Friday, January 27, 2017

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another.

Rating: 1/5 Stars

It is no secret that Carve the Mark has become a controversial book even before its publication. There have been claims of racist tropes as well as ableism, but there have also been people coming out saying that those claims are not true, they are misinformed or downright wrong. Because of this, and because the voices were so conflicting, I decided to read this and see for myself what was going on in the book. Now I have reached my own conclusions but if you’re reading this I want you guys to know that, at the end of the day, this is my take on this and you might have a completely different opinion on it. Don’t take my word for granted, and you are welcome to discuss this stuff with me!

-Carve the Mark and the Dark-skinned aggressor trope. Or is it mixed race or what the heck is it?: 

Back in December I began hearing not so great things about Carve the Mark and its portrayal of dark-skinned people. I eventually came across this post by YA author Justina Ireland where it described how the Shotet were a race of dark-skinned savages who attacked the poor and “peaceful” Thuvhesit. Also known as the white race.

I was appalled by this, but also tired. Having races of “savage” people always being portrayed by dark-skinned characters is always hurtful, and one would think that on 2017 we would have moved past that (though not so much when you remember Trump, ugh). It is also incredibly lazy writing, whenever I find that on a book I roll my eyes at it, spit on it for good measure (don’t tell me what to do with my books) and DNF it.

After hearing this, I didn’t want to read Carve the Mark nor was I planning to, but then I came across a good many deal of reviews, posts and such who told a different story.

There was one review who mentioned how the colors had been confused, and actually the savage people were white, while the peaceful were dark-skinned (pointing out that it was still conflicting to have a “this vs that” with two races of people without delving into it). There were people who said both societies were of mixed race, and that they both had fair and dark-skinned people. There were a few who claimed there was absolutely nothing wrong with the book whatsoever and didn’t understand the criticism. And there were also people who claimed the people seeing any kind of issue were a bunch of “cry-babies” who needed to shut the fuck up. These last ones, of course, I ignored.

But I was confused, you see, there were so many conflicting voices all at once that you didn’t know what was happening!

If it were a matter of opinion I would understand it, but people were contradicting themselves on actual facts of the book, why was that?
The more days went on, the more people came out declaring their thoughts on the matter. I followed people who had gotten early ARCs of the book, and nobody seemed to settle on an opinion. Even now as I was reading it, I checked the status updates from people and found that things remained the same; some were calling out the book for its problematic content, others trying to figure out where the problem was coming from, and a couple more who claimed there was nothing wrong with the book.

Now that I have read it, I can tell you guys what I found.

Yes, there are two races in this book who represent savages/peaceful people; the Shotet and the Thuvhesit with a good deal of descriptions thrown in for good measure showing the stark contrast between them; always making the Thuvhesit be the peaceful and civilized and the Shotet the savages and violent brutes.

And as far as the book showed us (because it did not describe every single character in the entire planet), both societies were mixed race.

We have the main characters, Akos (peaceful) as fair, and Cyra (savage) as brown. But their families and a few secondary characters tell a different story.

Akos father, brother and sister are described with brown skin. Cyra’s own brother has “skin as pale as a corpse” and a couple of other Shotet characters also are described as with pale skin and blond hair.

HOWEVER, that is not the whole story *cue for suspense music* You see, by this point I thought that the people who claimed both societies were mixed race were right. I mean, no side was 100% white or 100% black, right? And yet that’s not the whole story.
Why was it that, of all the people, Roth chose her main characters to be: kind-white-boy and angry-and-violent-brown-girl? It was also strange that, despite how the book talked about mixed race and you had people of both fair skin and dark skin on both sides, there was still a clear distinction.

Despite mixed races, when you took a look at how their own peoplewere described and not just a few loose characters, you still had the same thing. The savages were mostly dark-skinned, and the peaceful folk were fair skinned.
In fact, something I kept thinking about was what Cyra’s words about mixed blood:

“Many Shotet had mixed blood, so it wasn’t surprising-my own skin was a medium brown, almost golden in certain lights.”

“It wasn’t uncommon for Shotet siblings to look dissimilar, given how blended our blood was,[…]”

This suggest a lot of blood mix (as well as some strange behaviour from the genes but… hey! Space book might have different rules for genetics. Who knows? Certainly not me), and at first it would make sense when you take into account the fact that Shotet are described as “nomads”, travelling from planet to planet, recycling other’s societies’ garbage as part of their mission.

One would think this traveling and coming in contact with so many cultures and people would cause this mixed race, right? And yet, I kept thinking about this:

“We didn’t realize our language was revelatory, carried in the blood, because we were always together, moving as one through the galaxy as wanderers.”

Something interesting about Shotet people (savages) is that their language is carried in their blood. Other people can learn it, but without Shotet blood they can never reach full fluency. And Shotet-blooded people who had never been in contact with the language can suddenly speak it perfectly and understand it when they meet other Shotet.

