Best Moments: Shadow and Bone

shadow and boneIt’s the FINAL COUNTDOWN!

For those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, Ruin and Rising is the third installment in the Grisha trilogy. The series revolves around a teenage girl (Alina Starkov) in a Russian-inspired fantasy world. Alina has the power to control light, which sounds totally lame, but I swear that it’s a lot cooler than flicking a light switch on and off. Besides, you’ll understand the appeal when you meet the Darkling, her love interest, who is quite the enigma.

But if that explanation didn’t satisfy you, then Goodreads does a much better job of explaining the plot.

With only three days until my favourite book series (apart from Harry Potter… duh) comes to an end, I decided to compile a list of the top five moments, starting with the first book, Shadow and Bone:

5. Alina’s First Scene

Alina Starkov isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if the opposition is built like a brick… or carrying a gun (yeah, common sense isn’t exactly her strong point). You have to admire her guts, though.

“Hey!” shouted the soldier. “Watch yourself!”

“Why don’t you watch your fat feet?” I snapped, and took some satisfaction from the surprise that came over his broad face.

People, particularly big men carrying rifles, don’t expect lip from a scrawny thing like me. They always look a bit dazed when they get it.

4. Alarkling’s First Meeting

*swoon*

My legs gave way and the Darkling caught me up against his body with one surprisingly strong arm.

“I guess you only look like a mouse,” he whispered in my ear. 

3. The Two Orphans

This book has a prologue and epilogue, both written in third person. It tells the story of two orphans – Mal and Alina, and I love the fairy-tale effect that it creates. It fits in perfectly with the Russian-inspired world!

A moment later, the boy whispered, “I don’t think you’re ugly.”

“Shhhh!” the girl hissed. But hidden by the deep shadows of the cupboard, she smiled.”

2. Alina Goes Dark Side

I have read too many YA book series where the main character is always doing the right thing. It gets boring. This book is truly unique in the sense that Alina struggles with morality, her powers and the responsibilities that come with it.

“You begged me for clemency once,” he called over the dead reaches of the Fold, over the hungry shrieks of the horrors he made. “Is this your idea of mercy?”

Another bullet hit the sand, only inches from us. Yes, I thought as the power rose up inside me, the mercy you taught me.

1. Alina’s Love Scene (ugh, I’m such a cliché)

Can we get a ‘hell yeah!’?

“The problem with wanting,” he whispered, his mouth trailing along my jaw until it hovered over my lips, “is that it makes us weak.”

How to Survive Exam Season

To the students of the world, I’m sorry…. but it’s that time of the year again. At this precise moment in time, I should be writing about the evolution of the French language, but all that comes to mind is that one line from that one Ke$ha song, ‘it’s going down, I’m yelling Timber’.

Unfortunately, I can’t offer you the answers to your exams, but here are some simple tips to stop you from having a complete nervous breakdown:

1) Install a website blocker. Seriously. How many times have you opened up a Word document and thought ‘Oh, I’ll just check Facebook for a minute’. You’re fooling nobody. Stayfocusd is a nifty little Chrome app where you can choose exactly which websites to block and how long for. And the best thing? It’s irreversible! Mwuahahaha. So if you choose to block Tumblr for a whole day, you can’t change your mind two hours later.

2) Give yourself a break. Just because you have a massive workload, doesn’t mean that you should put your life on hold. Maybe getting drunk every night would be a step too far, but you could watch a film, have a bubble bath, catch up to Grey’s Anatomy, or do whatever makes you feel more relaxed.

3) Sleep. Even if you’re jacked up on Red Bull or a million cups of coffee, nothing can replace actual rest. Switch off those electronics, hide those books from plain sight, and just relax. Trust me, you’re not going to accomplish anything if you’ve been staying awake until 7am every night.

4) Eat. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. Make sure that you are eating properly. I don’t mean crisps and chocolates from the library vending machine, either.

5) Perspective. Last, but not least, you are not your grade. Failing is not the end of the world. If the act of writing an essay or sitting an exam is turning your mind into an emotional minefield, talk to someone about it. Even if you think that it’s ‘just stress’. I know it’s easier said than done, but remember that your mental health comes first.

