December 30, 2015

Review: The Empress Game

The Empress Game First in the Empress trilogy
By Rhonda Mason
Available now from Pyr
Review copy

In the intergalatic empire at the center of THE EMPRESS GAME, the new empress is chosen through a tournament.  As this is obviously a cracked way to determine a political ruler, cheating is rampant.  Isonde, a political mover and shaker who is also the beloved of the emperor, enlists help to find a body double who can fight.  Her man Malkor finds Shadow Panthe, whose true name is Kayla Reunimon.  She is, of course, secretly the princess of a conquered world.

Despite being in the title, I found the games the most tedious part of THE EMPRESS GAME.  They gave Rhonda Mason the chance to add more action scenes, but even with explanation I was never quite sold on the tournament as a way of declaring a ruler.  The political machinations, however, were ace.  THE EMPRESS GAME is a good choice for space opera fans who like a plot that moves quickly and don't mind a prominent romance subplot.

Sparks fly between Malkor and Kayla, even though they are unsure whether they can trust each other.  Even more than herself, Kayla worries about her younger brother Corinth, who has been mute since the assassination of their family.  Keeping him safe and avenging her family are her top priorities, followed by returning to her people.  She's only invested in Isonde's scheme as a means to get where she wants to go.  Malkor, on the other hand, is only invested in helping Kayla out in order to put Isonde on the throne and further his political agenda.  However, the two of them might have more ideology in common than they first suspect.

I thought THE EMPRESS GAME could use a bit more emphasis on the space part of space opera, but that the complex layers to the characters' motivations were done very well.  Mason has set up an intriguing system where almost all of the political opinions have some merit.  I'm intrigued to find out what will happen in the second book of the trilogy.

December 29, 2015

Review: Trail of the Dead

Trail of the Dead Book two of the Killer of Enemies trilogy
By Joseph Bruchac
Available now from Tu Books
Review copy

Lozen and her companions are on the move.  They're all getting better at fighting gemods (genetically modified monsters) and Lozen's abilities are growing, tying them tighter together in unexpected ways.  But Lozen is also getting sick, and a new and powerful enemy has been set on her trail.

Lozen is a member of the Apache and Chiricahua tribes, and the mythology she grew up with informs how she battles monsters and keeps her humanity.  I've always loved stories that blend myth (or legends) into the story, and TRAIL OF THE DEAD is very satisfying on that account.  Her people's history is also very important to her.

In this post-apocalyptic future, few people have access to books or other pop-culture relics.  Lozen travels with the Dreamer, who it turns out has managed to save some books.  It is interesting to see what recovering a bit of written history can do for some people.  Lozen's crush, Hussein, is eager to read the Koran.  Still, oral tradition keeps alive many things that writing has failed.

I wasn't a fan of passages through the point of view of the villain, Luther Little Wound.  I found that they became repetitive as the book went on, because he doesn't have many interests aside from violence.  His point of view also didn't add much that we didn't learn, or couldn't have learned, through Lozen's point of view.

Apart from that quibble, TRAIL OF THE DEAD is a fun adventure story.  It has plenty of action, but still questions the consequences of violence.  It has a diverse cast of characters who are learning that they too might have their own prejudices to overcome.  It also has a tough heroine who has shouldered a heavy burden and is managing the weight.  I look forward to her final adventure.

December 28, 2015

Review: The Walls Around Us

The Walls Around Us By Nova Ren Suma
Available now from Algonquin Young Readers (Workman)
Review copy

THE WALLS AROUND US is a ghost story that becomes ever more eerie as it goes on, twining its way around you like the vines growing outside Aurora Hills, a juvenile detention center.   Aurora Hills is the home of Amber, sent there when she was thirteen.  It was the home of Ori, Violet's best friend. 

The girls both have terrible secrets in their past, as does the entire prison.  Nova Ren Suma doesn't shy away from many of the abuses committed in these institutions, nor from the racism and classism of the justice system in the United States.  THE WALLS AROUND US shifts back and forth in time, slowly revealing myriad tragedies, including the shocking murder of all forty-two residents of Aurora Hills and just what Vee and Amber have to do with it.

Vee and Ori were ballet dancers, both talented but bullied for different reasons.  Amber and her mother were abused by her stepfather, and Amber feared her younger sister was next.  The press says Ori killed two other ballerinas in a vicious rage.  The press says Amber engineered the car wreck that killed her stepfather.  Everyone in Aurora Hills says Ori and Amber are the only two innocent ones there.  But THE WALLS AROUND US is a story where no one knows the whole truth; at least, not until it is too late.

Nova Ren Suma's writing gets stronger with every novel.  She's always had style to spare, but I feel like her plots are becoming both tighter and more ambitious.  THE WALLS AROUND US is slow in event and focuses more on developing the main characters, as you might expect from a Suma novel.   But the overarching mystery of what happened between Vee and Ori and what happened to the girls of Aurora Hills ties everything together as the story begins hurtling to its macabre conclusion.

Questions of innocence and guilt, as well as the social issues surrounding juvenile incarceration, ground this slightly surreal story of a malevolent haunting.  There's also the question of remorse, which is always the question of justice.  Do only the penitent deserve to go free?  This is the kind of horror story where everyone gets what's coming to them.  I thought it was a satisfying, memorable read.

December 23, 2015

Making a List, Checking it Twice ...

... of books to take on Christmas vacation with me!

I still have some reading to finish for the Cybils, but I'm also packing some books that are just for me.  I intend to fully relax over the holidays.

I have two historical romances.  I've been very excited about COLD-HEARTED RAKE, Lisa Kleypas's return to historicals.  Eloisa James is another historical author that I love, and I picked up a copy of AN AFFAIR BEFORE CHRISTMAS because it seemed thematically appropriate.

I made an amazing second-hand store find at my local Half Price Books: INSTEAD OF THREE WISHES by Megan Whalen Turner.  This collection of seven short stories is hard to find (in my experience).  I love Turner's Queen's Thief series, so I'm happy to try something else by her - especially something this short!

LANCELOT AND THE LORD OF THE DISTANT ISLES or, THE BOOK OF GALEHAUT Retold is an Old French medieval romance that fell into obscurity until this translation by Patricia Terry and Samuel N. Rosenberg in 2006.  This edition also includes wood engravings by Judith Jaidinger.  I'm a huge fan of Arthurian romance, and Galehaut is said to include quite the interesting love triangle.

What are you reading?

