The Young Elites (The Young Elites #01) by Marie Lu Review

Young+ElitesI think the books I enjoy most are those I have no expectations from. This was the case with The Young Elites. I was having yet another readers’ block and this book was the perfect antidote. It was just the thing I needed.

The Young Elites is based in a fictitious land where suddenly a mysterious fever rages across the land infecting thousands. The adults, who got infected, did not survive. Of the children who did, there were some who were permanently marked as different. Their physical appearance was altered. Moreover, there were some among them who developed strange abilities. They started calling themselves Young Eiltes. The story traces Adelina, a malfetto (the term for those who survived the fever and were marked) she has one eye and she is a young elite, one who had no idea she had any powers until she unwittingly unleashed them one stormy night. Slated for execution by the inquisition, she is rescued by the Daggers, a secret society of the young elites who oppose the crown and the Inquisition. They take her under their wing and begin training her.

In the Acknowledgments to the book, Marie Lu stated that this is not a hero’s story, but a villain’s. It is an interesting take and certainly makes me curious to see what she will do with the story. The Young Elites was a whirlwind once it got going. The world building was a wee bit thin but that can be forgiven because the storytelling was excellent. The narrative lagged a little in the middle and that was probably the only slow portion in the entire book. The closer the end loomed, the more frantic the pace got. The book also covered multiple points of view and thankfully, far from being annoying, they added to the overall plot. They offered precious insights into the other characters’ thoughts and ideas. The last few chapters were especially chaotic (in a good way) My only complaint is that now I’ll have to wait till October 2015 for the next installment and mid 2016 for the final book and that is a very long wait indeed.

Now onto Adelina, the main protagonist, she is also a young elite with the potential to be extremely powerful. But she also has a lot of darkness in her heart, enough that it makes some in the Daggers convinced that she can’t be trusted. But there is also cause for that darkness. Unloved and abused by her father and then nearly killed, she has not seen much kindness in the world. This filled her with hate and anger, both of which had years to fester and settle deep inside her core. That the darkness in her is also the key to her strength is another dilemma. Without that darkness, she is powerless. Lu stated that this is a villain’s story and having read this book, I don’t want Adelina to lose herself to that darkness. There is still light in her and I want her to hold on that. Add to that, she hasn’t had a lot of reason to let the darkness go; betrayed, used and abused at every turn, I don’t blame Adelina for her choices. Besides how do you have light in your life when everyone around is either lying to you, or trying to use you and you can’t trust any of them to have your back. Yes, she made mistakes but anyone in her position would have made the same ones. I can’t help but root for her and I hope she doesn’t lose herself.

Violetta, Adelina’s sister was perhaps the only truly decent character in the entire book. She was partly responsible for the misery Adelina suffered at the hands of her father, but she genuinely cared for her. She cared for Adelina ‘with no strings attached’. It was the only healthy relationship Adelina had.

Enzo was the leader of the Daggers and also the crown prince of Kennetra, though his elder sister disowned him for being malfetto. He was difficult to figure out because we never saw things from his point of view. He was hard, cold, calculating but he could also be kind and vulnerable, something he wasn’t used to. There was a beginning of a relationship between him and Adelina and I think it was very important for her; it grounded her and made her believe that she was worthy of being loved. Something she had been denied her entire life.

I initially really liked Raffaele, he seemed to care about Adelina long before Enzo or anyone else showed Adelina any semblance of kindness. It seemed like he and Adelina were friends and that he trusted her. Of the entire lot, Adelina trusted him most, even more than Enzo. So it was very disheartening to learn that he never trusted her, which made his entire behaviour towards Adelina suspect. Was any of it real, did he ever really care for her? That was especially sad, when Adelina realised just how far his deceptions ran.

The rest of the Daggers were all right, I suppose. I liked Gemma, she seemed genuinely nice and not given to deception. Lucent and Michel were also fine, but Dante was little better than a bully. Teren, head inquisitor was a very devious villain. Add to that, he was also very powerful and very hard to kill (or even injure for that matter)

I am curious to see how the events will tie in with each other. Too bad that there are two more books to go and the release of book 2 will be in October this year. And I’d like to see Adelina in control of her powers and her destiny and not lose herself to the darkness within her. The Young Elites was a surprisingly good and entertaining read and I loved every minute of it.

