Book Review: After the End and Until the Beginning by Amy Plum

Amy Plum’s After the End duology is easily of one my favourite recent reads. The premise of someone discovering that they had been falsely raised to believe they lived in a post apocalyptic world was immediately intriguing and once I discovered it was from a dual perspective, I couldn’t scramble to open the book fast enough.

Summary

Somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness, Juneau is living with a small band of survivors from the third world war that wiped out man kind. They have survived off the land for the past 30 years via creating a spiritual bond with nature, The Yara. The Yara is strong with the newest generation of the survivors, indicated by the starbursts in their eyes. Juneau has a particularly strong bond with the Yara and as such she is next in line to become the sage of her people.

One day Juneau returns from a hunt to find her village in ruins and her people gone. She finds a message from her father amongst the ruins, telling her to run. She taps into the Yara for signs on how to find and rescue her people. In doing so, she breaches the boundaries of her land and discovers that there was no war. Civilization was intact. It was all a lie.

Adrift in the modern world she never knew existed, Juneau’s paths cross with Miles.

Miles, the troublesome son of a wealthy pharmaceutical CEO, needs his father to bail him out of trouble one last time and convince Yale not to reject his application. He discovers his father is desperately looking for a girl…with a starburst in her eyes. Miles conjures up a plan to find her to impress his father…but how does he find her in the middle of such a large place.

Fortunately for Miles, The Yara tells Juneau that Miles is person who will lead her to her lost people and it draws them to each other. They join forces and embark on a cross country trip, Miles thinking he will get to impress his father by delivering Juneau  to him and Juneau  thinking Miles will unite her with her people.

The problem: He thinks she is crazy. She thinks he is a useless idiot. And then there’s the matter of armed men pursuing them.

The Good

Ms Plum could not have imagined more believable characters than Juneau and Miles. Miles struggles to reconcile his modern skepticism with Juneau’s beliefs, in particular her abilities which include communicating with animals, videoconferencing via fire and talking to people polite society would otherwise steer clear off.

Nowadays belief in the supernatural/spiritual power is often met with skepticism, let alone belief in supernatural/spiritual abilities. As such I found Miles reactions to Juneau quite understandable. I also appreciated that he did not hold back when trying to understand her, aloud. He directs words like ‘hippie’, ‘brain washing’ and ‘crazy’ toward her. Also understandable, not everyone is politically correct all the time.

Miles is more or less correct. Juneau is crazy, crazy-smart, crazy-skilled and crazy-brave. Sure, the Yara pointed her to Miles but she was not about to trust him any time soon. Why would a boy suddenly agree to chauffeur her across the country, particularly when he thinks she is insane? So I appreciated that she was not a naive fanatic and expertly balanced her beliefs against her instincts.

I adored both their narratives. The vastly different worlds they came from could not have been distinguished as expertly with a single-perspective. The perspectives were not just believable but persuasive because Miles and Juneau qualified their arguments for everything so well. Their banter was hilarious and a delight to read!

The audio books, which I sampled for about half a dozen chapters, are narrated by Emily Rankin and Graham Hamilton and they do a fantastic job of bringing Miles’ and Juneau’s narratives to life. Hamilton in particular articulated Miles’ sense of humor and his reactions to Juneau quite well.

I enjoy reading about developing relationships and particularly enjoyed the development of Miles and Juneau’s relationship. It progressed at a mostly pragmatic and believable rate and did not overpower the narrative.

It is difficult to comment on the larger plot of Juneau’s missing people, why Mile’s dad needs Juneau and the reason behind the armed men following them, without spoilers. So I will only mention that it is novel, well-developed and engaging.

Finally, the series is basically a wonderfully weird road-trip, something I abhor in real life but adore in my reading life.

The Bad and the Ugly

There was nothing to dislike about this series. If there was, I’m having a hard time recalling it so it must not have been so significant.

The series neatly, if not easily, ties up by the end of the second and final instalment, Until the Beginning. I think Ms Plum could have easily made this a trilogy but I ultimately appreciated that she kept the level of complexity moderate. Often complex narratives are taken as a sign of a high quality read but personally it is tiresome and more often than not pretentious.

In summary, if you are looking for a break from dystopian/utopian fiction but do not want to stray too far, After the End and Until the Beginning will be a perfect fit. It was an addictive read, a combination of very well defined characters within a unique take on urban fantasy. Give it go and let us know what you think.

          

The Scorch Trials Trailer

Out of the pan and into the scorch our ragged protagonists go.

I think it’s safe to say they’re diverging from the books, and I’m all for it. Because I spy with my four eyes Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) hanging out with the guys. But those bandana’d girls with guns tho’.