The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa

julie kagawaIt’s official. Julie Kagawa sold her soul to Satan for super-writing skills. It’s the only possible explanation, right? Right!? I remember finishing the Iron Fey series, and how it had left me in a haze afterwards. But in the thrilling conclusion to the Blood of Eden trilogy, she continues to impress me – seriously, can somebody get me a bucket for my tears? Stat.

Summary

VENGEANCE WILL BE HERS.

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster?

With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer. MONSTER. Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions—her creator, Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost—the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, triumph is short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone.

The Backstory

The Blood of Eden trilogy takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, a world that is ravished by vampires… but that’s not the worst thing lurking in the shadows. Most of the human population has been affected by the Red Lung virus, transforming them into crazed zombies (Rabids).

The main protagonist, Allie Sekemoto, is a newly-turned vampire. She clings to her humanity, battling her blood thirst to avoid becoming the monster that she has always despised, the same ones that killed her mother. While fighting her demons, she falls in love with a human called Zeke. He is searching for the vampire-free haven, Eden – a place that might hold the cure to Rabidism.

In her adventures, she battles against her ruthless blood brother (Jackal), and rescues her sire (Kanin) from a deadly vampire called Sarren, who is hell-bent on creating a new virus to destroy the world. The Eternity Cure ends on a cliffhanger when Sarren tortures and kills Zeke, and begins his journey to finding Eden, leaving Allie with a heart of grief and a mind for vengeance.

The Writing

Brilliant doesn’t even begin to cover it.

This book deals with the fallout of Zeke’s murder and Sarren’s escape, where Allie and her new vampire family head to Eden in hot pursuit of their enemy. Much to Kanin’s disappointment, Allie begins to draw away from humanity. Her narrative is filled with angst, and her struggles with blood-thirst are genuine. However, sometimes I felt that Kagawa’s descriptions were far too repetitive (heh, take a shot every time the word ‘monster‘ is used). Nevertheless, I enjoyed her unique perspective on the subject. I truly believe that Kagawa’s book helped to reclaim the vampire image.

The Characters

Allie Sekemoto is one of my all-time favourite book characters, and here’s why: I am an British-Asian female. For people like us, we are surrounded by films and TV shows and books about the beautiful girl with porcelain skin, long brown hair and forest green eyes. Sound familiar? But Allie is different, she is Asian – not the timid sort, but fierce, outspoken and highly dangerous. She makes a terrific inspiration for females (but maybe not the whole murderous, blood-sucking part, you know…).

For many readers, it comes as no surprise that Ezekiel Crosse survived his encounter with Sarren. But his reunion with Allie is not filled with rainbows and butterflies, unfortunately. His experiences cause a wide rift in their relationship, and Kagawa uses this opportunity to explore a new side to Zeke – one who is irrevocably scarred from his ordeal with Sarren.

Jackal reminds me of Spike from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘. He never pretends to be on Team Good, but I guess he draws a line at global genocide. His witty remarks bring some much-needed comic relief, and I loved watching his relationship with Allie develop. He was fond of his sister, and their final scene together was incredibly touching. Bonus points: no love triangle *high five*

Meanwhile, Kanin is the father figure of the group. I like that Allie looks for his guidance, even during her rebellious phase. Their relationship is, without a doubt, my most favourite in the book.

Kagawa did a great job in creating the ultimate psychopath with Sarren. Gosh, I just wanted to reach into the book and punch him myself! Although, perhaps not. He’s one of the scariest villains in YA fiction, and definitely not somebody you’d want to mess with.

The Relationships

Zeke has always been the anchor for Allie, the person who stops her from becoming a monster. But this time, Sarren has caused serious damage to his psyche, and it’s Allie’s turn to become the anchor. In one scene, the reader gets a glimpse into his mind and it was interesting to explore that different viewpoint, and it shows how far their relationship has grown since the beginning.

What I loved the most was the family dynamics. Despite their differences, Kanin, Jackal and Allie made the perfect match as the wise father, the wayward son, and Daddy’s favourite little girl. I loved the moments when his progeny were bickering, and Kanin was like “if you two don’t stop arguing, I swear to God… I’m going to turn this car around!”.

Quotes

“Typical. Silly me, thinking you actually had potential. I thought, Finally, she’s realized she’s a vampire. Now we’re getting somewhere. But now you’re just a big fluffy bunny with sharp teeth.”

