If I Stay: Book Review

If-I-Stay-coverSYNOPSIS: It was a regular road trip for talented cello player Mia and family but tragedy strikes when they figure into a road accident that kills her mom, dad and little brother Teddy. Mia wakes up to find herself detached from her physical body and observing her loved ones as they wait for her to wake up from her stupor. As she debates whether to give up and be with her parents and brother, she is torn by the thought of leaving her boyfriend Adam, her best friend Kim and the rest of the people who are pulling for her to survive.

The events of If I Stay takes place in the space of 24 hours, from the morning before the accident until the following day and throughout the book, Mia is like a ghost observing her loved ones, on the precipice of choosing death or life, reliving her memories with her family, and Adam and Kim and pondering her future if she survives.

At the beginning, I didn’t quite like the book as much because I didn’t quite feel as connected to Mia’s family as I should but as Mia gets more and more flashbacks about her early life, I slowly understood where they were coming from, what type of people they were and what kind of family they had. I liked the fact that Mia, despite being different from the rest of her family, was embraced for what she was. She did not have any teen conflicts of rebelliousness so it was pretty clear what she had on the other side of the equation.

Her relationship with Adam, on the other hand, was very sweet. It was simple because they both loved each other, but complicated, because of where their musical journeys were bound to lead them, but it was Adam’s sincerity that truly spoke to me. He definitely would have teenage girls swoon if he were a real guy. And the extent that Kim went to encourage her friend to stay, it really tugged at my heart. I would like to think that my friends would do the same for me.

If I Stay had a pretty retrospective tone that makes readers want to help Mia make the choice, but the flashbacks were delivered and explained so well that each person would likely have a different opinion. And this is what makes the book so interesting to read. The only giveaway would have to be that there’s a next book so readers would have an idea what Mia decided in the end.

I, for one, finished the book in just three hours (thanks to my new Kobo reader for keeping track) and overall, I felt like it was actually a short book about the magnitude of the subject (death or life). What I liked about author Gayle Forman’s writing was that it did not dwell too much on the depressing subject but rather focused on Mia’s life, and the love surrounding her, which sort of balances out all the sadness that is bound to crop up when death and loss is on the menu. It would be pretty interesting to see how the movie turns out but I have high hopes because music plays a big part of it.

All in all, a touching read that I will have no issues recommending.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars Movie Review

Hercules_(2014_film)I’ve had to endure watching several painful versions of Hercules before this movie finally came out and I, for one, and pretty glad it delivered on the hype because I could not take sitting through another Kellan Lutz version-level of this great mythological character. 

In director Brett Ratner’s (Prison Break) version of Hercules, the titular character (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is not actually a son of Zeus but an extraordinarily strong man, who performs incredible labors for a fee, along with his comrades in arms — his childhood friend Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the Amazon Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso), the seer Ampiaraus (Ian McShane), his most loyal warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). His heroism however, is mostly based on Iolaus’s  exaggeration of his marvels in battle, and the people’s belief that he is a demigod. When Lord Cotys (John Hurt) promises him and his group their weight in gold to stop the war in Thrace instigated by a warlord named Rhesus (Tobias Santleman), he decides to trains Cotys’s soldiers to give them a fighting chance against the enemy.

I’m a mythology buff and Hercules is one of the most iconic mythological characters out there. Admittedly, playing  loose with the lore would not bode well for the movie (Clash of the Titans reboot), and making deviations that do not make sense (like The Legend of Hercules) would result in epic failure. Surprisingly, Hercules: The Thracian Wars did both of these things to such extreme that it worked pretty well. 

I liked the creative freedom that director Brett Ratner took with Hercules’s story. Most of the elements were still there, the 12 labors (with a twist), the death of Hercules’s family, the extraordinary strength — all of which were part and parcel of Hercules’s character as a hero. But with the depiction of Hercules as a mere mortal and not as a demigod, and with a look behind the scenes of the mythical monsters that he fought, the Hydra, centaurs, and Cerberus, the three headed hound of hell, Hercules underwent a major transformation and started to become a character independent from his mythological counterpart, meaning his movie counterpart had a whole new playing field all to himself with liberty to do things that the original character would not even think of doing. This is a powerful thing, really for a film to have — the popularity and hype of the original character and possibilities created by a new version, all rolled into one.

I liked the casting very much and Dwayne Johnson has proven himself time and again in leading ensemble casts. He has a coolness about him that transcends the setting of his adventures and this makes him appeal as a hero more effectively. As Hercules, he did not overact, but instead just took everything in stride with an ease borne of a great character actor. He owned the role and after seeing the movie, audiences will not remember anyone else who played the character.

