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Review: Flunked by Jen Calonita

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Jen Calonita

Genre: MG Fairy TaleFantasy
Hardback: 256 Pages
Publication: March 3, 2015
by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Would you send a villain to do a hero's job? An exciting new twisted fairy tale series from award-winning author Jen Calonita.

Full of regret, Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.

Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she's not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there's more to this school than its sweet mission. There's a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villain really change?


FLUNKED is a charming revisit to the world of fairy-tale princesses and their villains.

This is a novel that you have to be in the right mood to read. Just from looking at the cover, you can tell that this is going to be a light-hearted, whimsical read. Not to mention the fact that villains from popular fairy tales have supposedly gone good. (Truth or fiction?) I believe that many who read this will be charmed by Gilly and how she makes a place for herself in this world. For me, however, the characters fell flat and weren't all that well developed, and the plot was rather simple. I felt like I was strung along for the ride as Gilly hopped from class to class and checked out all that FTRS had to offer. Not to mention that she just so happens to spot the headmistress walking into the forbidden forrest (because all fairy-tale like schools need one) and decides to investigate.

It was all a bit too cliched and stereotypical and flat for me. If I was in a different mood, maybe I would have enjoyed it more.

A copy was provided by Sourcebooks for review

Rating: 2 stars

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Review: Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Some of the Parts
Hannah Barnaby

Genre: YA ContemporaryOrgan Donor
Hardback: 304 Pages
Publication: February 16, 2016
by Knopf BFYR

Sometimes bad things happen, and we are not the same when they are over.

For months, Tallie McGovern has been coping with the death of her older brother the only way she knows how: by smiling bravely and pretending that she's okay. She’s managed to fool her friends, her parents, and her teachers so far, yet she can’t even say his name out loud: “N—” is as far as she can go. But when Tallie comes across a letter in the mail, it only takes two words to crack the careful façade she’s built around herself:


Two words that had apparently been checked off on her brother’s driver’s license; two words that her parents knew about—and never confided to her. All at once, everything Tallie thought she understood about her brother’s death feels like a lie. And although a part of her knows he’s gone forever, another part of her wonders if finding the letter might be a sign. That if she can just track down the people on the other end of those two words, it might somehow bring him back.


Some of the Parts deals with a heavy topic: death of a family member gone too soon. I think that part of what draws me to this genre is the fear of losing a loved one.

I haven't had to go through the grief of losing a family member so close to me, so I can't begin to fathom the mix of feelings one goes through. I don't want to imagine how it would feel to lose one of my immediate family members. I think that is part of my fascination with books like this. They give my insight into the emotions and struggles that one goes through upon losing a family member. They give me a safe place to explore loss of a loved one.

The beginning really pulled me in. It's very emotionally driven, especially given the guilt that Tallie feels over the death of her brother. Of course, we don't find out the details until later. All I'm going to say is that her feeling is certainly understandable. I just wish that her brother received more than the meager characterization he did. Tallie seems to deeply admire her brother and think the best of him, which is weird to me. I have a brother, and I certainly don't think he's all that (though I do love him). As all we have to go on is Tallie's claims, I don't see any evidence that her brother was who she claims he was. I would have liked to see more flashbacks—or at least reminiscing on Tallie's part.

Outside of Tallie's brother, the character development wasn't done well. I really wanted to connect with Tallie; after the initial pages, however, it was very very hard to do just that. Tallie's later actions make no sense to me at all. While her actions are understandable given that she seems to lose control of her sanity, I don't know where or why she's losing her grip on reality. In the end, I lost connection with her. I'm also bothered by the fact that there is no real romantic development. This guy just seems to fall in love with her out of nowhere. Not to mention the development with the friend who just drops out of the picture after her startling confession. Or the fact that it turns out that her brother also had a broken relationship (and that his girlfriend and "best bud" turned out to be the people that they were).

What drew me to this story in the first place was the family aspect what with Tallie searching for a connection to her brother after his death. Tallie's actions, however, serve to alienate her from her living relatives (her parents), from real connections to the people who love her (like her friends, though I'm still wondering what exactly was her relationship to her one kind of friend), and from moving forward. This is a novel about losing oneself in an obsessive desire to pick up the pieces after losing a loved one, and most of the healing will come after the last words of this novel.

All in all, I'm happy that more recognition is being given to organ donation, something that can really save lives. I just couldn't connect with the characters and their story, though Some of the Parts is definitely one to provoke discussion given the open-ish ending.

In the box below are links to my reviews of some novels on loss of family that I enjoyed much more.

A copy was provided by Random House for review

Rating: 2 stars

Movie Monday: Risen

Monday, February 15, 2016


Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Genre: historical, mystery
Running time: 107 minutes
Released: 2016
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Risen follows the epic Biblical story of the Resurrection as told through the eyes of a non-believer. Clavius, a powerful Roman Military Tribune, and his aide Lucius, are tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem.