December 21, 2015

Movie Monday: Star Wars: The Force Awakens: 2D vs. 3D

Thanks to a generous coworker, I was able to attend the Star Wars Marathon on Thursday.  This was a showing of all the films, culminating with Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 3D.  I'd already purchased a ticket to Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2D for Saturday, so I've gone to see the movie twice already.  One was with a rowdy, punch-drunk crowd; the other in a fairly quiet theater that couldn't resist cheering at some of the biggest surprises or victories.

I enjoyed the movie both times.  J.J. Abrams truly made this movie to cater to Star Wars fans.  He succeeds - sometimes a hair too much, in my opinion.  I hope the next two movies in the trilogy continue to become more of their own thing.  (There is a Death Star analogue, which, c'mon, that was used twice in the Original Trilogy!)  I particularly hope for this because I loved the new characters.  Rey is a young scavenger and pilot who happens across a droid who needs help.  Finn is a stormtrooper who realizes in his first battle that he can't work for the bad guys and has to escape.  Both of them are kids who are in over their head but still stumble towards the right thing.

But I don't want to give too much away.  I tried to avoid as many spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens as I could.  (Going on opening day did help.)  Instead, I'll focus on 2D vs. 3D.

I'll admit, I'm biased towards 2D.  I generally find it a more enjoyable movie experience, and this was no exception.  The 3D was done very smoothly; it didn't bother my eyes.  Mostly, it didn't make much of an impression.  There were a few moments that did wow me in 3D.  The opening crawl looked amazing in 3D.  It would've gotten my heart pumping anyway, but it really struck me in the 3D.  There's a moment where the Star Destroyer is right in the audience's face; many people in the theater I was in didn't hold back and tried to touch.  There's also a moment where Rey slides down a hill that looked pretty cool. 

However, there was one big drawback to the 3D.  The opening scene takes place at night and is full of fast-paced action.  I had trouble following it as well in the 3D version.  There were too many objects and too little light for me to clearly discern what was happening onscreen.

(I will admit, this also reminded me how dark modern filmmaking tends to be.  I saw this right after the Original Trilogy, which is suffused with sunlight.  Please, please don't be afraid of light!  I like when I can see what is happening onscreen.)

The 2D version lacks those few stunning moments, but I did find it easier to follow overall during the action sequences (of which there are many).  If you do want to see the 3D, seeing it in theaters might be your only chance.  It's mostly a toss-up of whether you want to pay the money or not.

I can't weigh in on the IMAX presentation, but I do still intend to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens with my dad.  Maybe I can convince him to go see it in IMAX.

December 15, 2015

Review: Archivist Wasp

Archivist Wasp By Nicole Kornher-Stace
Available now from Big Mouth House (Small Beer Press)
Review copy

ARCHIVIST WASP has been showing up on a number of Best of lists, so I had very high hopes.  It has a great name, a striking cover, and comes from the imminently cool Small Beer Press (founded by Gavin J. Grant and Kelly Link).  The opening certainly caught my attention.  Wasp, in a fight to the death, decides to stop the cycle of violence and spare her opponent.

In the end, however, I didn't really like ARCHIVIST WASP.  I thought it meandered too much and combined two stories that didn't really fit together.  I kept waiting for an ah-ha moment to bring the story together, but it didn't happen. Wasp shows a lot of personal growth over the novel, but it was hard to connect the event happening to the changes in her character.  The prose of the novel flowed smoothly, but how the characters decided to move from point A to point B often seemed more a function of what Nicole Kornher-Stace wanted to happen next than anything to do with actual motive. 

The two main characters are Wasp and a ghost who convinces her to go on a journey to the underworld with him, to find a companion he left behind in life and needs to find in death.  The ghost is driven to find her for closure.  Wasp is driven to find her because once the quest gets going she's invested, mostly.  (She helps him at first for medical attention.)

Wasp eventually returns home for her big triumph.  ARCHIVIST WASP is yet another novel where a man uses religion to keep a bunch of dangerous girls down.  It's a familiar story in feminist science fiction, and one not given enough space to breathe.  Too much of the novel is about the quest that has nothing to do with the religion or how people are treated in Wasp's present and it only coincidentally gives her the key to fighting back.

Meanwhile, how did this world get from the ghost's day to Wasp's?  In the ghost's day, the big issue was the ethics of human experimentation, not the ways religion is used to oppress.  There is a huge commonality about people being used as weapons, and yet that thread never seems to get teased out.

ARCHIVIST WASP is stylish, with an underworld that requires you to travel by means of the things that aren't quite right.  For me, it needed another draft to really help the disparate elements cohere.  As it is, I think ARCHIVIST WASP is a case of style over substance.  If only the characters were as fleshed out as some of the nightmare landscapes.

December 13, 2015

Books for Christmas

I've been wrapping all weekend, which has made me well aware that I'm gifting more than ten books this Christmas.  I think all the recipients will really enjoy the ones I've chosen, however.

(One of my cousins is the easiest, because she likes YA fantasy.)

Do you give books as gifts?  How do you choose which ones?

I try to pick ones with appealing titles and covers, in addition to thinking they'll fit the person.  I want it to be a book they'll try to read, instead of tossing it aside and thinking, "Boring."

Need any help trying to decide on a book gift for someone?

December 11, 2015

Review: The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray

The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray A Critical Appreciation of the World's Finest Actor
By Robert Schnakenberg
Available now from Quirk Books
Review copy

Bill Murray is a cultural touchstone.  He's had a large influence on comedy, critical success with drama, and enjoys starring in strange anecdotes.  I like many of his performances, although I wouldn't consider myself a fan.  I haven't followed his career in any real capacity.

I'm certainly not Robert Schnakenberg, who has exhaustively researched Bill Murray and knows what sports and music he likes on top of the history of his performances.  THE BIG BAD BOOK OF BILL MURRAY only draws from secondary sources, but Schnakenberg clearly researched those exhaustively.

It's honestly a bit too exhaustive for me.  THE BIG BAD BOOK OF BILL MURRAY is laid out as an encyclopedia, covering the movies Bill Murray has been in, people he's associated with, movies he was considered for, and more in alphabetical order.  I started losing steam somewhere around the D's.  This is more a book to idly flip through than read front to back.  (And it is wonderful to flip through!  Quirk Books specializes in gift books, and this one is nicely designed indeed.)

I was shocked by the entry on Butler, Jennifer "Jenny."  Jenny Butler was Murray's second wife, who put out a restraining order on Murray during their divorce and alleged that he abused her.  I'd never heard any of this before.  I do think it is commendable that Schnakenberg didn't stick to hyperbolic praise throughout the whole book.  There's some less-than-flattering anecdotes in THE BIG BAD BOOK OF BILL MURRAY in addition to the love for his performances.

