Monthly Archives: October 2013

Review: Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Save Yourself

There must be something in the water that Stephen King’s family is drinking.

King is currently in a bit of a second renaissance, producing some of the best work of his career. Then there’s his son, Joe Hill, who with Horns and NOS4A2 has rocketed onto my authors to watch list and earned the same distinction has his famous father of “I will read everything he writes.”

Add to the list of talented authors in the King family tree, his daughter-in-law Kelly Braffet. Her latest novel Save Yourself wasn’t just one of the best novels I’ve read all year. It was one of those books that is so good, so absorbing and so utterly readable that it set unrealistic expectations for the next book or two I read to try and equal or top.

Save Yourself is kind of like watching a season of Breaking Bad on DVD or streaming. You keep telling yourself you’ll just do one more chapter or episode, only to find yourself still going hours later, even though you’ve got other pressing things that need to be done like eat, sleep or continue to be gainfully employed.

Yes, Save Yourself is just that good.

And yet, it’s not a story that you’ll necessarily feel better about yourself or humanity as a whole after you’re done reading. Packed with anti-heroes, the novel follows several threads all through to their inevitable and violent conclusion. Patrick Cusimano is facing some demons including a drinking habit, a dead-end job and the fact that he’s in love with his brother’s live in girlfriend. It doesn’t help that Patrick and the girlfriend have slept together and that neither of them can stop thinking about their (what should have been) one time indiscretion.

Patrick’s dead end job at the local convenience store brings him into contact with Layla, a goth wannabe who is rebelling against her ultra-Christian parents. Layla and her sister, Verna, are used by her father in promotional material for his family ministry. Verna is bullied at school while Layla has turned to rebelling through her clothes and lifestyle against her parents. That includes hooking up with several older guys, including Patrick.

Braffet ably and compellingly weaves together her plot threads and builds each character up as the novel winds its way to its inevitable and devastating conclusion. As I said before, this novel is next to impossible to put down, despite the fact that there are few redeeming qualities to any of the characters Braffet has created.

Simply put, this is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long, long time. Pick it up, read the first two chapter and then just try to put it down. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to.

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD — Girl With The Flower Dress

girlinflowerdressAfter a couple of weeks of finding its stride, SHIELD takes a minor step back with the latest installment, “Girl in the Flower Dress.”

It’s not a major stumble, but I couldn’t help feeling like this one should have been better than the sum of its parts.

First of all, let’s get out of the way that I’m glad that Skye’s agenda is fully out there on the table now and we don’t have to keep playing the “is she or isn’t she a double agent” game anymore.   Of course, finding out that Skye’s main interest in serving is to have access to the databases from inside to find out what happened to her parents isn’t exactly the most groundbreaking or interesting twist that the show could have done.  But it could have a greater impact on the overall global mythology that the show is going for.  Or it could lead to a point where Skye actually begins to develop powers of her own, leading to a conflict on if she should hide them and if and how SHIELD might react to having a person with certain abilities on the team.

The plot line also benefitted from the fact that it gave Coulson (in the form of Clark Gregg) a lot of angst and scenery to chew on.  The scene with Coulson ripping into Skye because of her betrayal of his trust and telling her that she had one chance to tell him the truth was superbly done.  And in a lot of ways, it really overshadowed my interest and investment in the power of the week plotline with Scorch.

Ah, Scorch.

Terrible name, potentially interesting plot.   I have a feeling we’ll look back on Sorch as a stepping stone toward something larger when the entire first season arc comes into focus.  At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.   Part of my lack of interest here was that I wasn’t really all that interested or invested in Scorch himself.   I realize that we can’t build up every person who is developing an ability in great detail each week, but I found the naive nature of Scorch and his desire to be famous a bit dull and tedious.   Seeing how Raina took advantage of this desire and his vulnerability worked well and I think that plotline has potential to develop into something greater.  But overall, Scorch seemed to hit some fairly obvious and easy to see coming notes.

