What I’ve read: Six of Crows

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a Young Adult fantasy novel set in a world where magic is the crux of conflict and gangs run the streets.

Brief Summary:

The Grisha are magic users and while they have their own separate powers, a new drug makes them more powerful than ever. A country who hates Grisha imprisons the creator of this drug in an impenetrable fortress. A merchant seeks out the most accomplished thief in his city – Kaz Brekker – to pull off the job of getting him out. Kaz forms a team of rejects to complete this job: an acrobat turned thief, a sharpshooter wisecracker, an explosives guy, a Grisha and a former prisoner who knows the fortress intimately. Twists and double-crosses occur, because obviously, and the crew get into the fortress only to realize the creator was already dead, but his son lives and he can recreate the formula for the drug. And they get out, live happily ever after…not exactly, leaving with a cliffhanger for the next book.

What works:

The world of this story is awesome. From Ketterdam & the Barrel to Fjerda, the lands are excellently description and real. Ms. Bardugo goes to great lengths making these lands feel lived in and would sport these types of characters. Also the fact that Fjerda and the Grisha are bitter rivals is a great story in itself.

The one thing that sets this apart for me is the multiple view points. I am fairly new to the YA scene, but most of the YA I have read seems to only have one, maybe two, points of view. I love the sprawling epics with many POVs, so this book feels at home for me. There are five main POVs here out of the six crew members and I can say each is different from the next. Kaz is his own man, Inej has her own demons, Nina & Matthias complement/contradict each other perfectly and Jesper is a fun character in his own right.

On top of that, I love how using these characters make the pace of the book much smoother. In most adult fantasy with many POV, the plots of those characters are not always together, so we are going to many different locations when changing POV. Not with Six of Crows. There is only one single plot here and each character plays a part in the heist. I love it! You get to see things happen in almost real time, from each character. Reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven in a way.

While the heist is cool, (and a bit easy, but that is YA so it’s fine with me) the true perfection of this book is the characters of Nina and Matthias. The doomed tragic lovers scenario. (or are they?) I loved their backstory and I loved how they both hated/needed one another. But it was great tension because you never really knew if they would turn on each other or listen to their heart. I thought they were spectacularly written and developed.

A cool technique I liked here was that we got to see flashbacks of these characters in the course of the story, showing who they were and how they got there. But it wasn’t distracting at all. I thought Ms. Bardugo did an excellent job of making it fall within the confines of the plot without slowing down the pace.

What didn’t work:

In my opinion there aren’t any glaring issues. I really loved this book. However, and this is purely my own preferences here, but two things stuck out to me.

  1. Though I know this is YA, there were quite a few scenes of adult behavior, which I loved. That said, some things just felt off to me, especially when characters said they wanted waffles or an omelet. Or that they wanted to drink a cup of coffee. I wish Ms. Bardugo would have just stuck with a bit more adult here instead.
  2. ┬áKaz Brekker’s back story and subsequent love interest. I loved the other character’s backstories, but I felt it would have served the story better without showing Kaz’s. Kaz is defined by his history, but doesn’t show it to anyone in the Barrel, which is why he is such a badass. I wish I didn’t know why he became the Bastard of the Barrel. I would have liked the secrecy. Also, I know that YA stories tend to have love interests, and this story had Nina/Matthias, it didn’t need to add Kaz into the mix. While I get it, I didn’t need it.

Rating:

5 out of 5

This book was awesome. It read great, fast and always moving. There were no sections where it dragged on and there really wasn’t much filler. The world was well managed and the characters are great, each of them important players in the story, bringing depth.

What I’ve Read: The Lies of Locke Lamora

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The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Book one of the Gentlemen Bastards

Brief Summary:

In a scummy world of thieves and gangs, Locke Lamora is the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards. The Gentlemen Bastards are thieves of the top order, truly only stealing a huge amount of money but not really spending it. They excel at disguises and deep plots, with Locke coming up with most of them. When the big bad gang leader of the gangs is threatened by an anonymous murderer, Locke’s latest scheme is put on hold. With dozens of double-crosses and deaths, Locke and his crew must fight for their lives without getting caught. People die, a cool magic system comes in, a very complex scheme is shown and potentially thwarted and eventually the Gentlemen Bastards are ousted as thieves. But not before the murderer is finally taken down.

