Wolves of Mercy trilogy

Maggie Stiefvater created a world of wolves that draws readers deep into the lives of the wild and the resilient bond that tie them together.

The trilogy starts with “Shiver” where we are introduced to the character of Grace Brisbane and Sam Roth. Grace was attacked by a pack of wolves when she was a child. She was saved right on time before the wolves can do further damage to her. She distinctly remembered seeing a wolf with golden-yellow eyes who snarled at the pack to back off. Since then, she has been watching the wolf that saved her from her bedside window. For years, she tried to communicate and draw near to her wolf but she can only go so far.

Little did she know that the wolf that rescued her is also human and he is Sam Roth. On one hunting spree, Sam was shot and he turned human. The house closest to where he was shot was Grace’s house. Upon seeing him and looking at his eyes, Grace knew that Sam was the wolf who saved her. It was then revealed how wolves turn into humans during summer and they turn back to being wolves when winter breaks. The cold weather triggers the change. The struggle to keep Sam human to be with her and the unrelenting love of the two characters consumed most of the story.

I must admit, when I was reading half way through the novel my mind was screaming “Twilight!!!” The love story between Grace and Sam is sooooo “Twilight”!  The stubbornness of youth mixed with their impulsive love is like reading Bella and Edward all over again. But this time, it’s the wolf version. I was at the brink of giving up when the novel amazingly started to pick up! By the time I was down to the last 70 pages, I was so eager to know what will happen—if the cure for Sam will work or not. So there, the ending saved the novel. The science behind the paranormal gave a new twist to this growing genre. The end was so good that I decided to immediately read the sequel, “Linger”.

In “Linger”, a cruel reversal of fates happened. Grace is starting to show signs of being a wolf through the deterioration of her health. While Sam is struggling to find out how he can help her. An interesting character also enters in this novel, Cole, front man of the famous band Narkotika. Cole is a new wolf trying to find his way in this new world of wolves. Linger begins with a gripping plot and ends with unexpected changes in the characters. For me, this sequel saved the trilogy. It kept my interest (and perhaps the interest of the other readers) and compelled me to open the pages of “Forever”.

“Forever” is the final part of the Wolves of Mercy trilogy. In this novel, lives are threatened, a complete annihilation of wolves is at bay, and humans are showing no mercy. As I was reading the book, the image of the dogs in the movie “Eight Below” came to mind. The way the wolves communicated with each other to save the pack felt so real and believable.  I love the way the story ended, the maturity of each character along the way, and the unconventional resolution of conflicts. It took a few days before I was able to part with the characters of Sam and Grace. After reading the trilogy for 4 days, it felt like I was living in Mercy Falls, too, and they were my friends. It also made me want to have a wolf as a pet. Well, come to think of it, I already have my own wolf (canis lupus) all these years. Now, that’s interesting. 🙂

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Never Let Me Go: Beautifully Disturbing

It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving spoilers. I’ll try not to spill the beans too much but even if I do I’m sure that you will still be compelled to read the book. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “Never Let Me Go” is beautifully disturbing. Set in England around the late 1990s, the novel takes place in Hailsham—a special boarding school where students are raised for a sickening reason.

Kathy H. is the voice of the novel. It is from her memories and point of view that the plot develops. The way she tells her story keeps you wanting for more. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the rare authors who know the craft of leaving inconclusive details without pissing off the reader. He gives you an insatiable discontent for the unknown, which can only be satisfied as you keep turning the page. From the very first chapter, Kathy’s job as a “carer” is not described at length, which begs the question “What does a carer really do and who do they care for?” Donors and donations were also mentioned in casual terms as if implying that the reader ought to know what those taboo words mean.

As Kathy drives along a familiar road, she starts to narrate her life at Hailsham and the story of two significant people who became her closest friends—Ruth and Tommy. Kathy describes in detail the almost impeccable education system they receive from Hailsham. They were even substantially provided for their needs and even wants. But since nobody lives in a perfect world, certain clues emerge here and there implying that there is something terribly wrong in this boarding school. At one point, a teacher resigns for reasons that the so-called principal cannot disclose; a certain character called “madame” gets the best art work of the students; and “donations” are mentioned in crucial moments in the story. Slowly, the innocence of these students is shattered as they gradually discover why they’re there in the first place.

Here’s the spoiler I’m not supposed to say but I can’t help but divulge. Kathy, along with her friends Ruth and Tommy, are all created to be organ donors. They are raised well so that when the time comes that they have to give their donations they are perfectly fit to do so. Not only are they organ donors, they are also clones. Sickening, right? You raise a human person—not a machine—then end his life regardless if he wants to or not. Even if he is a clone, that person has life and he has the right to decide what he wants to do with it.