I think THE BIG BAD BOOK OF BILL MURRAY will delight fans of the actor.  It is quite thorough and quite lovely.  I might still not be a fan, but I feel like I know more about the man now.

December 9, 2015

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Great Hunt

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

The Great Hunt I enjoyed the Sweet Evil series, so I kept an eye out for new books from Wendy Higgins.  The first book in her new duology, THE GREAT HUNT, comes out March 8th.  I'd be interested in it any way, but knowing that it is a fairytale retelling made me even more eager to read it.

Publisher's blurb:

Wendy Higgins, the author of the New York Times bestselling Sweet Evil series, reimagines a classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale with The Great Hunt, a dramatic, romance-filled fantasy with rugged hunters, romantic tension, and a princess willing to risk all to save her kingdom.

When a monstrous beast attacks in Eurona, desperate measures must be taken. The king sends a proclamation to the best and bravest hunters: whoever kills the creature will win the hand of his daughter Princess Aerity as a reward. The princess recognizes her duty but cannot bear the idea of marrying a stranger—she was meant to marry for love—until a brooding local hunter, Paxton Seabolt, catches her attention. And while there’s no denying the fiery chemistry between them, Princess Aerity feels that Paxton’s mysteriousness is foreboding, maybe even dangerous.

Paxton is not the marrying type. Nor does he care much for spoiled royals and their arcane laws. He is determined to keep his focus on the task at hand—ridding the kingdom of the beast—but the princess continues to surprise him, and the secrets he’s buried begin to surface against his wishes.

What are you waiting for this Wednesday?

December 7, 2015

Movie Monday: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Mockingjay Part 2 As I wrote before, I went to go see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 with my aunt, two cousins, and a cousin's friend on Black Friday.  I went to the first movie with friends, so it was nice to get to see the last movie with family.

All of us enjoyed it.  Hilariously, the girls thought Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson's roles should be switched, because they liked Peeta better but thought Gale and Katniss looked better together.  They also wanted to know more about what happens to Gale, but he exits at the same point he does in the book (although with a slightly more sympathetic portrayal).

I think the various directors and Suzanne Collins have done a wonderful job of bringing The Hunger Games series to the screen.  It can be particularly effective in bringing home that we are the Capitol.  There is one unfortunate bobble due to the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but everyone involved did the best they could with his inability to appear in the scene.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is not a happy film.  It ends with peace, but it is a grueling journey.  Katniss is driven to kill Snow, thinking that removing the head of the enemy will solve her problems.  Peeta is recovering from torture and brainwashing.  Gale is dealing with watching more than 90% of District 12 be gunned down in the streets.  None of them are at their best, but everyone is watching.

Jennifer Lawrence continues to kill it as Katniss.  It is a very internal, but vulnerable performance.  She's captivating from the moment you see the collar taken off in close up, Katniss's eyes saying so much that she can't say with her voice yet.  The cast around her is also up for the challenge.  Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and all of the others bring so much to these roles.  It is hard to imagine the casting going any other way, no matter what the preteens I saw it with said.

There is no use in seeing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 if you've neither seen the other movies nor read the books.  If you have, however, I think you'll be please with the conclusion.

December 4, 2015

Review: 'Twas The Night Before Christmas (with Santa's Bag Sweepstakes!)

By Clement C. Moore
Adapted and illustrated by Daniel Kirk
Available now from Put Me In The Story (Sourcebooks)
Review copy

I find making the personalized Put Me In The Story books quite fun.  The builder engine is quite easy to use -- you can even see the text and picture you put in immediately.

I personalized 'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS for my nephew.  I enjoyed figuring out the right message to include for him, and had plenty of lines to include a nice sentiment.  His picture appears twice in the book: once at the beginning and once at the end, in an ornament you can cut out.

'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is based on the classic poem by Clement C. Moore.  There are a few changes, like dreams of yummy treats instead of sugar plums.  (I must admit, I didn't understand the point of that change.)  The real draw for this version of the poem is Daniel Kirk's illustrations.  They're adorable and bright, with beautiful textured details.

I think this makes a nice, personalized gift.  You could win a copy for yourself, as well as copies of OUR LITTLE DEER by Sarah Magsamen and SANTA IS COMING TO MY HOUSE by Steven Smallman, and a $750 gift card.  You can enter once per day through December 8th. Details are as follows.

Enter here and get a 30% off coupon:
Official rules here:


Put Me In The Story, the #1 personalized books site in the U.S., has hundreds of personalized books and gifts for newborns, kids, and even grown-ups! With a diverse selection of personalized story books, activity books, adult coloring books, adorable plush and more, Put Me In The Story is a fantastic spot to find personalized gifts that become beloved keepsakes.

As a huge thank you to their customers, Put Me In The Story is hosting SANTA'S BAG SWEEPSTAKES, just in time for Christmas! Now through December 8, enter each day for a chance to win the grand prize in Santa’s bag of goodies.

December 2, 2015

Review: The Casquette Girls

The Casquette Girls First book in a series
By Alys Arden
Available now from Skyscape (Amazon Publishing)
Review copy

THE CASQUETTE GIRLS, as I understand it, was originally self-published.  Alys Arden's success led to the book being picked up by Skyscape.  I never read it in that original form, but I can see why it was successful.

THE CASQUETTE is set in a New Orleans that has been ripped apart by a storm.  Katrina is never named, but it weighs heavy on the novel.  Adele Le Moyne was sent to live with her mother in France; however, her mother shipped her off to boarding school and rarely saw her.  Thus, Adele leapt at the chance to return to her father and her city. 

Arden's descriptions of New Orleans and the people that populate it are powerful.  It is a city full of memories that have been swept away and left to rot, and yet the traditions continue regardless.  Adele and her friends show up to work in a cafe every day, and eventually the kids go back to school.  Life starts picking up its expected pace.  Except for the crime wave.  There's a suspiciously high number of murders, and all of the victims have been drained of blood.

THE CASQUETTE GIRLS is darkly romantic, both due to love of a wild place and a romance with a boy who just might kill Adele.  There is the de rigueur love triangle, plus some bonus decoy love interests thrown in.  Nicco is a foreigner looking for his sister, and Isaac is a New Yorker come to give aid.  Both boys are full of secrets.  But Adele is starting to discover that the biggest secrets are those of her family's past, hidden in the objects she's inherited from her ancestor Adeline.  She could save her city, and all it requires is a ridiculous amount of translation.