What works:

The thing I can say I like most about this novel by debut author Scott Lynch is the characters themselves. Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards are great for different reasons. While Locke has the charm and gift of gab, he is more than that. Jean is the muscle, but his sincere friendship is a nice change of pace. The Sanza brothers are hilarious with their banter and Bug is a fun character as well. Then throw in the other side characters, this world is rich with different forms of people. Especially the Barangias sisters.

I also really like the structure of the novel. Each chapter is broken down into sub-chapters which is cool. There is an overarching theme for each chapter, but then there might be four, five, or six sub-chapters getting there. I liked that. The other fun part of this story is the Interludes. These interludes are still chapters but are flashback scenes of when the young Locke joins the Gentlemen Bastards and how the training went. It is a cool system to change up the story a bit.

At first I disliked it, but then after reading the whole story, I realized I liked the fact that Mr. Lynch killed off people he put so much information into building. Without spoiling it, Mr. Lynch goes into great detail about certain characters and then just brutally killed some of them, most off-screen with little fan-fare. When it first happened, I was surprised, but then after some thought, I loved it. This world is brutal and people wouldn’t live that long in it without the potential for getting offed.

Another thing I liked about this world was the context used to build it. When I say this, I mean the culture used. Most fantasy writers tend to use a simple medieval terminology to describe things, but Mr. Lynch decided to go with a more Spanish theme. For example, instead of baron or baroness, he used the terms Don and Dona. I thought that was awesome. Even the names were very Spanish or even Italian styled. It was a cool change of pace.

What doesn’t work:

While I really loved how much depth Mr. Lynch went into to show how awesome at fooling people the Gentlemen Bastards were, the first 200 pages were hard for me to get through without getting a bit bored. Yes the Interludes and the banter of the gang were great, but the actual plot of the whole book doesn’t really pick up until the murderer character is discussed around page 200ish. While important to have, I thought it could have been trimmed down a bit.

Even though I loved the Interludes, there were some that I felt weren’t necessary. They were mostly history lessons of the city itself and not about Locke and his gang. These were short, usually no more than a couple pages, but I skimmed most of them anyway. I also wish there was an Interlude of how the first leader of the gang died (I assume of old age since he was old at the start of the book, but it still would have been nice to see)

The climax was a bit of a let down. Sure what happened to Locke and Jean was awesome, especially how they got there, but the total climax felt too easy for such a complex plot to get to. I also didn’t like the addition of the Spider character coming in. Not a fan of that one.

Speaking of characters, the point of view in the chapters were sometimes confusing. I don’t like it when more than one character is given a point of view in the space of a paragraph. I prefer to have one set POV for the entire chapter or sub-chapter. Just a personal preference.

Rating:

4 out of 5

This book was really good. I truly enjoyed it, but it did start off slow for me. The Gentlemen Bastards were a great cast of characters to follow and I can see why everyone loves this book. Quite an enjoyable read.

What I’ve Watched: Ghost in the Shell

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Ghost in the Shell (live action) came out in 2017 and just released on DVD/Blue-Ray.

Brief Summary:

For those not familiar with anime or anything that is awesome, then you probably don’t realize that this movie is based on a famous anime/manga series. In the near future, humans are routinely “upgraded” via cyber enhancements (arms, faces, bodies, mind, all that jazz). But the next step is creating a full-blown cyborg with a human mind. Enter Major. She is the first of her kind, and becomes a sort of badass counter-terrorism cop. Until she learns more and more about her past. And then all hell breaks loose because robots don’t know how to stop when on a warpath of human vengeance.

What works:

Boy howdy is this film gorgeous to look at! The story takes place in a metropolis and advertising has gone above and beyond our current means. Giant holograms show the newest products. It is simply beautiful to look at. This film really fills this world with gorgeous imagery that James Cameron would rival. This is really the star of the movie.

The theory of self is prevalent and I think it works. Contrary to many complaints this movie received prior to release (from Westernizing a classic Eastern series, whitewashing, etc.) I thought this movie maintained the base element of the GitS story. This is about a cyborg with a human brain, but no memory of her past. A good story begs the questions of why me? Who am I? And I think this movie did a good job showing this (though there could have been more additions to it to make it truly pop).