“He can die. Painfully. While I rip his other arm from the socket and shove it so far down his poetry-spouting pie-hole that he chokes on it. What I don’t understand is why we’re standing up here yapping away when we should be down there kicking in his door. So, come on, team. Let’s go kill ourselves a psychopath.”

Rating: 4/5

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

grishaImagine you’ve read the most amazing book and you buy the sequel, only to learn that it simply doesn’t live up to your expectations. Disappointing, right? Unfortunately, this is all too common in the world of YA fiction, called ‘second book syndrome’. Such is not the case for Siege and Storm, the thrilling sequel to Shadow and Bone, which continues to exceed expectations.

Summary

Darkness never dies. Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long…

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her — or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

The Backstory

In Shadow and Bone, Alina runs away from the Little Palace after learning about the Darkling’s true intentions. He is the Black Heretic – the same man who created the Shadow Fold. He doesn’t want to destroy it, but wants to control her powers in his quest for world domination.

When Alina is reunited with Mal, it’s a race against time to find Morozova’s stag, the most powerful amplifier to exist. The Darkling wins, forcing Alina to wear the antlers around her neck. This allows him to control her abilities. However, it appears that Alina (having spared the stag’s life) can access the Darkling’s powers, and reclaim her own. In the end, she leaves the Darkling and his men to the mercy of the Volcra in the Shadow Fold, while escaping to sea with Mal.

The Characters

Alina Starkov has matured a lot since the previous book… but she is not the perfect protagonist that you would expect. As she drifts further from her old self, it becomes clear that being the Sun Summoner comes with a terrible price. With a second amplifier and a whole army of Grisha under her control, Alina struggles with her desire for power, teetering on the edge of madness, and one begins to wonder if she is following in the Darkling’s footsteps, after all.

As Alina grows more confident in her abilities, it puts a strain on her relationship with Mal Oretsev, who changes from the boy-next-door to overbearing boyfriend in this book. For the most part, he is either sulking in the background or threatening to punch anybody who dares to look at her. Honestly? I just wanted to grab him and shout “dude, get a freakin’ grip!”.

If you thought that a love triangle was complicated, try a love square! Nikolai Lantsov is a perfect addition: quick-witted and fearless, his banter with Alina is a refreshing change from the doom and gloom that surrounds her. And yes, he’s also the Prince of Ravka. No wonder Mal feels threatened.

…and who could forget The Darkling? Despite having limited scenes, it’s hard to ignore his presence in Alina’s life. But if you ever thought that he was just misunderstood – a ‘good boy at heart‘, this book will change your mind. The Darkling goes through shocking lengths to prove exactly how ruthless he can be. Where some actions are downright cruel, it’s hard to imagine any redemption for him.

The Relationships

Mal and Alina are supposedly ‘in love’ with each other, but their relationship is more unstable than the Ravkan government. It is only natural that Mal would feel overwhelmed with dating the Sun Summoner, but his treatment of Alina was terrible. He made her feel guilty for being a Grisha, accused her of sleeping with Nikolai and The Darkling, and broke her heart. If Leigh Bardugo was trying to assassinate his character during this book, she definitely succeeded.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Lantsov isn’t your average Prince Charming. While he’s not exactly the most trustworthy person, his friendship with Alina seemed to flourish into something more. There is no denying their potential (much to Mal’s annoyance), and their conversations had me laughing out loud.

Quality, not quantity’ seems to be the golden rule for the Darkling/Alina moments in this book. While The Darkling is hiding elsewhere, Alina is plagued with hallucinations of him. In my favourite scene, she asks why he won’t leave her alone, to which he replies: ‘then I’d be alone, too’. It’s such a simple scene, yet almost depressing.

Quotes

You know the problem with heroes and saints, Nikolai? They always end up dead.

“So many men had tried to make her a queen. Now she understood that she was meant for something more. The Darkling had told her he was destined to rule. He had claimed his throne, and a part of her too. He was welcome to it. For the living and the dead, she would make herself a reckoning. She would rise.”

Rating: 5/5

The final installment, Ruin and Rising, will be released on June 19th 2014. Pre-order here.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

shadow-and-boneDon’t judge a book by its cover. That’s how the old saying goes. But just this once, I’d like you to make an exception. Shadow and Bone is the first installment from one of my all-time favourite book series, and the story is just as brilliant as the front cover. I know, I know… the whole ‘high fantasy’ genre sounds a bit dorky, but this book is definitely worth a read!

