Book Review: Project Paper Doll Trilogy by Stacey Kade

Lately, I have been trying to remember how I got introduced to a Stacey Kade book. After hours of deliberation, I believe it must have been Goodreads and my unquenchable search for books written from dual perspectives that led me to her first novel, The Ghost and the Goth. I’ve never looked back since and she has become one of my favorite authors. Her works are literally un-put-down-able. I have recklessly sacrificed study and work commitments just so I can read another chapter.

Project Paper Doll is Stacey’s second YA trilogy. It is a nail-biting contemporary sci-fi thriller made up of equal parts sugar and tears, ample laughter and a little blood. The trilogy, consisting of The Rules, The Hunt and The Trials, interestingly, only spans over a few months and follows the lives of Ariane Tucker and Zane Bradshaw.

Summary

Ariane, is a human/extraterrestrial hybrid, manufactured in a lab for the purposes of serving as a super soldier/assassin some day given her powers of telekinesis and telepathy. After spending 6 years locked up in the lab, she escapes with the aid of a compassionate security guard, Mark Tucker. However, instead of running away, they decide to hide in plain sight, Ariane assumes the identity of Mark’s deceased daughter and blends into the routine of human life by following the rules:

  1. Never trust anyone;
  2. Remember they are always searching;
  3. Don’t get involved;
  4. Keep your head down;
  5. Don’t fall in love.

And she faithfully adheres to those rules, until she inadvertently crosses paths with Zane Bradshaw…the son of the chief of police…who is aiding the labs in locating Ariane.

The Good

Ariane and Zane are definitely the crowning glory of the series. Despite being fictional, their fears, insecurities and motivations are relatable and more often than not hit home. I enjoyed their inner monologues as much as enjoyed the dialogue between them. They complemented each other really well and the alternating POVs are testament to this.

Zane’s character development over the course of the three books was particularly well done in my opinion, he transforms (in more ways than one) from a seemingly regular high-school jock into this very likeable yet unlikely hero. He also has a great sense of humor which makes his chapters a lot more enjoyable.

Ariane’s chapters in comparison, are initially rife with constant anxiety and fear, and later transform into anger which in turn gives way to cold hard determination. I particularly liked her observation of human behavior and society and her hilariously cute attempts at blending in. She is scary-gorgeous, in that order. Scary for the powers and skills she possesses and gorgeous because underneath she is all heart.

Another aspect I enjoyed immensely was the relationship between Ariane and Mark in the first installment and I greatly missed this in the later books.

I found the contemporary setting quite refreshing. It set in present day USA, no hint of dystopia, inter-galactic travel etc. YA, of late, if not contemporary realistic fiction, then to be set in this unique fantasy worlds but I enjoyed that Stacey created the unbelievable within believable world.

Finally, what made the reading of he series more fun was being able to discuss it with Stacey herself over Twitter and Facebook. She is as lovely as her characters, if not more, and is happy to entertain/revel in your awes and gasps as you read.

The Bad & the Ugly

There is nothing grossly bad and/or ugly about the series. It has a fast paced and entertaining narrative that is not overly complex to follow despite being of the sci-fi persuasion. The second and third installments are infinitely better than the first, mainly because the underpinning revelations, character dynamics and such a more fleshed out by then. Also, The Rules is very much a high-school drama which could have tedious if this was another writer, but Stacey’ s entertaining prose detracted me from dwelling too long on any high school clichés.

In Conclusion, The Project Paper Doll Trilogy is easily one of the best YA series and is certainly one of my favorites. It is a quick and entertaining read with its decent share of thrills and cliff-hangers to keep you hooked. I strongly recommend you give the series a try. Let us know what you think.

 

 

Game of Thrones 5×02 and 5×03 Quick Thoughts

No time for full reviews but here are some random thoughts at random points throughout the last two episodes…

5×03 – High Sparrow

Littlefinger: “You’ve been a bystander to tragedy from the day they executed your father, stop being a bystander.”

