Book: Death Weavers (Five Kingdoms, Book 4)

"Death Weavers"

Cole is about to face his biggest peril yet.

Since arriving in the Outskirts, Cole and his friends have fought monsters, challenged knights, and battled rampaging robots. But none of that has prepared them Necronum.

In this haunting kingdom, it’s hard to tell the living from the dead, and secret pacts carry terrifying dangers. Within Necronum lies the echolands, a way station for the departed, where the living seldom venture.

Still separated from his power, Cole must cross to the echolands and rely on his instincts to help rescue his friends. With enemies closing in, Cole risks losing everything to find the one thing that might save them.

Before I begin, I must warn whoever is reading this that I’m not going to hold back on spoilers. So if you’re planning on picking the book up, I suggest clicking away and coming back once you’ve finished the fourth installment off Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms series. Now, with that out of the way–

I actually don’t know if I liked Mull’s penultimate book to his current series. I mean, leading up to the finale, Death Weavers definitely ups the stakes and does a good job at building the tension. But at the same time, it feels a bit… much.

Now, I praised Crystal Keepers for breaking out of the Mull mold. It didn’t feel like it was a part of the Fablehaven series, and it was very different from the Beyonders trilogy. And the best part? It continued the Five Kingdoms story without being a carbon copy of the two books that preceded it–whilst standing out as its own story. Unfortunately, in Death Weavers, Mull zags again by doubling down on the fantastical countryside capers.

And not only is the fourth book back on fantasy ground, Mull actually brings back a lot of characters from earlier books–and even a couple from the Beyonders trilogy.

The thing here is: when Drake and Ferrin, both well-loved characters from the Beyonders books, first popped up? I thought it was a great way of establishing where and what the Outskirts was. And then they joined the adventure. Which would’ve been great had it been necessary for them to be part of the adventure. It wasn’t. Mull could’ve created new characters to join them, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Their inclusion, by book’s end, felt more like fan service than a story necessity.

Then there’s the cop out with Destiny.

See, in each book, Cole Randolph is saving one princess at a time. In this book, he’s supposed to save and protect the youngest princess, Destiny, from the bad guys who want to take her power. When Cole finally finds Destiny, they immediately get cornered by bad guys. Which was a good plot development, I thought. Then Destiny jumped into the river where no one comes out off, and I was floored. It was a risky move. Especially for a Young Adult adventure book. I loved it because it presents new problems, and it will definitely develop the characters as they confront an important death–in the book that has the theme of death hovering over everyone!

And then Cole saves her.

This is when I started disliking the character of Cole. I know he’s supposed to be the all-powerful savior, and the hero to the entire series–but, it’s hard to root for a guy you know will end up winning in the end. Sure he makes mistakes, but he doesn’t really experience loss. And that makes for a pretty crappy hero’s journey.

Of course, with this being the second-to-last book off the series, I’m still definitely picking the next book up to see how it all gets wrapped up; but I must say that the Five Kingdoms isn’t living up to the legacy of the Beyonders trilogy. The world feels half-formed, and the characters don’t feel like real people most of the time. The villains are still vague, and we’re already four books in–and although they’re all said to be scary, none of them feels threatening because of how powerful our main protagonist is.

I guess I have made my mind up about Death Weavers after all.

It’s a pretty disappointing book overall, even if it does do its job of building up the finale.

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Book: Sorta Like a Rock Star

"Sorta Like a Rock Star"

Ever since her mom’s boyfriend kicked them out, Amber Appleton, her mom, and her totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy (aka Thrice B), have been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow (aka the school bus her mom drives). Still, Amber, the self-proclaimed princess of hope, refuse to sweat the bad stuff. But when a fatal tragedy threatens Amber’s optimism–and her way of life–can Amber still be… well, sorta like a rock star?

I have a love-hate relationship with Amber Appleton. On the one hand, I love how optimistic her character is. I love that she loves helping people. But then, I really don’t like how she expects people to thank her for things she’s done. I hate the fact that she’s, for the most part, a hypocrite. She doesn’t do good things for the sake of doing them–she does them so she could feel good about herself.

