The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman (@PollyShulman)

A follow up to Polly Shulman’s The Grimm Legacy that I only read because it was easily accessible on Hoopla and I didn’t have another book loaded. Not a sequel so much as a companion piece, it picks up ‘some’ years after the end of GL. I say ‘some’ because I can’t nail down exactly how many years later. We’re never given Jaya’s age and she just refers to the incident that occurred a few years prior. Anjali and Marc have graduated from high school and are now living together. Marc is now 6 or 7 which means the story is at most four years later, but Jaya is the head page and we know she was 10 in the previous book. So, she’s head page by 14? Uh huh… So we’re once again dropped in a world where I’m not sure who the audience is.

This book reads much more middle grade than the first one, so I’m pretty comfortable saying that’s the desired audience. Pre-teen boys will probably find this story pretty engaging. Travelling through time with a pretty girl? Exciting. For the rest of us – it’s a bit of a yawn. As a side note, if an author is going to change narrators on audiobooks in a series – which is acceptable when the narrator changes –some quality control needs to be done to ensure the names of recurring characters are pronounced the same. At the very least similar or the way they’re supposed to be pronounced.

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Leo comes from a family of top notch scientists, but he just doesn’t measure up, until her finds the repository and Jaya. He ends up being the first person to get a job without a recommendation and the first one we know of who didn’t get the button test. Leo, like everyone else, gives in to Jaya’s every whim. What could have been seen as precociousness when she was ten is just flat out pigheaded at whatever age she is now. When she’s running around in time throwing around information about the future all willy nilly – Leo should have slapped her. I don’t condone violence, but if it would have shut her up, I might have accepted it. She literally thinks she can’t do anything wrong. And don’t blame it on her giving up her patience. That explains her snappiness, not her disregard for common sense. I honestly don’t know what all these boys see in her and her snaggletooth – which Leo brings up so many times, it made me start to think the tooth was sticking straight out of her face.

I like the sci-fi aspects of the story. I enjoyed The Time Machine. I’m not a sci fi buff, but I’ve read enough to appreciate the details within the story. Tesla’s history is fascinating. I was excited when he was introduced as a character, but his character was overshadowed by the introduction of Mark Twain. The interaction between Jaya and Twain was just annoying. There’s no other way to put it. I’d like to be more eloquent, but I can’t. This book, as well at the previous one, suffers from too-many-ideas-itis. There are so many little things highlighted that the big stuff doesn’t get the attention it should and the overall plot suffers.

This book commits one of the cardinal book sins – when the storyis done, the author comes in with a stupid note that explains stuff from the book to the reader. She tells the reader who was real and who wasn’t, what books were real and which ones weren’t – guys, Huck Finn is a real book, I bet you wouldn’t know that without the author telling you. It’s talking down to the reader. If they’re interested in knowing, they’ll go find out on their own. And then we get a second address about the call numbers for the objects. I love libraries. I love a good call number. I do not want to read them over and over and over again. This is the perfect example of too much energy being wasted on the little details. If I’d read this as a paper text, I would have just skimmed the numbers but in audiobook format, they just made me mad. Shulman clearly had a specific picture of the world she wanted to create but appeared to lack a clear picture of the events that happen in that world.

I might suggest this book for my male children in my life when they get a bit older, but I think it’s a pass for anyone over twelve.

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Throwback Thursday – The Baby-sitters Club Super Editions

Remember when you were a kid and you had a book series you loved but you wished the books were longer? I could devour a Baby-sitters Club book in an hour or two. Normally not a big deal. I would just grab another book from my bookshelf. But when we’d go on vacation (especially camping), I’d end up packing an entire bag of books. Then came the era of the Super Edition!

Lots of teen girl series ended up coming out with these books, but the BSC are the first ones I remember and the ones I liked the best. They started coming out towards the end of my BSC reading life, but I may have kept reading them long after I should have stopped.

The super specials opened with a bang by sending the baby-sitters on a cruise with a bunch of their clients. I remember reading it and wondering how all that stuff be on one boat? This sounded like the most amazing thing ever (and when I finally went on a cruise a couple years ago, it lived up to expectations).

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And then in the second book they were camp counselors – which I also went on to do in my teens. It is one of my best memories from my teen years.

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Third book is full of snowy wonderfulness on a class trip – awesome! I loved week long class trips. And winter olympics… best idea ever.

