I have a new favorite author to add to my list. Yeah, that’s a tiny hint about the direction this review is going to go.
My first foray into the fictional world created by Cassandra Clare was with her debut novel City of Bones. In it she established a new set of warriors called Shadowhunters, an ancient race of Nephilim (half human, half angel) whose sole purpose is to protect humans against the demon underworld. She introduced us to Jace, Clary, Simon, Izzy, Alec, Magnus, and more, a combination of Shadowhunter, Vampire, Warlock, Lycanthrope, Faerie and Mundane (human). They join forces – however reluctantly – to stop a rogue Nephilim from unleashing the demon hoard in an attempt to destroy the race of Shadowhunters. The trilogy continued with City of Ashes, and concluded with City of Glass.
With Clockwork Angel, Clare delves even deeper into the Shadowhunter mythology, taking us back to 1878 London, England. We meet new warriors Will and Jem, who stumble across the body of a murdered 14-year-old girl while fighting off a demon, then set off on a search for her killer.
Next we find Tessa, fresh from a trans-Atlantic journey from New York City, her parents and aunt dead, with only a letter from her brother telling her to join him in the Old World to start a new life. Yet the moment she arrives, something is terribly wrong. A strange coachman and a pair of sinister sisters take her from the dock, promising a quick reunion with her brother… but six weeks later, she hasn’t seen him, and they’ve kept her prisoner, torturing her day after day, forcing her to Change.
Once she’s perfected her talent, they deem her ready for the Magister, a mysterious man of enormous power amongst Downworlders. But on the very night they’re to hand her over, the boys’ investigation leads them to the very house Tessa’s being held captive in, an otherworldly battle ensues, and they are able to escape.
What unwinds from there is a tale of misdirection, conspiracy and betrayal… one full of secrets and temptation.
I fell in love with Clare’s stories with The Mortal Instruments books, and not much has changed since finishing the first of the Infernal Devices trilogy—unless you count my new obsession for a whole new cast! She has an uncanny talent in making every character three-dimensional, with giving them a history and a purpose for their actions. In reading about these fully formed people, you can’t help but become wrapped up in their lives and invested in their futures.
Tessa is a fierce heroine in a world of proper ladies, whose love for her brother overrides any fear she might have. Will acts like he doesn’t care about anything—and his past hints at some dreadful secrets—yet his stern indifference gets overshadowed by his deep concern for his friends. Jem’s tortured past has dire consequences on his present, and his gentle compassion will leave your heart aching.
Cassie (as she’s known to her fans) weaves a harrowing tale that will have you turning pages long into the night. There are two more ID books to come (and she swears that’s it), as well as a whole new trilogy in the TMI series. Up next is City of Fallen Angels in April, and Clockwork Prince in August. Also big news right now is the City of Bones movie, which is currently being cast.
This book will not disappoint, and I’m not exaggerating when I say: 10/10.
Kyle W. Kerr
Romantic comedies are a dime-a-dozen, though sometimes you find a diamond in the rough. Yes, you’re all groaning at my use of clichés, but this movie was so darn CUTE that I really need to wax a little poetic right now.
Adam (Ashton Kutcher, The Butterfly Effect and Killers) and Emma (Natalie Portman, Black Swan and V for Vendetta) meet when they’re teenagers at summer camp. Adam tears up because his parents are getting a divorce and Emma makes an awkward attempt to comfort him, then Adam asks if he can finger her and Emma says no. Cut to 10 years later when they meet again at a frat party. They agree to go on a “date” the next day, which Emma fails to mention is actually her father’s funeral. They meet once more four years later when Emma moves to his city for her medical residency, then again a year later when Adam gets really drunk and wakes up naked on her living room couch.
That’s where the story really starts. After a hurried hookup in her room, they decide to be friends with benefits, to make themselves available at all hours of the day for the other to use on a purely sexual basis. They have rules: no arguing, no getting jealous, and no falling in love. This latter proves especially difficult as the weeks progress… until things get a little too heated.
Natalie Portman is stellar as usual. But who knew she could be so FUNNY? Watching her get drunk at a holiday party and saunter out to hail a cab, then scare a couple of girls out of Adam’s apartment who she TOLD him to sleep with to begin with… believe me, it makes perfect sense when you watch it! But more than her comedic turn, Natalie maintains your sympathy as someone scared to open herself to love in fear of getting hurt.
Ashton Kutcher has been in a number of romantic comedies, yet I think that the character of Adam had enough depth to put this performance on another level. I know he can be a serious actor because of his role in The Butterfly Effect (if you haven’t seen this movie, RENT IT IMMEDIATELY!), so I always give him the benefit of the doubt when he releases a new movie. He’s been pigeonholed into this genre, which can start to get old after a while, but he manages to portray a guy with morals, a sense of humor, and a deep seeded need to be loved.
