Thoughts on ‘The Boy and the Beast’

For anyone who doesn’t know the name Mamoru Hosoda, he’s a critically acclaimed Japanese director whose written and made recent but wonderful anime classics such as “Wolf Children”, “Summer Wars”, and the wonderfully titled and well-known anime film “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, all three of which I have seen and hold dearly to my heart. “Wolf Children” is a touching story of family and coming of age (as well as a fan-favorite for furries such as yours truly), “Summer Wars” is a science fiction adventure great for watching on July evenings, and “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is a cult classic for time-travel stories. And later last year, Hosoda released another potentially timeless classic for anime fans called “The Boy and the Beast”.

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Review: “Openly Straight” (Openly Straight #1) by Bill Konigsberg

For my first post of LGBT Pride Month, I’m reading a gay romance novel that caught my eye while looking in a bookstore. The cover seemed nice, but the idea behind the book and the possibilities of it really caught my attention. I’ve heard of a few people say that they do not enjoy gay literature because according to them it’s the same old awkward romance you see in regular love stories. While it can be true in some cases, I have to disagree. Typically a gay romance doesn’t always have to have the romance as its focus, such as “Willful Machines” (which I reviewed a while ago). Much like zombie stories or horror films, a gay romance can be good with different variety and good characters, as well as an interesting story. And “Openly Straight” by Bill Konigsberg is one of these stories.

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Review: ‘Username: Evie’ by Joe Sugg

Okay so this week’s read is a recent one you’ve probably never heard of called “Username: Evie”, but you probably know the author and his team. From what I know, the author of this is a new one. His name’s Joe Sugg, though most of you better know him as the British Youtube personality named ‘ThatcherJoe’.

And with him to help make this comic come to life are the ‘Sugg Squad’, consisting of Amrit Birdi, Matt Whyman, Joaquin Pereyra, and Mindy Lopkin. Looking these guys up as well as Joe Sugg, I never would’ve guessed right away he wrote comics, especially with the art style involved. . And after finding this at the local book store, I decided to give it a quick read and honestly?

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Review: ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, I thought I’d review a random romance novel that caught my eye. Looking at the cover, ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon seems like an average book in the YA romance section. However, knowing what it’s actually about and reading it from cover to cover, I couldn’t stop reading it even on school nights. It has a good personality, engrossing leads, and a touching but cynical atmosphere that’d make ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ blush. It did keep me interested, but maybe I was expecting a little more, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Madeline Whittier is a young teenage girl who has an extremely rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which makes her literally allergic to the outside world (yeah, remember the movie called ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’? That’s this in a YA romance). Besides taking online classes and spending her days in a white house built with an airlock, Madeline is catered by her overprotective mother and a loving nurse. She never changes routine, and always wonders about the world outside.

But one day, a new family moves next door to Madeline, and the oldest boy is a teenager her age named Olly. Unlike her, he embraces the outside and spends his days either doing parkour on the roof or dressing like a Goth off the set of ‘American Horror Story’. As predicted, Madeline falls head over heels for him, and he begins to see the tragedy of her lifelong predicament. However, will Madeline risk her life for a chance of real happiness?

This is a book that cynics like myself may hate because of the choices and life-threatening decisions Madeline makes to see her love interest. On the one hand, you understand how this is the first time she’s probably been in love, but you do have to side with the mother when it’s life-threatening.

However, going into the first two-thirds of the story, this kind of reminded me of the popularly criticized book ‘Into the Wild’, with the main character being cooped up in one place for a long time and making piss-poor decisions of living one day to live life like it was meant to be lived. Sure his decisions are stupid and the risks he takes are beyond insane, but at the same time you have to admire the passion he holds into following his dreams and how naïve but gently determined he is.

Madeline is the same way. She’s a person who’s never been sick like a regular person, never smelled fresh air, and knows not much about the outside world than what she’s seen on a laptop or in books. Even knowing the risks she’ll take to just see Olly across a living room, you have to admire the naïve passion she owns, the intellectual optimism, and the cynical pessimism she has for the future. It is almost like seeing an animal in a cage, but with a human being.