With the exception of how far Mae and Coulson were willing to go to contain him.  That’s interesting.  It also brings into question a few issues related to SHIELD and raised a bit by the Skye and her hacker boyfriend plotline.   For example, just how far-reaching is SHIELD’s sight and power and could that be abused or overextended?   Could the agency that is starting with good intentions actually become a bit corrupted by its own power or sense of self-righteousness?  And while we are inclined to see Centipede as an opposing force and philosophy to SHIELD, could it be that it and its followers have a point that perhaps SHIELD is too powerful?  Or could become too powerful.

With Whedon behind this show, I’m hoping that some of these issues will be explored in the season to come and seasons to come, should SHIELD stick around long term.

Of course, in order to do that, there are some issues that need to  be cleared up.  After last week’s episode showed the team becoming a competent, professional group of spies, this week’s installment took a major step backward.    I’m referring to the surveillance of  Skye’s hacker boyfriend and how easily Ward is made by said hacker.   Did he miss that day of basic undercover training?   And how could they lose track of not only hacker man but also Skye as well.  Or was May lurking outside the door while Skye and hacker man were having their hook-up?

I wonder if the data that hacker boy stole and set free will continue to haunt the team as the season continues.  Could it now be a race for the team to try and get to certain people developing powers before Raina and Centipede do?  If so, that could have some interesting potential for future development.

 

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD — Eye Spy

eye_spyAnother week, another step forward for Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.

Of course, it helps to have Whedon-verse alum Jeffrey Bell penning the script for what I think is the strongest outing the series has had so far and even more indications that the series looks ready to find its stride.

“Eye Spy” expands the universe of SHIELD just a bit, giving us hints about Coulson’s history as well as a few glimpses into his character and it also introduces the idea that there is a rival organization out there that may have a step or two up on SHIELD in certain areas (for example, the technology used to spy on Akela).    Consider me intrigued enough by these developments to be fully on-board for the rest of the season, though I do think that the series needs to start giving some substantial hints or answers to what happened to Coulson sooner rather than later. *

* Part of this is selfishly motivated since every time someone brings up something about Coulson’s past, my wife turns to me and goes, “What happened to him again?  Have they told us how he came back from the dead?”

Bell’s script is one that does well from mis-direction.   The previews last week (admit it, you watch them as well) gave us several scenes of the men in masks with briefcases handcuffed to them.   From that, it would be easy to assume that this is the new threat facing SHIELD this week but instead Bell turns the story on its head by making the men in masks the good guys and the targets of the rival organization for SHIELD.    This team is using a former operative under Coulson’s command, Akela.  Has she gone rogue or is there something else at work?

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Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)

When I heard that Stephen King was writing a sequel to what I consider one of his best novels The Shining, I was both eager and hesitant to pick it up. Part of me was eager to see where King would take the characters from the world of the Overlook Hotel in the sequel and hesitant because of the track record of other authors with “long awaited” sequels.

The good news is that Doctor Sleep is a worthy and successful sequel to The Shining on just about every level. And I think it’s a good thing that King wrote it thirty or so years after the original hit our shelves.

Picking up right where The Shining left off, Doctor Sleep chronicles Dan’s attempts to not become his father’s son. Dan reaches rock bottom when he steals the last $70 from his single-mother, one-night-stand’s purse, after blowing his entire paycheck on drugs and booze the night before. The incident haunts Dan throughout the novel and serves as a motivation to change and help others. He does this working in hospices, using his power to see dying people through their final moments of life and when he becomes aware of another young person who shares his unique ability.

That is Abra, a young girl who may be even stronger in her power than Danny was and is. Her abilities confound her parents as well as making her a bit of an outcast. In addition, it brings her onto the radar of a nomadic group of people who feed on “the steam” of young people with psychic abilities. To the group, Abra is like a buffet of extended-life and health-benefits for them and they’re eager to find her to not only feed now, but to stock up for a long time to come.

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Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl

After their mother left, twin sisters Cath and Wren lost themselves in the fantasy world of Simon Snow. That included devouring the books and creating their own fan-fic based set within the world of Simon.

