Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

Title: Hunter
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Series: Hunter, Book 1
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Hardcover: 374 pages
Source: County of Los Angeles Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares.

Monsters.

Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky.

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.

Joy soon realizes that the city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers, and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in—to them, Joy and her corps of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.

When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, she uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them…

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

First of all, I cannot emphasize enough that I think this book is worth sticking through the first quarter or hundred pages.  I only feel the need to bring this up, because I was surprised by the amount of one-star ratings I saw for this book and realized the reason for them was overwhelmingly that people gave up on it about 20-25% in.  I’ll be honest, I don’t blame those people who did.  The first part of the book really seems like it is setting up to be another run-of-the-mill dystopian YA book like Hunger Games or Divergent.  However, while it does not go into a completely different direction I think that the latter part of the book is incredibly well done and more than makes up for the stale beginning.

There are several things that I really liked about the way this book handled itself after the initial set up.  The first was that I enjoyed the relationships between characters.  Most importantly, I liked the way the main character (Joy) was developed.  There was a lot of internal monologue by Joy, as often happens in these kinds of books, but also actually interacted with several other characters including her Otherworld hounds which greatly improved the monotony that occasionally occurs.  The friendships she developed were well written and nothing seemed overdramatic and were still quite compelling.  Most importantly to me, she was in no way spurred on purely through romantic interest of any kind.  This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to strong female characters.  I think that she was a nice balance between still being the young girl she is and being incredibly strong and mature when the time called for it (as expected of a heroine).  The book is not devoid of romantic interest, which I think could also ring somewhat false or hollow, but it is very much a subplot that informs feelings and decisions but in no way could be considered a major part of the novel.

The other thing I thought was handled quite well that worried me at first were the Christians (referred to as Christers in the book).  I hate to admit I went from laughing about the fact that they were angry that this cataclysmic event was not the apocalypse to beginning to cringe about how they were being talked about for the most part (again in the first hundred pages or so).  Again though, I think that this was beautifully handled in the subsequent sections of the novel when Joy befriends a Christer hunter nicknamed “White Knight” and we get to see her much more nuanced and interesting relationship with them as a whole.

Also, the hounds are really cool and I want some.

Overall, I don’t think this book will blow your socks off and if you can’t deal with a slow start it is not for you, but if you can get past that and like this sort of novel I think you will be well rewarded with the rest of it.

ALYSSA *added 3/7/2017*

Maybe I was sufficiently warned from Andrew, or maybe I’m just used to Lackey’s style at this point, but I had no trouble getting into this book. The start was slow, but I genuinely enjoyed being slowly introduced to this weird science fiction/fantasy world. It’s incredibly complex, with its mythology and politics, and I love that Joy is at the center of it; she’s keeping the secrets of the place where she grew up while also playing the game and being a good Hunter for the higher-ups.

I agree with Andrew that the way relationships between the characters is developed is amazing. I felt like I had emotional connections with the characters almost instantly, and whether that’s because Joy is so well developed and I felt such a connection to her, or because all the characters are developed well, I don’t know. Probably a combination of the two. One of my pet peeves is also how romantic relationships are often developed in YA books, particularly. It all too frequently takes center-stage, even in a book like this one, where it seems like the pressing danger of the Othersiders should theoretically take precedence. Luckily, Lackey knows what she’s about and focuses on the story rather than the romance. There is just enough of the whole this-guy-is-cute-I-want-to-date-him thing.

My absolute favorite part, however, is how well the mythology/fantasy elements are tied together with the science fiction/post-apocalypse elements. I love how religion and fairy tales are almost given the same level of importance in this new world, where Othersiders seem very much to match a lot of the folk tales and legends found in old stories. And the ways they fight these supernatural creatures with a mixture of magic that the Hunters have within them and the tech developed by the military is also really cool; as I said, I was fascinated by this science fiction/fantasy fusion. I found it incredibly compelling.

Super excited to start the sequel!

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

where'd you go, bernadetteTitle: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Publisher: Little, Brown
Hardcover: 330 pages
Source: Borrowed from Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

The story behind this book: Andrew’s cousin Liz once recommended this to me while we were visiting her during spring break. We were so busy exploring Seattle, however, that I never got around reading to it. So, when our local book club had this listed as the book they were reading next, we both thought that it’d be a good way to: read the same book at the same time, finally read the book his cousin recommended so long ago, and meet new people in the process.

ALYSSA

I had a hard time getting into this, but once it got going, I was fully immersed. I think that Semple does a really good job of finding the humor in intense situations and really plays that up in this book, which I found enjoyable.

The best moments for me were the crazy PTA parents and Bernadette’s ways of getting back at them. In a lot of ways, I identified with Bernadette, which is kind of scary, but I’m not going to think about that too much. :p Having visited Seattle, it was a huge bonus for me to sort of know the neighborhoods and stereotypes that are portrayed. It added some nuance and detail to the story that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

While I very much enjoyed the middle, I found the end to drop back down to how I felt in the beginning. There isn’t much of a satisfying resolution and everything feels ridiculous; unfortunately, Semple goes past humor and goes into drama for drama’s sake. Without getting into spoilers, there were a lot of actual problematic issues going on that were sort of glossed over and made to look like they were resolved. Regardless, I enjoyed this book overall (still rated it a 4!) and it was an entertaining, easy read for what it was. I think anyone looking for a bit of good fun will enjoy this — it’s very approachable and deals with situations that almost anyone can relate to. Great book club book, for the record.