Then we have Olly, who at first is at first nothing but eye candy in the first third of ‘Everything, Everything’, until you start to learn more about him next to Madeline. He may dress like a Goth, but he’s surprisingly intellectual when it comes to mathematics and astronomy. Olly knows the risks of seeing Madeline much like she does, but is also passionate to know the girl more. Much like the book, his personality shines as the story progresses.

In fact, I love how the novel tell you about the character in a simple way to know their struggles and understand what’s going on. For example, there are chapters where Madeline and Olly are sending texts and IMs to each other over the course of several weeks and that’s it. Over their conversations, they hint at what we miss in-between chapters, and give vague enough answers for us to know how protective Madeline’s mother is, and how violent Olly’s father is. It is the right balance of giving details without giving answers.

Aside from the decisions Madeline makes in the first two-thirds, my only main problem is surprisingly the ending. I won’t try to spoil anything here, but the climax of the film feels out-of-synch with the rest of the book. For a majority of the novel, we believe Nicola Yoon is giving us a quirky but dramatic tragedy, but suddenly gives us a sudden twist that was never built on. Granted, the ending chapter is bittersweet yet heart-warming, but I never felt that the ending of ‘Everything, Everything’ lived up to its full potential.

Overall, ‘Everything, Everything’ has all the greater elements that should be in a good YA romance novel. It isn’t great, but it is dramatically entertaining with a sweet couple and an enriching personality. If you enjoy this kind of thing, I highly recommend it for anyone in the spirit of Valentine’s Day!

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Review: ‘Forest Gods’ by Ryan Campbell

At last! At long, long last! After waiting for a couple years, I’ve read the latest instalment of Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, confusingly called ‘Forest Gods’. I’m telling you that ever since I finished reading ‘God of Clay’ some months ago, I have been itching to know what happened in the cliffhanger I was left on, and what will happen to our main character. Is it better than the first book, and can Ryan Campbell continue making a romantic relationship between a leopard deity and a young human man less uncomfortable than it would sound at first? Read on to find out.

In the wake of the last book, the god of the forest Kwaee has turned his entire domain against the human villagers outside his jungle, killing anyone whom he believes to be allied with the demonic fire god Ogya. And after running for the savanna in the wake of all this, Kwaee’s son Doto and his human lover Clay must embark into the neighboring savannas in search of a god whom they believe will help them find out the truth. Both will have to sacrifice their morals, risk their lives, and maybe even the happiness they may or may not be able to have.

Meanwhile, back in Clay’s home, Laughing Dog has returned in ways too different to explain. His and Clay’s father, King First Claw, has died under mysterious circumstances, and their grieving but slow-minded brother Great Ram has taken the throne in these dark times. Little does anyone know however, that Ogya has taken possession of Laughing Dog, and is using the agnostic believer’s naïveté to cause tension among the other villagers through acts of framing, hoping to rile them into attacking the forest and finally reignite the ancient war with Kwaee.

The only two people who see through the young prince’s actions are the tribe’s elderly healer named Cloud, and the prince’s promised fiancé named Ant With a Leaf. Determined to save their people from unknowingly killing themselves, Any and Cloud must throw aside their status as women and challenge the prince and puppet king before it’s too late. Will they both succeed and save humanity, or will Ogya’s fire consume the village and everything in its path?

It’s very clear in the first several that real shit will go down as the book progresses, and Ryan Campbell brilliantly allows the scenery and emotions to drip together with the narrative. There’s more drama, much darker moments between the line, and I had to stop myself from skipping ahead several times to keep reading each page. As you guess, I absolutely loved it.

The best thing about this book is both the theme and how it has heavily impacted the characters, and it is change. From the last book to this one’s cliffhanger, ‘Forest Gods’ does the right balance of commenting on change while we read about our characters’ journeys. Everyone in the novel talks about how they miss the old days, and feel like an impending doom is coming to their way of life. It is an understandable feeling, as many people in today’s world have the same feeling whether they’re religious or not. However, the novel isn’t preaching to abandon beliefs, but to adapt to the change in order to survive.