Summary

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

The Setting

Inspired by early-1800’s Russia, Bardugo has created a fictional world with incredible detail. Ravka is beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and the author ensure that the descriptions aren’t too distracting from the main plot. When I was sucked into a world of foreign languages, clothing and magic, I could tell that it wasn’t just some half-formed idea scribbled on the back of a receipt. Bardugo had put her time and effort into creating this world, and it definitely paid off.

The Characters

Bardugo created a likeable, yet realistic female character in Alina Starkov. At the beginning, she is just an orphan with a secret crush on her best friend. But even before she became the Darkling’s understudy, she was never a doormat. Alina refuses to become a damsel-in-distress, and wouldn’t hesitate to give someone a verbal beat-down (even if they’re double her size). When she grew more confident in her abilities, it was an empowering moment for the character and the reader.

Initially, it’s hard to understand why Alina and Mal Oretsev are best friends. He is popular, handsome and charismatic and she is… well, none of the above. But for Alina, he’s the only family that she has ever known. As childhood best friends, their interactions are playful and endearing. This created a seamless shift from a platonic to romantic relationship, and I rooted for them even more.

But who could forget the Darkling? In a rather predictable plot ‘twist’, he is the evil mastermind who created the Shadow Fold (I mean, come on… his name is the Darkling!). Regardless, it’s difficult to hate this character. Like Alina, I had fallen under his spell. He is charming and enigmatic, dangerous and attractive – so you can imagine why most readers favor him – not to mention the fact that Sean O’Pry is the fan cast favourite. All the awards to Leigh Bardugo for creating such a great antagonist!

The Relationships

The Darkling is someone who could have chemistry with a brick wall. Alina shares an undeniably hot connection with him throughout the book, leading to a rather steamy scene when he says ‘the problem with wanting is that it makes us weak’. Uh-huh, tell me about it. Despite everything, it’s clear that his mind lies elsewhere (like, um… world domination?). Their relationship is based on lust, not romantic feelings. After learning what The Darkling has planned for Alina, you may experience anger and disgust. Mostly directed at yourself, when you’ve grown too attached to hate him. Seriously, my inner feminist is weeping.

In contrast, Mal and Alina’s relationship was so sweet that I almost got diabetes. They compliment each other perfectly, and Bardugo creates a fairy-tale type love. The third person pieces were a brilliant addition, which brought back the nostalgia of two best friends who are drawn together by shared experiences. Because at the end of the day, this isn’t just a love story, but a friendship story.

The Plot

I have to admit, I felt like this could have been improved further.

It was too predictable to read about the Darkling’s betrayal, but I am still confused about his motivations. Why did he create the Shadow Fold? What was he trying to achieve? The problem with first person narrators is that we can only see from Alina’s viewpoint, but I hope that the subject is explored further in the final book.

Quotes

“Dear Mal,

I haven’t heard from you, so I assume you’ve met and married a volcra and that you’re living comfortably on the Shadow Fold, where you have neither light nor paper to write. Or, possibly, your new bride ate both your hands.”

Rating: 4.5/5

The final installment, Ruin and Rising, will be released on June 19th 2014. Pre-order here.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

7600924I’m going to be completely honest here – this is the story of an incestuous relationship between a brother and his sister. No mistaken identities. No separated-at-birth. Following the examples set by Jaime and Cersei, the main pairing is (for lack of a better term) highly disturbing… and after reading the book, I was surprised to learn that it was completely worth the hype.

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives–and the way they understand each other so completely–has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love.

Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

The Characters

First of all, there’s Lochan. Instead of going out with friends or getting drunk at house parties, he spends his nights at home with the children. It’s easy to forget that he’s seventeen years old, and just a kid himself. This adds to the tragedy of his story, a boy who places family above everything else, even his own health and well-being. While Lochan is confident around his family members, he can barely speak to his classmates. Suzuma’s treatment of mental disorders was well-researched. I could easily relate to his descriptions of anxiety, giving his character a storyline beyond the ‘ew-incest‘ moments.

On the other hand, I felt like the characterization of Maya was weak at times. Lochan’s narrative gave him an extra layer of complexity, with his anxiety struggles and feelings of worthlessness, but I barely knew anything about Maya. Suzuma had the perfect opportunity to develop her relationships outside the house, yet she elected to let Maya’s life revolve around her brother instead, with cheesy lines such as “my love”. Dude, no.

