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WE CAN READ: He Said, She Said Book Reviews of ‘Ready Player One’ and ‘The Revenant’

WE CAN READ: He Said, She Said Book Reviews of ‘Ready Player One’ and ‘The Revenant’

he-said-she-said-books

Icon Vs. Icon’s husband and wife team, Delores and Hank Price, Jr., are always on the lookout for a little bit of excitement. When not binge-watching films, checking in and out on the latest television series or coming up with new safe words were no longer enough, they turned their attention to an invention from simpler times — BOOKS! Check out their takes on ‘The Revenant’ and ‘Ready Player One’ below! Follow the online ramblings of the dynamic duo on Twitter at @deloresprice80 and @thehenrypricejr.

'The Revenant'

‘The Revenant’

SHE SAID: An old hoe can learn new tricks. I have been reading more. Like books without pictures. Lots of words, lots of pages. Maybe it’s because my iPhone attachment is worrisome. Maybe I’m trying to resuscitate my attention span. Maybe I’m secretly a hipster and books are my records. Whatever the case, I have been reading more. So has Hank with “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.

I recently finished Michael Crichton’s 2004 downer “State of Fear,” thanks to a recommendation from Hankie Poo. I was left critical of the media, global warming, life, the universe and everything so I went in a different direction and picked up “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” by Michael Punke. I haven’t seen the movie, not on purpose just never did, and briefly wondered what’s a girl to do. Read the book first? Watch the movie first? Watch the movie and not read the book? Read the book and skip the movie? Read the book while watching the movie like a lunatic?

I’m no stranger to reading the book first but wonder if it will take me out of the film, leaving me constantly comparing the changes between the two and, in turn, annoying Hank as I incessantly huff and puff about the differences.
The book is slightly non-fiction, based on disputed historical accounts of American frontiersman Hugh Glass. Its story was embellished over the years, like “The Bible” as well as Hollywood’s treatment of days gone by, aka “The Revenant” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio (Mr. Environment probably doesn’t like “State of Fear”) and Tom Hardy (Bane will blow up the environment).

When there’s a real-life component to a story, there’s an added level of interest for me. Hugh Glass was real – he has a Wikipedia page so he MUST be important. He was a fur trader and trapper, frontiersman, hunter, explorer, and bear-attack-survivor. A 19th Century bad ass. No Hank, the bear didn’t rape him. Sorry to disappoint.

Punke’s novel is a fictional-ish retelling of the bear attack along the Missouri River and Glass’s 3,000-mile quest for revenge against the men who left him for dead and robbed him of his possessions. His throat was nearly ripped out, his scalp hung loose and he had deep wounds to his back, shoulder and thigh. It’s one of those stories told over booze and through a haze of smoke in dark taverns. A story met with more awe than cockeyed disbelief. A story that makes you laugh at your pathetic, needy, incompetent life. I don’t even like camping and I don’t like bugs. Where’s an outlet so I can plug in my phone and could you please turn on the central air?

I decided to start with the book because I’d read there were some differences between the two versions of the story. How many movies are based on books? Comic books, fiction, historical non-fiction. You can take your time and tell a story, paint with words. However, some things need to be changed to fit on film to adhere to its visual limitations and running time. Have you ever seen a movie that was better than the book?

Will I see the movie? Maybe, maybe not. I think Hank wants to see it so probably. I’ll try not to compare the two but it’s inevitable I will as if the book isn’t also mostly fiction, as if I owe Punke something.

Am I a hipster? Trying to be better than movie watchers like I’m some intellectual? No. I’m just trying to be entertained. Aren’t we all?

'Ready Player One'

‘Ready Player One’

HE SAID: What’s this I hear about gardening tools and prostitutes? Anyhow, Mrs. Price managed to bribe me with enough wine and Slipknot to contribute again this week, though it didn’t come without a lot of whining and bitching on my part. As “She Said,” I finally returned to the land of the printed word (to be fair, I do read a lot for my day job as a spellchecker for “Penthouse Letters”). I picked up a book I heard about on The Borderlands Book Club podcast, “Ready Player One,” which is Ernest Cline’s 2011 debut novel.

I believe one of the reviews on the back cover describes “Ready Player One” as “The Matrix” meets “Willy Wonka.” That’s a perfect summation of the story. It takes place in a dystopian 2044, where the majority of humanity spends their days connected to a virtual world called OASIS, which was created by James Halliday, a software designer who (shocker!) made a fortune off of it. Our hero and narrator is Wade Watts, aka Parzival in the virtual world. In the OASIS, everyone is an anonymous avatar, custom-made and levelled up just like a paladin in Final Fantasy or a Lone Wanderer in Fallout.

When Halliday dies, he leaves his vast fortune and the promise of great power to be found in OASIS by a lucky winner. Just about everyone in the world goes understandably batshit trying to solve the clues Halliday left behind. “Ready Player One” follows Wade/Perzival as he chases Halliday’s fortune and glory through a myriad of challenges pulled from the 1980s pop culture in which Halliday grew up. Along the way, he will face off against a lich in the classic arcade game Joust, get puppy dog eyes for Art3emis, a fellow competitor, and fend off a greedy corporation that will stop at nothing (even … MURDER!) to ensure it wins the contest.

