Book Review: Tiger’s Quest (The Tiger Saga #2) by Colleen Houck

Back in Oregon, Kelsey tries to pick up the pieces of her life and push aside her feelings for Ren. Kelsey Hayes’s eighteenth summer was crazy. The kind of crazy nobody would ever believe. 

Aside From battling immortal sea monkeys and trekking the jungles of India, she fell in love with Ren, a 300-year-old prince.

When danger suddenly forces Kelsey on another Indian quest, with Ren’s bad-boy brother, Kishan, the unlikely duo begin to question their true destiny. Ren’s life hangs in the balance – so does the truth within Kelsey’s heart.

Tiger’s Quest, the thrilling second volume in the Tiger’s Curse series, brings the trio one step closer to breaking the ancient prophecy that binds them.

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In a break between assignments and required reading, some strange little thought in my head told me it’d be fun to read the second book in Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Quest series. Maybe rather than write lengthy recaps on my blog, I could just do status updates on everything that was worth mentioning, from the finest-toothed comb of nit-picking to the plot holes so large one could drive the Knight Bus through them.

Yeah, I don’t really understand why I did it either.

Tiger’s Quest, is, predictably, just as bad as the first book, if not worse. It is a book where, despite the fantastical adventures our heroes find themselves on, nothing much really happens. Despite the description being (thankfully) dialled down from last time, I still feel like I’m drowning in purple prose. Despite our heroine taking measures to learn how to fight, gaining a nifty new lightning power, and researching mythology more diligently than she did in the last book, she’s still an idiotic milksop who is only animated by the plot and nothing else.

You see, there’s a very important thing to note when writing characters in any fictional medium. They need to display agency, and proactivity. Kelsey displays neither. The whole plot can be described as a series of events that simply fall into her lap. She is passive beyond belief, hardly ever utilising the martial arts training she has been given, and only using her powers in predicaments that would have been much more easily solved had she realised that she could fight off bad guys or zap an attacking bear with lightning, rather than allow it to claw open her leg and give her an infected wound so that she needs to be carried around by her companions.

Kelsey does occasionally have moments of self-awareness: ‘I recovered my senses enough to realise that I had a weapon of my own. What an idiot I was. Some kind of fighter I turned out to be.’ (p. 258), but essentially, she gets caught or stands still for far too long before she realises she now has some combat training, or simply winds up being rescued by one of the men. If the author wanted to make Kelsey a much more capable character this time around, she failed miserably. She is so passive and awkward that she is asked out on a date by somebody she doesn’t like, and doesn’t realise she could easily just blow it off herself. Nope, instead Ren or Kishan have to step into the picture and be her knight in shining armour. Durga’s chosen champion is just doe-eyed and useless ninety-nine per cent of the time. I hate to tell a goddess her business, but… Durga, I think you ought to be have been looking for somebody else on the alternate timeline, who is a lot more headstrong and capable than Kelsey.

In part, this is because a lot of the plot skims over these details. Kelsey talks about attending many wushu classes, how she reads tonnes of books on mythology, how she writes reports for her university programme, how she and her friends travel through various regions of Nepal and India, but we are never privy to this detail except for occasional circumstances where emotional conflict is brought into the picture. i.e., Kelsey’s boyfriend Li, and moments where she and Kishan become closer in this Nepalese hotel near the foot of Mt. Everest. I would have loved for there to be a few moments where we saw Kelsey studying and really getting into the mythology aspect. Not: “Well, I kind of left university after one semester but I was such a good student that my teachers allowed me to finish all my classes online and accepted a paper I wrote about my current adventures in India.”

Telling and not showing is a huge detriment to this book. I believe the two concepts can work in tandem with each other. It allows you to engage with both the active and the passive voice, and tests your skills as a storyteller. However… this is not the case in Tiger’s Quest. We are often told that a character is X, but scarcely ever shown. As a reader, it makes me engage a lot more with the character when we are shown interactions and gestures that allow the character to develop in your mind. Kishan tells Kelsey that she is a brave warrior at one point, and other characters talk about her courage. Kelsey is more prone to episodes of dumb luck than she is to any stab at heroism. Her power activates in dire circumstances, and she occasionally has dreams or visions pertaining to details that prolong this awkward plot even further along.

Perhaps if Kelsey had done brave things, I would have found myself having much more faith in her than I did. I should not be reading a book with a lofty, grand adventure plot and action-packed quests, where my mind just goes: “Oh, yeah, Kelsey’s either going to stand still and observe or just get herself rescued. Over. And over.” In fact, right at the end, the villain gets away pretty much because of a half-baked plan that Kelsey thought up. We are then told, via a conversation in the inexplicable mansion in the middle of a jungle, that oh, no, they used some clever tactics with the mythical relics they have found on the quest in order to drive out the villain. So basically, you read one chapter, and then the characters spend a lengthy amount of the following chapter telling you what happened, but it was totally different!

If Tiger’s Curse was a half-baked Twilight rip-off, then Tiger’s Quest somewhat follows New Moon. While Kelsey thankfully doesn’t turn into Bella Swan, writing in her journal and sobbing over her lost boyfriend, we do get her developing a close friendship with Kishan, our Jacob analogue. Even though Kishan was one of my better-liked characters in Tiger’s Curse, he is tedious as all hell throughout Tiger’s Quest. There’s a scene where Kishan discovers what happened to Yesubai, the princess he has been grieving over for three centuries, and rather than it shaking his foundations to the core and him needing some time to get over it, or even following the psychological stages of loss… It’s simply washed away with a conversation along the lines of: “I understand why she had to do what she did. Really. I’m okay with it!” and never brought up again.

Speaking of the Twilight series, Ren really does become like Dead-Weird Sullen in the agonisingly dull first act of the book. It is over one hundred and forty pages of Kelsey living in an enormously expensive mansion in the mountains, being given a Porsche, having her university tuition paid for her, and getting all sorts of ridiculously expensive trinkets and dresses before Ren arrives to live in the mansion’s annex, and from there on in it is just Kelsey faffing around with her feelings for Ren, awkwardly dating the other guys she has met at university, and kissing Ren. I know YA books are supposed to be quite chaste, but I have never read a YA with a larger focus on kissing than this one. Not dating or other mutual displays of affection. Just kissing. Every single romantic moment with Ren and Kelsey winds up with some form of her drowning in his kisses, or “omg he kissed me and my mind went blank and I immediately began thinking about the things it was doing to my heart in purple prose because it was just SO hot.” 

I don’t know about you, but I find it almost unspeakably boring when the love interest in these kinds of books is supposed to be unfathomably attractive that all the ladies fall over him, and Kelsey insists that “no girl in her right mind would reject him!”

Another thing I find completely objectionable? Ren is cruel, spiteful, mean and possessive in the early parts of this book. In fact, I was almost glad that he was taken out of the picture. Surely it’s a pretty big red flag when your boyfriend asks you where you think you’re going, dressed like that when Kelsey goes out in a dress, minimal make-up and high heels. Or how about the time where Ren attended one of Kelsey’s martial arts classes, where Kelsey and one of her male friends demonstrated a throw? Ren’s response is to actually go up to said male friend and toss him halfway across the room. Then it went into one of the silliest, most ridiculous martial arts fights that I have ever witnessed in a book. Complete with running up walls, backflipping, doing these impossible backwards sacrifice throws that would likely break both of your arms, and Kelsey simply standing there as some sort of damsel in distress rather than vocalising a protest or physically breaking them up. Funnily enough, that’s one of the more well-written fights in the book. All of the others follow a mechanical process of: “I did this. I did that. This happened. That happened.” Over and over and over.

One of my biggest problems with Tiger’s Curse was the weird mash-up of different mythologies. Okay, sure, there were kappa featured in Tiger’s Curse. (Which makes even less sense than before, considering Ren and Kishan’s mother, who taught them about these beasts, was of Mongolian descent. Japan had implemented an isolationist policy during the time, so how in the hell did she know about kappa, and how to defeat them?) Tiger’s Quest ramps up the mythology until it’s some disgusting mush. Kelsey and Kishan visit Shangri-La, which is apparently accessed by going through a Japanese spirit gate up a Tibetan mountain pass. (Also, the only research Kelsey does… is read James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. A white guy’s take on an Asian legend during a colonial period.) The remnants of Noah’s Ark are there, and all the animals have bred in this paradise, and are perfectly friendly towards humans. Oh, and there’s a fairy grove with tree nymphs, a sequence I’m sure only existed to amp up the drama because Ren and Kelsey were reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream before he was kidnapped. There’s also a quest to climb up the Tree of Life, which is apparently guarded by Jormungandr, who is on vacation from slumbering beneath the ocean. There are Stymphalian birds, too! Both heroes have to be allowed into the tree to do these tedious trials, which just pad the book out longer. All this, by the way, for a scarf! Which they then use to parachute down from the highest branch, whilst flipping around in the air and fighting off the Stymphalian birds with a combination of lightning powers and bow and arrow tricks that not even an Olympian archer could pull off.

