Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Year in Books! What I read in 2014

It's been fun!

I first read Cress, which was a good book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

Then I read a few Stargate SG-1 books. Especially liked Sacrifice Moon, and if you like the series, then if you don't read anything else, read that. The Barque of Heaven was interesting, but not as good as the other one.

After that I saw the Vampire Academy movie. At first I didn't want to watch it, but I saw a preview of it in Project Runway, and it looked fun. The books were a lot of fun, totally not Twilight. So I do recommend for vampire lovers the Vampire Academy series. I went on to read her second series in the universe, Bloodlines, but it just got too much, so I decided to read something else.

Meanwhile, I also finished a Doctor Who book, Autonomy. It wasn't one of the better ones, sadly.

Last, I started the Heroes of Olympus books after the last one came out. I actually started the last book tonight. The series is very exciting. I only got around to reviewing them after I've read four. I'm also happy to see that Rick won't leave me without demigods any time soon. There is a new series coming next year. I haven't even read the Egyptian series yet. That's something to look forward to.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The House of Hades (The Heroes of Olympus #4) by Rick Riordan * * * *

This was the book that made me glad that I waited for the series to end. The end of the previous book was a major cliffhanger, and if I had to wait for it, I would have been really agitated.

The story branched off in two directions. One was the path that Annabeth an Percy took. I really liked the emotional side of it. The hardship, the fight to stay together, and the people they meet there. I could see real character development in them, growing up. Especially Percy.

The rest of the group, who took the other route to the House of Hades, also did some growing up. Frank, I didn't pay much attention to before. However, in this book he came into his own. I loved Leo's story, and it was quite a surprise. I had forgotten about that part in the previous series. Hazel found new powers, and it was interesting how Piper and her could develop their own while working together. It was good to see that kind of cooperation between the two girls. Jason was more support in the story. He often went with the others on the small side quests that they had, but didn't seem to take the lead in any of them. Still, I would love to have him as a friend, he sounds like good support. Nico, I was so happy to have in the story. He had always been my favourite minor demigod, and I really didn't see the secret that was revealed about him. It made me very happy though, to have such a character in the series.

Overall, a really exciting book. It even felt longer than the previous ones. I did take longer to read it, but that was more about not having time to even sleep these past weeks, let alone read more than the page on the metro.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Mark of Athena (The Heroes of Olympus, #3) by Rick Riordan * * * *

This book was actually quite frustrating. I was promised a trip to Rome. It took the majority of the book to actually reach Rome. Once there, it was fun to remember the places they were visiting, where I've also been. I actually wrote a short travel memoir of my trip there.

This is the first time when the full cast comes together. It was interesting to see how they clashed with one another. The two groups kind of did remain, but that was understandable.

I was happy to see Annabeth playing such an important role in the story. It's been a while since I read the first series, but I can't remember her being so prominent even in that. The love story with Percy continues, and they are quickly becoming one of my favourite couples.

In this story, most people have coupled up. This would probably make other books too full of sap for me, but while the relationships were there, the quest, and the fate of the world was more important. 

Leo often felt like the odd one out, partly because he was the only single person on the ship, though in a way he seemed to be married to his gadgets. Still, he seemed to be happier tinkering with everything.

The book probably has the biggest cast that I've ever seen in this series. However, all of the demigods and even the satyr played an important role in the story. It would have been easy to side-line someone, but no, everyone had a purpose.

Overall, a good edition. It breaks the usual mould of these books, except for the boss fights at the end. It marks the start of the real quest. The big one, probably the last one.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Son of Neptune (The Heroes of Olympus #2) by Rick Riordan * * * * *

This one was actually kind of epic. When I first started the book, I was thinking: "YAY PERCY!" And also: "YAY Roman Camp!" I loved getting to know this new environment. It was close to my heart, because the history of the Roman Empire is kind of a hobby of mine, among many others. I've also been to Rome, and while there I tried to imagine how it would have all looked whole. Imagining myself in New Rome was great.

I also have to note that most of this book I listened to as an audiobook while running Xmas errands. I was so keen on the story, I had to put it on my phone and listen to it while walking around. The audiobook was quite good, but I think they said Geae wrong. Okay, I also don't like it spelled that way, Gaia is the more common spelling. Still, I have no clue why they would say Geae that way. Yes, this REALLY bugged me.

If the person reading this review has read the previous book, then it comes as no surprise that Percy doesn't remember who he is. In this case it is different, since we, the readers, know all about him. I found it interesting how he discovers himself. There was also a very romantic aspect of the story, which was really sweet.

Hazel is the girl this time. I found her really interesting, and I loved how her past and present unfolded at the same time. I also seem to have a soft spot for the children of ... Perhaps because I always feel sympathetic towards groups that are looked down on by others. It probably comes from my childhood, where I often felt like most of the other kids hated me, and thought of me as less than they are.

Frank is the first person of Chinese descent in the books that I can think of. If there had been others, then they made no serious impact on me. He also has a secret, and in a way a secret that is about him, but he doesn't know of. All of this was interesting to find out, and I loved how the kid who was probably the one always being shoved to the side slowly came into his own power. I also kind of loved his mum, without having actually meet her.

This story also takes the Camp-Quest-Trip pattern, with the big boss fight at the end. Still, the addition of the really interesting side stories, and the main adventure make this the most epic Rick Riordan book I've read.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1) by Rick Riordan * * * *

At first, this one was a disappointment. I read the Percy Jackson series last year, and put off reading this one until the last book came out. I knew I would be frustrated to wait for the ending of the next adventure, so I read other stuff. When I started, I expected Percy and Annabeth. Groover. So I was asking: "Who is this Jason guy? Where is PERCY???"

I got over my need for Percy quite fast. Though frankly, Jason is still not a favourite, but Leo was great. I also like Piper. I loved how they were the children of other gods, not the ones we've seen before. The adventure followed a familiar pattern. Meet, Camp, Quest across the country. What was different was that it felt more dangerous. There were many moments when I was wondering how the heroes could survive.

The reason why I never really feel near Jason is that he's too perfect. Clean cut, great power, son of ..., handsome. Not that if he was my boyfriend I would throw him out, but he's just not the kind of character I'm usually drawn to. It was interesting how we found out little by little who he actually was though.

Piper is the girl in the group. Usually in these books there is a girl in the group. I like how she's part Native American, and also the daughter of ... It was interesting how she made comparisons between Native American legends and the Greek ones. There was a mystery surrounding her, and there was a scene with her and her father that made me tear up.

Leo is the anti-social boy. I like him because he's funny, clever and unsure of himself. He's the kind of character you cheer for, you want to see just how much he's really worth. He has his own secret, but his reason for hiding is more about being scared of his own abilities than them being actually dangerous.

Overall, another enjoyable adventure book. Fun moments, scary moments, excitement, just what I want from Rick Riordan.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Reinoryokusha Odagiri Kyoko no Uso (JDrama) * * * *

Reinoryokusha Odagiri Kyoko no Uso (Spiritual Teacher, Kyoko Odagiri) wasn't the drama I first thought it was going to be. I thought it would have a lot of fake psychic stuff, pretending to do magic, and would be kind of annoying. Why I really started to watch was Ishihara Satomi, who I've seen in a few things, and that dress. Oh my, that is so gorgeous, I kind of want it.
What I got was a detective series, actually. The cases seem to be supernatural at first glance, but of course they're not. I was happy that it was a detective series, because I'm growing to really love Japanese detective stories. Unlike most Western ones, the difference is that most "culprits" aren't really evil, and not doing things out of malicious intentions. Their motivation is often to help someone, or to save people. Therefore when the resolution comes, it's usually done in a kind way.
The mysteries themselves are interesting, but not impossible to solve. I did figure some of them out, but not all of them.