Now that two are headed off to the same college and Cath is having a difficult time adjusting to the changes in her life. Wren wants to live with someone else and Cath, who is a bit shy and socially awkward, can’t quite work up the gumption to go to the cafeteria to eat her meals. Instead, she’s content to sit in her dorm room and continue work on her fan-fic masterpiece.

Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is an unlikely coming of age story that rings absolutely, authentically true on page after page. Rowell ably handles a potential love triangle for Cath with deft ease and avoids many of the cliches associated with that genre. The story is populated with a variety of authentic, likeable characters for Cath to interact with, including her roommate. Rowell also doesn’t infodump Cath and Wren’s backstory and their complicated relationship with their mother and father, but instead gives us glimpses into it as strategic points.

What it all adds up to is one of the more delightful, entertaining and moving novels I’ve read this year. Sure, this novel is probably going to get shelved in the young adult section of your bookstore or library, but I encourage you to not let that keep you from reading it. The story of Cath’s struggles is one that can and will appeal to many, regardless of your age.

One of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD — The Asset

asset18All great TV shows have that one episode where after luring me in with some bait, they set the hook.   One of the easiest to recall in recent memory is Lost with the first Locke-centric episode that featured the big reveal that before the castaways crash landed on Island Hell, that Locke was confined to a wheelchair.  Or in the case of Battlestar Galactica, it was “32,” the first regular episode after the mini-series.

With Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, I feel like the writing staff has done a decent job of baiting the hook, but I’m still waiting for it to  be set and to reel me in.

If this week’s episode was any indication, I feel like the writing team is tugging on the line a bit and getting ready to possibly give us that one episode that completely blows us away and leaves us all hooked.*

* To go back to another Whedon show, it took them six or so (broadcast) episodes to get there with Firefly and the episode in question was “Out of Gas.”  

After last week’s installment felt a bit like a re-hash of the pilot and a bit too rushed to try and build the group of people into the team that Colson wants them to be, “The Asset” felt more like a story designed to begin bringing a bit of depth to some of these characters.   I don’t necessarily think the show is helped by the reliance on the procedural format it’s adopted because it requires giving over a certain amount of time to build up the threat of the week and attempt to have us care about that situation and/or the people involved.   But there were certainly enough character moments from the main cast to keep me interested, even when my connection to the “crisis of the week” plotline wasn’t necessarily always at it’s highest level.

That said, I think the show has definitely set the hook for some of the characters from this installment to return at a future point and time.  And if so, these are some adversaries who would have a legitimate reason to be very unhappy with certain members of our SHIELD team (namely, Coulson).

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TV Round-Up: SHIELD, The Blacklist

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD – “0-8-4”

shield2After just two weeks, it’s a bit concerning that the most interesting aspects of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD have been the two cameos by characters from the Marvel movie universe.   I was far more intrigued to see Samuel L. Jackson’s cameo as Nick Fury in the waning moment of “0-8-4” than I was much of the hour that led up to it.

Part of that is that I don’t have any kind of investment in the main characters just yet – and the show hasn’t really made any steps to make me want to invest in the characters.  Last week was about assembling the team together and this week is all about showing this group of people they can be more than the sum of their parts.  Which should work as a character arc if I were a bit more invested in these characters.

I am intrigued by Fitz and Simmons and I already like Coulson.  The rest of the team has yet to develop into something more, despite the show’s attempt at a twist with Skye apparently working for the bad guys.   Yeah, like no one is going to notice her secretly texting in the background and maybe not wonder what’s up.   I hope that this is kind of plan that Coulson has to flush out the bad guys and won’t just be another attempt at a mole who eventually sees the error of her ways and becomes a part of the team.

I am still on with the show, but I honestly found myself wondering if it wasn’t a show by Whedon if I’d be less intrigued than I am.   Not every episode can be a home run, but I’m still waiting for one that hooks me into the show like I want to be.

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