Even Kit (aged 13) was going through his own problems. He was old enough to remember his father, who abandoned them for a new life in Australia, and it was only natural that he would rebel against Lochan’s authority. I found it shocking that he would stay out late and turn to drugs for comfort, but the conflict with his older brother brought realism to the story which a lot of people could relate to.

Suzuma presented the mother as a crass and irresponsible woman, who didn’t seem to care about her children, who spent money on shoes and booze instead of feeding them,  and who abandoned them to spend time with her boyfriend. It was particularly tragic for the children, especially Tiffin (aged 9) and Willa (aged 5), who still looked up to her despite her parental failures.

The Relationship

I know what you’re thinking – it’s weird, right?

I couldn’t support this bizarre pairing either, but I was drawn to their story – two children, neglected by their alcoholic mother and deadbeat father, seeking solace within each other. Even without the incest, this had the potential to become a great book.

For me, Lochan and Maya’s relationship seemed better suited as brother and sister from the start. No matter how much they tried to convince themselves otherwise, they were siblings. Flesh and blood. I tried to approach the situation with an open mind, but I felt so uncomfortable that I almost stopped reading altogether (yes, I’m talking about the awkward sex scenes).

But I have to admire Tabitha Suzuma for choosing to go there. Not many authors would elect to approach such a delicate topic, and she wrote this book with a great level of maturity.

The Mental Illness

At home, Lochan was the superhero – looking after the kids, cooking their meals and helping out with homework. But at school, he was simply known as the ‘weird kid’, the one who spent lunchtimes alone and avoided social contact. It became evident that this was more than being cripplingly shy, but rather a mental illness that wasn’t being taken seriously. This shows the public reaction to mental disorders, that perhaps he was just overreacting. But to Lochan and Suzuma, it was all too real.

Many representations of mental illness in the media seem to be treated almost immediately after diagnosis. Lochan tried to deal with his issues one step at a time and it was a great struggle for him, which  made it seem more authentic. What I enjoyed about this book was that social anxiety was being used as an underlying problem throughout, one which doesn’t come with a quick fix.

The Ending

With Kit heading off to a school trip, and the kids going to a sleepover, Lochan and Maya are finally alone together. They decide to consummate their relationship, but their mother catches them in the act. Horrified at what she witnesses, she assumes that Lochan was trying to rape his sister and calls the police. Lochan explains that if they were charged with an incestuous relationship, then both would be sent to jail, and the kids would be taken away by Social Services. He makes Maya promise that she’d tell the police it was his idea, that he’d been sexually abusing her the whole time.

While the police are interrogating him, he admits that he forced Maya to comply. But Maya changes her statement last minute, and tells the truth instead. Lochan is forced to take drastic action to keep his family from being torn apart, and ends up committing suicide. In the final chapter, Maya and the kids attend his funeral. She plans to kill herself later that night, but ultimately decides to continue living for her brother.

The ending is bittersweet, yet perfect for such a depressing book.

Quotes

“At the end of the day that’s what we’re all trying to do: fit in, one way or another, desperately trying to pretend we’re all the same.”

“They say when you really love someone, you should be willing to set them free. So that is what I am doing. I will step back and you will move on. I will let you go. … Your happiness means everything to me. I will listen for your voice in the distance. I will look at the moon. I will keep you in my pocket. I will carry your smile with me everywhere, like a warm and comforting glow.”

Rating: 4/5

Vampire Academy (2014)

Here’s the thing. It’s almost impossible to release a YA book or film these days without someone saying that it copied off Twilight or Harry Potter or whatever. Vampire Academy was no exception. Desperate to squeeze those last dregs of profit from the whole vampire craze, it was doomed from the start and I’m not going to lie… this movie sucked. (Sorry, obligatory vampire pun!).

That being said, it was an admirable effort. With a slew of witty one-liners and endless fight sequences, and a charismatic central character, I felt like this would have been better suited as a TV series.

Summary

The film takes place in Montana, where our main characters attend the boarding school, St Vladimir’s Academy. In this world, there are three subgroups: the Moroi (good vampires), the Strigoi (bad vampires), and the dhampir (half-Moroi/half-human; who spend their entire lives protecting the Moroi).

tumblr_myfxyoLbyP1rprk8wo9_250Rose Hathaway is a dhampir who must keep her best friend, a royal Moroi called Lissa Dragomir, out of harm’s reach. Following the death of Lissa’s family in a car crash, the they form an unbreakable psychic connection, and run away from their school (dubbed ‘Vampire Academy’ by its pupils).

