Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In Which I Review Under the Dome (1x6)

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. 

 Invariably, at some point in time, a show in which survival and being cut off from the outside or rest of the world informs the core tenants of the show, that show must tackle scarcity of resources. The first arc of Under the Dome has ended and the so-called "Fear" arc now begins, and it begins by playing on a very basic fear: running out of something we all take for granted. Food, propane, supplies, and water are all running low in Chester's Mill and finally some real honest to God panic starts to set in. It was about time. Even during the meningitis fear a few episodes back (I still question the validity of that plot line) no one was panicy. There were no fist fights or neighbor's turning against neighbors. This week, the mob broke out and people realized that if a bomb sent by the United States government couldn't destroy the Dome, very little could.

Scarcity comes into play almost straight away as Alice informs her family that her insulin has run out (indeed, there is no more in the clinic either). A near miss hit by a truck (was I the only one who wanted that truck to hit her?) causes the main water tower of Chester's Mill to loose its holy supply of water. That's bad news part one tonight, folks. Part two? The water drawn into the tower from the nearby lake has been poisoned somehow with methane and the water is thus undrinkable. It literally can be set on fire. It has also killed a bunch of fish, but apparently we are not that concerned with that. When news of the polluted water breaks, the town beings to pillage and plunder; trash cans get thrown into stores, people stuff bottles of water into bookbags and and claw their neighbor's face to get that last precious item. Try as they might, Linda and Barbie are completely ineffective against a town gone mad.

Big Jim tires to come up with a solution. Some old codger (Ollie? Alie? Aolie? Man with funky teeth?) has a very nice well located on his property but unfortunately he is a royal pain and refuses to help out Big Jim and the town unless he gets something in return: he wants Jim's supply of propane. All of it. Weekly deliveries or else he no water for the town. The look on Jim's face was of a man who was watching control--all important power and control--slip away. The next few episodes, I expect to see Jim either become draconian or lose power and control all together. I'm not sure which of those situations is worse. However, unable to control Aolie bad teeth man, Big Jim does strike an interesting bargain with Angie: food, water, money, batteries, ect in return for silence. Angie seems to be leaning toward agreeing but has also realized that she has power over Jim. Angie could destroy his entire career and reputation with just a few words. I hope she holds out for a bit longer; Junior and Jim deserve it.

While the residents of Chester's Mill continue to act totally uncivilized, we are treated to some of Barbie's obvious military techniques. Is anyone else worried that Barbie may have deep seeded anger issues? He nearly smothered one guy and another he smashed up pretty badly. However, Barbie does seems to recognize that he often looses control because he refused a badge (which could give him free license to do what he wanted) and refused a gun because of how it would look to the town. Barbie does find some solace for whatever dark and dreadful sin (besides killing Peter of course) lays on his soul by...making out with Julia. I hereby dub thee, Barlie! Romantic kissing in the rain (miracle rain at that) aside, this hookup was so obvious that I just sort of rolled my eyes and went, "good. They got that over with."

Our other couple--Jorrie--also finds hope in the miracle rain. Dodee and Julia discovered early on this episode that something was jamming all the signals in Chester's Mill. Radio and walkie talkie's suddenly stopped functioning. Dodee constructed some sort of machine that was able to track the jamming signal. Except the signal kept moving. Weird, right? So what was jamming all the radio transmissions in Chester's Mill: why the love struck teenage wonder couple of Jorrie, of course! While I found this explanation to be slightly cringe worthy, I am super happy that finally someone noticed that those two are connected to this Dome in some highly unusual way. Standing in the rain, the two of them touched the Dome together and like magic the jamming stopped. Julia thinks the Dome is using them, but how? And why? It's looking more and more like the Dome is an experiment to see how far you can test a human being before they crack completely but also will keep them alive. The Dome has its own evaporation and condensation system; in other words, they'll never really run out of water which in turn means never running out of food. The Dome is impervious to bombs and other really harmful substances to prevent anything from harming the residents, except each other.

Miscellaneous Notes from The Endless Thirst 

--I know Jorrie had the right intention but stealing insulin isn't going to help in the long run. And from a moral standpoint, it's rather...gray. And maybe that's something to keep an eye on going forward: how do people's morals compare NOW and in the FUTURE than they did back during the Fire episode, where everyone pitched in to save a house. However, at least Joey wasn't forced to give some scientific explanation of everything to date. That was left up to Dodee, who is far more awesome.

--Miracle rain. Convienent plot device is convienent. Or was it timed? Did whoever put up the Dome know when it would rain in Chester's Mill next? Was this all part of the experiment?

--Creepy Rev's body was found but everyone assumes his hearing aid exploded on accident when he touched the Dome. No one, of course, suspects friendly councilman Jim Rennie.

--RIP Rose of the Diner. Or as I know you, Kate's Mom from LOST/ Sabrina's Normal Aunt.

--Six episodes in. Time for another shocking death. Predictions? Alice (insulin running out), Phil (because he has become useless, Dodee is clearly superior), Joey (because I am hopeful).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Which I Review Under the Dome (1x5)

Butterflies, buses, and bombs!

