Arrival (2016)

Rating: 10 of 10

movie poster Arrival (2016)At whatever point you’re at in your life right now, if given the opportunity, would you do it all over again? You’d experience all the highs, every low, the moments of pure bliss, and the situations you didn’t think you’d survive.

Synopsis: “When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team — led by expert translator Louise Banks (Amy Adams) — races against time to decipher their intent. As tensions mount between fearful governments, Banks discovers the aliens’ true purpose and, to avert global war, takes a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.” (source)

My thoughts: The only movie, of 261 movies watched in 2016, that I gave 10 stars. I had to make myself not buy another ticket and watch it again immediately.

Normally, if someone I know in real life hasn’t seen a movie yet, I keep my opinions to myself so as not to taint their expectations. There was no way I could do that with ARRIVAL. I told everyone I knew they HAD to see it *cough* andloveit *cough* or else I would shun them. Only half serious…

Unfortunately, I can’t share much in the way of specifics; one of the things that makes ARRIVAL a spectacular film is learning the truth right along with Louise. All I’ll say is, if you enjoy sci-fi movies that wrinkle your brain and punch you in the feels, you won’t be disappointed. Not since JUNEBUG and SUNSHINE CLEANING has Amy Adams given such a deeply affecting performance. Her portrayal of Louise Banks reminded why I adore her as an actor and why I watch all her movies.

I wanted to read the short story on which ARRIVAL is based before watching the film, but I couldn’t resist; the trailer just looked too damn good! It’s on my to-read list for 2017, though. “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, available in the collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, published by Small Beer Press. Those I know who’ve read it tell me it’s excellent.

Check out ARRIVAL Why are they here? | official website and trailer | on IMDb | on Facebook | on Twitter

(Watched at AMC Lennox 12/5/2016)

The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Synopsis: “[A]n innocent young woman becomes entangled in a web of ancient secrets and deadly lies that lie at the dark center of her prosperous island world. Eliana is a model citizen of the island, a weaver in the prestigious House of Webs. She also harbors a dangerous secret—she can dream, an ability forbidden by the island’s elusive council of elders. No one talks about the dreamers, the undesirables ostracized from society.

Joining a band of brave rebels determined to expose the island’s dark secrets, Eliana becomes a target of ruthless forces determined to destroy her. To save herself and those she loves, she must call on the power within her she thought was her greatest weakness: her dreams.” (source)

My thoughts: I would prepare those readers expecting the stark, post-apocalyptic reality from Memory of Water; The Weaver is much more fantastical, mythical, dream-like. Its story a little denser, a little unfocused.

I loved the use of water in The Weaver — in this case it is something to be feared, the potential ender of life instead of the giver as in Memory. I loved that Eliana has brown skin[spoiler]; her girlfriend is pale-skinned, which, I assume, is who the publisher chose to feature on the book’s US cover. Booooo to them for whitewashing[/spoiler].

Emmi Itäranta writes such evocative prose! The entire waterwold felt alive – wet, cold, salt buildup – as if lying in wait to devour the island’s inhabitants. This island’s dystopia hinges on misinformation and control of information. Something I’m sure some of us can relate to.

I look forward to Itäranta’s next book.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

Rating: 7 of 10

movie poster I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)An insouciant thriller that’s more character study than edge-of-your-seat, whodunit.

Synopsis: “Sixteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer—but he has all the makings of one. Keeping his homicidal tendencies and morbid obsessions with death and murder in check is a constant struggle that only gets harder when a real serial killer begins terrorizing his sleepy Midwestern town. Now, in order to track down a psychopath and protect those around him, John must unleash his darkest inner demons.” (source)

My thoughts: Years back I read the young adult book on which this movie was based. It was a solid story, one I knew had the potential to be an entertaining movie.

Happily, this adaptation didn’t let me down. Where I think the movie sets itself apart from the book is its atmosphere and grittiness. Add to that Christopher Lloyd, an impressive performance by Max Records as John, and you have one of the best indie horror movies I’ve seen in 2016.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies like NIGHTCRAWLER, STOKER, or HARD CANDY.

