Wednesday, December 13, 2017

REVIEW: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

3.5/5 stars
PG-13 for some swearing, sexual references, and irreverence to Judeo-Christian religions
Recommend to fans of humor, the ridiculous, parody, and satire. If you enjoy Douglas Adams or Christian comedian Brad Stine, you will probably find humor here.
According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.
So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.
And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

Good Omens is completely irreverent and absolutely hilarious.

I adore it.

It's just a figure of speech!
First, let me address the elephant in the room.

This book is super irreverent toward Judeo-Christian religions. I hesitated reading this for a while because of that. In the end, I'm very glad I did, because it's hilarious. Some people might find this book offensive or insulting because of its irreverence -and I get that. BUT, if you think you might be one of these people, let me say this: just don't take it too seriously. It makes light of serious Biblical events, yes, but at the same time, it offers up some good points and interesting commentary about the world. And, in the end, just remember it's a part satire, part parody, fantasy, comedy novel.

On this topic of religion and irreverence, there's actually an interesting theme at play in the fabric of the story which I quite love, pointing at how the worst and the best things in history were devised by humans, not influenced by the likes of demons or angels. It even mentions that Crowley (a demon) took notes during the Spanish Inquisition and sent them back to Hell, because even demons couldn't come up with this stuff. It's almost a running joke throughout the story for Crowley (said demon) or Aziraphale (an angel) to admire one particularly successful blessing or terror, only for the other to reply, "Oh, that wasn't us. We thought that was yours."

Now, I find this so interesting because of the popular idea, both in storytelling and theology, that devils and angels hang around earth, tempting and guiding people in their daily lives.
I've never much liked this concept because it has the stench of brushing off personal responsibility. In a nutshell, I think temptations come from the evil inclinations inside oneself, rather than from an external evil force trying to lead one into darkness; if one simply blames one's sins on the siren call of the devil, one is rather sloughing off one's personal culpability to said sin and one's personal responsibility to keep oneself on the path of the righteous. For example:
It's not my fault
If in God's plan
He made the devil
So much stronger than a man

Hellfire, from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame 
After all, when people put down all the evil in the world to devils and the good in it to angels -or to any spiritual powers!- that certainly begs the question of an individual: "Then what does it matter what I do?"

In Good Omens, Pratchett and Gaiman play around with this idea through the perspectives of Crowley and Aziraphale and -while I don't agree with most of the theology aspects in this book- this side of it is actually quite poignant. It proposes that humans have the capability to be more evil than demons and better than angels.

And you know what? I think they've got a point.

Plus, the book is hilarious. A demon who drives a 1926 black Bentley with 'Dick Turpin' painted on the side? An angel who owns a rare book store? A two-man (not very in demand) army of witch hunters, an 11-year-old Antichrist, and the world's only complete book of prophecy written by one Agnes Nutter, Witch? And all of these elements are thrown into a blender without a top and set on puree. The only thing missing are those identical, little black bags from Oscar!

Of all the parts of this book, what I love most is the friendship between Crowley and Aziraphale. The pair have found common ground over millennia through their shared affinity for earth and humans during their time spent tempting and guiding mankind, and neither of them is much looking forward to seeing the End of the World they've come to love. AND THUS IS BORN THE GREAT COMEDIC TEAM UP. Aside from their poignant dual observations on humanity, theirs is a hilarious and unlikely friendship as they bumble around trying to mess up the Great Plan -and all the better for it, says I!

The plot is a convoluted band of hilarity as Heaven and Hell and everything in between gear up for Armageddon, but while the story tends to bounce all over the place between a wide array of eccentric characters, Gaiman and Pratchett never disappoint to fill a scene to its fullest and funniest potential and it is obvious they enjoyed every second of time they spent in this world.

My one complaint of the whole story is the rather anticlimactic finish. It doesn't necessarily leave loose ends, but it isn't what I wanted, either. There are enough good moments throughout that I still quite love the book but -judge me if you must!- I'm kind of hoping the ending might get tweaked in that BBC miniseries coming next year. *fingers crossed*

Good Omens constantly had me in a fit of giggles, occasionally provoked me to think a little deeper, and easily let me imagine David Tennant in Crowley's shoes just from the way his lines were written.

Besides, any book whose summary ends "And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist..." deserves a read, don't you think?

Have you read Good Omens?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Avengers: Infinity War Trailer Reaction

It gives me chills that the Avengers repeat Fury's line from the original Avengers. Chills. It gives me the impression, too, that they are spoken with the same sense of failure and loss as when Fury spoke them, after the death of Coulson. The questions is: Will they rally the Avengers this time around too?