ANDREW

This could be my bias towards love of architecture coming out, but I wish they had spent more time revisiting Part II, where it talks about Bernadette’s career as an architect. It was one of the more compelling parts of the book, and I wish it had been a bigger part of the story instead of glossed over and just used as background information. Additionally, it gets strangely meta at the end, and I don’t think that it was done as well as it could have been.

Overall, however, it’s really funny. I laughed quite a bit while listening to this. It’s well written, and I think that the e-mail/letter format is well done and interesting. For the most part, the format fits the story nicely. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I do recommend it if you’re a fan of audiobooks; the narrator does a really good job. I think you could read the book and still enjoy without knowing Seattle, but having a rough knowledge of the neighborhoods and atmosphere of the city definitely helped me better enjoy the story.

Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman The Secret ServiceDirector: Matthew Vaughn
Running Time: 2 h 9 min
Rating: R
Source: Chicago Public Library
 

 

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Ever since the commercials for this came out, I’ve been dying to see this movie — Colin Firth as a secret agent spy guy? Yes. Absolutely yes. I mean, I’ll see him in basically anything, but this looked particularly good. So, when we came across it during our weekly library browsing, Andrew and I decided to spend our Friday night hanging out and watching Kingsman.

Alyssa

I didn’t have the highest of expectations going in, but I expected to enjoy myself watching this movie. What I didn’t expect was to absolutely love it. For a couple of days afterward, I would see it by the TV and turn to Andrew to say, “That was actually such a good movie.” For me, it had everything: great acting, a solid story line with a few twists that were unexpected for the most part, and lovely cinematography. My favorite part about comic books turned movies are those beautiful shots that are reminiscent of a comic panel, and Kingsman certainly used those to its advantage, along with heavily stylized fight scenes. I at first thought that the fight scenes were going to bother me, since I’m incredibly squeamish about blood and gore, but I found that it was done in such a way that it really was like reading a comic, and I didn’t have to turn away when things turned violent– which is rare for me.

In terms of story itself, it’s wonderful. The movie makes me want to read the comics, because I fell in love with characters. The villain is a hilarious foil to the agents, and I hope he’s portrayed as well in the comics.

Andrew

Like Alyssa, I didn’t have very high expectations for this movie. Even the opening scene didn’t do much to improve my expectations. And I love Colin Firth, but I thought it was a bit far-fetched for him to play a secret agent. Luckily, I was quickly proven wrong in that belief.

I enjoy watching plot-heavy scenes more than I do action sequences, but Kingsman did a good job in balancing the two, to the point where the action sequences even contributed to the plot of the film, rather than having it seem like two separate movies: one with plot, and one with mayhem and fighting. (*cough* Captain America 2 *cough*) Also, a lot of movies coming from comic books try to make themselves more “realistic” for the “real world,” but this really stays true to some of its comic book roots in terms of not holding back on some of the goofy elements — like the characterization of Samuel Jackson’s character, and the over-dramatic stylized fight scenes — and staying true to the stylistic comic book elements for the way it was shot.

Overall, this is a surprisingly good movie and we highly recommend it.

Book Review: Andre the Giant – Life and Legend

andre the giant life and legendTitle: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
Author: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second
Paperback: 240 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Andre Roussimoff is known as both the lovable giant in The Princess Bride and a heroic pro-wrestling figure. He was a normal guy who’d been dealt an extraordinary hand in life. At his peak, he weighed 500 pounds and stood nearly seven and a half feet tall. But the huge stature that made his fame also signed his death warrant.

Box Brown brings his great talents as a cartoonist and biographer to this phenomenal new graphic novel. Drawing from historical records about Andre’s life as well as a wealth of anecdotes from his colleagues in the wrestling world, including Hulk Hogan, and his film co-stars (Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, etc), Brown has created in Andre the Giant, the first substantive biography of one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable figures.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Alyssa:

I was interested in this book for two reasons. The first is that Andrew loves Andre the Giant, and I wanted to see if he’d like this book as well. The second is that I was intrigued about using a comic format for a biography, so I wanted to see how it would work.

Overall, I think that it’s a success. This isn’t an incredibly detailed account of Andre the Giant’s life, but it covers the main information and gives enough facts and tidbits to make it an interesting read. Also, with the comic format, the story moves very quickly — I think I finished this in a few hours. The illustration style lends itself well to how the author portrays Andre’s life — very simple and straightforward. I learned a few things I didn’t know about Andre and I truly enjoyed getting to know about his life as a wrestler, since the only thing I actually had any previous information on was his work on The Princess Bride.

Andrew:

I love Andre the Giant. My love for him started through my favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Because of that, I already knew many of the stories about him from that era. (If you’re interested in that, As You Wish by Cary Elwes is a wonderful source for that.) In the past, I’ve also had a passing interest in wrestling history, particularly in the era before I was born, when many people really didn’t know that the stories in wrestling were fake.

After hearing Alyssa’s recommendation, I was interested to see Andre’s story told in this format. I think it’s really fitting, since he’s seen as a superhero-esque character in the wrestling world. I really enjoyed the novel overall. The narrative could have been more cohesive, and I had heard a lot of the stories before, but I think that it lends itself quite well to the format and it was really cool to see the stories told this way.