The supporting cast was absolutely awesome. Each had their own personalities that gelled well with each other. I especially liked the character of the battle weary and mentally unstable Tydeus, and Hercules’s confidante and adviser Ampiaraus who kept waiting for his moment to die. It was my first time to see Ingrid Bolso anywhere but I could not get past the thought that she looked exactly like a young Nicole Kidman. 

The script was also very smartly written. It delivered on the laughs and the cheesy, yet inspiring pep talks marvelously. I think one of the film’s strengths is its ability to integrate the cheesiness of the material with the serious parts. 

Hercules is the type of action adventure that one would expect from The Rock. It was fun and entertaining and it was pretty wholesome considering the subject content involves war and betrayal. While it could be described as loosely based on the original material at best, it remained true to the essence of Hercules as a character and the core of his story is basically the same (albeit less tragic) – discovery, redemption, and finding peace with a little help from your friends. The movie per se was aimed not at getting critical acclaim based on its approach but rather on delivering something different, yet marketable for the movie viewing public and for that, it was quite a success. 

I am Number Four: Movie Review

iamnumberfourBecause I was in the mood for some action and eye candy, I checked out by TBW files and pulled out something that I’ve been meaning to see in a while but haven’t gotten the chance to. Reading Young Adult novels of late has piqued my interest for more big screen adaptations and I am Number Four seemed like one that never quite got the follow up it was expecting. I know, because there are currently four or five other books in the series and no movie sequel in the works. I think this is weird because this franchise has plenty more material to explore, compared with other trilogies that are fixing to break up the last books into two parts to get two movies out of it.

Nine Lorien legacies have taken refuge on planet Earth, along with their guardians to gather strength and one day unite to defeat the Mogadorians who have decimated their home planet. But before they can do so, they must first survive from the Mogadorians who have tracked them down to hunt and kill them one by one. After the death of the third legacy, Four (Alex Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), flee to Paradise Ohio to build a fresh cover and at the same time discover the whereabouts of his friend, who is helping him find the other surviving Loriens. But unlike in other towns, John finds a connection with Paradise, particularly with a girl named Sarah (Diana Agron), and conspiracy theorist and school outcast Sam (Callan Mcauliffe), who happens to be the son of Henri’s friend. With the Mogadorians on their trail, Four tries to weigh the importance of his newfound powers and responsibilities against his yearning for a normal human life.

This movie has been ragged on by critics a lot, and for good reason. For one, while the actors playing the main characters are all nice to look at, the characters they play are really one dimensional and clichéd. Sometimes, Four’s lack of foresight and ill timed rebellion becomes really painful to watch. Henri seemed to be the only person who had any lick of sense and in the end, he was the one who had to make the sacrifice, which was really unfair. The fact that the movie chose to focus on Four/John and Henri’s disagreement about the latter’s strict policies may have won over the younger audience who themselves are rebelling against authority, but it was no secret and fairly understandable from from the beginning where Henri was coming from. They were in grave danger and he was being overprotective for a reason. Duh!

On the other hand, Sarah’s uniform expression in all of her scenes did not help matters and made me wonder if the hype from Glee was the only reason Diana Agron got the part. They could have gotten a mannequin to play the part and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I liked Sam (Callan Mcauliffe) and Six (Teresa Palmer),though. They added a touch of humanity and flavor in the otherwise robotic performances of the two leads. Oh, and I also liked the beagle who played Bernie Kosar. For a while, I wasn’t sure if he was a friend or a foe but no matter what, he was still adorable.

Aside from the acting and the stereotypes that the film insisted on portraying (which limited the movie’s potential) it wasn’t a bad film at all. It had great cinematography, cool stunts and a really good soundtrack as well. If audiences can get over the oversimplified writing and the insistence into slotting every aspect of the film into a formula, it was quite passable. It had good CGI and a pretty solid source material, one that I have yet to read. I have a gut feeling that the book will be better than the movie and both Four/John and Sarah would be more likeable in their book forms. I certainly hope so.