On this weeks episode of Under the Dome, "Blue on Blue," the residents of Chester's Mill received three surprise visits; each of these visits gradually demonstrated the fear not only inside the Dome but on the outside as it becomes apparent that even those living in the world have no idea what is going on.

The first visit to the Dome came in the form of butterflies. Monarch butterflies, as we learned from our wunderkind Joey, are not supposed to be in Chester's Mill this time of the year. It's just not natural. Neither are you Joey, neither are you. And yet there they are, hundreds of colorful butterflies. The effect of it was both beautiful and befuddling. Why are these butterflies just hanging out on the Dome? The very cool CGI of the butterflies flying off the Dome was also pretty spectacular. We learn later, from mechanical and engineering student Dodee, that the magnetic field is messed up because of the dome, thus confusing the poor butterflies. Naturally this causes alarm on the outside; planes could crash and China thinks it's a super weapon. And not only does China think it's a super weapon but the President had to reassure them that the United States has no idea where it came from. Someone is lying, folks.

Speaking of lying, Big Jim kept Angie in the bunker over night and "has to think" about what Angie told him concerning Junior. Jim can't believe his son would do this, despite all the signs that Junior is not a normal human being. When he finally does let Angie go, it's only as the mother of all bombs (literally) is about to drop on Chester's Mill. She winds up back in her house, where Junior is waiting with a gun. They proceed to cuddle as the world ends. This is totally logical and every girl who has been held captive in a waterlogged subterranean bomb shelter would do exactly the same thing. 

On our other romantic couple front, Joey and Norrie, the former has decided that the pair are human receivers and that the Dome is talking to them. Also, Norrie discovers that she has a father who was not an anonymous sperm donor. I'm not really sure why I'm supposed to care, but Norrie sure was upset. Luckily Joey was there to calm her down. And kiss her. We can't forget the kiss. Why? Because in the twisted teenage logic of Jorrie, that lip lock stopped Chester's Mill from meeting the big man in the sky. Just as the bomb was about to collide with the Dome and destroy everything, the two kissed and lived to see the next day. Because post hoc ergo propter hoc. Granted the effect was rather cool and the apocalyptic landscape outside the dome post-MOAB was really visually stunning. How far does that go? What all was destroyed? Did anything survive?

Liars everywhere. The military brought in the families of the residents of Chester's Mill. At first it's a lovely sight, friends and loved ones "reuniting" through the Dome. And then Barbie figures out what is going on. By flashing a very shiny badge that basically means "I am awesome and you will tell me everything because of my awesomeness" we learn that after the butterflies landed, the army got their orders to pull out after one last goodbye for the trapped residents. Why? Because the government has decided to launch a missile (Mother of All Bombs) at the Dome, destroying it and killing everyone inside. Thank goodness for Joey and Norrie.

And finally, Big Jim. In an effort to save his skin from the Creepy Rev who has decided that Jim must purge himself of his sins and give himself over to God, Jim kills the loony priest at the Dome. He does this calmly and it made me wonder if Big Jim has a history of violence. He kept Angie in the shelter after all. And he has no problem threatening his son. Oh and those sins? Drugs. But they aren't being sold inside the city, so I guess he gets points for that. I will not miss the Creepy Rev but who will find the body? Will they investigate the murder? What will Big Jim do next? His son has been revealed to be a psychopath (now with a gun and a badge!) and whatever hold he had on the city (Creepy Rev did say that Jim metaphorically owned the town before the Dome. It belongs to God now, by the way) is tenuous as people like Barbie and Julia and Linda show their true noble colors.

Miscellaneous Notes on "Blue on Blue"

--Barbie and Julia are back to being best friends and obvious romantic partners. Julia still doesn't know that Barbie accidentally killed her husband, but something tell me that at this point she won't care. We also got more information on Barbie's past as a solider. 

--Dodee and Phil are cute. I ship their best friendship.

-- Angie, run. Don't cuddle the psychopath. Just run.

--So, the Dome is impervious to acid, lasers, angry teenage boys, BOMBS, but not water.

--How much of the outside world is gone??

--What if everything was designed this way? What if whoever put the Dome down knew that this is how events would play out and now they have the residents of Chester's Mill and the outside exactly where they want them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In Which I Review Under the Dome (1x4)

Quote of the Week:
"We should film it. Here, get on the floor."--Joey, socially awkward wunderkind. 

Ok, yes. When Joey says that phrase to Norrie he is referring to video taping their seizures but if ever there was an example of "sentences that should not follow other sentences," that one would certainly be in the top five.  I am willing to overlook the excessively weird line Joey speaks because of what they record. Touching apparently does bring on the seizures (darn, there goes Joey's only chance at getting to "tap that") and Norrie's smart phone records the two not only having seizures but, in a moment of sheer weirdness not seen since the Dome fell, Joey sit up in the middle of the seizure to look point blank into the camera, put his fingers to his lips, and go, "Shhhhh." Explanation from the star-crossed lovers? The Dome doesn't want anyone else to know about the pink stars. Is the Dome sentient? Or is someone, whoever dropped the Dome, listening in to the goings on of Chester's Mill? Is the Dome an experiment to see how people stand up to this kind of pressure? Did "it" or its creators select Norrie and Joey to be special? 