Ishihara Satomi plays the title character, Odagiri Kyoko. She is a fake psychic, but like the cases she investigates, her motivations for doing it aren't evil, or just to make a lot of money. In fact, she kind of hates it, but has to. I loved how Satomi could switch between the two personalities that she had to display. That of the young woman, and the self-assured psychic.
Tanihara Shosuke plays Taniguchi Ichirou, a detective trying to find an actual psychic to recruit. She ends up helping Kyoko with her detective work, and I could also feel a spark between them, but sadly this isn't a romance drama.
Oshima Yuko is Ibushi Kaoru, Kyoko's manager and cousin. I liked the character, she was kind of cute and ruthless.

Overall, an interesting variation on the detective drama. It is also touching at places, and the ending was great. Well worth watching.

Dracula Untold (2014) * * *

The ratings on this one are pretty bad, but I thought it looked good, so I wanted to see for myself what this movie was like. I'm kind of on the fence about it, because it wasn't that bad, not even boring.

The story was very predictable, though the precise way of how Vlad became Dracula was something that I haven't seen before. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I wanted to see it.
What actually did impress me about the movie was precisely that, the imagery. The colours, or rather the lack of them was great. In the beginning you still have some warm tones, the grass is green, the candle gives a warm yellow light. By the end, everything is grey and muted, just the red of the armour stands out. Among all the darkness the one bright spot is Mirena, the wife. Her beauty is so great, I often just stared at her on the screen, not being able to take my eyes off. Her white dress towards the end with the red lining displays her innocence, and how she is the one pure thing in all the darkness. Her purity comes out of the love of her two men. What I would really like to do is get the movie and make screenshots.

Luke Evans made a pretty good Dracula. They probably had him sunbathing, because his skin was as dark as usually the people in the region are. His eyes were intense and telling.
Sarah Gadon made an achingly beautiful Mirena. Frankly, I was quite mesmerised by her. She did feel familiar and I have seen her in a few things, but here they managed to make her very memorable.


I also enjoyed Dominic Cooper as Mehmed. He actually looked Turkish.

Overall, I don't think it was a very bad movie. It wasn't so horrible that I'm going to have nightmares. In a way I found it intriguing in the artistic way it was handled. It's not a big movie, but the story was quite enjoyable, and the action, while at times a bit ridiculous, fun. It had a definite dark feel. Watchable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Indigo Spell (Bloodlines, #3) by Richelle Mead * * * *

I actually found this addition to the series more interesting than the previous one. That was because of several things. On the one hand there is a lot more magic than before, which was interesting and exciting. I also love little Hopper. How cute is that? I also loved how much Adrian was in this book. He had been my favourite character since he was introduced, and I'm still hoping for a second movie just to have someone cast as him. I also loved how we got to know more about the inner workings of the Alchemists. BTW, Sydney's father is still awful. Worse than my own.

Sydney changed a lot since the first book. Part of it is because she had to do things in order to survive and to save the people she cares about. She also learned to care for people, and to just see them as people. I felt like she's becoming a new person, but someone whom she had in her all this time, but was forced to the sidelines by indoctrination. The process is basically breaking out of a cult. She no longer worships the leaders, thinks they can do no wrong, believes in the doctrines without question, and thinks everyone outside the cult is evil or weak. Once she's completely out, she will be a force to be reckoned with.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot in the series. However, I do feel that I may put off the next book a bit, or stop on the way, because I've been reading in this world for many months, and I feel an urge to look at other things. The last book isn't out yet, so it's not like I'm going to finish this series until then. I'll see.

The Golden Lily (Bloodlines, #2) by Richelle Mead * * * *

I find it somehow hard to write a review for this book. Though generally it is a lot easier to write for books that I either loved a lot, or hated. This edition of the series goes along the lines it has been for a while, since if we look at the whole universe, this is the 8th book. By now, the writing has become an old friend, though quite predictable. I've noticed the formula a few books back. Still, I find myself reading on, wanting to know what else is in this universe. The good thing about this book is that while we do have some things we know about the surroundings, we discover new things as well, new groups, new ways of magic, and new things about old groups.

Like I have previously mentioned, Sydney is a lot like me. It was funny to see her dating, because it reminded me of some of my troubles with dating. The guy was even like some of the people I've dated, though none so smart. How Sydney is not like me is that she has some serious hang-ups about certain things, all understandable. It's interesting to see how she slowly gets over them. Also, how her world slowly crumbles and falls.

Overall, a good edition. Towards the end there was the usual excitement, which always spices things up a bit. Onto the next book!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Good People (2014) *

My Saturday night movies are starting to develop a bad pattern. I seem to pick boring movies. This was supposed to be an action, crime, thriller. Well, the action was mostly at the end, there was a crime, and it didn't thrill me very much.

It starts out as one of those gritty dramas. Or at least tries to. The colours are muted, mostly greys, and we quickly establish that the "good people" are a couple down on their luck. They have money troubles, fertility problems, so you can really feel that these people are just in a hole. Now this is where the predictability starts to happen. Generally bad things don't seem to happen to the good people who are well-off and happy. From then on, it feels like a generic thriller. It has the drugs, the single mum, the ageing cop with a personal beef against the evil guys. It was almost like watching one of those genre comedies, like it should be titled "Thriller Movie". 

It's not the cast, really. They were fine. It's the story. 
Kate Hudson was a good female lead. I don't remember seeing her in any action before, but there was a line; "Guns are for pussies" that she looked really bad-ass saying. She had a good mix of regular woman caught in a bad situation, but kicking butt. 
James Franco blended in well with the look of the movie. He had the dirty, grey visage that was perfect. I felt he was a bit overshadowed by Kate, but he was a good, supporting husband. 
Tom Wilkinson was a fine British cop. He was so generic though, it could have been anyone of the many actors who generally play British cops on TV. 

Overall, a lacklustre movie, and there really isn't all that much to say about it. You can watch it, if you have low expectations. Or if you really have some time to kill. Or you're doing something, and want some background noise and gunfire doesn't bother you. Otherwise, give this one a miss.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lucy (2014) *

I'm pretty late watching this movie, but that's because I didn't want to pay for it. Reason #1, the science is bogus. The whole 10% thing had been refuted a while ago. I remember when it was all the rage, I think it was the late 80s, or early 90s, at least where I am from. I was a kid, and we were talking about it during a break at school with my friends. Not really a topic for 10-year-olds, but I was weird like that. What I can't remember is when I knew it was stupid. We now do know, there is no part of the brain going unused, or not up to its potential. I'm not going to go into details here, let's just say that when I saw the trailer of this movie, I found it weird how they could use something so archaic.