“Ready Player One” is an easy but compelling read for anyone who grew up with or still enjoys 1980s pop culture. For example, one of Halliday’s challenges requires competitors to play the role of Matthew Broderick in “WarGames” and get every single line of dialog correct. In fact, the concept of a virtual world in which people work, play, and go to school by hooking up to a rig is relevant given the imminent release of virtual reality platforms. It’s easy to see something like PlayStation’s VR evolving into OASIS in 28 years. If you enjoy video games, 1980s pop culture, or want to read about the DeLorean from “Back to the Future” pimped out with a “Ghostbusters” logo, then I highly recommend “Ready Player One.”

One comment I made to Mrs. Price frequently while reading this book was, “How are they going to make this into a movie?” Yes, “Ready Player One” is an upcoming motion picture, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg. It’s scheduled for an early 2018 release It was rescheduled to avoid facing off against “Star Wars – Episode VIII – The Skywalkers Who Stare at Goats” in December 2017. Obviously, there will be a TON of CGI because the majority of the book takes place in OASIS, where pretty much anything can happen. Things like Ultraman fighting Mecha Godzilla. Then again, if Hollywood bastardizes “Ready Player One” like it does most good books, it’ll probably end up with some marginally amusing Saturday Night Live actors smacking around Seth Rogen and Zac Efron.

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Book Review: James M. Cain’s Lost Novel “The Cocktail Waitress”

Book Review: James M. Cain’s Lost Novel “The Cocktail Waitress”

James M. Cain’s Lost Novel “The Cocktail Waitress”

Renowned crime noir author James M. Cain speaks from the dead in “The Cocktail Waitress,”his nearly finished novel discovered 35 years after his death thanks to Hard Case Crime, an American publisher of hardboiled crime novels. The paperback crime novels of the ‘40s and ‘50s are resurrected in their fictional works, showcasing suspense and drama from the minds of nobility like Cain as well as contemporary authors.In “The Cocktail Waitress,” fetching 20-something Joan Medford shares her story of love, loss and passion in 1950s Washington, D.C. suburbia. Following her alcoholic husband’s death in a suspicious single-car accident, she finds herself penniless and alone. Overwhelmed with her circumstances, Joan lets her shrewd sister-in-law care for her young child, Tad, while she begins a new chapter and, hopefully, finds employment.Joan is soon taken on as a cocktail waitress at the Garden of Roses, a local bar and restaurant where some waitresses provide extra service if the price is right. Considering her buxom good looks, Joan fits in well and soon catches the eye of an elderly widower, Earl K. White III. His appeal starts and ends with his extravagant tips and wealth, which would provide the life she desperately wants for Tad.Things are further complicated by Tom Barclay, a young, impulsive man who lusts for Joan but is physically aggressive, degrading and, at times, a scheming rat. However, despite all his flaws, Joan can’t ignore her attraction.

Is it wealth and security for the sake of her son or instability and possibly losing her son forever for the sake of lust? The Earl-Tom-Joan triangle twists and turns throughout as the story unfolds.

Author James M. Cain

Full disclosure: I’ve never read a James M. Cain novel before embarking on the journey of “The Cocktail Waitress.” This review won’t be an ode to his mastery or a comparison of this last work to his collection. This is a look at “The Cocktail Waitress” free from prejudice.

First of all, no spoilers. Like any good crime novel, there are dark twists and turns that need to be experienced free from big mouth reviewers like me. As for the novel, the straightforward and dialogue-heavy writing style in combination with suspenseful and steamy scenes helped me quickly read chapter after chapter. I enjoyed the gritty realism and drama, reminiscent of a soap opera.

My favorite part of “The Cocktail Waitress” was weighing the reliability of the narrator, Joan. As the twists and turns unfolded, I began to question her naive persona. Is she a damsel in distress as she proclaims or a femme fatale? This uncertainty adds a unique layer to the drama-filled story.

If you enjoy hardboiled crime fiction, check out the novels from Hard Case Crime – www.hardcasecrime.com. I also enjoyed “The Twenty-Year Death” by Ariel S. Winter (Read the review here). — Kate Vendetta

“The Cocktail Waitress” is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released Sept. 18, 2012.

You can follow Kate Vendetta on Twitter at @katevendetta.


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Book Review: “The Hunger Games” By New York Times Bestselling Author Suzanne Collins

Book Review: “The Hunger Games” By New York Times Bestselling Author Suzanne Collins

“The Hunger Games,” by New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Collins, is set in the the postapocolyptic Utopian nation of Panem, once known as North America. A dictatorship, run from the extravagantly ridiculous Capitol, wields control over its 12 districts which become less and less appealing. District 12 is the bottom of the barrel but also the home of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who narrates and stars in this haunting tale. Katniss lives with her mother and younger sister and is struggling to survive.

After the accidental death of her father in the coal mines — coal being the chief (and only) export of her district — Katniss, at age 11, became wo-man of the house, hunting and scavenging for food in the fenced off forest surrounding her home. She’s uses knowledge her father shared before his demise, as well as help from a friend, 18-year-old hunting-partner-possible-love-interest Gale. Trespassing and poaching are against the law and punishable by death but Katniss has no other option, a story in itself. However, this tale quickly becomes darker, more disturbing and violent, taking survival to the next level and beyond.