But what I gathered from this it was that, despite their travels the Shotet didn’t seem to have children with other people; otherwise they would have known sooner that their language is carried by blood, right? If they had married and their spouses could never learn the language but their children could, or later on, some of their children could and others not, then they would have made the connexion.
Instead what we get from this and a few other passages of the book was that, although the Shotet did interact with other cultures; they did so by observing. They explored, but they didn’t want to lose their “essence”, as they called it.

“We cull each planet’s wisdom and take it for our own, Otega had said, crouched down beside me at one of our lessons. And when we do that, we show them what about them is worthy of their appreciation. We reveal them to themselves.”

This has to do with where the Shotet and Thuvhesit’s conflict started. The Thuvhesit people (peaceful), see Shotets as savages who attack them because they are brutes who want to usurp their planet, but that doesn’t seem to be the true story.

Later on in the book we hear what appears to be the origin of this whole enmity. The Shotet were nomads, always following the “current” a kind of mystical force that nobody fully understand, but that the Shotet people worship. They once found an empty planet that the current favored, and so they settled there, but because they didn’t want to abandon their nomad roots and forget who they were, Shotet people still did “Sojourns” (travels in which they followed the current and stopped at planets to recycle) while leaving their youngest behind, as it was tradition. But then:

“[…]those who had settled north of Voa to harvest he iceflowers, who called themselves the Thuvhesit, ventured too far south. They came into our city, and saw that we had left many of our children here, to await their parents’ return from the sojourn. And they took our children from their beds, from their kitchen tables, from their streets. They stole our young ones, and brought them north as captives and servants.”

So the adults came back and found their children gone. It wasn’t until they ventured to the Thuvhesit’s territory that they came across a child-servant who could speak Shotet that they realized their language was blood-transmitted (somehow, don’t ask me) and that the white folks had enslaved their kids.

“And then,” he said, “we rose, and became soldiers, so we would never be overcome again.”

So basically, white folk stole and slaved their people and the Shotet became warriors to defend themselves but somehow got thwarted along the way and now they were just savages… bear with me.

This explains why both people seemed mixed race but with only a few having different skin color/hair. The Thuvhesit were originally all described as fair skinned, but as they took the dark skinned children of the Shotet and centuries passed(or just one? It wasn’t explained) we come to a Thuvhesit society that is primarily white, with a few dark-skinned families. Akos and his mom were the only ones with fair skin, since the rest of the children took after their father with Shotet ancestry.

And the same can be explained for the Shotet. I saw about six characters with fair skin in the Shotet society while the rest were described as dark skinned. Now, as I have said before Roth didn’t describe every single character in both sides, but she made a clear distinction when describing their societies and the large majority presented this contrast:

Peaceful folk: Fair skin
Savage folk: Dark skin

And it’s also due to notice that five out of those six white characters from Shotet were actually liberators and rebels, fighting against the brutality of other Shotets. The evil one was Cyra’s brother and Shotet’s ruler, but we are told constantly how “he wasn’t born evil” but rather made that way through their father’s savagery.

Who knows? Maybe in the next book Roth will write something else entirely and prove me wrong, but so far this is what she showed, so I’m gonna work with that.

Truth be told, in Thuvhe we see a society that is white, but so far only Akos’ family was described with darker skin (one was murdered, the other tortured, only the daughter survived). Moreover, Roth is constantly making comparisons between the two people and their sides of the planet as well.

In Thuvhe’s side everything is “beautiful and calming” white with its landscapes covered in snow. It’s harsh, but you can see the reverence Roth feels to the place as she writes about their religion, their devotion and their government. They are seen as calm, happy, loving and beautiful.

In Shotet you had bits here and there of description that was always aimed to make them look bad. The scars they carry (marks of loss) are often described as grotesque and savage. The population live in poverty and darkness (not even the spaceship seems to escape that). Their people are evil, abusers, quick to anger and to resort to violence. Their skin and armour is described as dark, always telling us how menacing they look and making the comparison of dark=bad.

Another issue this presents is that we are never truly shown the Thuvhesit as bad people? They are freaking colonizers! You would think that after learning what they did they would be shown in a different light, but everything remains the same. They don’t seem to have recollection of what their ancestors did, and so they have moved past that remaining as a peaceful society trying to fight the cruelty of the Shotet. While the people who were hurt, the Shotet, remain as uncultured, violent and cruel people.

Not even the romance between the two mains escapes this trope (as underdeveloped as it was). After they have both accepted their feelings for each other, things are starkly different. Cyra is willing and cooperative with the Thuvhesit, she wants to help them succeed and feels a bit ashamed of who she is and what she’s done. Akos says to love Cyra, but he never stops viewing the Shotet as violent and uncultured, wanting to take revenge on them but not wanting tobeviolent like them.

In the end, and despite conflicting opinions, I did find that the author used rather insensitive and harmful tropes with little thought or care on what she was doing.