There are other, numerous clankers – one of which being Kelsey and Kishan hiking up to the snow-line (5,200 metres – higher than some alpine mountain summits!) of Mt. Everest, and only deciding to change into appropriate winter hiking gear on the way down from Shangri-La. No mention of them using snow treads or mountain-hiking poles at all, either!

This book also had me stating: “RIDICULOUS!” so many times I think my neighbours thought I was trying to ward off a Boggart. Kelsey defeats the Big Bad by using one of the mythical relics to summon a shower of jawbreakers to distract him. I am not kidding. She also turns the military vehicles his henchmen are using into useless chassises with engines made out of sponge cake. But… she doesn’t exactly stop the villain from getting away. ‘I could have used the Golden Fruit to stop up his engine, but I chose not to.’ (p. 424) Well, it’s amazing how our hero actually has the choice to stop the villain in his tracks, so he won’t wreak havoc, enslave an entire tribe with black magic, or murder or torture anybody ever again, but she just chooses to let him go. FOR SOME REASON.

Speaking of the villain, my god did the author overdo it. We get it, he’s evil. There is no need to make him whisper threats of torture in his every appearance, have Kelsey note he’s completely evil in his bearing every time he shows up, or gasp in horror at what he’s done to Ren in his torture dungeon. I mean, there’s this thing called subtlety? Lokesh had the conniving persona of Emperor Palpatine mixed with the sadistic cruelty of Hannibal Lecter. He craved power at any price, like Lord Voldemort, and he displayed the pitiless brutality of Ming the Merciless, who, like him, had killed his own daughter.’ (p. 423) Yup. Rather than develop him so we know he is cruel, conniving, brutal and wants power over everything else, here’s a lazy grab bag of characters in popular culture you can relate to.

Kelsey is perhaps the biggest detriment, and I hate how I have to admit that. Female characters in general deserve much better than this awful excuse for a heroine. It’s as if somebody took Bella Swan at her very worst and decided to inject her with the most hideously wholesome and corny personality imaginable. Kelsey still talks like a horrendously sheltered teenager, compares herself to a barren desert (p. 370) because she misses her lover that much, and is so, so passive during this entire adventures that she only figures out what she must do to save Ren when Odin’s ravens (yes, seriously) peck into her ears, whispering secrets and removing certain memories. On page 332. Of a 479 page book. The preceding 300 pages are nothing but utter waffle about the life and feelings of a protagonist I absolutely do not care about, because of how utterly bland and passive she is. Everything happens to her. She doesn’t make a concerted effort to do much of anything, and I don’t care what gender main characters are, I expect them to do something rather than sit around and wait for plot-convenient things to fall into their laps.

Hell, there’s a part where Kelsey makes a half-assed guess at something Mr. Kadam has been researching for months, and guess what? She turns out to be right! Because, you know, clearly the white girl’s half-baked knowledge is superior to that of a scholar who actually belongs to the culture. Even one of her first year geography essays for university is instrumental in helping Mr. Kadam figure out this mythological quandary he’s been puzzling over for weeks!

Kelsey masters her lightning power in a matter of days, as well as kendo and archery, and other forms of self-defence. (Yet she almost never uses them!) Kelsey is also the only person who can give the answer desired by the Ocean Teacher, who is supposedly the Dalai Lama’s instructor. It’s amazing how this kind of knowledge takes a lot longer for the native people to study, but the perfect white person can snap their fingers and come up with the answer immediately.

I still find it particularly disgusting that Kelsey is using the Golden Fruit to her own means, when it’s a fucking relic that can ensure the whole of India is fed. Because clearly, using it to stop two immortals from turning into tigers would… accomplish what, exactly? Ren and Kelsey and Kishan are perfectly happy in the first part of the book. In fact, their tiger nature isn’t so much a ticking clock or a harrowing supernatural werewolf-type condition anymore. They’re so human most of the time that when Kishan went into this big spiel about how he’d struggled to adapt to human life and eternally struggled with his bestial side, I didn’t believe a word of it. Solve dire problems with malnutrition and poverty, or ensure your boyfriends don’t turn into tigers any more, so they can kiss you all day?

I was a fool for going into this book and maybe thinking that now we’d gotten the introductions and the first stupid quest out of the way, the story would naturally pan out into a fun adventure. Surely this was the book where it had been properly edited so that the research was not some half-assed skimming of Wikipedia, the characters would no longer be bland or horribly flawed, or the nature of the story wasn’t ludicrously convenient. Sadly, Tiger’s Quest accomplishes none of these, and it’s just such a drudgery to get through that it could have easily been a hundred pages shorter. If it reins in the romantic angst next time, it’ll probably have time to show the characters developing, learning and growing rather than following such a bland line of events.

Pfft. I doubt it. 1/5.

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to college, and Wren’s decided she wants to dance, go to parties and let loose.

It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan-fiction she writes, where she always knows what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren, Cath is totally out of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming boyfriend, a professor who thinks fan-fiction is the end of the civilised world, a classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. 

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realising there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible…

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(NOTE: This review was also published on the wonderful new book website Bibliodaze! Bookmark them/add them to your blog reader/RSS feed. Now. Also, hello if you’re new to my blog!)

There comes a time in a geek/nerd/dork’s life when one realises that there’s an entire community out there who are willing to read the stories you wrote about [insert your favourite movie/TV show/book series/musical/play/video game here], and not only that, there is an entire subculture dedicated to it that pre-dates the Internet. Not only can you host your fan-fiction on your own online zine (if you want to get really archaic) or website, you can use communities like LiveJournal and a multitude of fan-fiction sites and forums. All for your perusal!

Did you want Blaise and Draco to have more… romantic interaction in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Ever wanted to read about George from Being Human‘s life before he was turned into a werewolf? Did you pick up on a romantic chemistry between two characters and decide they were forevermore your OTP? Do you simply want a cutesy story set in an alternate universe where Dean, Sam and Castiel from Supernatural are rival coffee shop owners? Well, dear reader, AO3, Fanfiction.net, LiveJournal, and countless other sites have you covered.

While there have been more than a few published novels from authors who started in fan-fiction, or even novels that essentially are fan-fiction with the serial numbers filed off, there hasn’t been a novel centring around a main character who does write these stories. Fan-fiction is hardly the niche hobby it used to be, and I’m sure there’s an audience who know all about fan-fiction and perhaps even write it. So why not give them a character they can relate to?

That’s where Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell comes in.

18 year old Cath is a well-known fan-fiction writer for the immensely popular Simon Snow book and movie series. Having latched on to the Simon Snow books and fandom as a crutch during a very painful time in her childhood, Cath is still emotionally stunted and wondering why her twin sister Wren, who was equally obsessed with the series as a youngster, has moved on with her life. Wren now goes to parties while Cath stays in her dorm, hidden behind her laptop screen and writing about the burgeoning romance between the titular Simon, and his arch-rival Baz. Too socially awkward to make friends to begin with, her bolshy roommate Reagan starts to take her out, and that’s where Cath meets Levi, the kind-hearted boy next door who takes an interest in her. By making new friends, learning how to be more social and braving through emotional hardships, Cath learns the valuable lesson that while fandom is a lovely place to hang out in when you have spare time, it’s unhealthy to let it consume your entire life. (I know. I’ve been there.)

In fact, Cath is so consumed by her appreciation for fan-fiction that she actually hands in a Simon Snow story she’s written as an assignment. Thank God she had an understanding professor who simply gave her an F and then told her off, right? Rather than kicking her off the course? Presumably the intended reaction is for the audience to cringe, but it’s difficult to feel that way when Cath immediately gets morose about how fan work doesn’t hurt anybody and it’s so unfair that she got an F for plagiarism. Cath is supposedly a very talented writer, but she’s just too obsessed with Simon Snow to move on and even try to write original stories. She’s happy to help edit her classmate’s short story submission, but comes completely unstuck when told to use her own imagination.

It’s a good thing Cath is humanised so well later in the novel, because to begin with, she comes across as the kind of person who’d dig themselves a deep hole, jump in, and then whinge about how they can’t get out of it. Emotional developments are nicely woven into the plot rather than bashing the reader over the head with the soap-opera style melodrama than can be all too common in YA.

As we learn later in the book, Cath and Wren’s interest in Simon Snow stems from the pain they felt as children when their mother left them. Their father’s bipolar disorder (exacerbated by this turn of events), and their own feelings of abandonment led them both to seeking this safe haven within the pages of this popular new book series.