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Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation Review

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I’ve seen Mission Impossible 5 twice now and it was as enjoyable now as it was when I first saw it. This film is a great addition to the blockbuster franchise and a very welcome watch.

With Rogue Nation, we see Ethan Hunt go back to being a hunted man hot on the trail of a shadow organisation that only he seems to believe exists. He has been declared a rogue agent and is on the run from both the CIA as well the Syndicate, the rogue organisation he is hunting. So far, they have always managed to stay one step ahead of him and it doesn’t help that they know who he is while he is still operating in the dark. To make matter worse, the CIA has shut down IMF leaving Hunt quite literally on his own. His only ally is Benji and Ilsa Faust an ex-MI-6 agent who may or may not be working for the Syndicate.

Rogue Nation has amazing stunts and what lends even more gravity and thrill to these stunts is the fact that Tom Cruise actually did a lot of them including the airplane sequence, which was absolutely thrilling. Great stunts have become a hallmark of the franchise and in that regard Rogue Nation doesn’t disappoint in the least. Another notable mention is the bike chase sequence, which was also beautifully done and really put the audience in the middle of the chase. But unlike the Fast and Furious films where increasingly it is becoming more about the stunts and less about the plot, here the action set-pieces don’t distract from the main plot and characters, rather they showcase the skill of the characters and raise the stakes of the overall plot.

Christopher McQuarrie was the scriptwriter on Ghost Protocol and co-wrote and directed Rogue Nation. Rogue Nation certainly benefited from having him direct because he streamlined the franchise and brought it back to what it was originally, a high-stakes spy/action thriller. He started doing that with MI4 and Rogue Nation is better for it. He also did a great job balancing the action set pieces with the plot and character development.

What would the Mission Impossible films be without Tom Cruise? At this point, the franchise is synonymous with his name. He is very much the driving force of the franchise and also the reason why people still flock to see these films. He is still convincing as the super secret agent Ethan Hunt.

Returning cast members include Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner. Simon Pegg has a larger role this time around and it does the film good. His performance and comic timing keep the tone of the film from getting too serious. Rhames and Renner, however, spent the majority of the film on the side-lines. Alec Baldwin, the CIA chief is also a welcome addition to the ensemble.

The real star of the film however, is Rebecca Ferguson, the ex-MI-6 agent who helps Ethan learn the truth about the Syndicate. She is a bit of an ambiguous character since for a large part of the film, you aren’t entirely sure who’s side she’s on but despite all that (or perhaps because of it) she is very intriguing. Add to that, she is just as capable as Ethan Hunt and even manages to outsmart him a time or two. It is very rewarding to see a strong woman who remains undiminished throughout an entire film, especially in a film that has typically been very much a boy’s club. Her fight scenes were beautifully choreographed and utterly convincing. Plus there was something very gratifying to see one woman get the better of so many men around her, all of whom make the grave mistake of underestimating her. Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust is every bit as capable as Ethan Hunt and she is absolutely amazing. What I also liked about her was that they didn’t make her masculine or sexualise her in any way. Sure, Ferguson is attractive but that was never the focus. Not to mention that she, noticeably, did not wear high heels during combat which was also a breath of fresh air.

One of the best things about Rogue Nation was the absence of a love story. All of the previous films (except maybe the first) were bogged down by love story angles and it became worse when Ethan got married. Those were complications, which were simply not needed. They sidelined that plot in the previous film and it was completely absent in this film, which was very refreshing.

Rogue Nation is a lot of fun with an engaging plot and characters that you’ll root for. On a side note, can we please have Rebecca Ferguson return to the franchise as a regular, that would be great…

The Fixer (Fixer #01) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes Review

fixerThoroughly enjoyed this one! Loved it and I was hooked from the get-go. I’ve had two awful books back to back and this one was a relief to come across.

The Fixer is about Theresa “Tess” Kendrick. Her parents died when she was really young and her elder sister moved to Washington DC to work, so she lived with her grandfather on their ranch. When her grandfather’s Alzheimer starts to get worse, the school contacts her sister. Her grandfather is soon sent to a nursing home so he can get the care he needs while Tess has to go live with her sister, Ivy; the sister she’s had no contact with for the past few years, to say their relationship is strained would be an understatement.

