Book Review: Pivot Point & Split Second by Kasie West

Kasie West’s Pivot Point  has been on my mind for a while being one of those books that keep reappearing on Goodreads and Amazon recommendations. I recently picked up Split Second, the conclusion to Pivot Point, pop-up book sale thinking it was the first novel. Luckily, I discovered my mistake immediately and did not spoil the book for myself. It meant I had to patiently wait for the Pivot Point to arrive from BookDepository.com because I have developed an aversion to eBooks of late, having read consecutive paperbacks for a while. It was worth the wait, Kasie West’s fun and heart-warming duology about alternate realities was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Summary

Pivot Point introduces us to a secret community of people, ‘the Compound’, that are living amongst us with special abilities that range from telekinesis, lie-detection, memory-manipulation, mind-reading, mass manipulation and precognition. Addie Coleman is a divergent, that is, when presented with a choice, she can search into the future and foresee the results of choosing either paths and thus armed with that information, make the correct choice in the present.

So when Addie’s parents announce that they are getting a divorce, she is encouraged to search the future in order to decide she who wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the secret paranormal compound to live among the “Norms” in Dallas, Texas  or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. Not so much.

Her two potential futures essentially show her two different lives with two different parents, two different schools and two different boys but amidst the same mystery, a murder in the Compound investigated by her father.

With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through… and who she can’t live without.

Split Second deals with the aftermath of the choice Addie makes in Pivot Point. Addie shares the narrative with Laila this time round, who Addie entrusts with a massive task, that she struggles to complete in Split Second.

What I liked:

I was immediately weary of Pivot Point despite its intriguing premise on alternate realities/parallel lives, thinking it was yet another YA love triangle in a different packaging. However, once I cracked it open I was pleasantly surprised at Kasie’s unique treatment of the trope.

Addie is a very likable protagonist: awkward, witty, charming, smart, compassionate and refreshingly pragmatic. It was nice to read about a female lead who did not get caught up the melodrama and wallowed in teen-angst. She was very communicative and expressed her doubts and discomfort, which not only made me adore her all the more but pushed narrative forward at an even and interesting pace.

The secondary characters, Laila, Trevor, Duke and Addie’s parents were also quite well fleshed out and their different dynamics with Addie were delightful to read. I particularly enjoyed the the witty dialogue between this great ensemble of characters.  I must admit that I liked Laila a lot better in Split Second. She was a tad bit infuriating in Pivot Point but seeing things from her perspective in Split Second, definitely changed my opinion of her. Trevor was delightful in both instalments, a very understated yet lovable secondary character. Duke, for the insufferable bastard that he was, facilitated the narrative’s twists and turns well, mainly because Kasie made him quite unpredictable. Split Second introduces us to Connor, who was another great secondary character with a rich background that made Split Second as wholesomely entertaining as Pivot Point.

The respective overarching mysteries in the both books were well developed and gave the narrative structure, transforming it from a mere sci-fi high-school drama to a more widely appealing YA read.

What I did not like:

Like I said, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I found little to nothing of consequence that hindered my enjoyment.

In conclusion, Pivot Point and Split Second was a fun and easy read. If you a looking for a light-hearted yet a slightly nuanced and entertaining read, Kaise West does not disappoint.

Princess Hours/Goong Review – JiHoon & EunHye are Goals

Princess Hours (2006)

Hangeul: RR: Goong; lit. “Palace

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months now (since Mata first brought up me writing it), and haven’t done so due to my laziness. We’re going to be reviewing some old-school (ish) K-dramas because why not?

Now let’s get started, shall we? I’ll state it right now that this review will be hella biased, so deal with it.

Goong’s plot is pretty cliche, a forced marriage with the two main leads, the Crown Prince, Lee Shin (Ju Ji-hoon) and commoner, Shin Chae-kyung (Yoon Eun-hye). Immediately you know these two are going to end up together at the end of the show, because they’re END GAME. But just because they’ll obviously end up together, it doesn’t mean they won’t make us ship them with other people along the way or make us want to just kill the main leads, *cough cough* Lee Shin *cough*.

From the beginning of the show, Lee Shin is in love with ballerina Min Hyo-rin (Song Ji-hyo) and Shin Chae-kyung overhears him proposing to Hyo-rin, only to be rejected and now forced to enter a marriage with Chae-kyung (who he can’t really stand, and I still don’t fully get why).