In this week's episode, "Outbreak," the town of Chester's Mill find themselves in an incubator with a rapidly spreading meningitis contagion. First off, how the heck did meningitis get to Chester's Mill? Isn't that normally spread through water? I know it's highly contagious but who on earth got it first? And the Dome only fell three days ago, shouldn't they have been treated by now? And is one course of antibiotics really all you need to cure meningitis? The outbreak affects several of our key players: Linda, newly minted Sheriff; Julia, our plucky young reporter who was determined to be plucky in spite of fainting, having a headache, and risking exposure of said disease to rest of the town (smart one, she is); and Phil, and our Indie DJ. Thank goodness we had not-medically-licensed-but-did-short-intership-in-medicine-and-thus-fully-qualified Alice there to lead the charge! (Cliche #1 of tonight's episode: one person will minimum experience manages to save town).

While Alice was stepping up her game to save the town from infection, Junior and papa Big Jim also managed to win the approval of townsfolk during said crisis. Let's start with Junior. Do you know what is a really good idea? Giving a psychopath a gun. It's an excellent idea. Really top notch. (Cliche #2 of tonight's episode: unexpected villain is given weapon in order to protect people). Junior is entrusted by Jim to keep people from leaving the hospital and thus spreading the disease. By giving Junior a firearm there is an implied "or else!" as he broodily and sexily stares down the anxious people. When some attempt to leave, Junior gives a rousing "I believe in the town and I believe in you speech!" (Cliche #3 of tonight's episode: unexpected villain wins town's admiration). Linda, recovering from her illness, notices Junior's moxy and decides, at the end of the episode, to make Junior some sort of deputy/special law enforcement guy. This is really the best idea I've seen. This totally tops giving him a gun. However, things are hopefully going to take a turn for the worse. Enter Big Jim.

This week Big Jim goes on the hunt for extra drugs that were stolen from the pharmacy. Earlier in the episode, Jim was witness to Creepy Rev's devotion to the Lord where the good Rev preached that the Dome was put down by God and that the town of Chester's Mill was to be a "New Eden." Jim quickly deduces that it was Creepy Rev who stole all the medicine and he's right! Creepy Rev says that only the Lord gets to decide who lives and who dies and thus the medicine is of no use to anyone. Big Jim and Barbie make quick work of the Creepy Rev and deliver the medicine safely to the clinic where it cures everyone (Cliche #4 of tonight's episode: medicine that was fought for manages to save everyone in the nick of time). Later, at Jim's house, the Rev informs him that he is done with Jim's "dirty business" and drops off a bag full of cash. So whatever they are doing, or selling, brings in a ton of money. It's meth, guys. It's gotta be meth. Oh, one more thing. Guess what Jim found in his backyard? All along I've been predicting that it would be Joey and Barbie who found Angie; but to my annoyance Joey only now realizes that he hasn't seen his sister in three days and once assured  by Junior (irony alert) that he saw her a few hours ago, Angie is no longer on his mind (I blame Norrie and her excessive eye makeup).
But Jim DOES find Angie! After trying to escape and accidentally breaking the water pipeline, Angie sits cowering in fear in the shelter, waiting for death.The episode ended with Jim and Angie staring at each other. What will Jim do? Part of me expected him to slam the door in Angie's face and let her die. The other half of me knows that Junior is in for the spanking of a lifetime. Oh boy. Papa isn't going to be happy that his supposedly pristine reputation--and now the burgeoning reputation of his son--is on the line because Junior is a wack-a-doodle. I wonder if Jim will talk Angie into forgetting everything that has happened to her; maybe pay her off with that nice bag of money Creepy Rev gave to him?

On another front, Barbie finally comes clean to Julia. Or at least partway. Turns out our pretty boy ex-military man was an enforcer for a bookie and Julia's husband, Peter, had quite the gambling issue. Barbie was in Chester's Mill to collect the money owed to his boss when he accidentally killed Peter. However, Julia only gets half the story. She still thinks Peter is alive and has fled Chester's Mill. The friendship/romance of Barbie and Julia is now over, though I doubt for good. Come on, they would make beautiful babies! Look at her hair! Three days in a covered Dome in the middle of summer and it's still bouncy and frizz free! On what was Peter gambling, though? Ponies? Cards? Whether or not a giant Dome would drop on his hometown? Also, will Julia tell everyone who Barbie is? We're sure to find out more about Peter's problems; after all, Julia hallucinated her dead husband when she passed out from the meningitis (Cliche #5 on tonight's episode: sick main character dreams up loved one who proceeds to only give cryptic information instead of concrete facts).

Miscelleanous Notes from "Outbreak"

--Linda with her hair down! Que Linda! 