Doto and Clay go through a similar situation on their new journey, except it starts to turn into a romantic relationship between a god and a mortal. You might remember from my review of the last book that they both had a sex scene, and I must inform you there are a few in ‘Forest Gods’ as well. However, the book doesn’t go into intimate detail, and focuses more on the story and relationship between the two. Granted, the idea of a human and anthropomorphic leopard being in a sexual relationship sounds very disturbing still, but then again if authors can get away with werewolf romances, why not this? Besides, werewolf romances these days are crap compared to this.

Clay is still the optimistic human from the first book, but learns how the gods have abused their power. He’s emotional, but quick on his feet while keeping good morals. He’s noble, but will challenge kindness when it is needed. And despite his devotion to Doto (both spiritually and romantically), Clay has limits to how far the leopard would go to hurt others in their way.

In ‘God of Clay’, Doto originally treated his human companion as though he’s nothing more than a subordinate worshipper. In ‘Forest Gods’, he still cares for Clay, but slowly learns to consider him an equal. He’s still impatient and serious, but will protect Clay from anything. He’s determined, but learns humility from Clay. He also learns how to have emotions, and doesn’t know how to feel about them, especially in dramatic scenes. The one that tugs at my heartstrings is when Doto finds out someone about his legacy he never know, and how it ties him into the war between Kwaee and Ogya. I won’t give anything away, but you feel the weight that Doto feels once it’s discovered.

Aside from the two couple, but I was strangely surprised to have Cloud and Ant, two minor characters from the first book, become the secondary characters in the novel. I barely even remembered them in ‘God of Clay’, but reading the newest book and getting to know them better has made me wonder why Ryan Campbell didn’t give them more focus? I absolutely love them, as they remind me of some people I knew growing up in my family. Cloud is an elderly woman that’s strong and has a clever wit despite her old age, is independent but knows when to ask for help, and she perfectly mirrors Ant’s will to do what is right for the village. In fact, I remember ‘Bookworm Reviews’ on Youtube mentioning that his only problem with the first book as that Ant didn’t have a personality. This highly makes up for it, and she’s thoroughly entertaining (and David Popovich, if you’re reading this, I highly recommend this for a future review).

That reminds me. The only complain I have regarding characters is this one that popped out of nowhere and wasn’t mentioned again in detail. It was Adanko, the God of Hares and Lies who seemed too amusing to be a background character. At first it seems like he’ll be the comic relief of the story, but he comes and goes without a second though.

Then we have Laughing Dog, who has turned from an agnostic child who whines and complains in the last book into an unpredictable beast with his older brother’s kingly position wrapped around his finger. I love and fear how he manipulates the King so easily just by being related to him, showcasing how Laughing Dog isn’t just a tough guy with a knife. He’s a conniver and a plotter, trying to keep a façade of honor and charisma to his people while willingly working for Ogya. The way he puts blame on Kwaee, frames Cloud, twists others words against them, it’s like you’ve entered the infamous McCarthy Trials!

I find aspects like this the most terrifying in a villain, because it makes us wonder when they can be threatening, whether they’re about to strike you down or not. Both are unpredictable, overconfident in their goals, and will not hesitate to kill anyone, even family and loved ones, in their way of success.

Once again, Ryan Campbell astounds me in a fantastic novel of family, beliefs, and love. Enriched with African culture, vast in journeys across landscapes, and seeded with an addictive plot, I highly recommend reading this after taking a gander at the first book.

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Review: ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’

Tom Delonge is a man that continues to boggle my mind the more I research about him. Not only is he an author, but he’s a songwriter, a film producer, and a guitarist in his own band ‘Angels & Airwaves’. Combine all of that, and you get the creation of a multimedia project featuring the titular character, Poet Anderson.

And here’s a link to the trailer of the short film if you’re interested in that too:

 

For those who don’t know, Poet Anderson is a character that Delonge created in 2008 and is basically a heroic teenager who has the ability to manipulate dreams and nightmares in a mindscape of sleep. Since then, Poet has appeared in graphic novels, songs written by Delonge, and even an animated short film called ‘Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker’ (which is amazing on its own and I highly recommend looking for online). And now, with the help of New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young, Tom Delonge gives us a written book that will tell the origin story of Poet Anderson in ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’. Does it hold up?