Chae-kyung only agrees to help her family’s financial situation, because she’s a caring person. But does that matter to Lee Shin? Clearly not because 90% of the time, I wanted to punch him in the freaking face. Chae-kyung started to like him (duh -_-) as she spent more time with him, and he started to realise she wasn’t all that bad (HOORAY), but Hyo-rin in all her bitchy self realised she wanted Lee Shin back and weasels herself back into his life, despite having rejected him for ballet and ignoring the fact that he’s now married to someone else!?!?! And you know what else? She didn’t even care that she would be the side-chick. Like??? Freaking damn this all to hell.

Now, I didn’t have a problem with her rejecting him for ballet, because ‘YOU GO GIRL! I’m so proud that you thought about your life and career before a damn boy!’ but then she decides to drop everything(!!!! THIS MEANS HER BALLET, TOO LIKE REALLY?!) once she realises he’s not gonna sit around and hang on to her. And Lee Shin doesn’t exactly make up his mind on whether he should get back with Ballerina Bitch or be with Chae-kyung. I hella disapprove.

Chae-kyung doesn’t want to get caught up in all that, and I get that, because she only agreed to this marriage for her family and now, because of this marriage, she rarely gets to see them. Along with struggling to fit in at the palace, and liking a prick who’s giving her mixed signals along with continuously hanging with Ballerina Bitch, Chae-kyung relies a lot on her friend Lee Yul (Kim Jung-hoon) who was the original Crown Prince, before he was cast out. And yes, he’s the SLS (second lead syndrome).

Lee Yul, the person Chae-kyung should really be with, falls for her. And it’s hard not to, because if you ignore all her horrible hairstyles and outfit choices, she’s really beautiful and loving and disgustingly cute. And Chae-kyung would return his feelings, if she wasn’t falling for Lee Shin. And Lee Yul knows that, so he decides to cut in, much in the same way Ballerina Bitch does.

Really guys? Do y’all not know that this marriage was for TWO people? Y’all are so freaking extra. Bye.

This was really upsetting for me, because Lee Yul was such a great guy, y’know? But because he’s stuck wanting to be with Chae-kyung, he suddenly feels cheated out of a marriage that was originally set for him and her and tries to pry them apart. Again, I hella disapprove.

Lee Shin eventually realises how much he loves Chae-kyung, and how much he needs to stop being a prick, and how hard everything is for her. He steps in and acts more worthy for her which is something she’s been needing for a while because she was suffering due to of all of them, and the least he can do is finally be with her and love her the way she loves him.

AND IT ONLY TOOK BASICALLY HALF THE SERIES, AN EVIL MOM, TWO CHEATING SCANDALS, AND A TWIST ON THE “AM I YOUR BROTHER” CLICHE.

.-. side eyes the director and writer.

I got so attached to all the characters, and all the SLS feels destroyed me because Lee Yul was the complete opposite of Lee Shin, y’know? He was kind and caring, and he matched Chae-kyung so well, but the heart wants what it wants, and Chae-kyung wanted Lee Shin. If Lee Shin wasn’t in the picture, it would’ve been Lee Yul.

And Lee Shin is a real idiot, because he would take one step forward, only to go slamming backwards into an ocean of shit because he didn’t know how to make up his mind and be good. But when he finally ditched the bitch, and stepped up, I literally cried tears of joy, because fina-freaking-lly!!!

Goong was a really enjoyable kdrama, with all the feels and gross cutesy stuff, but be prepared for the terrible outfits and hairstyles, butt-faced friends and screaming because half way through it, I was just about ready to skin somebody. Lol jk, I’m not that psycho.

Another plus, was the kissing scenes because Yoon Eun-hye really knows how to kiss and she’s goals af and her chemistry with Ju Ji-hoon was lit!! They slay me.

AND I LOVE/HATED CHAE-KYUNG’S WEIRD GIANT LEE SHIN DOLL OMG IT’S KINDA CREEPY AND CRAZY AND JUST… I kinda want one.

And on that weird note, I’m out.

NZIFF – Tale on Tales review

Caught Tale of Tales directed by Matteo Garrone during the New Zealand International Film Fest.

One may walk out of the Civic either wondering ‘what did I just watch?’ or ‘that was bloody well brilliant’. I went in not knowing what I was in for, my friend said spare NZIFF tickets to a fairy-tale horror and I thought, sure.

Here’s what I came out thinking, Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson would have loved it. I know now the narratives were based on three stories from 17th century Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone.

Super dark and super bloody, with no clear happy endings.