I thought that THE CASQUETTE GIRLS went on for a touch too long and that the romantic resolution was rather abrupt.  It is still a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn read with a final line that will have you begging for the sequel.  (No really, when is it coming out?)  The book's greatest strength is its sense of community.  There's New Orleans itself, as I've already covered, but there's also the people Adele surrounds herself with and those that Adeline bonded with.  THE CASQUETTE GIRLS is a story of people coming together.  At the same time, it posits that trust can be dangerous.

THE CASQUETTE GIRLS is a great choice for readers who like witches, vampires, and folklore with more than a seed of the truth.  I hope that the sequel continues to build on the strengths Arden shows hear and that it is just as readable.

November 30, 2015

Reading for the Holidays

I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving!  (At least, those of us in the US.)  I've definitely enjoyed the break from work.  The weather has been frightful, but the company was good!

I did just a bit of shopping this week, which included a trip to Half Price Books.  My haul is tucked safe in the rain, so I can't show you pictures.  I bought a vintage cookbook for my dad, some old C.J. Cherryh novels with great pulp covers, a couple of Eloise James romances, and a copy of SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn that was on clearance for $1.

The Great Ice EngineThe Casquette Girls As for what I've actually been reading, my focus has been on my reading for the CYBILs.  I'm on the panel for YA Speculative Fiction, and it seems like the deadline looms ever closer!  The shortlist will be revealed January 1st.  I did take a break to read THE CASQUETTE GIRLS by Alys Arden, review to come.

WinterThe Rose SocietyMy niece is definitely a budding reader.  She came prepared to Thanksgiving dinner with a book: Anna and Elsa #4: THE GREAT ICE ENGINE.  Frozen fever is still going strong for her!  She had me read a few chapters to her in a quiet moment.  I found it interesting that the book appeared to be diving deeper into the economics and industry of Arendelle -- an interesting choice for a kids' book!

The Nest My fourteen-year-old cousin also loves to read and came prepared to Thanksgiving with two books.  She only got to one of them that day, THE ROSE SOCIETY by Marie Lu.  She liked it so much that she had a book hangover!  We (plus a few others) went to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 on Friday, and she started the second book afterward.  She said that the movie helped clear her head of the characters, who were lingering.  The second book was one that I gave her for her recent birthday, WINTER by Marissa Meyer.  The Lunar Chronicles are her favorite series, as noted when we were playing the favorites game to entertain my niece and nephew.

My younger, sixth-grader cousin might not have been reading those days, but she let me know that she loved THE NEST by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Jon Klassen.  Apparently it's become one of her favorites since I gave it to her!  She's a total fan of creepy-cute things, so I figured she'd like it, but it is nice to know for sure.

November 25, 2015

Review: Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset 10 Paper Dolls, Three Rooms of Fun, Republican Adversaries, Presidential Pantsuits, White House Ghosts, and More!
Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald
Available now from Quirk Books
Review copy

I love paper dolls, so I couldn't resist the lure of a set of Hillary Clinton paper dolls.  This set has everything you need.  It unfolds into three backgrounds for your scenes.  It has a pouch for storing the pieces.  It has Hillary, with several outfits and even more faces.  It has Bill Clinton, a variety of Republicans, a Secret Service agent, Supreme Court Justices, and an eagle.  It even has a few props.

Each piece is on sturdy paper with thick tabs.  It is fairly easy to punch them out without ripping the pieces, although it takes a bit of care.  The pieces fit together well, even the facial expressions.  Caitlin Kuhwald's art captures the recognizable faces well.

We all know Hillary wants to tell Scott Walker to Faulkner himself.  Sticker courtesy of #ShutDownNouvella.
The HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL PLAYSET is cleverly designed and a great gift for anyone in your life who isn't afraid of having a little fun with politics.  Better yet, you can buy it for youself.  You know you love paper dolls too.

Bonus round:  Paper doll Ruth Bader Ginsburg meets tattoo Ruth Bader Ginsburg on my Instagram.  I apologize for my inability to take photos with my left hand.

November 23, 2015

Review: Shadows of Sherwood

Shadows of Sherwood The first Robyn Hoodlum book
By Kekla Magoon
Available now from Bloomsbury
Review copy

I love the concept of a futuristic Robin Hood story, with many of the main roles being women instead of men.  Robyn Loxley is a girl living in the rich sector of Nott City when her parents are disappeared by the Sheriff (also female in this story).  She barely manages to escape, and has to figure out how to live life on the margins with the help of some others who have been managing: Laurel, Scarlet, and Key.

It's right up my alley, but SHADOWS OF SHERWOOD never quite gelled for me.  Robyn's parents apparently followed a moon lore, an old religion that seems like magic.  It's a good way to add a folklore tie to the story, but I felt like the dystopia and fantasy elements didn't mesh very neatly.  The moon lore mostly seemed like a way for convenient things to happen.

There's also use of villainous point of view, which I find is difficult to pull off well.  The Sheriff's passages give some hints about Governor Crown's dastardly deeds but otherwise add little to the story.  Since this is a Robin Hood retelling it is particularly egregious, because everyone knows where the story is going.  Even younger readers can be assumed to know at least one version of the story, if only the Disney movie.

I think the class conflicts were done well, which is important since they are a central part of the legend.  Robyn has been part of the upper class and is now learning how bad everyone else in the city had it.  Rescuing her parents is a top priority, but she's learning that innocent bystanders could get hurt in her activities against the Sheriff - which leads her to question how she can help.

SHADOWS OF SHERWOOD has some nice heist scenes and an appealing cast, but it left me cold.  I'm just not sure the biggest departures from the traditional story worked for me.  It felt like a separate story welded on that didn't quite fit.  Does Robin Hood need a prophecy?  No, not really.

November 19, 2015

Amazing Book Sales

Amazon currently has several books that I highly recommend on sale.  Click on the cover to go to the book's Amazon page.

CrossingThirteen Chairs I thought THIRTEEN CHAIRS, a short anthology, of ghost stories delivered a nice amount of creepiness, as noted in my review.

The InfiniteGates of Thread and Stone I don't think CROSSING ever made it onto anyone's radar, but I gave it a strong review because I thought it was an unexpectedly affecting book.

GATES OF THREAD AND STONE and THE INFINITE are the first two books in a fantasy series set in a labyrinth that I've really been enjoying.


STORM, SPARK, and SECRET are on sale. These are books one, two, and four in Brigid Kemmerer's Elementals series. That's more than half of the series on sale!