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is still making it through exits/doors just before they shut. So that’s good.

Interesting to get a taste of what Ball’s done with the sequel to last year’s blockbuster YA adaptation The Maze Runner. 

Comes out in September!

Watch the trailer below:

 

Film Review: Poltergeist

poster

Please not the following review contains spoilers throughout. 

“Clear your minds, they already know what scares you.”

Poltergeist is a remake of the original 1982 film, with a modern take – mainly incorporating the modern technology of mobile phones. The film centres on the Bowen family who move into a new home, which they soon find out rests upon a (supposedly) relocated cemetery. The discovery of a bone in the front yard, is a daunting indicator of things to come.

The film centres on the youngest child, Madison (Maddie), who is capable of interacting with the spiritual plane. Her interactions are mainly noticed by her brother, Griffen, who is the nervous child of the family, and fears anything (with good reason in this case).

The first outbreak of the poltergeist interaction comes when Kendra, the eldest, is left in charge of the two younger children whilst the parents – Eric and Amy – attend a party in the new neighbourhood. It is during the party, Eric and Amy are advised that the site the house on was once a cemetery, and during this discussion the children are attacked by different components of the house.

The parents come home, to discover the disappearance of Maddie. Whose eerie voice crackles through the television, calling out to her mother. With an inability to go to the police, as they have no idea or explanation for the events that have occurred they turn to Carrigan Burke, a parapsychologist, who explains that they are dealing with a poltergeist, not just an angry spirit. The spirits are trapped, angry and desperate and think that Maddie is their way out, into the light, which has created the poltergeist.

“They’re here.” 

Thus we are thrown into the apparent “scare factor” of the film. We see gangly spirits, clambering over one another along the walls, ceiling, and floor. They lash out at the family to ensure Maddie stays with them to lead them to the light, and forces Carrigan into “The Otherside” in order to save the family. I didn’t find this aspect of the film scary at all. The subtle frights at the being of the film worked a lot better.

My main issue lies with the ending of the film. The film just ends. The audience is left with the notion that Poltergeist 2 is possible, but Poltergeist itself is left unanswered. What happens to ghost hunter Carrigan? Does he escape from “The Otherside”, or dies leading the dead through to the white light? Will we ever see him again? It’s just not realistic enough and doesn’t provide me with an actual scare. The house is left practically levelled, but it’s not until the family is speeding off down the road that people start to come out of their homes, conveniently as a police vehicle and fire truck rush to the scene. It’s not a quick process for the house to self destruct, so you would expect the neighbours to have been pouring out prior to the family speeding off. In my opinion, the scare factor is not that scary. I need to feel that the situation/scenario is real and relatable, but in this case it just wasn’t.

If you are a fan of the original, you may be disappointed in the remake. If you are a easy scare, then Poltergeist would be great for you. It screams into NZ cinemas Thursday 21 May, 2015. Have a look at the trailer below.

Dead to You by Lisa McMann

Lisa McMann’s Dead To You had drawn me in quite a while ago with its intriguing premise of a teenage boy returning to his family after been abducted as a child. However, for some reason or other, I did not progress past the first few chapters. Recently, I picked up the audio book, narrated brilliantly by Aaron Tveit (TV’s Gossip Girl and Graceland) and found myself desperate to flip to the next page/chapter in a mad effort to see what happens next.

Summary

Having been abducted at age seven, abandoned, a foster child, and homeless, Ethan, now sixteen, is happy to be home until his brother’s suspicion and his own inability to remember something unspeakable from his early childhood begin to tear the family apart.

The Good

I continue to remain shocked as to how McMann managed to keep me at the edge of my seat with her very simple and innocuous narrative. Better yet, how she managed to convey the very complex emotions and dynamics of the protagonist’s circumstances through her easy and light prose. Whatever it was, it made me follow Ethan’s tumultuous emotions with rapt attention. Yes, me, someone who does not gravitate towards contemporary/realistic YA fiction on the best of days.

Ethan was a wonderfully odd and confused protagonist and McMann voiced him so well. And Tveit just took the  narrative to the next level, brilliantly encapsulating Ethan’s carefree facade and his underlying neuroses and insecurities.

Aaron Tveit (Image Credit: USA Network)

McMann also depicted the various relationship dynamics quite well. I particularly appreciated the relationship between Ethan and his mother and his interactions with his siblings.

I have a very rudimentary knowledge of abductees/victim psychology (gathered from years of watching Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU), but I believe McMann aptly demonstrated the subject matter’s key issues for her target audience. I think it provided a tentative glimpse into the darker side of childhood/adolescence, cleverly disguised as a contemporary thriller.