Finally, a Russian dhampir called Dimitri tracks them down, and they are forced back to their former lives at Vampire Academy, where they must deal with the consequences of their actions: the mysterious disappearance of their teacher, Lissa’s spooky power to control minds and resurrect dead animals, Rose’s crush on her mentor, and a ton of petty high school drama that nobody really cares about.

In a shocking twist, a trusted friend of the Dragomir family is revealed as the bad guy. Along with his daughter, Natalie, they pushed Lissa to the brink of insanity with dead animals in the hopes that her powers of healing would cure his illness. After this plan fails, he escapes imprisonment and leaves his newly-turned Strigoi daughter to be staked by Rose and Dimitri.

The film ends with Lissa making a passionate speech to the school about blood and family, while Rose and Dimitri are forced to accept that they could never become an item.

Characters

Readers were annoyed when it was announced that Zoey Deutch would play Rose tumblr_n0y0a2Yxcu1sejk9do1_250Hathaway. Despite this pressure, Deutch has successfully captured the same personality as book!Rose. She proved herself as a charismatic and versatile actress, mastering the comedic timing perfectly with her snarky remarks, and establishing her badassery from her fight scenes with Dimitri and other characters.

However, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Lucy Fry‘s portrayal of Lissa Dragomir. Perhaps it was the fake accent, a completely stereotypical view of what people think a British accent should sound like. An awful one, if I may add.

Danila Kozlovsky, who played Dimitri, killed it with the fighting scenes. I was never a fan of the Rose/Dimitri pairing in the books and thought they would be better suited as friends. While he seemed to share a great on-screen chemistry with Deutch, their ‘sweet-sassy-molassy’ love scene felt way too awkward on the big screen.

From the casting news, I thought that Dominic Sherwood had the right looks, but he proved himself to be more than just a pretty face, playing the silent and brooding Christian Ozera, who quickly transformed from creepy attic troll to badass fire starter.

I was also impressed by Cameron Monaghan, who played Mason Ashford, and his witty dialogue and play-fighting with Rose provided much enjoyment. Meanwhile, Sami Gayle was the perfect Mia, even though I suffered from a lot of second-hand cringe thanks to her character: “Why were you in hospital? Pregnant? Herpes? Maybe your baby has herpes!”.

A Film for Feminists?

Vampire Academy might seem like another vapid teen movie, but it is unique in one sense, through the representation of women. For one thing, it passed the Bechdel Test, showing two females who can hold a conversation without talking about men.

tumblr_n15zf6VXT21tt2f9lo6_250At the center of all this drama, there is a love story between Rose and Lissa. Not in the romantic sense, but instead, a profound bond between two best friends. This is surprisingly rare in the YA genre, but the VA writers thought it was so important that they renamed the film ‘Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters‘.

Another example includes the prom scene. Mason Ashford expects a reward for solving the blood-on-the-wall conundrum, but Rose doesn’t swoon and fall into his arms like a damsel-in-distress. She doesn’t give herself to Mr Nice Guy. She is free to make her own choices over her sexuality, free to shamelessly pursue people like Jesse because she finds them good-looking. The film even makes references to the term ‘slut-shaming‘ in Lissa’s final speech- a term which I have never heard being used in fiction and despite the failures of the film, this was actually something that they actually did right.

Quotes

Kirova: Rose Hathaway is wild, dangerous–
Dimitri: Insubordinate.
Rose: Right here, folks. Right here.

VictorDon’t take this the wrong way, Rose, but I probably should have killed you.
RoseThere’s a compliment in there somewhere.

Rating: 2/5

A special thanks to dailyshadowkissed, vaupdateseverdeenkattniss for the GIFs.

Divergent (2014)

In a near-futuristic world, a teenage girl must lead a group of rebels to fight against a government seeking to control them. Along the way, she falls deeply in love with another member of the resistance. Does that sound familiar? It should, because I just described the plot to most YA films these days.

I mean, don’t get me wrong… I love a strong female lead as much as the next girl, but there comes a point when the dystopian genre becomes repetitive and all-too-predictable, such as Hollywood’s latest teen drama, Divergent.