-The world-building, or why the heck is there a spaceship- oh wait… right: 

Something that calls the attention as soon as you begin reading Carve the Mark is the world-building. While Roth sets herself to describe a lot of what happens in this world, the writing and the explanations are convoluted and unhelpful; we have tiny info-dumps located in every sentence or so of the book. Instead of incorporating the information on this universe in an organic and engaging way, she just tried to jam as much of it into the reading as possible. So we had sentences like:

“Oh, and this is a tea*inserts centuries old information about tea and customs that shall never be brought up again or ever be relevant to the story.*”

Hell, I got to the last chapter and Roth was still trying to give me explanations like these on mundane stuff.

It was a shame, because we have SPACE and I absolutely love anything that has to do with SPACE but it didn’t work. Truth be told, I kept forgetting we were talking about space and planets and galaxies because the atmosphere simply wasn’t there (was that a pun? Yeah I think it was). This book could be set anywhere, any time. It could be historical fantasy for all I knew, which was why it threw me off every time they mentioned a space ship. I had to stop on my tracks and go “Wait, why the heck is there a space ship here?... Oh, right, this was set in space… I think.”
Ten pages later I would see another spaceship and it was the same thing all over again “A spaceship?...” The story and world-building were too convoluted to be coherent enough for a story. We had little things that were explained with excruciating detail, and then you had important stuff that were completely ignored or barely mentioned at all.

Thuveth people weren’t really explored much since most of the book is spent with both characters in Shotet, but what we do know is that they worship iceflowers; some strange kind of flower that grows in the ice thanks to the current and that is used for medicine, but we never really see more than that. Their economy depends on its exportation, and they are attacked by the Shotet, a People who they (want to) believe invaded their planet and is trying to steal it from them. 

The Shotet’s culture is more developed thanks to most of the novel occurring there, but there are still many things that are either not explained or make little sense.

“You understand that we are a poor country, right?” I frowned back at him. “We have no real exports, and hardly enough natural resources to sustain ourselves independently. Some other planets send aid-Othyr, among them-but that aid falls into the wrong hands, and is distributed based on status rather than need.”

Their people is ruled by the Novaek family, and after the death of their parents, Cyra’s brother Ryzek is their tyrannical emperor. He’s shown to be a merciless leader; a brother who used to be kind to Cyra before his father’s abuse broke him and he became nothing short of a monster. He keeps his people ignorant of other languages so he can twist all propaganda to his own end, making the other planets look bad and his own regime as good. But most of their population except for the small high class, are very poor, starving and sick.

As far as I know, their people survive on their scavenges ehhh… I assume the land they live in too but we never see them harvesting or anything? And I don’t know if they have anything to export, like Cyra said; they don’t seem to have resources to sustain themselves with but readers never learn how big their population is, how they live, family structures, government (other than evil Ryzek)… now that I think about it, I know virtually nothing about them.

I know they worship the current and have technology to “follow” it wherever it guides them, settling on a planet to recycle their garbage. They pride themselves in being brutal and skillfull in the art of war, and they also use current blades… but I don’t know if they are the only people using them or if other cultures use them too. I also have no freaking idea of what a current blade is other than a knife made with “channelling material” so the current can flow through them, but what does it do? Is it like a regular knife or can it do something especial? They were mentioned all the time, but until this day I still have no idea on what they do or how they work.

There is also an association of nine planets? But we only know five cultures, Shotet and Thuve share a planet, but the rest I’m not sure. What about those other societies? What about other planets?? Cyra mentioned how they have travelled across the universe but only their solar system had planets with lives. What about outside their galaxy, can they go beyond that? Have they tried?

Oh, and there’s also a place for refugees of the Shotet reign to gather and… be a resistance, I guess? But, again it’s not explained and mentioned in passing.

-The villain was all over the place too: 

So, the main villain in this book is Cyra’s brother Ryzek. Both siblings are fate-favored which means they both have a fate they can’t escape from; Ryzek’s is to fall to the Benesit family AKA the Shotet’s enemies. Since birth, his father was considerably harsher on him, blaming him for the fate he didn’t chose, a shame on his family. As a result of this constant abuse, Ryzek went from a sweet and caring boy to a freaking sociopath.

“Ryzek had lived his life in a daze of cruelty, obeying the instructions of our longdead father like the man was standing over him, and relishing none of it. Men like Ryzek Noavek were not born; they were made. But time could not move backward. Just as he had been made, he had to be unmade.”

The relationship between him and Cyra is a very complicated one, especially since he was the one who caused the awakening of her painful gift… and has also been a little shit since then. Ryzek’s gift is to exchange memories at will; with his father’s abuse Ryzek would go to someone and force them to exchange one of his horrible memories for his victim’s happy ones. 

I have to say, the scene in which he does this with Cyra was quite reminiscent of sexual abuse, but I don’t know if the author realized that. You have him, Cyra’s older brother and someone she thrusts going to her saying-it’s only fair, that they should both share that burden since he gets the worse of their father’s wrath. Then he grabs her and forcefully takes a happy memory while leaving behind a horrible one of his. It is this act of violence, this violation of her mind that activates her gift. It was also interesting to notice that, when the doctors asked what made Cyra come to her gift so young (8 or 9 I think) her mother was quick to cover the truth and protect her son despite what he had done to her daughter and to herself as well.