The Hunger Games — the annual fight to the death on live TV. Yes, that’s not a typo. Live television. Talk about reality TV …

Once upon a time there were 13 Districts that uprised against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the 13th was obliterated. The Treaty of Treason was created to provide new laws to guarantee peace but also, as an annual reminder an uprisal must never be repeated, the Hunger Games.

The games begin with the Reaping, where a boy and girl from each District, ages 12 to 18 and referred to as tributes, are picked at random. Well random with a twist as the entries are cumulative and, to add further moral disregard to the dictatorship, children can add their names to the lottery more times in exchange for tesserae. Each tessera is worth a years supply of grain and oil for one person — so it’s either starve or roll the dice. Children can also volunteer for their District, which is fine and dandy for wealthier Districts that breed victorious athletes year after year but District 12 hasn’t seen victory in decades.

At the age of 12, Katniss was entered four times — once because she had to, and three times for tesserae for herself, her sister and her mother. So, her name will be entered 20 times this go-around. Gale, who supports a family and has been rolling the dice for 6 years, will have his name entered 42 times.

Author Suzanne Collins

At the Reaping, Katniss can’t help but focus on those terrible odds. The tension is high as the first name is selected — a girl from District 12. Ladies first, naturally. Katniss is stunned as she hears her 12-year-old sister’s name, Primrose, roll off the announcer’s tongue but quickly shows selflessness and devotion … she volunteers to take Primrose’s place.

Her situation is further complicated as Peeta Mellark is selected as the boy tribute from her district. Although they are not friends, Katniss can not help but remember Peeta’s act of kindness months after her father was killed when she and her family were freshly numb from the loss and struggling to avoid starvation.

Let the Hunger Games begin.

Spoilers will end here and now because what makes this book addictive is the suspense mixed in with a brand new world chocked full of violence, raw emotion, political gluttony and controversy. Philosophy runs throughout, as well as romance and adventure. Katniss, specifically her sacrifice and will to survive, is in sharp contrast to the detached overindulgent nature of the people of Panem, especially in the Capitol.

Would you risk your life for a loved one? Would you fight for survival even if it means killing others? Would you watch the Hunger Games? When faced with a gruesome death, would you still fight for what you believe in? How much are we a victim to uncontrollable circumstances? Big questions with no simple answers.

I didn’t want to put this book down and when forced, due to previous obligations (i.e. life), I pictured Katniss and the other characters frozen in place, impatiently waiting for me to return so the story can continue. Suzanne Collins’ prose is clear and easy-to-read but it was the story that hooked me, especially the twists and turns and cliffhanger ending. I am ready for the next book in the trilogy — “Catching Fire!”

I am also interested to see how the book is translated into a movie — “The Hunger Games” is set for release in the U.S. in March 2012. I don’t know much about Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) or Liam Hemsworth (Gale) but will take the risk since, like the Twilight saga, I enjoyed the story so much I will take what I can get from the Hollywood machine.

I am late to the Hunger Games party because I suffer from total disregard for popular books. The more I hear praise for a book, the less interested I become. Luckily I finally threw caution to the wind and gave “The Hunger Games” a go and was rewarded with an extremely exciting and compelling read. — Kate Vendetta

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Book Review: Janet Evanovich’s ‘Smokin’ Seventeen’

Book Review: Janet Evanovich’s ‘Smokin’ Seventeen’

Janet Evanovich’s latest book in the Stephanie Plum series, “Smokin’ Seventeen,” was released June 21, 2011, supplying another round of sex, absurdity, gossip and murder!

Stephanie’s family and friends finally had enough. It’s time to put up or shut up! Who’s it gonna be — longtime on-again-off-again boyfriend Joe “Officer Hottie” Morelli or dangerously seductive security expert Ranger? Everyone has an opinion per usual, especially Stephanie’s mom who encourages the fearless bounty hunter to dump them both in favor of a former high school football star who recently returned to town. Insert awkward family dinners here, aka let’s lure Stephanie with promises of a delicious home-cooked meal so we can fix her up with some nice young man and solve all her problems! Pass the cannoli Grandma Mazur!

Of course, Evanovich’s novels are never this simple (not that they’re complex either). While Stephanie is weighing her options, she discovers she is on a killers to-do list, a killer who leaves dead bodies in shallow graves on the empty construction lot of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. Will Stephanie be next? Is the killer someone from Stephanie’s checkered bounty hunter past? And, of course, who’s it gonna be — Ranger or Morelli?

The gangs all here! You get Grandma Mazur and Lula’s inappropriate insanity and one-liners, Morelli’s tight buns, Ranger’s Cuban-American-Batman hotness, Grandma Bella’s evil eye, Connie’s killer curves and mob attitude and Vinnie the weasel. Mix in perma-stoned Mooner driving a bus that serves as a mobile Bail Bonds headquarters, a senior citizen vampire with a set of false fangs, and all the vordo and FTAs your little heart desires, and you’ve got another Stephanie Plum adventure.