Summary

The story takes place in future Chicago, where everybody is separated into five factions based on their personality type. Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Abnegation (the selfless) and Dauntless (the brave).

Tris is Abnegation. She was raised to put other peoples’ needs before her own. At the age of sixteen, she takes an aptitude test to determine the rest of her life, where it is revealed that she is Divergent – a mixture of Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless. The Divergent are extremely rare, and because their minds can’t be controlled by the faction leaders, they are viewed as a threat (one that is punishable by death).

divergentDuring the Choosing Ceremony, she picks Dauntless and joins a group of crazy jocks who wear black and jump out of moving trains. But her new life creates a new set of problems. She must complete a series of initiation tests to become a true Dauntless, facing the challenges set by the ruthless leader (Eric), falling in love with her mentor (Four), and learning about the Erudite leader (Jeanine’s) plan to overthrow Abnegation and eradicate all Divergents.

At the climax, each Dauntless member is injected with a special mind-control serum, placing them in a trance-like state and turning them into Erudite’s perfect little soldiers. Due to her special ability, Tris is immune and tries to stop the Dauntless from killing the Abnegation. Ultimately, she reverses the serum’s effects and jumps onto the train to escape Jeanine’s soldiers, becoming an fugitive along with Four, Marcus Eaton (his father), Peter (another initiate) and her brother (an Erudite)…

Characters

When I first heard the casting news, I was shocked. Outraged, even. Saoirse Ronan was the perfect Tris in my mind, not some unknown actress! But the film convinced me that Shailene Woodley was the right choice, especially in the knife toss scene, when Tris took Al’s place as target practice. Shailene brings the character to life on screen by presenting both the selfless Abnegation and the fearless Dauntless, and turning her into a likeable character.

divergentWhile Tris was the central focus, it was hard to ignore her love interest (Theo James), following the Hollywood tradition of casting ridiculously handsome Englishmen for their YA characters (see: Sam Claflin, Max Irons, Jeremy Irvine, Robert Pattinson). Although the balcony kiss was too forced for my liking, the sheer intensity of the eye contact between these two characters brings a whole new level of chemistry.

As the main antagonist, I felt that Kate Winslet lacked a certain villainous edge as Jeanine Matthews. Jai Courtney was far more convincing as the borderline psychopathic Eric, and it wasn’t surprising that the audience cheered when Tris shot him in the leg. However, the most interesting side character was her mother, Natalie Prior, a secret Dauntless badass. Her death brought me close to tears, reminiscent of Simba and Mufasa in Lion King.

Soundtrack

divergent Junkie XL successfully threw together a collection of pieces which added that extra layer to the film. As a book reader, I was initially excited to see how the film would play out. In one scene, a wide-eyed Tris walks into the Choosing Ceremony and a remix of Ellie Goulding’s ‘Hanging On‘ plays in the background, and it sent chills down my spine. So much that I searched for the entire soundtrack on Google later that night.

That being said, I am still disappointed at the musical decisions behind the big kiss scene. Ellie Goulding’s voice in the background seemed to kill the mood entirely, and I had to ask ‘dude, is this really appropriate for two people who jump off buildings and throw knives at each other?’.

Quotes

PeterYou wouldn’t shoot me.
TrisWhy does everybody keep saying that? [shoots him]

Four: What makes you think you can talk to me?
Tris: It must be because you are so approachable.

Four: My name is Four.
Christina: Four? What – were one to three already taken?

Rating: 3/5

A special thanks to tripriors, diverg, uriahsunderwear for the GIFs.

Shameless 4×12

Change, for better and for worse, has been an underlying theme since the beginning of this season – with Debbie and Carl growing up, Lip at college, Fiona going from upstanding citizen to convict in a heartbeat, Frank’s liver problems (and don’t even get me started on Ian!), it’s safe to assume that nobody in the Gallagher family has had an easy ride: not even poor Liam, who got into his sister’s coke supply. Whoops.

Season 4 has been filled with highs and lows, and with so many separate storylines happening at the same time, I didn’t know how they could bring everything together for the finale. But the writers managed to pull of a thrilling conclusion to this series, which totally restored my faith in American TV after that ending to ‘How I Met Your Mother’…

Ian and Mickey: Trouble in Paradise? 