Again, I don’t know if she intended this, but it was hard not to make the comparison as I was reading it and I was appalled that it was never addressed either. However, if anything, I feel like Ryzek is a character similar to Caleb; the sister to the main character who, for some reason I don’t get, the MC thinks it’s worth saving and shit happens.

Except that, after going back and forth Cyra seems to finally settle on her brother being evil… I think. Maybe she’ll change in the next book, it was weird.

There’s really not much else to say about him, because just as the rest of the novel his character was rather underdeveloped and the author preferred to be mysterious and ominous, throwing hints here or there about what he was doing or how he was like. I was expecting to find this HUGE plot twist by the end of the novel base on all that shade, but I had already predicted pretty much everything.

For some reason he kind of reminded me of Balem Abrasax though?...


Actually, no. Balem was creepier but he was a GOOD CHARACTER. Also, Eddie Redmayne is adorable. I don’t know how that’s relevant to this review but SCREW IT, HE IS AND HE STAYS IN THIS RANT.

-On the Romance or Wait this Was a Love Story? Where? Why? 

CTM has a romance between Akos and Cyra, but I honestly won’t go very deep into it because the book never did.

At the beginning of the book we see Akos and his brother being kidnapped by Shotet after they murder their father. Sometime later on the story (don’t ask me how long because the book never tells) we see how Ryzek gives Akos to Cyra as a servant. His gift is to annul other people’s powers, which means he can stop the pain Cyra constantly feels. This will lead to them spending a great deal of time together, and thus developing a relationship.

Or it would have if there had been a good development here.

In truth, we never really know why these two decide they love each other. There’s no chemistry between them, and they never address any issues in their relationship; like the fact that Akos is her slave, her family butchered his, or how his thirst for revenge constantly puts Cyra into danger and he gives no fucks about it.

Basically the two talk, Cyra begins to feel bad about his situation (kind of, it’s more like an afterthought but whatever) she suddenly realizes that she can change, that she was weak before when she was forced to torture others and that she can handle the pain. All through the power of love… I guess. And then Akos… I guess he finds her… ehh… maybe pretty? Although he never says so or anything and then he… ehhhh…ahhh…uhhh

Okay FINE! I have no idea of what they see in each other or why they suddenly love each other. They still treat each other pretty badly, Akos still sees all Shotet as savages and passive-aggressively blames her for stuff, and Cyra is just… there feeling bad and trying to redeem herself in the eyes of white folks by selling out her own people.

-On Ableism and Chronic Pain: 

Before I start discussing this, I want to clarify that I do not have chronic pain so my critique will be done by analysing the quotes provided by the book. However, I’m leaving here a link of a blog post written by the wonderful Jenny Trout who explains the issues with ableism and Carve the Mark much better than I ever could. Check her out! Especially if you want to see the point of view of someone whodoes have chronic pain.

Alright, let’s get started.

You know, at the beginning of the book and for some idiotic reason I actually thought the author might do something good with the inclusion of chronic pain. Be respectful, even. We see how Cyra’s mother visits several doctors in hopes of finding something that will relieve her daughter’s pain, and one day they come across this asshole:

“That your daughter’s gift causes her to invite pain into herself, and project pain into others, suggest something about what’s going on inside her,” he said. “A cursory assessment says that on some level, she feels she deserves it. And she feels others deserve it as well.”

Cyra’s mom is, understandably, horrified. She says her daughter is in horrible pain, and that it is definitely not her fault. Go mom! I actually thought that Roth was going to make a parallel with how people with Chronic Pain are treated in real life like she said in her interview. That it’s not a “big deal” and if they are feeling pain, it might be because they want to.

I don’t know why I had assumed that she would actually do some research, especially if she has friends with chronic pain, and try to do some good with it. But it became clear as I read that Roth used this illness as a plot device, and very disrespectfully. Because further into the novel, we get to see Cra interacting with someone who has a more positive gift. Akos sister Cisi has the gift of making other people feel better, when Cyra asks her how this has changed her and her relationship with other people, she says:

”The gift comes from me,” Cisi said. “It’s an expression of my personality. So I guess I don’t see a difference.”
It was, essentially, what Dr. Fadlan had said to my mother in his office, that my gift unfolded from the deeper parts of me, and it would only change as I changed.

You see, it is as Cyra falls for Akos and realize how savage and violent she used to be that she changes, and so her gift changes with her and stops hurting.

“But there was no denying another thing Dr. Fadlan had said-that on some level, I felt like I, and everyone else, deserved pain.”

Before this, Cyra had been relentless in believing that this gift was a curse, that she did not want it nor believed her or anybody else deserved pain. When she finally “comes to terms” with the realization that the pain comes from her because she feels like she deserves it, and that other people deserve to be in pain too, she’s practically cured!

