Category: Books (Page 1 of 3)

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander is a book I first read many decades ago. While he was known for other books, namely the Chronicles of Prydain, this book served as my introduction to his writings. I have re-read the novel a few times since then, and recently did so after many years. I’m happy to say the book still holds up. There is a wonderful cast of characters, each with their own unique appearance, behavior, and little mannerisms that help the reader imagine them, even when many of them are together in a chapter. The overall story ends up being far different than what is expected, both for the main character as well as the reader. If you are looking for something to read that’s on the lighter side of fantasy, and also outside the default and cliche western European setting, I highly recommend this!

13 Reasons Why

The Show

Based on the debut novel by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why is a gut-punching, no-holds-barred look at suicide, bullying, and other issues that teenagers (and the parents and other adults) deal with.

Season 1

The first season is based on the novel, and like its title suggests it revolves around the 13 tapes (ie “reasons”) that Hannah made before she committed suicide. In the first episode Clay Jensen receives the tapes and begins listening to them; he is not the first to listen to them, nor will be the last. As he listens to each tape, Clay learns more about Hannah’s thoughts and feelings concerning the students they both supposedly knew.

As the episodes and tapes go by, we learn more about the other students, as much as if not more than Clay and Hannah. But, the focus tightens back onto the two of them as we get near the season finale, ending with a brutal and emotional final episode.

For those who watched it when it was first released, it shows on-screen the horrific way Hannah decided to end her life. More recently, the episode has been edited, removing the actual act and cutting (the editing term, also an unfortunate pun) to when Hannah’s mom discovers her in the tub. It’s hard for me to judge if that was the right decision or not (that’s up to mental health professionals to debate); I do know the original scene was emotional, raw, and unlike anything I’d ever seen, including any horror movies. I do believe the scene needed editing, but I think only the actual shots of the suicide act should have been removed; we should still see the pain and perhaps regret in Hannah’s face as it happens.

Season 2

Jumping off from the events of the first season and the book, the second season is all about the trial of the Bakers versus the school district. Justin has left the school and picked up (or resumed?) a heroin habit, and everyone else is judged not just in court but at school (as usual) and even at home.

Clay is rightfully unable to deal with Hannah’s death, and in his own coping mechanism begins to imagine she’s still around and even talks to him. While some people pick up on it, they don’t really say anything to him about it (at least in this season). It does obviously interfere with his potential relationship with Skye, which ends as abruptly as it began.

Building up to the climax and end of the season, we see a character become more interested in guns, and apparently enough money and ways around the law to start hoarding all kinds of weapons. In the final episode, this character arrives at the school dance, ready to open fire on everyone. Only Clay stands in their way, begging them not to do it and taking the rifle. As everyone else including the potential mass-murderer flees at the sound of sirens, Clay loses any sense of common sense and remains still, the rifle in his hands.

Season 3

Depending on who you talk to, the third is when the show jumped the shark. After my second viewing, for me it’s a mix of that along with simply getting tired of and burning out on the characters, the excess drama, and other little things I notice more and more of. It also marked the debut of the Ani character, and pretty much anyone you ask will remark on the absolute xxxx of her (including comments such as “Who the hell is this girl and why is she butting herself into everyone’s problems” and “I’m sorry, is she and her mom actually living with a known rapist?”).

Tagging along with Ani, Clay goes around and accuses literally every main character of killing Bryce. Apparently evidence isn’t a thing for him. Later on Clay suddenly becomes a friend to Tyler, who confides in him about what Monty did to him.

There is one remarkable thing about this season, however, that I must mention: it did somehow make me have just the tiniest sliver of sorrow for Bryce. Seeing his interaction with his mom, and going into more depth of that family’s problems, is certainly the highlight of the season. I did like learning more about that, and would get frustrated when it would cut back to more Ani-Clay melodrama.

The season ends with a dramatic reveal of who actually killed Bryce. Showing the actual events, it’s hard to empathize with Bryce; no-one deserves to die, but the fact that even at the end of his life he continued to say such hateful things.

Season 4

The fourth and final season… Woo boy, how to summarize it… Clay is officially off his rocker, and apparently nothing of consequence happens to anyone. Oh, and Alex is gay (nothing wrong with that, but with zero clue of this in the first three seasons it feels like a cheap attempt to try to further develop his character).

To be truthful that’s all I can recall about this season, and I have no intention or desire to re-watch it. After the first two seasons, this show was starting to over-reach and over-dramatize, and by the end of this season it was just too much to try to comprehend. The first season alone still stands as an example of a near-perfect adaptation, and it alone can be watched and enjoyed. The rest can simply be ignored.

The Book

Compared to the Netflix adaptation, the original book is far less dramatic, especially when it comes to Clay. Roughly following the same sequence of events and timeline as the first season of the show, the book focuses on Clay and his reaction to hearing Hannah’s tapes.

The biggest difference in the book is that Clay doesn’t take his sweet-ass-time listening to all 13 tapes; rather, he does it all in one day! Clay will often think back on his fellow students, but there’s never any actual scenes or chapters with them. The only direct interaction he has is with Tony, and even then it doesn’t seem like they’re very good friends, rather just long-term acquaintances. There’s also a brief interaction with his parents, but most of the book is Clay alone with Hannah’s tapes.