All in all, director DJ Caruso and producer Michael Bay stuck religiously to the blockbuster formula for this one, and I would have liked for them to do something different. I felt like the movie kept a lot close to its chest, perhaps in the belief that they should keep the suspense to sustain the momentum for the following movies. The problem with that theory though, is that it runs contrary to the intention of every first movie in the franchise to blow the audiences’ socks off and leave them clamoring for more. As it stands, I would be content to just find out what happens in the books. If the movie franchise continues though, I would very much like for Sarah to die and for Four to just take up with Six. Who knows? She might rub off some of her personality and presence on him. Plus, she’s smart so maybe she could influence him out of lovesick puppy mode?  

Insurgent: Book Review

insurgentSYNOPSIS: Tobias, Tris, Peter and a handful of Abnegation members flee the city to seek temporary sanctuary with Amity, but they discover that the Erudite’s action has split their former faction in half. Some have found allies in Candor while Dauntless traitors led by Dauntless leaders Eric and Max have pledged allegiance to Jeanette Matthews and her mission to rule the government. As Tobias and Tris reunite with their friends, they realize that things will never be the same so long as the Erudite has the power to rule, with her quench to eliminate the Divergent part of her marching orders for her army. As they take the fight to her however, they need stronger allies. The question is – could the allies be trusted to keep their word or do they have an agenda of their own?

I loved the first book in the Divergent trilogy and found myself compelled to grab the second book immediately after finishing the first one. I was intrigued about the extent of the Erudite plot and was amazed by how complicated this book was. There was something going on from all corners but somehow, author Veronica Roth was able to organize the chaos into a gripping social analysis encased in a dystopian fictional setting.

Insurgent attacks all of the readers emotions. With the loss of Tris’s family, they will feel grief and with Tobias’s struggle to come to terms with what happened during his childhood, a more vulnerable side to this competent hero comes to focus. As Tris deals with the guilt about what happened to Will and some choices that she and Tobias don’t see eye to eye on, issues take a toll on their relationship until they are forced to come to terms with each other’s motives.

While their relationship in Divergent was at its tentative stages, it becomes more intense in Insurgent as their romantic ties and their other issues (like being in danger and being the target of Erudite’s army for being Divergent, or being involved in the war) intermingle with each other and muddle their relationship. But what I liked despite all of these issues is Tobias’s faith in Tris’s strength and his obvious love for her, that she does not quite see because of her inexperience in dealing with the opposite sex. This is both cute and frustrating. There were times when I wanted to smack her silly for being too dense, but this is part of her character’s charm, in my opinion.

Insurgent gives readers their first glimpse at the factionless as a group. Whereas before, the factionless were merely depicted like the homeless, relying only on the charity of the Abnegation, in Insurgent, their full force is revealed and their leader is also became quite a surprise.

Alliances are tested, doubts are explored, aid comes from the most unlikely of places and betrayal becomes a most painful part of the equation. The second book in the Divergent trilogy did not pull any punches and served up blow after blow with each chapter.
I think the best part about Insurgent, despite it’s prolonged dwelling on Tris’s dilemma to make the ultimate sacrifice, is that each aspect of the book proceeds at almost the same pace and not one angle is left too far behind the other. Everything blows up all at the same time. And while readers will want to take a break after one chapter of intense battling, they would be compelled to go straight to the next page instead to find out the aftermath.

One of my favorite parts of the book is that despite the hit that Dauntless took from the events of the first book, the Dauntless still have the same spirit and courage to pick up the pieces to take the fight to the Erudite leadership. But Jeanette’s conviction that there is something bigger that needs to be addressed (in order to justify her obsession with the Divergent) piqued my curiosity to no end, especially after Marcus hinted at the same information. I knew there was a big picture, but Veronica Roth chose the right moment to drop the bomb, and it worked really well for the book.

Different sides are presented about characters earlier introduced in the first book, but not all of them are pretty. There are times when black is not so clearly different from white and I think these gray areas are what hooks readers into the story. They are drawn into the story and forced to make decisions along with the characters, and as such, they become much more involved about the outcome.

All in all, the stakes are higher with Insurgent and everything is amped up, but even as the story moves forward, and shocks are delivered a mile a minute, the book stays grounded to its source  retains its strengths from the first installment. Its still well written, excellently narrated, and just as exciting as Divergent, perhaps even more. As a penultimate offering, it surpasses all expectations and delivers the action in spades.

