I am … okay

Lorien Legacy: The Power Of Six by Pittacus Lore

I suppose I should say, in defense of this series, I haven’t read the whole series. I saw the movie, and read one of the other books so maybe I’d enjoy this more if I’d done better with the series.

The second thing is that I listened to it, and I really didn’t like the readers. That can make or break an audiobook, and in this case, it broke for me. The reader for Four’s part wasn’t great but he was okay. The reader for Seven drove me nuts! I don’t know why she read all the parts of the Spanish characters with a terrible Spanish accent if all the characters, including the main character, are speaking Spanish?

Overall I felt this book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great – the language wasn’t particularly compelling, and while the story moved along at a good pace, the characters lacked any real depth or characterization, the villains lacked complexity and the story was generally predictable. I liked it well enough, but I’m a snob and I guess I was looking for something a little bit more.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed seeing a love triangle with a boy in the center. If there had to be a love triangle, it was nice to see it wasn’t a girl. After all, boys have feelings too.

I’m sure I’d recommend this series to an older child or young adult – it’s a fast read, plot driven and fun. I’m sure I wouldn’t recommend it to adult snobs.

Last movie I watched:

The first half of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. I loved the first one so much it could hardly live up to my expectations, but it’s not bad.

Last TV show I watched:

Legend of Korra. Love it!

Learning to fly

Septimus Heap: Book 2: Flyte by Angie Sage

This series is just so much fun! It’s a kids series, good for readers who enjoyed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Septimus Heap doesn’t grow and get darker the same way Harry Potter did). I would confidently recommend it to kids who are looking for a great fantasy series with quirky characters, lots of plot, fun language play and some solid world building.

The book follows Jenna (the long lost Princess), Septimus (no longer a nameless boy in the army, but the apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary wizard) and Simon, the oldest Heap as he pursues another apprenticeship, this time with DomDaniel.

I laughed out loud, was surprisingly moved by a few moments and really enjoyed how, at its core, despite its epic feel, dragons and jokes it is still a story about a family. A confused, struggling and not always reasonable family and if that isn’t relatable I don’t know what is.

Last movie I watched:

Probably still that piece of The Greatest Showman

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. Still so, so, so good

Beautiful and heartbreaking and human

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Abridged) by Khaled Hosseini

I listened this book as an audiobook, which is why it was the abridged. The reader was great, the book was amazing and I’m kind of struggling with an book hangover – I’ve got a new audiobook on the go but can’t get into it because it’s just not as good as this story.

The story is of two women in Afghanistan, spanning forty or fifty years. It is heartbreaking, beautiful and devastating but ultimately hopeful story .  It is about the amazing power of women to overcome unthinkable horrors, particularly when they are motivated by love of their children.

The first part of the book is the story of Miriam, an illegitimate child of a wealthy man and a former housekeeper. She is excluded not just from her father’s family, but society as a whole. Her world changes dramatically when she’s a young teenager which ultimately results in her marriage to an abusive man named Rasheed in Kabul.

The second part of the book introduces Laila, who has lived her whole life down the street from Rasheed and Miriam, some twenty years older than her, without ever knowing it, in a much more liberal household. She too is forced to grow up devastatingly early and she becomes Rasheed’s second wife.

The last part changes point of views, switching between the two women as they move from adversaries to allies to a family in the truest sense.

The personal struggles of the two women take place against the backdrop of Afghanistan troubled history, including regime changes, international conflict with the Soviets and the Americans and the repressive rule of the Taliban. Both women are scarred by the trauma of war, just as their beloved city is. Yet at the end of the books, there’s a glimmer of hope for another generation of women, who may escape the horrors their mothers and grandmother’s survived.

I should mention that this book ends almost in the present, and its worth considering what the book is so subtly and elegantly suggesting about the future in the middle east.

It’s really hard to talk about this book without giving away a lot of details, which I’m struggling with because it was such a great story I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but I feel like I have to talk about mothers in this book, because to me that’s what the story is really about. In all fairness, this could be because I listened to it as I fed my 4 week old son, but I still think it’s worth considering.

Both women, Laila and Miriam had mothers who loved them, but could not make the hard choices to protect their daughters, due mostly to the trauma and pain they had experienced. For Laila’s mother, this was the death of her sons and her hatred for the Soviets as a result which motivated her to stay in Kabul long after it became unsafe for her family, which ultimately resulted in her death, her husband’s death and the forced marriage of her daughter. Miriam’s mother was so unable to move past the betrayal of the man she loved that when Miriam left her, even just for a day, to see her father, she took her own life.

