Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making some changes

I'm so behind on my posts right now that I'm going to institute some short-term (or not so short-term - who knows?) changes to my blog. From this point to whenever I decide to change back, any live action stuff I watch will not include watch-alikes/read-alikes, unless I really want to include them. I'm also iffy about whether I'll include any for audiobooks. I still plan to put in the effort for anime, manga, and books/novellas, though.

At the moment, I need to write posts for two audiobooks, one movie, one TV series, two novels, and one short story. I'm very close to finishing a short story anthology and another audiobook. I'd skip writing posts about some of these, except my blog works out really well for me as a way to keep track of what I've read/watched and what I thought about what I've read/watched.

I don't know if I'll post anything today, since I'm Sunday Librarian, but I've at least got a rough outline typed out for one of the books I've finished.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Jekyll (live action TV series), via Netflix

Jekyll is a short BBC thriller.

I at first thought this might be like Sherlock, an updated version of the Jekyll and Hyde story that pretends the original Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was never written. However, that's not the case. Instead, Dr. Tom Jackman is a descendant of the original Dr. Jekyll, and Robert Louis Stevenson based his story on a real, flesh-and-blood man. Tom Jackman has a condition that causes him to turn into Hyde at relatively predictable intervals. Hyde has no idea that Jackman is married, and Jackman wants to keep it that way. Likewise, Jackman doesn't know everything that Hyde does while Hyde is in control. Hyde and Jackman have an agreement – Hyde is allowed to roam free only if he refrains from killing people. If he breaks their agreement and Jackman finds out, Jackman will turn the both of them in to the police.

Their agreement works fairly well for them, at first, but then Hyde begins to come out at unexpected times and learns that Jackman has been hiding things from him. Jackman and Hyde learn that a shadowy group has been keeping an eye on them and want to create more people like them (I can't remember why). Jackman becomes determined to both keep Hyde away from his family and keep himself out of the grasp of the people trying to capture him.

This was an okay show. It kept my attention enough that I sped through it pretty quickly. However, it was not without its problems. The way it was structured, with a bit of backward and forward movement in time, was a little annoying and made some things unnecessarily confusing. I also wished that Hyde hadn't been given quite so many superpower-like abilities. He was more than just a dark personality – he was super-strong, fast, and animalistic to the point that he occasionally had literal claws and sharp teeth.

Hyde wasn't a very consistent character. I expected him to be legitimately scary, but quickly realized that there was a particular line he was probably never going to cross, at which point he was robbed, in my eyes, of any bite he'd ever had. Later, he became scarier again (maiming a guy, killing a lion with his bare hands and teeth – off-screen, of course), but once again the story declawed him, turning him into a frightened, uncertain child (a child with a nasty temper, but still). The series ended with him as an almost sympathetic figure.

Jackman's wife was also a hard character for me to wrap my brain around. On the one hand, she had moments when she was justifiably scared of Hyde. On the other hand, there were times when she seemed more suited to Hyde than she was to Jackman. The amount of trust she occasionally had in Hyde, just based on the fact that he shared a body with Jackman, was completely unwarranted. Was this woman naive? Stupid? Unbalanced? A little of all three?

The end of this series was just...insane. It's like the writer totally gave up and chose to aim for shock at the expense of anything resembling logic. I wish I could write about the ending in more detail, but there's no way to do that without spoiling things, and Blogger does not give me spoiler tags, at least not that I know of. I'll just say this: it's crazy and stupid, particularly the last few minutes.

Slither (live action movie), via Netflix

Slither is a horror comedy. I think. Netflix's tagging says nothing about it being darkly humorous, but I couldn't help but view parts of it that way.

I don't even know why I added this to my Netflix queue, but I did. I don't usually watch horror movies, and, when I do, I don't watch them alone because I'm a wimp. I bumped this up in my queue when I realized it starred Nathan Fillion.