Divergent: Book Review

divergent_hqSYNOPSIS: In the dystopian city of Chicago, a faction system keeps order in society. When children reach the age of 16, they participate in a Choosing ceremony which will determine whether they opt to stay with their families in their faction or settle for another faction. Those who are inclined towards courage choose Dauntless. Those who value intelligence choose Erudite. Those who think honesty is the best virtue choose Candor. Those who wish to live in peace and harmony go with Amity. Those who value selflessness and service to others choose Abnegation. In order to help them make their choice, the teens undergo an aptitude test to see which faction they should belong but unlike the others, the choice will not be easy for Abnegation-born Beatrice Prior, because she learns that she has more than one of the virtues and this makes her a rare breed called Divergent. But being Divergent has its risks because there are those who go to extreme lengths to eradicate the Divergent from society because they cannot be controlled, and Beatrice knows that she must hide her secret to survive.

Its weird because I saw the movie first before I read the book, and I loved the movie because there was such a strong chemistry among the cast, especially lead stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James. I was thinking, how could I muster enough enthusiasm for the movie’s origin material when I pretty much know what’s going to happen? Turns out I shouldn’t have worried because even as the movie remained faithful to the main elements of the book, the book was awesome in its own right, possibly even more so because it provided an in depth perspective from Tris due to the first person narrative.

What I loved most about the books was that Tris, despite being a heroine in a dystopian world, was pretty relatable to readers across ages, but mostly with teens because she harbors the same insecurities and the same challenges about making choices, being at a loss about making decisions, making friends, and of course falling in love. I loved that she was a flawed heroine but she was able to overcome her flaws because of her inner strength and her drive t push forward. I loved her innocence most of all because of her upbringing and her occasional prudishness. It’s a refreshing change and a contrast to their liberated way of doing things in Dauntless. She could well be a transfer student from another school — her anxieties were the same as the usual teens, just amplified more because she was going to learn to survive from training after all.

I also loved that the book talked a lot about the people surrounding Tris to give readers a better understanding of her motivations. The movie introduced her friends but did not dwell too much on their personalities and that was understandable yet a shame because they were very rich characters, especially Al and Christina. But I loved Four the most because even from the books, he was the type of hero that readers  find themselves levitating towards. He is smart and shy but sensitive, and makes a perfect foil for Tris because they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I love that he was the first to say I love you to Tris and that final scene on the train totally made me melt.

There wasn’t much of a surprise with Divergent but the book was obviously setting up towards the bigger picture and leaves no doubt that more layers in the plot to eliminate Divergents will unfold in the next installments.

All in all, Divergent was a very strong beginning to the trilogy. I loved to read Divergent because Tris’s voice just seemed to reach out and grab readers into the story. Its explores fear and courage and how people respond to these phenomenon and inspires readers towards the latter.Excellent writing on the part of Veronica Roth, seamless transitioning and a lot of action packed between the pages. Divergent was funny, endearing, exciting and larger than life. It was about family, friends, romance and recognizing the person within and having the courage to be that person. What a great read. My only complaint would have to be that Tobias is not really a super cool name for such a cool guy as Four, but then again, I got used to the same well enough so I guess that nullifies my complaint.

The Death Cure: Book Review

The_Death_CureSYNOPSIS: After Thomas and the Gladers successfully complete The Scorch Trials, they are taken by WICKED for the final test to discover the pattern that will reveal the cure for the dreaded Flare disease. Thomas is isolated from his friends for close to a month before WICKED Assistant Director Janssen (Rat Man) gives him and the other survivors the opportunity to remove the Swipe from their brains to recover their memories. He also learns that he is immune from the Flare and so are most of the other Gladers from Groups A and B. However, there are a few who are not immune, part of a control group WICKED has included to get the best results from the tests. Filled with distrust, Minho, Thomas and Newt refuse the procedure and devise a plan to escape and take down WICKED once and for all. In the course of their journey, they discover the extent of the virus’s damage in the world filled with people gripped by madness.

I finished the last book in the trilogy faster than the first two books and it was because of the amount of questions that I wanted answers to. What was the extent of Thomas’s involvement in developing the trials, what the backgrounds of the Gladers were before they were included in the experiments, could Brenda and Jorge be trusted and what was the killzone? For the most part, The Death Cure managed to provide the answers to these questions but without Thomas actually regaining his memories, or without learning what the other Gladers were before the trials, there were many gray areas that prevented me from connecting emotionally to the situation.