Contrast that with Laila who married and stayed with a man who abused her to protect her children, who at the end of the book is called “mother” by a school full of orphans and is carrying the potential for the next generation of women. Miriam kills and literally dies to protect Laila and her children, the daughter who wasn’t even her own. Both women make enormous sacrifices to ensure the safety of their children, and that provides hope for the future.

This is an incredible story and I think everyone should read it. Everyone because if nothing else it’s a beautiful, moving exercise in empathy, which is of course, how books change the world.

Last movie I watched:

A small piece of the Greatest Showman, with the commentary of a four year old and a six year old over top of it. I think I’ll try it again sometime.

Last TV show I watched:

Avatar: The Last Airbender. So good guys! So, so good.

Very deep, just a little bit scary

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I really like John Green, his online personality as much as his books. So I was pretty excited for this.

As I side note, I listened to it as an audiobook and the reader was pretty good, if anyone’s got a long road trip ahead of them.

This book centers around Aza, a sixteen year old girl who has a great best friend Daisy who convinces her to help look for a missing billionaire in Indianapolis to get the hundred thousand dollar reward. She also has a few pretty serious mental health issues. As she struggles with her sense of herself, Aza and Daisy’s quest changes everything for both of them.

Overall it was a great read. Like most John Green books, it’s pretty philosophic and maybe a little more thought driven then plot driven, but that’s okay. There’s lots (and lots) I could say about it but I will just mention a thought or two and get on with on my day.

One of the things that I could most terrifying and wonderful was Aza’s mental health issues. John Green clearly brings his own personal experience to this book. Aza’s constant search for the perfect metaphor to describe her illness, like if she could just explain it accurately somehow she’d be better. I found (spoilers! just assume there are spoilers from here on out) her late night drinking of hand sanitizer to be a terrifying and traumatic read for me. The writing was perfect. Not only was Aza out of control, but the reader was too. It was scary.

I also really liked that Aza and her love interest, Davis, the son of the missing billionaire, did not end up together.  John Green often subverts expectations about happily ever afters (see Paper Towns) but Davis and Aza really had a connection. It felt tangible and real and built on something that mattered, not the far too common love at first sight coupling that YA so enjoys. But lots of relationships between two people who are really connected don’t work out and YA doesn’t always do a great job of showing that.

And I liked that the core relationship in the story was Aza’s and Daisy’s. Because again, YA novels often put all the focus on the romance, and not the best friend. There’s the odd exception of course, but generally it’s not. This is unfortunate, because I have found in my own experience (not a study or anything) that after high school you’re way more likely to keep in touch with your friends than anyone you dated.

So it’s not The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s a great read and I would be more than happy to recommend it to any young person.

Last movie I watched:

Golden Compass. It was good. Certainly not the movies fault they didn’t make the sequel. I blame the book.

Last TV show I watched:

Galavant. Hilarious.

It was probably okay to read the last one first

Spirit Animals: The Evertree by Marie Lu

This series is pretty popular with junior readers, and I can’t lie, if they had been written when I was a kid I would have loved them, but unfortunately for my younger self, my present self is a bit more of a snob.

This was a perfectly fine book in just about all ways. The characters are okay, somewhat likable but they are dependent on a certain amount of flat characterization about their racial identities and backgrounds. The story is okay, nothing out of the ordinary, a standard small team of young people who have to save the world from something unthinkably evil after the death of their mentor with a group of allies they’d met on their quest for various objects of power. The world is okay, standard fantasy world with different peoples, landscapes and of course, mythical animals.

When the story is this generic you really need impressive writing to make the book special. But the writing’s pretty fine too. I really like Marie Lu’s YA stuff but this I found underwhelming.

However, the most important part is that I would recommend this series to young readers who liked fantasy and animals. It’s a good series for that.

Last movie I watched:

Equals I think. Not that great, but I love bad science fiction, so I enjoyed it

Last TV epsisode I watched:

Gallavant. Which I think is hilarious.

Hilariously dark but very excellent

The Deadly 7 by Garth Jennings

Nelson isn’t lonely, he just didn’t need any friends when he had his big sister Celeste. But then one day, she gets kidnapped, his parents leave to help search for her and he gets shipped off to his crazy uncle Pogo where he can’t do anything to help. But in a weird twist of events, while trying to find a leak in St Paul’s Cathedral Nelson and Pogo find a secret room with a mysterious machine that accidentally pulled out his seven deadly sins and turned them into invisible monsters who simply have to help him find Celeste, no matter what.

The adventure that follows is hilarious, most full of potty humour, British humour and a few really dark moments.

But it makes a quick read, a good laugh and really good story. I would recommend it for reluctant readers about age 10, depending on their reading level and be prepared for a little bit of giggling.