Here's the story: An alien thing crash lands near a small town. Something nasty shoots out of it, crawls into the body of a guy named Grant, and starts taking him over. Grant now has a driving need to breed and to eat fresh meat. He loves his wife (when he isn't consumed with jealousy and basically calling her a whore), so he tries to hide his new needs from her. This becomes harder when the alien parasite inside him begins transforming his body into that of a horrible mutated monster. The local cops, one of whom (Nathan Fillion) has been nursing an unrequited love for Grant's wife, try to hunt down and kill Grant. This is made difficult by Grant's new killing abilities and the many, many parasitic slugs Grant has grown inside one of the local women.

This movie is nasty. Thankfully for my piece of mind, a lot of the nastiness is kind of fake-looking. While this doesn't make things less nasty, at least I wasn't left feeling afraid to enter my own bathroom. As you can probably tell from the "cover" artwork, this movie follows the usual pattern of sexualizing horror. The slugs are penis-like and try to enter via people's mouths (thankfully only their mouths). There are tentacles. There is indeed a bathroom scene in which a naked girl is unaware that a bunch of penis-slugs are about to attack her. The explanation for why beautiful Starla married homely Grant was paper-thin, especially when you consider the way he treated her whenever she didn't show the proper level of devotion. (She was pretty dumb, though, so maybe that makes their marriage more believable?) However, her marriage to Grant and his "love" for her meant that there were of course scenes in which she tried to convince him (at least once while wearing something sexy) that she still loved him, and could he therefore not kill her and also stop killing and/or absorbing everyone else?

Sadly, Nathan Fillion wasn't able to save this movie for me. It was mediocre, and nothing he could do could help that. However, I absolutely loved his expression of stunned horror when he dropped the grenade he intended to use to kill Grant.

Those who love animals, beware: there are lots and lots of dead animals in this movie (I recall them looking pretty fake, though). A dog dies, albeit off-screen. A cat dies, also off-screen. Nathan Fillion is attacked by a zombie deer, although the scene was so dark I didn't realize what had happened until later.

All in all, I expected this to be a mediocre movie, and it was. Nathan Fillion was probably the best reason to watch it, and he wasn't given much material with which to shine.

The Invincible Iron Man (non-Japanese animation, movie), via Netflix

The Invincible Iron Man is one of the many animated superhero movies currently available in Netflix's catalog. This movie had so little of an effect on me that I'm struggling to even remember what it was about. It also doesn't help that I watched it last month. I can definitely say this: don't watch this movie thinking it has anything at all to do with the live action movies. This animated movie exists in a universe of its own. I don't know enough about the comic books to be able to say whether it's more related to them or not.

Here is what my notes tell me about this movie: Animated Movie Tony still likes to spend his off-time in the company of lots of Barbie doll women. Animated Movie Rhodes isn't working for the military, unlike Live Action Movie Rhodes, although he used to be an Army medic. He now works for Tony and, under Tony's direction, has been heading the excavation of some ruins in China. A group opposes this excavation and has been making things difficult for Rhodes and the excavation team. If I remember correctly, Rhodes is captured, Tony goes after him and gets captured too, and things similar to the terrorist capture portion in the first live action movie occur. The Mandarin is sort of this movie's villain, but Tony spends more time dealing with the Mandarin's Elemental warriors. Oh, and there's a tragic romantic subplot involving a beautiful young Chinese woman, because of course.

The story is meh, the animation is terrible (it reminded me of Saturday morning cartoons, plus some badly incorporated CGI), and, by the way, the "cover" artwork looks way better than anything you'll find in this movie. Also, Robert Downey, Jr. has spoiled me - Animated Movie Tony, voiced by Marc Worden, was lacking in charisma. Instead of feeling larger than life, he was just...sort of pleasant? I guess? At any rate, he didn't make much more of an impression on me than anything else in this movie.

I have all the other animated superhero movies Netflix provides access to sitting in my queue, but this movie made me think I might want to remove them. I am doubtful they're worth the time it will take to watch them.

Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na (live action movie), via Netflix

Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na is another movie I watched in order to broaden my horizons beyond American, British, Japanese, and Korean stuff. This romantic comedy is framed as a story being told to a woman who at first refuses to believe she'll like the story and who gradually becomes really invested in it. The story stars two friends, Jai and Aditi. Jai, a mild-mannered, quick-talking pacifist, is devoted to Aditi, a fiery, somewhat melodramatic woman. The thing is, although the two are so focused on and devoted to each other that everyone around them assumes they're a couple, they're actually not. Jai and Aditi agree to find suitable mates for each other, and Aditi is the first to succeed. Unfortunately, Jai becomes devoted to the woman Aditi found for him, which leaves him less time for Aditi. Jealousy ensues, and Aditi angrily finds someone for herself...except Jai and Aditi are gradually starting to realize their feelings for each other go beyond friendship. Meanwhile, there is a subplot involving the things Jai must do, but doesn't realize he must do, in order to be considered a man by his father's people.

This is, I believe, the second Indian movie I've seen with song and dance numbers. They came hard and fast early on, making me wonder if most of the movie was going to be singing and dancing. They were catchy songs, so I don't think I would have minded that, except 2 hours and 33 minutes is a long time for nothing but catchy songs. Anyway, the song and dance numbers slowed down after Jai and Aditi confused everyone by claiming they weren't a couple.

All in all, I thought this movie was way too long but still mostly fun. The beginning was all about figuring out what was going on - things were not as they seemed, and I was just as surprised as Aditi and Jai's friends to learn that Aditi and Jai didn't think they were in love. It was easy to predict that either Jai's new girlfriend, Meghna, would get jealous of Jai's friendship with Aditi, or that Aditi would get jealous of his girlfriend. I could see Jai's relationship with Meghna fall apart as soon as he met her family, and the speed with which Aditi and Sushant got engaged spelled trouble right from the beginning. However, I still enjoyed seeing how things would turn out, and the whole subplot about Jai becoming a man definitely held a lot of surprises.

This isn't something I'll ever re-watch, but it made for decent (if bloated) first-time viewing.

Getting caught up

I really need to get caught up on my posts, so I'm going to bang out a series of short-ish reviews about a few things I've either waited too long to post about or simply don't want to put a lot of time into writing about. None of these posts will include read-alikes/watch-alikes, which is usually the stuff that sucks up most of my time.

Enjoy!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

If You Were Here (book) by Alafair Burke

If You Were Here is a thriller. I got it as an ARC at a conference, and, amazingly, I've managed to read and review it the same month it came out.

Synopsis:

McKenna used to be a lawyer, until she accused a cop of being dirty and was proved wrong. Now, she works as a journalist, and a story about a young athlete saved from being run over by an oncoming train has caught her attention. When she digs deeper, she learns that Nicky, the young athlete, had been stealing phones. His last victim ran after him, saved him when he fell on the train tracks, and ran off after taking her phone back.

One of the bystanders recorded video the incident. Once she sees that footage, all McKenna cares about is the mysterious woman who saved Nicky. She looks very much like Susan, a friend of McKenna's who vanished without a trace 10 years ago.

Review:

I had never read any of Burke's books prior to reading this and didn't even bother to check if it was part of a series (it's not) until after I was a few chapters in. The setup interested me: was the woman who simultaneously saved Nicky and took her phone back from him really McKenna's friend? If so, why did she disappear? Since such a big deal was made of the mysterious woman's physical strength, and since I've apparently read way too much urban fantasy, my first theory was that Susan disappeared after she became part of some kind of experiment that gave her super-strength. She escaped and went off the radar until the day Nicky stole her phone and McKenna spotted her in video footage of the incident. That, by the way, is totally not what happened.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Walls of Westernfort (e-book) by Jane Fletcher

The Walls of Westernfort is f/f soft science fiction (it feels more like fantasy than like sci-fi, though) published by Bold Strokes Books. According to All Romance Ebooks, it's 95,194 words long. On her site, Fletcher lists it as either the second book in her Celaeno series, if you're reading in publication order, or the fourth book, if you're reading in chronological order.

Synopsis:

Sixteen years after the events of The Temple at Landfall, Westernfort is still around and doing well and the heretics are still acquiring more members. The Sisterhood is determined to destroy this group that threatens them and their control. Since a more direct attack didn't work, they've decided to infiltrate Westernfort with Guards disguised as a family of heretics who'd like to settle there. The Guards will then assassinate Lynn, Kim, and Gina, on the assumption that if the "head" of the resistance is destroyed, the "body" will follow.