Me: Well, considering you were instrumental in getting Ned captured by the Lannisters she should start with gutting you right then and there but oh well.

Littlefinger: “There’s no justice in the world, not unless you make it.”

Me: Touché.


Marrying Sansa to Ramsay? Whooooaaaaaaaaattthhheeeeefffuuuucccckkkkk?!! It eliminates the ‘imposter Arya’ storyline, that I’m kind of glad about, but holy heck Ramsay is a psychopath. Sansa’s been through enough already. (That pan over to his crazy hunting partner girlfriend pal was a bit ominous, no?) Props to Sansa, however, playing the game and putting her poker face on when facing Roose Bolton. Littlefinger’s been teaching her well, yeh? And yes, old lady who takes Sansa to her rooms, the North remembers.


Damn Lord Commander Snow was very reminiscent of that first ever episode, on top of the return to Winterfell with Sansa. Jon was very Ned in his execution of Slynt. I knew he couldn’t backtrack with his decision to execute, but damn I was still a bit surprised when he went through with it.


5×02 – The House of Black and White

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There’s just something about Arya Stark that makes you want to be her, no? An internal steeliness that she’s developed since the start of her journey, granted it came from having your entire family ripped from you starting with watching your father get beheaded.


Brienne has been rejected by Arya and now Sansa, ouch.


Jaqen! But not… because it’s not really Jaqen- just a face. But it’s comforting for watchers of the show to see a familiar face. Yeah?


Snow for Commander!


The moment Tyrion and Varys went to a brothel I knew we were going to be seeing Jorah. I like that they’re accelerating the pace of this storyline- the show’s definitely going to exceed the books with some characters soon.


Qyburn is having fun playing Dr Frankenstein up in there. I love how nonplussed he was about the Mountain thrashing about- despite being, you know, dead. But dead is relative in Game of Thrones, amirite?


Dorne and Braavos looking pretty cool. Pretty cool.


Cersei and Jaime arguing over what to do about their daughter in Dorne having received obvious threats from none other than the sand snakes, is intense. Both their hands, well both Cersei’s and one of Jaime’s (badoom tush) are tied. They can’t very well go over and basically declare war, can they?


Which means more Bronn! Trying to get his castle ins. But nope, it’s off on a buddy film adventure you go with Jaime.


Greyscale is rough. No pun intended.


Expectation: Oh hey Drogon, been a while- how’s it been? Killed anymore children?

Reality: *sobbing and incomprehensible mumbling*

Guess this means we’re going to get some dragon riding at some point. Surely. I am so ready for it.

Film Review: Boychoir

“Put everything you are into it.”

Boychoir is a film based on an emotional journey. It’s about overcoming challenges and seeing beyond what is in front of you. It’s the idea that even though those around you may doubt you, you should never doubt yourself. Their criticisms should be your driving force to excel. Your dreams and passions are worthy to be realised, and shown to the world.

The film starts of rather slowly and is fairly predictable, but trust me, it’s worth the wait. If nothing else, you are exposed to incredible music and a look inside competitive choir that most people would have no idea about. The music is the heart of the film. It helps to carry you through the obvious gaps in the storytelling.

We met Stet, an eleven year old boy who is obviously carrying a rather large chip on his shoulders. He is a troubled and angry youth, which is forced to audition for the American Boy Choir. The film begins as though it should be obvious to the viewer that he is a talented young man, but we are not allowed to see this. You watch a good chunk of the film before we actually see, well hear, Stet’s ability to sing. In all honesty, you are wondering if he can actually sing, but I think that is the clincher. That is what reels you in, and keeps you engaged.

The musical talent of each boy within the choir is incredible. The singing is uplifting and brings a tear, or two to the eye. Garrett Wareing, who plays Stet, is new to the acting world and the vulnerability of his character (along with himself as an actor) is greatly appreciated on screen. You can’t help but root for him.

Boychoir is a heart-warming, family friendly film. The music in astounding, and if you appreciate classical music then it’s right up your alley, but, if you are new to classical, then, what an opener for you. I don’t think I can go on about how beautiful the music is, so I’ll leave it up to your own judgements.