The reason why I did watch it was the reviews. They were pretty good, and promised excitement, good acting. I didn't really get either. The story is quite simplistic. Much of it is taken up by Morgan Freeman narrating. Now I like his voice as much as anyone, but the substance was sometimes face-palm worthy. Also, ooookay, I was waiting for something interesting to happen, and it just never did. Maybe if I had actually believed that whole premise of the movie, but since I know it's bogus, I was mostly rolling my eyes. It's not that I haven't seen fantasy or sci-fi that had unrealistic elements to it. However, this time, it felt more like listening to some Christian apologist speak in one of the debates I so love. Totally baseless, junk science. I just couldn't let myself get lost in a fantasy.
Maybe if the story actually had a story. It was so cliché, simplistic and predictable, the credits rolled, and the first thing that came to my mind was: "that was it?" I want to go up to Luc Besson, shake him, and ask him how he could have made something so boring. It reminded my of those sci-fi shorts that were really just introducing a concept, or an idea. However, those are not fit to be made into movies. They're dry. Maybe he was trying to do that? This from the same guy who made one of my favourite sci-fi movies of all time The Fifth Element. I must have seen that one a dozen times. I'll work very hard at forgetting that this mundane thing was also done by him.

I saw praise for Scarlett Johansson. She plays the lead character, Lucy. I guess if you can get points for spending the majority of the film with a completely blank expression, then it's okay. Though for that they could have just used Kristen Stewart. She has that down to an artform. Yeah, I'm being sarcastic, just in case you haven't read any of my reviews for her movies.
Morgan Freeman is also on the poster. He narrates. He asks questions. He stands around a lot. He sometimes sits. I don't think he was used to his full potential either. Not that people wouldn't enjoy him reading the telephone book, but really...

So the story is simple, acting is not really required from the actors, so perhaps it has great fight scenes or special effects? No. Okay, there are brief moments when Lucy does something that looks cool. Like make guns fly into air. Would have been a wow moment in the 60s maybe. However, other than some people shooting up a bunch of places without much opposition is about as exciting or visual as this thing gets. I hope they didn't pay someone to come up with those fight scenes.

Overall, I couldn't find any redeeming factor to this movie that would make me actually want to watch it again, or recommend it to anyone. I didn't hate it. Really. Twilight I hated for various reasons. This I was more like shrugging and marking it off the "to be watched" pile. Crap science, lacklustre action, no real characters, ... I just don't see a point to what I watched for 90 minutes. I can't give it more than one star. I tried to give two, but really, there is just nothing good about this, I didn't enjoy anything about it. One star it is.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chef (2014) * * *

Chef is a fun movie about food, life, and fatherhood. While I'm giving it only 3 stars, I still liked it a lot. However, it wasn't a great masterpiece, or terribly exciting. My reason for watching it twice is that it gives me a warm feeling every time I watch it.

The movie is a lot of fun. It has a fast talking chef, Carl Casper, who swears a lot, like most chefs I've seen on TV, and that's always great to watch. There are some good jokes, and the cop played by Russell Peters was a memorable comic character.
It's also about food, and being a chef. Today the trend in food is good, local ingredients, and an ever changing menu that adapts to the environment. The changing menu allows the chef a creative freedom, and also gives a chance to people to try out new things. In the movie, the opposite of this style is a menu that is always the same, which is portrayed as being stuck in the past. As someone who loves to discover new food, I like the progressive approach as well.
The food in the movie looks very good. I read that Jon Favreau, the actor portraying Carl Casper, studied cooking, and worked with Roy Choi to look authentic on screen. It turned out very well. I recommend not watching it on an empty stomach.
Chef is also about life and self-discovery. All people come across a time in their lives when they feel that they are in a rut. This is harder on creative people, who may feel uninspired and frustrated. The only thing we can do is to change, when possible. That can be hard, unless we are forced into it, or opportunity comes knocking. However, this movie is trying to show that once we finally make that leap, we will be happier for it.
Another theme in the film is fatherhood. Carl is divorced, and tries to spend as much time with his 10-year-old son as possible, but he's busy with his job. It was very nice to see that his ex-wife was supportive, and understanding. A lot of times in film we see bad divorces, but part of the good feeling this movie gives is the great relationship between Carl and his ex. The kid, played by Emjay Anthony, adopts his mother's understanding attitude, though there is a moment when he shows that he isn't perfect after all. It would be great if all divorced families could have the same relationship as they do.
I also liked how social media was portrayed. Today, if you have a business, or building a personal brand, social media is very important. In the beginning Carl isn't knowledgeable about it, and while it's part of the hilarity, it also shows that we all have to be careful about what we post online. However, while it warns us of the dangers, it also portrays the power and potential of what a Twitter account can accomplish if used well.

Overall, I recommend this movie for an after-dinner watching as a couple, or as a family. Though there is a lot of swearing, especially in the beginning, so the kids may need to be older. While this isn't mostly about food, foodies will also enjoy it. Check out the Facebook page as well, as they have recipes. Anyone for a Cubano?

Bloodlines (Bloodlines, #1) by Richelle Mead * * * *

At the acknowledgements Richelle Mead wrote that it was hard starting a new series, even in a familiar setting. Actually, it was kind of hard for me to start reading it. I enjoyed the Vampire Academy series a lot, and wasn't sure if I would like this one. It did help that I already liked Sydney, the star of this series, and I read that Adrian would be in it too. I did end up liking it.

The story starts out slowly. There are new characters, and some familiar faces from the sidelines of the previous books that take centre stage here. We also see Rose briefly, and get a small update on Lissa. It was weird seeing Rose from the outside. There are a couple of mysteries that slowly unfold. Most of them I could guess easily, there were enough clues, but one big one didn't have a lot of hints, so I didn't guess it.
The slow start accounts for the building of the new environment, and also getting to know the characters. It's also Mead's style that she peppers information about the mysteries and the bigger plot lines in a soup of seemingly mundane events.
It was weird reading about an American high school sometimes. It's so different from my experience, since I went in Hungary. Like having the same classes every day. We had about 13 subjects every term, and they were very general in designation, but in-depth in their cover of the subject material. It was also so weird that the seniors wouldn't know about Ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy, and the dates. We covered that in elementary school in 5th year. Along with specific dates. I can't imagine studying like that.

There are many characters, and from the ending more coming. There are two people who appear to be the centre of the story.
Sydney is the main character in this series. I liked her in the previous series, so I was happy about that setting. She has some mysteries of her own, and some secrets. We get to know her family, what her upbringing was like, and her phobias. In many ways, she is like Rose. She has a deep sense of duty, and puts others before herself. However, while Rose always had a sense of her self-worth, Sydney doesn't. She is the type of person who would do anything for others, but doesn't expect anyone to help her. She has unreachable expectations of herself, and therefore always comes short. She also belittles her good qualities, physical or otherwise, but that is tied to her upbringing. I feel that I know her, because what I've written here, I could also write about myself. I'm seeing signs though, that just like I'm trying to overcome these things with the help of others, she will do the same. That will be interesting to see.
Adrian was probably my favourite man in the Vampire Academy. In a way, he is a typical character. He is the bad good guy, who has selfish tendencies, but also the desire to overcome that. Kind of like Spike in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I'm excited to see him reach his potential.

Overall, this new series seems as good as the previous one. I'm enjoying it already, and am excited to read it. Sadly, it's not complete yet, but the next book will come out early next year, so I'll have to bear the wait.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014) * * *

Frankly, I didn't know what to expect when I decided to go to this movie. I have seen that some of the people I follow for book reviews have read it, and it got mixed reviews. However, sometimes even bad books can be made into good movies or TV shows. Recently The 100 comes into mind. Not a very good book based on the reviews, but I'm hooked on the show. It probably also occurred to me, because it has similar themes. Teens trying to survive in a world they don't know much of after an apocalypse.