Which is why I have to commend Matthew Quick. Off the three novels I’ve read off him, I think Amber is his most realistic character yet. She’s not a perfect person, and she’s not claiming to be. She has insecurities, she has misguided beliefs…and yet, at her core, Amber is someone you would want to root for. Not because she’s always striving to be better, but because she also makes mistakes.

Amber is one of us.

And I wasn’t a fan of hers for around half of the book. There’s just something about her that rubbed me the wrong way. That is… Until the ‘fatal tragedy’ happened. That’s when I empathized with her. But it was also then that I stopped connecting with her. Because in the events that occurred after that, I became more invested with the characters that revolved around Amber. Like Donna. And Private Jackson. And Father Chee. Even the football jerks. Amber stopped becoming an active character.

I don’t know if it was designed that way. Maybe. Because emotionally? It worked. As Amber became the receptacle for help, a role reversal from her being the giver of help in the first half, we see the emotional pay off for all the characters who were introduced.

This is when readers with a soft spot for good deeds will become emotional messes.

But I don’t consider Sorta Like a Rock Star as a good book. Although I liked how Matthew Quick wrote the main character, and I liked how the story unfolded, I still feel like the emotional punch in the end was a cheat. Out of the three Quick novels I’ve read, I continue to hold The Silver-Linings Playbook as his best one.

As for other people though… Let’s see what they thought of the book:
The Divining Wand
What’s Not Wrong?
Opinionated? Me?

Movie: Veronica Mars

"Veronica Mars"

Years after walking away from her past as a teenage private eye, Veronica Mars gets pulled back to her hometown – just in time for her high school reunion – in order to help her old flame Logan Echolls, who’s embroiled in a murder mystery.

If you weren’t a fan of the television series while it was on the air, I don’t know how you’re going to like the film. Because, as a fan, it’s everything I wanted–but that might not be what casual viewers are looking for.

See, Veronica Mars is a series built on nostalgia. Not just for us fans, but for the characters as well. Events unfold in a place where everyone knows everyone’s business–where one character’s history ties in very much with another character’s. And the film even capitalizes on this, bringing back characters from the television series for one last victory lap, bring the characters back for a mystery that hinges quite strongly on events that have happened almost a decade ago.

Veronica has turned her back on the life of a private investigator. At the end of the series, Veronica cast her vote for Keith Mars to be the replacement Sheriff after the death of Don Lamb. But her dad lost. And she flew off the coop. She got out of Neptune to become a resident in a house of lies.

But a call from Logan changes everything.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

As a fan of the series, I know that Veronica wouldn’t have been able to stay away. Although, I must admit at being impressed she was able to stay away for nine years. For casual viewers though? Veronica looks like she’s doing something half-assed.

And she is. The difference between fans and non-fans is that we’re actually expecting this.

And Veronica falls right into step when she comes back to Neptune. Even picking the phone up at her dad’s private investigator’s office.

I missed this. While I love Veronica Mars, and while I thought Piz was a great addition to the show, I wasn’t a big fan of the final season. As I said, Veronica Mars is built on nostalgia. The third season of the program introduced too many new things. It wasn’t the same. And the film learned from this.

And so we see Veronica and the characters we love grow, mature, and be different people–and yet have that familiarity permeate their existence. Regardless of the years that had passed, these characters remain the same at their core.

Let’s face the facts: Veronica Mars is no Nancy Drew. Sure she can solve a mystery like the best of them, but it’s Veronica’s resourcefulness in the Neptune setting that actually elevates her to become something more than Nancy Drew could ever be: Veronica is as real a person as you can get in the world of television…and video-on-demand.

Which is why I think the film succeeded–even if reports of the weekend box-office say otherwise. Veronica Mars came back, delivered a doozy of a story, and kicked ass.

And she did it her way.

Whether or not we get another film, or if we’re just going to continue her adventures in the novels that were announced…I don’t really care. I will continue to support. I will continue to be a fan.

