Tag Archives: science fiction

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Recap: When Jacob Portman’s grandfather mysteriously and suddenly dies in some kind of animal attack, it’s Jacob about whom everyone worries. The two were close, and Jacob was at his grandfather’s side shortly after the attack. Jacob claims to have seen the beast, which he can only describe as a monster. No one believes him, so 16-year-old Jacob Portman starts seeing a therapist. Soon after, Jacob and his father take a trip to Wales, where his grandfather spent some time as a child. The hope is that the more he learns about his grandpa, the sooner he’ll be able to let go.

On his journey, he discovers an old house where his grandfather spent time as a child: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s in horrible shape. As it turns out, the home was bombed during WWII, killing all of the children inside. But Jacob insists his grandfather was one of those children and survived. That’s when Jacob discovers a time portal that transports him to the day of the bombing in 1940. Jacob befriends the friends of his grandfather and spends every day for weeks learning about this alternative world of peculiar children with special powers, time travel, and villains who are trying to take over.

When he learns that his own life is in danger, he has to choose: should he continue his life in present day with his parents? Or should he move permanently to the 1940 loop, where he has friends and a purpose?

Analysis: What sets this book apart from other adventure, fantasy novels are its pictures. Author Ransom Riggs wrote the book based upon pictures he collected. The pictures are creepy, and looking at the cover of the novel, I anticipated a thriller or ghost story that I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the book wasn’t scary at all; rather, it was fun, exciting and full of surprising twists. The book moved in directions I didn’t expect and did a good job of incorporating the odd photos, including a levitating girl and another girl holding what appears to be a ball of glowing light.

Upon finishing Miss Peregrine, it was surprising to me to learn that it’s a young adult fiction novel. It doesn’t read like one. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age tale at heart, and it’s about teenagers, but some of the issues Jacob must deal with are adult, and the end of the novel is pretty dark. It was so good and well-written, I was surprised to learn it was meant for teens rather than adults, who might possibly appreciate it even more. It also sets up nicely for the sequel — which I have yet to read, but can’t wait to.

MVP: Jacob. Despite being 16 years old, he has some tough decisions to make, and ultimately he does what’s not only right for me, but what’s wrong for everyone — whether they know it yet or not. He is mature for his age, and as the book continues, his confidence grows. I believe he’s the kind of person most teenagers aspire to be like.

Get Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in paperback for $5.71.

Or on your Kindle for just $3.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Insurgent

**Spoiler Alert: Because of the popularity of both this book and movie, this review does include spoilers. 

Insurgent picks up where author Veronica Roth’s Divergent left off — with Tris, Four, Caleb, Peter and Marcus living in the Amity faction, waiting to decide their next move after narrowly escaping the attempted takeover and attack lead by Jeanine. Tris is still reeling from the death of her parents, and tensions continue to run high between Four and Tris and Peter. But when Erudite and Dauntless traitors arrive to search for Abnegation, Tris, Four and Caleb escape and meet up with the Factionless. After that, all hell breaks loose as factions try to combine to either fight off or fight for Jeanine and whatever plans she has. But Tris learns Jeanine has an important secret that involves her parents — one that she must find while also protecting the lives on the innocent.

That general story holds true in the movie version of the bestselling novel. That said, I have never seen a movie that veers so differently from the novel upon which it’s based. First of all, the movie leaves out Marcus almost entirely. As Four’s father, Marcus is the one from whom Tris learns how important her parents’ secret is. Much of the book involves Tris backing Marcus and working to get her hands on that information — a move that causes some friction between Tris and Four. But with Marcus barely in the movie, all of that friction is gone.

Not to mention, the movie objectifies that secret into a box, which Jeanine is working hard to unlock. It seems like we’re to believe that Jeanine doesn’t know what the secret is and needs a Divergent to open it by passing simulations for all five factions. In the book, Jeanine does make Tris do simulations, but it’s not to unlock a box of secrets. In the book, the reason is so she can figure out a serum that will actually affect Divergents.

The way the secret comes out is completely different in the movie than In the book. In the book, Jeanine has the secret information hidden on her computer. The information is accessed near the end of the novel as part a team effort between Tris, Christina, Marcus and several others infiltrating Jeanine’s facility and computer. But that entire section is left out of the movie.

On top of all this, three of the four major deaths in the book are either left out or changed in the movie. Lynn’s death is left out entirely. Four kills Eric in both, but in the book, Eric is put on trial and then killed. There is no trial or Dauntless leaders in the movie. Then there’s Jeanine’s death.  In the book, Tori kills her, despite Tris trying to fight Tori on it. But in the movie, Evelyn kills Jeanine, with no fight from anyone.