Now both of them are nearly adults, and while Wren is ready to move on and actually meet with their estranged mother, Cath cannot let go of her grudge and come to terms with her emotions, clinging to fandom as her rock. It’s actually really well done – perhaps because the tone of the book is rather light and airy, slowly building up and threading in story details without having to beat us over the head with big emotional revelations.

After every chapter, Fangirl cuts away to either a piece of Wren and Cath’s fan-fiction, or extracts from the Simon Snow books themselves. There’s also parts where Cath reads her fan-fiction aloud. This might be a more personal thing, but it’s difficult to distinguish between the voices of Cath as the fan-fiction writer and the Simon Snow extracts. Could that mean that Cath is so obsessed with Gemma T. Leslie’s writing style that she’s virtually copied it right down to a T? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

Speaking of Simon Snow, though – there’s this one moment in Fangirl that was particularly baffling:

I don’t know,” Levi said. “It’s hard for me to get my head around. It’s like hearing that Harry Potter is gay. Or Encylopedia Brown.” (Loc. 1894-5)

So… Fangirl is set in the bizarre alternate universe where Harry Potter exists as a figure in the popular consciousness, but Simon Snow, a series that began in the early 2000s became infinitely more popular, despite being a huge rip-off? Simon Snow takes place at a magical school where the eponymous character is an orphan and supposedly the chosen one, has two best friends, and an intense rivalry with Baz, a Draco in Leather Pants who is also a vampire. The second Simon Snow book revolves around searching for a legendary serpent, one of the books involves Baz keeping secrets and Simon stalking him like it’s his day job, and there’s also a ‘Veiled Forest’ that’s totally not the Forbidden Forest. So, considering that Harry Potter does exist in this universe, wouldn’t J.K. Rowling have sued so hard by now? It may just be the one mention in the entire book, but it did lodge this seed in my head. (Though, speaking of Harry Potter adaptations that have become rather popular…)

Some of the more cynical might go: “Oh, this is just another ‘nerdy girl learns to be pretty once a boy comes into her life’ plot. Don’t we have enough of those?” Well… yeah, Fangirl kind of is and isn’t that typical. Levi is sweet and described as gorgeous, and Cath’s relationship with him is genuinely charming. He’s kind, non-judgemental, and apologetic when he’s done wrong. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his flaws, but he’s definitely a lovely guy and far from the gross bad boys one is supposed to fall over in YA.

The ending of the novel is rather rushed, sadly. Wren and Cath’s family life is hardly alluded to during the final 10% of the novel, instead focusing on the race to finish a fan-fiction before the final Simon Snow book is released, which is admittedly a fine method for the girls to realise that the story they grew up loving is now over and they have to move on with their adult lives. There’s also one other thing Cath has to accomplish – her short story project, which is simply swept under the rug, because we’ve got to end this somehow! Cath accomplishes writing this important project in about a day and still gets the prize for undergraduate writing. No, sorry. That’s not fair. She hardly attended her classes (out of her own volition, not when personal events were stopping her), stopped handing in assignments… Her creative writing professor took a shine to her early on and not only let Cath skip over being punished for plagiarism, she also gave her a ridiculously long extension for said short story, when it was supposed to be handed in at the end of the winter semester! (Also, were we supposed to start loathing Cath’s writing partner Nick at some point towards the end? The memo never reached my desk.) And what about the girls’ mother? We see hide nor hair from her after one of the more important scenes in the book. Oh, well. Back to college and having an awesome time with friends as the semester wraps up!

All in all, Fangirl is a fun, breezy read that’s actually got some decent character development and knows precisely when to weave it in. Cath is a more realistic portrait of the fan-fiction author than the lazy caricature a lesser writer would have gone for, thank God, and I really believed in her confusion and pain as to why she and her sister suddenly drifting apart. Levi is lovely, and Reagan is harsh, but funny. In fact, aside from one or two clangers in terms of metaphor and simile, I did find myself smiling several times while reading this.

My only real bugbear are the parts with Simon Snow fan-fiction and extracts from the novel. They take up too much space, and I wound up skimming over this half-baked Harry Potter-lite narrative after the first few times. Nice as a novelty, but not after every single chapter and several chapters where Cath simply reads it out to Levi or goes on long tirades about what she’s doing in the story. It slows down the story and the voices become utterly indistinguishable from another. The ending kind of speeds everything up rather unnecessarily, but it’s ultimately satisfactory.

3.5/5.

Film Review: This Man Must Die (Que La Bête Meure), dir. Claude Chabrol, 1969

One of my favourite books from last year was Nicholas Blake’s The Beast Must Die. Having seen the movie in my Crime Fiction class just yesterday, I thought to write a little companion piece. I’ve always been interested in how books are adapted into movies – I realise that I started thinking about it when, as a child, I was forever pissed off with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for not including Nearly Headless Nick’s Nick’s death-day celebration/Halloween party. (I’ve had a massive brain fart and can’t remember whether both of them were featured, or if I’m remembering the Halloween party from Prisoner of Azkaban. Though I’m kind of sure that there was a Halloween party in Chamber of Secrets? Please let me know in the comments!) My older brother told me certain things have to be cut out or changed, because movies are different and they’ve got to keep a short running time.

I’m saying this because Claude Chabrol took the same approach in This Man Must Die. My professor said she preferred the movie as an interpretation rather than an adaptation, but… I wanted to discuss it with you all.

You know, when the credits begin to roll, there’s about 100 or more pages left to go in the book. One of the main characters – the character the entire Strangeways series is named after – does not make an appearance at all. Yeah, I guess Chabrol really disliked Nigel Strangeways (or even W.H. Auden).

The film follows the book fairly well, transplanting the action to la France and giving everyone very French names: Marc Andrieux, Charles Thénier, Hélène Lanson, Paul Decourt, Philippe, Jeanne, etc. Changing Gloucestershire to Brittany is a fairly standard move, as is swapping out London for Paris.

Okay, quick name chart so we don’t get confused. Book name goes first, movie name second.

Frank Cairnes (real name)/Felix Lane (pen name) = Charles Thénier (real name)/Marc Andrieux (pen name)
Lana = Hélène
George Rattery = Paul Decourt
Violet Rattery = Jeanne Decourt
Philip Rattery = Philippe Decourt
And I can’t remember the name of the grandmother, but… yeah, you’ll know her when you see her. She’s Ethel Rattery in the book.

Charles is our main character, working as a children’s writer by the pen name Marc Andrieux, as opposed to a crime novelist. When his son is killed in a hit and run, Charles vows revenge and through his own investigation, discovers that the television actress Hélène Lanson was involved, driving through the countryside with her brother-in-law Paul. Deciding to woo her to get closer to the inner circle, Charles adopts his pen name as his real name, and convinces his new girlfriend to bring him to Brittany to meet the family.

I know that Charles is supposed to be really upset and vengeful over his son, but some of the lines they give him make him seem really unhinged. Like the obsessive way he talks about the investigation to the detectives, the things he writes in his diary, etc. In the book, I felt it came across as obsession via desperation, whereas in the film, it’s obsession for revenge. He also rages at Hélène for playing with his son’s teddy bear and throwing it around like a rag doll, and… apparently she’s very forgiving, because despite stating she had really severe anxiety and depression only a short while ago, and should really be a lot more upset with Charles, they soon head off to Quimper, the town where the Decourt family live, as if nothing happened. The Decourts, by the way, live in a giant mansion. (Maybe it’s just me, but I pictured the Rattery family in the book as living in the biggest house in the village. Not necessarily a mansion, but just one of those enormous 1700s/1800s-style manor-like houses.)

The film was also really unsubtle with how it treated Paul Decourt, AKA George Rattery from the book. In the novel, George is much more happy to get under people’s skin by being arrogant and disrespectful, looking down upon everybody else as if they’re dirt on the end of his shoe. It’s a slow burn that makes the reader really hate George by the time Felix – sorry, Charles – properly sets out to kill him. I mean, the man’s first introduction in the film involves him shouting in outrage at his wife before coming into the living room as if nothing happened. Then over the dinner table, he mocks his long-suffering wife by taking one of her poems out of his pocket and reading it aloud. Then his son spills a drink and Paul throws cutlery at him. George, in the book wouldn’t have done that! He would have been an arse to him, in the way that emotionally abusive people are, right?