It’s a summer family reunion to catch up with old friends and let the story continue. Not to be a total perv (and if I premise a statement with that, obviously I am a pervert) but the nitty gritty sexual aspect of this book is superb.

People don’t start a series with the 18th book, they start at the beginning (hopefully), so I am directing this next part to all Stephanie Plum fans out there … It’s obvious Evanovich phoned-in the last few books in the series and wrote on auto-pilot, or her assistant/ghost writers penned them. I guess that’s what happens when you reach the teens of a book series, using the same ol’ formula, mixed in with New York Times bestseller status. It’s a shame because the beginning of this series was superb!

Author Janet Evanovich

“Smokin’ Seventeen” is not nearly as good as the first 11-12 books in the series, but it’s not as bad as the last few. Evanovich’s voice from the earlier books hasn’t completely resurfaced but at least she made a U-Turn and is headed back in the right Jerseylicious direction.

Since I’m emotionally involved with these characters, I take what I can get.

While the majority of “Smokin’ Seventeen” showed signs of the good ol’ days, it also hinted at the lameness of books 13-16. There’s Stephanie’s lack of character development. There’s the forced and disjointed feeling with some scenes and situations, especially the awkward, rushed ending (no spoilers). Evanovich bumped up the heat with (spoiler alert) Ranger but, in turn, lowered the heat with Morelli to the point their relationship seemed odd.

Evanovich took advantage of the fact we know the background and all the players involved. Some parts of the book were rushed and screamed for more emotion from Stephanie and other characters, especially the love triangle. Some characters were downplayed, including Grandma Mazur who was not nearly as hilarious as usual. I am happy the book wasn’t as bad as the last few but I can’t help but feel Evanovich is still taking her large fan base for granted.

However, I can analyze “Smokin’ Seventeen,” the series as a whole and characters, pick apart Stephanie’s immaturity with men and life choices and her lack of growth, pick apart the absurd scenarios — i.e. a senior citizen skip who thinks he’s a vampire — or I can take the series for what it is: a fun, lighthearted escape with my hero Stephanie Plum and all the usual suspects.
If you want in on the fun, start at the beginning with “One For the Money.” The series is a perfect summer beach read. Work your way through the series and when you hit the teens, around 12 or 13, warning … it’s not going to be as good.

Luckily for Evanovich I, along with thousands, fell in love with Stephanie and the whole gang many books ago so we’re stuck — hook, link and sinker — ready for the 18th book to come out in November and hopefully some development in Stephanie’s love life. Wink wink, nudge nudge. — Kate Vendetta

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Visit Janet Evanovich’s official site at www.evanovich.com or buy the book on Amazon.com!

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Book Review: Dark Days of The Supernatural – ‘Cryptic Cravings’ By Ellen Schreiber

Book Review: Dark Days of The Supernatural – ‘Cryptic Cravings’ By Ellen Schreiber

Cryptic Cravings is the eighth novel of the Vampires Kisses series by New York Times bestselling author Ellen Schreiber. It is also part of HarperTeen’s summer Dark Days of the Supernatural series, giving young minds and adults alike the paranormal romance and dark mystery they crave.

Raven Madison’s “morbidly monotonous” town of Dullsville has finally become the epicenter of excitement with the addition of her vampire boyfriend, Alexander Sterling, aka secret vampire-in-residence. Although concerned about when, or if, he will induct her into eternal vampire-hood, Raven is blissful as his mortal girlfriend. Her excitement is taken to the next level when the star-crossed lovers happen upon a group of vampires making residence in the town’s rundown old mill

Her bliss is mixed with woe when she learns the group of bloodsuckers not only includes friends of Alexander but also former-foe Jagger and his equally adversarial twin Luna. Jagger’s secret plans for a new club, the Crypt, in Dullsville are discovered by Raven and Alexander. With a checkered past, can Jagger be trusted to open a mortal-friendly dance club or does he have other plans?

Raven is torn between wanting a dance club in her boring town, a club that will meet her macabre desires, while also wanting to keep Alexander’s existence a secret and the town mortals safe. Her torment is further complicated by Alexander’s friend Sebastian and his fiery romantic relationship with Luna. Will Alexander ever give Raven the bite she craves?

I am familiar with Schreiber, having reviewed “Once In A Full Moon” earlier this year. I was drawn to the interesting werewolf love saga hidden within the pages of ho-hum storytelling. With that in mind, as well as her status as a New York Times bestselling author, I figure she has a significant fan base so there must be something to the Vampire Kisses series to keep readers coming back for more.

“Cryptic Cravings” begins with Raven admitting “Dullsville” was “no longer dull” because she’s madly in love with Alexander and witnessed a vampire bite for the first time in her “vampire-obsessed existence.” It took me a page or two to realize Raven wasn’t being sarcastic, her town really is named Dullsville. The town she wishes she lived in, several towns away, is Hipsterville. Schreiber should describe the towns, especially what makes them boring and hip, instead of simply calling them Dullsville and Hipsterville. Please, I can figure it out when you describe boring and hip aspects of the towns. I understand it’s meant to be humorous but I found it distracting.