--I really hope Jim just kills Junior and buries him in the backyard.

--Cliche #6 of tonight's episode: random one-time only character dies after heroically sacrificing herself for a person she really believed in even when that person didn't believe in themselves. RIP, Mrs. Linda's 3rd Grade Teacher. We hardly knew ye.

--With Creepy Rev's faith "resorted" will he out Big Jim and their dealings in order to make peace with God?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In Which I Review Under The Dome (1x3)

This week's Under the Dome, "The Manhunt" had very little in the way of advancing the plot, so expect this review/recap to be short and sweet. It was mostly a continuation from the previous weeks episode; the fallout of the fire and sudden insanity of the cop Paul, who took it upon himself to try and evade the law, took center stage this week as the residents of Chester's Mill continue trying to survive in their upside down fishbowl.

The most obvious new information we received this week centers on our resident psycho and his controlling father. Was anyone else not shocked at all that Junior--who does not like being called Junior but prefers James--has daddy issues? Turns out papa Big Jim will not be the recipient of any "Father of the Year" awards, though I would argue that he is like a lot of small town fathers all across America. Big Jim's character reminds me a bit of Tom Buchanan from The Great Gatsby; during the readers first meeting of Tom, Nick Caraway describes him as "one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax." Big Jim was the quarterback in high school and has obviously spent the years since trying to maintain that level of excellence and ego. But, Jim lives in a small town where opportunities for the kind of success and validation he so craves are limited. Think about it: how did the star football star end up? He sells used cars for a living, has lost his hair, and has a semi-noticeable beer gut. Jim maintains his fantasized level of importance by being a councilman, even supposing that he needs to bribe the townsfolk to vote for him, even though he runs unopposed. This subconscious sense of failure has manifested in two ways: becoming what I think is drug king pin and a really horrible father. We got confirmation that whatever Big Jim and the Creepy Rev (yes, his name is Lester but I think I'll keep calling him Creepy Rev as he perfectly fits the "evil religion" type) are doing, it has something to do with drugs. Creepy Rev apparently even dips into the supply on occasion. We still do not what type of drugs, but I don't think the casting of Dean Norris was accidental. Talk about meta! On the other front, Big Jim has taken all his memories of past success and past greatness and forced them onto his son, whom he both belittles for not being man enough and also constantly reinforces that Junior is a "kid" and therefore "less than." In their first father/son confrontation, Big Jim sees that Junior has been in a physical altercation and all but says "man up" or "be a man!" While that is the subtext, the text has Jim chiding his son for hiding behind his mothers skirts, even after her death, and reminding Junior that the Dome "is an opportunity" and Junior needs to take advantage of that. Apparently, Junior has failed in the past when such opportunities presented themselves: like being on the football team. In the final Big Jim and Junior scene, Jim slowly pours his son a glass of milk (a symbol of childhood if ever there was one) and acts like the big man on campus. Junior, in an act of defiance, pours the milk down the drain once Jim leaves the room. So what does this mean? Well, it was designed to help us understand Junior more--I have very little sympathy for him, or anybody who locks their girlfriend in a bomb shelter. Junior obviously has abandonment issues to the point where he literally holds the one fleeing from him hostage but this all goes back to his mother's death and his cold relationship with his father. Junior also feels like he has to play "the man"--hence his outward hatred of Barbie and their fighting. Last week I thought Junior might be dipping into the drugs in town, but now I think he is just a troubled kid who needs years of therapy. Will Angie escape? She took those first aid scissors without Junior noticing. And seriously, why hasn't anyone noticed that she is missing? Even her brother Joey made mention that he had the house to himself--but it doesn't dawn on him that Angie hasn't been home yet? Or that he hasn't even seen her?

Speaking of Joey, his house has turned into electricity party central--without his say so. At the center of Joey's story this week is habitual liar Norrie. I don't think she told one single truth this episode--from her moms to where she was headed when the Dome fell. She obviously plays things close to the vest, but why was she on her way to "camp" really? She has the whole punk-rock anti establishment thing down pact, but she also knew what the Sherman Anti-Trust act was. I was a history major and even I had no idea what it was at first! She has the smarts but is rebelling--remember last week when she was seen stealing candy bars? Is she conflicted over her lesbian moms? She was living in LA, not a city known for its anti-homosexual agenda, yet she does not call Carolyn her mother, but refers to her by her first name. The big moment for Joey and Norrie (Jorrie? Noey?) came when they held hands and then both started seizing, mumbling "the pink stars are falling." Pink stars? While I doubt it refers to actual pink stars, maybe it ties back into the drug enterprise Jim has set up. I wonder if his brand of drug is pink.