When Tess starts going to a new school, she soon realises that her sister is someone important in the political circles and someone with a fair amount of power. She is what people call a Fixer, someone who does all the wheeling an dealing behind the scenes, someone who makes things happen.

Tess soon finds herself becoming something of a celebrity when she comes to the aid of Anna, the Vice-President’s daughter. Word soon travel the entire school that Tess, like her sister, is a Fixer and soon people are lining up to ask for her help.

Tess however, finds herself with a real mystery on her hands when one of her friends comes to her with a very serious suspicion. Since the friend asks her to keep it to herself till they can find evidence, Tess tries to investigate it on her own (with a little help from another friend) They soon realize though, that they have a very serious conspiracy on their hands and therefore they need to tell someone about what they’ve uncovered so far. They inform Ivy, who is far from thrilled when she learns what Tess has been up to. Things, soon take a turn for the worse when more people wind up dead, people who were involved in the conspiracy.

The Fixer was a lot of fun and it was a very quick read, both because it isn’t very long to begin with and also because the narrative progresses at a very quick pace. I tried to pace myself to make it last longer and for a while I even succeeded but not for long. It is best read in a long binge session. There were enough red herrings along the way and clever twists, some of which I didn’t even see coming. The best thing about The Fixer was that it always kept you guessing about who was involved, their possible motive and so on.

For the most part, I really liked Tess. She wasn’t concerned about what people thought of her and said exactly what was on her mind. However, very soon, she found herself in the spotlight when she intervened on behalf of a student. She was also very persistent, when she decided to go after something, there wasn’t much that could deter her.

I liked Ivy as well. She was tough as nails and was so good at what she did that most people thought a hundred times before messing with her (and usually decided not to) Though she had been absent for most of Tess’ life, she didn’t make any excuses and took responsibility for her actions. She was intelligent, driven, strong and independent and I loved that about her. You could also see that she truly cared about Tess but didn’t know how to bridge the chasm between them.

I liked Tess’ group of friends, chief among them Vivvie and Asher. Vivvie was genuinely sweet and in the shark-infested waters that Tess navigated, that was exceedingly rare. But she was also willing to stand up for what she thought was the right thing to do, even when it was difficult.

Asher was a lot of fun, he was irreverent and I loved his devil-may-care attitude. He was easy going but very sharp, there wasn’t much that escaped his notice and he was a good ally. I especially liked his interactions with Emilia, his sister. I do hope we see more of her.

Henry was the typical strong and silent type, actually he fits into that category so well, he may well be a stereotype. He was very suspicious of Ivy, blaming her for something that happened in the past and extended the same treatment to Tess even when he knew absolutely nothing about her. He does eventually warm up to her though.

Bodie and Adam were the two people that Ivy relied upon and they soon became very protective of Tess as well. It was clear that before Tess moved in with Ivy, these two men were her family, they were close and protective of each other.

What I loved most about this book was the absence of any kind romance. I kid you not, there was no romance here and it was so refreshing. Besides there was so much going on that a romantic subplot just didn’t fit, there was no time for it.

I quite like Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ writing. She crafts great characters and imbues them with depth. I loved the little bits of Tess’ interactions with Ivy that she remembered. Those were very insightful and showed that Ivy did indeed care for and love her. I am now eagerly awaiting the release of book 2 and will continue to hope that there is no love-triangle and that Henry is not the love-interest (because then he would fit that stereotype to a T) at least not unless he goes through a major attitude change.

Penny Dreadful Season 2 Characters

Rory Kinnear as the creature, Danny Sapani as Sembeme, Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm, Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Josh Hartnett as Ethan Chandler, Helen McCrory as Evelyn Poole and Harry Treadaway as Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful (Season 2)  - Photo: Jim Fiscus/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_blood-snow-pr-v10

Madam Kali/Evelyn Poole – You would admire her even as she slit your throat. McRory plays her with such devilish charm and panache that one can’t help but be drawn in. She has the most delicious dialogues and she delivers them with absolute glee, truly having fun with her character. Perhaps it is true, it is the dark characters that are truly fun to play.

