Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not a Drop to Drink

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it…
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I'm very much done with the dystopian craze. If I have to read one more story about a Very Special Teen leading a revolution I will start my own (the Catching Fire movie is completely exempt and it was awesome). Luckily, there's been a mini-craze of post-apocalyptic survival stories lately (Ashfall, After the Snow), and since stories like My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, Julie of the Wolves and Island of the Blue Dolphins were some of my favorites in middle school, I'm very happy about this. 

Here's the thing- Lynn isn't bothered about trying to fix the world, save her people, or topple a fascist regime. Lofty goals, all, but our girl has more immediate problems. Water. Namely, the lack of it. She and her mother have spent the last few years grimly holding on to their tiny watersource, while others have sickened, fought, and died for their own. Lynn's mother has a shoot first, ask questions later policy when it comes to strangers (although she does offer them the courtesy of a warning shot- most don't), and she has kept her daughter safe from wild animals, thieves and raiders. The two of them have staked out an efficient existence, spending their days on the roof with their rifles, collecting and purifying water, hunting, and preserving food. Early on in the book though, something happens that rips this routine out from under them and changes Lynn's world forever. 

There's so much about this that works- the bleak rural setting, the life Lynn and her mother have carved out for themselves in a harsh but realistic world, the dialogue (regional but not hokey. YES.), the dystopia- oh, what's that? Did I say this wasn't a dystopia? Yeah I kind of lied. There is a dystopian government, and its workings do shape the plot, but it all happens very much in the background so instead of yet another story of political awakening and credulity-straining rebellion, we get to see what happens to the people on the edge and damn it I've just realized that I like this book because it reminds me of Firefly. It is to the dystopian genre as Firefly is to Star Trek-type sci-fi. Don't go in expecting snark, heroics, and a ragtag crew though, this is a survival story first and foremost. 

The one thing I didn't love was the romance, which didn't always ring true to me. That's a minor quibble though, and the end was surprising enough to leave me satisfied. This is a riveting book, often stark, sometimes emotional, and impossible to put down. Highly recommended. 

(There's a strong possibility that one of the reasons this book worked so well for me was because I mentally cast one character as Samantha Ferris, and another as Jim Beaver. Supernatural junkie right here). 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

School Spirits

School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins

Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy's mom decides they need to take a break.

Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who's always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.

Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I really liked the Hex Hall series, and I wasn't sure that this spinoff was going to stack up. Younger character? Different setting? Eh...

But actually, I think I liked this one better. It's more focused, and Izzy is a slightly more unique character who comes from a really interesting background. Her whole family have been hunters, but now that her older sister is missing, she and her mom are the last ones standing. Thanks to this setup, we not only see a fifteen-year-old struggling with braving high school for the first time, but also trying to live up to her mother's expectations and her own birthright, while trying to discover what happened to her sister. Hawkins balances these elements well, and each aspect was compelling. 

One of the best parts of this book is definitely the Scooby gang Izzy suddenly finds herself a part of at school. Who doesn't love a group of high school misfits with an interest in the paranormal? Added bonus that one of them is a bit of a dandy with exceedingly good manners and a quick wit, while another is a girl so dead-set on solving supernatural mysteries that she talked her school into allowing an official paranormal investigation club. I really enjoyed prickly Izzy trying to make a place for herself as a normal teenager, complete with dating confusion, girly bonding, and a healthy dose of spectral ass kicking. Definitely recommending for fans of, well, any of those things I just mentioned. The ending definitely leaves room for at least one more book, so fans of Hawkins' Prodigium setting will be happy.

Sleepy Hollow

Any regular or even occasional reader of this blog could probably come up with some of my favorite shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Community), but aside from the odd name drop or reference, I've never reviewed a show on here.

Until now. *dramatic music*

Why now, you ask? Because now there is a little show called Sleepy Hollow and it is INSANE and I can't stop talking about it. Here are some reasons why.

The Plot
Well, ok, actually the plot is the thing that made me initially want to stay far, far away from Sleepy Hollow. Time-travelling Ichabod Crane solving crimes in the 21st century? Puh-lease. Actually though, it's shaping up to be a pretty great supernatural series, with some "freak of the week" monsters, as well as season/series long arcs. The horror parts are actually kind of terrifying, and even the ridiculous elements are so fun you'll probably just enjoy the ride.