Scarlett Johansson was great. I don’t care about the whitewashing aspect (though I get it from some ends), she was the Major in my mind. Take out the fact she is white, and you have the perfect actress for this role. If you have seen the anime, then you know that Major is stoic, calm, kick-ass, holds-no bar and slightly humorous. This is what we have come to expect from ScarJo. I thought she perfectly captured the Major.

The rest of the cast was spot on. I loved the guy who played Batou and obviously the Chief was fantastic. Him even speaking Japanese was a good way of balancing this world. He was also a bad ass m’effer if you catch my meaning.

What doesn’t work:

While I loved the basic plot and all the action scenes, I felt like there were times the movie just plodded along. I think the director/writers wanted to walk the line between true cyberpunk and action that they should have just chosen one side. This is where the anime completely outshines the live-action movie. Pick one and go with it.

Along those same lines, I think the backstory was a bit meh. I think they should have weaved more in with the action and thus going with the more cyberpunk aspect of the two. Major is completely complex, as well as cybergentics in general that they didn’t do enough to highlight that.

Pre-conceived notions. What I mean is that this movie got so much criticism before it even got released. From the whitewashing conundrum to the fact this is based on a beloved anime/manga, too many people panned this movie. And I think that played a part in this movie not working. Sure the director, actors, anime creator all weighed in on it, but I think subconsciously that took away from what truly could have been amazing. Diehard fans will always bitch about the sanctity of their favorite works (myself included!) but I think the directors didn’t have the guts to use the source enough, thus going in a different direction which came out as an action movie with superhero-like tropes. It was always going to be tricky to appease the fans, but going for the masses was a misstep here and all the bad criticism before the movie even started filming had to have had some sway on the movie as a whole and I certainly felt it while watching it.

Rating:

3.5 out of 5

I truly enjoyed this movie. I really did. Though I wish it had the sense to go more closely to the source material because that is so rich in itself. The visuals are wow and I liked the actors chosen. Sure the dialogue was a bit blah, but all in all, I think this movie was good, not great, but good.

What I’ve watched: Penny Dreadful S1

celebrity-tv-1258280Penny Dreadful season 1 on Showtime via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

Take all your favorite movie monsters (Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, Wolf-Man, Dorian Gray) and put them into one TV show. Taking place in early 20th century London, an American sharpshooter is hired to help a British explorer and his creepy daughter-like companion in search of his missing daughter. Add Dr. Victor Frankenstein and some crazy shit happens: vampire hordes, Jack the Ripper style killings, Consumption sex scenes, and a Gothic possession.

What works:

Timothy Dalton. I mean come on, he is James Bond. Dude is a certified BAMF. And his character is awesome in this show. His suave calmness and lack of empathy is great. He is not your average hero.

Eva Green & Josh Harnett. I’ll admit, I don’t like either of them all that much elsewhere, but they are really freaking good in this show. Ms. Green as Ms. Ives going full possessed psycho was a thrill to watch. She had a way to fully confuse the viewer if she was herself or possessed, one just never knew. And then Mr. American Harnett was really good too. I liked his character arc and his final secret was done really well (though I knew it was a matter of time before they announced it!)

The eerie time period was a character unto itself. Who doesn’t love Gothic/Victorian style London? If you don’t we can’t be friends. The world felt so life-like that it amazed me. I’m also glad the producers didn’t try to sugarcoat anything. It was a brutal time and this show didn’t hold back.

The best episode by far was the flashback episode of TD and EG characters meeting. It was awesome that EG was writing to TD daughter aka Mina Harker. It evoked the true art that was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was written in letter format. I loved loved loved that episode.

Also of note was all the nods to the authors themselves. Like above and then many nods to Mary Shelley. Great!

What didn’t work:

Dorian Gray flat out was a let down. And that is down to the actor. I couldn’t stand the guy with all his stupid finger rings and weird emo-like hairstyle. I love the story of Dorian Gray and was interested when the introduced him. But that didn’t work for me.

The finding of Mina Harker (Timothy Dalton’s daughter). There was this whole build-up to finding her and then the finale episode was just a let down. I felt like they should have had 2 more episodes to build up to it. It just sort of fell flat.

Dr. Frankenstein’s constant cryface. Dude seriously had tears in his eyes almost every single scene he was in (when he wasn’t doing morphine). It really detracted from the storyline.