Ella Enchanted

 And of course I have to recommend Ella Enchanted! It was one of my favorite books growing up.

Some Kind of NormalSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaThere are also some books on sale that I haven't read -- but want to.

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA is a contemporary that came out this year to rave reviews.

 I reviewed BOYS LIKE YOU as part of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books' RITA Reader Challenge. I could see why it was nominated for an award. SOME KIND OF NORMAL is a companion novel and came out earlier this year.

November 17, 2015

Review: Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends

Kid Athletes Part of the Kid Legends series
By David Stabler
Illustrated by Doogie Horner
Available now from Quirk Books
Review copy

The duo behind KID PRESIDENTS is back with KID ATHLETES.  One great thing about them moving into sports is that they can highlight a diverse range of inspirational people.  As great as the presidents are, only one of them isn't a white man.  The people chosen for KID ATHLETES range from reigning gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas to sumo legend Jesse Kuhaulua (Takamiyama Daigoro).  There's a nice blend of current competitors and historical figures as well as a variety of sports represented.

The stories are kept short and simple.  I wasn't familiar with any of them, but I'm not a sports fan.  I found Jackie Robinson's childhood particularly interesting.  Each chapter ends with some career highlights, so I was sad that Billie Jean King's didn't mention the Battle of the Sexes.  Doogie Horner's sketch-like illustrations add a huge amount of appeal to KID ATHLETES.  They're very cute and give the book a personality beyond biography for kids.

I think KID ATHLETES would make a fantastic gift for any child interested in sports.  Not surprising, since Quirk Books has the books-that-make-great-gifts market cornered.  The biographies presents aren't particularly special, but the figures highlighted are truly interesting people and the presentation hits the sweet spot between bright and adorable.

I passed my copy onto my niece, who is in the second grade, because I thought she might enjoy it.  She's pretty athletic herself and does competitive dance.  She's been reading one biography a night and has one left to go.  When I took her out for breakfast this Sunday, she was excited to tell me how much she was enjoying the book.  She's also been reading parts of it out loud to my nephew, who is in Kindergarten and was MVP of his touch football team.  He likes it too!  There's definitely a range of appeal.

November 13, 2015

Review: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand NightsBy E.K. Johnston
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
Review copy

I've read two YA retellings of A Thousand and One Nights this year, and A THOUSAND NIGHTS is my favorite.  E.K. Johnston wowed me with The Story of Owen duology, and she continues to impress me here.  The tone and rhythm of this story aren't similar at all, but the control of them is.

Lo-Melkhiin has been marrying and killing his wives.  It has reached the tribes have instituted a policy that he has to rotate between them, to help keep one tribe from suffering too much.  When the heroine's tribe must offer a bride, she makes herself as beautiful as she can with flashy clothes and makeup.  For one day she outshines her sister and is picked instead.  In return, her sister starts worshiping her immediately until waiting for news of her death, that she has joined their ancestors.

That love between the sisters might be enough to save all of their people.

I liked the focus in A THOUSAND NIGHTS on women who are fed up and what they're doing about it.  Lo-Melkhiin has kept peace ever since he came back from the desert a changed man, but it is the women who pay the price.  The heroine and her sister are tired of that, and so are many other women living in fear of their lives.

The worldbuilding is also superb.  Johnston imparts the reader with a sense of how families are structured and how their religious traditions work.  We're shown the reasons the people would not rebel against a leader who slaughters so many of his people.  Then, there's the bits of strangeness around the edges.  There's a wig made out of a lion's mane made by Lo-Melkhiin for his mother.  There's a man compelled to make beautiful sculptures, even though it pains him.  There's a sense of the wrongness in the court beyond the deaths.

Then there is the battle of wits and wills between Lo-Melkhiin and his bride.  She may not fear as he wants her to, but that doesn't mean she isn't afraid.  There's wonderful interplay between them, as Lo-Melkhiin tries to find out why she can withstand him and she tries to figure out how she can solves the problem of Lo-Melkhiin before she's just another dead wife.

A THOUSAND NIGHTS is a story of terror and love in a desert that never was.  It's a book that kept me turning the pages, and I hope it will do the same for you.

November 10, 2015

Review: The League of Unexceptional Children

The League of Unexceptional Children First in a series
By Gitty Daneshvari
Available now from Little, Brown BFYR (Hachette)
Review copy

Gitty Daneshvari, author of the School of Fear series, is back with the first in a new series: THE LEAGUE OF UNEXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN.  While I love the premise, I think this will be the only book in this series I try.

THE LEAGUE OF UNEXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN posits that children who are unremarkable, forgettable, utterly average make the best spies.  Very few notice them in the first place, and no one remembers them.  (The book promptly deflates its own premise by having the children accompanied by an adult, because there are many places where unaccompanied twelve year olds are quite noticeable.)

The issue for me was that Daneshvari never convinced me that Shelly and Jonathan are completely average.  Shelley's wacky outfits are described in detail, as is her habit of just making up sayings and otherwise saying nutty stuff and trying to take it back.  She's funny, and quirky.  She has an easily recognizable schtick.  She's more Stargirl than Jane Doe.  Jonathan seems a bit more uninteresting on the surface, although surely a kid wearing khakis isn't an identifiable trait with the current school dress codes.  Daneshvari makes it clear that unexceptional kids are not losers, yet doesn't support it well with the text.  Most people (that is, the average) are at least kinda good at one thing.  Shelley and Jonathan seem to have no talents aside from being easily overlooked.

The plot centers around a kidnapped Vice President.  The current league members might be compromised, so Shelley and Jonathan are recruited.  They fail their training, but are sent out into the field anyway.  However, they aren't alone: they're teamed up with a pair of exceptionals from Britain.

I like the central message of THE LEAGUE OF UNEXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN: everyone has something to offer.  The book is lightly humorous.  Maybe I'm overthinking it, but I just don't think it hangs together.  I'll always love books about kid spies, but this one is a miss for me.

November 9, 2015

Movie Monday: Final Girl

Final Girl Final Girl (not to be confused with The Final Girls) is a stylish horror movie with an increasingly common twist: the girl being chased by killers is highly skilled herself, and the hunters become the hunted.  It's hard to say where the movie goes wrong.

Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) shows off her Academy-nominated chops, moving smoothly from scared teenage girl to cold and ready fighter.  Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games) is terrific as her mentor.  Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games, The Final Girls) does a fine job as the leader of the teenage killers, even if he is several years to old for the part.  The other three killers manage to differentiate themselves neatly despite all being brunets in suits.  But Final Girl is just cold.