This movie is very action packed. Probably the book is a lot slower, but the movie is two hours even like this, so they really didn't need to put more in it. The pacing is good for the most part, however, the ending was a bit abrupt. As if they were shooting, looked at what they had, and realised that they spent too much time on the stuff so far, so they had to finish it already.
The story itself isn't typical current YA. Mercifully, no romance! There could be in the future, but not right now. 
The beginning made me think of Lord of the Flies. I'm probably not alone in that. While there are moments when it could go that way, it doesn't. Perhaps the makers had enough faith in humanity to think that when a bunch of boys get together, they don't necessarily go for the "kill 'em all" scenario. Even though there are indications that there were more violent days, they could establish peace. However, I did wonder what it took. I know, that a strong leader was one of those things. Perhaps the book answers that question.

There aren't any movies this one specifically reminds me of. That could just be that other than superhero movies, I rarely watch stories with this level of testosterone. Or it could just be that most of it was really vague, and the answers weren't forthcoming. I could liken it to The Hunger Games. However, while it does happen in an enclosed space, there isn't that sense of Big Brother, since the boys don't know where they are, or why. It is obvious that someone is watching, and that some aspects of the environment are controlled, but not to that extent. The people trapped are also victims of some system, but it's not the overarching sense. 
I even considered that like in another movie that I saw about a futuristic prison that people escape, only to find out that there is no one else out there, and everything was running on automation all along. This idea was actually reinforced by the look of the maze. It had a lot of rust and decay, more than 3 years of the alleged use of the place would indicate in my opinion. So while some details of the story are similar to some other stories I've seen, they only came into my mind afterwards.

The characters are a bit clichéd, but it could just be that the action was favoured instead of the character building. The action was really good, had my heart pounding at times, so I didn't mind.
Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) is the main character. It is his appearance that kick starts the changes in the camp. While this could be a flaw in the story, there are indications that this isn't a coincidence, and after a while that can become obvious. There were also some things about the events surrounding him that left me with questions. I hope they will be answered in the next movies. Though if I know myself, I won't stand it that long, and soon enough you will be seeing book reviews of this series, so watch this space. The actor himself was kind of an interesting choice. Dylan, of course, plays Stiles in the wildly popular Teen Wolf series, which I happen to watch as well. I do recommend it, because it's one of those shows that you have pegged as a light teen show on MTV, and then it surprises you by having a complex, and interesting mythology. So if you watch it like I do, Dylan plays a similar role here. He is the boy who acts, and isn't content to let the bigger, stronger boys lead him. He becomes a leader himself. Thomas' character takes the adventurous character of Stiles to a new level. He is the kind of guy that sees a mountain, and wants to know what's behind it. He also runs towards danger, so he's a kind of hero. I'm not sure if I actually like him, but I often agree with him.
Alby (Aml Ameen) is the leader in the camp. He is a good leader, though one of his decisions is strange, because he seems to usually delegate, but then he doesn't. That part felt a bit out of character, but could be better grounded in the book, or not there at all.
Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is Thomas' ally. They have a regular bromance from the start. It may come from Newt's generally relaxed nature, but they have a connection. The actor himself I've seen a few times, most obviously in The Game of Thrones. I always liked him, he even played one of my favourite side characters in Doctor Who. In this story his British accent felt weird. Everyone sounded American, and then he opened his mouth. I wonder if that was for the character, or an oversight, or he just had a hard time getting rid of it and they left it like that. In spite of this, I soon forgot about his accent, as he formed a really likeable character.
Gally (Will Poulter) is the evil guy. He is a bit of a cliché from the very start. The bully. The guy who never agrees with Thomas. The guy you just know will end up doing something horrible. He is also the opposite of Thomas in that if he sees a mountain, he just sees the peaks, and then looks around and feels content with what he has. In a way, like a lot of bullies, he's scared of change, of anything different from what he knows. I almost felt sorry for him.

The ending was kind of a surprise. Though frankly, I didn't know what to expect. In fact, the end brought up more questions than answers. Why I'm sure the series will be on many new reading lists, and sales will increase. People generally aren't that good at waiting for answers.

Overall, an exciting movie, and a baffling one. I kind of hoped to decide just how much I liked it in the course of writing this review. I'm still not sure, thus the 3 stars. I do recommend it though, if not for anything but the exciting action, and the interesting mystery. Don't expect to leave the theatre fully satisfied though. Frustrated would be more like it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) * * * *

The Hundred-Foot Journey is a delightful story about food, love, learning to cope with differences, and accepting other people. It's also about finding what is actually important in life.

The movie feels a bit long, even though two hours in not that long by today's standards. However, a lot of things happen in it. I actually didn't watch the trailer, just knew that it had food in it, and I generally love movie about food. However, while food played an important part in the story, it was more of a vehicle to illustrate culture.
The story starts out with an Indian family losing their restaurant, and something more in a riot. They decide to come to Europe, but they want to find some place where there are good ingredients, and start a restaurant there. They come upon a village in France, where they decide to settle down, but on the opposite side of a French restaurant. From then on the story describes how the two cultures get along. I was impressed by the turn of events here, because I really didn't expect to unfold like the way it did.
There are some funny parts in the story, as well as some serious parts. The scenes where the food is in the limelight are shot well. No one should see it on an empty stomach.
I also have to note that the movie is actually in three languages. English, French, and what I'm assuming is Hindi. I saw it with the whole thing being subtitled in Hungarian, so I'm assuming the foreign parts are usually subtitled when watching in English. It was actually a bit funny, because I didn't need subtitles for the English, some of the French was also okay, but of course the Hindi escaped me. So I would hear something that I didn't understand, and quickly look down to read the translation.

Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the main character, and a likeable one. He's not the cliché Indian guy that we often cringe at in movies. He's very open to his surroundings, and is an overall modern person. He's also pretty cute. It's interesting to note that the actor was born in the US, so his accent is learned.
Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) is a lovely person in the story. She's a chef, though I only now realised that the only thing we ever actually see her cook is béchamel. She is beautiful though, and I couldn't stop looking at her.
To me, the Indian Papa (Om Puri) stole the show. He was sometimes comical, but also had a deep quality without the cliché philosophical speeches. I'd also like to note here that he is portrayed by a genuine Indian actor.
I think Helen Mirren is so often type cast into the role of an iron lady, I don't think I've seen her play anything else. However, she's always a good pick for it.

Overall, a delightful movie that left me warm in the heart. I recommend it for the lovely impression that it left me, and the inspiration to cook something.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Giver (2014) * *

I wasn't very keen on watching this movie, but as is apparent from my previous reviews, I tend to keep an open mind. There were other movies I wasn't very excited about, and I liked them. The reason why I watched this movie? Alex Skarsgard. Yeah, he's beautiful, and I love his voice, so I decided to check this one out. I also saw that a lot of my online book friends loved the book version. Well, let me just say that I hope the book is better.

