Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Movie Review ~ The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro's movies are strange and that's what I love about them. The darker side of fanatsy/fairytale that he is able to bring to the screen never ceases to draw me in. I still love Pan's Labyrinth and his exploration of the fae in the second Hellboy movie was spot on, making a part of me wish that we had gotten his version of The Hobbit. His newest film The Shape of Water is no less brilliant. A modern (1950's) beauty and the beast-like tale that is all his own. It is a strange tale for sure, but it also has his signature emotion tied into it, great characters and a visual look that is lush and beautiful.
This is definitely an adult fairytale, much like Pan's Labyrinth, if you couldn't tell by the rating, it has sex, language and nudity laced throughout, but always in a way that propels the story and never gratuitous.
All the actors are spot on in their roles and a special shout out to Doug Jones nuanced performance of the creature and Sally Hawkins amazing portrayal of a strong female character who uses the strength of her heart and her kindness to love and fight rather than with words - a powerful thing to watch. It is a unique movie, something that is hard to come by among all the blockbusters, superheroes and car chases. The Shape of Water is well worth a watch, especially if your a fan of del Toro or of dark fairytales.

Book Review ~ The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

What a fantastic winter read! I loved the fairytale quality of it, the exotic feel of Medieval Russia and characters I quickly fell in love with, especially our headstrong female protagonist. I loved also how big a roll family played and that they were so tight as a family and that it didn’t follow the typical tropes of fairytale, while also still managing to give it that feel. It isn’t an action packed story, more of a steady, slow burn to the climax, but that isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. It was never boring, due in large part because the writing is so beautiful and manages to convey the feel and atmosphere in such a profound way. I enjoyed just reading descriptions about the weather! The exploration of the spirit folk of Russia and religion was tastefully done I thought, even if it more heavily leaned on the pagan beliefs than the Christian ones, it showcased well the tumultuous time between the two really well. The magic is not overt, but laced into the story in a wonderful way that somehow makes it seem very natural. Overall I really enjoyed it, highly recommend it if you enjoy fairytale fantasy and I am looking forward to book two next!

Book Review ~ Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

“The most important words a man can say are, “I will do better.”.....The ancient code of the Knights Radiant says “journey before destination.” Some may call it a simple platitude, but it is far more. A journey will have pain and failure. It is not only the steps forward that we must accept. It is the stumbles. The trials. The knowledge that we will fail. That we will hurt those around us.
But if we stop, if we accept the person we are when we fall, the journey ends. That failure becomes our destination.
To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.” ~ Dalinar Kholin

2014 & 2015 for me were the "Years of Sanderson". It was the time I felt I discovered his works, although I had read the first Mistborn book prior to that. But 2014 was the year I decided to delve into his magnum opus: the Stormlight Archive series, starting with the first book The Way of Kings - and I fell in love. I was blown away by the world-building, the themes, emotions and characters. I had not read an epic fantasy like it in so long, it actually re-kindled my love for fantasy. After that I devoured most Sanderson's adult novels taking me well into 2015, I just couldn't get enough, and to this day he remains one of my favourite authors.
So it was with great anticipation that I awaited Oathbringer, the third novel in the Stormlight Archive, the series that started it all and is to this day one of my all-time favourite books. I was impatiently looking forward to joining up with the characters I had grown to love, have mysteries revealed and more mysteries take their place, and to expand the massive world that Sanderson has built and continues to excite me.
Oathbringer did not disappoint. To go into details about why this was a great addition to the series would take a lot and I'm not going to outline it all here. I'm sorry if my review seems a bit vague, but it would require a LOT of backstory on the other two massive tomes in the series and I just tend to do slight overviews here. Suffice to say if you enjoyed the other books, you'll certainly enjoy this one as well and it is well worth investing the time to read. Although it felt like a slow start, it did pick up half way and spiraled down into the epicness I love and to places I never expected it to go. We get a backstory on a character that is both heartbreaking and also hopeful in its conclusion and I found myself wiping tears many times along the way. There is laughter as well. Although the humor is more sparse, it is there when its needed, but doesn't overshadow what's happening. Characters have unexpected story arcs, but satisfying ones, we visit old favourites and new ones. Overall it is another journey through Roshar that you won't soon forget and with characters that continue to bury themselves deeper into my heart with every book. Again I found myself laughing and crying with them along the way, but walking away feeling emotionally fulfilled, which I don't always get from other novels, even ones I've enjoyed. Sanderson manages to to do this to me with all his books.
In the end I loved it, I thought it was a fantastic addition to the series and highly recommend it!