Check out I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER official website and trailer on IFC Midnight | on IMDb | on Twitter

(Watched on Amazon 11/18/2016)

The Doorway and the Deep by K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Synopsis: “Travel back to the enchanting and treacherous land of Limn, where Lottie Fiske has escaped the murderous Southerly king for a while—but other perils are hard on her heels. War is coming to the beautiful world of magic that Lottie has come to love. Events are pushing her to the North, where many answers—about her parents, about her abilities, about this world and others—await. But the road to the north is full of dangers, and so are the answers.” (source)

My thoughts: Noooo! Not a cliffhanger?!!

The torture. The agony of waiting for the next book.

Yeah, I love it.

A red apple tree grows in the heart of Wandlebury Wood. It is a burst of color in a land of silver grass and white-barked yew trees, and out from its trunk step two travelers. The girl takes a small bird from her pocket. The boy takes a deep breath.

The Doorway and the Deep picks up pretty much right where The Water and the Wild left off. [spoiler]Lottie heals Eliot; they go off to Limn together. Which is awesome because when Lottie told Eliot’s dad all about her adventure, he believed her! That’s so rare in middle grade/YA — usually the adults never believe the kids.[/spoiler] There is minimal recap of book one aka no info dump. So if it’s been a year or more since you read The Water and the Wild, or if you aren’t that quick at recalling its events, you may want to refresh your memory before diving into book two.

The Doorway and the Deep is all about the quest for answers that will hopefully end the reign of the Southerly king and save Limn from total destruction. Along the way Lottie continues to hone her keen, wrestle her genga Trouble into obedience (or at least his inconsistent cooperation), navigate relationships with friends, allies, and a potential boyfriend (come on, we knew it was bound to happen), and struggle with the uncertainty of who she is and what she’s capable of.

This book is a page-turner; there’s a lot going on and, as my opening remarks all so subtly alluded to, the ending will leave readers wanting the next book immediately.

Highly recommended to young readers ages 8-12 especially if they’re seeking a strong female lead who isn’t perfect but still worthy of respect, if they love the idea of carrying around an adorable magical little bird in their pocket, if they’ve always dreamed of having a special ability. Or, if they’re dealing with a close friend or relative living with a terminal illness. This series has a lot to offer readers of all ages. So why aren’t more people reading these books?!!

Author’s website | Chronicle Books | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received hardcover from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Celtic Tales: Fairy Tales and Stories of Enchantment by Kate Forrester

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Synopsis: “The traditional stories of Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales transport us to the fantastical world of Celtic folklore. Translated and transcribed by folklorists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the 16 stories in this compilation conjure forgotten realms and rare magical creatures in vivid prose. These timeless tales brim with wit and magic, and each one is brought to life with elegant silhouette art by Kate Forrester in this special illustrated edition.” (source)

My thoughts: The perfect gift for anyone who loves folklore and fairy tales!

Celtic Tales collects and “lightly” adapts 16 stories from four works* published in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The tales are organized into Tricksters, The Sea, Quests, and Romance.

Selkies, wyverns, witches, and giants.
Perilous quests, true love, and animals that talk.

Bold, vibrant illustrations introduce each story. (Have a look at a small sample on the illustrator’s website.) Nearly all of the stories were unfamiliar to me, but I’m relatively new to reading Celtic folklore. My favorite was “The Black Bull of Norroway,” which reminded me of an episode of The Storyteller.

Beautiful hardcover edition! I kept running my hand over the cover, feeling the raised knots, then the title — gorgeous.

Official website | Illustrator’s website | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Received hardcover from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

*The Scottish Fairy Book, Wonder Tales of Ancient Wales, Folk Tales of Brittany, and Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.

My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Synopsis: “When Jessica marries David, he is everything she wants in a family man: brilliant, attentive, ever youthful. Yet she still feels something about him is just out of reach. Soon, as people close to Jessica begin to meet violent, mysterious deaths, David makes an unimaginable confession…” (source)

My thoughts: My Soul to Keep is the second book I’ve read by Tananarive Due, and now I can confidentially say two things: 1) Due writes in a way that I’m instantly drawn into the story; her characters, all of them, come alive from page one; and, 2) She breathes new life into old ideas/ seemingly overdone, overused fantasy tropes.