My heart went wild as I was reading this. I felt pity for the characters, I felt rage for the cruel people behind this sinister project, I felt sorrow for the lives that were lost and the hearts that were broken. Although this novel is fictional, it shows the reality that men are capable of the most depraved things when push comes to shove. Never is deception portrayed ever so delicately yet menacingly the way Kazuo Ishiguro did in this masterpiece. This is one novel worth shelf keeping. 🙂

Note to self: Must watch the movie in DVD. 🙂 (I missed it last year)

It’s the SUPERHERO year (part 2)

Superhero movies are on a roll this year. In fact, it’s Captain America week! I guess one can’t get enough of the childhood fantasy that opens up every time you watch a film like that. I remember liking Storm from X-men so much that I even daydreamed of what weather catastrophe I can unleash to defeat the imaginary bad guys in my head. Haha! 🙂 Anyway, I didn’t read any review about Captain America so please don’t spoil it for me. Actually, I don’t read reviews AT ALL before I watch a film. I want to appreciate/criticize the movie first hand. That being said, I want to give a run through about what I think about the other superhero movies I watched this year.

Let me start with Thor. Before watching the film, I had no clue about Thor’s story. My hubby was nice enough to spare me the details. When I asked him what the story of Thor is all about, he just said that it was about the Norse gods. Thus, with the element of surprise on my side, I was immediately captured upon seeing the grandeur of Asgard, the Norse gods’ counterpart of the Greeks’ famous Mt. Olympus. Chris Hemsworth perfectly suited the role. His thunderous voice and his overall look were tailor fit for the character. Not to mention he’s way too good looking—very god-like, I must say. 🙂 His arrogance was so effective that he was close to annoying. His humor was so funny that I even laugh up to now when I think of his punch lines. I really love his dead serious statement, “I need a horse!” Haha! 🙂 Another noteworthy character in the film was Thor’s brother, Loki, played by the amazing actor Tom Hiddleston. He was convincingly cunning and deceptive. I actually had those moments when I was not so sure whether he was telling the truth or not. Anthony Hopkins was in full regalia, literally and figuratively. He was a king in character and in craft. Finding yourself fearing and revering the old guy in the big screen says a lot about the actor’s exceptional portrayal of his role. Overall, the film was fast-paced without missing out on the character development of Thor. It was more than entertaining; it was at every level very engaging. If I can summarize my critique in one word, I would have to say that Thor was BELIEVABLE. It was authentic. In fact, it was so good I think it actually deserves a sequel. 🙂

Next stop, X-Men First Class. This movie is what you would expect X-Men movies to be—GREAT. But I have to admit, I like the trilogy more than this one. The trilogy was more intense and action-packed. I like the more mature characters, I suppose. Professor X is just made for Patrick Stewart. Just like Magneto is perfectly suited for Ian McKellen. Still, their younger versions in X-Men First Class, were brilliant actors.

I like this movie for two main reasons—first, simply because I love “origin” movies (those who-they-were-before-they-became-great type of films) and second, because it’s cast ensemble was unique and diverse. Each of them was given enough exposure to show their character’s budding greatness. James McAvoy portrayed the young Professor X with a twist, displaying quick wit and candor, which gave more life to his character. Professor X became more interesting and aggressive with his execution. Michael Fassbender exhibited more angst and attitude as the young Magneto, which created a more solid foundation to the way his character developed in the X-Men trilogy. Jennifer Lawrence provided the innocence and the tension needed in Mystique’s character. The mutant identity crisis that they all face was best portrayed by the young Mystique. She showed vulnerability yet exhibited boldness when called for. I must say that it is a tall order for the movie to exceed the expectations of the people who watched the box-office X-Men trilogy. However, instead of exceeding, X-Men First Class rose up to the challenge and matched the quality and depth of the previous X-Men movies. I cannot say that it was better but I have to admit, it was equally great. 🙂

Must Read: The Help

I like reading first-time novelists. There’s something about fresh raw talent that produces exceptional piece of literature. Some of my favourite debut novels are Aravind Adiga’s “White Tiger” and Audrey Niffeneger’s “Time Traveller’s Wife”. These novels were unique in all aspects and Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” is no exception. I think I’ve done my fair share in recommending this book to my friends but I guess doing a review will even encourage more readers to pick up this good read.

When I found out recently that DreamWorks produced the movie adaptation of this book, my heart literally jumped! I couldn’t wipe the big smile on my face just thinking about these women characters coming to life in the big screen. So before you go and check out “The Help” this August in your local theatres, allow me to share with you why the USA Today named it “Book of the Year”, why Oprah picked this for her book club, why it’s been in the New York Times bestseller list for the longest time (since it was published in 2009), and why I’m raving about this excellent book.