What really stands out the movie is the writing. An incredibly heartwarming yet witty exchange between the characters that had me laughing throughout. Never a dull moment, the 110 minute movie seems to speed by and leaves you wishing for more.
Definitely recommended! Go check it out!
Kyle W. Kerr
WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!
I desperately wanted to see this movie because of a) the really messed up looking trailer, and b) it’s been garnering a lot of media and award attention. Plus, Natalie Portman is an amazing actress, and I really liked director Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain.
The movie’s been out for a couple of weeks, and I finally got the chance to see it. I settled in for a tale about a ballet dancer named Nina (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta and Star Wars: Episodes 1-3), who finally lands the lead role in Swan Lake. Her innocence and perfectionism are lauded as invaluable traits for the White Swan, though she is encouraged by the show’s director to give more into the dark side, to experience a more wonton lifestyle and lose her inhibitions to bring more out of the evil half of her character, the Black Swan.
Yet as she begins to strip away her introversion and shed her purity, she becomes increasingly paranoid that the director is trying to replace her, and that her friend Lily (Mila Kunis, That 70’s Show and Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is trying to steal her role. She soon spirals into a world of disillusion and self-doubt, even as her debut as the Swan Queen draws ever closer.
Now, the reason I needed to put a spoiler warning at the top of the page is because, in order for me to tell you why I didn’t like this movie—which, in fact, I didn’t—I need to reveal some things. The “twist” of the movie is that it’s from the point-of-view of a completely unreliable narrator. A number of things happen that don’t actually happen, such as Nina and Lily having a drunken/under-the-influence tryst after a wild night on the town, hallucinations of self-mutilation (like tearing a flap of skin off her finger, which disappears a second later), and even a murder (that’s at the very end, and I’ll save the revelation of what actually happens a mystery for now).
I think a lot of people are viewing the unreliable narrator technique as unique, but here’s my issue: I don’t like being blatantly lied to. It’s one thing to use red herrings, to have sharp turns and sudden dips in the narrative, but to mislead with falsehood is a cheat. Instead of walking out of the theater with a general sense of awe like most moviegoers, I left thinking “So she imagined it all?”
Was I supposed to leave pondering which scenes were delusions and which were reality? Probably, but instead I went home frustrated, annoyed by the purposeful misdirection. At least Mila Kunis didn’t end up being to Natalie Portman what Brad Pitt was to Edward Norton in Fight Club, which was something I considered halfway through, though they thankfully didn’t do.
There were also a couple of things left unexplained, such as Nina’s overbearing, overprotective mother (who seemed to have a couple screws loose herself, though how much of that was really the mother versus her perception of her mother is another question). Nina also scratched herself bloody with anxiety on several occasions, which is supposed to be some sort of nervous habit I suppose?
However, as disappointed as I was in the storytelling, the movie wasn’t ALL bad. Natalie did an amazing job with the content she was given, and I feel she fully deserved her Golden Globe nomination (and subsequent win!) for her portrayal of Nina. Her graceful elegance and understated performance brought believability to a character wracked with turbulent—and oftentimes self-destructive—emotions, and her “stage presence” kept my eyes riveted to the screen.
Mila Kunis was just kind of there, and her character could have been played by a myriad of other actresses without any change to the film (whereas I can’t imagine anyone other than Natalie in her own part). None of the other actors stuck out enough to mention, save a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo by Winona Ryder so short you’ll barely have time to think, “Hey, was that Winona Ryder?”
I know why the movie is garnering so much attention. Believe me, I get it. The thing is, the twist didn’t hook me like it did everyone else. It just annoyed me, so I can’t bring myself to recommend this to anyone. Seems like another one to save for the Netflix queue.
Kyle W. Kerr
Written by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
For sale February 2011
“WHO IS GIDEON CREW?” reads the cover of the Advance Reading Copy sent out to reviewers. Who indeed.
I’ve never read one of the many novels by either Douglas Preston OR Lincoln Child, as co-authors or individuals. They’re internationally bestselling authors, and this was my first foray into one of their worlds.
Gideon Crew witnessed his father’s death by government agents at the age of twelve. He grows up believing his father is a traitor, responsible for the deaths of 26 undercover agents. But on her deathbed, his mother tells him the truth. His father is not a traitor, but tried to warn the government about a flawed new encryption standard, and was used at a scapegoat when it eventually failed. She sets him the task of clearing his father’s name and bringing down the man who made it happen.
This in and of itself could have been a sufficient novel, but it’s only the beginning. The takedown happens within a couple of chapters and serves the purpose of highlighting Gideon’s ingenuity, persistence, and superior analytical skills.
Thinking he can finally get back to his life, he’s summoned by a mysterious organization working with the US Government to track down a Chinese defector known as Mark Wu, who supposedly possesses the plans for a revolutionary weapon more devastating than the H-Bomb. He doubts his own abilities to succeed on such a mission, and soon finds himself embroiled in an international race to uncover Wu’s secret before his adversary—a ruthless killer called Nodding Crane—finds it first… and kills him in the process.