Also this week, Big Jim found himself on a manhunt for escaped cop killer Paul. He "recruits" Barbie into helping him. Big Jim seemed to be able to read Barbie and his background almost as if he knew more about Barbie than the audience does. Jim could tell Barbie was ex-military and had been to war and that he had some sort of expertise. Yes, he said most of this after Barbie successfully tracked down Paul, but he picked up on Barbie's talents back in the diner. Does Jim know things about Barbie somehow? Is it possible that the boss Barbie is working for and killed Peter for is really Big Jim? Barbie, of course, continues to be the mystery man and tries to downplay Julia's rising suspicions of her new house guest. But, our plucky young reporter is too plucky! This week she helps Junior out of the underground with only a box of matches (where did she get them???) and her sage advice on growing up and being afraid. She then turns that pluck and moxy on Barbie and goes through his things finding a map with a spot marked. Is that where he buried Peter?

Miscellaneous notes from The Manhunt

--Linda is the new Sheriff. I am shocked. (not)

--Good to know that even after a giant Dome drops on your town, bigotry is still alive and kicking. (ugh)

--Julia doesn't "do caution." Next episode will find her with a shovel and that map, digging up Barbie's secrets. Cue the drama!

--Junior beat the Dome with his fists and it only hurt him. So water can seep through, but it's immune to lasers, acid, and angry teenage boys.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In Which I Review Still More Books

Confession: I recently finished a new series and felt very strongly that I needed to review it. Couple that with my lack of book reviews as of late, and I figured I could churn out one of these. Sometimes stand-alones are better than series; resolution is one of the most important aspects of a series. I am not one of those people who expects everything to be wrapped up nicely in a neat little package and topped with a bow. In life you never get all your questions answered, so why should literature be any different? However, I do expect a certain amount of resolution. You have to complete at least one arc, one narrative, in order for me to consider it "finished." The books I review below--two stand-alones and two series--either failed miserably at resolution or managed to finish their characters arc and stroy. 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Death narrates this book. I'm going to repeat that: DEATH narrates this book. Let that sink in for a moment. When was the last time you read something where Death is given a voice? And, more to the point, where Death wasn't the cliche, robed, scythe wielding bad guy? In this novel, Death is sympathetic, humorous, and hates his job. He cares for the souls he carries and desperately wants a vacation. Sadly, the narrative takes places on the eve of and the beginnings of World War Two, so his vacation is probably a long way off; and even then, there is no one to replace him so his vacation will never come. Death is reflecting back to those years and the three times he encountered a little girl named Liesel. Death also has in his possession a copy of the book Liesel herself wrote about her life and is thus able to tell her full life story, even if he was not present at all of it. We begin when Liesel is a very young girl and, while on a train with her mother and brother, witnesses the death of her sibling. This is the first meeting of Liesel and Death; the funeral for her brother is very short and unattended and, so haunted by her brother's death, Liesel steals a book dropped in the snow by the gravedigger. She is uneducated and cannot read but holds onto the book at a final memento of her brother. Her mother is giving her child up to foster parents in order to distance them from their parents strong communist sympathies. Liesel comes to the Hubermann house, in the care of Rosa and Hans, where she will live out her childhood. When her foster father, who quickly becomes more of a father to her than her biological one, discovers Liesel's secret book, he offers to help her learn to read and write. Thus in secret, every night, they struggle through the book together. Liesel comes to love words and their power and soon desires more books to read. From many twists and turns, Liesel continues to read while all around her the world falls to pieces. This is perhaps best exemplified by the arrival of Max, a Jew who asks for Hans' help in hiding from the Nazi party. The Hubermann's hide Max in their basement; he and Liesel strike up a friendship, both relishing the power of words and literature. There are a lot of different threads in this book; at times it's a coming of age story with typical childish antics like stealing (though always under the guise of necessity in war time); at times it's a moral tale of doing what is right even when you could get into trouble (Hans Hubermann does not agree with the Nazi Party, for example). In the middle of the book it becomes a story-within-a-story as Max writes a book for Liesel that is a fable of the Nazi's rise to power and the importance of words. But through it all, it is haunting. Because the reader, more or less, knows the history of this era, you're constantly on edge, waiting for all hell to break loose. Death's perspective and sometimes interjection into the narrative is jarring--especially as he recounts what his work was like during the war, how busy he was kept. Unlike in other narratives where Death seems to relish his work and is a good friend of War, the Death of this book is "haunted by humans" and does not understand why this is his job. There are some scenes that break your heart, like the day you are reminded how despicable human beings can be as Liesel witnesses the march of the Jews to a concentration camp. It's a very sad book, but there is hope woven within. Little Liesel loves Max and protects him, despite living in a society that reinforces the otherness of the Jew. Liesel's relationship with books is very familiar to anybody who has an equally voracious appetite for the written word. I wish there had been a bit more of Liesel's life into adulthood, but that has more to do with my fondness for the character than any flaw in Zusak's writing, which is complex and intricate and very interesting.
Overall rating: A