“You told me that I could choose to be different than I had been, that my condition was not permanent. And I began to believe you. Taking in all the pain nearly killed me, but when I woke up again, the gift was different. It doesn’t hurt as much. Sometimes I can control it.”

I REPEAT, thanks to peaceful and civilized Akos, she realizes that she can stop being so savage and therefore her gift magically changes! She doesn’t hurt anymore! Ohh young love, so powerful! So fucking convenient! 

What kind of messages does that sends? That people with chronic pain have a gift that allows them to become stronger.

”The gift,” I said, “is the strength the curse has given me.” The new answer was like a blooming hushflower, petals unfurling. “I can bear it. I can bear pain. I can bear anything.”

I guess Roth tries to send a positive message with Cyra in the way that, she has suffered but has become stronger because of it. I say, why suffer at all? Why is it that Roth has this weird fixation with women being martyrs *cough* Allegiant *cough cough*, suffering in silence for the sake of others? How fucked up is this??
So what, people with Chronic pain should just… embrace their pain because it makes them “stronger” and somehow, by changing their attitude they’ll stop hurting? What?

Sorry, but that’s fucking horrible. Who thought this was a good idea? 

I don’t understand how the editors, proofreaders and everybody involved in the writing process thought this was okay to publish but hey, they also didn’t give a crap about the violent black people, so they are clearly out of fucks.

I reached the end of the book enraged and in disbelief. My mind cannot comprehend how people have seen this as okay, and then go ahead and put it on a pretty cover and sell it? And it’s a fucking best-seller WTF!?

As a final thought, I think that if you have made it this far you have realized by now that I wasn’t a fan of Carve the Mark. Even if none of these issues had been present in the book, you are still left with a poorly thought world, bland characters, cry-worthy slow pace, and predictable twists. Truth is, I would have DNFed this one long ago, but I wanted to get to the end so I could write this review.

Wished I could forget this.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Movie Review: La La Land

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This is the dream! It's conflict and it's compromise, and it's very, very exciting!

Rating: 8/10 Stars
Genre: Musical
No warnings (no violence or sex/nudity. Only mild language).

I should probably state this from the beginning… I’m not the biggest fan of musicals.

I know, I know. So many people love them, but I have always found it a bit awkward when people suddenly burst into song out of nowhere. Like, are you sure this is what you want to do right now?
Sometimes the situation doesn’t call for choreographed dance and heart-felt singing, it just doesn’t.

So I was a bit reluctant to watch La La Land, regardless of the praise it was receiving because it might not be my thing. Luckily, I was wrong! Though I can’t say I found it to be so praise-worthy (I sound like an asshole, but bear with me) I still enjoyed it.

This movie is about dreams, about passions and compromises and heartbreak and love. La La Land follows Mia and Sebastian, two struggling artist who come together and help each other in finding their path and achieving their dreams. Mia’s dream is to be a Hollywood star while Sebastian’s is to open a successful Jazz club.

The beginning could be a bit slow. I liked how the couple didn’t quite like each other at first, two passionate hearts coming head to head could be daunting, but the more they knew one another the more they began to fall for each other. They were both, after all, dreamers.

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Nevertheless, despite all the cuteness of the couple, I felt that the film really began to find itself when the two of them came off the high of the honey moon stage and found themselves in real life.
I have to admit that I enjoyed this moment a lot more than the development of their romance. Sure, they were cute, but that first part lacked the depth that the second one had. That’s when things began to get real and we get to see how love strives to survive in moments of hardships.

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-On the Music:
Despite it being a musical, there weren’t a lot of memorable numbers on it. My personal favorites were “Another day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd” but that was pretty much it, the rest become a bit of a blur, and everybody’s favorite “City of Stars” was perhaps my least favorite, not because it was bad, but because I found the others more fitting to the theme of the movie.

-The Ending:

Warning! This part contains spoilers for the movie, if you don’t want to know them better stop reading.

This seemed to be perhaps the most controversial aspect of La La Land, diving audiences. Some people loved it, others hated it. I, for one, thought it was the best part of the movie.

La La Land is, after all, the city where dreams come true. This story was about dreamers and their passions, so I’m happy the movie stuck to that.

After Mia gets called on for an audition, Sebastian tells her she’s going to get the role and when she does she needs to pour her heart and soul into it because it’s her dream. The job would take her to Paris for months, and keep them apart for longer, but he claims it’s alright; they’ll meet somewhere along the way.

The scene cuts to a five year flas-forward where we see Mia having succeeded in her dream of becoming a star, going to the café she used to work and receiving the same treatment we saw a famous actress receive there when Mia was just another barista.

BUT to the audience there’s a catch, for we see how Mia gets to her lavish home and kisses her husband… who is not Sebastian. That’s when we see Mia is happily married and with a cute daughter. Later on she goes out with her husband to a party, but after getting stuck in traffic they decide to go somewhere else to have dinner and still make a night out of it.