Because I don’t want to sing the lyrics of the Veronica Mars theme song and actually mean the words.

Book: Crash Into Me

"Crash Into Me"

Owen, Frank, Audrey, and Jin-Ae have one thing in common: They all want to die. When they meet online after each attempts suicide and fails, they made a deadly pact: They will escape together on a summer road trip to visit the sites of celebrity suicides…and at their final destination, they will do themselves in.

As they drive cross-country, bonding over their dark impusles, sharing their deepest secrets and desires, living it up, hooking up, and becoming true friends, each must decide whether life is worth living–or if there’s no turning back.

Right from the start, I decided to believe that all the characters would survive in the end. It’s just how these type of novels go. It’s either your character is already dead and they’re just recounting life before they did themselves in, or something will happen to change their minds about killing themselves. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Imagine my surprise when, as three characters become better people, one of them start to spiral deeper into unexplicable depression. It’s a great twist. It keeps the reader guessing. It kept me guessing if maybe I was wrong and there will, at least, be one casualty.

But the keyword to that statement is ‘inexplicable.’

There’s a twist. There always is one, nowadays. But the thing with twists is, they have to be earned. This one doesn’t earn it. I mean, the writer obviously knew he was going to drop the twist somewhere in the story–but it doesn’t fit. It feels forced. Tacked on. And the bad thing is, you also know that it’s part of one character’s history. An integral part that was purposefully held back just to surprise the viewers.

I hated it.

Not the twist. The twist is fine. I hate the fact that the author held back on it. He should’ve built up on it. No, I don’t mean put in clues. Voracious readers would be able to latch on to those and the twist wouldn’t make as big an impact to them. But in terms of how the characters relate to each other, talk to each other; let the omissions and the hesitations speak; let the fears show; and, let the readers feel what the character is supposed to be feeling.

Crash Into Me is a good book. Was a good book. It’s not completely original; but the story was solid and the characters, though they may not always be likeable, at least they’re relatable. It’s the twist near the end that completely ruins it for me.

But that’s just me. Head on to what other blogs have to say about the book, maybe they liked it better than I did. Here’s a few:
Read, Read, Read
A Good Addiction
Chick Loves Lit

Book: NOS4A2

"NOS4A2"

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.

Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble…and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.Book: NOS4A2

But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge. He’s after something very special–something Vic can never replace.

As a life-and-death battle of wills builds–her magic pitted against his–Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all…or die trying….

This book is awesome, and I have no words to describe how awesome the book is. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try–

NOS4A2 has the most interesting gimmick: inscapes. Shortcuts through reality that only one person can use, and using things that they love. It’s an amazing concept. And it is utilized perfectly in the story that NOS4A2 tells.

And what a story.

Family is the central theme of Joe Hill’s book on magical ways that take you where you want to go. As protagonist Victoria McQueen tries to do right by the family given her, villain Charles Manx makes his own family by twisting the minds of his victims. And as both go through a journey that juxtaposes against each other, they come to a head in the most expected (not a typo) and most action-packed way.

One of the reasons why I like the book so much is that it’s easy to read. Author Hill paints a vivid world where the characters feel fully-formed and never half-assed. The characters we meet are flawed, scarred, and yet we never waver from the notion that they are protagonists–even when we’re supposed to get mad at them, we know that we’re still rooting for them.

But it’s Charles Manx that really steals the show. He is a constant threat throughout the book, even during the times when he is absent from the pages. Death couldn’t keep him away from his prizes, and his unwavering belief that he is doing the right thing only makes his brand of evil all the more scary.

This is the first time I’ve read a novel from Joe Hill, but if this is any indication of how good the other novels are, sign me up for his fan club!