Boychoir hits NZ cinemas on Thursday 30 April. See the below trailer for a note of inspiration.

Black Butler – “One Hellish Butler”

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I’m going to be straight with you, I haven’t seen the anime or read the manga which the live-action Black Butler film is based on. I know next to nothing about the anime or the manga, save for fanvids I’ve watched on YouTube, and will be basing this review solely off the movie alone. So leggo!

Black Butler is a film that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while now after stumbling across a fanvid of it in my search for kdrama fmvs. After witnessing some badass action scenes in the fmv, I was hyped for some kickass fight scenes with scary, brooding characters and a whole lot of blood. But here’s the trailer, which definitely (okay, probably) contains less spoilers than this review.

Directed by Kentaro Otani and Keiichi Sato, it’s a live-action adaption of the manga Kuroshitsuji by Yana Toboso, with Ayame Goriki as the female lead Shiori Genpo and Hiro Mizushima as the demon butler Sebastian Michaelis. Set in the future, year 2020, the plot follows the story of a young girl out for revenge after witnessing the murder of her parents. She disappears, and returns later as a boy with an entirely new identity, and alongside her, a butler. In exchange for help in her plan to take revenge against those who killed her parents, she offers her soul to the demon, Sebastian, which he’ll consume after aiding in Shiori’s revenge.

Sure, it has a pretty cliche and overdone storyline, but it was well executed and didn’t come across too predictable. The gore was okay, it freaked me out a little (especially the scene where that guy gets mummified), but it wasn’t so bad that I was afraid to leave the room without all the lights on. What originally sparked my interest in this film were the fight scenes, which were very nicely choreographed and edited just as well.

Especially in this fanvid, which omfg slaaayyyyssssssss!

Although this is my absolute favourite fmv for this film!

But on a very serious note, I TOTALLY LOVED THIS MOVIE AND THOUGHT ABOUT IT DAYS AFTER WATCHING IT. Hiro is bae (hella), Ayame is bae (double hella and she looks like my other bae, D.O Kyungsoo), and although I’ll forever have nightmares about being mummified, I’d rewatch this without a doubt. Also considering this is based off the manga and anime, I think I’ll be checking those out, too!

He’s so attractive. She’s so attractive. This was actually one of my favourite scenes, and I just think they’re precious little babies who need to take over the world and consume a bunch of souls and rid this universe of all evil while at the same time being the most evil (and sexy) beings around.

The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I must admit that the reason I continued to refuse The Winner’s Trilogy a second glance was because of its overly gorgeous covers. Covers with pretty girls in even prettier dresses have seldom ended up as my favorite or even decent reads (with the exception of Kerstin Gier’s Girl About Time Trilogy, but time travel is always the exception to the rule).

Picture Credit: themidnightgarden.net 

Fresh off The Orphan Queen, I was looking for another nice fantasy to delve into and the Winner’s Curse and/or its sequel kept being thrown in front of me by Goodreads and Amazon. But what really sealed the deal was running into it at a local discount book sale. I took it as fate and reluctantly opened the first page and did not stop until I had finished The Winner’s Crime. And so, never judge a book by its cover, remains good law.

Summary

The Winner’s Curse introduces us to world of Valorians and Herranis, amongst others, where the former, a proud warrior class of people, have conquered the artistic and god-fearing Herranis, just because they could. To survive, the Herranis surrendered, only to be enslaved by the Valorians. Kestrel is the 16-year old daughter of a Valorian general, who has been given a choice to marry or join the military, like all young adults her age. However, she is a lousy combatant and wants no part in Valorians’ thirst for war, much to the dismay of her father who believes she is a brilliant strategist and will prove beneficial to their war efforts. She also does not want to get married. Rather, she wants to be free of her society’s encumbrances and be a pianist, a quality frowned upon by the Valorians. She soon meets Arin, a Herrani slave put up for auction, who she impulsively purchases for a high (and scandalous) price. She sees a kindred spirit in Arin and eventually finds herself struggling to hide her feelings for him. But Arin is hiding something as well, something that will not only change the landscape of his relationship with Kestrel but also the very landscape of the world they live in.