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These three books became beloved go-tos for me in elementary school. I have no idea where they are now and that makes me kind of sad. These longer books appealed to me because , as mentioned, they were longer, they always involved some kind of adventure, and everyone got a bit of a storyline. That meant my favourite characters would have something to do in every book – even if it was probably pretty lame – and I wouldn’t have to suffer through and entire book about Jessi or Kristy.

The super edition was a blessing for any avid book reading pre-teen. For an in-depth review of each of the super specials wander on over to my new favourite blog.

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman (@PollyShulman)

Loving fairy tales is not abnormal. Loads of people love fairy tales. Some people obsessively love them. Some just like them. I fall somewhere in the middle – closer to the obsession side, but not enough that I can reel off lists of obscure details. Fairy tales were a big part of my childhood. We owned the Reader’s Digest collection of traditional fairy tales – the ones where they boiled people in oil and chopped off hands and whatnot.

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These were not your Disney fairytales. Dark fairy tales have always drawn me in more than the ones with happy endings. This is why The Grimm Legacy caught my attention. I love the original Grimm stories. I’ll give pretty much anything referencing their stories a fair shot. It’s led me down good and bad paths. Shulman’s novel doesn’t choose one path or the other. It just kind of hangs out at the fork and keeps you company until you decide where you want to go. It’s not bad; it’s just not fantastic.

Elizabeth is stuck in her own version of a fairy tale. Her mother is dead. Her father has remarried. Her step-mother makes her do all the chores. Her step-sisters are pretty rotten to her. Sound familiar? It’s not super original, but it’s not a big enough part of the storyline to seem overly clichéd. Through the actions of a kindly mentor, she ends up working at the New York Circulating Material Repository – a library of objects. There are rooms of wigs, kitchen utensils, clothes, but even better – there are special collections like the Grimm Collection, the Wells Bequest, the Gibson Credo, and the Lovecraft Corpus – the one that gets no attention but is the one I’m the most interested in. Even grown up me wants to work at this place. The well of available plots is deep, but the one we get to follow falls short of its potential.

Items are going missing from the repository or are losing their magic. Elizabeth and her friends of course decide that they are going to take the investigation into their own hands. Breaking new literary ground? No, but this type of story can be pretty successful. I had grand hopes, especially when Elizabeth revealed her favourite fairy tale – The Twelve Dancing Princesses. This is my favourite fairy tale! This is never anyone’s favourite. I usually receive blank stares when I mention the story. I’m going to like Elizabeth. Nope. I might have, but her character is so underdeveloped that I can’t actually form any feelings about her. The lack of character development is at the root of all the rest of the problems in the novel. We’ve got four teens, from very different backgrounds, working together at the repository.

Their diverse backgrounds could have created depth. Marc’s basketball prowess is talked about ALL the time. It doesn’t seem like Marc is ever mentioned without reminding the reader that he’s a super star basketball player. And…? It adds nothing in the story. He doesn’t use those skills at any point other than when he’s playing basketball or taking the stairs. He comes from royal roots. A royalty that is lauded by people running the repository. They quote the prophecies of his ancestors all the time. So how come the fact that Marc is part of this lineage is never explored? The only time it’s mentioned is when it becomes the reason his is the only one able to steal a certain object. And he’s an obvious thief! He’s stolen things from the repository for his own gain, but this gets brushed over in a few sentences. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Marc’s athletic skills were a result of his constant use of the seven league boots? I don’t even know why he was a basketball star. It served no purpose.

Anjali is beautiful and all the boys want her. She’s clearly interested in Marc and oblivious of Aaron. This is a great area for fodder. Not love triangle baloney, but interesting interactions. Anjali’s apparently good at everything, except dealing with her sister. Except she gives into Jaya all the time! Later, we find out that she also descends from royalty. Again, this means nothing to the story. It’s just a footnote to explain why someone wanted to buy her.

Aaron wants to date Anjali. He starts to use Elizabeth to get closer to Anjali. He comes off as just a jerk. For no obvious reason, he’s just mean to everyone. But not mean enough to feel like a possible villain. He’s just uptight. Except for when he’s teasing Elizabeth. The scene with the invisible chair is a glimmer that there could have been some story here, but it was the only moment that stands out for me. Eventually, Aaron realizes he’s attracted to Elizabeth, but he’s so caught up in his jealousy of Marc that he can’t convey his feelings. He’s the only one that suspects Marc is up to something, but he, like everyone else, just seems to forget about it.