The Bad & the Ugly     

It was a very short read with a shockingly abrupt yet poignant conclusion. Otherwise, I had no qualms about Dead To You. I would imagine that someone who readily frequents books tackling such premise or just contemporary YA fiction in general would have more criticism, but I found it to be a decent read, engaging, oddly entertaining and surprising thought provoking.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a quick read that it not-so-mindless but not-so-heavy either, subject-matter-wise, Lisa McMann’s Dead To You comes highly recommended. Ethan’s account of the bittersweet events that span Dead To You (made particularly palpable when narrated by Tveit) will definitely tug at your heartstrings and fire those brain synapses.

Spy – Film Review

Spy_600x849_ForWeb

Spy is hilarious. End of.

If only it was that easy.

Directed, and written, by Paul Feig and starring Melissa McCarthy, as an unassuming (desk-bound) CIA analyst, Spy is probably the funniest movie so far this year. The action-comedy makes great use of McCarthy as a headliner and even better use of the great cast of top-notch actors.

When Susan Cooper’s (McCarthy) partner (Jude Law) falls off the grid, and other top agents (one of which is played by Jason Statham) is compromised, she volunteers to go deep undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster.

The cast includes, and uses to the film’s advantage, Rose Byrne, Morena Baccarin, Allison Janney, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, and 50 Cent.

The breaks from laughter were few and and far between, the writing was punchy and there were more one-liners than you could shake a trombone at.

It’s difficult to pick a favourite character because they were all so brilliant, both in terms of the writing and acting. I will say Law’s character was probably my least favourite, just because everyone else out-funny’d him by a mile. Miranda Hart got to showcase why her BBC show Miranda was such hit, I half expected her to shout out THRUST in certain scenes. Byrne was excellent and Statham’s comedic timing was on point- like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels point.

However it’s the women who made this movie, from its headliner to princess villain, there’s an empowerment that isn’t all up in your face.

I can’t say that every single joke hit its target, but I can say that when it did the laughter was uproarious. Spy manages to be hilarious from beginning to end.

Five (not so) Silent LOLs (out of Five).

In NZ Cinemas May 21st.

Trailer below:

Book Review: The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

I have had a catch and release kind of of relationship with Lindsay Cummings’ The Murder Complex duology. I kept on getting drawn in by the premise and the beautiful cover, then getting put off by the mixed reviews. When it happened for the umpteenth time, I decided to throw caution to the wind and read it. I live to regret that decision.

Summary

The Murder Complex is YA sci-fi dystopian thriller that follows the lives of Meadow and Zephyr, who live in the Shallows, a world surrounded by an allegedly protective wall/perimeter where the murder rate is at an all time high. But the world outside the perimeter is supposedly worse. Zephyr is an an orphan/ward of the state, tasked with cleaning up the ever-increasing pile of victims while Meadow desperately wants to secure a government job to feed her poor family. She has been ceaselessly trained to survive so as to secure a job by any means necessary. He, unbeknownst to him, is programmed to kill. Their paths cross when Meadow saves Zephyr, who guilt-ridden from unknowingly murdering folk tries to kill himself. After that brief encounter, Zephyr and Meadow become infatuated with each other, at which point in time, Zephyr tries to kill Meadow. What ensues is a fast paced, blood soaked thriller with conspiracies abound.

The Good

The premise is promising and is the very thing that makes you want to pick up this novel. The duality of protagonists, one trained to cheat death and the other to bring it about was certainly intriguing. I was eager to see how their paths would cross, collide and reconcile.

The Bad and the Ugly

The romance almost single handedly ruined this book for me. I am not a big believer in love at first sight but I can be convinced of it, if argued well with supporting authority. This is an example where the arguments were not convincing. Zephyr, for one, dreams of a moonlit girl like Meadow and once he sights Meadow, swears she is the person he has waited his entire life to see. His concerns for murders he commits involuntarily gets replaced and consumed by Meadow.

Meadow, unfortunately, is no better when it comes to Zephyr. She is introduced as this tough-as-nails protagonist, painfully trained to be cautious of the world. Her sudden infatuation with Zephyr, arguably, went against her inherent characteristics. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when he tries to kill her, because what else should befall someone who takes a stranger’s hand after a moment of meeting him to go swimming in the ocean with him…in dystopia…where murder is at an all time high. While Meadow, after that plot twist, re-arranges her feelings into something that is semi-sensible, Zephyr refuses to get off the predestined and fated love train, further dooming he’s chances of being a likeable character. Ultimately, both characters, Meadow for her inconsistency and Zephyr for his effeminacy, became nonsensical and as a result rather forgettable.