The Good

Kestrel

She is a refreshing YA lead, if there ever was one. It was nice to read about a heroine that is dreadful at fighting and a warrior princess is the last thing she wants to be. That being said, she is by no means a naive socialite only concerned with dresses and dinner parties. She is a brilliant thinker and strategist and harbors a deep love of music. She questions her society’s stubborn pride and narrow mindedness with the same hard determination that underpins her people. And while she has a compassionate side, Rutkoski balances it realistically with her dispassionate upbringing. All in all, she is incredibly well imagined, her qualities set her apart from the crowd but also seem like logical digressions for someone from that particular environment, thus not making her the clichéd ‘chosen one’.

Kestrel and Arin

The start of Kestrel and Arin’s relationship almost gave me a sinking feeling about the future of the series. They fall in love, quick and hard, despite being two very different people from opposing sides of a terrible war. However, the first book takes a dramatic turn at half-time, transforming their seemingly benign relationship into their wonderfully complex thing. They have a good understanding of what a Valorian means to a Herrani and vice versa but unlike their brethren the understanding is not a blind one. The alternating POV, albeit in third person, facilitated this quite well.

The Setting

The Winners Trilogy, for the lack of a better comparison, is Downton-Abbey-meets-Game-of-Thrones. The historical setting with ball gowns, tea/dinner parties, honor duels and societal manners makes it for a fun read. The fantasy is confined to Rutkoski’s brilliantly imagined empire with the Valorians at the forefront with their mad obsession to violently conquer it piece by piece and a cull any insurgence swiftly. The political dynamics of the empire and its shrewd underpinnings are flushed out more so in the second book, transforming the trilogy into not only a breathtaking romance but also a no holds barred political thriller. It reminded me very much of Panem’s somber  situation and the tyranny of President Snow.

The Bad

Arin

Admittedly, bad is a particularly harsh take on Arin. He is a relatively good character with just a few traits that did not agree with me. I found Arin to be very sentimental, recklessly so and often just plain reckless. Given the significance of his agenda, I expected him to be a lot more subtle. I was surprised that with the way he went about things that he was not caught out at the outset. That being said, it was still not enough to resist liking him. Like Kestrel he has this unwavering commitment to his cause which he balances quite well against his feelings for Kestrel. Kestrel, arguably correctly, does not share this sentiment and feels Arin has a blind spot for her to the point of recklessly endangering his life if not their nations’ life. An illusion of self importance, you say? Maybe, but Arin gives her little reason to think otherwise.

The Ugly  

The Winner’s Crime

The Winner’s Crime, the second installment, carries on like a tragedy of errors for the most part. I expected the misconceptions, mostly on Arin’s part, to last well into the novel but not until the very end. That made matters a little repetitive and frustrating. That being said, it also served as a brilliant setting to delve into the angst and tension between Arin and Kestrel, something Rutkoski penned very well.

The Cliffhanger

After a teasing pace, Rutkoski ends the novel with a gut-punching cliff hanger, leaving me with not only a killer good-book-hangover but also a torturous wait for the final book in the trilogy, The Winner’s Kiss, which is expected in early 2016.

In conclusion, the first two installments of The Winner’s Trilogy were a delectable read, a clever combination of heart-wrenching romance and heart-stopping political intrigue. Rutkoski’s overall focus on brains over brawn particularly resonated with me because while I love my divergents and mockingjays, the protagonist who brings down a draconian empire via mere words also needs to be aptly represented. So, if you enjoy historical dramas, political thrillers and/or forbidden romances, give The Winner’s Trilogy a go. You will not be disappointed.

Game of Thrones 5×01 – The Wars to Come Review

Game-of-Thrones-logoTyrion summed it up rather nicely when he said, “the future is shit, just like the past.”