I loved the premise of My Soul to Keep especially where the Living Blood originated. It was interesting to look at how the immortals viewed humans, excluded females, dealt with threats to their anonymity. And while I was slightly teary-eyed at the ending, I loved Jessica’s transformation. To me that’s the true strength of a woman. I won’t say more because spoilers!

The only problem I had with this story, and why I had to set it aside a few times, was that I did not like Dawitt at all. Yes, I understand that the centuries and the traumas have changed him. That maybe it’s unfair to hold him accountable to human standards because he’s immortal. I sympathized with him, but he went too far, over and over again. His love was unhealthy.

Jessica, I liked; she was smart, sensitive and strong. Though, she doubted herself way too much. I guess she’s meant to be all the women who are like her in real life. It makes me sad to think of the women who settle for “the perfect guy” because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do. How they’ll consciously overlook warning signs and red flags just to avoid rocking the boat. But, like I mentioned above, Jessica gradually opened her eyes and tried her best to rectify the mistakes.

Recommended to anyone looking for dark fantasy with a strong mythic vibe.

Author’s website, Twitter, blog | Add on LibraryThing | Add on Goodreads

(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Synopsis: “When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death Lauren Olamina, a minister’s young daughter, loses her family and home and ventures out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny… and the birth of a new faith.” (source)

My thoughts: My first time reading anything by Octavia Butler. What took me so long?!!

Parable of the Sower is a frightening depiction of civilization’s decline in the aftermath of environmental and economic crises. From page one I was ready for the worst, on edge the entire journey. The night Lauren’s home was invaded was horrific. Yet underneath the brutality was hope.

Lauren is now in my top five female protagonists in a post-apocalyptic / dystopian setting. Her hyperempathy intrigued me: the notion of being extremely sensitive to the feelings of others, to the point of bleeding if others are injured, has been one I’ve always wanted to see explored more often in fiction. Lauren is also exactly the kind of friend I would want: smart, straightforward, loyal unless you break her trust, rational, resourceful, and not overly sentimental or emotional.

The only aspect of the story with which I did not connect was Earthseed, the new religion that Lauren created. However, I respected her for sticking to her beliefs while at the same time building a community with the strangers she encountered on her mission. She didn’t force Earthseed on these newcomers but she also didn’t shy away from a discussion with naysayers.

Addresses (still) current issues like race, gender and class as well as the environment, privatization, and digitization. This book would be an excellent discussion starter. For example, I kept thinking about people of color who have already suffered in real life what the fictional Lauren and the people of her gated community experienced: their loved one leaving home for work or school to have them “vanish,” never seeing them again, never knowing what happened to them, having to assume they’d been killed… This is not a fun read but it’s fast-paced, filled with real people, and explores a world we should all take a closer look at. Especially given the 2016 presidential candidate who seems ripped from the pages of this story’s “government.”

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

This Is Your Brain on Parasites by Kathleen McAuliffe

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Synopsis: “A riveting investigation of the myriad ways that parasites control how other creatures – including humans – think, feel, and act.” (source)

My thoughts: The scariest book I’ve read this Halloween season, and it’s non-fiction!

Think the science in The Girl With All the Gifts is the stuff of pure make-believe? Think again. Thanks to a parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps the “zombie ant” is real. How far of a leap, then, is a “zombie human” controlled by a parasite? Not much of one, I’d posit. Especially after reading about Toxoplasma gondii.

‘Most of us are comfortable with the idea that a painkiller or drug might modify our behavior, but there’s something very different about a small parasite – a few hundred or thousand of these single-celled parasites – that’s in your brain for your entire life. And because you can’t get rid of them and you don’t know that they’re there, like at what point does all of their influence just become who you are?’

McAuliffe presents a broad overview of neuroparasitology, from its early days to the latest theories and studies, along with a handful of color photos. The author’s own fascination and excitement in her subject adds a fun factor I find lacking in most science books. Yet she doesn’t shy away from pointing out weak points or unproven theories.