When returning to their car, her husband sees a club and they decide to go inside, only for Mia to pause when she sees the sign she designed for Sebastian hanging on the wall. Realizing where they were, Mia sits with her drink and searches the place for Sebastian, finding him on stage as the song playing ends. After introducing the performers to the crowd he catches Mia sitting there and stops in his tracks, saying a meek “welcome to Seb’s” while smiling a little.
As Sebastian begins to play the piano, we see an alternate life in which the two of them end up together. Although sweet, one can’t help but notice how, that way, their dreams don’t quite come true. Mia ends up as an actress with moderate success, and Sebastian doesn’t have the club that he owns in real life.
When the vision ends we see Mia leaving the cub with her husband but stopping to send one last glance towards Sebastian. Their eyes meet and they share a brief, bittersweet smile before parting ways and the movie ends.

Despite the leads not ending up together, this ending pays true homage to the movie’s ideals: follow your dreams.

The movie states how these two characters had dreams of their own that, in the end, couldn’t have been able to accomplish if they had stayed together simply due to life taking them down different paths.

This is not a case of putting your career before love, but rather following your passion and finding happiness and how sometimes that means having to leave a few things behind. Truth is, Mia and Sebastian were both passionate dreamers who would have been unhappy had their dreams not come intro fruition. It’s an interesting study in relationships and ambitions, but also on how sometimes there are things you need to let go off.

The ending doesn’t mean that the two of them don’t care about each other, on the contrary they both find their situations rather bittersweet too and it is clear that they still have feelings for each other, but life has simply taken them in different directions though it’s clear that they’ll always care for one another in their own way.

Have you seen La La Land? What did you think?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

Rating: 2,5/5 Stars

Jess often feels as if she’s not Chinese enough in certain situations and not Vietnamese enough in others. It’s awkward when you’re not quite one but not quite the other.

I feel like I was too old to read this book, or perhaps it was my lovely cynical self that simply prevented me from enjoying this story? Regardless, the thing is although Not Your Sidekick presented interesting family relationships, strong friendships, wonderful representations of LGBTIQA and POC characters, the story itself was extremely predictable, clichéd and with severely underdeveloped world-building.

That’s why I feel that this book was not for me. It’s not bad or anything, but it didn’t have many elements that I enjoyed other than representation and cute relationships.

The world-building wasn’t so great. This is a place with superheroes and supervillains. After a third world war, people began developing super powers and are now organized to fight crime, each hero is classified based on their powers (some people can fly, which is rare, but others can change their nail colors and that’s not a power good enough to be considered “super”) and how long they can do it without needing to recharge.

Jess is the only average one in a family of superheroes. Her mom and dad are respected in their community (although, technically their alter egos are, since they have to keep secret identities for safety), Jess’ older sister is a respected new hero fighting alongside Captain Orion, and her little brother is a genius. With that family, Jess is expected to be something and yet she is just a regular girl.

The world is all about heroes and villains fighting for different causes, just as you have heroes you have their “evil” counterpart but I found that lacking. You see these “super” people go to the same school and it’s there where they are assigned their roles; some are told to be heroes, others villains. There’s no real fight there, it’s just a matter of performing roles for unknown reasons that didn’t make much sense.

Why should I be invested in this when there’s no real problem here? At the end of the book, the story tries to make some sort of big stand against evil but it makes no sense and could be fixed easily.

The characters were all right, I like Jess and how she tried to find her place in the world when she felt so out of place, but sometimes the girl complained too much about EVERYTHING. You had her family, her school, her friends, her non-existing-powers, her car, the weather. The list could go on and on, at a certain point I went from understanding her to being mildly annoyed by her. Look, I like complaining, it’s pretty much my life style, but someone who complains ALL the time will eventually tire you, and that’s what happens here.

As for the romance, sure it was cute, but it kind of went from zero to fifty in one go and I wasn’t as invested on it as I would like.

The friendships however, were pretty awesome, I would like to see more of that!

Something that was weird to me, was to see how people reacted to Jess’ sexuality. Apparently she once accidentally outed herself as a bisexual through a poem (how I don’t get) and everybody at school acted weird, throwing glances at her and whispering behind her back. I don’t know, I found it unusual since this is the future we are talking about and we had a greatly diverse cast who (as far as I could see) had never been seen differently for who they were, I didn’t quite get why bisexuality would be deemed as something weird.

Lastly, the book was really predictable and when I mean predictable I mean… really predictable. At page ten or so I knew pretty much how the story would go and what was the deal with the bad guys and all. That’s why I said I found this book rather childish in its execution, it’s probably what I would have enjoyed when I was 10 or so, but not now as a 22 year-old woman.

In the end, Not Your Sidekick is a book with a wonderfully diverse cast and cool friendships but that just wasn’t my taste.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Rating 3/5 Stars

"Natasha doesn’t say what she suspects. That meant to be doesn’t have to mean forever."