The world building was adequate, arguably gritty and gory to appear edgy. It is also unnecessarily complicated and hard to follow, mostly because characters and constructs are abandoned half way and backgrounds/foundations for certain plot lines are half-baked or non-existent. What really grated on my nerves was the terminology. Cummings makes up the words ‘flux’, ‘chumhead’ and ‘skitz’ in an effort to cuss and swear without setting off the parental guidance disclaimers but the exercise comes off as being rather juvenile and annoying.

In summary, despite the intriguing premise the book was incredibly disappointing. I was quite surprised that I even finished reading this one, given that I did not even feel a sliver of a connection with the world or its characters. That being said, there are several reviewers out there who happened to like The Murder Complex? Are you one of them? Let us know.

Book Review: The Shattered Court by M J Scott

The Shattered Court by Melbourne-based M J Scott is the first in a new series, The Four Arts. It reeled me in with the beautiful cover and equally intriguing blurb at a time when I was still coming off the high of having read Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse series.

Consider yourself forewarned. This is the most shallowest of novels if there ever was one, only masquerading as something of reasonable substance.

 

 

The Summary

The royal witches of Anglion are immediately bound by rites of marriage once they manifest magical powers. The binding ensures they serve their husbands and country with their powers, by ensuring things such as good harvests and their husbands’ good health. Anything more than these tamed use of magic is considered dangerous and forbidden.

Sophia Kendall, thirty-second in line to the throne, is only days away from finding out if she will manifest magical ability, when an attack on Anglion forces her to to flee the court with Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, a member of the royal guard. While in hiding Sophia’s powers manifest, stronger than she imagined inextricably linking her and Cameron in the process.

Now Sophia is a witch unbound by the rites of marriage, considered a threat to the established order of her country and a weapon for Anglion’s enemies. As she discovers the truth behind the traditions of her country, Sophia finds herself torn between using her powers to protect Anglion or succumbing to the temptation of keeping it for herself. 

The Good

Given the above summary, I was completely sold on the premise of this novel. I have come to develop a liking for novels with court intrigue and as a result may have pressed the ‘buy with a click’ button on Amazon a little too hastily. Therefore, at the very least, I need to congratulate whoever dressed this book, for a job well done.

The Bad and the Ugly

The characters are all one dimensional and the relationships more so. Sophie talks of trust and respect for Cameron after a mere three days and one night (if you catch my drift) of knowing him, yet they never have conversations and liaisons long enough and/or substantive enough to warrant it. Similarly, Cameron develops strong feelings for Sophie almost overnight too, which increase further still despite any substantial interaction with her. Moreover, mere hours prior to meeting and falling in lust and/or love with Sophie, he is happily sleeping with her friend. After his one night with Sophie, his illicit affair all but disappears, conveniently.

What made matters worse was that Sophie is eventually led to believe that what Cameron and her share is just an illusory effect of her newly manifested magical powers. She brings this up with Cameron but is quickly convinced otherwise by Cameron’s excellent lovemaking skills, never to question it again. A similar fate also befalls her becoming aware of Cameron’s prior relationship with her friend. So to conclude, even though the book is not erotica, there is limited basis for the lead characters relationship beyond the physical and Scott does a poor job of convincing you otherwise.

Further, both characters are utterly unremarkable with no attractive qualities to speak off. It was very difficult to root for them and cheer them on because (a) they did little of anything of great consequence and (b) what they did say/do was so grossly moronic.

The world building is limited and tiresome at best. I seemed to have missed whatever Scott wanted to pass off as intrigue. There was nothing eventful about the narrative (unless you count the graphic sex scenes that alerted to the book being new adult/adult fiction and not young adult fiction). Basically, it is just words on a page that start and then end. If there was a climax and/or a cliffhanger I was too disinterested to pick up on it.

I often question my love for YA fiction considering my age but this novel (and a few others over the years) re-affirm my devotion to the genre. The average young adult protagonist, be it Gus Waters or Percy Jackson, in dystopian Chicago or present day New York, have a lot more depth and dimension than Sophie and Cameron.

In short, if you are a fan of historical romances or fantasy romances of the bodice-ripping variety, feel free to give The Shattered Court a go. That being said, I have it on good authority (by leading Goodreads reviewers and having read some of the genre myself) this maybe no where near as satisfying.  It was very superficial for my tastes, particularly when there was ample scope for it to be a decent read. Care to disagree? Sound off below.