Tag Archives: American

Downsiders

Author: Neil Shusterman

Downsiders, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

In the wake of her parents’ separation and her mother’s latest whimsy (a long-term trip to Africa), Lindsey finds herself shunted off to New York to live with her distracted father and her odious step-brother Todd. Meanwhile, deep beneath that same city, Talon finds himself challenging the precepts and perspectives of his own culture–a people who live beneath the city with their own noble way of life, isolated from the Upsiders whom they view as stupid. And when these two teenagers’ worlds collide, the result is staggering . . . possibly even devastating to both worlds.

Shusterman is one of my favorite authors, as is pretty obvious just from this blog. His books have such a different way of viewing things; they’ve very unique. Downsiders is true to his norm in that it’s quite different from anything I’ve ever read, but it’s also pretty different from any of Shusterman’s other writing. While there are aspects that are similar, I’m not sure I could have picked him out as the author if I hadn’t known. The pacing, while great for this story, is slower than in a lot of his books, and there just isn’t quite as much spark . . . I don’t know how else to put it. Also, the flavor is almost–I want to say Dickensian, but that’s not quite right–it’s as close as I can get to describing it, in any case. Still, while all that sounds kind of negative, I did actually enjoy this book. The concept of a complete, isolated culture living in the abandoned tunnels and forgotten structures beneath New York City is fascinating, and the actual development of this culture in the book was well written. The characters were also believable, and the choices and changes they went through during the course of the story felt true, honest–and important to us as readers because of that. The ending, largely due to those decisions being honest choices not fairy-tale ones, is both beautiful and bittersweet; the story is better for its being so. I wouldn’t recommend Downsiders for everyone, but if you’ve got the patience to dig into it, this book is a rewarding read.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 movie)

Marvel Studios

My rating: 3.5 of 5

An unlikely band of misfits and unsavory types is thrown together–mostly by their own greed and/or hatred of each other, surprisingly enough. And in the midst of their joint efforts at prison breaks, selling of stolen goods, and running for their lives, they somehow manage to go from being at each others’ throats to having each others’ backs. Which is good, because they might just be the only thing standing between the galaxy and total destruction.

I’ve probably stated this before, but I’m generally not a big fan of superhero/comic-based stories–and Marvel ones in particular. I actually mostly watched Guardians of the Galaxy because Karen Gillan is in it. That was a bit of a disappointment; I felt like her character ended up being pretty flat. *cries* But I did enjoy other aspects of the story and characters. It was weird to me that the entire main group of characters are really not what would typically be considered good people–thieves, bounty hunters, traitors, and individuals bent on revenge. But they made for an amusing and sympathetic group, I have to admit, and the tension between the characters is a big part of the enjoyment of the film. Obviously, Rocket and Groot are the best (and funniest) part of the whole story. But with that, I also have to give fair warning that this is PG-13, and it shows in the humor–as well as in the language and the violence, although it’s not particularly bloody or anything. I think one of the things I loved the most is how integral music and dance are to the story throughout. Plus, it’s an origin story of sorts, which I generally enjoy, so there’s that. Overall, the whole film has a funky, off-kilter flair that feels almost indie, although that’s immediately belied by the impressive visual production, which is quite attractive and fun. While it will probably never be my favorite movie, I think Guardians of the Galaxy was a funny, quirky tale that I did enjoy and will likely watch again sometime.

Written by James Gunn & Nicole Perlman/Directed by James Gunn/Produced by Kevin Feige/Based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning/Music by Tyler Bates/Starring  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, & Benicio del Toro

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A Fresh Perspective (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: dr4g0ngrl

FanFiction ID: 8495208

Status: Complete (14 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

An innocuous (if extremely annoying for Merlin) hunting trip with Prince Arthur turns into something drastically different when the two find themselves attacked by a group of sorcerers who manage to shove a suspicious potion down Merlin’s throat. After dealing with their attackers, Arthur turns around to find . . . an unconscious Merlin who is now a little kid of around four years old. Oops. Unsure what to do with a child, Arthur makes the natural decision–take the kid back to his mother. So the two of them show up on Hunith’s doorstep, and Merlin’s poor mom gets dragged into the mess, trying to comfort her confused son while also keeping his magic a secret from Arthur and the rest of the magic-hating world. But for a little child to keep secrets, especially a secret as big as this one, is not exactly easy, and Arthur is in for more than one surprise on his way back to Camelot.