Risen is a powerfully moving story about what the disciples' journey would have looked like through the eyes of a Roman centaurion (and non-believer) following the resurrection of Jesus.

The film opens with Clavius leading Roman soldiers against rebel forces, Jews who profess one true God. This scene is significant for two reasons. It clearly portrays Clavius as a nonbeliever and warrior (one guess as to which Greek God he worships). It also gives insight into some of the Roman fighting tactics. I enjoyed seeing the measures that Clavius took to fight against a force that had taken the higher ground. Later in the film, we also learn some of the finer details of how crucifixion works.

Following his return from battle, Clavius learns about Jesus from Pilate. As Pilate's right-hand man, Clavius goes to ensure the death of Jesus, seal the body, and track down Jesus when the body goes missing (with the primary suspects being the disciples who gain to benefit all with Jesus's resurrection). As he tracks down the disciples, Clavius finds his life getting more deeply entangled with those of Jesus and the disciples and more estranged from his Roman counterparts. In fact, after he makes a life changing decision to abandon his former life, Pilate orders Clavius's successor (Lucius) to track him down. I wasn't quite sure what to make of Pilate being made into an antagonistic figure, but one of my roommates said that Pilate's actions make sense. Given his position, Pilate's first concern would have been the order of the state, which is what we see in the film. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

There are a couple of scenes in particular that I found compelling. First is the scene where Clavius tells Lucius, "There are no enemies here" just as Jesus told Clavius when he stumbles upon the disbelieving Thomas scene. This is especially powerful in that it shows the change that has been worked in Clavius's heart. He is still on a journey in search of answers, but he is beginning to view himself as a friend to the disciples. Second is when Peter tells Clavius that he had it easy; it'll be harder for those who haven't seen Jesus themselves to believe. This speaks indirectly to our current society as we have the challenge of believing without having seen Jesus.

Overall, Risen has found a good balance between the historical drama and faith portions. I enjoyed watching this film immensely and highly recommend it, especially to those who enjoy historical films and those who enjoy faith films.

Thoughts? Is this a film that you would go out to see?

Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Friday, February 12, 2016

What We Saw
Aaron Hartzler

Genre: YA Contemporary
Hardback: 336 Pages
Publication: September 22, 2015
by Harper Teen

The party last Saturday night is a bit of a blur.

Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details, and begins to ask questions.

What really happened at the party after she left?

Who was still there?

What did they see?

When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question:

Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?


What We Saw is a powerful story and one that needs telling. It portrays student life in all its gritty details from the slander and gossip to the language to their addiction to social media and their phones. And how cruel and prejudiced people of any age can be. I'm going to be honest. After the first several chapters, I ended up skimming through many school scenes. The students' lack of compassion for Stacey and their constant victim blaming left a bad taste in my mouth. Hartzler does not slack on the gory details of teen life.

I appreciate Kate's determination to get to the bottom of everything and not to blindly accept what everyone else takes for fact. She's a strong-willed character if a bit blinded by love. I didn't like Ben's character as much. Whereas Kate is drawn to find the truth, Ben wants to leave everything as it is. He takes active steps to maintain the status quo—such as deleting photos he posted online of the drinks at the party to protect his friend—and he doesn't share Kate's desire to help Stacey out. The only things he cares about are Kate and getting out. It's like he's running away from his mom and his origins. I do not care for Ben's attitude towards his mom and how he treats her. The end only increased my distaste for Ben.

One aspect that I appreciate about What We Saw is how it examines why people victim blame. For example, Kate comes to the realization that, if the girls don't blame Stacey, then they have to accept that what happened to Stacey could happen to themselves as well, for they too were at the party. As Kate realizes, she was as wasted as Stacey was. They could have easily traded roles had Ben not driven her home that night. What I wish we saw more of is an exploration of why some people chose to remain silent, why others laughed when they saw the rape taking place in real time, and why they acted the way they did after it all went down. Perhaps some of them are shallow through and through, but if we can learn why people do what they do perhaps we can take action to prevent future Staceys. Ben himself tells Kate that he doesn't want to get involved because it might influence his chances of getting a scholarship and thus a ticket out of town.

Again, I mostly skimmed this novel, so I can't say for certain, but I didn't see much character growth or development. Ben was pretty flat, and no one character showed up enough for me to see much in the way of character dynamics. One example that really sticks to mind is Will, Kate's brother. We see him about to rank a girl on her Facebook photo while laughing with a friend on video chat. Kate yells at him and tells him to delete any ranks he's posted online or she'll tell dad, then she storms out of the room. We never really see anything about this incident afterwards, so I don't know if Will is apologetic and has learned a lesson, if he deleted his rankings because of Kate's threat, or if he never does anything. I wish there was more followup on his growth. For that matter, there is so much focus on getting at the truth that we don't see much of Kate's growth either than some realizations she makes along the way (such as the ones I mentioned earlier).