Also, Raven’s been obsessed with vampires her entire life, yet, as I learn later on, has a normal family? How did this happen? Perhaps it was explained in a previous novel, since there are seven books filled with information about Raven, but instead of Wednesday Addams from “The Addams Family” I don’t see how Raven could be named Raven and be obsessed with vampires since birth (as she admits) with mom, dad and nerdy brother nuclear family unit. Also, she’s been living according to her own rules since she was born, which makes no sense and is a cliched phrase.

Obviously I’m over-analzying and should read on, enjoy the lighthearted fluff and relax, a la authors like Janet Evanovich or a theatrical romantic comedy.

So, I read on. I thought, perhaps this book would appeal to the goth/outsider crowd but then realized it’s somewhat demeaning. Insulting in its use of cliche after cliche and fumbling writing.
Trying to stay positive, I thought maybe as a teen I’d like to read this and went back and forth over this thought until I figured not so much.

Reading this story reminded me of when something trivial happens yet makes you crack. Maybe someone cuts you off in traffic or makes an offhand comment about your bad hair day. Whatever it is, it’s the cherry on top of countless things building up over time. With “Cryptic Cravings” I underlined and circled flaw after flaw, cliche after cliche, inconsistent and unlikely happenings and inconsistent characters to the point it became too much, taking it past the level of light, silly reading to ridiculousness.

Raven has pale skin, black fingernail polish, combat boots, lavender lipstick and uses corpse white cover-up. Fine. That’s information needed to develop a picture of her character. However, Schreiber took this to the next level, using terms such as a “morbidly monotonous town,” the smokestacks on the building resembling “grave markers,” Jagger driving a hearse and Scarlet a white Beetle painted to look like a skull, Raven listening to music by The Skeletons … there are morbid and wickedly cool outfits, wicked nail polish, morbid matchmaking, a haunting dance club … OK. I get it. She likes death and vampires. Stop suffocating me.

Other terms seemed out of place, like the use of soda jerk, as well as overly cutesy descriptions, including head-over-Doc-Martens, her house of Hello Kitty cards falling down, and blowing the coffin-lid off the secret identity of her vampire boyfriend. Overkill.

I get fluff. I love fluff. It’s fun, lighthearted and easy-to-read for teens and also for adults, who want to escape from serious adult-land for pages at a time. I understand. However, many things in “Cryptic Cravings” are absurd.

Raven and Alexander are peeking in on Jagger and Sebastian at night, trying to find out their plans, and Raven’s foot slips. The jig is up and the vampires hear but, luckily, a pigeon was walking along the window ledge so Alexander tosses a twig near the bird and it, in turn, is startled and flies away. Nocturnal pigeons in the country. Interesting.

Also, everything happens so fast. Raven goes back to investigate the club the next to day to see what’s been accomplished (in one night) and sneaks into a room filled with the vampires sleeping in coffins. When reaching Jagger’s coffin she hears the faint sounds of breathing? Breathing? Do they breathe? Schreiber used all the vampire cliches — turning into bats, nocturnal vision, sleeping in coffins, hanging out in cemeteries, inability to see their reflections or show up on film — but they breathe? They also seem to chew gum and drink strawberry shakes as shown by Luna, and Alexander and Jagger can flush red with anger. Hmm. Luckily Raven finds blueprints for the club so her secret mission wasn’t in vain. How convenient. She takes part of the sketching because Jagger “wouldn’t notice if one was missing.” Um, yeah he would.
More absurdness includes Raven’s friend Becky taking pictures of the vampires, who keep not turning up in the photos, but no one seems to show major concern when she whips out her camera, except for a few isolated times.

Also, Raven uses a flashlight on another secret fact-finding mission even though she’s with Alexander, who can see in the dark. Her flashlight must not work too well since she still manages to hit her head, which bleeds and fills the room with an intoxicating scent for the vampires they are trying to hide from.
Other absurdity includes Alexander parking his car a “safe distance” from the mill, so safe it never is seen by people or vampires driving by the abandoned building in a town known for wildfire gossip, must be some hiding spot! Alexander has an alter ego, Phoenix, which is basically him in a costume, yet no one knows. Must be some costume.

Also, Alexander and Raven know Jagger has a secret room to his club and they can’t get access. They confront him and he turns on “headbanging music” and they “all danced for a few hours.” What? New way to win arguments with my husband or friends, just turn on Megadeth mid-argument.

Also, I found Raven’s character confusing, especially how she went back and forth between obsessively wanting the dance club for the town but being concerned for Jagger’s secret plans, the safety of the mortals in the area and the safety of Alexander’s secret as a vampire. The dance club wins, which doesn’t make much sense.

The story is set in a cliche goth vs. prep town. Raven and her vampire friends look macabre, as is expressed through Schreiber’s dark-adjective heavy prose, and everyone else is cliche prep, going to the country club and described as Prada-bees wearing paisley and athletic boys who are secretly attracted to goth girls. Only Becky and her boyfriend seem to be between the black and white extremes, somewhat. Even Jagger, with his jagged and edgy white hair, mismatched eyes and “Possess” tattoo is mesmerizing to Raven. A cliche girl in a cliche world.