Final Girl is the directorial debut of Tyler Shields, a photographer.  His skill shows in every frame of the movie.  The composition of it is beautiful, especially the lighting.  It feels derivative, however.  The color scheme is mostly black, white, and red and there is a retro, fifties noir feel.  It's been done, and the fifties' feel adds nothing to the story.

The best scene is probably Danny (Logan Huffman) dancing with his axe, a fun scene that was done even better in Kung Fu Hustle.

The story of Final Girl is simple, and yet leaves so many questions.  How did Veronica and William know about these four?  How do others not, if twenty blonde girls have gone missing recently?  There's also the fact that Veronica is supposed to win her fights by being smarter, and yet the movie has her get into a fistfight with Jameson.  As hard as the movie tries, Ludwig is at least a foot taller than Breslin and quite muscular.  I'd love to see her win through wits as the movie promised; the fistfight is just ridiculous.

Final Girl looks lovely and boasts several good performances.  But the thin story doesn't have enough detail to support what is there because of the emphasis on style over substance.  There's no tension to the story, and the ideas have been executed better elsewhere.  This was a waste of the cast's talents.

November 6, 2015

Jeff Strand's Top Five Zombie Movies (+ Giveaway)

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever Jeff Strand is gearing up for the release of THE GREATEST ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER on March 1st with a sneak peek of the book and a giveaway of an advanced copy, as well as a list of his top five zombie movies.

Jeff Strand’s Five Favorite Zombie Movies: 

My five favorite zombie movies are very similar to many other people’s five favorite zombie movies. I could’ve gone the condescending click-bait route and written about “The Five Best Zombie Movies You’ve Never Seen!” but, no, I’m going with my five real favorites….

#5: DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004 version). I was one of the many people bellowing, “You can’t remake DAWN OF THE DEAD! This is blasphemy! Blasphemy!!!” But somehow this remake to a sequel (but not a sequel to the remake) turned out to be awesome. Not quite as good as the original (SPOILER ALERT: That’s #3 on this list) but one of my all-time favorites.

#4: RE-ANIMATOR. I’ve now seen plenty of movies that are more over-the-top insane than RE-ANIMATOR, but this was the first movie where I simply couldn’t believe what I was watching. It was hard to believe that a movie so dark and gruesome could be so funny.

 #3: DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978 version). Shameful confession: When I first saw this in high school I thought it was stupid and boring. Fortunately, I matured and accepted that it’s one of the high points of zombie cinema. It’s the reason I know to duck before walking toward spinning helicopter blades.

#2: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Fast zombies long before 28 DAYS LATER! The first time zombies ate brains! It doesn’t often get the credit it deserves, but this is one of the most influential zombie movies ever.

 #1: SHAUN OF THE DEAD. The greatest zombie comedy ever. The greatest zombie movie ever. The greatest MOVIE ever.


After producing three horror movies that went mostly ignored on YouTube, Justin and his filmmaking buddies decide it’s time they create something noteworthy, something epic. They’re going to film the Greatest Zombie Movie Ever. They may not have money or a script, but they have passion. And, after a rash text message, they also have the beautiful Alicia Howtz—Justin’s crush—as the lead.

With only one month to complete their movie, a script that can’t possibly get worse, and the hopes and dreams of Alicia on the line, Justin is feeling the pressure. Add to that a cast of uncooperative extras and incompetent production assistants, and Justin must face the sad, sad truth. He may actually be producing The Worst Zombie Movie Ever…


The vampire, whose fangs were too big for his mouth, turned to the camera and hissed.

November 5, 2015

Review: Chasing Secrets

Chasing Secrets By Gennifer Choldenko
Available now from Wendy Lamb Books (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Newbery Honor-winning author Gennifer Choldenko, known for her Alcatraz trilogy, shifts her focus to Gilded Age San Francisco in CHASING SECRETS.  Heroine Lizzie Kennedy is a bright young girl interested in the work of her physician father.  When her family's cook Jing goes missing, Lizzie starts paying more attention to what is happening in her city.

I found the facts behind CHASING SECRETS fascinating and appreciated that Choldenko detailed the history and some resources in the back of the novel.  I had no idea that there had been a plague outbreak in modern America.  Choldenko is known for developing a rich historical setting, and she doesn't fall down on that front.  This turbulent time in American history is given its due.

As Lizzie starts digging deeper into San Francisco's secrets with the help of her brother and another friend, she's shocked by how many secrets different people are keeping and their motivation for them.  It starts with Noah, Jing's son, who Lizzie finds hiding on the Kennedy property after Jing's disappearance.  At first, she can't believe that Jing didn't trust her enough to tell her about Noah.  Then she starts to realize how the Chinese are being treated.  They are being quarantined in Chinatown, even though white residents are free to enter and leave that quarter - defeating the disease-prevention motive for the quarantine.  People are on the edge of rioting.

I liked that Lizzie didn't just listen to her family and others that told her nothing was wrong.  As a girl, she's used to people disavowing the medical knowledge she's learned at her father's side and other things she knows.  She loves her father and uncle, and trusts them, but she trusts her own curiosity and observations more.  She isn't content to just listen to what others tell her, but goes out and investigates.

There is a tragic aspect to the ending, which is fitting in a novel about an epidemic, although I'm not sure how I feel about it.  Overall though, I enjoyed CHASING SECRETS.  It is a compelling combination of medical thriller and historical fiction.  I often find historical fiction dry, but Lizzie's story is a juicy one.

November 3, 2015

Review: In Order To Live

In Order to Live A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom
By Yeonmi Park
With Maryanne Vollers
Available now from Penguin Press (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

I don't often read memoirs.  But when I heard about Yeonmi Park, I wanted to read her story.  She wrote IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL'S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM with Maryanne Vollers, an experienced journalist.  Vollers previously collaborated with such luminaries as presidential Hillary Clinton, and she helps tell Park's story with clarity and a sense of openness. 

Park was born and raised in North Korea along the Chinese border, a closeness that helped her father smuggle goods - until he got caught.  Park experienced both good times and bad times in North Korea before defecting. She escaped to China only to be trafficked with her mother.  Her sister Eunmi went missing when she crossed earlier.

Park's story is one of a family struggling to survive and come back together.  It is also one of illumination.  Very little is known about North Korea due to its isolation.  IN ORDER TO LIVE vividly describes everyday life, from food to traditions to fear of who might be listening to careless words.  Human trafficking is an issue that people like to ignore, sweep under the rug because it is ugly.  Park writes about how the crackdown in China during the Beijing Olympics affected her ability to live as someone without documentation, in fear of being sent back to North Korea. 