It does, but it may be clunky enough to turn off a lot of readers.

The book begins with two orphaned brothers named Jonas and Alan Anderson, who travel for work and are secretly Lucid Dreamers, humans who have the ability to become aware of their dreams and control them in the Dream World, a reality shared by humanity’s collective unconsciousness. Unfortunately after a car accident places Alan into a coma, Jonas is left alone in Seattle with no money, no other family, and no place to call home. All he can do is go to school, visit the hospital, and roam the dreamscape in hopes of finding his brother and waking him up.

A few weeks later, everything turns upside down for Jonas when he discovers he is a destined Poet, a Lucid Dreamer who guides lost dreamers from their nightmares to safety along with having unimaginable powers over the dreamscape. News of this has now made him a target for a diabolical Lucid Dreamer named REM (whose design is just creepy!), who wants Jonas’s abilities to escape into the Waking World and plunge it into nightmarish chaos.

Still desperate to save his brother, Jonas takes up the pseudonym ‘Poet Anderson’ and must fight his way through REM’s forces with the help of a Dream Walker named Jarabec in the Dream World, and the support of his love interest Samantha in the Waking World.

After seeing the short film originally and getting hyped on the idea of a novel series involving the memorable Poet Anderson, I didn’t know what to expect. And after reading this, I have to say that even as a stand-alone novel, it can be a clunky read for some people. Sometimes it feels like Delonge and his co-author are not letting scenes play out and are more concerned of letting plot points into the story. For example, the second and third chapters confused me by hastily introducing characters we wouldn’t know about until two-fifths later into the book. It felt out of place and would’ve been better to go through another edit.

Other than that, the rest of the book flows not only smoothly, but surprisingly well, almost like a lazy river fluidly floating to the climax of a ravaging waterfall. ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ not only gave me what I expected from the plot of a dream-related YA novel. In fact, this almost reminds me of an anime movie I watched last year called ‘Paprika’ (directed by the legendary animator Satoshi Kon) about a young woman with two different identities trying to stop the abuse of a dreaming device. Not only did it have the same type of character of having two identities, but it made up for its similar problems by having imaginative dreams, dark themes and backgrounds, and a sense of innovation to the thin line between fantasy/reality. IT was really damn good at what it did best.

‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ does the same thing.

The characters and their designs (both in and outside the novel) are just very imaginative, and show off their personality in a way that you can hear and know what their voices sound like in your ear. Jonas/Poet’s voices can differentiate from an awkward but kindhearted loner into an independently semi-confident badass with a bowler hat, black suit, and umbrella. Jarabec is also very likeable being the wise old man who doesn’t sound monotone in his writing because he wants to sound important, but knows what he says is important. He’s the one who’s seen what his role as a Dream Walker can do to a person in the Waking World. He knows the risks, and is warning Jonas that becoming a Poet can be dangerous and is meant to not be taken lightly.

Then we have the villain of this named REM. How do I start with this guy? I didn’t see or hear of him until I read the book, but this is a very mysterious villain. He always talks to Poet/Jonas like he has absolutely nothing to fear; the nightmarish villain almost reminds me of Bill Cipher from ‘Gravity Falls’, being a dream villain who is powerful enough to destroy his foe, but also has a dark sense of humor mixed with ruthlessness. He’s even intimidating enough to have his creepy face larger than Poet’s on the front cover!

The Dream World in the novel is incredible based on the words of our authors, even if you haven’t seen or read anything Poet Anderson-related. It’s bright and shiny in some places, and is obviously a metaphor for the Internet and doing whatever you can’t do in the Waking World. One of the things I loved reading this is how in the Dream World Jonas and Sam are more open to each other than they can be in the Waking World and it feels natural. They’re actually adorable sometimes.