A Fresh Perspective is just about everything I wish for in a fanfic–or in any story, for that matter. The writing flows well, uses excellent grammar, shows a very readable use of third-person narrative, and is just generally pleasant to read. The plot, as the author admits directly, is basically an excuse to write Merlin-as-a-kid fluff. And the result is absolutely adorable. The author’s grasp of Merlin’s character, as well as how that would display as a four-year-old kid, is excellent if flavored towards a highly favorable view of his personality and character (just as I like it). This view of him and his utter devotion to Arthur and to Camelot is vital to the way in which the plot develops, especially after Arthur and the knights discover Merlin’s magic. I also love that the knights (Gwaine, Percival, Elyan, and Leon, specifically) are heavily included in this story, because they’re fabulous and they’re individual reactions to kid-Merlin are important in developing their own personalities, histories, and relationships with each other and with Merlin. The bromance between Merlin and Arthur, as well as between Merlin and Gwaine, is well crafted here, and I think the way in which the author handled that uncertainty of relationship at the point where Merlin is suddenly a child and has no memory of Arthur or Gwaine was very well done. Honestly, I would change nothing about this story, and will probably re-read it many times over. I just want to find more stories by the same author!

Note: You can find A Fresh Perspective at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8495208/1/A-Fresh-Perspective.

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I Hunt Killers

Author: Barry Lyga

Jasper Dent, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Seventeen-year-old Jasper Dent (better known as Jazz) did not have the most normal childhood. Actually, he was raised by his dad, a notorious serial killer–raised to think like and eventually become a killer himself. But now Jazz’s dad is behind bars and Jazz wants a different life for himself. So when the body count begins to rise in his small home town, Jazz decides to (unofficially and without the sheriff’s permission) assist with the investigation. Because he knows how the killer thinks. And to prove to the town that he’s not like his dad . . . only, is it the town or himself that he needs to convince?

So, I’ve never read much Barry Lyga, but I Hunt Killers was an interesting enough read. It’s kind of a mashup of a contemporary YA novel and an adult crime thriller. And I guess that’s where I get my weird personal reactions to this story. Because on the one hand, I really enjoyed it, but on the other hand, it’s kind of strange and unsettling in a way I’m not sure I like. There’s this total dichotomy, even though in the book the elements are actually combined pretty well. On the crime thriller side, you get this guy who can get into the killer’s head, you get some pretty intense crime scenes, some very painfully intense flashbacks to the guys’ childhood, and a puzzling mystery that gradually unfolds. And on the YA side, you’ve got this kid who is struggling to even see himself as human, who struggles to see the people around him as human rather than just as things to be used. There is a ton of psychological and emotional baggage and internal conflict going on. And then you’ve got Jazz’s awesome girlfriend Connie and his BFF Howie–both of whom get dragged into the mess that Jazz involves himself in. The writing and the pacing of the story are good. The author clearly put a lot of research into this book. And I would read more of Barry Lyga’s books. I probably would read more of this series, even. But I still feel just a bit off about I Hunt Killers . . .  but maybe that’s the intended results, because how can a book about a kid who was raised to be a serial killer ever really be okay?

 

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Corduroy

Author: Don Freeman

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a big department store, a small stuffed bear named Corduroy sits on the shelf waiting for someone to take him home. One day, a customer points out that he’s missing a button, prompting a midnight expedition through the store in search of said button. Corduroy finds lots of interesting things that night. But the next morning, he finds something even better–a home and a new friend.

Over 50 years old, this picture book is just as charming and engaging as it was when it was originally published. Corduroy is just a very cute story, with a nice sprinkling of adventure and humor and a satisfying “happy ending.” I appreciate the way the author expresses Corduroy’s opinions of his experiences–“I guess I’ve always wanted to” or “I think I’ve always wanted to” for all the adventures in the store, but “I know I’ve always wanted” when it comes to a friend and a home. It’s a nice way of using repetition with variation that I like to see in kids’ books. Fair warning that this book is a bit text heavy when compared to other picture books; at age two-and-a-half, my niece is just now able to sit still for and enjoy reading the text in its entirety, but before that, I had to do some summarizing. (It’s recommended for ages 3-8, technically). As for the art itself, it’s got a charming old-school feel to it, one that both captures the flavor of when it was written back in the 1940’s but that is still enjoyable and approachable today. Corduroy is definitely a classic, and a picture book that I would recommend for just about any younger child.