She writes about finally reaching South Korea, and the difficultly of making choices and overcoming childhood brainwashing, as well as the difficulties of trying to get an education after being denied it for so long.  She and many other North Koreans find themselves living a life they weren't prepared for, in a country that doesn't have resources for all of the refugees.

I think the subject matter of IN ORDER TO LIVE is fascinating, particularly since much of it isn't available outside of such primary sources.  It is definitely enough to make me overcome my reticence about reading memoirs.  I think Park's story is valuable, and understand why she is driven to share, despite the risk to herself and her family.

October 29, 2015

Review and Giveaway: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street!

By Lillian Jaine
Illustrated by Joe Mathieu
Available now from Sourcebooks
Review copy

I reviewed two Peanuts books from Put Me In the Story earlier this week.  However, I also personalized a third book for my cousin Grant: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street! (By the way, this book is currently on sale for $5 off.)

You can customize this book with the recipient's name, a dedication, and a hi-res photo.  After the story, there is a cookie recipe (by Cookie Monster, natch) and a custom ornament that you can cut out and hang on your tree.  You can double-check that everything is done right in the book builder engine before ordering your copy.

My comments about the quality of these books stand: The pages aren't as glossy as some, probably due to the custom printing, but they are a nice weight.  The bright colors print well.  There's plenty of white space in the name tags and dedications for longer names.  I also like that the name is used throughout the story, not just on the cover.

Click to see full-size!

Grant is a total Sesame Street fiend, so I know that he'd love this book even if it weren't personalized to him.  That's just an extra touch to make it a great gift.  I'm excited to slide this book under the tree for him.

Enter to win the Personalized Christmas Book Bundle from Put Me In The Story!
Ends Nov. 15 at 11:59 p.m. EST
Enter for a chance to win the Personalized Christmas Book Budle Giveaway, including personalized copies of:
  • Santa Is Coming To My House
  • ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street!
  • Our Little Deer by Sandra Magsamen

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October 27, 2015

Review and Giveaway: Personalized Peanuts Books

The books from Put Me In the Story allow you to create personalized books for young readers.  Two of their newest books are perfect gifts before you take your family to see The Peanuts Movie (which you can do by winning the $30 movie gift card by entering at the end of the post).  Those books are MY FIRST PEANUTS: ABC - An Alphabet Adventure and MY FIRST PEANUTS: 123 - A Counting Adventure.  Both use text and pictures by Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz.

I loved that the book builder engine let me browse through the book while I created it.  I could input who I was giving the books to, who the books were from, and include a dedication and optional hi-res photo.  MY FIRST PEANUTS: 123 - A Counting Adventure also lets you input the recipient's age.  I personalized these for my first cousins once removed Zane and Max.

The resulting book has no dust jacket, on which your mileage may very.  I liked it because the first thing I do when passing books to my younger relatives is take off the jacket so that it doesn't get ruined.  The pages aren't as glossy as some, probably due to the custom printing, but they are a nice weight.  The bright colors print well.  There's plenty of white space in the name tags and dedications for longer names.  I also like that the name is used throughout the story, not just on the cover.

MY FIRST PEANUTS: 123 - A Counting Adventure counts one through ten using iconic Peanuts scenes, and ends with a custom poster that you can cut out.

I rather like 8, to no one's surprise.

MY FIRST PEANUTS: ABC - An Alphabet Adventure illustrates each letter with alliterative sentences.  It also ends with a custom poster that can be cut out.

They even did well with q!

Both of these books make great gifts.  From now through Saturday (10/31), you can use the code SNOOPY to get $10 off of both MY FIRST PEANUTS: ABC - An Alphabet Adventure and MY FIRST PEANUTS: 123 - A Counting Adventure.  That makes each personalized book $19.99.

Win a $30 Movie Gift Card so you & your family can see The Peanuts Movie!

Winner will be notified on November 2.

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October 26, 2015

Movie Monday: The Final Girls

The Final Girls The instant I saw the trailer, I was hooked.  I love the entire genre of horror comedy.  The horror is gentle enough that I don't wuss out, and the comedy is generally based on a love of the material.

Plus, The Final Girls had a fantastic cast.  Malin Ackerman, Alia Shawkat, Nina Dobrev, and Taissa Farminga have all been in good stuff.  Many of the male actors were also familiar names.

A genre I loved featuring a good cast meant I bought a ticket on one of the few nights my local theater showed The Final Girls.  One good thing about living in a big city is having local theaters that can afford to show indie movies.

The Final Girls setup is simple: Max (Taissa Farminga) goes to an anniversary screening of Camp Bloodbath, the movie that made her late mother (Malin Ackerman) a scream queen.  When a fire starts in the theater, Max and her friends escape through the screen and find themselves in the movie.  Eventually, they decide that they have to make it to the end of the movie and kill Billy.

I am not sure The Final Girls was the best choice for the movie's title.  It made me expect more of a feminist message (although the movie does have feminist leanings).  What it does have is a strong emotional core.  Max's relationship with her mother's character is beautifully done.  She wants to be able to at least save this small part of her mother.

The chills are done pretty well too.  Billy's scary theme was surprisingly effective.  I felt like I would've enjoyed watching the cheesy original, since there were still several scares in the comedic take.  I found the ending extremely fitting for a movie that mocked horror tropes when it wasn't serving as a touching paean to grief.

The Final Girls is currently available as video on demand from most retailers.  It will be available to rent from Redbox starting November 3rd.

October 23, 2015

Review: Material Girls

Material Girls By Elaine Dimopoulos
Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR
Review copy

In the future, creative industries like fashion and video game design are staffed by teenagers (hired at thirteen) because everyone knows that young people know what is cool.  Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde both rose to the top of their fields, but now their teens are almost over and their afraid of becoming obsolosers.  When Marla loses her prestigious position and Ivy gets threatened by a new pop starlet, the girls start seeing the downside to their world and getting the gumption to fight back.

I found that MATERIAL GIRLS took awhile to kick into gear.  I think it was a mix of two things.  Elaine Dimopoulos built a dystopian that took a lot of set up to explain and ground the setting, and both girls start out shallow and unquestioning in order to make their journey more satisfying.  I found that the plot didn't really move until Marla and Ivy met each other.