Scarlet Witch and Vision! I have a feeling major heartbreak is ahead on many levels in Infinity War and I have to admit, I'm glad this looks to be one of them. I have never read a story that has so suckerpunched me in the gut as the comic House of M. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it, but only if you're feeling strong. SUCKER. PUNCH. It's been hinted there are some *feelings* developing between Vision and Wanda, which I've been watching closely, but I hope they really get a chance to develop this angle before... well, see point Will Vision Survive Infinity War?

Is Banner working on the Hulk Buster? It may not, in fact, be the Hulk Buster, but that struck me as an interesting idea, considering Banner's newfound concern of being unable to escape the Hulk form, and of the Hulk's newfound development. Oh. And Banner is Banner again. Considering the last we saw, he'd allowed the Hulk to take over again, despite fear of not being able to regain control.

Loki totally took the tesseract! I've been saying since opening night of Ragnarok, there's no way Loki left the tesseract there. Of course he didn't. But...!

Okay, it's actually better I just show ya'll my first gut reaction, which was of course to message bomb a friend with this:

There's a lot of debate going around on this (for example, this Nerdist video) and another supposition is that Loki is merely giving up the tesseract to #1 buy himself more time or #2 trade it for the surviving Asgardians. These are options which I will allow. I hope it's not #1, because I'd be really mad if Loki does throw away all that beautiful new character depth from Thor: Ragnarok but that, too, in a way, would be another step of character depth and development. But we all know I really just want to make a mostly good guy out of Loki. Okay, at least a mostly good brother, if I can't have a mostly good guy. And believe you me, I far prefer the idea of an amoral Loki with a soft spot for his brother than an outright Hero Loki. Waaaaay more interesting.

But seriously, MCU.




New Spidey suit -Iron Man style! Honestly, I prefer the old-fashioned suit myself, but what I really care about is Spidey getting his moment to SHINE. Spider-man: Homecoming was phenomenal and -while Tony came around in the end to giving Peter the praise and opportunity he deserved- it will be interesting to see how this plays out when the world is in true, intergalactic jeopardy. How much will Tony and the Avengers trust Spidey with responsibility? How hard will Peter have to work to make them take him seriously?

"And get this man a shield." The return of the prodigal son Steve Rogers looks like it will be a huzzah cheering moment! It will be interesting to see how they work all the unresolved -shall we say- politics that have been dividing the Avengers against the backdrop of the most serious imminent threat to date.

Will Vision survive Infinity War? Without the stone, I do wonder. Still, it would suck to lose this character before he's really had his chance to shine. And if we DO lose Vision this early, THEY BETTER SATISFACTORILY DEVELOP ALL THOSE WANDA/VISION FEELINGS THEY KEEP HINTING AT INTO AN ACTUAL RELATIONSHIP FIRST.

Anticipating lots from the Black Panther film. And I mean, lots. How involved will Captain America or Bucky be in the film, if at all? How 'stand alone' is the film actually going to be, since it's the last film before Infinity War hits? I really want to see a solid solo film for Black Panther, but we already know from trailers that Everett Ross is about to get very suspicious about Wakanda and I anticipate that film is going to get a head-start on at least some of the massive amounts of plot we see coming out of this Infinity War trailer.

I, at least, will certainly be reading all the Black Panther comics I can.

And the Thanos comics, come to think of it. I've only read The Infinity Gauntlet so far -which is fantastic and highly recommended, by the way- but also means I have no idea who Thanos' children are.

"Who the hell are you guys?"

Who says you can't have an end-credit scene in a trailer? XD

Overall? Fantastic trailer. I can't wait to see the movie and at the same time I'm kind of dreading it. The comics can kill characters, bring back characters, create entirely new timelines and alternate universes in order to keep characters dead and alive at the same time, and have basically all-around mastered the Immortal Hero thing. The MCU doesn't share this luxury. Unless they start their own version of a Time Lord-like regeneration, our heroes are going to pass the mantel, retire, and -yes- die. Very definitive, finite, and irreversible deaths.

Bring it on, Marvel.


And if there's not at least one argument involving threat of bodily harm (if not actual bodily harm) between Peter Quill and Tony Stark over music selection, I will be one disappointed fangirl.

What are your thoughts and theories on the upcoming Infinity War?

Friday, December 1, 2017

NaNoWriMo Winner | #amwriting

I didn't think I was going to make it. I really, really didn't. Just look at those abominable stats!
I didn't even start writing until day 7 and that smooth plateau mid-month? That's when I got sick, which is apparently my new Thanksgiving tradition. I DO NOT recommend it; it sucks. I was meant to go RVing that weekend -and get ALL OF THE WORDS written- but I didn't wind up going because of that cold. Instead, I stayed in bed. I mean, I rewatched nearly all three seasons of Ashes to Ashes, so it wasn't a total loss, but still.

But you want to see something really cool?