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
What happens when you die? This is one of those questions that has been asked--and will be asked--by countless individuals for as long as death has been happening. Religion, science, and philosophy have all entered into the conversation, and now Lauren Oliver offers up her own take on the question. The opening of the novel finds our main character Samantha Kingston dead on the side of the road--victim of a drunk driving accident in which her best friend, Lindsay, was driving. Sam is part of a four girl group of seniors who essentially run their tiny school. We all went to high school with girls like these. They are the "Mean Girls"--popular, pretty, and able to get away with just about anything because they are popular. They go to parties, wear the latest clothes, and torment those less fortunate than themselves, in particular Juliet Skyes whom they label as Psycho. In high school, you were either were one of these mean girls or you were on the receiving end of their taunts (I was the latter). One of the strong points of this novel is how Oliver is able to create a believable high school setting. I could have easily switched out the names of the four popular girls with names from my own high school and it would have been the same situation. The novel is broken into 7 chapters, which correspond to the seven chances Sam has to relive the day of her death. The opening chapter is "what really happened" on that day for the first time. Sam, Lindsey, Elody, and Ally go to a party on February 12th where they drink and dance and have what is, for them, a typical Friday. The only untypical thing that occurs is confrontation with Juliet who shows up at the party to tell the four girls how terrible they are before storming off. That night, Lindsay drives them home, drunk but insisting that she's fine, when disaster hits and the car flips and crashes, killing Sam. The next thing Sam knows, she is waking up in her bed on February 12th, apparently getting a second chance at the day of her death. It's a lot like the movie Groundhog Day. Sam tries her hardest to first prevent her death--by avoiding the party, by insisting that the four girls stay in that night--and then, even when she manages to avoid death, but still wakes up on February 12th after a "safe" night, how to escape her time loop. Along the way, several revelations about the characters are given: Lindsay may be the Queen Bee of the school (a Regina George if ever there was one) but she is also incredibly insecure and frightened; the torment the four girls inflict upon Juliet has caused heavy emotional damage, the lonely girl contemplating suicide the night of the party. The character development in this book is pretty astonishing, even if it resets for some characters when the day starts over. Character development is often seen as a straight line, up or down. But that's not how it works in real life, people stumble and falter. Sam wakes up on the 12th during one cycle and is bitter, hostile, and mean. She decides she doesn't care about who she hurts or what happens to her this time around, but this is right after she has a relatively good cycle in which she manages to prevent her own death. The ending is not surprising as the major theme of the book is self sacrifice coupled with living your life to the fullest with no regrets. The one issue that I did come up against was that because it is essentially the same day over and over, many parts get repeated and can drag on after awhile, even though Oliver does her best to put Sam in different situations each cycle.
Overall Rating: A-

 The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld
We are an image driven culture. We uphold certain figures as "the most beautiful" and idol worthy. This series, another post-apocalyptic dystopian, takes this concept to the far extreme. In the far future, society has decided that if everyone looked the same--looked Pretty--conflict would be all but erased. Because our society already seems like it is headed in this direction, which cosmetic surgery on the rise, the world built in this series reads eerily familiar and recognizable. At the age of 16, young boys and girls are given "the Surge" which is cosmetic surgery in the extreme. Everything about you is changed: your eyes, your skin, your bones, and your brain. You are made to look Pretty and you are made to look like everyone else. From the age of 16 to about 30 you live in New Pretty Town and are expected to do nothing but be pretty and party. Until you are turned Pretty, you are referred to as an Ugly and exist on the fringes of society. This is where we find our main character and protagonist, Tally Youngblood--15 years old and waiting. Tally cannot wait until she is made Pretty. Through a series of events, Tally finds herself sent on a mission before she is allowed to become Pretty to destroy the Smoke, a refuge center for Uglies who wished to stay themselves. As one might expect, while out on this mission, Tally sees the dangers of her own society for herself and joins the cause. What's interesting about this series is that Tally's decision to join the cause isn't cemented once she makes it, in fact it changes. Tally goes back and forth a lot between being Pretty and being an Ugly. The first two books are good, although I find Tally as a character to be overly annoying. The third book was almost impossible for me to get through. Tally as a "special" was hard to read for many reasons, but mainly for the way Tally keeps her mind clear to focus on being "special" which just seemed to violent and horrifying. The ending is not satisfying; I was disappointed in the decisions Tally made.  The world is what makes this series; everything is superficial where being pretty also means being Pretty-minded, robbed of the ability to focus and see things as they truly are. I have not read anything else by Scott Westerfeld, but the writing felt a bit underwhelming. I never truly felt sympathy for any of the characters, even Tally. Her love interest is banal and their story is equally boring. As much as I like sci-fi, there was almost a bit too much in this book: hoverboards, cosmetic surgery that gives you heat vision and tattoos that glow with your moods. Everything in the book--except the characters--was turned up to 100, but it wasn't that effective. The first two books are worth an attempt but the third fell flat.
Overall Rating: C