I can use one word to describe this movie. Simplistic. The book came out in 1993, before the hype of The Hunger Games, and other dystopian YA books, so in a way it's a forerunner of its time. However, while watching the movie it did remind me of a few things I saw or read that were made before 1993, so let's start the dystopian cliché list, that is now so familiar to us all.
City surrounded by some sort of a barrier that people can't cross. Two things come to mind, and remember, I haven't seen and read all dystopian novels, so this is just from my small pool of reference. Zamyatin's Us had a wall, the city in Logan's Run was built underground. It is a basic trope in dystopia to limit travel, to cut people off from the outside world in order to control them.
Getting rid of older people, celebrate it, and have the people not care that they are gone. This was actually a very basic part of Logan's Run.
Breed people, not have a traditional family structure. I'd need to write a list, this is so common. It was basically in every dystopian fiction I come across and was written before 1993.
People forget their history, no books. I will have to say Logan's Run again. Lois Lowry must adore the movie.
Main character realises there is something wrong, and escapes. Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, because in dystopia the most common plot is that someone tries to rebel against the establishment. It's sort of a requirement.
Main character escapes, and best friend comes after them. I hate to say this, but Logan's Run once more. I don't know how it is in the book, I don't suppose that it's a drone. Truth to be told, the friend turns out differently in Logan's Run.
Humanity taken away by a drug, people are conditioned to think one way. Brave New World. There is conditioning, though a bit more heavy-duty than here, and you have a drug which there acts more apparently like a drug, but the purpose is the same. To not notice how crazy everything is.
Cameras everywhere. Need I write a list here? When they put cameras all over London, people were saying Big Brother is watching.
There may have been a couple of more, but I won't bore you. The story was a simplistic mash of a lot of clichés in dystopia. Maybe there is more depth in the book, because so many people loved it. However, if I summarised the movie, it would sound like a lot of dystopias. At least it felt short.

The characters are simply not exciting, or surprising. They feel like cardboard cut-outs.
Jonas is the main protagonist. He is chosen to hold the memories of the past by taking them from the old Keeper of Memories, who becomes the Giver. This is done through some mind sharing, which isn't explained at all in the movie. Now in this world people don't seem to have too much of a personality, and that is sort of the point. He is more enthusiastic about things than the rest of the people even before he stops taking the drugs. Otherwise, I really don't know what to write about him. He's good with a baby. Let's also admit that he could have turned out to be a terrible person off the drugs, as could anyone. However, it's probably because of their simple upbringing, he is more like a small child than a young adult. He looks at everything with an innocence that was partly the point of keeping the memories of the past away from these people.
The Giver is your typical old man. Jaded, obviously has a history with the Chief Elder. He's the one who leads Jonas on his journey.
Fiona is the love interest. Rather, the cut-out of a love interest. I really don't have much to say about her either, since I learned very little of her other than she's pretty, and has a caring nature.

The thing that I find most unlike the rest of the dystopias is the YA aspect. I can't remember having read or seen anything that had such a young protagonist, but I probably haven't seen everything.
It left a lot of questions in my mind. I still don't know how the community came about, what the rest of the world is like, or how the barrier worked, or a lot of other things. I was hoping for some great reveal, but none came. The ending just raised even more questions.

Overall, watchable, but not all that great. It didn't excite me, or make me want to read the book. It just left me baffled how so many people can like the book. I sincerely hope it's a lot better. I can only recommend it if you have 100 minutes to kill, and there's nothing else.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Autonomy by Daniel Blythe * *

This book took me a little over two weeks to read, but it felt longer. I didn't enjoy it much. It wasn't completely terrible, but I found it a bit boring.

The story takes place in 2013, actually, so it's a bit strange in that way, since it was written in 2009. You only realise how many things can happen in 4 years when reading something like this. It happens in a super-mall, which actually didn't sound so bad. It's an environment that I know well, since I work above a mall, and spend a lot of time there, sometimes just to get out of the office. However, the story itself just didn't entertain me so much. It was obvious what was going on at about 10% into the story, so that took the mystery out. Then it was all just people dashing about, some minor characters getting killed, and I just wanted to get to the end already. It was just too simplistic.

I also missed the Doctor having someone to properly explain things to. This takes place at the point of his life when he had lost Donna, and was trying to travel alone. As usual, he did have a temporary companion, but there just wasn't a lot of interaction with her. The Doctor was the Doctor, but I couldn't feel him, I couldn't connect to him.

The author also threw at us a host of temporary characters that got quickly killed off after learning a few things about them. In the show this happens sometimes, and it works, but in this book it just felt random, and like he was a filler writer. That's a term that I use for writers who need to write a certain length, and obviously run out of good ideas before meeting that requirement, so they start to put in random stuff to make the word count.

Overall, not a terrible little book, but if it wasn't a Doctor Who story, I probably would have put it down before finishing. The end didn't hold any surprises for me, and the resolution wasn't so brilliant as it should have been. Maybe he got out of the groove of writing Doctor Who, since his last book for the fandom came out in the 90s.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy, #6) by Richelle Mead * * * *

I took some time after reading this book to write the actual review. It's difficult to write about a book that is the ending to a sequence that was six books long. I feel that I invested into the series a piece of myself as well. 
The story itself was exciting. I actually didn't guess all of the ending, just a few pages before it was actually revealed. In a way, I thought that it was a bit mad, but it's not something I find wanting to argue about. The most important thing about closing a series like this is that you tie up all the lose ends. They did all come together in a neat little bow, and the one that didn't got its own series, so that's fine. If anyone is interested, I am going to read that one as well.
The title did throw me a little, and I'm still not sure exactly why this is it. There was an intent for sacrifice several times in the story, but none of them felt like a last or final one. It could have been given for dramatic effect maybe.

Rose has come so far since the first book. I really had to check the time, and the six books take place in less than a year. I guess it could be called "the year that changed everything". By the end she had found herself, and was able to define who she was away from Lisa, and what place they had in each others' lives. While throughout this book I was worried about her, I was satisfied with how things ended.
Lissa, on the other hand was almost an open question for me. While the book did leave her in somewhat of a good place, I still can't help but worry about her. I am hoping the the other series will have enough of her in it to see where she goes from here.

Overall, a good ending, even though I wasn't a fan of the Rose pairing they had, but that was my own personal preference. Hey, I hated the Harry/Ginny pairing in Harry Potter, but that didn't bring the end of the series down for me. The series stayed true to itself until the end, and that's what really matters. I do recommend that people who like vampires, moderate romance, girls looking after each other, and some action in their books, check this series out. It was fun.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) * * * * *

I've been anticipating this movie for some time. From the previews it looked fun, sci-fi, action, the good stuff. I'm happy to report that it was real sci-fi, had a lot of funny moments, and the action was great.

The story isn't huge. It kinda reminded me of Star Wars with the face on the big screen partly veiled as the big evil guy, then him having an evil front man who does all the actual stuff. Then there was the usual personal tragedy bits, etc. I didn't expect the movie to invent the wheel though. The story itself was entertaining enough to keep me interested until the end. In fact, there was an episode I wasn't expecting, and the whole bit with the escape was really great. However, the "out in space" scene was very awkward and forced. It came out of left field, and felt like a clumsy solution to a problem in the story.
I watched it in IMAX, so the 3D came in wonderfully. I enjoyed the different worlds and environments we got to see. By the way, I want to move to Xandar. That place looked gorgeous. The planets were different enough to make me want to explore them all. Okay, except for the one with all the men with makeshift knives. The spaceships looked unique too, and you could feel that there was more behind it. I want to read more of this world now, because it looks rich and exciting.