The number of zeros here is completely atrocious, I know. Despite them, though, I still managed 50k. My mind's still reeling from this. Most of the month I wasn't too concerned. "Oh, I've still got twelve days to write that 25k -totally fine!"

It was on November 26th, when I realized I hadn't even hit the halfway mark -and only had five days left- that I started to panic.

Like I said, I didn't think I'd make it. I lost some sleep; I skipped some (most) lunches; I barely read; I certainly didn't watch any TV. (I did make an exception for the Avengers: Infinity War trailer because HOLY CRUMB, YOU GUYS!)

And somehow -without going completely insane or becoming a total bear- I wrote 26,318 words in five days.

It's been years since I wrote that much with such consistency. Like, when I was still in school, before I got a job, when I would literally do nothing but write for 6 hours every day -and even then big word counts were only during good writing days.

Writing has become a real struggle for me over the past years. I think a lot of it has to do with my evolving understanding in style and technique; basically, I have a harder time writing first drafts, because my Inner Editor keeps telling me "This is crap, this is really, really crap, how can you write this drivel?" And it really is drivel; I know for a fact that I used almost the same words and phrasing to describe certain characters every time I described them.

But the magic of NaNo is that it in itself is a habit. I trained myself for years to write for word count, lock away that Inner Editor, and just make myself write. Outside of November, getting my Inner Editor to shut up is a real trick! But I've done NaNo so many times, it's automatic from November 1st to the 30th.

And NaNo has reminded me Yes! I can write complete drivel and still make headway! I had this conversation with a NaNo buddy yesterday as we made that dash for the finish line, because she's been having some of the same writing struggles as me. Over November, we both noticed that letting ourselves write terrible first drafts -focusing on word count rather than trying to fit everything together- actually led to more genuine inspiration and ideas that seemed to slide seamlessly into the story, giving it more depth and pizzazz. For a girl who has been driving herself nuts trying to do exactly that in outline form, this was like winning a million dollar lottery. Twice. 

My friend brought up this idea from Inception, and I had to dig it up, because this is what I realized this November. Just replace 'dream' with 'writing', and this is it exactly.

Cobb: Well, imagine you're designing a building. You consciously create each aspect. But sometimes it feels like it's almost "creating itself", if you know what I mean.
Ariadne: Yeah, like I'm discovering it.
Cobb: Genuine inspiration, right? Now, in a dream, our mind continuously does this. We create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind does this so well that we don't even know it's happening. That allows us to get right in the middle of that process.
(from Wikiquotes)
I've talked some about my ongoing writing woes, especially as concerns my current project Glass & Cinders, and it seems like I'm always finding the 'Aha!' solution to my problems. But I'm pretty sure this is it, the root cause of the problem. This concept of perceiving and creating, of genuine inspiration coming so easily and often during the writing process. Many of my attempts to fix this story via outlining and brainstorming have turned out wooden and flat, because I guess I do my best writing when I'm actually writing. Go figure.

And since I also learned that -given a 15-minute timer and a good song in my headphones- I can easily generate 600 words. Again, for a girl who's been writing words like it's pulling teeth, this is another wake-up call, like lightning to my brain.

So here's to keeping the pace -not the 6,000 words a day thing; that's an epic burnout waiting to happen!- and continuing on til I hit that most desirable finish line of all. The one that says 'The End.'

How did your crazy November go?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Author Interview: Iain Reading

Iain Reading -author of The Dragon of the Month Club, The Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency, and Wizards of Waterfire- agreed to answer some interview questions.

And I love putting together interview questions. *cue evil laughter*

Amanda: Do you have a favorite character in the story?

Iain: I think I really really like Ayana a lot. I love how tough she is and how vulnerable she is and how much she misses her old life in Vancouver. But mostly I love how brave and tough she is and how she wants to much to be even more like that.

A: If you could conjure any dragon from THE BOOK, which one would it be and why?

I: It would definitely be Kami, the little paper dragon. I have this image of her in my mind that she flutters around like a butterfly, mimicking her surroundings like a chameleon with flashing pencil sketches on her wings. She is also, I believe, the only female dragon in the book, which makes her extra special.

A: If you miscast a spell and wound up traveling through the books by your bed, where would you be?

I: I think if that happened I would be in real trouble. Right at this moment I would end up in the worlds of Jeff Vandermeer, Lee Child and (worst of all) Stephen King! What a nightmare!

A: Do you think you'd survive as well as Ayana and Tyler?

I: Ummmmm. No. No way. Ayana and Tyler are WAY more resourceful and brave than I am. Plus, if I ended up on the streets of Derry, Maine, the first place I would go is to find those kids from the book It.

A: Swim or fly?

I: Ha ha ha. Fly!!!!

A: Pie or cake?

I: Pie! Definitely! Strawberry rhubarb is awesome!

A: What, if anything, inspired you to write this book?