I keep feeling torn with Nicola Yoon’s books. Her writing is engaging and somewhat poetic, the ideas behind the stories are meaningful and the characters easily relatable. However, the romance in these books is always too much and that’s no exception with The Sun is Also a Star. It creates a grand contrast, you have the realistic and engaging story on one side, and the ultra-sugar-sweet-coated insta-love on the other.

The story has Natasha, an illegal immigrant that is being deported that same day, and Daniel an American-Korean boy that has to live up to his family’s expectations of greatness. There are also short chapters with point of views of random characters with stories of loss, desperation and heartbreak, which I really enjoyed.

“The trouble with getting your hopes too far up is: it's a long way down.”

Before I began reading The Sun is Also a Star, I had come across a few reviews that mentioned how the characters fall in love in just one day. Now, that got me REAL skeptical. I’m not a big fan of insta-love, let alone some undying forever and meant to be thing that happens in a few hours. Nevertheless I was willing to put my reservations aside and don’t go all cynical on it right away. After all, maybe the story would do something good with it? Maybe it wasn’t real love what they meant, but more of a connection?

If anybody reading this was wondering how the romantic aspect of this novel works I can tell you this: it doesn’t.

Daniel comes across Natasha on his way to his Yale interview. He’s looking for a sign, something to tell him he should just ditch the college nonsense and pursue his dreams of being a poet, and for some highly convoluted reason he fixates himself on Natasha. 
I thought that maybe I had to get used to it. That the more I read, the more this couple would make sense the less the romance would bug me but that wasn’t the case for me. I never believed they loved each other, I never thought they were meant to be; I just got used to their perfectness being shoved down my throat and at one point or another stopped rolling my eyes (it doesn’t count if I did it internally) but I truly have no idea of why these two characters connected or had said they loved each other (and meant it) in less than 7 hours.

If nything, I found the love aspect the least interesting aspect in this book. Other than a love story, The Sun is Also a Star could work much better as a narration of people’s dreams and how the dumbest things can destroy them; learn to move on, adapt and change.

I loved seeing Natasha’s parent’s story, how they grew to dislike one another and grew apart because of their conflictive dreams. Irene’s and the security guard were great stories too.

If the book had been about that I would give it 4/5 stars easily enough.

The love at first sight thing didn’t work also because the characters had more important things going on, and sometimes the romance overtook everything.

Take Daniel, for instance. He could have good potential, yet the reason over why he suddenly decides that Natasha is THE ONE and stalks her on his absolute belief that they are meant to be was simply… not here. Dude came off as creepy, and it was a shame because he had something truly worth exploring with his family but his entire thoughts were NatashaNatashaNatasha so he came off rather underdeveloped.

There were some really good stories here, but the romance was not believable and that was the MAIN plot of this book. If you’re not a fan of insta-love, you probably won’t enjoy this.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Timekeeper by Tara Sim

Two o’clock was missing. 

In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny’s new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower’s clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield’s time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he’s fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he’ll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever.

Rating: 2/5 Stars


This book pissed me off.

Buddy read with Vanessa!

My issue with Timekeeper was that it had a wonderful premise; Victorian steam-punk London, clock towers controlling time and a romance between a clock spirit and its mechanic… but it just went to waste.

A summary of things that annoyed me:

-Danny was a selfish, self-centered asshole who ruined people’s lives and didn’t even care.

-The romance went from cute (albeit super insta-love) to weird, to downright creepy and disturbing.

-The relationship between Danny and Colton was abusive and manipulative, yet it was passed off as cute???

-The world building had no development nor explanation.

-No, seriously, the clock towers made no sense, the stopped towns neither, and the whole mechanics/protesters stuff was ridiculous.

Oh, when your main character is sooo great he’s hated by all. A memoir:

We have all seen this before, and it is personally one of my most hated tropes of YA. You got your main character, who is not like other people. He’s the “youngest mechanic ever”! He’s smart, he’s talented, he’s generous and apparently the only mechanic that takes good care of the towers (how the fuck don’t those things break apart more often if nobody gives a crap?). Danny is all of that and more, but he is also… (waitforit) hated by everybody!!! Yes, Danny is just so good, so pure that everybody hates him for no reason, the poor chap! It’s not like he’s a selfish and pompous ass who thinks he’s better than everybody and is willing to ruin other people’s lives to make out with his boyfriend.

You see, Danny is a mechanic and in this world where time is controlled by clock towers, that means that our main character was born with the innate ability to feel time fibers. For some reason that is not clarified, and despite the fact that without mechanics the world would be screwed because if towers broke, time would stop, being a mechanic is not a very well-paid job and many of them don’t give a crap about their work either.

Danny’s dad is a mechanic, but while working his tower broke and the city was Stopped. That means that a gray haze falls into the town like a dome and nobody can get in or out. The people inside are stuck on endless loops of time, unable to tell how long they have been trapped. Nobody knows what happened that caused the clock to stop working, but their only choice is to try and make a new tower to see if it can create a new time-zone to encompass the trapped town and therefore release its inhabitants. Problem is, nobody knows how exactly clock towers were made.