Also, the word nefarious was used more than 10 times (maybe 15 or 20 considering I lost count) in the 211 page easy-to-read book. It reminded me of Vizzini in “The Princess Bride” with his overuse of the word inconceivable. When used among a sea of simple terms, nefarious stands out. When used in excess, it becomes ridiculous. Another overused word is cryptic. Cryptic cravings, cryptic cage, cryptic of all clubs, cryptic clique, cryptic endeavor? In the words of Inigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Some of the cliches that stand out include: “It was as if he had touched my soul” (Alexander can touch and, also, see into her soul), “Adventure ran through my blood just as much as oxygen did,” and “His soulful eyes stared into mine and I kissed him with all my love.”

I know. I’m dissecting a book meant to be lighthearted. I should take Schreiber’s series for what it is, fluffy, silly, fun reading. The crop circles part was creative, as well as the underlying story. Also, Schreiber’s a bestselling author with a significant fan-base.

However, there is lighthearted reading and then there are books that make no sense, whether you are a young reader or an adult looking for fun supernatural romance. “Cryptic Cravings” is absurd. For all the Ellen Schreiber fans, keep reading, keep enjoying her books because absurd or not, reading is fun because it’s an escape from reality, an escape into another world.

To learn more about the summer supernatural series, visit www.harperteen.com/feature/darkdays/summer/

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Book Review: Dark Days of the Supernatural – Amy Plum’s ‘Die For Me’

Book Review: Dark Days of the Supernatural – Amy Plum’s ‘Die For Me’

“Die For Me” is the debut book by author Amy Plum and part of HarperTeen’s summer Dark Days of the Supernatural series. The story follows 16-year-old Kate Mercier who is uplifted from New York to leave her past, including memories of her recently deceased parents, behind for a new life with her grandparents in Paris. Although she has her sister, Georgia, for support, she finds the loss unbearable, spending most days indoors until getting the nerve to leave the dark shadows of her bedroom and sit alone in cafes, losing herself in classic literature while her sibling takes on a different therapy treatment, attempting to forget the loss by frequenting various Paris nightclubs.

One day, while lost in Edith Wharton’s “In The Age of Innocence,” Kate catches a young man watching her and an instant spark ignites. He is breathtaking, with longish black hair, olive skin and sea blue eyes complete with thick black lashes. Swoon-worthy. Kate soon learns his name is Vincent and the dance of romance begins, a romance not only hindered by Kate’s fear of loving and losing again but also Vincent’s mysterious, supernatural fate as a revenant — an undead being whose condition forces him to sacrifice his life for others forevermore. The drama is further complicated with a centuries-old battle between good and evil.

Should Kate risk everything for love?

The opening of the story, with Kate clinging to the past when her parents were still alive, creates a character forcing sympathy. Her parents died a week before Christmas and she describes herself as being too “shell-shocked” to put up a fight when her older sister decides the two of them will uproot to Paris. So sad. So instantly I like her, at least feel sorry for her, and form a bond. You can’t dislike a character whose parents just died! My bond deepened pages later upon learning she wears a size 10 shoe … as a fellow victim of larger feet, I couldn’t help but smile.

The reader is soon introduced to Vincent and his description, when Kate first locks eyes on him, is detailed enough to give an idea but leaves the reader open to imagination with terms like “young and beautiful” and “strikingly handsome.”

Although the book is criticized for Kate falling quickly in love with Vincent, I wasn’t so put out by it because, to me, it’s typical of teenage emotions. Kate’s first dates with Vincent are awkward, she spends countless hours thinking of him but is not sure of her feelings. She’s impulsive, rational and emotional. Typical teenage girl behavior if you ask me, especially when Vincent buys a beautiful necklace for a friend with Kate’s help. She quickly becomes jealous, figuring Vincent has a gorgeous girlfriend to match his gorgeousness. When Kate learns about the supernatural qualities of Vincent’s existence, her response is authentic. She doesn’t jump headfirst into the Twilight Zone but ponders various solutions to the dark magic before her eyes.

I also enjoyed the setting. As you read Kate and Vincent’s love story, you also get a view at the loveliness of Paris as they visit restaurants, museums, cafes and other sites. As a small-town American, everything seems more interesting when it’s taking place in Europe.

Although it may seem slow at the beginning and rushed at the end, I enjoyed the buildup to learn more about Vincent and his supernatural fate. Kate doesn’t know what’s going on and neither do I. The plot continues to thicken and become curiouser and curiouser, as I sit back and enjoy the ride … this is because when Kate happens upon some chance information about Vincent’s secret early in the book, it seemed too easy for a coincidence. I found myself thinking, well … maybe it’s fate and she was supposed to find it or maybe the author is just lazy. That’s when I decided reading is about fun and I’m going to go with it and this book, enjoy it for what it is — a fun, summer read. With most books it takes many pages to get into the story, get used to the author’s quirks, and finally get in the groove.

Although a fun read, the book also has negative aspects.