I thought MATERIAL GIRLS was full of good ideas.  The way it mocks trends and commercialism reminds me of Scott Westerfeld's slicker SO YESTERDAY.  I liked the way the girls' revolution came about, and that all the leaders had different ideas about what they wanted to achieve and how.  I liked the messy, slightly ambiguous ending, that doesn't provide the story with unearned resolution.  As the slow start showed, the execution could use some work.

MATERIAL GIRLS is the first novel by Dimopoulos, and I think it proves she has talent.  If I were on a court picking the next big thing, I don't think I'd pass this book on to the next level.  I would, however, encourage the artist to keep submitting ideas and honing her craft.  There's a good foundation here.

October 20, 2015

Review: Tell the Story to Its End

Tell the Story to Its End By Simon P. Clark
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin (Macmillan)
Review copy

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” ― G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton's famous quote offers one look at the way stories interact with childhood.  TELL THE STORY TO THE END focuses on the other side.  It is not a horror novel where things jump out at the protagonist or monsters rise up out of oozing slime.  It is a horror novel that says you might not get your happy ending.

I was hooked from the title alone.  It could be a positive affirmation, but combined with the smooky and shadowy cover, it is delightfully sinister.  The book opens with Oli, a young boy, speaking with Eren, a strange creature that wants him to tell stories.  Each chapter opens with more of this ongoing conversation, then flashes back to how it came to happen.  There are stories within stories, as Oli gathers more to tell to Eren.  Perhaps the most important is Oli's own story, the one he has to seek out because all the adults in his life are lying to him.  There is something going on with his father, but no one will tell him.

The sense of creeping doom is well captured by debut author Simon P. Clark.  The opening makes it clear that things are going to come to a head, but he doesn't rest on that self evident truth.  The world of Oli's dreams starts seeping into his waking hours.  Whatever the reader believes is or isn't actually happening, it is clear that Oli has gotten himself into trouble and is only digging deeper.

TELL THE STORY TO ITS END is a lovely little horror story about a boy falling prey to the danger lurking just upstairs.  He notices more than the adults want him to, and at the same time they fail to notice enough.  As everyone tries to help Oli with his struggles moving to the countryside and missing his dad, no one suspects something more sinister lurking.  This is a tale to keep you up at night.

October 19, 2015

Movie Monday: Crimson Peak

Gothic romance is one of those old genres that I wish were still popular.  It's named after the pseudo-medieval buildings that tended to be a prominent feature of the settings, but that was hardly all there was to those tawdry novels.  They eschewed realism and embraced sensationalism, ghosts and family secrets and more used to question fears about modern ethics and social order.

Director Guillermo del Toro does a wonderful job of translating the genre into a modern movie.  Set at the turn of the century and the end of the Victorian era, Crimson Peak raises questions of class difference, American versus English society, and feminine independence while still managing to focus on the important things: tormented ghosts, a creepy old house, psychosexual text, and a terrified heroine with surprising resolve.

I think you should go see Crimson Peak on the big screen to experience the full beauty of the movie.  The sets are amazing.  The eponymous house is ridiculous, a stately manor fallen into disrepair since it was built on top of a clay mine.  This is mostly an excuse to use the clay, a squishy red substance, everywhere.  It sinks through the snow, like blood.  It oozes through the first-floor floorboards and trails down the walls, like blood.  It bubbles in vats in the basement, less like blood and more like something lurking beneath a catwalk in the origin story of a comic book villain.  And the costumes!  So much velvet and pleating and other lush textures that you can practically feel through the screen.  A lot of love went into this movie, and it shows.

The plot propping up all that beauty is a simple thing.  If you've seen the Crimson Peak trailer, you can probably guess at most of what is going to happen.  That was fine with me.  This is a Gothic romance, a genre that lives and breaths tropes.  I enjoy seeing such lurid and silly material being thrown on screen with a budget of millions of dollars.  I think any other fan of the genre will enjoy it too, if only to catch nods to luminaries of the genre, like quotes from Jane Eyre (being said by Tom Hiddleston).

The cast is well suited to the material.  With a dye job, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston look impressively like siblings, all high cheekbones and light blue eyes.  Chastain's performance has been thoroughly praised (as it should be), but I think Hiddleston acquits himself well as a man who has lived in the thrall of his sister his entire life.  I quite liked Mia Wasikowska as Edith, too.  She's an actor who didn't leave much of an impression on me until Stoker, and I've come around on her.  It doesn't hurt that she's playing a bespectacled author who is willing to wield a shovel when times call for it.

The only bum note in the cast is Charlie Hunnam's American accent.  I didn't even realize he was supposed to be an American and not an immigrant until I remembered that his mother and sister were clearly American.  He was quite good as the childhood friend who suspects shenanigans, but that accent was possibly the most shocking thing in Crimson Peak.

Crimson Peak was a wonderful way to spend an October afternoon.  It has a few chills, a snowy backdrop, a surprisingly effective love story, and plenty of mayhem.  Plus, it is absolutely gorgeous.

October 18, 2015

Buy Goosebumps and support Worldreader

For a few more days, you can name your price to get more than $260 of Goosebumps audiobooks in the current book bundle from Humble Bundle, presented by Scholastic.  This promotion supports Worldreader, a non-profit that helps put tech and digital books in the hands of children and their families.  Their focus is on Indian and African novels.

You can read free books from Worldreader on your phone at this site.

Worldreader's press release about the promotion says:

‘‘An entire generation of readers got hooked on reading in part because of R.L. Stine’s ability to tell such addictive, funny, and scary stories,’’ says Danielle Zacarias, our Director of Content. ‘‘Worldreader wants to get people hooked on reading – first and foremost we want to help people become literate but once that happens we want them to love reading and continue reading…It’s a great honor to be attached to a bundle with his name on it.’’

This year, Humble Bundle customers have raised over $100,000 for Worldreader. Thanks to Humble Bundle and their community of readers, we’re able to get more children hooked on reading and are now in the process of sending 50 e-readers (loaded with 100 e-books on each one) to a school in Nima, Ghana, serving some of Nima’s poorest girls. That’s 5,000 new books and a library full of new educational and learning opportunities.

Did you know: 
• There are an estimated 1 billion people on the planet who lack basic reading and writing skills.
• The more relevant and engaging a student’s first reads are, the more likely that person will continue learning and reading throughout their life. Yet, 50% of schools in Africa have few or no books at all.
 • The increasing ubiquity and diminishing costs of digital technology enable Worldreader to bring books of all subjects, and reading levels to people across the developing world.
 For more facts about how literacy changes lives, visit:


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