There’s only ever one option for the bad guy. He’s introduced as the creepy guy in the library. The next time we see him, he’s being aggressively creepy trying to steal from Elizabeth. Then next time we meet him, he tries to turn the kids into figurines. There are no red herrings. There are no other options. The bad guy literally wears a hat and beard. Everyone else is acting either under duress or in ignorance. Good guys/bad guys. No overlap. Except for Marc – and we already know that that never gets addressed. Elizabeth keeps getting up in arms when Aaron accuses her and the other two of being untrustworthy. But he’s right. He’s the only one willing to address that something might be fishy might be happening.

The most annoying part of the novel is Jaya. She’s ten years old and she steamrolls these older teens with ease. They just let her take over. Not because they think she has the best ideas, but because they don’t appear to have enough insight to tell her no. She’s the most developed character in the book. She’s the only one you really get a picture of. She’s strong willed. She’s annoying. She’s damn stubborn. She’s smart enough to use skills she’s learned to accomplish something. She inadvertently becomes the central character and steals the story. If this had been done on purpose, maybe it would have been endearing, but it didn’t feel purposeful. It felt accidental. Really, with a sentence, Jaya convinces Anjali to take her on her date with Marc? Anjali may be pretty, but she’s got zero conviction – unless she’s getting Marc’s boots back into the Grimm room.

This story should have been a girl struggling to find friendship who finally discovers a place where she can connect with others. Then, through their burgeoning friendship, they end up on an exciting adventure that leads them through a world of magical artifacts and growing up. It doesn’t have enough romance to being a coming of age love story. It doesn’t have enough mystery to be a detective novel. It doesn’t have enough development to be a character study. Maybe this is supposed to be a middle grade book, but the characters feel too old. It’s a perfectly nice, middle of the road book that is probably more enjoyable for middle schoolers than young adults. If the characters were a couple years younger, I think the book might have hit its market perfectly, but as it stands, it’s left lacking.

Top Ten Tuesday – Buffy the Vampire Slayer Seasons 1-4

This week’s top ten is different from my previous lists. It’s paving the way for a bunch of lists that aren’t necessarily book related. I love books, but I love a lot of other geeky things as well. Let’s not hide our love under a bushel. Joss Whedon is near the top of my list of geek love. The love first started, unknowingly, with movies like Toy Story and the cheese factory that was the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie.

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BtVS, the tv version, started in the mid-90s. I didn’t get into it when it first aired. I was starting an exciting new adventure into university and co-ed dorm living. I had better things to do. I didn’t start watching until season 3 but it quickly developed into true love. I have watched the entire series from beginning to end more times that I like to admit. I do a complete re-watch at least once a year.

I wanted to do a top ten list of the entire series, but there was no possible way. My first quick and dirty list was 29 episodes long. I finally got it down to 20, so the Buff and crew get two Tuesday lists. Here are my top ten episodes from seasons 1-4, in chronological order:

 

Halloween – Episode 206 Original Air Date: Oct 27, 97

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Halloween is supposed to be a quiet time on the Hellmouth, but then we wouldn’t need an episode. People start turning into their costumes. Kids are demons, jerks are pirates, Xander’s a soldier, Willow’s a ghost, and Buffy’s a damsel in distress.

Why I love it: It’s a pretty simple episode, but it sets up multiple future storylines and it’s the catalyst for Xander and Willow’s changing roles in the group. And we get to meet Oz.

 

I Only Have Eyes for You – Episode 219 Original Air Date: April 28, 98

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A dead couple from Sunnydale’s past are haunting current students and causing deaths. Buffy and Angel are among the possessed and must confront the problems in their relationship since Angel lost his soul.

Why I love it: The episode happens in the middle of a pretty dark story arc. Swapping the gender roles and forcing Buffy to confront her anger and Angel to admit his love drives the story forward. It’s one of the most authentically emotional scenes between the romantic leads in the entire series.

 

Band Candy – Episode 306 Original Air Date: Nov 10, 98

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Ethan Rayne is back. Principal Snyder is laying down the law – everyone has to sell band candy. The adults are acting like teenagers, no one is in charge, and the Mayor is acting shady.