Vanessa Ives – Vanessa was a shadow of her former self, at least for the first few episodes. She was out of her depth and didn’t know who or what was hunting her, she therefore didn’t quite know how to protect herself. But she outdoes herself in the last few episodes, leading up to the finale. One thing is certain, she is a fighter and doesn’t back down from a challenge. At the end of the season, she finally starts coming to terms with her true nature, no longer fighting it. Not that she embarks on a path of darkness, far from it, but embracing who she is makes her better able to fight those who would attack her. Eva Green was astounding as always and I still can’t understand why she was snubbed by the Emmys. But no matter, she remains very much the heart of the show. She can display happiness and charm one moment and menace the next. Hers and Helen McRory’s were the stand-out performances this season, truly versatile.

Sir Malcolm Murray – He was a bit of a lost boat this season. No longer looking for his daughter left him feeling a little aimless. His dalliance with Evelyn Poole spelled doom from the start. He was a pawn in her vast scheme to get hold of Vanessa Ives. When he finally does come to his senses, he acts irrationally and lands up in her clutches, becoming her hostage. But we also saw a happier side of Malcolm (true, at the time he was under Poole’s influence) and while I prefer the angrier and bearded side of him, it was still a pleasant change.Timothy Dalton exudes strength with a dash of recklessness which is very attractive.

Ethan Chandler – We a saw a little bit more of him this time around and certainly his growing bond with Vanessa. But he is also a hunted man, by the men working for his father and the police who seem to be close to uncovering his secret. Although, how does one prosecute someone for being a werewolf remains to be seen. We know very little about his past and I would like to learn more about him: where he comes from, why is his father after him, how did he get cursed, etc? Josh Hartnett plays Ethan very well, equal parts gently, protective and tender while also someone with a very dark past, one that he can’t allow even Vanessa to see. Except that he sacrifices himself in the hopes of assuaging his guilt only to land up in greater trouble and one that he had not bargained for, so in that regard he acted a little foolishly. Also, he continued to shut Vanessa out when he knew that she could probably help him and even snubs her a time or two which was uncalled for.

Dr. Victor Frankenstein – At the end, he was perhaps the worst off of the entire lot. His creations had turned on him and were bent on destroying him. Even before that, he fell in love with Lilly who didn’t love him, not truly. He was simply there when she needed someone and he helped her, taught her things she needed to know to survive and navigate in the outside world. He set out to push the boundaries of science and ended up creating something far worse than he could have imagined. In some ways he was also more sympathetic. He too was protective of Vanessa and they seemed to have formed a brother-sister bond. He didn’t expect anything from her and vice-versa, it was nice change from all the romantic entanglements.

Sembene – The most underused character on the entire show. We know next to nothing about him or his past, save for the fact that either he saved Malcolm’s life, or Malcolm saved his and now serves him as his manservant. And what a sad and unfortunate way to go, just as were beginning to see more of him. I hope he returns next season, maybe when he lands in his homeland, he will come back to life, much like Sir Allan Quatermain from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I sincerely hope that happens. Sembene had so much potential as a character and we hardly scratched the surface where he was concerned. Danny Sapani was genuinely good and I wish that he had had the chance to truly stretch his acting muscles.

Dorian Grey – So for all those who looked at him and dismissed him as dandy, prepare to be proven wrong. This season we got a look at just rotten he is under that beautiful façade. John Logan has stated that his version of Dorian Grey is different from the books, and so far we didn’t know what those differences were, now though, they seem to be coming to the fore. He isn’t a nice man who is simply lonely and misunderstood; he is someone who can be deeply malicious and always looking for the next thrill. He had that momentarily with Angelique but she paled in front of Lily and so was promptly discarded. I don’t know how his world-domination scheme with Lily is going to play out but I suppose we’ll see.

Other characters – John Clare (the creature) was back and still reciting poetry and being philosophical. He was perhaps the safest character to be around, with all the witches and devil’s minions running around. He was also kind (unless you are Victor Frankenstein, in which case, it was best to keep your distance) Perhaps once character that I felt very protective of.

Then there was Lily, creature no. 3 who was a real gem. She started out innocent and childlike and one felt protective of her. But she quickly shed that cloak and revealed her true nature, she would not be owned, nor would she allow anyone to use her as they did in her previous life. No more, now she will control her own destiny. Her speech to John Clare was exceptional and one could get behind her ideology (emancipation of women though if’s a little extreme) but her methods are far too grisly. She has no moral compass and everyone is fair game. Billie Piper was excellent in portraying both sides of her character, Lily’s innocence and her darkness.