Rating:

3.5 out of 5

So many good things going for it only to be brought down by subpar characters and the finale. I will continue watching because they set up a really good cliffhanger, but I just hope there is more to it.

Writing Thoughts: On Creator’s Block…

So, where do I stand with my writing? That is a tricky question to say the least. And I’m not sure where I want to start (literally and figuratively)

I say this because my head is being torn in three (maybe even four places).

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After I went to the writer’s conference a few weeks ago, I was deadset on changing my passion project trilogy to Young Adult. Young Adult is hot right now and my writing of my main character tended to fit that mold well. So, I jumped in and edited it to YA. It wasn’t all that difficult to do.

However, that edit caused me grief. I had to cut points of view characters that I truly loved. The story was about one character with five other main POV in book one alone. I had to cut 3 of those POV and one of them hurt my soul. I have always loved dark, anti-heroes and this one character was a sick bastard that was fun to write, but he didn’t fit my new audience (he was super creepy and sick, so not so good for teenagers!)

But that also meant three other characters in later books that I loved, one of them being a totally not reliable sky pirate. This character was so ridiculous, vain and swear-happy that I was totally bummed to have to cut. Add in two others that were so different as well, and I had the makings of a separate work.

And throw in working with a critique partner on my just finished completely separate novel and the very early stages of plotting the next one.

And that is where I am in my scatterbrained world…

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I really don’t know which to focus on. Changing to YA isn’t going to take me that long, but it isn’t going to take all that much to tie together my cut characters into a new story, just a few changes and few chapters to tie it all up. But which to do first?

I have a couple of critique partners and one is super hyped about the sky pirate work, but she is also working on my YA story (while I work on hers) and I don’t want to overwhelm her.

I guess my problem is that I think both books would work well separately. The YA book is obviously toward YA audience and the sky pirate toward adult. But the YA is, like I said, my passion project for years. However, I think the sky pirate one will pick up easily enough since its arc is interesting and the main POV is so enjoyable. I also obviously want all my books to ultimately succeed, I just need to find a way to make them all soar.

Which is why my head is near exploding with how to organize it all, good thing I do project management professionally…

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S4

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Season 4 of The 100 on the CW via Netflix. Latest and most recent season.

Brief Summary:

Picking up immediately after ALLIE was destroyed, Clarke and her friends learn that a second nuclear wave is coming in 6 months. So the scope of the show finally slows in the world-building and reverts back into a smaller scope – how to survive the upcoming fire wave. With no Commander, Roan becomes king of the Grounder clans and with Clarke’s help, they begin to search for a way to save their people (once again). Raven deals with after effects of the AI chip, Jaha wants to redeem himself, Jasper accepts his fate, Bellamy hates himself, and Octavia tries to retreat to a less violent way. In the end, 1300 people can be saved in an underground bunker, some return to space, and Clarke is left on her own.

What Works:

The return to the smaller scope. I loved season 3’s expansion into Grounder lore, but I thought this season was great from the aspect that there was only one true foe, one that wasn’t a human. It gave the characters a common enemy to defeat.

With that said, the whole Grounder conclave was AMAZING. That was probably one of the greatest episodes of TV in some time. Violent, tense, gripping, jaw-dropping. Perfection. Sure the outcome was a bit predictable, but how it happened, didn’t see that coming at all.

Though I was so happy to finally see Jasper go, this season I softened on him from the last one. His death is coming, we should enjoy it attitude was brilliant. I liked how it came over other characters too. And his final goodbye to Monty was fitting.

Super Raven and the return to the Ark. Now that was an awesome thread. Pitting her against ALLIE and Sinclair as her Devil and Angel was pure awesomeness. And throw in her ever perfect love/hate relationship with Murphy, I couldn’t get enough of those scenes. Plus the full circle of characters back in space.

Which leads to the 6 year time jump! Wow, what balls by this show. In the grand scheme of things, the first 4 seasons took place within a 6 month time frame, so to skip 6 years was gutsy. But it sets up the next season by creating factions/groups. I loved it. I can’t wait to see how Octavia did with all the Grounders/Ark people in the bunker. How the 7 back in the Ark. And who the F*ck was in that spaceship???

