'd seen the first Zoolander film. Years ago. I didn't even remember much about it except it poked fun of the fashion industry and starred Ben Stiller. Hubby and I are fans of Stiller. Also of Owen Wilson, a.k.a. "that guy with the nose". And Will Ferrell is pretty funny too, although I don't think this film allowed him to fully unleash the madness I know he's capable of. A comedy starring this golden trio of comedians was sure to be good. Right?

Uh...

I'll let you be the judge. 

Set several years after the Happily Ever After of the original film, we, the audience, find life has not been so kind to Derek Zoolander. Having lost his wife to a tragic accident and his son to protective services, the former male model has gone into hiding and is now living the life of a hermit. But when a mysterious killer begins hunting the world's beautiful people, Derek and former rival Hansel are the only ones who can save the day. They must find and protect The Chosen One. And to do so, they must return to the world of fashion, which has changed much since they last ruled the scene.

Packed with cameos and overrun with (already dated) pop-culture jokes, this movie is pretty ridiculous. And there was a point where we weren't sure we could finish watching it. And as fans of ridiculous comedy, that's saying a lot! But then the film hit its stride and we actually ended up laughing at it and, yes, even enjoying it. It's not something I'm in a hurry to watch again anytime soon, but perhaps several years down the road if they make a Zoolander 3 I'll revisit it. Or if I just am in need of a reminder why this is a film to only watch once. Maybe then I'll rewatch it.

Or maybe not.

On A Personal Note: For me the best part of the movie was the joke about the Tiny Phone/Huge Phone. I laughed so hard at that it hurt! Back in the day, before Smart Phones and when Flip Phones were just making their debut, I actually had a Tiny Phone. The thing was literally about 3 inches long, had a black & white screen, and only made and received calls. Nothing else. No exaggeration. It was one of those free, no-frills deals you got in exchange for signing up for two years of cell service (beggars couldn't be choosers).  I got tease good-naturedly by friends who had more high-tech phones. I will always remember the day I traded my Tiny Phone in for my purple flip phone...which (OMG!) had a color screen! 

Aaaaaand now I feel old. 

p.s. Sometimes I miss my Tiny Phone and all its glorious simplicity! Not to mention space-conscious. My current one barely fits in my bag's phone pocket.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content

I promised myself after the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, that I would either stop watching or greatly lower my expectations. I was a really big fan of the first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, (which if you haven’t watched THAT yet, you totally should before you do anything else or read anything else- THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS) because of the story-line of the golden trio; Captain Jack, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swan/Turner. So when they trio split up after movie three, I was super bummed that their shared story line ended in an unfulfilling way.

BUT ALAS. Yet another “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was made and I was drawn back in. Dead Men Tell No Tales continues the story of Will and Elizabeth through their child, Henry Turner. Determined to free his father from the curse of forever being the captain of the Flying Dutchmen, Henry seeks out Captain Jack Sparrow for help. Even our old pal Captain Barbossa and his mischievous monkey, Jack, joins the gang. A new character, the smart and beautiful Carina, joins the group as she has spent all of her life trying to decode the “map no man can read” to find Poseidon’s Trident.

Our heroes are trying to find Poseidon’s Trident which contains all of the curses in the sea and possibly the power to remove them. Unfortunately the villain, Salazar, is also trying to find the Trident to try to break the curse that he and his shipmates endured many years ago. Salazar has an interesting backstory to explain his hatred for Captain Jack, but I will leave that for you to find out.

The plot-line is a little off to me because from my understanding there seem to be a lot of loopholes when comparing it to the other films concerning timelines and magical objects such as Jack’s compass that doesn’t point North (apparently, it can do more than tell you what you want most, but only in this movie does it have an extra meaning/power). It is slightly comparable to the Hermione’s Time Turner “loophole”. You kind of just have to choose to ignore the issue, trust the writer(s), and try to enjoy the story.

I wouldn’t call this the GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME or anything, but it is not terrible and worth a watch. If you felt unsatisfied like me about the sad Will and Elizabeth situation at the end of At the World’s End I would highly recommend watching this for closure. -MC

Friday, November 3, 2017

All The Crooked Saints, by Maggie Stiefvater

Author Maggie Stiefvater's new stand-alone novel All The Crooked Saints was every bit as fantastic and as strange and as amazing as I anticipated it would be. It's a story filled with myth and mystery and kissing (isn't there always kissing in a Stiefvater book?), and it hooked me from the first page.

For decades, pilgrims have flocked to Bicho Raro, Colorado to see the saint of the Soria family, whom it is told can bring miracles to those in need. But such things come at a great cost to both parties. These so-called miracles only bring a pilgrim's own personal darkness to the surface, causing it to manifest in strange and, sometimes, frightening ways. It is then up to the pilgrim to learn how to vanquish this darkness. Until the day these people are whole once more, they reside at Bicho Raro. 

The Soria family only has one rule: They must never, ever assist the pilgrims with their battles. Very Bad Things happen when they do. Even speaking to them could prove a fatal mistake. This is how it has always been.

Until Daniel, the current saint, falls in love with Marista, a pilgrim cursed to live beneath a perpetual raincloud. 

Knowing he could bring doom upon his family, Daniel flees into the desert, his personal darkness in pursuit. 

It is now up to Beatriz and Joaquin Soria to figure out a way to help Daniel before it's too late. Because maybe the Sorias have been going about this miracle business the wrong way.

If I say too much more, I will spoil the story. And there's no way I want to do that!

I WILL say that I definitely recommend this one! --AJB