There were three narratives running throughout the film, a classic tale of a barren queen (Salma Hayek makes quite the overbearing queen, no?), the worst love game show since Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Don’t Phunk With My Heart’ (Toby Jones makes a great altogether absent father/king who cares more about a flea than his offspring), and the tale of the most coyote ugly one night stand meets Extreme Makeover.

One might say it’s pseudo-intellectual drivel, others might say it was a beautiful piece of work portraying different kinds of love and obsession in a dark fantasy setting.

You can’t deny that it’s beautifully shot, there are some rather stunning visuals of fantastical settings. Although watch out, they’ll catch you off guard and you’ll find yourself squinting a bit as the film switches from dark to light in zero seconds flat. The same could be said for the pacing, it’s slow before something happens at lightning speeds and before you know it you’ve killed your overbearing mum who’d turned into a giant mole-bat.

The story of the princess and the ogre is my favourite only because the princess got pretty badass by the end- sure it took a few unnecessary deaths (here’s a hint, to survive in this world don’t help others out), but she got through it. Like, heeeyyy- you survived! If anything it could have ended here and I would have been happy.

Three out of Five Silent (?) LOLs. Question mark because I laughed out loud at some things, as did the rest of the audience.

Honourable Mentions:

– The Queen of Hearts was sometimes every islander mum ‘I am your queen, do not forget that’ and sometimes not ENOUGH islander mum- I mean if Elias had made MY mum run through that maze looking for him let’s just say Elias should be glad his mum’s not Samoan.

– So much boobage.

– Also, there were some weird incesty undertones.

– “Flea”

Check out the trailer below:

The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki Are Epic

Miyazaki Set

Hayao Miyazaki, one of the founders of Studio Ghibli, one of the most famous directors in his field and a renowned artist has a box set of 11 of his feature films. At age 73, Hayao Miyazaki retired after stating that 50 years is a long time in his industry. So his films like Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro released in 1979 to The Wind Rises, his latest to date in 2013 can be found in his collection, which can be purchased here.

As expected of Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most admired animators ever, all his films were great with strong female characters that develop throughout the film which contrasts in comparison to other animated females who too often portrayed as weak, and one-dimensional with no character development.

And the absence of the typical “bad vs good” plot in his animations is replaced with ones that show characters surviving among the “bad” as realistically, the “bad” is not something that can be so easily gotten rid of.

The animations themselves were well done with it’s characters moving with human-like movements, and drawn either by hand with the use of water colours with little computer graphics used.

The environment in his films are always so detailed and they’re so beautiful, especially the sky. The sky in Hayao Miyazaki’s films are absolutely amazing.

And of course I’m being completely biased when I say that Spirited Away was my favourite film as it was the first animated film I ever remember watching. It made me want to be just like Chihiro, a strong and kind girl. I was in love with the colours and I never really understood a lot of the characters until now. The themes are so well thought out and carefully shown throughout the film. Hayao Miyazaki’s films always leave a strong impression and he more you think about the meanings of his films, the deeper they seem.

The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki is a box set that I’m super happy that we have and I’ve grown so attached to the characters with well thought out storylines. I highly recommend it and they’re never boring.

 

Book Review : The Stars Never Rise by Rachel Vincent

Rachel Vincent’s The Stars Never Rise has all the makings of a promising series. It a wholesome and entertaining read that is a refreshing blend of dystopia and urban fantasy with a little romance to sweeten the narrative.

Summary

The-Stars-Never-Rise-

America has been ravaged by demons, possessing humans and reducing them to zombie-like creatures, paving the way for the Church to become the paramount governing body, obliterating the separation of church and state.

With demon possession rampant, souls are in short supply. The Church has introduced a brutally strict regime dictating how one leads their life with a particular restriction on who can be a parent and thus be worthy of a soul for their new child.

Sins are prosecutable crimes, enforced by the Church’s army of exorcists. But sixteen-year-old Nina Kane is too busy trying to actually survive to worry about her immortal soul. She has to watch over her rebellious younger sister, Mellie, and scrap together food and money to hide the fact that their mother is a deadbeat junkie so the Church does not get control of their lives…more so than usual.

Just when Nina thinks she has found a way to end their daily struggles, Mellie reveals a shocking secret that puts them right in the centre of a demon attack. Suddenly, Nina is a fugitive, on the run from the Church…and the demons. Her only way out is to trust the green-eyed Finn and his rouge gang of exorcists.

What I liked:

Vincent’s take on dystopian fiction, a Puritan United States of America, was refreshing, considering how easy it is to imagine a dystopian future as one overrun by machines, aliens or oppressive technological advancement rather than soul-consuming demons. I found it quite plausible, that people would resort to seek spiritual shelter in apocalyptic times and their religious leaders taking undue advantage of this.