After an attack to a tower left Danny hurt and in therapy, he’s finally ready to have a new assignment so he goes to a small town where the clock keeps breaking apart for no reason. As Danny soon finds out, Clock towers are inhabited by clock spirits and Colton’s has a bit of a crush on him, so he keeps breaking himself apart so Danny has to visit him.

The premise, as you can see, sounded absolutely cute and interesting but it was just a lot of wasted potential.

I couldn’t connect with Danny, try as I might. I had seen in other reviews that PTSD was addressed here since Danny had been almost killed and still suffered from it, so I was curious to see how it would play out and how it was incorporated to the character… problem is, it wasn’t. It just seemed like the author used it when it was convenient for her to cause drama by having Danny not acting when it would help, and then promptly forget all about it. It was present at the beginning, but then quickly faded.

Danny’s attitude was horribly self-centered, and that didn’t help in me feeling sorry for him or connecting with his situation. He knew that falling in love with a clock spirit was trouble, his father’s best friend, Matthias, had always claimed he had met the tower’s spirit and fell for her, which apparently led to Danny’s father being Stopped. Yet, he kept on going to Colton and developing a super insta-crush (they kiss after three conversations I think, and the first two were “hello” and “goodbye” because Colton was shy) despite him knowing, and being constantly reminded of the dangers.

At one point his mother tells him he should have been more careful, especially since he knew firsthand what could happen and Danny gets pissed!

”Do you think I decided this? That I woke up and thought, you know, that clock’s spirit is rather nice, maybe I’ll fancy him? You know it takes more than that. It takes time.”

Way to shoot yourself in the foot, because that’s exactly what happened! They meet, and Danny gets all obsessed with Colton’s clavicle and his tight pants. Five pages later, they’re kissing and risking everything! It made no sense, especially when you knew that by doing that they were both putting their lives, and the lives of the entire town, at risk.

Oh creepy romance, why must we have you in every book?:

I have to admit, at the beginning of the story, the one thing that kept me going despite the confusing world-building and Danny’s selfish attitude, was the romance. The development was rather rushed (too rushed, they don’t know each other and are half way in love already). But somewhere, somehow, things got really creepy.

Colton threatens to hurt himself if Danny doesn’t come back. Although early in the story Danny explains him that, by hurting himself he’s consequentially hurting others and both seemed to move past that, it comes back later on in the novel with Colton threatening to hurt himself (and actually hurting himself more than once) if Danny doesn’t return by his side.

Later on in the story when Danny is kissed by another boy, Colton goes jealous and kisses Danny by force.

The whole scene was rather disturbing, and I felt really uncomfortable while reading it. I also didn’t like how it was tried to be justified by saying that Danny liked it when he had been clearly terrified and even tried to get away. When someone forces himself on you, it’s not passionate, it’s violent.

World building? Not here:

The premise of Timekeeper was really interesting, time being controlled by clock towers. Nobody knows for how long they have been, how do they work, or why they are there. Apparently, and despite the fact that these clock towers control their time, nobody really gives a crap to learn any of those stuff either.

-For some reason, and despite clock towers being so important, they weren’t guarded or even well taken care of. The characters often mention how the gears get so dirty the towers break down.

-There are protesters always complaining about the towers??? Why??? It made no sense, without towers, time would stop working and yet people believed that mechanics were monopolizing time and that it had to run free. Problem was, they wanted to take down the towers but didn’t understand that without towers TIME WOULDN’T RUN. Danny says this and that they are dumb, but then the story tells us that people don’t know how time works (AKA that mechanics don’t control the towers but rather maintain them) because “they wouldn’t understand the truth”. Like, WHAT!??? Which one is it?! The protests were so dumb, they were just there to cause drama because of REASONS.

-So protesters could make threats about bombing the towers but nobody gave a fuck? And then the towers were bombed and nobody thought that was weird?

-Why are mechanics so underpaid if they make sure FREAKING TIME runs well?

-How do time and the extensions work? When a time was stopped a grey dome fell on it and that place inside it was stopped, but what about rural places without towers? How do time works there that there are no clocks to provide time?

-At one point I remember telling Vanessa “I don’t get why this society is so extreme. They used to hang homosexuals and they treat Daphne like crap because she’s a girl mechanic??” And Vanessa told me, “well this IS Victorian London.” And I swear to God, I didn’t know this was Victorian London. I had to do the awkward thing of going back to the book and reading the summary to confirm it was set in that time and place because the story felt like in modern times. There was nothing to tell me the historical context and to set it apart from other modern fantasy books.

The ending was too convenient, and many things were still left unexplained (like what happened to the villain and how the heck they solved that big problem at the end).

Overall, Timekeeper had a lot of potential but it was brought down with unlikeable characters, flimsy world-building and nonsensical plots.