These are just the major changes. There are lots of other minor ones. Not having read the third book in the series, Allegiant, it’s hard for me to determine if and how these changes may affect the third movie. And granted, the movie was still excellent, action-packed and exciting. But it was so different from the book, I found myself having a hard time cheering at the end.

Get Insurgent in paperback for $10.68.

Or on your Kindle for $3.99.

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‘Divergent’ Author Signs New Book Deal

Now that the Divergent series is good and done, the books’ author Veronica Roth is starting on a new project.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Roth has signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins. The series’ books are expected to be released in 2017 and 2018. We don’t know much right now about what the books will be about. What we do know is that it will follow a boy’s “unlikely alliance” with an enemy. Apparently her idea for the series started initially with the character, and the rest came afterwards.

I don’t know about you, but as a big fan of the Divergent series, I’m excited to see what else Veronica Roth has up her sleeve!

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Review: The Winter People

Recap: On page one, we dive into the diary of Sara Harrison Shea, known from legends dating back to  the early 1900s as the woman who mysteriously died at 31 and whose husband killed himself soon after. The reason? According to the legend, Sara’s daughter, Gertie, — who was already dead — killed her. According to the legend, Gertie is a “sleeper,” a person who has been revived from the dead. This legend carries on for generations throughout West Hill, Vermont, the land of the “Devil’s Hand,” where every few decades another mysterious death happens and where stories of “sleepers” live on.

In present day, it’s troubled teenager Ruthie and her six-year-old sister, Fawn, who are left to wonder if the stories are true. But as soon as their mother Alice goes missing, they’re forced to find out once and for all. They stumble upon several wallets in their home. The wallets belong to people who they’ve never heard of. They set out to find the couple, only to learn that they are dead too. Suddenly their mother’s disappearance seems like less of a coincidence and more of a strategic kidnapping — and possible death — that can only be explained by more than 100 years worth of mythology and mystery.

Analysis: The sci-fi mythology and mystery around which the story centers is just the beginning. Author Jennifer McMahon’s storytelling is what makes The Winter People complex, scary, and page-turning. The novel flips back and forth between 1908 and present day — between diary entries from Sara Harrison Shea and the perspectives of Ruthie and several other characters. Over time, the bits and pieces from each section come together to show that the characters are connected and that the legends may be truer and (literally!) closer to home than Ruthie thinks.

The beginning is confusing. There are lots of characters, and it’s hard to keep the relationships between them straight. But it’s clear from the onset that very strange things are happening in this town, and albeit (so!) creepy, The Winter People is written in a way that makes you want to learn the truth, no matter how horrifying it might be.

It’s worth noting that a lot of the gruesome sections are focused around young girls, and the creepy wackjobs generally turned out to be women. Maybe the author’s way of saying all women are a little crazy? But as I think it’s her way displaying that all women have their secrets — and to discover them is either a blessing or a curse.

MVP: Ruthie. She’s the most stable of the characters and the only one who’s not creepy. She should be commended for keeping a good head on her shoulders and keeping calm during her journey to uncover the mystery.

Get The Winter People in paperback for $11.21.

Or get it on your Kindle for $7.99.

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New ‘Lestat’ Novel Coming from Anne Rice

It’s been a while since author Anne Rice has released any novels based on her best-known character, the vampire Lestat. But that’s about to change.

According to The New York Times, Rice announced on her Facebook page that another Lestat novel, entitled Prince Lestat, is set to be released in October. She told readers that she finished writing the novel a while ago.

The first Lestat novel was Interview with the Vampire, which was made into a movie starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in 1994. It was the first in a series of vampire novels.

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Review: The Age of Miracles

Recap: In a world filled with young adult fiction novels full of post-apocolyptic stories, author Karen Thompson Walker tells the story not of what happens after the world ends, but what happens as it’s ending. The Age of Miracles is told through the eyes of a middle school aged girl, Julia, who lives in California with her parents when one day, the world begins to slow down.

Referred to as “the slowing,” the slow in time lengthens the days from 24 to 26 to 30 and ultimately upwards of 72 hours a day. The longer days mean lengthy periods of sunlight followed by lengthy periods of darkness. All that excessive darkness leads to the death of crops and therefore animals, while the sunlight leads to radiation and deadly sunburns. Ultimately, the world’s population splits into those who operate in “real time” — a 24-hour period — and those who operate by the new hours of light and dark deemed by “the slowing.”