I won’t spill the beans for those of you who plan to read this book. I’ll just share the reasons why I LOVED it and what’s pretty challenging about it. To start off, “The Help” is a novel about the poignant intertwined lives of Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Set during the early 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi, this book gave a voice to the silent cries of black maids during that time. Aibileen, a middle-aged black maid, is probably the noblest help in the community. Raising her 17th white child, she is compassionate and devoted to the kids entrusted to her. It was at Aibileen’s voice that the novel began and ended. She is not your typical black help, Aibileen is wise and in her own way, regal. Minny is not your typical tongue-tied black maid. In fact, she has the biggest mouth in the neighbourhood. Her humour stands out in the novel yet it is her strong outspoken character that differentiates her from the rest. Skeeter is a 22-year-old aspiring writer, who is expected by her mother and everybody else to be married at that time. She is white but that did not stop her from exposing the debilitating situations of black maids in their town. Skeeter was also raised by a lovely black help named Constantine who apparently left their household and no one would tell why. It is in this process of discovery and brave exposition that these three women uphold each other to free themselves and the rest of the black maids from the prevalent social injustice.

Kathryn Stockett wanted to preserve the voice of the black maids by using their language when they are the one’s narrating the story. With that, I found it very challenging when I read the first page of the book, hearing it from Aibileen’s voice. Here’s an example of one of her dialogues,

And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice seeing the kids grown up fine.

I find myself going slow on those parts where it is either Aibileen or Minny’s narrative. This is what I specifically like about the book; it is true to its origin and very organic. Never mind going slow, it is the raw voice that you will actually hear as you do that.

A true page-turner, this book piqued me in a way that it opened my eyes. It also made me laugh and pleasantly surprised me in many ways. The story line was seamless. The characters were distinctly memorable. The language was prolific regardless of the point of view. The author’s bravery in writing this piece is purely exceptional. “The Help” is BOLD, MOVING, and for a fiction read, it is ironically REAL.

If you will allow me to implore you, read the book then watch the flick. If in case the film fails, you’ll find comfort in having a great book in your hands. 🙂

It’s the SUPERHERO year (part 1)

Half of the year is almost over and the three movies I’ve watched so far were all superhero movies. In fact, last year my husband and I were already planning our date nights based on the release dates of Thor, Green Lantern, X-Men First Class, Captain America, and Transformers 3. And yes, we went as far as 2012 for the much-awaited Avengers movie. I think the last movie review I made was for 300, which was like eons ago. I know it’s pathetic, tell me about it. So this time, I want to be more up to date thus I’ll be doing three reviews in one go. 🙂

Okay, let me make this clear first, I AM A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE BY DESIGN. I get easily entertained. God just made me the easiest person to please, so to speak. On that note, it means a lot to me when I say that I wasn’t entertained by a certain movie. By now, you would’ve guessed which movie I’m talking about. Yes, it’s the overly hyped GREEN LANTERN movie. Man, talk about bland. Fine, I admit I was still entertained by Ryan Reynold’s funny lines and all but he’s the only one entertaining there! I think I can come up with a revised Green Lantern Oath based on the movie’s performance:

In worldwide release day, in box office night

No critic shall escape its sight

Let those who watch continuously writhe

Beware the failure of Green Lantern’s light

Can I cry now? 😦 After seeing Thor (which I will discuss in the next blog), my expectations for Green Lantern reached an all-time high. I mean, if Thor can be that good—for a character that’s not as popular—how much better can Green Lantern be, right? It should be excellent. Yes, DC, it should’ve been excellent but it was a far cry from that. For someone who has very little background of who Hal Jordan is, all I really wanted was to be entertained. While watching the movie, I find myself enjoying the popcorn more than the movie itself. It was a slow kill—slowly disappointing me as the movie dragged on. It spent 70% of the time dwelling on Hal’s human story than his superhero transformation and character progression. If I was disappointed, my husband was overwrought. He is a certified Green Lantern fan and a Geoff Johns (writer) follower. So he knows the storyline and all. He is like my personal graphic novel guru. He gave me a Green Lantern 101 crash course before the movie, which made me all the more excited. I guess I shouldn’t have asked hubby for that crash course, it made me expect a wild ride not a sickening boat ride. Oh well, on the bright side, I am more motivated now to read Green Lantern’s graphic novels and be really entertained! 🙂

So, what do I typically expect from a superhero movie? Lots of action (Green Lantern just made it to bare minimum), really cool special effects and CGI (average; Oa looks very dark; if the scene was taking place in the universe it should at least look grand but it was futuristically bland), noteworthy lines befitting superheroes reminiscent of Dark Knight (except for the oath, I didn’t catch anything memorable), a very effective antagonist (Parallax was merely a scary smoke; now I miss Casper, at least he’s cute), and a strong supporting cast (aside from Sinestro there’s no one else to complement Hal; the aliens were just too many and I wish they did more than just stand in a group and chant). Too bad, I really liked Ryan Reynolds for the role but he lacked the “attitude”. On the other hand, Blake Lively turned from a tough fighter pilot chick to a damsel in distress because she merely became a helpless love interest from the middle of the film up to the end. Although, I liked the part when she discovered that Green Lantern was Hal Jordan. Haha! Very natural acting on that one, Ms. Carol Ferris! It pains me to give a rating for this film. I guess I’ll give it 5 out of 10—for the effort, for the effective marketing hype, for Ryan Reynolds, and for the Krispy Kreme special doughnut that bore out of it.