Further Vincent’s philosophy behind souls, demon-possession and exorcism is fascinating, particularly her wonderfully warped version of reincarnation.

Nina was a very likeable character. Flawed, beaten, traumatised and way in over her head but unflinchingly fierce. Her supporting characters, the gang of rouge teen-exorcists, were equally entertaining. The various dynamics between them were interesting, humorous and heart warming.

The narrative is a pulse-pounding ride, full of action, witty dialogue and well-placed twists/turns to make you gasp. It features one of the most uniquely interesting romantic sub-plots I have ever encountered and I am intrigued to see how Vincent develops this.

Finally, I liked how the book concluded, in that it was not exactly a cliff-hanger but rather a promise of frighteningly new possibilities. It certainly made deeply invested in the sequel(s).

What I did not like:

While I did not fall madly in love with The Stars Never Rise, I was hard-pressed to find aspects of it that I did not like. Ultimately, I decided I was more invested in seeing how the seeds Vincent has sowed in this instalment will fructify in the sequel(s) rather than marvel their origins, thus explaining my less than ecstatic feeling for The Stars Never Rise.

In conclusion, The Stars Never Rise is a thoroughly enjoyable read with the potential to become a great series. I eagerly await to resume this action-packed ride in 2016.

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I binge read Sabaa Tahir’s debut, An Ember in the Ashes, within hours of its release, but it has taken me a while to compile my thoughts on this brilliant read that is at once frightening, infuriating and heart warming.  I doubt I have done justice to the multitude of feelings this book evoked in me but here it is nonetheless:

Summary

Laia is a slave.  Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy, Blackcliff.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

What I liked:

An Ember in the Ashes not only features a complex and fascinatingly scary setting/world building but also a complicated web of relationships that goes beyond that of the leading narrators’, Laia and Elias. Every character is well-drawn and multi-dimensional and therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, to define/simplify them into the usual YA relationship tropes.

Laia and Elias share the alternating narrative. They have very distinct voices, distinct struggles and distinct relationships with the secondary characters, which makes the convergence of their narratives all the more exciting and thrilling.

Laia is not your typical YA heroine, in that most of the time she is scared beyond measure with no amount of resources/skills to ease her predicament. What she does possess is a fierce determination that overrides her instinctual doubts and fears and forces her to accept to spy on the brutal and feared Commandant from within Blackcliff in exchange for assistance to free her brother.

Elias is Blackcliff’s poster boy, the son of the brutal and feared Commandant of the academy. He is expected to be a violent brute and uphold the family legacy but Elias is disgusted with the violent and barbaric lifestyle and wants to escape it. Elias struggles are of an existential nature and his battle of conscience is almost palpable given some well-penned philosophical musings by Tahir.

The dark and gritty setting is infuriatingly compelling without being overly graphic. Torture, abuse and rape are rampant to the point where it is expected, entertained and encouraged. The evil Commandant is at the helm of this hell mouth.  She is a stomach-turning sociopath and one of the most horrific villains I have encountered.

Finally, there is nothing like a good prophecy-plot to confuse and confound characters and readers alike and An Ember in the Ashes has a very gripping one at its core that facilitates and shapes the larger narrative into a compelling read.

What I did not like:

While I found Elias struggle between his feelings for Laia and Helena understandable, I found Laia’s similar predicament with respect to Elias and Keenan slightly less so. I might even go so far as to say it was unnecessary, because the foundation on which Elias’s and Laias’s relationship developed was far more superior to that of Keenan’s and Laia’s. That being said, An Ember in the Ashes is hardly about these triangles, they are but sub-plots to the greater narrative and aptly interwoven so at to not be overpowering. Ultimately, it was not as bothersome as I expected.

In conclusion, An Ember in the Ashes is one the most compelling YA reads of 2015 if not, YA history. It is a stunningly imagined high fantasy with an evocative narrative and well crafted characters. Get yourself a copy now! You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Minders by Michele Jaffe

Michele Jaffe’s Minders was a great follow up to S J Steiger’s Mindwalker and now I am struggling to find another read that is just as psychologically thrilling and stimulating and failing miserably. Please do not hesitate to give any recommendations.

I had previously read Jaffe’s Bad Kitty series and was thoroughly underwhelmed but after Minders I will undoubtedly be adding Ghost Flower and Rosebush to my to-be-read list.