As Julia’s family follows real time, the inconsistency in the length of days parallels the inconsistencies in her life. She’s coming of age in a time when everyone and everything is changing. It seems as though “the slowing” shifts something — affecting her parents’ marriage and Julia’s friendships at school. Julia’s best friend, Hanna, decides she’s too cool for Julia after Hanna temporarily moves with her family to try to escape “the slowing.” Seth Moreno, the cutest boy in school, befriends Julia. And as scientists work to determine what caused “the slowing,” Julia and everyone else keep trying to live what used to be a normal life.

AnalysisThe Age of Miracles is a tragic sci-fi coming-of-age story that makes the reader recognize that middle school is nowhere near as difficult as it could have been, had middle school also coincided with the end of the world. Julia’s feelings throughout the novel are strikingly similar that of any real-life 12-year-old, but “the slowing” adds another layer of strangeness and unfamiliarity.

The concept is unique, and the writing well-done, but I’ll admit the novel was a little too depressing for me. I commend author Karen Thompson Walker for braving the difficulty of not telling a post-apolocolyptic story, but rather, a pre-apocolyptic one. But the feelings of despair at the end of the novel are almost too dark to bear. Unless your plan is to then read The Hunger Games and assume that those novels pick up where this one left off.

MVP: Julia. With a title like The Age of Miracles, I have to admit it is quite a miracle that Julia makes it through adolescence and grows up to be a relatively normal adult. With so much uncertainty worldwide, the added difficulties of growing up, and pretty much everything going awry, it takes one tough, smart 12-year-old to get through it okay.

Get The Age of Miracles in paperback for $10.34.

Or on your Kindle for $9.82.

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‘X Files’ Actress Gillian Anderson to Pen Sci-Fi Book Series

GAAfter nine years starring in one of the most successful sci-fi television series of all time, it’s fitting that The X Files actress Gillian Anderson would continue to pursue work in the world of science fiction.

According to Entertainment Weekly, that’s exactly what the actress is doing. Anderson has signed on to co-write a sci-fi book series with writer Jeff Rovin. The series is called the EarthEnd Saga. The first book, entitled A Vision of Fire, is set to be published in October by Simon & Schuster’s new science fiction imprint, Simon451. The new imprint will be geared toward science fiction and “speculative fiction.”

Anderson says she’s developed a mind for sci-fi after all those years of acting it out on the small screen. She says she wants to write science fiction novels that involve a strong female character.

But don’t think Gillian Anderson is giving up on acting yet. Her new NBC series Crisis debuts in March. She also stars in a series called The Fall and will appear in a few episodes of NBC’s Hannibal this season.

More information about the new Simon451 imprint is expected to come out at New York Comic-Con in October.

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Review: The Eye-Dancers

Review: As a 12-year-old boy, there are few things more terrifying than girls and nightmares. Worse yet, nightmares with girls as the main subject. But that’s exactly what three close friends, Ryan, Joe, and Mitchell, ready to relax before having to go back to school in the fall, have in common — the same nightmare, night after night, of a girl who sucks them into her world with her icy blue eyes. After several nights of this, they enlist their smarty-pants (yes, that is a technical term) classmate to watch them sleep and see what may be causing the terrors. Instead, Marc gets sucked in along with them, and this time, the four boys are transported.

They find themselves in an alternate universe in which the dates are current, but everything else has changed. Prices are cheap. Cars appear to be antiques. After doing research at the local library, the boys learn that many of the world’s most historic effects, like World War II, haven’t happened in this world.

But worse yet, they can’t be transported back to their universe until they save the little girl from their dreams, who they learn has been kidnapped in this universe. A life-or-death adventure in an unfamiliar alternate universe — just what every young teenage boy needs.

Analysis: The Eye-Dancers is a YA sci-fi/fantasy novel that sets out with a clear purpose, taking the idea of something we’ve seen a million times before (a coming-of-age story) and putting a twist on it (by setting it in an alt-world). The story accomplishes one of its goals, that is, the sci-fi/fantasy part of the novel. There’s good adventure in the mystery of the ghost girl and her kidnapping. But the coming-of-age part of the novel feels forced at times.

Each boy is given his own problem at home to identify with; Mitchell’s parents are fighting; Marc wants another sibling; Joe’s older brother is the quintessential golden boy; Ryan feels pressured to live up to his reputation at school. Between the four boys, it’s a lot to keep track of. Some characters’ problems have a more gradual development throughout the book that allows them to grow as people. But the others seem to have epiphanies, seemingly out of nowhere, during which they realize that they need to view life differently.