There’s a scene later in the movie where Phillipe goes to his father’s garage to have him sign his report card. Paul notices he’s got a bad grade on his history test, and starts punching the hell out of Phillipe in front of Charles and everybody else in the garage. Like, what!? George in the book mocked his intelligence and derided having to pay so much money for an education that wouldn’t be worth it in the long run, and he wanted his son to drop out of school to follow him in the mechanic’s trade, just to rub salt in the wound because Phillip had made it clear he was not suited to be a mechanic, and George despaired over how emasculated Phillip was. Because George/Paul is vile.

Okay, I get that the film has a more restricted running time, so you can’t just have Paul/George being an arsehole – the audience will respond to him being a big bad antagonist if you take the shortcut straight to physical abuse rather than emotional abuse. But I can’t  help but feel like it was just too melodramatic for the character I knew from the book. Not that I even like Paul/George, I just feel like it was a poor interpretation of the character.

The film draws itself out for so long that I really thought Monsieur Chabrol really could have condensed the story a lot more. I was often looking down at my watch and thinking: “Wow, x minutes in and we’re only at that part?” This was doubled when we got to the ending of the movie.

SPOILERS NOW FOLLOW FOR THE BEAST MUST DIE, AND THIS MOVIE. AVERT THINE EYES FROM THIS PARAGRAPH. In the book, when Felix is caught in his own trap by gentleman detective Nigel Strangeways, he confesses everything to him and then takes his dinghy out to sea, where is never heard from again. In the movie, Phillipe comes into the police station, confesses to poisoning his father, and then Charles heads out in a boat he bought specifically to kill Rattery. (I thought it was nicer in the book that Felix was a keen dinghy sailor and wanted to bond with his son – and Philip – by taking them out on the dinghy, but in the movie Charles just blows a bunch of his money on a boat, even though he doesn’t have much reason to. I mean, I suppose you could read it as something Charles bought on a whim, but the way he goes about it makes him look really damn suspicious.)

But, even with the ending cut out and the story drawn out to the point where the ending almost has to be rushed (note: has to be; it didn’t feel rushed, thankfully), is This Man Must Die a worthy adaptation of the Nicholas Blake novel? I think it is… sort of. I mean, it glides along at a nice pace, even though it had to split apart certain story events from the book. I didn’t like how obvious and theatrical some of the characters were, but I suppose there may be differences in some translations, and maybe the director really wanted to get across that George Rattery was an arse and poor Philip was driven to madness by his father, whom  he eventually poisoned. Who knows. While I am a bit sore about my favourite character from the book not even getting a look-in, I do admire Chabrol for presenting us with, as my professor said, a decent interpretation of The Beast Must Die. It’s just a shame that it didn’t live up to every expectation of mine. A… 3/5? Yeah. That’ll do.

Tiger’s Curse: The Drinking Game!

Hello everybody! Regular readers of my blog will note that I spent approximately half of 2013 bitching about the awful, awful dreck that is Tiger’s Curse. I promised to make a drinking game out of it somewhere along the line, and this is it.

(Ironically enough, I’m pretty much teetotal and the last alcoholic drink I had was a mouthful of champagne over New Year’s. But when it comes to drinking games, from what my friends tell me, I’m pretty good! So please enjoy.)

There are some ground rules and disclaimers to trot out before we begin.

1. I am not responsible for any overconsumption of alcohol that leads to hospitalisation or injuries, or even the worst hangover you’ve ever experienced. Please keep your limits (and local drinking age laws, I guess) in mind.
2. If you don’t drink alcohol, feel free to make do with your favourite beverage.
3. If you do drink alcohol and don’t feel like drinking too much, feel free to go for something with a low alcohol content.
4. This is just one girl with a blog on the Internet. I do not represent the entire Tiger’s Curse series.
5. Fans can play along with this game too! Inclusivity is a lovely thing. Sharing is caring.
6. The measurements given are simply sips of your drink, followed by shots and finally downing it.

Having combed through the archives of my Tiger’s Curse dissections, lots of things stood out to me as being worthy of inclusion in the drinking game.

Sip Whenever… [All Characters]

  • Make a very corny joke.
  • Suddenly snap into different mood-sets despite being completely fine earlier.
  • Start speaking like robots or old British school-marms.
  • A character for whom English is not their mother tongue speaks like a stereotypical foreigner, yet somehow knows words that aren’t common in general sleep. I.e., Phet saying: “you necessity sleep.” Or pretty much any time Maurizio adds in an Italian verb or noun where it makes no grammatical sense. “I hope you, piacere – ah, like the show!” That’s ridiculous. [tangent] ‘Piacere’ is in the infinitive. Dictionary form. In other words, he’s saying: “to like,” rather than “you like.” Read that again. “I hope to like - ah, like the show!” No Italian would ever do that. (By the way, if you’re looking for the correct conjugation in the present tense, try piaci (informal) or piacete (formal).)[/tangent]
  • Kelsey is praised for pretty much existing. (This is much more common in scenes where Mr. Kadam is present, hence why it’s classed as a sip rather than a shot.)
  • A character is supposedly sarcastic, despite the fact that no characters in Tiger’s Curse would know sarcasm if it whacked them upside the head and jumped up and down on them.
  • Clothing, backgrounds and furnishings are described in great detail. Sip a little more if you notice that more attention is being paid to the setting rather than the characters’ thoughts, or the current adventure.
  • You see blatant thesaurus overuse.
  • Something is told rather than shown. Now, this perception can differ from person to person, so make sure you don’t go too overboard when taking sips of your preferred beverage. Are we good? We’re good.

Take a Shot Whenever…

  • Kelsey points out that the princes are hot, and/or goes on about how she wants to be cradled against Ren’s manly abs and pecs forever because the lady brain apparently short circuits in the presence of attractive males.
  • A female character who is not Kelsey is only ever mentioned for being beautiful, rather than any other interesting facets of her personality. Take a shot for Nilima, any mention of Yesubai, and of course, that one time where the statue of badass warrior goddess Durga comes to life only for Kelsey to observe that she was beautiful and likely needed her tiger mount to protect her.
  • Conversely, whenever Kelsey complains about how she’s so plain and average compared to everyone else.
  • Kelsey gets to wear a sharara, describing it as “an Indian princess dress.” =_=
  • It’s fairly obvious that barely any research at all went into the novel. I.e., Japanese kappas showing up in a mythic Hindu realm. A supposedly-Chinese princess knowing about kappa despite the fact that she was around during Japan’s isolationist period. The list goes on; these are just the most glaring examples I could remember.
  • Mr. Kadam starts to go off on an expository tangent, or parrots something that was probably found through Wikipedia.
  • You notice a slight plot-hole – like Ren saying he cannot read English, despite the fact that he’s fluent or semi-fluent in “at least thirty different languages” and earlier in the book left out a note in Romanised Hindi. If he speaks fluent English and can read the Latin alphabet, what’s keeping him from being able to read English?
  • Something completely unrealistic happens. I’m not just talking about the things that happen in the fantasy realm, I mean real world things like: a) Kelsey not even having to be interviewed or needing any qualifications for a job as an animal handler. b) Kelsey and Ren’s travel documents being sorted out so quickly that you’d be side-eyeing Mr. Kadam for committing forgery, c) Ren being able to travel all over the world as a(n endangered) circus animal with no documentation. d) Kelsey somehow getting radio and mobile phone reception in the middle of the Indian jungle. e) Mr. Kadam driving a Rolls Royce on an unpaved, uneven road that would more than likely seriously damage the underside and cost thousands in repairs basically every time he drove out of the mansion and into Mumbai… the list goes on and on.
  • Kelsey wails about being an orphan, even though it’s only ever done as a random, theatrical aside rather than something that’s actually a crucial part of her character.
  • Ren similarly angsts about Kishan.

Down your drink when…

  • It’s mentioned that there’s actually a villain somewhere in all this mess! (Excepting the prologue, naturally.)
  • Kelsey leaves the US of A in record time to get the story going.
  • Any time they arrive at the mansion that is inexplicably in the middle of the jungle.
  • Any time Kelsey or Mr. Kadam get access to an amazingly luxurious car! (The Jeep does not count, because it’s more function than form.)
  • You reach the utterly ridiculous, poorly thought out ending. Chill out. You deserve it.

We’re done! That’s pretty much all I could think of. Hey, come on, I’m sure this is more than enough to get you plastered on your drink of choice. :P Feel free to add more rules for this drinking game in the comments below, and I’ll add them!

2013: The Year in Review (For This Blog, At Least)

Over the past week, I was wondering whether or not to write a best/worst list, or continue going through my Tiger’s Curse chapter dissections to actually have the drinking game out on time. Whoops.

But, since 2013 has been a big year for me, I thought it would be much better to do one of those Facebook-y New Year’s posts, separated month by month. It might be long, it might be pointless, but it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to.