Book Review ~ Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

"Dream up something wild and improbable. Something beautiful and full of monsters."

There are some books that you really enjoy, some you like and some that you just fall head over heals in love with and Strange the Dreamer, for me, is one of those books.
Although I own several Laini Taylor books, I hadn't read any until I picked up Strange the Dreamer. It just sounded very interesting and I had had heard good things, was in the mood for something different, so I picked it up and realized that I have been missing out on Laini Taylor's writing for much too long.
I LOVED this book! From the lyrical prose that I couldn't help but want to memorize quotes from every few pages, to the characters I fell in love with, to the bizarre, fantastical world that Laini Taylor crafted, it was everything I love about reading fantasy. It took me on a journey to somewhere magical and strange and mysterious, where a book-loving protagonist dreams big, goes on an adventure filled with obstacles, love and monsters to a mysterious hidden city in the desert to face a destiny he never expected. My description does not even do it justice. It sounds cliche, but Strange the Dreamer is ANYTHING but cliche. It twists and turns unexpectedly, it both answers mysteries and creates new ones along the way. The world is just so lush and unique and inventive and wonderful. Laini Taylor's writing was just sumptuous. It was like reading a poem and I soaked it all in enjoying every moment.
As I understand it, this will become a trilogy/series, and I am impatiently looking forward to continuing the journey.
This turned out to be one of my favourite reads of the year and definitely made my all-time favourite list as well. I highly, highly recommend it!!

Book Review ~ Darkling by K.M. Rice

I got to know K.M. Rice through Happy Hobbits, a vlog she did with her sister involving all things Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Their reaction video to the second Hobbit film trailer went viral, so that even the cast on set viewed it and did their own video of viewing the Happy Hobbit's video. The internet is a weird place, but also kind of fun too. I had been following their videos for a while when I found out that K.M. Rice had released her own books, and I was eager to read something of hers.
Darkling is a kind of gothic romance I suppose, set in a world where darkness has descended on a forest village and is haunted by a house and a man who they believe is the source of the eternal darkness. The main character is sent off as a type of sacrifice for her village, but what she finds in the forest is beyond anything she could have imagined.
The story is atmospheric (I read it around Halloween and it was a perfect fit for that time of year) and creepy, but also emotional with themes about loss, love and death. I really enjoyed it. K.M. Rice's writing was engaging and lyrical and her dark gothic fairytale is truly a unique take on the genre.
I highly recommend Darkling if you want something a little more on the dark side, although not true horror, with a dash of romance and a strong female protagonist.
I'm looking forward to reading more of her work in the future!

Book Review ~ The Reckoner's Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

I am a HUGE Brandon Sanderson fan. I need to make that statement before going into this review, as though I don't think The Reckoner's trilogy is the best I have read both by Sanderson or in the YA category, I do however, have soft spot for his work and may be somewhat biased in my review of these books.
The Reckoner's is the first of Sanderson's YA books that I have tackled. I have read just about all of his other adult books, but wasn't in the mood for YA, so I kept passing by this series, which is unfortunate, because they are truly worth reading and definitely don't follow the usual tropes I have come to somewhat loathe in YA fiction.
The trilogy centers around a world where superheroes are real and started to manifest powers after an unidentified object appeared in the sky that they afterwords name "Calamity". The catch though, is that instead of being the savior's of mankind or heroes, they all turn evil and enslave mankind to their whims instead. This is center stage for a dystopian future unlike any other I've encountered. Those without powers are at the mercy of these almighty and powerful people, dubbed Epics, who lord over familiar cities from our world, only they've been turned into strange landscapes by the powers that each Epic has manifested. Case in point, Steelheart, the first novel in the trilogy, takes place in Newcago (Chicago) where everything has been turned to steel, even the lake! This makes for a stunning visual for the story to take place. The second book takes place in Manhattan, which is flooded and at night lights up with florescent light on the sides of the buildings, the tops of which stick out of the water and where people still reside. The third book takes place in a city made entirely out of salt, that disintegrates and rebuilds every few weeks. Needless to say, Sanderson's world building as at its peak and I am never disappointed in the worlds he takes me too. The Reckoner's world building is certainly its highlight.
Our main character is David, a young man with an obsession with Epics. After his father is killed by Steelheart, he has obsessively followed Epics, recording and logging their movements, their powers and every tidbit he can about them in an attempt to find a way to take them down. His ultimate goal is to join The Reckoner's, a rebel group of people who fight against the Epics. He wants revenge for his father and to see the world back to the way it was before the Epics came into being. This is really only the beginning of the journey David goes on over the three books. There are a lot of themes about the nature of revenge, how people aren't just black and white, good or evil and that there are grey areas, making the morality of what David and The Reckoner's are doing a difficult thing to justify in the end and making them question themselves a lot along the way.
Beyond that I don't want to spoil anything. The journey is really the best, as always, if you go in not knowing too much. I liked the characters, the fantastic setting, the themes and the journey throughout all three books. The side that I didn't think was as good was that the writing was pretty low key. There were some good quotes, but I didn't find it quite as engaging as some other Sanderson novels. Also, and this might just be my penchant for large sprawling fantasies, I found that it could have been even more descriptive. This could go hand in hand with my previous point. The world he created was really great, but I could have used a more in-depth description of the places and the people, etc. But I digress, this is a YA novel meant for a younger audience, and I may just be conditioned to tome-like fantasy novels that describe what the characters had for lunch, and am not used to something more sparse.
Despite that I really enjoyed the trilogy overall and highly recommend it, especially if you're looking for something different in the YA realm. I didn't totally fall in love with it, but I think it is worthy addition to the Sanderson pantheon.