There was also a lingering doubt about the loyalty of Brenda althroughout the book, perhaps because of her connection with Chancellor Paige and I just could not understand why Thomas blindly believed in her. Thomas’s relationship with Teresa, which was one of the main storylines from the first book, also never quite recovered from what happened at The Scorch Trials and this, I think worked in favor of the book and against it. In a sense, it added to the suspense and sense of mystery as to whom to trust, but on the other hand, it felt like an open wound that would not close. For me, there was a great big loophole in the story when Thomas did not question why Jorge lied about Teresa and the rest of the Gladers leaving ahead of them from the WICKED facility. While Brenda and Jorge did help them escape, I did not understand Thomas’s blind faith in the two when they were clearly working for another member of WICKED, whom he knew nothing about. And of course, there’s Gally and the Right Arm. While I understand why Thomas would want to side with a group so dead set against WICKED, he did not think things through or ask about their motives of how they would set out to achieve their mission. This was really very uncharacteristic of the Thomas from the first two books.

While reading The Death Cure, I felt like I was transported into the pages of a Walking Dead comic book and it even had a World War Z vibe going on with all of the Cranks going on full attack mode — the chaos, the destruction, the utter lack of humanity. Still, I felt like like Denver was a merely a detour intended to hype up the final revelation as to what the pattern is and what should be done to get it from the killzone.

If I had a favorite part in the book, it would be the first part when Minho, Thomas and Newt stood firm in not wanting to get the Swipe removed. I loved that the Rat Man called them rebels and the I admired the strength of their resolve to take down WICKED with only the three of them. The David vs Goliath scenario was a winner. While the Newt storyline broke my heart, it was one of the strongest points of the book, in my opinion.

All in all, I am still on the fence about how the series ended. It seemed harsh and coldhearted and in the end, it would seem that WICKED still had the last laugh. There were a lot of things I liked about the ending, when they returned to the Maze to finish what they started. After reading the entire thing, I felt like it delivered everything that a climactic finale should, but it made me feel sad, because of all the deaths and future deaths destined to happen in the new world. After The Death Cure, I felt like there were still too many questions about what happened BEFORE, and perhaps this was the reason that James Dashner wrote the prequel The Kill Order. The Death Cure was well written and engaging, just like the first two books but I felt like it should have delivered more closure.

The Scorch Trials: Book Review

250px-The_Scorch_Trials_coverSYNOPSIS: After escaping from the Maze, the Gladers are rescued from WICKED by a group of rebels and taken to a “safe” facility. When they wake up however, they realize that their safety was just an illusion when it is revealed that WICKED is not yet done with their experiments. This time, each Glader wakes up marked with cryptic tattoos that supposedly label their roles in the group for their new task. Teresa is taken from their ranks and is replaced by a boy named Aris, who is supposedly part of Group B, who escaped from a maze identical to that of the Gladers with a reverse ratio of boys to girls. Aris shares the same telephatic ability as Thomas and is Group B’s version of Teresa. Now, the Gladers are told that they are infected with a fatal disease called The Flare, which causes madness and death to its victims, and their only hope is reaching a place called safe haven in two week’s time. With meager supplies and dangers straight in their paths, the boys are in a race for survival, unsure of whom to trust, their mettle tested by the most brutal of circumstances.

The Scorch Trials is far different in tone than its predecessor The Maze Runner. Whereas in MR, the Gladers only had to deal with one major problem (escaping the maze and consequently battling the Grievers) in a controlled environment, the second test is far more challenging and dangerous as they set out on a world destroyed by sun flares and ravaged by disease. In the Scorch Trials, WICKED has basically laid out the task in front of the boys and told them that there would be no mercy for them in embarking on their journey as only the strongest will be rewarded with the cure. The Gladers are picked off one by one, by the barren wastelands that has become of Earth, the crazed Cranks (those who have been infected by the Flare) who are no strangers to murder and even cannibalism. Technology is used mercilessly by WICKED against the remaining Gladers resulting in a much brutal slaying of the weakest of the bunch. Not to mention Group B, whose sole mission is to kill Thomas. In short, there were more Variables in play which makes it harder for the boys to accomplish their task.

More questions also arise as Thomas begins to remember snippets of his life before the Glade and his involvement in developing the Trials, but just enough to get readers curious and form their own theories. This is a stroke of genius on the part of author James Dashner because the mystery that surrounds Thomas continues to grow, and at the same time, his feelings for Teresa also begins to evolve. It becomes more complicated as they begin to see the Trials in different ways — Teresa seemingly resigned and unshaken by their role with WICKED, and Thomas beginning to question his actions before the Glade. I like that the book did not dwell too much on the romantic connection between Thomas and Teresa but rather focused on the bigger picture, continuing to build towards the climax that is expected in the final book in the trilogy — The Death Cure. Well, I’m hoping this is what Dashner is going for anyway.