Overall I vastly prefer the book to the show, as under-developed as it seems in comparison. More is left to the reader’s imagination, and to make up their own mind of each character mentioned in each tape. I’ve read the book several times thanks to my library’s OverDrive page, and I will likely purchase my own copy (either on Kindle or paperback).

All Your Twisted Secrets

This is a book that came up in a recent search on Overdrive, and had been sitting in my wishlist since then. Recently, it came up in the Kindle Daily Deal, so I went ahead and took a chance on it. I’m certainly glad I did!

The debut novel from Diana Urban, All Your Twisted Secrets instantly reminded me of Christopher Pike’s novels, and I’m really impressed as this is Diana’s debut novel (at least from a major publisher)! Six teens meet at a restaurant where they had supposedly been invited for a scholarship dinner, only to find themselves trapped and a timer counting down to certain death? Who confined them, and why?

Copied here are some Q&As from Diana for FAQs she has received (copied with her permission):

How did you get the idea for All Your Twisted Secrets?

One day, my husband and I started speculating the shortest timespan you could set a book or movie to, throwing ideas back and forth. Could an entire book take place over just fifteen minutes? No way, that’s not enough time to accomplish anything. But what about an hour? What if you locked a group of people in a room for an hour? What if someone died at the end of the hour? What if the trapped people killed one of them? What if they had to choose someone to kill, or else they’d all die? We exchanged this look that was like, “Bingo,” and I raced to my desk and started scribbling down ideas for characters I could put into this crazy situation.

All Your Twisted Secrets takes place in one room over the course of an hour. What were some of the challenges of working with such a tight locale?

The challenge wasn’t so much with the locale, but the time constraints. Most of the action in the locked room spans one hour, such a limited time to get to know each character. I thought interspersing flashbacks in the locked-room narrative would kill the tension as they confront this impossible choice. So instead, I alternated real-time chapters with flashback chapters—all from Amber’s POV over the past year as she struggles to win over the intimidating queen bee (who’s drama club director) to score the school play and get into her dream music school. These flashback chapters get to the heart of the story: the characters’ relationships and how they deal with many of the pressures teens face today, from bullying to college admissions to losing a loved one—all while dropping clues about whodunit and who might die.

What were some of your techniques for building suspense?

Ending each chapter on a cliffhanger is one of my main strategies. And that’s harder to do than you’d think, without it seeming cheesy or like you’re intentionally withholding information to keep readers hooked. Also, you want a few overarching mysteries that span the full novel, and then mini-mysteries in individual chapters to create these little cliffhanger. And each chapter needs to build in tension until you cut it off. But, in my opinion, you have to have the payoff for each mini-mystery come fairly quickly in the next chapter or two, otherwise readers will get frustrated.

To learn more about Diana’s writings, as well as her informative blog, her website is https://dianaurban.com/

The Shape of Night

One of the first books I checked out on my library’s Overdrive service was The Shape of Night. I was looking through the mystery section for something to read, and Tess Gerritsen‘s name came up quite a few times. Rather than delving into one of her mystery series, I decided to go with her latest book.

A cookbook author who needs a break from everything in her life, Ava Collette drives from Boston to Tucker Cove and manages to rent a house with an amazing view: Brodie’s Watch. Shrugging off rumors that it’s haunted, Ava struggles to finish her cookbook amid guilt and alcohol abuse, until one night an apparition does appear. Is it real or sprung from her imagination?

The Shape of Night is a book that I enjoyed for the most part. I’m a sucker for a mystery, and of course the location and surroundings spoke to my Murder, She Wrote-laced heart. Ava is likeable, even if at times it’s almost cliche that her drinking seems to dominate everything. She’s rightfully curious about the apparition, the house, and its history in relation to the town.

Among the few faults I found with the book was how most of Ava’s work was left off-page. We read about her cooking fairly often, but except for testing a few recipes on the house carpenters near the beginning we don’t learn just how she actually managed to finish her cookbook, with as much drinking and amateur sleuthing as she was doing.

The ending of the novel was satisfying, with just the right amount of tension and suspense, followed by a short but needed resolution, especially with Ava’s sister Lucy coming back into the picture. There’s almost enough hinted at near the end of the book that it could almost warrant a sequel, perhaps Ava exploring another old house or other location for her next cookbook.

Art & Arcana

From Empire of Imagination author Michael Witwer, joined by Kyle Newman, Playing at the World‘s Jon Peterson, and Michael’s brother Sam, Art & Arcana is a very comprehensive look at the visual history of Dungeons and Dragons. Starting from the beginnings of the original game and going up through the current 5th edition, this book is absolutely crammed full of artwork! The accompanying text is not too bad a read, though the text size was a tad small for me. Also, I did appreciate the slight ribbing at the 3rd, 3.5, and 4th edition rules and the exaggerated artwork that came along with it (seriously, I CANNOT stand Wayne Reynold’s artwork!), but glad it wasn’t too overbearing. I bet there’s plenty of artwork you’ve never seen before, and it was nice to re-visit some of my favorite pieces from David Trampier, Erol Otus, and Jeff Easley!

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