Book Review ~ Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami's novels are highly spoken of, but this is my first foray into his work. I admit I mostly picked this one up due to the title - it just seemed so enticing - and when I read the description I was definitely on board. It is hard to classify this novel though. Fantasy/sci-fi/new weird maybe, but it seems to want to defy category. I certainly felt like I had plummeted down the rabbit hole on this one and wasn't quite sure exactly what I was reading most of the time, but it was so engaging, that I just couldn't stop. I kept turning pages, kept trying to piece it all together in some semblance of coherency. I admit I didn't entirely 'get' the story, but the journey was quite the ride. I feel this book could take several re-readings to truly pull all the pieces out and make more sense of everything that goes on.
There are a lot of thoughtful themes going on that really demand more of an exploration for the reader internally. Whether you enjoy this book or not might really depend on what you glean from those themes and how you personally feel about them.
I don't want to give a lot away about the book, as the best part is going in not really knowing too much and just letting it carry you along, further and further down the rabbit hole. This isn't an easy read either. It isn't straight forward, the writing is not flowery or lyric, but poignant and asks that the reader not just skim or speed read, but rather dive in and tread water for a while in the words and the story.
Despite the fact that I'm not sure entirely what I read, I still really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. It was different, thoughtful and a strange world I was pulled into from start to finish. Not my average read, but well worth the foray into the fringes of speculative fiction.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Korean & Japanese Drama Fandom

Korean and Japanese drama's have been increasingly gaining popularity on this side of the pond, and I have to say I've become one of the throng of fans who can't get enough of them. They are sappy and ridiculous sometimes, but also just pure fun with heart pounding romances and bizarre premises that lead to many hilarious situations. Pick from modern day, fantasy, sci-fi or historical based series and they are addictive - so be aware!

As a hopeless romantic, they definitely fit the bill if your in the mood for some heart-fluttering romance.

My ultimate favourite series so far is Goblin, a fantasy based romance that follows a man cursed to live forever until his 'bride' pulls a magical sword that pierced him. For hundreds of years he has lived without making too many close connections to anyone, until that one special girl comes along and challenges his feelings. Mix in a hilarious bromance with a Grim Reaper - a character with his own mysterious past - an awesome soundtrack, cool visuals and lots of humor and you have a story that just wouldn't let me go. I cried, I laughed and I watched it a second time because it was just that good.

My very first foray into this realm of the K&J Drama fandom was with the J-Drama Last Cinderella. The main character is getting on in years and she feels like she'll never find romance, until a very young, good-looking and charming man comes into her life. But everything isn't what it seems and his secrets will challenge their relationship, not to mention her growing fondness for a co-worker making everything complicated. Emotional, funny and heart-warming - it won me over to a fandom I never thought I'd be into.

My most recent watch was Coffee Prince, a gender-swap romantic comedy, that never failed to entertain. From the main leads whose bizarre story of love that passes their gender roles, to the supporting cast which make it funny and heart-warming, it was a great watch and highly recommended one to add to your list.

Obviously there are many, many more to choose from and have varying degrees of likability, but I guarantee if you give them a try, you'll find something to your liking.
It is a lot of fun to see both the differences in culture and the things that are the same no matter where you live in the world when it comes to relationships and life.

I really recommend giving some K&J Dramas a chance. There are so many different ones to choose from, so it may take you some time to find your niche, but it will be worth it and if you thought Netflix was hard on your social life, then just wait until Drama Fever gets added to the list.