The story was well crafted and not predictable (I’m one of those people who LIKE to figure out the mystery before the character does). I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Gideon Crew, whose multi-dimensional background added real life and purpose to his journey. His efforts often impressed me, even as he occasionally fumbled because of his inexperience. The only thing about him that isn’t fully explained his is past life as an art thief. It helps him bring down his father’s killer and is an asset to him in his pursuit of Wu’s secret, but it’s mentioned almost as an aside. Hopefully it’s explored in future books. But regardless, I look forward to more adventures with him!
As far as the writing goes, I have to pay the authors the highest compliment I can in saying that it reads with one consistent voice. I dare anyone to pinpoint where Preston ends and Child begins; their collaboration is flawless. The only criticism I can think of is that, as a pretty voracious reader and lover of words, they still managed to use a couple terms that even my Kindle didn’t know (it took a bit of online searching to find what a tubercularium is).
In a fast paced, thoroughly unpredictable romp, Gideon Crew is the newest go-to man for international espionage and intrigue. He’s a great addition to the tradition of the everyman-cum-superman, and I can’t wait to see what he gets wrapped up in next.
[Note: When searching online for images of the book’s cover, shots of director Michael Bay (Transformers, Armageddon) kept appearing. After checking IMDb Pro (you’ll have to take my word on this, it isn’t on regular IMDb yet), it appears Gideon’s Sword is already optioned property, and he’s set to produce and direct the movie version for Paramount Pictures, the screenplay of which is currently being adapted by Chap Taylor (writer of ‘02’s Changing Lanes), for a possible 2013 release.]
Kyle W. Kerr
So, my resolution for 2011 is that I’m going to write more, and that means putting an end to the neglect of my blog. Not only am I going to write more about my writing, but I’m also going to review EVERY new book and movie I experience. I get to see a lot of advance screenings for movies (one of the many perks of city living!), and I currently have over 30 ARCs (advance reader copies) burning up my To-Be-Read pile, so a lot of the things I’ll review will actually—hopefully—be relevant and useful. Or not. We’ll see.
Tonight I saw a screening of COUNTRY STRONG, which opens in theaters this Friday. It’s the story of country superstar Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow), just out of rehab after a mysterious-and notorious to the characters in the movie-incident at a concert in Dallas the year prior. She’s being forced into a comeback by her husband/manager James Canter (Tim McGraw, who doesn’t have a singing part). Along for the ride is Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund, TRON: Legacy), a rehab aide by day who helps Kelly in more ways than one, and a baritoned crooner by night, as well as Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester, Gossip Girl), whose youth and talent make Kelly jealous.
I really wanted to like this movie. I’m a big fan of Leighton for her portrayal of Blair Waldorf on GG, and I already knew she could sing from that single she released a few months ago. I’d first seen Garrett in the ill-adapted Eragon movie (which I can forgive him for), and then a few weeks ago starring opposite Jeff Bridges in the new Tron movie, which similarly impressed me. And I was even looking forward to Gwen because of her spin on Glee a month or so ago.
But the story, while not necessarily tired, still felt cliché because of all the real life stars we watch who go through the same experience. These people that are in and out of rehab every few months, staging comebacks at a higher frequency than the full moon appears… it’s just old. It didn’t help the movie in any way. And at almost two hours, it seemed to drag on, too.
Gwyneth doesn’t get as much screen time as you’d think (which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing), and they saved most of her singing until the end—save for an impromptu song she sings for a Make-A-Wish kid with leukemia that was really cute—sort of like that forbidden romance where you wait an ENTIRE movie for that ONE KISS. She was fairly believable as a depressed starlet, but nothing about the performance was particularly wow-worthy.
Leighton seemed to gain more confidence in her performance as the movie went on, which reflects the character’s own arch in a way, though you shouldn’t be able to see it in the performance itself. She seemed uncomfortable for the first half of the movie but found her groove in the end, and she’s a decent singer to boot!
The big delight of the movie, surprisingly, was Garrett Hedlund. Not only did he have an extremely sultry voice, but his sincere portrayal as Beau was completely believable, the only un-forced performance in the entire movie. I almost wish the movie had been more centered on his life and struggles to become a country star. He’s definitely someone to keep our eyes on in the future.
Overall, the movie was cute, but not something I’d run out to see on opening night. Maybe go for an early matinee if you’re interested in seeing it in theaters (the singing alone is worth the $6), but don’t spend $11 to see it Friday night. I probably would have been annoyed if I’d paid to see it. Definitely a matinee movie, or wait for it on Netflix.
Kyle W. Kerr
01/1/11 | My Writings | 0 Comments
Have a good one, folks!
Kyle W. Kerr