One thing this season did a great job with was giving nearly all the main characters some sort of redemption thread. Clarke with her stopping ALLIE & starting the reaction saved her friends and then we see her with a child 6 yrs later, Bellamy and Echo, Murphy and Raven, Monty and Jasper, Abby and Kane, Jaha and everyone. All of this against the backdrop of certain doom.

What Doesn’t Work:

While I loved the idea of the second bunker, it almost felt too easy to me. Also, why couldn’t people stay at the bunker where ALLIE’s lab was???

Only other complaint was that the finale episode only focused on Clarke’s group, very little in terms of the bunker. I wanted to see what happened with Kane and the others a bit more.

Rating:

5 out of 5

This season was just exquiste, there is nothing about this season that could be seen as anything other than awesome. The 100 really took strides forward and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S3

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Season 3 of The 100 from the CW via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

With the destruction of Mount Weather’s people, the Grounders are allies with the people of the Ark. Clarke is missing, left on her own accord due to her struggle with her decisions. Jasper is a drunk, Bellamy is a leader in his own right, Raven is dealing with her injury, Octavia becoming more a Grounder each day and Monty is being Monty. The peace is hinging on Clarke being found. She is taken to the Grounder leader, Lexa, and forms the peace treaty (while falling in love with Lexa). Also, more Ark survivors are found, causing friction in the camp. Finally an AI plot. Lots going on.

What Works:

Though incredibly frustrating, the introduction of Pike is great for the story as a whole. His whole us vs them ideals are truly indicative of what the world has become. I dig it.

Clarke becomes better in this season, but only because of her plot with Lexa. Clarke, though a great main character, needed something like the Lexa storyline to give her that added oomph. She was fading in season 2 for me and this season she grew on me.

Kane continues to be such a badass character. He wants nothing but peace and will go to any length to get it, a total far-cry from season 1. His character is inspiring.

The AI plot was great. I loved how the City of Light would erase problems, but there were also limits. I thought it was great that the chip had to be taken voluntarily, but then the AI was willing to bend the rules to chip everyone. It was very tense when you didn’t know who was chipped or not.

The continued growth of this world is great. With the expansion of the Grounder faction, the mythos is larger and a deeper well to draw from. I loved the back-stabbing from the Grounder clans, especially the Ice Nation. And that battle with Lexa and Roan, damn. If you couldn’t tell I love Lexa.

Which leads me into this next point. Lexa’s death. I know this is spoilery, but it has to be said. With Lexa and Clarke’s love arc, it was the first true LGBTQ main character on a TV show. Lexa built up Clarke and vice-versa. Lexa was such a great character that her death sparked outrage (mainly due to how she was killed – a stray bullet and the classic “kill all your gays trope”). I get the backlash, her death should have been handled better, but her death was necessary for the character growth in Clarke. I found in incredibly important for the sake of the story for Lexa to die. It really drove home the hero storyline for Clarke – every hero needs a tragedy to overcome. This was that, but I wish it could have lasted longer…

What Doesn’t Work:

…Lexa’s death part two. Her death signaled the shift in plots of this season. The first half was all about Pike & Kane’s differing views on joining the Grounders. There was so much tension and story that could have been mined here. But instead, the show focused on the AI plot for the second half. While that plot worked also, I think the show would have been better served making this two separate season arcs. There was so much that could have been added to strengthen both…

Jaha again. God I hated him, but that was because of how frustrating he was. Though I loved the AI plot, Jaha was so boring and dull for me. I think it would have been stronger if this was another character (see my post about S2).

Bellamy’s decisions. For me, I don’t think Bellamy would have joined with Pike so easily. Yes, Bellamy has his flaws, but this blind devotion seemed forced for me.

Oh my God if I hear another “my people” quote on this show, I’m going to scream! The theme of this season was doing what was right for their people, but good gravy it was beaten in with a hammer. Like every single sentence. DOING THIS FOR MY PEOPLE….ugh. Though it does make for a good drinking game.

The small break with Mount Weather & Jasper. I combine them because they were both useless and unnecessary. Jasper should have killed himself in season 2 (as he was supposed to, but the writers changed their minds last minute) and Emerson coming back didn’t work.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

Season 3 was by far its best and most ambitious, but I can’t give a perfect score due to the fact it should have been two separate seasons. Both plots were awesome, but smashing them together was not the right choice, but who am I to say what is good TV.