The Setting
Small historic city with loads of colonial buildings, twisty rivers, and misty woods? Um, yeah, I'm there.

The Characters
Like the better Supernatural (see what I did there?) shows, this isn't all about wacky hijinks and mysterious beasties. It's about the relationships between the characters. Lieutenant Abbie Mills is a skeptic, and not just because there needs to be one on a show like this. She's a skeptic because she and her sister witnessed something as kids that caused massive fallout for them that they are both still struggling with. Ichabod Crane doesn't just have to cope with automatic doors and a 10% levy on baked goods ("insane!"). He's been awakened in a time not his own, one in which his wife has been dead for 200+ years and he has no one to turn to. The chemistry that these two have is amazing, which brings me to... 

The Cast
I love this cast. Even when the show is at its craziest, the actors do an amazing job of injecting gravitas, emotion and humor. Watching them interact is one of the best things about the show, and while it's not overdone, watching Mills try to translate modern quirks for Ichabod is so fun.

A lot has been made of the diversity of the cast, and rightly so. There are several main characters who happen to be POC, and guests stars of various backgrounds have been introduced as well (with mixed results, the Native American episode was a little off). Orlando Jones, who plays Mills' commanding officer (police chief? detective inspector? no hang on...) has promised more and better to come, so here's hoping this trend will continue.

Tom Mison. Tall. Dark. British. His voice nearly knocked me off my chair the first time I heard it, and he's forever doing things that, having been brought up on a steady diet of English costume dramas, make me swoon. He shoots with his arm behind his back. He dashes about in an excellent (if worse for wear) coat. He pronounces "Lieutenant" "Leftenant" and makes use of their extreme and wonderful height difference to hold up police tape for his partner. Also he speaks Middle English and has the best bitchface this side of the Winchesters. Move over Hornblower, I've got a new 18th century man.

The Fandom
This is the first time I've been part of a fandom from the start and it is a blast. Thanks to tumblr, I can see other fans reactions to episodes, share gif sets, art and fic from moments that happened hours before, and geek out about Tom Mison's overly expressive eyebrows to my heart's content. And it's not only the fans. The creators and cast are in on it too, especially the amazingly lovely Orlando Jones. He live tweets episodes, refers to fans lovingly as Sleepy Heads, shares fan art, teases future episodes, acknowledges and praises fan participation with the show, and ships IchAbbie as much as any of us- with the occasional nod to IchaTrina. Be still my nerd heart.

Speaking of shippers... Ship wars can often be the worst part of a fandom, as people take sites, bitterly defend their own OTPs, and lash out at other pairings and shippers. I haven't seen any of that in the Sleepy Hollow fandom yet, which may only be because the fandom is so new, but I like to think it's because we have learned from past mistakes (the Hannibal fandom also seems pretty much free of ship wars, so hopefully this is becoming the norm). 

The Surprise
Honestly, I still can't believe how much I love this show. If you had told me 6 months ago that I would be more excited by this hunk of supernatural cheese than by the new Joss Whedon (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) show, I would have scoffed until I hurt something.

Now? I hate to say it, but other than the always charming and perfect Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is leaving me cold. It's making me flashback to when Dollhouse was on. I watched that religiously, afraid that if I missed one episode it would be cancelled out from under me and I would have no right to complain (obviously, this happened anyway). People would ask me if it was good, and I would pause, trying to find the will to gush, and then mumble something about the cool tech and gorgeous set pieces. But I didn't love it, and that bummed me out more than I can reasonably say. Since then I've come to appreciate Dollhouse more, and to genuinely enjoy it. Unless S.H.I.E.L.D. has a whole arsenal of surprises, though, I don't see that happening here. I want to love it, I took it for granted that I would love it, but the characters are missing some essential spark, and the Bus just looks like Serenity in ways that hurt my still broken Browncoat heart.

But Sleepy Hollow!! I don't know what else to say other than that I love it, unreservedly. The first 5 episodes are on Hulu so there is plenty of time to catch up. I hope you like it.