This was the year I met J.K. ROWLING, people. I also met John Barrowman, Richard Dawkins (albeit briefly), and read some absolutely fantastic books. As well as a few stinkers and some that were just okay. For most of the year, I was in a bit of a reading slump, DNF-ing books left, right and centre and hoping that being snarky in chapter dissections would fill the void. Which meant I only read 80 books. But, if you look at my GoodReads reading challenge for 2014, I’m going to try for 180 books this year, the same number I accomplished in 2012. Hopefully I’ll get all of my required reading out of the way, and dive into leisure reading over the spring and summer breaks, because from what I hear of the workload during winter semester of the third year of my course… it ain’t pretty.

So, without further ado, let’s look back through the year, using WordPress’ handy-dandy archive! We’re going to ignore posts on anime episodes, chapter dissections, and posts on manga chapters, because there’s never really that much to talk about after they’ve been released, I find. So books it is!

January

Well, I wrote a list on the crappiest books I’d read in 2012. My first review of the year was for Dr. Franklin’s Island by Ann Halam, which was basically The Island of Dr. Moreau-lite. It had a few pacing and writing issues, but it was a fairly enjoyable read. Even a bit creepy in some places.

Then I reviewed The Raie’Chaelia by Melissa Douthit, and naturally didn’t enjoy. Ignoring the exploits of the author, it was the most by-the-numbers fantasy one could possibly expect, with poor world-building and bad dialogue. But unfortunately it was the first DNF of the year, because I hit a plateau of boredom after a while.

Also, I’d forgotten about two reviews I’d left to languish on my hard drive. They were If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and Tempest by Julie Cross. If I Stay was alright, if a little saccharine at times, but Tempest sucked. I mean, what’s the point of writing a time travel story if it turns out that it doesn’t affect anything in the present once you’re back from changing the events of your past? I’m sure it’s an interesting idea, since the Butterfly Effect is only a theory, and the universe is probably strong enough not to rip itself in two based on one paradox caused by somebody travelling back in time and changing the past. But basically, Tempest is just a dull, poorly-written YA romance. Avoid.

Charlie Higson’s wonderfully gripping zombie thriller The Dead, and Neal Shusterman’s Unwholly were excellent reads this month. A certain twist nearly made me drop my tablet on the floor of the bus on my way back from university one evening whilst reading The Dead. I am not kidding. I gave it 5 stars, and yet I still need to finish reading The Fear. Why has life got to be so busy, eh? Unwholly wasn’t as good as the first book in the series, but I enjoyed it all the same. New characters, better development, less faffing around and more churning the cogs of the story… yay! It’s just a shame that the more recent sequel, Unsouled, didn’t quite get there.

Shame on me, by the way, for thinking once upon a time that Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Fey was a decent book and heralded the resurgence of YA that wasn’t just catering to narrow marketing guidelines. Oh, how wrong I was. In The Iron Daughter, Meghan spends pages and pages and pages crowing on about how Prince Ash doesn’t love her any more. Not that the Queen of the Unseelie Court hates her and has her trapped against her own will, oh no, the smouldering love interest has to pretend in front of his mum that he doesn’t like me and boo-hoo. I think I should have been amply warned by the massive printed sticker on my copy proclaiming the series to be: “The next Twilight.”

You know what proved to be a very soothing balm, though? William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. The book is just as hilarious and fun as the movie, if not more in some places. I know some people don’t like William Goldman’s part of the narrative so much (i.e., what’s supposed to be his own family), but I liked them. It’s a nice counterpoint to everything else that’s going on, and I plan on rereading The Princess Bride just as soon as I have the time to devote to it.

Oh and I also read Neon Genesis Evangelion: Campus Apocalypse by Ming-Ming, a fairly pointless and aimless manga that often looks and feels like a poorly-done AU fanfic. I’m still working my way through the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime, and I’ve read a few volumes of the manga, so I’m hardly a newbie. I know these characters, and the general setting, and Campus Apocalypse moves them completely out of their setting. The Angels aren’t alien bio-mechs, they’re humans who become ‘infected’ and sprout wings. Okay, so they’re still killed by EVA units, right…? Well, yes and no to that, because EVA units are actually capsules that can turn into weapons in the hands of the chosen children. Just… what.

Phew. Let’s hope February was a lot more condensed.

February

It is a lot more condensed! In fact, there are two whole book reviews this month. Geek Girl by Holly Smale, and Break by Hannah Moskowitz.

Geek Girl is a book I now see a lot in the YA sections of book shops, so clearly it caught on to teen imaginations. I actually saw the sequel being advertised in a shop near me. So props! It’s not a bad book at all. I was worried at first that it’d just be some awful clichéd nonsense where the geeky girl is shown that she can be pretty if she takes her hair out of the messy bun, starts wearing contacts, and we’re all supposed to laugh when she trips over in her ball gown because clearly, she has no hand-eye co-ordination and no experience with stiletto heels! Ahahaha! NERD! But, thankfully, Smale handled this fairly delicately. Harriet is thrown into the modelling world after a scout declares she has the perfect look for a new fashion campaign. It’s a little bit wish-fulfilling in some parts but overall a quick and entertaining read.

Break was a very difficult read. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a teenager, and while the book resonated with me on those issues, my enjoyment was somewhat hampered by my brain constantly nagging: “Who’s paying for all these hospital visits!? Wouldn’t this put the family into serious medical debt?” It’s never, ever explained. I mean, Jonah must have an extremely good health insurance plan. I’m a Brit who enjoys free healthcare, and after being slammed with a £500 ambulance ride, X-ray and sling when I broke my collarbone on holiday in Germany, I truly appreciate how good I’ve got it. I’ve heard horror stories from the US about people going bankrupt from hospital fees, and I’d imagine somebody compulsively breaking their bones would be one of the quickest ways to go about that. But hey, it’s otherwise a fascinating and often disturbing read, and I’m really looking forward to reading more of Moskowitz’s work.

March

MARCH WAS AWESOME.

Why?

I met J.K. Rowling. And John Barrowman and Carole E. Barrowman. Within a week of each other. I wrote a whole report about meeting both of them, and I’ll admit to crying all the way home, after waiting nearly 3 hours to be called to the signing desk and squeaking out a thank you as one of my favourite authors signed one of my books, only for her to look up, offer a genuinely lovely smile and say: “My absolute pleasure.” ;_;

John Barrowman and his sister were super friendly and it makes me feel bad that I still need to read Hollow Earth. Whoops. Well, at least I met some cool Whovians in the line! Similarly, I also met some really cool Potterheads from around the world in the line outside the J.K. Rowling event, but sadly I’ve only kept in contact with one of them. :<

The only book I reviewed this month was Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, and I really didn’t enjoy it. Mainly because Dash is an irritating, pretentious little sod whose narration pretty much sours what should be a heartfelt love story set around Christmas in New York City. Lily, thankfully, is a much easier character to read, but she has to share space in the story with a character who just came across to me as being thoroughly unlikable.

April

I read a lot of manga in April 2013.

I reread LIFE, a manga that’s brutally unflinching, but becomes so melodramatic after a while that the author seems to be positioning her characters right under a suspiciously large shadow, only to drop the giant anvil of angst right on top of them and see how they react. The J-drama is a favourite of mine, but I think at least the drama knew where to stop. LIFE (the manga) didn’t, really.

I also reviewed volumes 1, 2, and 3 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica! One of my favourite anime series, and also one of my favourite manga. That all changed when I read Puella Magi Oriko Magica, which had hideous artwork and had such haphazard storytelling that I found it more than a bit difficult to follow. Kuroe Mura’s anatomy isn’t the greatest, and there’s not much command over perspective, or even layout. I read the manga twice and felt more than a bit lost after finishing it. Maybe it’s just me, but I definitely prefer the original over this spin-off.

I discovered a fun little shounen manga this month - Assassination Classroom, AKA Ansatsu KyoushitsuIt’s a bit of a silly romp, and I’m sure it’s going to drag its heels later on (since the characters have a time limit for killing their teacher – yes, that is the plot), so far it’s been a lot of fun to read. Even as sporadically as I keep up with scanlations. (Ignoring Black Butler, of course.)

As for manga I didn’t read this month, I did read Ink by Amanda Sun and Angel by L.A. Weatherly. Neither of which I finished, because I really wasn’t enjoying them. Ink could have been really interesting, but soon devolved into a boring paranormal romance with a heroine whose brain instantly turned to jelly when her ideal bad boy started paying an interest in her. Meh. Angel was the worse book, though.