If my recommendation isn’t enough for you, check out what these other bloggers have to say about NOS4A2:
The Book Smugglers
Entomology of a Bookworm
Horror Novel Reviews

Book: The House of Hades

"The House of Hades"

The Demigod crew of the Argo II is standing at a crossroads. They could return home with the Athena Parthenos statue and try to stop Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter from going to war. Or they could continue on their quest to find the House of Hades, where they might be able to open the Doors of Death, rescue their friends Percy and Annabeth from Tartarus (if they have survived), and prevent monsters from being reincarnated in the mortal world. Whichever road they decide to take, they have to hurry, because time is running out. Gaea, the bloodthirsty Earth Mother, has set the date of August 1 for her rise to power.

Good.

The best thing about The House of Hades is this: it’s not The Mark of Athena. It feels like a proper adventure book and not an awful attempt at fan service. The story progresses, the characters develop, and the plots weave together into a culminating event that becomes the main concern of the book that will follow: The Blood of Olympus. Now, let’s expound:

What I liked best about The House of Hades is the pace in which the story progresses. It doesn’t feel rushed, and nothing feels like filler. Author Rick Riordan deftly handles the adventure that doesn’t make it look stretched. In fact, parts of it happen so quickly that you don’t realize that it already was a separate adventure.

I also like the fact that Riordan is now tapping into the lesser-known mythologies to challenge our main heroes’ capabilities. Mostly because I don’t second-guess what’s going to happen next as I’m less familiar with these new gods and goddesses and monsters.

The characters are more likeable this time around too. The Mark of Athena made me dislike a lot of the characters. This time, their insecurities and strength are balanced well enough that they just feel real–not overly flawed protagonists trying hard to be relatable.

And I have no complaints about the two story threads we had to follow throughout the book. Both were very compelling, and leaves the right amount of tension every time we would switch perspectives.

I think The House of Hades is the best book so far in the Heroes of Olympus series. But that’s just me.

Let’s see what other people have said about The House of Hades:
What a Nerd Girl Says
Looking for the Panacea
The Islander Girl

Book: The Superior Spider-Man, Issue #13

"Superior Spider-Man 013"

Otto Octavius is a man who cheated death, but at a price. When he exchanged bodies with Peter Parker, he gained the amazing skills of Spider-Man–and all of Peter’s memories. Otto finally understands Peter’s mission of great responsibility.

Mayor J. Jonah Jameson had asked the Superior Spider-Man to supervise the execution of Alistair Smythe – The Spider-Slayer who killed Jameson’s wife.

Moments before his execution, Smythe used his slayer-bots to free himself while healing and upgrading Superior Spider-Man’s deadliest foes: Vulture, Scorpion, and Boomerang!

With Scorpion hunting down Jameson and Vulture making way for the innocent civilians, Spider-Man has made it his sole mission to slay the Spider-Slayer…

Outside of the synopsis, there is no longer any trace of Peter Parker in the Superior Spider-Man title. On the one hand, it’s gotten better. Story-wise, you really see the odds stack up against this new Spider-Man, and how not having a conscience is making Spider-Man more efficient. But the title seems to have lost its humanity.

I’m a fan of Spider-Man more because of Peter Parker than because of the superhero persona. I look up to Spider-Man because I related to Peter Parker. And now that he’s really, truly gone, my view on the Superior Spider-Man is bordering on clinical now. I see the parts I liked, the parts that can be developed further, and the parts that the title really could do without.

And that’s all the title is to me now. A routine.

Something I can live without.

The problem is, I do believe that there is a story to be told still. One that can be engaging. If the team behind Superior Spider-Man steers Otto back to where something would be at stake for him, and for the readers. Because when you’re protagonist is too smart, too powerful–why else would we root for him? What’s the payoff when you know he’s going to win anyway in the end?

Looking back on the issues I liked, it’s the ones where they humanized Otto. The parts where you see Peter breaking through to him, seeing the boy before he was broken. And if we’re sticking with Otto for the rest of the title, then we better go back to the part where he wants to be a hero.

Because, right now, Spider-Man is not acting like a superhero. He’s acting like a super villain. And it frustrates me to no end that no one who actually knows Peter Parker (and Spider-Man) is calling him out on it!

Otto is not beyond redemption. But the team behind this title will soon be if they don’t plot out the next few issues better.