The first episode caught us up with some key players, the mourning Lannisters, the murdering Lannister and the Spider, the Highgarden (Tyrell) siblings, the mother of (two locked up and one missing) dragons, Littlefinger and Sansa, Night’s Watch patrollers with Stannis & Co. Am I missing anyone? Oh yeah Brienne of mother-effing Tarth and her squire who’s not really a squire, because Brienne’s not a knight. Her words, not mine. But that’s all we get from them as she’s not sure what to do at this point having lost Arya and still not found Sansa, Brienne’s sulking in abeyance.

Things are sort of in limbo for everyone right now, Cersei and Jaime are trying to hold off the noble folk after the death of Tywin- that scene beside Tywin’s body gave us more of the same with both characters. Jaime defending Tyrion, Cersei reprimanding him for it. The problem is Cersei is still coming off as less of a multifaceted character and more of a jealous queen trying to keep her title. The prophecy flashback, while brilliant, didn’t help. Mostly because Maggy the Frog’s prophecy to little Cersei, who was just as haughty then as she is now, was incomplete. They cut a potentially crucial element out but I think it’s slightly spoilerous, so thoughts on it below in the Book Spoilers Ahoy (BSA) section. How about that child actor though, she nailed her adult counterpart’s characterisation.

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Tyrion is understandably jaded, he escapes from prison and his looming execution to find his dad (who’s never loved him, apparently) had taken up with Shae (who he thought had loved him) so he kills them both and is squirreled away on a ship (forced to stuff his shit through holes- hopefully not the same holes his food would have been stuffed through) for weeks. Yeesh, that’s enough to turn anyone into a drunk. The show really cut down the traveling time for him- cutting out a good few hundred characters (just kidding, or am I?) along with it. I liked that they sent Varys along for the ride, it makes for an interesting change and gives Tyrion more direction than just ‘anywhere far far away from King’s Landing’. Varys, up until this point, has been rather cryptic in his purpose, ‘spymaster for the good of the realm but more to save my own hide’ is the vibe I initially got off him, but he fully laid out his intentions to Tyrion this episode. Dany fans would be inclined to back his campaign 100%.

Daenerys Targaryen seems to be the right candidate for the Iron Throne, no? She has the lineage, the right entourage (maybe) and the swag. The falling statue scene was powerful, it easily set the tone for the goings on in Meereen. Dany seems compassionate but is not a pushover and has shown the strength to do what needs doing. What she’s lacking right now, however, is a hold on her dragons and the complete devotion of the people she’s freed. She’s also in a state of limbo, it seems, because of this. Her growth will surely be linked to the ability to rein in her dragons. Right now Viserion and Rhaegal are losing their minds being chained up and the monstrosity that is Drogon is still at large, wreaking havoc no doubt.

Littlefinger and Sansa may not be in limbo per se but Littlefinger’s plans take time and there are so many things a’brewing. Sansa’s getting smarter but she’s not at ‘master manipulator’ just yet and I like her slow- but sure- development. But her storyline’s already a huge diversion from the books and it looks like it’s going to keep changing. Depending on how they continue to develop her character this can be great, or flop-central.

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And at the wall I knew Mance was a goner but damn burnt at the stake like a witch? Ouch. Also, Melisandre’s invasive questions were a bit rude. But perhaps she can’t sacrifice virgins? We’ll see what the show does with that, yikes at him training the little sprite that shot and killed Ygritte. The ending of the episode was striking. His respect for Mance won out over his care for anything Stannis said. Jon knows (funnily enough) what’s up with needing to put aside petty throne grabs for the bigger problem at hand. Imminent Whitewalker danger, yo. There are wars brewing from every direction, Stannis doesn’t quite see it yet. He may have his current war with the Lannisters over the throne but the unknown war coming at them from North of the wall isn’t something to laugh off. Dany’s fighting a war in Meereen, subterfuge from the Sons of the Harpy who oppose her and internal conflict regarding her dragons, but Varys and Tyrion are looking to bring her into the messy war for the Iron throne- the very one she seems determined to keep putting off.