Surprisingly, my only other complaint with ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ besides the first few chapters is that I was hoping to explore more of the Dream World. I mean, this is a place where the impossible can become reality and is endless with creative possibilities, but I often feel like I’m in a futuristic setting. But you can make the argument that since the Dream World is a collective unconsciousness that it would make sense it’d be formed as a giant city for people to do random things, much like any other city.

Overall, Tom Delonge and Suzanne Young’s first co-authored book is fun. Another edit may have helped this flow better in the beginning, but ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ is an exciting read for anyone interested in the idea of Inception meeting Blade Runner.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

 

Review: ‘Ten Thousand Skies Above You’ by Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray gives us a sequel to ‘A Thousand Pieces of You’, and I was hyped to read this. Ever since I finished the first book, I’ve been itching to know what happens to Meg and her friends after the ordeal they went through. I’ve been curious of what other interesting dimensions they’ll visit, if it’ll further reveal the villain’s diabolical plot, and what plot twist will come next. Called ‘Ten Thousand Skies Above You’ (In my opinion I thought it would’ve made sense to switch the titles of both these books), Claudia Gray exceeded my expectations,

Marguerite Caine and her family are trying to heal from the ordeal they went through after the events of the first book, but are concerned about the harm the Firebird technology can cause if in the wrong hands. This includes Wyatt Conley of the Triadverse, who wants to use the Firebirds to have every version of his corporation to control the multiverse. This is further complicated when Meg’s parents discover that a dimensional traveler can succumb to an effect called ‘splintering’, where the traveler’s consciousness can be split into four forms of energy and be trapped in different versions of themselves in parallel universes.

Just as Meg is trying to put the past behind her and (slight spoiler) start a relationship with a reformed Paul, Wyatt Conley captures him and splinters his mind across different versions of himself across the multiverse in an attempt to blackmail her. Left with no choice, Meg must once again risk her life and the lives of her other selves to save the man she loves. She’ll have to make impossible choices, sacrifice her morality, and do anything to stop the Triad Corporation from becoming powerful enough to destroy the fabric of existence.

If you remember my review of the first book, you’d probably remember how I mentioned Claudia Gray gave a perfect balance of mixing narrative with scenery descriptions, which gave each location and universe its own unique setting. In this one, Meg must go to parallel dimensions such as a version of San Francisco torn apart by a global war, a North America where countries are replaced by rivaling mega-companies, and even to New York’s criminal underworld, with a very dark version of Paul I won’t spoil here, but makes you question what makes ‘you’, you.

Once again, the characters are fantastic, mixing clever character development with humorous moments that works off their personalities. Some of them range from outright hysterically awkward to nice nods one would miss. For example, there’s a scene where Meg is in an alternate universe and rummaging through her alternate version’s purse, and she’s confused when she finds an iPhone instead of a tPhone. It may be product placement, but I couldn’t help but shake my head amused.

The novel takes things a step further by explaining ideas of fate and destiny across different dimensions. This books talks about the idea that no matter what universe a person is in or what decision they make, there’s the probable chance of them being good or bad. It explains cleverly how in one dimension you could be slightly different but be Hitler-esque in another.

The consequences of traveling dimensions and inhabiting another’s body is also brought up, with Meg and her friends realizing the harmful effects their presence can have their other version’s lives. It creepily shows how one man shouldn’t have the type of technology, where it can drastically ruin a different version of yourself in ways you wouldn’t imagine. It’s an unsettling idea that makes you wonder if your decisions are your own, or if fate is at work.

A problem with ‘Ten Thousand Skies Above You’ that may upset some readers is that the first few chapters are mainly flashbacks and exposition. It’s strange how in the first novel didn’t have this trouble before, and maybe it’s because it was kept simply into two chapters while almost three to four chapters are dedicated here to explaining what happened in the first book. Some may get it right away, but it may be a problem for some.

Otherwise, this is a worthy sequel to ‘A Thousand Pieces of You’, and the cliffhanger left me frozen in shock to know what will happen next. If you’re a fan of ‘Bioshock Infinite’ and media involving dimensional travel, grab yourself a Firebird and give this a read.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!