The characters were interesting. They were a bit unlike the usual heroes that they were a makeshift group.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) obviously has some backstory going on that will unfold in future editions. It seems obligatory to make trilogies nowadays, so we may be looking at something like that. Hey, I'll watch two more movies like this one any day! The acting itself was really good, Chris became Peter in a believable way. So much so, that I couldn't remember that I've seen the guy in Bride Wars, when I've watched that movie at least 6 times. It's my go-to movie for "girly, light-hearted fun with cocktails".
Gamora (Zoe Saldana) was probably my least favourite one of the lead. She just didn't feel real enough. Sure, we got to know a bit about her back story and all that, but it was very cliché. I wanted to know more about her connection to the big bad. Not that Zoe did a bad job with her. She seems to be the resident sci-fi girl now. She was really great. I just think the writing let her down. Like she was the female in the boys club who is obviously meant to be the romantic interest to the lead guy. I usually don't bring my feminism into the reviews, but they could have really done better by her. I can't even say that male writers didn't know what to do with a woman, because the movie had a female writer as well. I hope that in the future they'll do better.
Rocket and Grot are also reminiscent of Star Wars. They are a lot like R2-D2 and C-3PO. The comic duo that has one that talks a lot, the other hardly ever does, one is crafty, the other one not so much. However, I did like Rocket, and Grot at the end was so cute. It helped that I happen to love that Jackson 5 song myself.

Drax (Dave Bautista) I didn't really like. He was the source of some really great humour, but he was annoying sometimes in his idiocy. Though I did love the pattern on his skin.
As a huge Doctor Who fan, I also have to mention Nebula (Karen Gillian). She's evil, but I liked her. She also looked pretty cool all blue like that. I thought her character wouldn't have much of a role. She really didn't, but more scenes than I thought she would. Therefore, other fans can relax.

Overall, really great movie. A lot of fun, great sci-fi environments, promising main character. If you love sci-fi, you really have to watch it, even if you're not into superhero movies. This really is more like a sci-fi movie than a superhero movies. I gave it 5 stars, because I want the sequel to come out like... yesterday.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Maleficent (2014) * * * *

Besides superhero movies, the latest trend seems to be fairy tale retelling. Maleficent tells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the evil fairy's perspective. Even just reading that, it's obvious that she's not as evil here as she was in the original story.
I like these sorts of retellings. The "evil" characters become three dimensional, instead of just the two dimensions that we used to get. Most of the time in real life people have their reasons for doing what they do. Also, sometimes the real villain is not the one you would first pick out to be. Without spoiling too much, I liked her reasons for doing what she did, and I also liked the way they resolved it.

Angelina Jolie was of course great in her role as the title character. She could be great in her fury, and in her soft moments. I didn't expect anything less of her.
Elle Fanning I haven't seen in many things before. Looking at her list of appearances, I saw a lot of shows that I watch, but she wasn't memorable to me. In her role as Aurora she takes a bit of a back seat, since this Sleeping Beauty version isn't about Sleeping Beauty, but I liked her as Aurora. She had genuine smiles and laughter in her eyes.

I like how they did the kiss. Without spoiling the story, I'll just have to say that I never liked that in the original story. In most versions of the story the Prince either only sees her once, or never until he kisses her. He doesn't know her very well. He may feel that he loves her, but it doesn't feel deep. Also, romantic love can fade. However, there is one kind of love that once is born, never goes away. That really is true love.

Overall, 4 stars. I'm tempted to give 5, but the reason why I'm not is that on the one hand it's too short. Maybe because it's meant for children, and they figure that without singing that's the only amount of time kids can sit still. I would have also liked to see more story. However, great movie, definitely recommend it to adults as well.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy, #5) by Richelle Mead * * * *

A lot of things happened in this book, and I'm kind of at a loss trying to gather it all in my head. The end of the previous book made some of the events in this one obvious. What I wasn't prepared for was what happened in the middle, and towards the end. In a way, this could be called a "bridge book" in the series. It's not very focused, because it has the events that take the reader from the previous book, to what happens in the last book. I often see this in book series with 6 books. They are really two trilogies, with the first three books having one story, and the second three having the sequel story. Therefore, this book felt a bit incomplete, and I had to move onto the next one right away. Good thing they are all out.

At this point in the series, there aren't really many new characters, it's mostly the old ones doing more things. However, we do see some new minor ones that push the story along, though their appearance is in part sought out, and at other parts make sense in the world.
The main characters don't change much at this point. Okay, one does, but I'm keeping this spoiler free, so you'll just have to find out for yourself. Let me say that our two girls are still best friends, still help each other, and the revelations in the previous book still motivate their actions. In a way Lissa is even a better friend than she ever was before.

It is hard to talk about this book in detail, without giving too much away. At this point the series is kind of like a familiar chair that I can sit into, in a world that I understand, with people I know. Sure, it's not Harry Potter. I won't be seeking out fanfiction. However, I'll be sad to see it end, and will have the book hang-over, which I'm dreading already. I suppose the good thing at this point is that I'm not feeling cheated, I don't think this book is worse than the previous ones, I'm enjoying the story. I have seen people get further in a series and feel cheated that a book didn't live up to the standard they have come to expect. Maybe those were kinda force sequels, written because there was money to be made, not because the story could still go on. This book isn't like that. Every book in the series in fact has felt as a needed continuation of what the author had been building so far. I just hope that the next book will bring about a satisfying ending to the series, marking that the author knew when to stop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Yama Onna Kabe Onna (JDrama) * * *

I started watching this drama not sure if it would be work, romance or comedy. It's a bit all three of them, but most of it is actually a comedy. The breast jokes would be a bit too much if it wasn't.
The story itself revolves around a "Kabe Onna" (Wall Woman). She's a woman with very small breasts. She's the type who is bothered by it, but won't wear extreme push-up bras to compensate. While breasts are a central theme in the story, it's more about what she goes through with work, her love life, her family, and the people with whom she interacts. The story does lack a focus, and most of the time I was wondering where they were going with it. It felt more like a jumble of short stories with the same characters than a coherent thing. There were some other funny moments though, aside from the breast jokes.

This drama starts out a bit offensively, and I did almost stop watching at the beginning. The new employee at the store has exceptionally big breasts, and the female employees can't help but stare and take notice. Though I have to admit, I have been known to check and compare. I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Though not so blatantly. Then the male staff comes around, and things get really offensive. However, it's a comedy, so this shouldn't be taken seriously. Still, it feels awkward at times.
I've been several different sizes in my life. From the regular B to a large C and back to a smaller B cup. Though I have to say that in today's clothing options, having big breasts is certainly a disadvantage. To this day I don't own a shirt, and had to have all the suit jackets adjusted at the back. It often seems like the fashion industry forgets that women's backs are narrower than their fronts. Luckily, I never had to wear a uniform. The "Yama Onna" (Hill Woman) doesn't have that luxury, and part of the comedy comes from her popping button. I didn't find it funny really, but maybe some people do.

I always look for things that I can learn about Japan in a series. It's interesting to watch customer service in this drama. I live in a country where most of the time when you go into a store, the sales people try to avoid you, or watch you like a hawk in case you're trying to steal something. They rarely offer to help you. In the drama they speak about representing the department store, and acting accordingly. Well, here they do a very bad job of that. Maybe the sales people in my country should watch this and learn.
Another aspect that I always look for in a drama is what sort of serious question it discusses. This drama often brought up the question of marriage or work. In a way that isn't completely relevant in my culture, since most people keep on working after getting married. It's partly cultural, but also financial, since wages are so low most of the time, and there is so little job security, families need two incomes to get by. However, people generally don't focus so much on their work, and don't put in as many hours as is expected in Japan. I've heard that 12-hour workdays are the norm there, and no wonder people have to choose. It also came up a lot that if a woman works, she can't pay that much attention to her husband. I thought this was a bit archaic, though it could be another cultural difference. In Europe, where I live, marriage is considered more of a partnership, and the husband is generally expected to do his share at home, since they are both working. Therefore, it was hard for me to consider the different mind-set.