This was also the month where I transferred everything from Blogspot to WordPress, and it was such a seamless integration that I highly recommend WordPress if you are looking to switch blog formats. My first blog began in April 2011, on another blogging format that shall not be named. But, when I wanted to transfer to Blogspot, apparently they wanted me to pay a subscription fee to access the file that stored all my blog posts. Which was ridiculous, considering how I was leaving. So, I actually manually brought my posts over from the old site before announcing I’d moved. Good thing I left, really – the admins of that site announced in the most harebrained way possible that their spam filter was going to be put on its highest setting, in order to finally clear out all the spam blogs. (Maybe the solution was to update your registration process and update the site so it doesn’t look like something from 2005.) My blog was deleted, because I’d gone up on a soap box once or twice because of the spam comments I was getting. No, seriously. My blog mentions spam, and whoof, it’s completely deleted. Looking at their homepage today, nearly all of the recently-updated blogs are spam-related. Utterly ridiculous. Blogspot worked well for a year, but I heard so many good things about WordPress that I jumped ship, and I’ve been happily blogging here ever since.

May

May was the month in which I began the Tiger’s Curse chapter dissections, realising over the six months I read it that it was one of the worst, most incompetent books I’d read that was actually published. On the New York Times bestseller list, even! But that’s a rant for December. I didn’t actually review any books this month. Except Smart Pop, which was a preview and not really worthy of the lengthy review I gave it.

I reviewed Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) by Hajime Isayama this month, and also started watching the anime, which was excellent. Around this time I also read the LP of Dangan Ronpa, so those were the currently-airing summer anime I was keeping up with. Another anime I was keeping up with (from… Spring, if I recall?) was Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana), so I decided to check out the manga as I was watching the anime. Eventually I read ahead, but for some reason the manga left a dry taste in my mouth. After a while, Nakamura’s behaviour got predictable and you just want to shake Kasuga and get him to realise that sure, life sucks now, living in your isolated mountain town, but when you’re older, you can move to the big city and find somebody who does understand you.

June

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave was so hotly anticipated. From what I hear, it was given a $750,000 marketing campaign to make it the next Hunger Games or whatever the publishers hoped it would be. …I haven’t actually heard much about it though, following its release. I’m sure it has its fans, but did it earn enough to justify three quarters of a million dollars? Well, for me, it was a victim of its own hype. It started out very strong, but as it churned on, it just dragged and dragged until I had to give up around 70% in.

The English-translated volumes of Black Butler volumes XII and XIII were utterly boring. This isn’t any fault of the English publisher, it’s just that coming to these chapters one after the other, rather than waiting a month in-between them is a different experience. I do reread the previous chapter of a scanlation before I download the new one, but for some reason in printed format, I was noticing how seriously bland everything was. How meandering the storyline was, tugging characters apart just for the sake of Sebastian perhaps bumping into Grell, or completely skipping over Lizzie’s transformation in character, or wedging in Sebastian and Ciel’s backstory where it didn’t quite fit. Since the next few volumes are all about the much-loathed (at least by me) Cricket Tournament/Weston College arc, I’m saving my money and buying another series.

I got a great little review request this month from Wayne Williams and Darren Allan, who e-mailed me and were so charming that I agreed to take on their book even though all I knew about it was that it was a take on I Know What You Did Last Summer… except in Biblical terms. So, I got a physical copy of I Know What You Did Last Supper in the post. I’m not Christian, but I do know the theology and right when it started, I knew I was in for a treat. It’s fun, goofy, horrifyingly brutal at times. Just like I Know What You Did Last Summer.

July

This was the month I travelled to Prague! It’s a beautiful city, so full of culture that I thought it was a shame I didn’t have enough time to fit in a few more museums and art exhibitions, or even the Kafka walking tour.

Before that, though, I read The Bling Ring in the hopes of going to see the movie. Unfortunately, absolutely nobody wanted to see it with me and my local cinema showed it for about a day before shrugging and rescheduling The Smurfs 2. While I appreciated the amount of research, Sales only ever used it to make sweeping and unfair generalisations about the youth of today rather than perhaps attempting to empathise with precisely why Alexis and her friends were so obsessed with the celebrity lifestyle. In a magazine, I might accept the writer bringing up a study or a statistic to bring home their point about modern pop culture. Over the course of a book, though, it got tiresome and quickly read more like the longest magazine editorial that had ever been written. Just horrendously boring and shameful in how much it just picked at the story as it grew more and more thin.

I also picked up Libba Bray’s The Diviners again, but didn’t get around to reviewing it until September, so we’ll leave that for now.

I did read Nenia Campbell’s Fearscape, and I actually really enjoyed it! Nenia is a friend of mine on Goodreads, and she was ever so kind even though I only gave it 3 stars. Gavin still gives me the creeps, and the ending still infuriates me when I think about it. (Why didn’t Val just rip the pages of the the diary????)

I read part of an ARC request when I got back from holiday - £6.19 per Witching Hour by Joanna Mazurkiewicz. I feel really bad that I didn’t enjoy this book so much, but I ultimately felt it wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s quite unlike the books I usually enjoy, so… *shrug*

Well, that rounds up July!

August

No book reviews at all this month! Wow. I don’t remember being particularly busy, but this was probably the month that the reading slump took its hold. Well, there is one manga review, because I was watching the anime: Silver Spoon (Gin no Saji) by Hiromu Arakawa. Looking back on that review, I think I was a bit harsh on that manga. One of my criticisms was that it didn’t address why Hachiken would go from a city school to an agricultural school when he has no experience in farming… But then I’ve read later into the manga, and goddamn if Arakawa doesn’t have a talent for writing good drama. Also, although I grew quite tired of the whole: “Oh my god I’m on a FARM!” comedy routine, thankfully it’s toned down a bit in later volumes. I wouldn’t say Silver Spoon was one of my favourite manga ever, but it’s definitely worth a read.

September

The month of my birth! And the month of moving back to university. I reviewed The Diviners, even though I’d finished it a few weeks beforehand, and two other books. One book happened to be one of my favourites of 2013, and the latter was fairly interesting if very dull and cheesily written in parts.

The former was Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, an author who actually wrote a teenager who was unsure of his footing in the world, intelligent, somewhat unfriendly, and who didn’t particularly trust his family for keeping secrets… and didn’t make him a detestable narrator, or throw in as many indie mix-tapes as he could humanly muster to make the character unique. Certain novels about teenage boys and their woes tend to evoke (to me, anyway) the image of the author shoving on a pair of rose-tinted glasses as he sits back and basks in nostalgia, a smarmy expression as he remembers being the only person who could understand Bukowski. The only kid on the playground who when everyone else played Super Nintendo, he was reading Nietzsche and Bulgakov. Yes, I’ll admit these guys exist, but the majority of teenagers aren’t like that. We were stupid and immature, we thought we were clever and mature. It was just so perfectly characterised. Cheers again to elleliterate for the copy!

The latter wasn’t so great: Marvin’s CurseWhile I applauded the main character being somewhat well developed, the secondary characters, the antagonists and the general setting went absolutely nowhere. You’d think a story about a recently-bereaved, angry young boy who discovers a portal to a ghostly realm in his back garden whilst promising to help a female spectre discover who she is after an errant demon stole her memories would be a fascinating yarn. Sadly, it wasn’t.

October

The month of spooky things! Apparently. Halloween was such a rubbish day for me that I bought a huge bowl of sweets and thought I’d maybe stick on a horror movie or an LP of a horror game. Nope! Wasn’t feeling up for it at all, so I did more writing – chapter dissections of one of the most awful books I have ever read. There are no book reviews this month, just chapter dissections and the aforementioned Halloween project. :x Whoops!

November

I managed one book review in a very busy month!

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. I’ve had a lot of great comments on my review of this book on GoodReads. Like me, quite a few people had their reading experience soured by Piper’s constant navel gazing, casual insults and simply brushing over the big issues of prison because being a rich white female inmate affords you the privilege to just catch up on your reading, running and yoga practice. So long as you mention some inmates whose families don’t visit them when in fact, yours visits whenever possible. That makes it okay, right? Oh, what about the time where Piper brings up that the prison system is likely to just kick its mentally unwell inmates out to the kerb once their sentence is up, and not provide any respite care or rehabilitation or keep up their medication routine? It could have been poignant, but then Piper decided to make a joke out of an inmate with bipolar disorder by referring to her by that name only. “Hey look, everybody, Bipolar Colleen’s coming through!” Let’s not forget the transphobia with poor Vanessa, and the classism and slurs with just about everyone else.

Then I raged about kappas in a mythological Hindu setting and before I knew it, the month was over.

December

Bumper book review month because I had some time off! Yay!

I actually finishing chapter-dissecting Tiger’s Curse and so I got around to re-reviewing it! Yay! I’m still planning on publishing the drinking game, but bear with me while I get adjusted back to uni life in January. ‘Kay? (Not sure if I’m going to write a Best/Worst of 2013 list, though. The one I wrote last year took a lot out of me.)