A book perfect for those mining the facts for creepy crawlies with which to infect their own imagined worlds.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Rating: 4 of 5

Synopsis: “Imogen and her sister Marin escape their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, whether it be art or love.” (source)

My thoughts: How far would you go, how much would you sacrifice, to have everything you’ve ever wanted? That is the question central to Roses and Rot.

Not having enough talent seemed almost worse than not having any, because having a little meant having just enough to know what you lacked.

When I learned Roses and Rot was a retelling of Tam Lin, I was thankful it’d been several years since I’d read the ballad. That way there might be more surprises as I read this book’s version. [spoiler]All I really remembered about the ballad was a mortal woman had to pull her lover from a horse and hold on to him in order to save him from the Queen of Faerie. [/spoiler]

Stories of the Fair Folk are not at all then what we think of as fairy tales, those moralistic stories wherein evil is punished and virtue triumphs, that were set safely in once upon a time, and had happy endings guaranteed. True fairy tales are horror stories.

I adored that this love story centered around two sisters; the two of them, though bonded together in childhood against their narcissistic nightmare of a mother, grew apart after Imogen escaped to boarding school leaving Marin alone with their mother. Then they’re brought back together by their acceptance into Melete, an elite postgrad arts program. And in the end they must save each other in different ways.

The story’s imagery and sensory stimulation was vibrant and intoxicating — alive. I could smell autumn at the Night Market; I could feel the perilous edge of the collapsed covered bridge. Blurring the lines between the mortal world and Faerie felt exhilarating and frightening. It’s been a while since I’ve read a story in which Faerie is equal parts beautiful and terrifying, and I enjoyed the way Howard embraced the haughty nature of the Fae.

Roses and Rot is one of the most successful retellings in recent memory because it will delight readers familiar with Tam Lin whilst simultaneously resonate with readers completely unfamiliar with the story on which it’s based.

Perhaps the only happily ever after is to survive to tell the story.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Equals (2015)

Rating: 7 of 10

movie poster Equals (2015)Feelings complicate just about everything in life. So what would happen if people permanently suppressed their emotions? Everyone would function as thought-based beings motivated by logical actions and rational behaviors. The result of which would be widespread peace and harmony, right?

Synopsis: “Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult play Nia and Silas, two people who work together in a futuristic society known as “The Collective.” A seemingly utopian world, “The Collective” has ended crime and violence by genetically eliminating all human emotions. Despite this, Nia and Silas can’t help noticing a growing attraction between them, leading them to a forbidden relationship—at first tentative, but then exploding into a passionate romance. As suspicion begins to mount among their superiors, the couple will be forced to choose between going back to the safety of the lives they have always known, or risk it all to try and pull off a daring escape.” (source)

My thoughts: EQUALS presented its technologically advanced future with a sterile aesthetic rendered through a suffusion of cold hues and modernist architecture. I recall very little, if any, natural elements like trees or wildlife. Or anything lending a softness to its surroundings. Everyone and everything is controlled, evaluated, moderated. Its atmosphere was one of isolation within forced cooperation. Like most “utopian” societies, in reality, it was more of a dystopia for its inhabitants. And, while the premise isn’t groundbreaking, there was still much to think about.

But I’ll admit, for me, the reason EQUALS succeeded was Silas and Nia. Their chemistry was palpable, and both showed a lifetime’s worth of emotion without the physicality of those feelings; e.g., facial expressions or intonation. When they finally risk it all to touch, just the edge of his hand to hers, I was captivated. If I hadn’t liked Silas, who we meet first, and then Nia, the movie wouldn’t have affected me much. Their self-discovery and pursuit of an existence beyond what they’re told is right, pushed this film beyond the standard genre fare.

Highly recommended if you enjoyed movies like THE GIVER, EQUILIBRIUM, or GATTACA.

Check out EQUALS official website and trailer | on A24 Films | on IMDb | on Facebook

(Watched DVD on 10/5/2016)