In the penultimate episode, Mickey finally came out of the closet and it was awesome.  This season, Mickey confronted his darkest fears and freed himself from his brutish father once and for all… so now he could ride off into the sunset with Ian and live happily ever after, right?

Ha, WRONG. This is Shameless, and things are never that easy.

tumblr_n3ompcUPyT1rsstnoo3_250It was hard to ignore Ian’s erratic behavior since Debbie and Lip found him in 4.07.  We hoped that our fan theories weren’t true, but with each passing week, it became more and more obvious. Ian was sick, and nobody in the Shameless!verse bothered to run a quick Google search, or send him to the doctor. In fact, Lip even suggested recycling their mother’s lithium pills! Hmm.

Noel Fisher was given his chance to shine this season, and shine brightly he did. He has mastered the art of acting with his eyes and upon learning about Ian’s bipolar disorder, he dropped the tough boy façade and turned into Bambi caught between headlights. The sheer terror in his eyes, paired with the statement that ‘he’s fucking family’, is far more effective in showing his feelings than an outright declaration of love.

While this storyline remains unresolved, what will this bring in the next season? Should we expect a manic episode soon, similar to Monica’s suicide attempt in Season 2? Will Ian get the medical help that he needs? And finally, will Mickey and Ian’s relationship survive?

We Need to Talk About Carl

Frank and Monica’s genes are a frequent point of discussion on the show. The characters joke about which child would follow in the footsteps of which parent. At one point in the episode, Lip and Fiona are sitting on the porch. Fiona wonders if alcoholism is hereditary, and Lip tells her about nature/nurture. Skip to an earlier scene, when Frank explains to the doctor: “Started when I was twelve. Never breathed a sober breath since.”

Enter Carl. It should raise alarm bells when a twelve year old consumes alcohol, yet tumblr_n3ncswWZ451qblutwo7_r1_250nobody bats an eyelid. In 4.12, he drinks beer in broad daylight with his girlfriend. Nobody is around to snatch the bottle from his hands. Ian’s bipolar disorder and Fiona’s jail
drama has taken such a central focus in this episode that even the viewer forgets about this alarming behavior.

It could be argued that out of all his children, Frank connects most with Carl, who relies on the guidance of his father (see: 4.01, Frank teaches his son about masturbation, and Carl takes this lesson to extremes). Now, if we relate back to the end of 4.12, Frank encourages his son to drink the liquor, and it creates a moment of bonding with his father. But how long before Carl goes too far? Will this open the door to a new, darker storyline in Season 5? I think so.

Debbie: All Grown Up?

I can’t be the only viewer who suffers from second-hand embarrassment due to Debbie’s story arc this season. Perhaps it’s because I can relate to her character: her eagerness to please, to fit in with the crowd, making friends with the wrong people, it’s what most teenagers go through on a daily basis, and it’s only natural that she would rebel against Fiona.

tumblr_n3n4kcMaGH1qgr0y2o6_r1_250 (1)But at the end of the day, she is fiercely loyal to her family. After all, she kept asking about Ian’s whereabouts and helped Lip to track him down.

When Mickey asked if she knew what was happening to Ian, she replied “Yeah, I know what this is”. Emma Kenney successfully portrays a teenage girl who is trying to keep strong in the face of bad news, which brings an extra dimension to her next scene. When she is crying in Fiona’s arms, it’s a reminder that she’s not as bulletproof as some teenagers pretend to be. All their petty arguments are long forgotten and it brings back an important theme at the show’s center: family.

Special Mentions

Jimmy/Steve: The ending. Did anyone see that coming? Not cool, Jimmy-Steve(slash-Jack?).
– Mandy Milkovich: I love this girl, but can somebody please get rid of Kenyatta?
– Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Three words: Scorpion. Neck. Tattoo.
– Frank: Good acting, terrible character. Drinking away your second liver? Shame on you!
– Svetlana: McDonald’s. Burger King. I have no idea what she’s talking about, but that’s okay.
– Kev: That bar scene. It just goes to show that not everybody is a Terry. Choose to be a Kev.

Quote of the Week

You’re a grown-up. There comes a point in time when you have to take control of your own life. Wherever you’re from, whoever did you wrong… didn’t do what they were supposed to do… wouldn’t be who they were supposed to be – it’s just you. No more excuses.”

A special thanks to buckybaernes, isobelstevenz, benbruckner for the GIFs.

Rating: 4/5