 

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The Janitor’s Boy

Author: Andrew Clements

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Normally, Jack Rankin is something of a model kid–polite, hard-working, good grades. Life isn’t exactly normal right now, though. The entire middle school has been dumped in the ancient high-school building for the year until their new building is ready to use . . . the high-school building where Jack’s dad works as the janitor. Not a big deal, except let’s be honest, when the other kids find out, it’s totally a big deal. Let the teasing begin. And wondering why his dad so desperately wants to ruin his life, Jack begins to get angry. That’s when he comes up with the perfect revenge.

Although I’ve been vaguely aware of Andrew Clements’ writings for some time, this is the first time I’ve actually read one of his books, and I must say, I’m impressed. This middle-grade/coming-of-age story is warm, humorous, accessible, and engaging. Moreover, it delves deep into the complexities of the parent-child relationship at a challenging age and stage of life, opening some interesting discussions on the topic from both the child’s and the parent’s point of view. I love, love, love that the story actually carries Jack through the transformation of perspective from seeing his dad as someone who provides for him and tells him what to do to seeing his dad as an actual whole person with his own problems and stories and personality. It’s something I’ve experienced personally, but I’ve never seen a book actually develop this phenomenon before. I think this is what truly raises the bar in this book, transforming it from an amusing middle-grade story to a beautiful, moving coming-of-age story. I also really enjoyed how much individual personality each of the characters had and the way in which that personality affected the flow of the plot. In short, The Janitor’s Boy was an impressive surprise for me, and I would highly recommend this book.

 

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Catch Me Now (Supernatural Fanfic)

Author: BatTitan

FanFiction ID: 8980147

Status: Complete (35 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

With one misstep, Ariel finds herself falling, not down the stairs at her school as she thought, but right out of her safe college life and into an airplane . . . right next to the Winchesters! Of course, she knows they’re the Winchesters (and not Jared and Jensen); she’s enough of a fan of Supernatural to know that. Also, enough of a fan–and in enough shock at being dragged from her own universe into theirs–to attract their attention. Not necessarily the best of things when they’ve just been dumped on the same plane themselves and are still reeling from the madness of it all. Things get sorted eventually,  and Sam and Dean decide to keep Air (as she prefers to be called) around since she must have been dragged into their world for a reason–possibly something to do with the impending Apocalypse ? Ariel becomes almost a part of the extended Winchester family, offering her opinions readily, helping where possible, and trying not to be too obvious of a Destiel fangirl whenever Dean and Cas are around each other. And then there are the dreams she begins having. . . .

So, the premise of Catch Me Now may be the sort that is both overdone and consistently messed up . . . but in this story, it works and does so brilliantly. A lot of that is due to the author’s obvious talent in spinning a quality tale; the writing itself is excellent. Equally impressive was the character of Ariel and the way her story was woven into the plot of Supernatural so seamlessly. Because this fanfic is essentially season 5, and other than the character insert, it pretty much sticks to canon (even when I really wish it wouldn’t!). Ariel is a really well-written OC, and I truly appreciate the work the author took to create someone who would work in the context of the story and the already existing characters, adding flavor and character without completely altering the course of the story. I especially appreciated that she wasn’t 1) a completely flat self-insert sort of character, 2) overly stereotyped in some way as OCs often are, 3) an awkward love interest for Sam or Dean, or 4) somehow automatically a great fighter or otherwise equipped to be a huge help in the fight. She’s funny, quirky, opinionated, smart, geeky, and compassionate–which is just what is needed for these guys–but she’s also just a normal college girl. As for the plot, the first few chapters are basically just the associated episodes as seen through Air’s eyes, which is interesting enough as it is. But as the story develops, we get more of her own story, sometimes as a part of whatever is going on in a certain episode, sometimes elsewhere, doing her own thing (often with Gabriel–I adore the amount of Gabriel we get in this story, it’s brilliant). The author did make a couple choices here and there that threw me a bit–like changes the person in which the story is written partway through (for a really good reason) and sticking with the plot where I would have loved to see some divergence (see above)–but in all those instances, there were solid reasons behind those choices and I respect them. They certainly didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the story, and I would highly recommend Catch Me Now to anyone interested in a fun, engaging Supernatural fanfic.

Note: You can find this story at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8980147/1/Catch-Me-Now.

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