The Delirium Trilogy  by Lauren Oliver
Warning: this review is going to contain a rant. If I were to pick one example of "how to not end your book series" it would be this unfortunate series. This series started off as incredibly good and promising. The first two books had an interesting world constructed around the idea of  love-as-disease, a believable and relatable main character, an obvious conflict, and great character development in book two. And then it all came crumbling down so hard and so fast that it pretty much negates everything good about the first two books. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Sometime in the future (but not too far because the cities still have their original names and there are still cars) society has decided that love is the root of all evil. People who fall in love are diseased. This is actually pretty understandable; the symptoms of love espoused in the movies--can't eat, can't sleep, can't focus--are real and so much so that there is an entire ban on love in this world; the word love is taboo in fact. For most of the first novel, when referring to love, it is called delirium and the disease itself is amor deliria nervosa. At the age of 18 young men and women are taken in for brain surgery that removes their ability to love strongly. At the center of the story is Lena, 17 years old and counting down the days until she can undergo the surgery. Lena, like Tally in Uglies, cannot wait to become part of her society. This is due in large part to her mother's suicide several years earlier; her mother was unable to be cured and that stigma hangs over Lena in the first book. Lena is automatically a likeable character and I really related to her. She is shy and boys terrify her; she has no desire to talk to one or interact at all with them. She's a good girl who does as she is told. However, as it happens in these books, she meets a boy who changes her mind. This is the first rant I have. While, I applaud Oliver's gender changing of this trope, the love interest Alex is every inch the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. We learn very little about his life and his only ambition seems to be in helping Lena escape the society's mindset that love is a disease. His character is almost totally blank and in the end, like MPDG are wont to do, his purpose to impart some sort of wisdom onto the main character before sacrificing himself. The MPDG is an overly annoying trope that I find I have little time for. However, because the world Oliver created was so interesting, I was willing to overlook it. The second book is split into two perspectives, the "then" (which finds Lena escaping her old life for the life of freedom in the Wilds as an uncured) and the "now" (which finds Lena working with the rebellion and eventually falling in love with Julian). Julian, the new love interest, is a bit more developed than blank Alex but still only serves to bolster Lena's own self awareness. The second book, despite it's rather bizarre structure of then and now, really pushes Lena's character and helps her become self sufficient. It has a pretty impressive cliffhanger which leads directly into the third book. And here is my biggest rant for this series. The third book, Requiem, erases all that character development very quickly. Lena, who had become a bit of a warrior, is reduced to a whining petulant child who's only narrative arc is to vacillate between Julian--the boy she loves but not enough--and Alex--the boy who came back from the dead. It is utterly frustrating. Julian is only around to provide conflict and Alex has become a jealous asshole. Most of the book is spent moving from one location to the next, almost indiscriminately. I'm not sure if there was a "plot" besides "don't get killed." The rebellion wants a war against the loveless society but they take forever to stage one. Most of the novel is Lena's own internal conflict about which boy she loves more. In the last 75 pages or so, the uncureds decide to invade Lena's former hometown of Portland and a battle ensues, though Lena spends most of it looking for Alex who has run off and losing track of Julian! I think when she hit page 390, Lauren Oliver suddenly realized that her book was long enough and she decided that nothing needs to be resolved. And I mean nothing. Parts of this book are given to Lena's former best friend, the now cured Hana and her upcoming wedding, but the book doesn't resolve what happens to Hana. Did she make it out of Portland? Did the bomb planted in her fiancee's house go off? When we last saw her, she was just walking without a purpose. And with regards to the war: the final image is off the rebels tearing down a wall but there no mention if this ends society or even if they win. And the most damaging thing of all: Lena doesn't make a decision between Alex and Julian. I'm not saying that she chooses to be an independent women without a male lead, I'm saying that Oliver doesn't let her choose. Lena has one final conversation with Alex where she says that she loves him but it's complicated because of Julian and then the book ends with a totally cliche and overwrought, breaking of the fourth wall, obvious author imperative to "tear down" our own walls. It's so over done that I was actually rolling my eyes while reading the final pages! I kept flipping back and forth trying to figure out if there were pages missing or if it was really a four part series and there was another book to come. But no. Just three and the third is a hot mess. People often complain, fairy I think, about Mockingjay's final epilogue which was almost too perfect and too "fairy tale" but at least it wrapped up Katniss and Peeta's story. This didn't even do that--we don't even know if Julian is alive! How do you end a series without at least your character ending the romantic triangle? I could go on, there was plenty to be unhappy about but the utter lack of resolution stuck in craw something awful.
Overall Rating: D

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

In Which I Review Under the Dome (1x2)

Theory: Walter White and Jesse Pinkman have packed up their RV and have moved to Maine. Please tell me I wasn't the only one thinking that exact same thing when, while discussing the propane mystery, Big Jim and his cohort, the local Reverend, called it "stuff" and how while Duke was protecting the town, they had other ideas. And with Big Jim being played by Dean Norris (Hank Schrader of Breaking Bad) it would certainly be rather meta of them to tie in a meth storyline. So my current theory about the propane is that Big Jim and the Reverend are a two man operation cooking massive (that's a hell of a lot of propane) amounts of meth for money. Duke looks the other way because the money is fueling Chester Mill's economy and Duke is (was--more on that in a second) first and foremost concerned with protecting the town. All we need is a bald guy with a hat proclaiming that he is the one who knocks, and we've got Breaking Bad lite. 