Last movie I watched:

I’m really not sure

Last TV episode I watched:

The Crown. So, so, so good.

Meh

Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice Defenders of the Dead by Jude Watson

This novel takes place before the Phantom Menace and was really written to be a quick, popular read based around Obi Wan Kenobi’s Jedi training. Unfortunately, no one really bothered to work that hard on the writing or narrative because they had a captive audience (Star Wars fans looking to transition from picture books and easy readers to novels) and as a result the book was very much… meh.

The premise of the book is that Obi Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn travel to a planet that has been at war for so many generations no one really remembers who started it on a rescue mission. While they are there, they encounter a group of people called the Young who have decided that they will defy their families and force their people to talk peace, by any means necessary.

Honestly, it’s not a great book. The premise is pretty interesting, but of course because it’s a Star Wards book, they had to sideline the original elements of the story in favour of the Star Wars characters. The writing is bland, although its a good transitional book I guess, to move young readers along and while I wouldn’t recommend it to an adult, I would hand it to a young reader who loved Star Wars and was ready to move to novels.

Last movie I watched: Deadpool 2

Pretty funny

Last TV episode I watched:

The Crown. Still so good. SO GOOD.

Paranormal Love Triangles

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

This young adult novel follows a pretty familiar pattern – young girl who’s always felt a little, well different, starts public school for the first time, immediately forms a special connection with a cute boy and then starts to experience from pretty weird stuff  that will throw her into an epic battle between good and evil. Guiding her along the way? A cute fairy boy who she has a strong connection with and he tells her the truth – she was never a human at all but a fairy all along.

There’s a lot of good stuff here. Certainly the fairy lore is at least as well researched as most of the vampire/werewolf/angel/demon kind of mythology that constantly leaks into this genre. The story is pretty neat too, playing off the idea of changelings, which of course is part of fairy lore, but set in modern times when Laurel has to worry about science and doctors revealing her secret which is pretty interesting. The world ending premise (that the bad guys will take control of Laurel’s human parent’s family land) is also pretty neat.

But the characters lack the depth to really make them get up off the page and relate to. They’re good, fine, flat but for me, not looking for someone I need to project into, it was just a little disappointing.

I would still recommend it to younger teens who were looking for something to follow up the other paranormal love triangle books.

Last movie I watched:

Infinity Wars! I just can’t form words

Last TV I watched:

The Crown. So good.

Magical Science Fiction

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

I adore Kelley Armstrong. I think this was the first of her YA fiction that I’ve read and while I would say it was good, really good even, I guess there’s something about YA’s tropiness that makes it hard for even great writers to really shine. Having said that, I would very much recommend it and read the rest of the trilogy.

The story is about Maya, a pretty typical teenager who lives with her adopted parents in a community on an isolated park on Vancouver Island, founded entirely by a large medical company. The sudden death of her best friend, and a year later increasingly strange things happening to her sends her on a quest to understand who she really is and what this doctors who founded her town are really researching.

Like many YA titles it falls victim to a few standards – first loves, relationship drama, one ultimate mean girl, orphan with mysterious and unknown past, best friends confused with dating partners and a tension between the teens and the authority figures. Most of these are okay on their own, but as they stack up, it starts to feel a little stale.

But it’s also got some great points too. Maya is an indigenous character. Not being indigenous myself I can’t say if her close ties to the forest and the animals could be seen as reinforcing a stereotype or as a really cool, accessible magic power  or as a bit of a mix of both. It certainly adds a something to the story. Kelley Armstrong’s fast paced, narrative driven style makes it almost impossible to put down. It also deals with attempted date rape, which is also something I think we all benefit from talking about with teens. And it’s both written by a Canadian and set in Canada, so that’s just a great bonus.

I would recommend this  book for it’s intended audience – teens and do so happily! I will continue to love Kelley Armstrong.

Last movie I watched:

Infinity Wars! So good although kind of a kick in the teeth

Last TV show I watched:

The Crown. So good guys, so good!

Batman’s trust issues

Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond  by Adam Beechen and Ryan Benjamin

Once again, I read this a long time ago, like several months and even though it was really, really fun, particularly it’s place in the Batman Beyond universe, it wasn’t exactly ground breaking.

Highlights have to include the cameo from Dick Grayson, the introduction of the new Catwoman and Bruce Wayne having to acknowledge that he screwed up because that doesn’t happen often.

If you enjoy Terry McGinnis and that timeline, I’d totally recommend it!

Last movie I watched:

A piece of Moana

Last TV episode I watched:

Still Supernatural. Sooner or later I’ll get through this.