As for the characters, Dashner continues to bank on the strength of the characters he developed in the first book. Newt takes a slight backseat to Minho in this installment but nonetheless showed the same characteristics that made him so likeable in the beginning like his intelligence, practicality and calm demeanor. Minho, who was assigned as leader of the Gladers was a great choice to lead the boys, showing bravery, sense of humor, sometimes hotheadedness, and quick thinking for decisions that need to be made (mostly involving life and death) which is characteristic of his role as Keeper of the Runners. His bromance with Thomas continues in this book and their relationship is one of the strong points of The Scorch Trials because of his fierce loyalty to his friend. As a new character, Aris didn’t pop out as much as he should even given his role in the twist, but there is potential for him in the sequel given his special abilities. Same with Brenda, although she seemed a bit too clingy for my tastes.

All in all, The Scorch Trials was a well written young adult post apocalyptic adventure piece, that for me, felt more like a teaser of the things to come in the trilogy’s concluding chapter. It was a bit darker and more graphic but it definitely leveled up on all aspects of the first book. I would have liked for Group B to have more participation to play up the competition between the sexes (especially since it was mentioned several times that they got out of the Maze three days earlier than the boys and lost less people) but with the combined group of survivors and the upcoming revelation of mysteries behind WICKED, I have high hopes for Dashner’s next book. That and the fact that I want to know if my hypotheses are correct. And this is why I am happy that I waited for all books to come out before I started reading it.

The Maze Runner: Book Review

The_Maze_Runner_coverFor a book with the title The Maze Runner, the lead character surprisingly does very little running.

I’m a big fan of young adult fiction, despite being a full grown adult. I like stories of adventure and discovery and even with volume of YA novels tackling a post-apocalyptic world of late, I still enjoy reading about them. I’ve actually read a review of The Maze Runner several years ago and thought that it would be a great addition to my TBR pile but when I learned that it was going to be a three-part series, I chose to go The Hunger Games route and wait for all three books on paperback before I started reading it. It was a good call on my part (I think) because now, I get to read about Thomas and the Gladers uninterrupted by a long wait.

SYNOPSIS: Thomas wakes up in a lift disoriented and surrounded by several dozen boys in a huge glade, with his memory wiped clean of everything except his name. The glade, it would seem, was part of a strange new environment, which includes a farm, a homestead, a giant moving maze complete with deadly half mechanical half organic monsters called Grievers, who have killed Gladers (what the residents call themselves) for attempting to escape. Thomas has tons of questions but at the same time feels a familiarity with his new surroundings that he can’t quite put a finger on. Things start to get way more eerie when the first girl is delivered to the maze a day after Thomas’s arrival bearing a message that seems to mean the end of the line for the Gladers.

Thomas is pretty much everything that a lead character in a YA novel should be. He’s smart, he’s curious and there’s a certain mystery to his past that makes him intriguing and interesting. Author James Dashner dropped all sorts of bread crumbs as to Thomas’s identity even from the beginning to set him apart from the others, and he lived up to the build-up. The rest of the characters too, were well developed and well written, and readers will find themselves identifying with the characters even as they try to figure out the puzzle that is the maze. My favorites were actually Newt and Minho, two of the Keepers (councilmen) of the Glade – Newt because he is such a strong leader, sensitive but very logical, and Minho because he’s just so brave and cool despite his short breakdown at the Maze. I liked that they had blind faith in Thomas and didn’t judge him when they finally found out what his role in the Maze was, which spoke of great maturity on their part. I especially loved Chuck – he didn’t show it till the end but he was both smart and brave, loyal and innocent to boot.

In truth, The Maze Runner actually reminded me of Harry Potter’s fourth installment The Goblet of Fire, obviously because of the huge maze and the deadly creatures lurking in it, but it was also reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies with the boys building a community and establishing order in their small version of society. But while Lord of the Flies was a subtle political commentary and Harry Potter was focused on the magic and Harry’s battle with the evil Lord Voldemort, The Maze Runner retained its own identity by focusing the mystery of what lies beyond the Glade and the Maze, especially with the group called WICKED, whom the Gladers refer to as the creators.

It was quite creative for Dashner to come up with Glade lingo that ensures that he can pretty much use the f word freely, as would be natural for sixty something boys living in a single space, by substituting swear words with slang that sounds the same and means the same, but is wholesome enough for his young readers. Shuck for the most obvious swear word, klunk for dung, Greenie for greenhorn, are only some of the more colorful ones in the set. I also liked that while there were sacrifices and brutal deaths involved, Dashner left the conclusion to the imagination rather than be graphic about it.