Why I love it: It’s straight up funny. For those of us who had a crush on stuffy Giles, this bad ass version is positively lust inducing. And it sets up an excellent joke for later in the season.

 

The Wish – Episode 309 Original Air Date: Dec 8, 98

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Cordelia is pissed after discovering Xander is cheating with Willow. She makes an off the cuff wish to a new friend and is suddenly living in a reality where Buffy never came to Sunnydale. The Master has taken over. Willow and Xander are his most vicious vampires. Angel is their prisoner. And Giles and a band of students are trying to keep things under control.

Why I love it: Lots of BtVS fans will list this among their favourite episodes. We get to see the dark side of most of the central characters. Cordelia is forced to express some real emotions. Most importantly, it introduces Anya.

 

Doppelgangland – Episode 316 Original air date: Feb 23, 99

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A companion episode with The Wish. Anya wants to get her powers back and cons Willow into helping her cast a spell. It goes awry and evil Willow is pulled into the current Sunnydale. Evil Willow helps stuffy Willow come out of her shell.

Why I love it: The episode is extremely funny. It was also the episode I watched that convinced me to start watching the show regularly. It was Willow’s line abut riding boys like ponies that clinched it for me.

 

Earshot – Episode 318 Original Air Date Sept 21, 99

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Buffy is attacked by a demon that gives her the power of telepathy. Before she gets overwhelmed by the voices, she hears someone threaten a school massacre. The joke referenced in Band Candy appears in this episode when Buffy overhears her mother desperately trying not to think about having sex with Giles (in Band Candy).

Why I love it: This episode was supposed to air April 23, 99. Columbine happened April 20. Needless to say, the episode was pushed back several months. It had hype leading up the airing – shown out of order before the season 4 premiere. It was an excellent episode. It had exceptionally funny moments, but it touched at something much deeper by addressing how painful high school can be for every person in it.

 

Wild at Heart – Episode 406: Original Air Date Nov 9, 99

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Willow feels like Oz is pulling away from her. He’s thriving in the university setting but she can’t seem to find her footing in his world. Veruca, a singer in another band, is showing interest in Oz and her werewolf status makes them seem perfect for each other.

Why I love it: Oz is one of the best characters in the series. This is one of the few episodes were he gets to shine. Veruca is a nice counter to Willow. There’s good music. And when Oz leaves at the end of the episode, it’s completely heartbreaking.

 

Hush – Episode 410: Original air date: Dec 14, 99

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The Gentlemen have come to town and stolen everyone’s voice. The gang realize how often they hide behind language and words. Buffy and Riley are forced to confront a conversation they’ve been putting off.

Why I love it: This is another episode that appears on most best of Buffy listed. It’s an experiment in sound. Without dialogue, it’s about music and actions. It’s got excellent creep factor. The Freddy like rhyme is one of my ringtones. The Gentlemen are some of the creepiest demons in the Whedonverse.

 

Superstar – Episode 417 Original air date: April 4, 00

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Something’s fishy in Sunnydale. Buffy is still the slayer, Giles is the watcher, the Initiative exists, but everyone looks to Jonathon for answers. Even the opening is redone from his perspective. Of course it turns out to be a spell, but it’s hugely entertaining

Why I love it: As I just said, it’s hugely entertaining. It also makes the characters talk to each other and introduces a completely new perspective. The show was suffering from university drag and this lightened things up. But most of why I loved it was Danny Strong. I adore him.

 

Where the Wild Things Are – Episode 418 Original air date: April 25, 00

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Buffy and Riley are doing it like bunnies. Their constant boinking has fueled something in the frat house and strange things are amiss. Abuse happens in many forms and actions have long standing consequences.

Why I love it: I don’t honestly know. It’s kind of a weird choice. This spot almost when to Restless – cause it’s the better episode – but I like this one more. It’s a step towards the more “grown up” Buffy. Not the shows first foray into sex, but this one is one of the more accurate representations of what a relationship away from home for the first time can look like.

 

And that’s my list for seasons 1-4. You’ll notice that there’s nothing on this list from season one. That’s because it’s an awful season. In fun when you watch all of it together. It has its own charm. But on its own, it’s not good. What are your favourite early Buffy episodes?