I: Oddly enough, it was watching reruns of the TV show Modern Family. The episode where Jay has a subscription to the Sausage of the Month Club – which got me thinking.... what if there was a dragon of the month club? What would that be like? I had no idea. But the next day it suddenly came to me. And the book (and club) were born.

A: What are you working on now?

I: I am working on several things right now, including a second book of the dragon of the month club (see next question). The two other things I am working on are the sixth book to my Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency series and an unpublished book about magic (and other things).

A: When can we expect the next dragon of the month club book?

I: This is the big question on many people's minds! (Mine included) I have been asked many times in recent months about this and everyone will be glad to know that I am taking Christmas off this year and I will make a HUGE effort to finish the book early next year. I am already about halfway through it and it's really wonderful.

Let's hope Mr. Reading doesn't miscast any spells soon! I wouldn't want to try surviving a Stephen King novel either. (Yikes!)

To learn more about Iain Reading and his books, just hop over to his website.

Be sure to check out my review for The Dragon of the Month Club.

But before you go, I want to know: If you wound up on a magical adventure through the books by your bed right now, where would YOU be?

REVIEW: The Dragon of the Month Club by Iain Reading

2/5 stars
PG for a frightening fairy tale villain said to cut off children's thumbs.
Recommend to children getting into fantasy.


The Dragon Of The Month Club is the exciting first installment in a new book series that tells the story of Ayana Fall and Tyler Travers, two best friends who stumble across an extraordinarily magical book and soon find themselves enrolled as members of a very special and exclusive club - The Dragon of the Month Club.

On the thirteenth of every month a new dragon conjuring spell is revealed and the two friends attempt to summon the latest Dragon of the Month. The varieties are almost endless: Air Dragons, Paper Dragons, Fog Dragons, Waterfall Dragons, Rock Dragons, Tree Dragons - not to mention special bonus dragons for all the major holidays, including a particularly prickly Holly Dragon for Christmas.

But one day when a conjuring spell somehow goes wrong Ayana and Tyler find themselves unexpectedly drawn into a fantastical world of adventure based on the various books scattered all across Tyler's messy bedroom. Traveling from one book-inspired world to the next with nothing to rely on but their wits and a cast of strange and exotic dragons at their disposal they must try to somehow find their way home again.
(via Goodreads)

The Dragon of the Month Club is a fun adventure story for kids, though older or more particular readers may find it a bit bland. While the premise is interesting, the story is mostly fluff -just cute and sometimes silly fun.

Kids will like exploring the worlds of other books along with Ayana and Tyler, though they will likely not be familiar with most of them. Sherlock Holmes -Tyler's literary hero- is the most recognizable in the company of Frank Herbert's Dune, an underrated and super creepy villain of German fairy tales, and a whole little world springing out of Chinese folklore. The Chinese folklore bit was my favorite, though it was a sluggish point of the book plot-wise.

Reading is creative with the dozens of dragon types he comes up with for Ayana and Tyler to conjure every month. Wooden dragons, paper dragons, fog dragons -with their wits and this variety, Ayana and Tyler can conjure a dragon to help them out of most of the scrapes they find themselves in. Mostly, these were creative solutions to their problems, but occasionally they felt a little contrived. The dragons themselves are adorable -almost as adorable as Tyler's crush on Ayana.

As far as crushes in middle grade fiction go, I'm pretty picky, but Tyler's crush on Ayana is a solid win for me because it mostly takes the form of Tyler recognizing the emotional pain Ayana's in and caring so much for her he just wants her to be whole again. While it does talk about Ayana's anger over her father's leaving, what initially felt like good character depth and the foundation of an arc petered out without offering up any real substance on the matter. I've no doubt Reading plans to pick up this arc in the next book, possibly carrying it over the whole series, but without any attempts at resolving or advancing this depth made the book weak in the character department.

The writing and style can be stiff and inflexible, which makes it a tough read for me. For the amount of plot and story, the book is also a bit dense, which could make it a tricky read for others as well.

This first installment feels more like an introduction to the real story Reading wants to tell, rather than a full story on its own. While Tyler and Ayana make their way through this magical mish-mash world, neither of them are asking the really interesting questions I am: Where did the dragon of the month club book come from in the first place? Who made it? Is there a reason it came to Tyler and Ayana, or was it random? Are there other books and other kids out there with the same book? But Tyler and Ayana take the magic book -and the whole adventure- easily in stride without dwelling on these kinds of questions and it makes the story feel a bit flat and unrealistic.

While Ayana and Tyler get into their fair share of adventures and dodge a few brief antagonists, the apparent villain of the series isn't introduced until the very last page, so I feel a bit robbed by the cliffhanger.

While I'll be skipping the rest of this series, I have no qualms about passing it along to any of my younger niblings, either.