What I really like about this novel is the difficult moral choices that Kate has to make. For example: what to do when someone you really care about and who isn't a clean-cut villain is involved in something you know is wrong? Do you speak up and name his or her part in the crime (in this case, Stacey's rape), or do you keep quiet to protect the one you care about? There can be no clean ending when presented with these questions. While the end wrapped up rather quickly and we don't see any real growth from the person involved, I like the maturity that Kate shows when faced with this difficult decision, and I love how her family supports her decision and is there for her.

I recommend this novel to readers looking for a novel that portrays the gritty side of high school life, rape cases, and victim blaming.

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 3 stars

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Review: The Heir by Kiera Cass

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Heir
Kiera Cass

Genre: YA alternate historydystopian
Hardback: 346 Pages
Publication: May 5, 2015
by Harper Teen

Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won the heart of Prince Maxon—and they lived happily ever after. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she'd put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess's life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can't escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Eadlyn doesn't expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn's heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her . . . and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn't as impossible as she's always thought.


The Selection books are definitely a hit or a miss for people. It's certainly one that I had to be in the mood to read; otherwise, I would have dnfed it within the first pages.

I can definitely see where readers have had a problem with Eadlyn's attitude. There's a lot of negativity surrounding her with her insecurities. She doesn't want to be queen, she doesn't want to go through a Selection, she doesn't want to show her vulnerabilities to anyone, she doesn't want. . . a lot of things, and unfortunately she focuses so much on what she has to lose that she doesn't think as much about what she has to gain. Having gone through the Selection with America, we know what is lying in wait for Eadlyn, and it is so hard for us to watch her damage so many potential relationships. She's also pretty bratty. She makes offensive remarks, doesn't look past the surface level of people (she doesn't know a lot of things about people who she's known for pretty much as long as she's been alive), and it takes her a while to even try to get to know some of the Selected.

It's all too easy to focus on Eadlyn's bad attitude, her lack of appreciation for what she has in her life, and her poor treatment of the Selected boys. What's harder to narrow in on is the reason for Eadlyn's behavior. Once we get to the heart of it, I think Eadlyn is a lot easier to relate to—though I'm by no means trying to justify her actions. And I think a lot of us can relate to the fear of falling in love and the fear of losing our loved ones.

What I find most compelling about this novel is how Kiera Cass gives us a heroine that rejects the possibility of love because of her fear of baring her heart to someone else. As much as I want to judge Eadlyn for the hurt she causes when she rejects peoples' attempts to get to know the real her, I can definitely relate to her feelings. At some point, I believe that most, if not all, of us have been afraid to share something about ourselves with somebody. Baring our hearts to a potential love interest is the hardest of all, especially if we allow ourselves to believe that it might work out. After all, the fear of losing someone, something, is pretty scary. In this regard, I believe this is an important novel because it tells us that it's okay to be afraid. We just shouldn't let our insecurities keep us from moving forward (and I do believe that Eadlyn is going to move forward).

Another beautiful thing about this novel is how Eadlyn's parents reassure her that it's okay not to come out of the Selection with an engagement. Yes, they do want to see an engagement, but they constantly reassure Eadlyn that she has her own strengths and to embrace them. Eadlyn is not America, but she has her own talents. For example, she has an excellent fashion sense, she has a loving relationship with her family, and she has a strong sense of loyalty to those she cares about (though it does lead her to make offensive remarks to her brother and drive him away).

All that said, this made for a light entertaining read that helped me get through an afternoon sick at home. While I may prefer more intense, plot-driven books, I do need books like this in my life :)

Source: Library

Rating: 3 stars

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Movie Monday: The Revenant

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Revenant
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Genre: Western, Epic
Running time: 156 minutes
Released: 2015
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) sustains injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back home to his beloved family. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, Glass treks through the wintry terrain to track down John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), the former confidant who betrayed and abandoned him.

The Revenant is based on the true story of the legendary American frontiersman Hugh Glass and his grueling tale of survival and retribution. The film is every bit as harsh as the rumors about its filming conditions were, and the cast’s suffering seems to have been worth it. The Revenant captures the splendor of nature and the baseness of human nature.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays frontiersman Hugh Glass, who is leading a group of trappers through the harsh terrain of the northern Louisiana Purchase when he is mauled by a bear. He survives, but is later abandoned by his companions. This betrayal along with another act of brutality by Fitzgerald pushes Glass to survive and get his revenge. The film follows Glass as he forges his way through the unforgiving winter to the American base.