I actually reviewed one of the books I read for uni! Wow. The Beast Must Die, by Nicholas Blake. A fascinating little crime drama, a quick read and great characters. I actually want to buy the rest of the Strangeways novels now.

But, I ended the year on a fairly tragic book - Echo Prophecy by Lindsey Fairleigh. It was written in 2013 yet it’s somehow still acceptable to write one of the most terrible Mary Sues imaginable whose name isn’t Enoby Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way. It’s also somehow acceptable to completely ape Fifty Shades of Grey.  :| Hence why I threw in the towel just under halfway through.

So yeah, that was my 2013! This blog is going to enter its first year as a WordPress blog in April, and I’m sure I’ll throw it a little birthday party or something. According to my annual report, my most popular post was my review of Attack on Titan, as well as Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseThat’s nice to see. The rest are my Hetalia posts, and my chapter update posts for Black Butler, which I gave up doing this year because that manga just can’t stop being distracted by every other genre and trying its hand in every one. It’s getting tired.

Anyway! Happy 2014, many happy returns, and let’s make this year one to remember, eh?

Book Review: Unsouled (Unwind #3) by Neal Shusterman

Connor and Lev are on the run after the destruction of the Graveyard, the last safe haven for AWOL Unwinds. But for the first time, they’re not just running away from something. This time, they’re running toward answers, in the form of a woman Proactive Citizenry has tried to erase from history itself. If they can find her, and learn why the shadowy figures behind unwinding are so afraid of her, they may discover the key to bringing down unwinding forever.

Cam, the rewound boy, is plotting to take down the organization that created him. Because he knows that if he can bring Proactive Citizenry to its knees, it will show Risa how he truly feels about her. And without Risa, Cam is having trouble remembering what it feels like to be human.

With the Juvenile Authority and vindictive parts pirates hunting them, the paths of Connor, Lev, Cam, and Risa will converge explosively – and everyone will be changed.

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In most episodic entertainment, there’s always going to be a lull between releases. Trilogies have the dreaded sequel that just pads out the story, and starts up the machines of the epic dénouement promised in the final instalment. Well, it’s not just trilogies – the same thing happens in tetralogies and in Unsouled‘s case, a dystology.

Unsouled does not really live up to its predecessor, Unwholly, and it’s definitely not the most interesting sequel of the Unwind series. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just turning the gears of the plot and leading us up to something big in the next book.

The writing is still solid. I’ve always enjoyed Neal Shusterman’s use of third-person present tense, especially as it’s fluid enough to be able to move from character to character without a jarring shift in tone. However, shifting from character to character has the unfortunate side-effect of ending a chapter with one character you like, only to have to shift to the next one. And believe me, I got bored of Starkey, Bam, Hayden and company quite quickly. I’m not one hundred per cent sure why, but maybe it’s because there was so much else going on. It could also be that I really didn’t enjoy Starkey as a character in Unwholly, but I wanted to learn more about the Rheinschilds, I wanted to read about Cam, Connor, Risa, Grace, and Nelson and Argent, all of whom have some excellent, thoroughly enjoyable chapters. Starkey’s efforts to make an army of kids pales in comparison to the other characters.

Let’s talk about Cam. I was shocked by the twist at the end with him, nearly throwing something at the wall when his caretaker Roberta just… argh. I really don’t wish to spoil it, but the events leading up to this sudden, shocking twist were a little bit… well, silly in some places. Even though Cam is a very famous figure, even though he looks like nobody else on Earth, even though he would be recognised by basically anybody… Once he seeks asylum on the Arapache reservation, apparently nobody stops to think: “Oh, hey, there’s a new guy who’s wearing a hoodie. Oh, he’s also wearing a huge caking of make-up. Definitely not suspicious at all!”

I think Connor’s grown up a lot in this book. I mean, he’s actually much less angry than he used to be, and considering he used to be constantly furious at the world, it’s nice to see him settling down. Even if he is in much graver danger than he was a few years prior, with quite a few more people and organisations who would like to see his head on a platter.

Risa sort of stayed the same. Again, she’s clever and headstrong, but sadly dull as dishwater. I really wish she’d grown as a character. She starts off well – fighting off parts pirates, and a coyote when it comes scavenging, but then… doesn’t do much. She’s sort of out of the plot for a little while until we see her again at Audrey’s (where she gets a makeover), and then at Sonia’s. I really like her as a character, so it was a shame to see her given such little development.

Nelson’s back in this book, teaming up with Argent, a rebellious boy whose sister is taken by Connor and Lev as they attempt to escape from the small town they’re staying in. Due to Argent’s stupidity in uploading a picture of Connor onto the Internet, the authorities come knocking, and so does one fairly notorious parts pirate.

Though… I know Nelson isn’t very quick to catch on to things, but he kind of trusted Argent too much to begin with. I mean, he lets Argent take him on a wild goose chase to New Orleans, without realising some of Argent’s suspicious behaviours, or his lack of drive to actually find his sister. Thankfully, Nelson turns the tables on him on their way to New York, but I would have thought he’d noticed much earlier. I actually didn’t like Argent too much as a character, and when Nelson finally revealed that they were heading up to see the head honcho parts pirate guy in Canada, who was teased in the second book, I cheered. Finally, we’re heading somewhere!

Lev was one of the main downfalls in Unsouled, despite starting out great. He’s becoming kind of self-important and nowhere near as interesting as he has been in the previous books. I admired his courage in the first two (and a bit… counting Unstrung) books, but in Unsouled he just becomes quite arrogant. I did like how he rallied people to his cause by the end of the book, but I really don’t think it’s going to do much in the grand scheme of things. There are just too many sides beings introduced to fight against the system – Starkey’s platoon, Lev’s army, what’s left of the ADR… When, to be honest, the solution finally presents itself towards the end of the novel, and that’s the direction I’m hoping the next book is going to go in.

Last year, I utterly adored Cam and said he was one of the more fascinating characters I’d read in a YA novel. Unfortunately, he’s not as interesting any more. I was very excited when his narration went towards actually dismantling the corrupt Pro-Active Citizenry, but his plans kind of unravelled. His original idea was to destroy the company from the inside out, but once he’s sold to the military, he decides to run away and find Risa. Which didn’t make much sense, considering he could quite easily have stayed behind and continued with his previous plan, even though there’s been a transfer of ownership. (And, apparently, Pro-Active Citizenry don’t even afford Cam the dignity of classifying him as an individual being and letting him make his own decisions as to his bodily welfare, since he is made up of other people. Ouch. Way to ram home the Frankenstein’s monster image.)

Unsouled isn’t an amazing continuation of the series. It’s perfectly functional, and it has some hiccups that, to be quite frank, are mostly my personal quibbles with the characters. However, it does pedal along at a slower pace as it sets the events in motion, and while it did a fair job of rescuing itself just towards the end, the majority of the novel didn’t grip me nearly as much as the first or second books. Like I said earlier, I can forgive it for being the ‘lull’ bridging the next novel in the series, but will I fangirl over it, the way I did with Unwind and Unwholly? No. It’s a decent read, just nowhere near as interesting or thrilling as the previous books.

3.5/5.

Book Review: Echo Prophecy (Echo Trilogy #1) by Lindsey Fairleigh

Alexandra Larson isn’t human… but she doesn’t know that. As far as Lex is concerned, she’s simply an ambitious and independent archaeology grad student with a knack for deciphering ancient languages, especially the various forms of Egyptian. When she’s recruited to work on her dream excavation, her translating skills uncover the secret entrance to an underground Egyptian temple concealed within Djeser-Djeseru – the famous mortuary temple of Queen Hatchepsut. Lex is beyond thrilled by her discovery… as is the enigmatic excavation director, Marcus Bahur.

As the relationship between Lex and Marcus heats up, a series of shocking revelations leave the young archaeologist reeling. Once Lex discovers the truth of her ancient Egyptian roots, the people she trusts most make one final, terrifying revelation: Lex is the central figure of a 4,000 year old prophecy…

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(Disclaimer: Dropped at 45% in. A digital ARC of this book was kindly provided by NetGalley.)

What a shame this book was such an incredible let down. I was actually really excited to read a paranormal romance against the backdrop of an Egyptian archaeological excavation. I know that paranormal romances are generally either completely terrible or surprisingly good, but I do enjoy reading them when they get it right. This book was not one of the surprisingly good paranormal romances. In fact, it put me in mind several times of Fifty Shades of Grey - Lex is as ungainly and unlike any real university student as Anastasia (who makes a dyspraxic like me look like a goddamn prima ballerina), and Professor Bahur is the smouldering Christian Grey, who may or may not have a dark past… All that, but with an Egyptian backdrop.