“Die For Me” reeked of the Twilight series with Kate’s introverted personality, unusual teenage sophistication and scholarly love for classic literature. Also stinking of Twilight-ness is her choice between a normal life and love, the quick path into obsessive, lost-without-each-other longing, Vincent’s impossible beauty and strength and his coven of revenants, their attempt at staying away from each other makes them both depressed and mentally unwell, Vincent is old fashioned and respectful towards the “main event.” Hmm … only thing missing was Kate wanting to become a revenant. Looks like Amy Plum should have also thanked Stephanie Meyer for inspiration in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book. However, don’t all books come from an author’s inspiration from other works?

A side note: In her Acknowledgements, as well as jokingly referenced in the story, Plum refers to the revenants as zombies and her book as a zombie love story. Huh. Zombies creep me out so I haven’t sat through many zombie films but, thanks to a fascination by the main man in my life, I am well versed in zombie.

Yes, the most celebrated zombie in literature and film is a dead person reanimated, not simply the Voodoo legend of a hypnotized person. These zombies are typically flesh-eating and are brought back to life after a pandemic disease.

So, revenants were once alive, died, and brought back to life with no real explanation. OK. Also, zombies serve the dead and revenants serve whoever brought them back to life by feeling a deep need to save people from death so, perhaps, that’s similar. However, that’s where the comparison ends.

Zombies are without consciousness and self-awareness. They respond to stimuli, i.e. brains, but definitely aren’t as human-like as the revenants, which resemble some sort of angel, being brought back to life to serve God. Revenants are gorgeous, strong and athletic, eat regular food and are mentally their former selves.

Another negative aspect is the story is ripe with cliches, including Kate feeling she knew Vincent as they gazed upon each other for the first time and “the world around” them froze when their “eyes first met.”

However, for all the cliches and ridiculous metaphors — especially the barf-worthy kind like “the warmth inside me transformed into a flow of lava” — Plum made up for these literary no-nos with the deep, insightful turmoil Kate undergoes, including her comment to Vincent, “If I were to end up loving you, I couldn’t live like that. In constant agony. Knowing that you were going to be resurrected, or whatever it is that you do afterward, wouldn’t be enough to make up for having to live through your death time and time again. You can’t ask me to do it. I can’t do it.” This, in addition to her inner turmoil (“And now I felt myself perched at the rim of the same black abyss I had finally managed to crawl out of a few months earlier. I felt the overwhelming temptation to lean forward, just an inch, and let myself fall headlong into its comforting darkness. The thought of letting my mind leave my body behind was tempting. I wouldn’t even need to be around to clean up the mess.”) helped me forget about the cliches and occasional cheesiness and focus on the best part of this story, Kate’s struggle with loss and love.

So, if you are looking for a fun summer book, read “Die For Me” by Amy Plum. Check out www.harperteen.com/feature/darkdays/summer to keep your summer reading supernatural!

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Book Review: Dark Days of the Supernatural – Aprilynne Pike’s ‘Illusions’

Book Review: Dark Days of the Supernatural – Aprilynne Pike’s ‘Illusions’

“Illusions” is the third book in the Wing series by New York Times bestselling author Aprilynne Pike and part of HarperTeen’s summer Dark Days of the Supernatural series. Released May 3, 2011, the story follows Laurel Sewell, a faerie attempting to return to a normal life among humans in Crescent City, Calif. with her human boyfriend, David, and human parents after time away in Avalon, aka faerie-land.

The book opens with Laurel’s first day of 12th grade, as life becomes not-so-normal again with the return of her guardian/former love interest, faerie Tamani, who is posing as a transfer student from Scotland. Tamani returns to protect Laurel from trolls, an enemy of faeries, who came to Crescent City to torture Laurel for access into Avalon, where they will wreak havoc of epic proportions. Well, this is speculation since, although evidence of trolls was found, i.e. footprints and bloody animal corpses, the usual tracking serums and traps are not working. A new magic is afoot.

Further complicating the dire situation is Yuki, an unknown type of faerie posing as a Japanese exchange student under the watchful eye of troll hunter Klea. Tamani and Laurel aren’t sure if Yuki and Klea are working for good or evil so they must secretly learn more.

With the addition of a love triangle between Tamani, Laurel and David — reminiscent of Jacob, Edward and Bella in “Twilight” — this story is full of faerie lore, menacing trolls and big life decisions involving true love and choosing between two worlds.

I’ve never read “Wings” or “Spells” so by page 21 I put the book down and turned to Google searching some background because I was beyond lost. I recommend starting at the beginning of the series because Laurel’s plight gets confusing without the background — especially since Laurel, David, Tamini and Laurel’s best friend Chelsea are well developed returning characters — and the storyline is interesting and fun. It’s a welcome change from typical teen supernatural stories featuring vampires, werewolves and angels with ancient folklore, magic, trolls and faeries.

Even though I didn’t have the whole picture without the background provided in previous novels, the story is fun and intriguing. I looked forwarded to reading on and digging deeper into who is after Laurel, whether Yuki and Klea are bad news, why the faerie magic doesn’t work, and if Laurel was going to choose Tamani or David. I found myself wishing I’d read the previous novels so I would fully understand the drama. It was like Pike was speaking in a different language, a language I wasn’t fully fluent in but one I understood enough to get by. The faerie heirachy alone is enough to confuse.