The end of the novel isn’t completely satisfying. The boys get their “happily ever after” moment that the reader wants for them. But the sci-fi part of the story is never fully explained. Neither the characters nor the reader come to understand why the boy were transported to an alternate universe, what this place really is, or how they got there. Was it all a dream? We don’t know — though, there’s something to be said for the author likely choosing an open-ended resolution such as this.

MVP: Mitchell. His character shows the most character development in the novel, and his is done in a logical, gradual way. Of all the boys, Mitchell is the one we come to know best, and the one we come to love.

Get The Eye-Dancers for your Kindle now for $2.99.

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How The Hunger Games Film Set Up a Big Problem for Catching Fire

Contributed by Alex Rabinowitz

Two guards walk Seneca Crane to an ornately decorated Capitol room. In the center of the room is a decadent, goblet-like bowl. The guards close the door as they leave and Seneca begins to realize his fate. He walks towards the bowl and the camera reveals it to be filled with Nightlock. The rest is implied.

Of all the beautifully handled scenes in The Hunger Games film, this had to be one of the best. It’s one that does so much with so little, at once moving plot forward while informing us on the irony-loving cruelty of President Snow and the Capitol. All that and it’s not even in the book. Katniss, who serves as the first person narrator on paper, tells the reader that Snow surely executed the incompetent Gamemaker, but showing exactly how is something she’d never be able to do.

And therein lies the problem that Gary Ross and company have set themselves up for in Catching Fire. So much of Suzanne Collins’ twisty second book relies on what Katniss doesn’t know. [BOOK 2/3 SPOILERS AHEAD] Readers who have finished the series are aware that by the time the first book ends a rebellion is in motion. Much of its inner-workings happen then outside of Katniss’ grasp before and during the second book. She gets hints of it from Plutarch and scenes on television, but never really puts it all together. Katniss goes into the Quarter Quell with a limited set of information and is largely surprised at the end by a dynamic rebellion-led rescue. The reader is therefore also somewhat surprised and even confused along with her.

Ross and Collins made a very bold choice to fill in the viewer beyond Katniss’s knowledge in the movie version of The Hunger Games. The riot in District 11, private conversations between Snow and Crane, the Gamemaker’s control room, all enhanced the story immensely and made it a better film. There’s no reason this enhancement shouldn’t continue through the series, after all there’s only so much Katniss can tell us. Unfortunately, Catching Fire relies heavily on what Katniss doesn’t know. Is the ending going to be as effective if we already know there’s a revolution brewing and some of our main characters are in on it?

What results is a conundrum of sorts. Frequent Danny Boyle collaborator Simon Beaufoy is penning the adaptation of Collins’ second book and he has a choice. He can either stick with the precedent Ross has set and expand the point of view, or he can buck the trend and bring it back to the first person. Limiting the perspective may end up feeling inconsistent in the overall scheme of things; it could also jeopardize the extra awesomeness the creators can bring that Collins didn’t put in her book. Fans who cried foul at the significant changes made by Ross and company in the first film may lean towards the latter but it could confuse and upset the greater audience.

Thankfully, Beaufoy is a proven talent and will likely figure it out. He had this to say about adapting the book recently, “With this one I had to be a lot more faithful, also because there’s a fan base who are more than usually keen that you get it absolutely right. ‘The Hunger Games’ fan base are passionate beyond anything I’ve ever come across and I’d fear for my life if I get that adaptation . If I do too free an adaptation than I shall get firebombed. So I’m being really careful about that.” (Crave Online) Sounds good for die-hard fans, just glad that I’m not the one having to adapt the sequel to The Hunger Games.

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Making The Hunger Games Your Bible…Literally

In case you haven’t heard or read enough about The Hunger Games in the last two weeks, here’s some out of the ordinary Hunger Games news for you. A Bible study group from North Carolina has been hosting Hunger Games-themed Bible study classes.

That’s right. According to this article by The Huffington Post, two reverends, Andy Langford and Ann Duncan, say they’ve found a number of parallels between The Hunger Games and the Bible, like selfless love and sacrifice. Since January, about 80 people have attended their sessions called “The Gospel According To The Hunger Games Trilogy.” The pastors say they felt this would be a good way to relate to teenagers in their churches, as Duncan explains.

“We’re not trying to make [the series] something that it’s not, but we’re trying to find themes that we as Christians can relate to,”Duncan said in a press release.

The study is available as an e-book on Amazon, as a means to reach people outside of their North Carolina community. So what do you think? Does The Hunger Games have religious undertones? Is this a good way to get people talking about religion?

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