Parts of the film felt awkward, most notably some incredibly weird scenes with Glass’s dead wife. I was not quite sure if the shots were meant to be flashbacks or just visions that Glass was seeing, but they felt really out of place in the film. In addition, there were other scenes with a small pyramid of bones that were also really out of place. These scenes seem designed to give a sort of spirituality to Glass or some kind of connection to the Native Americans he meets, but the film never went further with his spirituality. His connection to the Natives was superficial at best.

The character of Hawk, Glass’s son, felt really underdeveloped. We were presented a basic father and son bond between Hawk and Glass that was never developed beyond Hawk being loyal enough to stand by his father when he was recovering from the bear attack. Hawk’s character was incredibly stereotypical, being the sort of rebellious teenage boy. His character did not serve much purpose in the film beyond giving Glass another connection to Native Americans, since Hawk was half Native American, as well as providing Glass a motive to seek revenge on Fitzgerald.

Despite these flaws, there was a beautiful simplicity to the film. The film had strong moments driven by amazing cinematography. The shots of the wilderness were immersing, drawing the viewers into the beauty of nature. They brought a mysterious and beautiful yet harsh and treacherous feel in the nature, which really captured the tone of the film perfectly. Leonardo DiCaprio gave a great performance as the film’s lead actor, filling in the role of Glass perfectly. Although there were few spoken lines due to Glass’s injuries, which lasted for most of the film, his performance captured the nature of the film nicely.

Overall, I did not think The Revenant was a perfect film. While I can see how others could love it, I found it to be good but not great. I would recommend this film to fans of Leonardo DiCaprio. This could possibly be the film with which he finally gets his Oscar.

Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Directed by: Burr Steers
Genre: Comedy, Thriller/Action
Running time: 108 minutes
Released: 2016
Distributed by Lionsgate

In the 19th century, a mysterious plague turns the English countryside into a war zone. No one is safe as the dead come back to life to terrorize the land. Fate leads Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), a master of martial arts and weaponry, to join forces with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), a handsome but arrogant gentleman. Elizabeth can't stand Darcy, but respects his skills as a zombie killer. Casting aside their personal differences, they unite on the blood-soaked battlefield to save their country.

Last Wednesday (January 27th), I had the privilege of seeing an advanced screening of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I wholly confess that I probably wouldn't have gone to see this film if my roommate hadn't invited me to go with her. I am terrified of zombies. Instead of terribly horrifying zombies, however, what I found was highly entertaining comedic relief.

The film opens with Mr. Darcy crashing a party after hearing reports of someone in the vicinity having been bitten by a zombie. Being an avid fan of the BBC  version of Pride and Prejudice, I had Colin Firth's image of Mr. Darcy stuck in my head. Sam Riley gives a very different image of Mr. Darcy—a darker, more brooding, more socially awkward image. I was initially taken aback, but I have to admit that it made his interactions with Elizabeth so much funnier to watch. (Though I still can't picture where this Mr. Darcy first became interested in Elizabeth. His facial expressions don't give anything away. In fact, the whole romance was pretty rushed as if it was crammed in as an afterthought.)

I do like how PPZ incorporates the characters' fighting skills into some of the most memorable scenes in Pride and Prejudice. Of greatest note: Mr. Darcy's failed proposal. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's fight scene was hilarious. I also like how PPZ diverges from the original book and also PPZ the book. I confess to not having read PPZ, but I did look up the plot details after the film. I think it really helped the film to create a big villain figure. It was especially cathartic for me in that it was someone I hadn't particularly liked in the original Pride and Prejudice.

All that said, the not-so-secret star of the show is Matt Smith as Mr. Collins. I absolutely loathe Mr. Collins (I think most of us do), and Matt Smith did a fantastic job making sure I didn't have any sympathy for Mr. Collins. He's just so inconsiderate and socially awkward in a bad way. That said, every time Matt Smith showed up on the screen, I knew that I was in for some good laughs. Especially when he showed up at the end during the double wedding. I just couldn't take the wedding scene seriously after seeing him up there.

One thing to know before going into this film (and you've probably figured it out by now) is that it does not take it seriously. Which made quite a bit of it cheesy. If you can appreciate such humor, you'll probably enjoy the film. If you're looking for more serious thrills and action, however, you might want to reconsider going. For me, it worked out because I'm not good with films that seriously try to scare the audience.

I do wish that some elements of the film were explored more. In particular, the possibility of zombies actually being decent folk. There's a scene where Elizabeth recognizes a zombie that has something to tell her, but Mr. Darcy kills the zombie before she can say anything meaningful. Then Elizabeth gets introduced to zombies that seem to want to retain their humanity and eat pig brains, but you'll see what happens to these zombies in the end. Though there was so much potential to explore moral complexity in this film, it lets it go to waste in favor of bad humor and cheesy action scenes.

In the end, while this won't be a film that lives on in memory, it was a good time waster. I recommend watching this with your friends, especially ones that know of Pride and Prejudice, and then going out for coffee afterwards to discuss the film.