The twist in the end was not all that surprising but it was horrifying to know that WICKED was not yet done with the survivors and that Phase 2 was just around the corner. I was much more curious about what Ava Paige meant when she said Group B. It seemed quite ominous.

All in all, The Maze Runner was a great read. It was exciting and engaging in all the right parts. I would have liked more things to happen inside the maze to level up the feeling of danger and despair but I might be getting that in the next books so for now, I am content. What I really liked about the book was Dashner’s high level of sensitivity for his young audiences, and that is why The Maze Runner is highly recommended for young readers with a taste for adventure. Adult readers who are more aligned with the writing style of Suzanne Collins might not be as satisfied because this book has less intensity but Thomas and the Gladers are a likeable lot and it would be hard not to cheer them on, especially since they have displayed such marvelous qualities of great literary heroes.

Why the premiere of Under the Dome Season 2 rocked

under-the-dome-618x400I liked the first season of Stephen King’s Under the Dome TV adaptation well enough and I stuck with the show even though it deviated a lot from the book (I only saw the first half of the book. I’m still working on it) but after I saw the premiere of the new season, I am sure that I will like watching this series more now. Here are just some of the reasons why:

1. Two of my most hated characters are dead. Yes, it might sound insensitive to some of their fans but there are just some characters that you couldn’t wait to just get rid of and for me, these two are part of that category. I’m not going to divulge who they are (in case you haven’t seen the episode yet) but here’s a hint. They can be found on this list.

2. New characters. I am liking the new characters who have appeared in the first episode — Sam Verdreaux, Big Jim’s estranged brother in law, the mysterious girl from Junior’s mom’s sketchpad, Junior’s mom, who is apparently alive on the other side of the dome, and Rebecca, the Science teacher, who’s kind of quirky, which I like. It ought to be fun to see how well they play with the other residents of Chester’s Mill.

3. Its all a mess. Nobody really knows what’s going on. Weird things are happening and Angie keeps wanting to kill Big Jim while Big Jim is having issues with the dome himself. The first episode raised tons of questions like why are all the dead people walking around town and making appearances, or why the dome suddenly became magnetic,  and a ton of other questions– which I hope they will be able to answer in the following episodes. I read that the show will be departing from the book a lot more because they never expected to have a second season and basically covered the major stuff in the first season, so we’ll see how it goes. Good thing is, the possibilities are endless. Bad news is they might drop the ball as they go along. For now, its too early to tell.

4. Stephen King’s cameo. In case you missed it, Mr. King makes a very short appearance at Sweetbriar Rose as one of the diner’s patrons who asks Angie for a coffee refill after the drama with Big Jim, Julia and Barbie.

So for starters, I’m on board with this new direction for Season 2. Basically, the show is less dark and a lot less engaging than the book but it does have its good and bad moments, so I’m still willing to stick it out and see this through.

Why Nodame Cantabile is my all time favorite Jdorama/Anime

Nodame_Cantabile_1_coverBefore anything else, I would like to put it out there that I am a big Nodame Cantabile fangirl in any of its forms (manga, anime, live action) so if you’re not into these type of things, you might think that this post isn’t your cup of tea. Okay, now that you have been warned, let me continue. :D  If its not your first time in this blog, you may have noticed how I gushed about the finale of the live action and it was pretty much my entire feeling across the board for the series based on the popular manga by Tomoko Ninomiya. Recently, I discovered that the manga was being rerun on Animax, a marathon of four episodes every Sunday night and it got me hooked to the series anew. As the result, I’ve rewatched the live action Finale, the Paris Special, the first series of the anime and now the original 11 episode Jdorama featuring the beginning of Noda Megumi and Shinichi Chiaki’s quirky relationship in Momogaoka Music Academy in Japan.

A short synopsis: Shinichi Chiaki is a top piano student at Momogaoka Music Academy. Growing up in a family of accomplished musicians, he has developed a perfectionist attitude towards music in general and feels bored about the level of education in his school. The problem is, he has no way of pursuing his dream of becoming a world class conductor in Europe because he is afraid of airplanes due to a childhood trauma developed on his return flight from Prague 10 years before. When Chiaki hears a mysterious girl playing Beethoven at school, he is moved and captivated by the sound, despite the fact that the Beethoven version was not precisely according to the score. He finds out that this mystery girl is actually his next door neighbor, the hentai Noda Megumi, who falls in live with him at first sight and becomes a permanent fixture in his life from their first interaction. The second series and the finale both take place in Paris, Prague and London, while the last part of the manga — the Opera Hen marks the duo’s return to Japan to participate in an opera with the RS-Oke with the original gang.