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Summary

A high concept, cinematic read with a surprising twist, MINDERS asks the question: who is really watching whom?

Q: If the boy you love commits a crime, would you turn him in?

Sadie Ames is a type-A teenager from the wealthy suburbs. She’s been accepted to the prestigious Mind Corps Fellowship program, where she’ll spend six weeks as an observer inside the head of Ford, a troubled boy with a passion for the crumbling architecture of the inner city. There’s just one problem: Sadie’s fallen in love with him.

Q: What if the crime is murder?

Ford Winters is haunted by the murder of his older brother, James. As Sadie falls deeper into his world, dazzled by the shimmering pinpricks of color that form images in his mind, she begins to think she knows him. Then Ford does something unthinkable.

Q: What if you saw it happen from inside his mind?

Back in her own body, Sadie is faced with the ultimate dilemma. With Ford’s life in her hands, she must decide what is right and what is wrong. And how well she can really ever know someone, even someone she loves.

 

What I liked:

Minders is set in a futuristic, and to an extent dystopian, world and revolves around new science but Jaffe spends minimal time on world building. I could complain about not knowing the year and the series of events that lead to Minders’ dystopian-like condition but ultimately it made little difference to me as a reader. When reduced to its core elements, Minders is basically a contemporary novel within a sci-fi/dystopian concept. And that is part of the reason why the little/absence of world building/setting did not bother me.

Jaffe’s narrative is like no other, her depiction of Ford’s mind, as witnessed by Sadie, unbeknownst to him, is unique and fascinating. I found her description of Ford’s thought process, his sub-consciousness, repressed trauma, memory recall, and day-to-day experiences to be quite impressive. Further, her emphasis on the dichotomy between reality and internal perception was brilliant. It is apt to describe it as a cinematic read because the imagery Jaffe employs to bring Ford’s tumultuous head of emotions to life is nothing short of outstandingly creative.

The reader gets a surprisingly immersive experience into the life of 19 year-old Ford Winter and for this reason I could not decide who the lead of the narrative was, Sadie or Ford. I loved them both, albeit for different reasons.

Ford

This observation of Sadie’s succinctly sums up Ford:

one moment he has you swallowing back a lump in your throat, the next he’s making you roll your eyes.

He comes off as stupid, impulsive and evasive most of the time but as Sadie delves into the grief, hurt and insecurities underpinning his decisions/actions he suddenly takes your breath away.

Sadie

In contrast, there is very little to know about Sadie that is not relative to Ford. We know her life is planned to clinical precision, filled with passionless ambition and pretentious affections of her supposed loved ones. She is perceived to be cold and driven but is harbouring feelings of loneliness, abandonment and self-doubt. As the reader accompanies her journey within Ford’s mind, you discover she is deeply compassionate. She is moved by Ford’s predicament and quickly resolves to empathise with him and aid him against her better judgment.

I initially decided that Sadie’s feelings for Ford developed rather rapidly, but then realised that maybe getting front row seats to his inner-psyche would do that to you. Ford compels her to feel as well as think, an attribute that she severely lacked before descending into his mind.

Aside from Ford and Sadie, the plot is intriguing, entertaining and compelling. The mystery of Ford’s brother’s death and the criminal underbelly of his city is edge-of-the-seat stuff.

What I did not like:

I did not dwell much on the fact that the resolution of the mystery was predictable, but I found Sadie’s knowledge of how events/facts connected to the ultimate culprits was unnecessarily rushed and borderline inexplicable. The clues were definitely set throughout the narrative and Sadie at some point collated/connected them but this was never demonstrated. Sadie simply communicated her conclusions and that was that. At the end of the book, I found myself thinking, well, she must connected those two dots, and in light of her being aware of this piece of information, she must have come to that conclusion and so forth. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed that Jaffe did not spend some extra time (a chapter at the least) on tidying up her conclusion, particularly when the rest of the book was so well done.

I also felt that the culprits were not sufficiently dealt with at the end. That being said, it was certainly refreshing to have a battle of wits as the climax and a less-naive conclusion to the good v/s evil dynamic.

In conclusion, Minders is an un-put-down-able read. After a while, my body simply went into over-ride mode and shut down without my knowledge (literally, I would be reading and then I am waking up with a sleeping iPad next to me, now that I have mastered how to position it so it does does not fall forward on my face and split my lip) because I kept reading it when I should be sleeping. It is a stunning psychological thriller, equal parts heart-pounding and heart wrenching. If you are looking for something that is just that little bit out of the ordinary, look no further than Michele Jaffe’s Minders.