No Arya or Sandsnakes yet, but they are on their way. Along with other key players mentioned but not shown in the first ep back. Introducing the concept of Dorne through Loras’ Dorne-shaped birthmark tho’. Really? It was all for the man-on-man action, for sure. However Margaery and Loras’ relationship is weirdly awesome. Natalie Dormer is sass incarnate and with more moments of sassery to come I’m definitely hyped.

Oh what a season to look forward to.

Honourable Mentions:

– “I am not a politician, I am a queen.” YASSS DANY SLAAAYYY

– The unsullied visit them brothels to be the little spoon. Plain and simple. It isn’t, really, but if I think about it too much it’ll make me so sad.

– Ah here be Sparrows! (Introduced through the atoned Lancel This is good, setting us up for what’s to come that has a lot to do with religious beliefs and the consequences of certain actions.

– Yikes, four episodes leaked before the premiere- much to the delight of pirating fans and chagrin of the producers.

Book Spoilers Ahoy:

– THE VALONQAR?! Maggy the Frog (Maggy being a nickname that refers to what she is, which is a ‘maegi’) doesn’t make any mention of the valonqar (High Valyrian for ‘little brother’). It’s important element. Like, we get it- Cersei’s wary of Margaery (seeing her as a threat, even without the added element of a prophecy about it). And while we know she hates Tyrion but at least this would have added another facet to the reasons behind her detestation. An element of fear to her hatred of Tyrion makes her hatred far more complex than ‘he’s an imp and his birth caused our mother’s death’.

Book Review: The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

Jodi Meadow’s The Orphan Queen is the first of a trilogy and conveniently released around the same time I emerged bruised and battered from finishing Allegiant. This YA High Fantasy seemed like a nice and much need break from Roth’s dystopia so I plunged into it head first.

 Summary

The Orphan Queen is the story of Wilhelmina (“Wil”), a young girl with many faces, a princess in hiding and a spy among the paramount few. She and her band of orphaned children of nobility, the Ospreys, hatch a scheme to reclaim her throne, long ago brutally conquered by the Indigo Kingdom, involving infiltrating the enemy’s castle and igniting the rebellion from within. However, once Wil penetrates court life, things do not seem as black and white as before. To make matters worse, she keeps running into the Black Knife, a masked vigilante hell bent on bringing the likes of her to justice. What ensues in a tale of magic, mayhem, court espionage and intrigue with a smattering of romance and stunning sword fights.

The Good

The characters of Wil and the Black Knife are the crowning glory of The Orphan Queen. A reviewer aptly described their dynamics as a 19th century Batman and Catwoman and I could not agree more. Their sharp banter and dance-like interactions were very well penned and fun to read. Their relationship grows at a charmingly and refreshingly slow pace, completely in sync with their cautious characters.

I also enjoyed the fact the Wil knew her own mind and constructively scrutinised her surroundings and ensuing events. She did not let her traumatic past blind her and that was very big of her.

The Bad

The secondary characters, especially Tobiah and James, felt to be created to confuse the reader as to the identity of the Black Knife. However, if you, like me, have grown up with a particular affinity to masked and not-so-masked vigilantes, his identity is an easy giveaway. After I had made that early discovery, Wil’s interaction with these characters seemed pointless but ultimately interesting.

Also, I would have preferred more scenes with Wil and the Black Knife, given how well these were done and how much I enjoyed reading them.

The Ugly

If the events leading up to it were not sufficiently heart wrenching, the cliffhanger more than makes up for it. It was also far from foreseeable. Ms Meadows definitely secured my spot in the queue for the next installment of this series. I only pray that no annoying love triangle(s) emerge, mainly because I see an abundance of eligible avenues for same.

In conclusion, The Orphan Queen is a solid start to an interesting YA fantasy series that strongly holds my investment. It is a quick and thrilling read. I highly recommend this one.