Although I prefer a sparkly vampire with a dark side, aka Edward Cullen, for my fantasies, Tamani brings a romantic edge that even got my ole cynical self saying, “wow.” The story is void of any adult sexual situations, making it appropriate for teens of all ages.

At times I found some of it not entirely believable in regards to the main characters’ responses to drama with trolls and Yuki and Klea’s plans, but then again I don’t know what teeanger-me would have done in this situation. Tamani is guarding Laurel from danger with the help of other trained faeries so he’s doing his job and, since they didn’t have a full picture of the trolls, Yuki and Klea’s plans, they couldn’t do much because their magic wouldn’t work… obviously this book has me interested enough to defend the characters so it did its job.

My favorite part of the story is the tension and doubt Laurel expresses as she attempts to choose between David and Tamani — I won’t spoil it, let’s just say Laurel doesn’t run away with the idea of happily ever after forever. She struggles with her feelings, which is so authentic, feelings of love as well as wondering whether she wants to return to Avalon or go to college among humans. Life isn’t easy – faerie or not!

So, for teens looking for a unique supernatural series for fun summer reading (or adults needing a quick escape) check out Aprilynne Pike’s Wings series by HarperTeen as well as other books in the Dark Days of the Supernatural series. When I think summer, I think summer reading!
Check out www.harperteen.com/feature/darkdays/summer — Kate Vendetta

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Two Can’t Miss Books For ‘Terminator Salvation’ Fans

Two Can’t Miss Books For ‘Terminator Salvation’ Fans

Terminator Salvation has exploded on screens worldwide and left fans of the iconic franchise hungry for more. Luckily for them, Titan Books is giving fans the opportunity to delve deeper into the film and get a taste of the incredible amount of work that went into creating this post-apocalyptic action film with two new fantastic books.

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Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion

Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion
 by Tara Bennett

The Official Companion to the latest installment of the Terminator saga serves as the complete guide to the making of the epic film. The book is written by Tara Bennett, author of other such companions as 300: The Art of the Film and several companions for Fox’s 24. This particular book takes the reader behind-the-scenes with exclusive looks at production and costume design, the construction of the Terminators, the jaw-dropping stunts and cutting-edge cinematography and visual effects.

One of the strongest features of the book is the amount of detail that is revealed about the development of the Terminators themselves. Photos, artist renderings and tidbits from the special effects artists at Stan Winston Studios shed light on how the Terminator: T-1, T-600, T-700, Marcus Wright and Hydrobots evolved from paper to the finished products that fill the incredible landscape of the film.

The first hand look art these futurist killing machines is given a run for it’s money by the look at the human stars of the film. The companion gives us insight into the world of John Connor, Marcus Wright, Kyle Reese, Kate Connor, Blair Williams, Barnes and Dr. Serena Kogan from the actors who played them. For me, this is where the book really shines. It is in these interview and quotes that we learn about the special touches that each actor lent to the characters to bring them to life. The best example of this is Moon Bloodgood’s take on her character’s backstory and how important it was to portray a strong woman without treading on the legacy of that Linda Hamilton created in her role as Sarah Connor. The book also gives some insight into just who newcomer Sam Worthington is, and what he has to offer. Worthington, who will surely become one of Hollywood’s most sought after leading men, talks in-depth about working alongside Christian Bale, what he hoped to bring to the franchise and the unique place from where he drew his inspiration.

The film’s director, McG, certainly had his hands full in giving Terminator Salvation such a unique look and feel. Much like the actors from the film, McG and director of photography Shane Hurlbut reveal details of the lengths and techniques employed to deliver such elaborate and gorgeously detailed finished product. If you are a fan of the franchise or movie making in general you should definitely get your hands on this book. It doesn’t reveal key plot points from the film, so there are no major spoilers to avoid. Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion is available in both hardback and paperback.
 

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The Art of Terminator Salvation

The Art of  Terminator Salvation
by Tara Bennett

For those looking to delve even deeper into Terminator Salvation, look no further then The Art of Terminator Salvation. Also penned by Tara Bennett, this lushly produced book gives an incredible look at the post-apocalyptic landscape dreamed up by the artists working on the film. The world of Terminator springs to life with breathtaking drawings and digital imagery. Both Terminator fans and art fans alike will really appreciate the works which range from the various landscapes of the film, the renderings of many of the futurist killing machines and the process of fleshing out this dark future.

This 240-page hardcover features hundreds of breathtaking color illustrations, captivating storyboard art, and intricately designed production art created for the film. Many of the concept paintings are done by production designer Martin Laing while the Terminator designs and storyboards were the work of Jason Sweers, Victor Martinez and David Lowery, who are clearly masters at their craft. Visually astounding from cover to cover, The Art of Terminator Salvation captures the essence of what makes Terminator Salvation so cinematically stunning and puts it into book form. It is simply a must for fans of concept art and the men and women who make these larger the life films possible.

Also available from Titan Books are the Official Movie Novelization of the film and a prequel to the movie, that bridges the gap from Terminator 3 to Terminator Salvation, entitled From The Ashes.

Check out all of  Titan Books’ Terminator Salvation books at this location >

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