The people in this drama mostly work at a department store called Marukoshi.
The male characters were all a bit strange. Aside from most of them seemingly being obsessed with staring at the Yama Onna, they were often over the top in their behaviour. I'm sure it was because I haven't watched a lot of Japanese comedy, and that seems to be the norm in these.
The three main women in the series I really liked. Aoyagi Megumi (Ito Misaki) is the hard-working Kabe Onna. She's the perfectionist I can relate to. Her job takes centre stage in her life, and she only reluctantly lets men in. She wants to move up in her job, dreaming of becoming a store manager some day, and therefore has an internal struggle between the need to find a mate, and her professional desires. She is quite envious of the Yama Onna, but can't help liking her, in spite of everything.
Mariya Marie (Fukada Kyoko) is the Yama Onna. She transfers from another store, and provides the starting point of the drama. The Kabe Onna doesn't seem to like her at first, but her sweet and quirky attitude warms everyone towards her. She is also hard working, but instead of wanting to be a manager, she wants to open her own little shop. She also has a strong connection to food, and her large appetite is a source of some of the jokes.
Oyama Haruka (Koike Eiko) is sort of an antagonist for most of the drama, but I warmed to her in the end. She clashes with Aoyagi because she is as driven in her profession as she is, while being a Yama Onna herself. They clash because both are trying to be better than the other. Once she takes herself out of the equation, her demeanour towards Aoyagi changes as well.

Overall, interesting drama. I would have liked the story to have more of a focus. Sometimes the events felt random. A bit like real life, actually, but in a story that's not what can be expected. However, I had a good time watching it, even though some moments were cringe-worthy. It's worth giving a shot to, even though it may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Divergent (2014) * *

I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch this movie. The book is on my "never read" list, mostly because I heard it has a lot of romance in it with insta-love, which I can't abide. I was afraid that the movie would be like that as well. However, I have had a movie change my mind about reading the book, twice actually. Therefore, I decided to give this one a shot.

I've heard the story compared to The Hunger Games more times than I can remember. Funny thing was that it reminded me of a whole lot of other dystopian novels, and even some non-dystopian ones, but not The Hunger Games.
The factions remind me more of the houses in Harry Potter. Especially because the houses seemed to stay with them even after they left them. The difference is that Hufflepuff is divided up into three aspects of the Hufflepuff mentality, which in a way doesn't make sense, but it does if you think in the terms of jobs. The only people we're missing are the Slytherins.
The problem with factions and houses is that no one fits only into one category. You may be more like one, you may want to be more like one, but no one can be defined by just one trait. Houses have been criticized because of this, but people eventually leave school, though the house they were in remain as a part of their identity. Factions you can't leave, therefore they are worse.

The world building really doesn't make sense in some ways. I'm not sure if it's better explained in the books, but there are definite holes. So my questions within the first 10 minutes of the movie were:

  • What is the wall for?
  • What is the rest of the world like, and why isn't anyone trying to find out?
  • Why are there still so many houses with holes in them? Shouldn't they have been repaired by now or torn down?
  • How long ago was this war thing, and what are the general facts about it?
  • What are the Gryffindors, sorry, Dauntless protecting people from? It feels more like they're trying to control the people who like to climb on walls for no apparent reason, and don't know that there are mountains in the world.
  • Later, one thing that I didn't get in the last 40 minutes of the movie was Tris' mother. Was it better explained in the books? The movie made no sense.

The beginning was actually quite good. While the world wasn't established well, the personality and life of Tris was. Then it got boring really fast. The whole training, the drug induced illusions reminded me of Ender's Game. I was equally bored there as well. Good thing that this time I had cooking lunch to occupy the 90% of my mind the movie wasn't engaging. Things only started to pick up an hour and a half into the movie.
Some aspects also reminded me of 1984. While the threat from outside wasn't specific, it's not unlike the war in 1984, which I always thought didn't actually exist. Also the whole drug thing, that I won't spoil further.

The ending itself was kind of anti-climatic and annoying. I am half tempted to pick up the second book just to see where they go from here, but I was so bored for most of the movie, the jury is still out on that.

I almost forgot to write about the actors and the characters. That in itself speaks volumes. While Tris was well established, I didn't find her someone I could cheer on. I'm not sure if it was the actress, or just the character. Shailene Woodley I've never seen in a movie before, therefore I would not be able to judge her acting. However, as Tris she just didn't feel much engaged in the whole story. It felt more like she was stumbling from one event to the other. Her smiles felt lukewarm. Kind of like Kristen Stewart, which is not a good thing. However, it could just have been a bad director, or the story itself. I would need to see her in other things as well to see if I like her as an actress.
Theo James is hot for sure. If he was my instructor I would have wanted to get into his pants too. But love? I didn't feel the love connection between the characters. I generally don't like mushy romance, but a bit of building up would have been nice. The character of Four didn't feel well-rounded either. He was more like the convenient guy that can be the love interest.

Are the books coming off my "never read" list? Not sure at this point. I may find my curious nature not being able to let go of wanting to know how this thing ends. This is partly why I tend to go for finished series. I hate waiting.
The movie itself gets two stars for interesting beginning, boring long middle, kind of picking up ending.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Blood Promise (Vampire Academy, #4) by Richelle Mead * * * *

After finishing the previous book, I knew this one would be a departure from what we had before. I was afraid that because Lissa and Rose weren't in physical contact any more, I wouldn't get anything from Lissa. However, I got plenty, since Rose couldn't stop herself from checking on her best friend, luckily we didn't miss anything important either.

The story itself is quite different. Before we mostly had some sort of a mystery, which became the task to be resolved by the end. The main story here is a journey. It seems quite hopeless at the beginning, but we can expect that it's not. There are a lot of new things that Rose discovers during her travels, which I found very interesting. The author expanded on the universe in a good way, and didn't feel like she found herself in a bind and just threw things in.
The details in the new environment felt real. As someone who lives in Eastern Europe, though not in any place in the book, I often find that foreign people have a strange idea of what this part of the world looks like, and is like. Okay, the food thing annoyed me a little, though I know that the food there is not always good, but I think there is more of a variety of foreign food than burgers and chips.
The pacing was a bit off in this story. The middle was very slow. I found myself skipping some passages. It picked up again, but I think the middle should have been cut a bit more.

Rose changes a lot in this book. Before she felt like a teen. Not the typical sort, but like a girl at the end of her teens, almost a woman. In this story I kept forgetting she was just 18. She was very grown-up. It would have been a sudden change, had it not been for the end of the previous book. That was such a break in her life, it propelled her to adulthood.
Lissa got into a lot of trouble on her own. She clearly needed Rose to help her. Though I think she felt a bit lost on her own, and also felt bad about what had happened between them. At the end of this book we do discover that Lissa had done her own share of growing up as well.