In Monday's episode of Under the Dome, entitled "The Fire," the residents of Chester's Mill face their first real "how are we going to survive this" situation. What we've learned about the dome so far is that it's impervious to caustic substances and lasers, but as wunderkind Joey discovered, it lets water slowly trickle in. It's also about 10 miles across, encloses all of Chester's Mill and part of a nearby lake, and goes deeply underground, thus no digging your way out. The fire in the title refers not only to an actual fire but to the more metaphorical fire many of our characters face, living incased in a dome like so many goldfish. This episodes tested almost everyone in different ways, some rising to meet the challenges and others showing how deranged they really are (yeah, I'm looking at you, Junior).

First, the show openly shocked me by having Duke, our Sheriff, die. Big rule of Typical TV Trope Land, the lawman who is responsible for watching over the town and whom everyone admires and loves, does NOT die. His morals are tested, his loyalties are questioned, but he always comes out the other side as a bona fide hero, getting credit for making sure the town remained civilized. The dome, apparently, does not like things that run on batteries, including Duke's pacemaker. My first thought when Duke was pronounced dead was, "but Lapidas can't die. He has to fly the plane off the island." Then I remembered that I wasn't watching LOST.

 Duke left this house to his deputy Linda, who really got to shine this episode. One small problem: Duke knows all about the propane and has kept records of the goings on in that house. Big Jim dispatched the incredibly creepy, almost cliche "evil religion" type Reverend to erase all evidence of their dealings, and the Reverend sets the house on fire. Cue the town coming together to prevent a disaster. The scenes of the town forming a water conga line is a gentle reminder that this is a small town where neighbors drop everything and help out anyway they can. Our outside couple, Carolyn and Alice, remark how in Los Angles this kind of generosity would never happen.

While the show was breaking one type of trope, it heavily reinforced another two. Was anyone else not at all surprised that Joey, the skinny, wide eyed brother of Angie, was also mathematically inclined and was the one who figured out that the dome was 10 miles across? By doing trig. Of course he's the resident child genius. Normally, I find TV child genius' annoying because they're often used to solve problems that adults can't, all while being endearing and precious. It's annoying. Joey isn't an exception (I actually rolled by eyes when he began explaining his math to the adult military officer, as if Barbie wouldn't know what was going on) but I am intrigued that Joey is one of two teens having seizures. The other, of course, is Norrie, daughter of Carolyn and Alice. And in reinforcing another trope, Joey was drawn to Norrie when he first saw her (through his camera phone because instead of helping to put out the fire, he is documenting everything. An action everyone will forgive him for because he's the child genius). Norrie is anti-establishment punk rock and Joey is the nerdy goodie two shoes, so of course they're going to embark on some sort of personal quest together. Norrie was also caught stealing from the local gas station. Is she hording candy bars for rations, or is this a clue as to why she was being taken to "camp" by her moms?

Speaking of teen melodrama, while other members of Chester's Mill were proving their mettle, Junior continues to be a self absorbed psychopath. Part of me wonders, if there is a meth lab in the town, if Junior is one of its biggest clients--without Big Jim realizing that his son is benefiting from his illicit affairs. Junior has determined that the dome is responsible for Angie's lack of interest in him. Once the dome goes away, Angie will return to normal and they can pick up their relationship right where it left off. Until that happens, Junior has chained her to the bed and continues to stalk Barbie, intoning that Angie belongs to him and him alone. Barbie, of course, has no idea what Junior is talking about. To him, Angie was just a girl he gave a cigarette to. No one has figured out that Angie has gone missing, but I predict that by the end of episode 3 next week, Joey will have realized he hasn't seen his sister in over a day. Naturally, he'll recruit Barbie into helping him.

Speaking of Barbie, we got more information on why he killed Julia's husband. Or at least, how it happened. Peter owes someone something and Barbie has come to collect. When Peter pulls a gun on Barbie, a fight ensues and Barbie accidentally shoots Peter. I knew Barbie wasn't some cold hearted killed. He has a pretty face and has done nothing menacing outside of burying a body in the woods. However, Julia catches him in a lie and now it looks like their budding friendship might be put on the back burner as her reporter instincts kick in. Julia was in full reporter mode this episode, trying to get answers from anyone on either side of the dome. She found Dodee and Phil listening to the military transmissions and took it upon herself to inform the rest of the town, like any good reporter would.

According to the radio transmissions, the military don't know what the dome is either. But as I said last week, Julia reminds us that someone has to know something. At the risk of sounding paranoid, just because the military doesn't know anything, doesn't mean the government ISN'T behind this. For now, I'm going to stick with my theory that the government has dropped the dome on Chester's Mill and that it has something to do with the propane (potentially meth related) mystery. Water can get in, meaning that it's not wholly impervious from outside forces which would indicate that eventually it is going to wear away enough to fall, but nothing can get out, including smoke. Cue an episode all about oxygen. And for the love of heaven, stop shooting at the dome. It does not yield results.