Coming next week – seasons 5-7.s

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Remember the spoilers notice over there on the left hand side of the page? Yeah, it’s particularly relevant to this review. I talk about the end just one paragraph from now. It’s worth not knowing if you plan to read the novel. You will either love it or hate it. That seems to be the end result of reading this book. There isn’t much middle ground – except for the people that don’t finish it. I know a surprising number of people who just didn’t finish this book. I do not understand it.

 

I was gripped from the very beginning. I needed to know what had happened – the first time I read it. I decided I wanted to give it a re-read far enough out from the movie release. I’m obviously in the love category for this book. I loved the mystery the first time. Did Nick do it? Did he not do it? What happened to Amy? Wait, Amy is still alive! She’s still alive and she’s framing Nick! What the hell is going on here?! And the second time, I loved the layers of complexity.

 

Re-reads are great with this type of book because you get to put all that what’s happening stuff aside. You’re no longer trying to figure out the mystery. Now you’re looking at the characters. You get to read fake Amy’s diary entries from a new perspective. You can feel the sarcasm dripping from the entries. And here’s where the underlying thematic content starts to arise. The really interesting part of the book – what makes a person a person. Both Nick and Amy touch on this idea at different parts of the book.

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What makes you you? What happened to form you into the person you are? Are you genuine or have you just adopted roles presented to you to form a personality? And if that’s what we do, is it a bad thing? How else do we figure out our likes and dislikes if we’re not exposed to multiple options? Is that putting on airs? Nick and Amy display the two sides of this argument pretty perfectly, and not in the way you might expect. Nick feels like the guy we should hate, but he’s a much better example of adopting personality traits and turning it into a persona – a flawed person, but a person none the less. Amy adopts personas, but switches them whenever she wants to fit her needs. She has no understanding of how to own her personality. She’s a righteous bitch, or more accurately a sociopath, because she never absorbs the things she observes. She simply takes the things she sees and figures out a way to use them against the people who have pissed her off.

 

By looking at how Amy manipulates not only her husband but the police, the media, and by proxy, the entire country, we’re forced to consider how the spread of media – written, visual, and social – influences crime and our perceptions of it. This is referenced when Nick’s lawyer is discussing their case. In crime fiction, the husband is always a suspect and almost always the perpetrator when a wife goes missing. Every time an episode of Law & Order/Criminal Minds/CSI airs, they show evidence that’s used to capture the criminal, techniques that are used to hide evidence, and ways that criminals get away with, or are caught for, their crimes. However truthful or fictional these actions are, they change the face of how criminals act. They allow people like Amy to manipulate the system to achieve the outcome they want and the entire system becomes a game of chase. The more people like me watch/read these – the more of shows/books are created – the more opportunities there are to learn to hide a criminal act. This isn’t a new trend. Crime fiction has existed for decades, but it’s so much easier to access now that it’s created a very strange ripple.

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While I hated Amy, I enjoyed the Flynn chose to make the villain the female character. I’m not saying Nick is the good guy. He’s a scumbag, but in the regular way. He’s cheating on his wife. That’s regular bad guy, not deserves to be framed for murder villainous. But Amy is a flat out villain. She is spiteful. She holds in every slight and when she can’t handle it anymore, she turns on the people who ‘hurt’ her. She became friends with Hillary in high school because it was someone she could easily control but when Hillary started to gain other friends, Amy used her powers of manipulation and turned her friend into an unbalanced stalker. She accused Tony of rape because he started dating someone else after their very short term relationship didn’t work out. And the worst one, she uses Desi’s infatuation with her to get her out of trouble and then kills him and accuses him of kidnap and rape. And she does it all in order to make sure that other people continue to look up to her and love her, even when she doesn’t like the people she wants these reactions from. She breaks the lives of the people around her. She continues to do it after she returns home and finds a way to convince Nick to remain in her life and under her control. She has no redeeming qualities, but she’s a great character to read.

 

More than just a who-done-it, this is a character study in social and personal manipulation. It forces you to take a step back and look at your own actions, and the actions of the people around you. Do we do what we do in order to get what we want, or because we know who we are? Can any of us ever really be genuine or are we so influenced by the broader society that we simply adopt the roles we think we need to – cool girl, good guy, sexy, smart, etc, etc, etc – until we’ve reach some goal set by people we’ve never met and don’t need to care about?