Overall, an interesting addition to the series. In some regards, this was the most exciting book so far. The twists at the end were obvious to me, but I usually guess the ending of everything without any effort, so that's not a problem. Looking forward to the next two books, though I started to pace myself with them a bit. I'm not sure what I'll read next. Would love recommendations. I really like this one, but hated Twilight and Darkfever.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy, #3) by Richelle Mead * * * *

The third book in the Vampire Academy series follows the pattern of the previous books in that it starts off slowly, increases pace in the middle, and the last 20% is so fast, you have a hard time putting it down. So far, I enjoyed this edition the most, though the mystery I guessed very soon, a lot sooner than Rose. At least, it didn't take her hundreds of pages as it did Bella in New Moon about the wolves. That was where I gave up on that thing. The ending I knew a few pages before it happened, because it made sense story-building-wise.

In this book Rose evolves away from Lissa even more. It's a natural progressing, as in the first book Rose was centred around her, then with the romance in the second book she started to get away from her more, until in this book Lissa is just on the side, with Rose having a lot more things to focus on. The story does have many strands, but in the end they come together nicely, and everything makes sense, even though some events are clearly building up for future conflicts.
While there is a conflict between the Rose we meet in the first book, and the Rose we part from in the third, it is a natural progression. The reasons why teenagers seem to only care about themselves and go against authority have an explanation in the development of individual identity. In order for people to establish who they are, what they want to do, where they want to go with their lives, people need this stage. If it's interrupted, or doesn't happen at all, people often experience a sense of being lost, of not knowing what they want to do. People need to establish their own sense of self, and only then can they be adults, and live their lives with others. Rose had to break away from Lissa, and discover who Rose was, so that she can be later who Lissa needs her to be.
In a way, the first three books of this series complete an arch. There is a clear break at the end of this one. So the series can be regarded to be actually two.

Overall, a very enjoyable addition. In fact, this is probably my favourite so far. The only reason why I didn't start the next book right away, was because I had to go to work. The woes of the working woman!

One last thing to add to this review is that when Rose picked up the stake, I was kind of picturing this:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Frostbite (Vampire Academy, #2) by Richelle Mead * * * *

I picked up this book after having enjoyed the first one in the series. I only gave that one 3 stars, because I couldn't decide if I was less thrilled by the story because I had seen the movie, or because it was just not a very thrilling story. The second book I read a lot faster. Finishing a book, in spite of it not being very long, within a week is pretty uncommon for me nowadays. However, about the last 25% was very exciting, and I almost missed my stop on the metro because of it. In fact, the metro was having problems, going extra slow today, and I didn't mind, because I was reading. Returning home I finished it quickly.

The story itself picks up right after the last book. I liked how it started, it was kind of mysterious like some of the events in the first book. Though while that one had an actual mystery, this one didn't really. There were some weird things that were found out later, but the first book had an actual "whodunnit", and this one didn't. I was a bit disappointed by that fact. However, not enough not to be reaching for the next book right after finishing this one.
The romance was more in this book. It was a bit much for me, since I'm not very fond of love interests and the old "who should I go out with" dilemma. However, I liked how it tied into the story in the end. It wasn't just there for the sighs.

I felt that Lissa was a bit abandoned in this one. Though Rose felt a bit left out by Lissa as well. She didn't make a journey in this one and not some many things happened to her as previously. The focus was almost completely on our narrator, Rose. I didn't mind though, because Rose was a very busy girl. As a character, she did change thanks to the events in the story.

Overall, a fun, quick read. It doesn't give you earth shattering insight into the human psyche, but I guess no one who wanted to read that would go for something titled; "Vampire Academy".

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Shitsuren Chocolatier (JDrama) * * * *

I eagerly waited for this drama, because I'm a huge fan of MatsuJun. I also noticed that he happens to be extra cute when cooking or eating, and since he was going to play a Chocolatier in this drama, I hoped for many scenes like that. It didn't disappoint.

The drama itself was very interesting. It was in a way centred around making chocolates, but not the technical side of it, rather the artistic one. As someone with an artistic disposition myself, some of the things discussed in it gave me thought. The other theme of the drama was relationships. Friendships, friends with benefits, love, marriage, unrequited love. The drama examines how relationships develop, and how people are in them. Learning to get out of the relationship what you want, and letting go when reality clashes with your hopes.
This is more of an adult drama, as it has sex in it. Casual and non casual, and it's even discussed, which is pretty uncommon in Japanese dramas. However, I never did feel that the sex was there just to see people naked. It wasn't even explicit. Instead, the sex was always an important part of the relationship.
If I were to draw up a relationship chart, it would be pretty complicated. It's hard to say how the drama discusses relationships, because it covers so much. You just have to see it. What I can say is that as a woman whose 32 and never had a serious relationship, I learned a lot from this drama. I even recognised myself in one of the characters.

Matsumoto Jun plays a chocolatier called Koyurugi Sota. He had been in love with Takahashi Saeko (Ishihara Satomi) since he was 15. She was his inspiration to become a chocolatier. There are flashbacks, but we actually pick up the story when he opens his own shop 11 years later. Their relationship is the main driving force behind the story. There are many cringe-worthy moments, where you really just want to give the guy a hug. Being the main character, his story is the most complex one. He grows up as it proceeds, and comes to understand more about himself and his feelings. Saeko is the centre of his world, but he himself knows deep down that it's not a healthy position to be in. Through the drama we see him resolve the situation.
Saeko is an interesting character. On the surface she's this bubbly, carefree, chocolate loving person. She's the type of girl who is never without a boyfriend, whom all the guys fawn over, who can make them do whatever she wants. However, we do uncover some of her deeper layers. I also came to realise about her that maybe she wasn't so sure of what she actually wanted. We do see a growth in her. She also gives some great relationship advice.
Inoue Kaoruko (Mizukawa Asami) is the character I could identify with. She's a 30-year-old woman, who has a difficulty in establishing relationships with men. She's very serious, hard working, and a bit frustrated. Her character clashed with Saeko a lot, but we could come to understand that it was because she only saw her surface, and misjudged her.
There were many more characters, and most of them played an important role in the story, but I won't go into it, since this is a spoiler-free review.

This drama got a lot of negative reviews, which I was surprised about. I loved it a lot, but it wasn't just because of the fangirling over Jun. One point that people bring up is that it's a lot like Bambino. Well, not really. It has been a while, but there are some major differences. In Bambino, he's at the bottom of the kitchen in someone else's restaurant. It's more about work ethics, perfecting a craft, than about a romantic angle. In Shitsuren Chocolatier he's the owner, at the top of his game. He does make chocolate in it, but the drama isn't really about that. So the first one is a work drama, the second is a romance.
Another major sore point with people seems to be the ending. In a way it is very unsatisfying, but I have come to appreciate such endings. In Hollywood, everything has to have a happy ending, which is predictable and boring. One thing that I love about Japanese dramas is that they end in reality, not fairy tale. The ending had a very important lesson to teach. I think that instead of moaning about it, people should rather examine the lesson in that. Without trying to spoil too much, the question Sota should have asked himself in the beginning was "Who am I really in love with?". By the end, he finds this question, and comes to answer it in his own personal journey.

Overall, very good drama. In fact, it came at the right time for me. Sometimes, you come across a story, and it feels like the right thing at the right time. This was that for me. Don't expect it to be a light hearted, fun thing. It's not. However, be open to learning from the story, to maybe coming to painful realisations while watching.