The thing I most love about this series is that firstly, it appeals to the hentai/otaku in all of us. The reason why people are drawn to the lead character Noda Megumi is the fact that she is guileless, an innocent with raw talent, whose simplistic dreams are really short of her true potentials. But at the end of the day, her heart shines through and touches each person that she comes across. First, Chiaki, who fell in love with Nodame’s piano from the first encounter, allowing him to endure her lack of hygiene and her quirkiness — a running storyline throughout the series; Ryutaro Mine, Chiaki’s best friend and conscience, who was drawn to Nodame first because of her kawaii (cute)-ness, then her soulful piano before they eventually became friends; Kasunori Kuroki, who fell in love with Nodame’s kindness and innocence (of course, he later realized he was no match for Chiaki); the Frenchman Frank, who was attracted to Nodame’s hentai personality, and even Lucas, who harbored a crush on Nodame from boyhood to adolescence. Nodame is a character that draws not only fellow characters in the series but also the audience to fall in love with her.

Each of the characters are also bigger than life, relateable and remarkable in their own ways. They endear themselves to the viewers so effectively that each moment spent watching them is like becoming part of their gang.

Another thing about this series is its sense of vulnerability. Each of the characters have their own internal struggle to wrestle with and how they resolve each of their issues is a marvel to watch. Because the characters are so identifiable, viewers want to cheer them on. Nodame’s struggle to catch up with Chiaki, Chiaki’s struggles to start his conducting career, Kuroki’s struggle to adapt in a foreign country, Mine’s struggle to keep the RS Oke together, Rui’s struggle to have a life of her own away from her reputation as prodigy, Franz’s struggle to convey his love for the girl of his dreams, and countless other journeys that each of the characters have to take. They don’t always get it on the first try, but with each other’s help and support, they somehow emerge from their ordeals as different, better characters. My favorite scene in the manga is actually Nodame’s moment in Greece in a storage room alone, crying out for Chiaki while clutching his shirt. It was such a moment of vulnerability that was so moving and so pure that its such a perfect epitome of Nodame’s love for Chiaki.

The steady progression in the storyline is also something that I love about this series. Now that I’m rewatching the series from the beginning, after seeing the finale, I notice how different Nodame’s playing was from the first. It was mentioned countless times in the various stages that Nodame played sloppily at the beginning and it occurred to me how raw her performances were at the beginning, when she was playing Beethoven’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Rachmaninoff to her debut with Stresseman in London. Chiaki’s conducting style also changed from the beginning but continued to be as intense as ever. Their story has also evolved from a master/pet relationship in the beginning, to a denial and gradual capitulation on the part of Chiaki, and his understanding of Nodame as a budding artist, and later on his acceptance of her true feelings for her. This while they struggle to individually make their own way in the music industry on their own and eventually find their paths merging together in the end. I was a bit frustrated about how insensitive Chiaki has mostly been to Nodame but when his point of realization came, and he was even willing to sacrifice allowing Nodame to stop pursuing piano to do as she liked and still stay with her despite that, I was totally won over.

Another thing that got me hooked into this drama was the continuity of the presentation. True, that since the anime had more episodes, it followed the manga more religiously, but all of the versions had the same focus and the same heart as the original material, generally conveying the same idea and the same message, envoking the same feelings and emotions in all of its forms.

Finally, the music. I must say I’ve learned a lot about the classics and the great composers watching this series and it has been an education of sorts. It gave me a better appreciation of the classics and the sheer joy of simply listening to the pieces as the orchestras come together in perfect harmony. The purity of the sound was astounding, relaxing and simply amazing. Compared to songs with lyrics, the classics are so different but has a different appeal. It also gave a peek into the world of music students and the passion involved in mastering their craft. Respect,  is pretty much all I can say.

All in all, this series made me fall in love, with the story, the characters, the music, and the world… Chiaki and Nodame share an unconventional relationship but their journey was so touching. Learning from each other, together and apart. It was a journey all right, and in the end, they came full circle.  But Nodame was not only a story about romance, its a story about friendship, about growing up and reaching one’s potentials. Its about kindness and love and positivity and at the end of the day, these feelings are infectious. And that is why I love it so much.