Natasha is selected to be one of the assassins, due to her loyalty to the Sisterhood and the physical similarities between her and Jess, the heretic she'll be replacing. At first, Natasha views the heretics as evil and truly believes that the assassinations must happen is order to prevent the heretics from corrupting others. Then she actually meets and gets to know a few heretics, and her black-and-white picture of the world becomes muddled. When the assassinations are delayed due to new information, Natasha finds herself growing closer to several heretics and more unsure of herself and the orders the Sisterhood gave her. Can she really kill Lynn, who doesn't seem at all evil and who can function as an Imprinter despite no longer being a virgin, something the Sisterhood preached was not possible? Can she bring herself to be a part of the assassinations, even though it will cause Dani, a heretic with whom she has begun to fall in love, to hate her?

Review:

Another Celaeno book! Although it has some basic world-building problems, I love this series anyway and am glad there are still a couple books in it that I haven't read. I started reading this shortly after finishing The Temple at Landfall. Although The Walls of Westernfort references many events that occurred in that book, it takes place 16 years later.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise, Part One (graphic novel) script by Gene Luen Yang, art and cover by Gurihiru, lettering by Michael Heisler

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise, Part One is a continuation of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series. I absolutely loved the TV series and probably would have bought this if I had been able to find it at my local bookstore. Since I couldn't, I requested it via interlibrary loan instead.

I'm not going to list any read-alikes or watch-alikes in this post. If you'd like some, I'd suggest taking a look at my Avatar: The Last Airbender posts.

Synopsis:

As the back of the book says, this picks up where the TV series left off. Fire Lord Ozai has been defeated and Zuko is now the new Fire Lord. Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and Zuko are all working towards a balanced world. They think they know what that means, but the situation is more complex than they realize.

The group believes that, in order to achieve balance, the Fire Nation's many colonies must be removed. The decide to start with the colonies in the Earth Kingdom. Things go well with the youngest colonies, but some of the colonies have existed for 100 years – citizens of both nations have intermarried and made lives for themselves, and there is no longer a clear division between Earth and Fire.

Review:

This is absolutely not the place for Avatar: The Last Airbender newbies to begin. Fans of the series, though, will be thrilled to see this world and their favorite characters again. Unfortunately, this book alone isn't very satisfying.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Digimon: Digital Monsters, The Official First Season Vol. 1 (anime TV series)

Digimon: Digital Monsters is a children's fantasy show. This first volume contains the first 21 episodes of the series, English dub only.

Synopsis:

A group of kids are at camp when they are suddenly transported from our world to the DigiWorld. Each kid is immediately partnered with a Digimon, a cute (at least at the lower levels) digital monster that can transform (digivolve) into stronger forms. If you've ever seen a Tamagotchi, it works a little like that. Each kid has a digivice, a device that allows their Digimon to digivolve under certain circumstances. The children gradually learn what those circumstances are as they try to survive the various dangerous Digimon they encounter. Eventually, they learn that they are the DigiDestined, children destined to save the DigiWorld and therefore also the real world. In order to do this, however, they first have to find tags and crests that will allow their Digimon to digivolve even further.

The main human characters in this volume are:
  • Tai: An adventurous boy who is basically the leader of the group. He occasionally clashes with Matt.
  • Matt: The "cool loner" of the group. He's T.K.'s older brother and very protective of him. In the real world, their parents are divorced and they don't get to see each other much.
  • T.K. - The youngest member of the group.
  • Sora - She's the reliable one, and more of a tomboy than the other girl in the group, Mimi.
  • Mimi - Very much a girlie girl. Although she's not depicted as a bad person at all, she's vain, spoiled, and not very bright.
  • Joe - He worries constantly and feels like it's his duty to keep the other kids from taking too many risks.
  • Izzy - He is very focused on his computer, sometimes to the exclusion of his friends. He once overheard his parents discussing the fact that he's adopted, although they've never officially told him and don't know that he knows.
Review:

I picked this one up entirely because of the nostalgic value it has for me. I don't usually buy edited anime, but I have fond memories of waking up on weekends just to watch this show with my sister. We were incredibly hooked.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Secret Wedding Dress (book) by Ally Blake

The Secret Wedding Dress is a contemporary romance set in Australia. It's part of the Harlequin Kiss line.