Well, actually, no. The Egyptian backdrop doesn’t even come in until presumably way after the 50% mark, with Lex spending most of her time in Washington as she discovers the devastating secrets that led to her birth and prepares to head out for the excavation.

Lex is the main problem here. She is one of the worst Mary Sues I have ever read. It’s 2013, you guys. Sure, you can write characters who are particularly talented or who have a great destiny ahead of them. However, the way Lex is handled utterly sours the reading experience. There’s one part about 30% in where Lex takes a single afternoon to decipher an undecipherable stone tablet. I don’t care that Lex has a ‘knack ‘for translating ancient languages, true breakthroughs come through a lot of hard work and knowledge in the field. Not just: “Hey guys look at how special I am!” She’s also got special prophetic dreams and she’s liked by everybody, especially her the gorgeous Professor Marcus Bahur. I mean, the owner of an esoteric shop gives her what is probably a rare, expensive historical artefact, just because she senses that Lex has a connection to it. There’s a punk sat beside her on a bus who thinks she’s really cool because her supernatural ancestry has given her slightly red eyes. What. Everything just goes so right for Lex, who – as far as I read – was utterly flawless. That’s boring.

I also wonder why Lex seemed to have such extreme shifts in her mood. I mean, her mother drops a revelation that her father isn’t biologically related to her, and Lex turns into a maudlin teenager writing crappy poetry in her diary, sitting in the window seat in her room and watching the snowflakes fall, wondering if she will ever be special and unique like they are. (This scene becomes particularly hilarious when Lex does turn into a massive special snowflake later on.) It’s just her father not being blood related to her! Lex’s behaviour would make sense if she’d been told she was adopted, perhaps. (Though of course, I know not all adopted kids would react that way.) But… it’s just a total mess. She needs to sleep in bed with her sister. She refuses to speak to her family for a few days before Christmas. She hardly keeps in contact with her friends. I’m sorry, but this lady is supposed to be 24 years old, and headstrong. Not somebody who’s mortally wounded by a simple family revelation. I mean, she’s so shocked that IVF was involved in her conception, I was getting the image of Mewtwo from the first Pokémon movie roaming around in my head. Later, Professor Bahur tells Lex that he’s involved in rescuing Ancient Egyptian relics from the black market, and Lex is so shocked she almost induces a faint. Seriously, is this girl supposed to be a parody, or something? Which, by the by, was the same question I was asking myself when reading Fifty Shades of Grey

This is a character who’s supposed to be scholarly and ready to take on the world, and yet she’s degraded to going into an emotional tizzy because her poor brain cannot compute that even if you aren’t actually related to the man you call your father, it doesn’t erase the happy childhood you spent with him, or his love for you? I’m not exaggerating, like Lex was just mildly upset. No, she actually ponders if seeing her dad will: “Make the realignment of my identity any easier.” Along with all the other maudlin stuff explained in the previous paragraph. If you are going to write a highly emotional scene, then surely one should realise one doesn’t need to go into theatrics to communicate that a character is upset. As always, show, don’t tell.

But tell she does! While I’m sure the writer knows her stuff about Ancient Egypt, the research in this novel comes across extremely flat. Facts about old Khemet are outright parroted to the audience, as if we’re too stupid to recognise that a character named Seth may in fact be some relation to the Ancient Egyptian god Set. That the Eye of Horus, along with the Ankh, are the most famous symbols of Ancient Egypt to your average person. The list goes on.

I also really don’t understand how Lex is supposed to be really smart, yet she has so many gaps in her logic that I was just rolling my eyes the entire time. She says she’s never heard of Professor Bahur before, but doesn’t stop to realise that he might be known academically in other languages. She’s told about the archaeological find of the century, then she’s told about Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple, and doesn’t think to fit the two puzzle pieces together. She doesn’t ever bother to reflect on the mysterious image of Professor Bahur telling a crying pregnant woman that he has to erase her memories and send her far away, and Lex doesn’t connect it to the people in her family, who she knows are of supernatural descent by now. Then there’s shit like this:

‘”You’re welcome… Again, Miss Larson. I expect your participation will invigorate the excavation.”

Invigorate the excavation? What the hell does that mean?’

Oh, I don’t know, you’re the one getting the PhD. You tell me what ‘invigorate’ means in terms of the upcoming excavation, which is presumably in a bit of a rut, research-wise.

Although this is an ARC and therefore still has some revisions to go through, there are plenty of moments with clunky sentence constructions and odd grammar. Including the use of the word ‘affects’ in place of ‘effects’. R(A=V)(E=N), people! Though I am going to give an award to the greatest paragraph I read all year:

‘Abruptly, the man turned, and nearly black eyes stared out from strikingly familiar features. My eyes – aside from the colour – high cheekbones, and square jaw were reflected on the stranger’s face. Oh my God… I was absolutely certain that the breaking-and-entering-semen-replacer was my father.’

There are times where you can make up a phrase and patch it together with hyphens. (For what reason, I have never been sure – it makes the sentence robotic and makes me think the writer couldn’t think of any better descriptors.) But this is not one of them. I laughed so hard at that last sentence, I almost toppled over. All this unintentional hilarity could have been avoided, too, had the author just gone for a simple: “I was now certain that the man replacing the… gentlemanly fluids was my father.”

In terms of supernatural beings, Lex is a Nejeret – no, a Nejerette, because we still have to have a separation of the genders. Nejeret in this world are descended from Ancient Egyptian gods of time, able to see into the past and the future, focus on certain objects and people and play as observers of the timeline. They’re also genetically untraceable (in terms of modern sciences), and they become known as Nejeret when their powers start to manifest, generally in their teenage years. The powers work via astral projection, meaning that they can be killed if somebody wounds their physical body whilst travelling through the time-space continuum. All of which are interesting concepts, if a little X-Men-ish.

Though apparently, only the male Nejeret can impregnate human women with Nejeret babies, females are usually carriers of the Nejeret gene, meaning it’s rare for true female Nejerets to be born at all. Wow. Um… That’s a very poor way to propagate. Even if Nejeret aren’t about conquering the gene pool… they clearly are. Lex’s immortal grandfather tells her that because of a squabble over a prophecy centuries ago, the Nejeret stopped keeping records about all the Nejeret that were being born into the world. Wow, great work guys! “What’s more important? Holding this grudge, or keeping tabs on our people who are born with the power to see through time and either hinder or help out with significant historical events? I’m partial to holding the grudge, myself.”

In fact, the Nejeret are so thoughtless that there might be an apocalypse coming, and the Nejeret seem powerless to stop it. Come summer solstice next year, ‘Nothingness will take over the At.’ Lex is somehow the key to preventing this from happening, but honestly, there’s no stakes to it. It’s just brushed aside within the next chapter. I appreciate that Lex has the excavation on her mind, but this is some really important information, and there’s just nothing done with it. A similar thing happens when Lex first discovers that she’s different to everybody else – rather than any form of introspection, we just cut back to her university’s research group as if it never actually happened. This is one of those books where even though there’s important information, imperative to getting the plot out of the bog of eternal stench, the character detailing it will slam on the brakes in some way, halting any progression. You know, the seer can’t go any further, the person explicitly detailing Lex’s past will suddenly shut up like Hagrid saying something he shouldn’t have? It’s a mess.

It really is Fifty Shades of Grey with pseudo-Ancient Egyptian super-people sprinkled in. Not so badly that you could easily rewrite this as a mundane romance between an Archaeology scholar and a professor, but the Ancient Egyptian stuff really feels like window dressing, when it could have been a gripping supernatural romance. Thankfully it’s nowhere near as drive-by as The Selection by Kiera Cass (by which I mean, its primary marketing label – paranormal isn’t as fleeting and poorly drawn-out as The Selection‘s primary marketing label, which was dystopian). I’m sure there’s more to the Ancient Egyptian stuff further into the book, but I was so utterly bored that this is about where I gave up.

Echo Prophecy could have been a very interesting read, with a very smart protagonist playing off against a love interest, perhaps in a teasing and affectionate way due to their shared interests, a love that burns slowly as you read, with every development of their relationship becoming that more satisfying. Nope! Anastasia Steele with a different university major, and Christian Grey as a professor rather than an entrepreneur. Supernatural elements that could have been fascinating but are too poorly thought-out to actually flesh out the story. Research that simply rabbits facts at our readers rather than naturally sinking them into the plot, so that people who have no idea about Ancient Egypt can follow along just as much as Egyptologists. A character who is utterly illogical and not interesting in the least, not helped by weak writing and a plot that takes far too long to get going. 1/5.