'You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.' ~ Paul Sweeney

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Cinder 

Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: MacMillan's Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: January 3, 2012

Available in Paperback, Hardcover, Audiobook and by Download

I often find books simply by personal recommendation, but since joining this year's NaNoWriMo session, I find that talking about writing on my social media sites like Facebook and Twitter seem to result in the sites recommending things to me. This series happens to be one of those. 

You're never supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I often find that the books I enjoy most are those with fantastical cover art. Since I love any sort of fairy tale with a twist, the sponsored feed on Facebook that kept suggesting the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer continued to capture my attention until I was forced to do something about it. I may be thirty-something, but I adore Young Adult fiction, and this series had the potential to be right up my alley.

Turns out, Facebook knew my taste pretty well. It's that time of year when we're all strapped for cash and so instead of impulsively buying yet another book I couldn't afford, I joined my local library and decided to just borrow a few. Or 15.

Not knowing anything about the book besides my attraction to the cover, I was a bit disappointed when I started to read the first few pages. I didn't relate at all to the main character, a cyborg (half-human, half-machine) named Cinder who is pretty much a genius when it comes to anything mechanical. I was also a bit confused by the names, as the book is set in Asia, in a place called the Eastern Commonwealth. 

There was a lot of description of who Cinder was - her human body and the parts of her that are mechanical - but I felt the description of her (hair, eyes, facial features etc) was missing, as were the rest of the characters, with one exception towards the end of the book (which I won't spoil for you!). I don't know if this was done on purpose, to allow the reader to form their own picture of what each character looked like or if it just wasn't that integral to the author in the story she was wanting to tell. Having been placed into the middle the Eastern Commonwealth with no identifying description other than the country and the Asian name of Linh Cinder, I assumed that Cinder was, in fact, Asian, as were most of the other characters. On this score, I'm still just not quite sure and I haven't had the chance to go look at any fan art. The book trailer, however, sheds a bit more light. Take a look:


After I got past this little stumbling block, I realized that the character herself reminded me very much of Kaylee Frye, from Joss Whedon's cancelled television series, Firefly. Funnily enough, at the back of the book, there was a question and answer portion with the author, who says that she was definitely inspired by Firefly! Once I had that in my mind, I started to get more excited about the book and abandoned my reservations about the lack of physical description.  

The story is a complicated one, with little mysteries sprinkled throughout and revealed in spurts. The story of Cinderella that we are all familiar with is twisted into something entirely different in this series, and the dynamics between each character are surprising. We see much more of the prince in this version, which I always found lacking in the Disney tale, and we also have an evil Queen, which is the first time I've ever seen that addition to the narrative. 
Synopsis:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
While the story was published back in 2012, I don't feel like I've jumped on the bandwagon too late. It seems that the fourth book in the series, Winter, was just released this year, and prior to that, a few short stories that reveal information on Cinder's first meeting with her step-family and the evil queen of the story, Queen Levana. 

As I turned each page, the more I felt sure that this series would play wonderfully on the big screen. I love to fan-cast my favorite books, and I could totally see Chloe Grace Moretz or Bonnie Wright playing Cinder opposite perhaps BooBoo Stewart as Prince Kai. I'm still hoping that somewhere along the line, the series will get an option for film, because it's the best beginning to a series since the Hunger Games. I have no idea if the rest of the series will continue to keep me intrigued, but I really hope so.

I've just rented the second book in the series, called Scarlet, which starts off in Europe with a character based on Little Red Riding Hood who eventually meets up with Cinder from the end of the first book. I can't wait to start reading it and will definitely do a review when I have completed it.

A few facts in addition to the Firefly aspect that I also found interesting - the story sprang from the author's participation in NaNoWriMo (which I just completed my first session of!) AND she lives in Tacoma, WA, which means we're both Pacific Northwesterners!

If you're looking for a new twist on the Cinderella story and other fairy tale characters, then Cinder and the Lunar Chronicles should definitely be at the top of your reading list! You can learn more about the book and even read the first chapter on Marissa Meyer's webpage here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Sleepy Hollow: Creating Heroes, Demons & Monsters

Let me start my somewhat-biased review by confessing something. I’m a hardcore fan of the FOX television series Sleepy Hollow, and I could not wait to get my hands on the companion volume to the show. As a writer and storyteller, I find it fascinating to see the thought process and storyboards for television and film.
For those who have not yet seen the series, here’s a synopsis of the show, which is now in its third season on FOX:
Resurrected from his grave more than two centuries after he was killed fighting for the Colonial Army in the Civil War, Ichabod Crane partners with Lieutenant Abbie Mills of the Sleepy Hollow Police Department to fight the evil forces that have taken hold of the town.
From the velvet feel of the matte cover to the glossy photos contained within, Tara Bennett and Paul Terry introduce fans to all of the behind-the-scenes production that goes into creating the world inhabited by heroes Ichabod Crane and Abigail Mills.
With a foreword from series executive producer Len Wiseman, the 176-page companion photo and sketch book reveal information that fans rarely have access to, including the original concept of the show and how it evolved into what it is today, how the team creates each monster-of-the-week, and how each of those monsters play into the overall mythology of the series.

Concept sketches depict the show’s interpretation of Washington Irving’s character, Ichabod Crane, brought to life by actor Tom Mison, along with the places that help create the tone of the series. The team behind Sleepy Hollow have taken special care with their version of Irving’s character, making the show much more than simply a tale of a man out of time and instead focusing on Crane’s observations of our modern times through his colonial lens as he comes to accept his role in thwarting the coming apocalypse. If you’ve seen the show, you know how charming Mison is as Crane and how he is completely believable in the role despite the supernatural story the show tells. If you haven’t seen the show, Mison is reason enough to check it out – he’s equal parts adorable and talented, plus he has that lovely British accent that will tickle your ears.

Each of the main characters are featured in one to four-page spreads, including concept art and quotes from makeup artists and costume and set designers. Sprinkled throughout the pages are also pieces of “twistory”, which reveal how the writers have blended American history with the fictional versions of Sleepy Hollow’s denizens.

If you’re interested in sets, props, costumes or makeup design, the detailed concept art, special effect stills and photos from various stages in the production will give you a sense of what goes into each particular piece of the puzzle.

While I enjoyed the book very much, especially reading the creative thought processes of the writers, producers and designers, I have one complaint: the actors were not included in the book at all other than photographs of them behind-the-scenes or stills from the show. Input from the people who bring these characters to life every week would have nicely rounded out the information provided, giving the reader a complete view of the series. After all, a script, costumes and set design can only take a show so far. The actors are the people breathing life into the show, connecting with the viewers each week.

For those fans like myself, who love getting an insider’s look at a show they love and are entertained by, Sleepy Hollow: Creating Heroes, Demons & Monsters is a wonderful companion and interesting perspective on the mythology of the series and its characters. No photos I could take of the book would really do the actual sketches or stills justice, so you’ll simply need to purchase a copy for yourself to get the full and glorious effect.

A copy of the book was provided by the publisher for review and you can purchase a copy here.