Hecate Poole was a bit of an understudy for most of this season. Just as capable and twisted as her mother, she was a truly dangerous adversary: beautiful and lethal. There was some tension between the mother and daughter especially as the daughter wanted to spread her wings and come into her own, something she couldn’t do with her mother still alive. Logan has stated that we do see her in season 3, he just won’t say in what capacity so we’ll have wait and see, though I feel she’ll probably have something to do with Ethan (considering her fascination for him)

Ferdinand Lyle was arguably the most charming character on the show and perhaps the most decent. Even as he was playing double agent, he was trying to aid Vanessa and Malcolm. And his interactions with Ethan were very amusing. So glad he escaped unscathed and I fervently hope he stays that way.

The Putneys always seemed seedy. There was always something not quite right about them and it was no surprise when their truth was revealed. In the end, they got exactly what they deserved. Only, their daughter’s involvement surprised me, I didn’t see that coming. Still it was a fitting end to the Putneys.

Part of the reason why Penny Dreadful is as engaging as it is, is because of the characters and their depth. There are so many layers and so many shades of grey. They are none of them perfect, all flawed in some way (whether real or perceived) and I can’t wait to see what season 3 will bring.

Honourable Mention – Patti LuPone as Joan Clayton, Cut-Wife of Ballentree Moor was exceptional and easily one of the memorable characters this season.

Penny Dreadful Season 2 Review

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Season 2 of Penny Dreadful was a bit of a mixed bag (in a good way) much like last season. The previous season lay all the groundwork, introduced us to the principle characters and gave a brief insight into their backgrounds (granted most of it was about Vanessa Ives) She was being hunted by vampires for their master while at the same time she was fighting for her soul because the devil, Lucifer, pursued her as well. This season, the plot thickened. Last season Dracula tried to change her into his bride while Lucifer tried to get her soul. Having failed at that, this season he brought his witches into play, luring her into their trap.

This season upped the game in more ways than one. The stakes were certainly higher with the hunters becoming the hunted. We saw Vanessa truly shaken by her first encounter with the witches and scared in a way that we hadn’t seen before. Last season, they knew what they were hunting and had to protect themselves against, this time; they were working blind and had no idea just how formidable their new opponents were.

Compared to the witches, the vampires from last season were like child’s play. The witches, led by Evelyn Poole, were a very dangerous lot and they knew exactly what they were doing. They had an objective and they had a plan to achieve that. Also, failure to deliver had a very steep cost, so they had strong motivation. They knew what steps our heroes were taking and were quick to counter them. They quickly (and remarkably easily) neutralised Malcolm while Frankenstein had a new-born Lily to deal with and Ethan had his werewolf curse.

One subplot this season was that of Frankenstein, Lily and John Clare. Victor created Lily in the hopes of getting John Clare away from him but fell in love with her, which was a recipe for disaster. Then there was Dorian Grey and his new lover Angelique, our first transgender character on the show. It was difficult to tell whether he really cared for her or whether she was just the new exciting thing in his life.

Like the previous season, this season too had its fair share of the slow moments, with characters just speaking to each other and instances that didn’t have anything to do with the wider plot. Those quiet moments acted as a respite both for the viewer and the characters what with all the gloom and doom they were usually surrounded by. I especially loved the conversations between Vanessa and John Clare, those were nice moments. Another example was the episode where Vanessa and Ethan go to the cut-wife’s cottage, that entire episode had just the two of them and no connection to the greater plot. These are not things that you would find in most TV shows since they serve no overt purpose but are welcome nonetheless.

Season 2 felt more rounded especially since we now know something about these characters and can explore them in greater depth. Have them interact and see them in a new and different light. The new characters added to the fray were all welcome additions especially Patti LuPone as Joan Clayton. She was absolutely brilliant as the Cut-Wife of Ballentree Moor. One of the most memorable characters this season. The others were Evelyn Poole and her daughter Hecate (I’m still not certain who was more devious)

Special mention – The beginning of episode 9 was especially brilliant. It was intense, electric and so dynamic. The close quarters and confined space gave it a sense of urgency. Probably one of the best sequences in the show this season.

One sour note – When Ethan tells Vanessa that she’d make a great ‘wifey’ to someone one day felt entirely out of place. It felt contrived and we could have done without it (or at least without the wifey bit)