Synopsis:

Something about Paige's life dissatisfies her, and she's not sure what it is. Mae, her best friend, is marrying Clint, and it's a huge shock for Paige. She had thought Mae, like her, didn't believe in love and lasting marriages. After all, they'd both grown up seeing how miserable their parents were. Paige's father, a famous cricket player, had cheated on her mother while her mother turned a blind eye until it was no longer possible to do so.

Still, Mae seems happy, so Paige goes with her to shop for things for the wedding. No one is more shocked than Paige when Paige buys a wedding dress of her very own. She's not sure why she did it, but something about the dress called to her. Unfortunately, she still has it in her hands when she meets Gabe.

The chemistry between Paige and Gabe is intense, but neither one of them is interested in anything more than no-strings-attached sex. Gabe flat out says that he doesn't plan to be in Australia long, and Paige is perfectly happy to hear that. But what happens when the two of them start to grow closer than they planned?

Review:

I've seen several Harlequin Kiss books at my local Walmart and read the descriptions on most of them, but this was the first one to appeal to me enough for me to buy it. A heroine who bought a wedding dress despite not even having a boyfriend. A hero who was only interested in no-strings-attached sex. I wanted to see how things would go between them. Unfortunately, this book didn't work for me.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Game of Thrones (book) by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones is the first book in George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Despite what the current popularity of the TV series might lead you to believe, this book has actually been around for a while - it was first published way back in 1996.

Synopsis:

The story is slow-moving, and it took a while for me to really get a grip on what was going on. Here are the basics: A lot of people would like to take King Robert's throne. Meanwhile, the many-year-long Summer is showing signs of ending soon - the danger and horrors of Winter will soon be upon everyone.

It's probably better if I list some of the characters and their part of the story instead of trying to explain the plot in more detail.
  • Ned Stark - He is honorable, which, in his world, is pretty much a character flaw. King Robert names him the King's Hand, a position he reluctantly accepts. As the King's Hand, he speaks for the king when the king is absent for whatever reason.
  • King Robert - He took the throne after he killed the previous king's heir. Although he used to be a great warrior, time has softened him, and now all he wants to do is hunt, drink, and sleep around. He's married to Cersei Lannister.
  • Arya Stark - Ned's youngest daughter. She's a tomboy and would like nothing better to learn to fight like her brothers.
  • Sansa Stark - Ned's eldest daughter. She would like nothing better than to marry Prince Joffrey, who, from her perspective, is a storybook prince.
  • Catelyn Stark - Ned's wife. Cracks a little when an attempt is made on the life of one of her children, but gets a grip later on and leaves to investigate the assassination attempt, as well as what the Lannisters might be up to.
  •  Daenerys - The daughter of the previous heir to the throne, who King Robert slew in order to take the throne. Her brother, Viserys, arranges for her to marry Drogo, a Dothraki barbarian king.
  • Jon Snow - Ned's bastard son, who yearns for proper recognition as one of Ned's sons. Although he was raised with Ned's other children, he is constantly aware of his status as a bastard. Catelyn does not like him. He joins the Night's Watch, a sort of military order that guards the Wall.
  • Tyrion Lannister - A dwarf, brother to Jaime Lannister and Queen Cersei. I think Jaime is the only member of his family he is at all close to.
That's most of the POV characters, and only a small subset of the total number of characters who play any kind of significant role in the book.

Review:

It's been ages since I last read any epic fantasy – in fact, I think I was in high school – so I was a little worried about starting this. As slow as my reading speed has been lately, did I really want to start an 800-page monster, with more to come? Happily, I found my epic fantasy legs pretty quickly. I had a few days when I didn't feel like reading, but, when I did, I plowed through 50-200 pages in a single sitting. Not half bad for someone who's currently having attention span issues with a 200-page book.

I should mention that I have yet to see the TV series. I started reading this mainly to get a feel for whether the TV series might be worth spending money on (I decided it was), and then I didn't want to start watching the first season until after I had finished the first book, out of fear that I'd lose reading steam otherwise. If you're looking for comparisons between the book and the TV series, I can't do that (yet).
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