Winterspell by Claire Legrand

WinterspellPublisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Expected publication date: September 30th, 2014
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 464 (Kindle)

Thank you to Edelweiss for the review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Winterspell is a retelling of The Nutcracker, but with a much darker tone. I’ve seen The Nutcracker a couple times, but it’s not a story that stuck with me. If you’re in the same boat, don’t worry: you don’t need to know the story in order to follow this book.

Our protagonist, Clara Stole, is the daughter of 1920s New York mayor John Stole. There’s a vague governing body known as Concordia, “led” by a drunken John Stole. But, really, it’s the manipulative Patricia Plum and skeevy-beyond-all-reason Dr. Victor who call the shots.

Since her mother’s murder, Clara has had to step up as the leader of her household, as her father is too sick with grief to be of much help. She looks after her sister Felicity, wards off advances from Dr. Victor, and chastises herself for not being stronger, bolder, braver–like her late-mother, Hope.

Her only solace is the time spent with her godfather, Drosselmeyer, who is often disheveled and scattered, working in his shop filled with curious trinkets and toys. He’s told her stories of magic since she was a young girl. The odd items in his shop have always fascinated her, especially a life-like metal statue she’s been drawn to all her life.

But, most notably, Drosselmeyer teaches Clara how to fight. They spar, with fists and with words–though the latter always comes from a place of love and mutual respect. She learns how to pick locks, and to sneak around like a shadow. She keeps daggers hidden in the heels of her boots.

On Christmas Eve there’s a grand celebration, as there is every year, at the Stole household. Wealthy families and Concordia members are in attendance. There’s a huge, beautifully decorated Christmas tree, the children are playing and waiting as they always do, for Drosselmeyer to arrive with a sack of gifts.

Clara just wants to get the evening over with, worried she won’t be able to keep Dr. Victor’s hands off her for much longer, caught in Concordia’s web of corruption to the point of complacency for the sake of her father and his reputation, and her younger sister’s well being.

The festivities are interrupted by an attack at the mansion. When Drosselmeyer turns some of the toys from his shop into skittering metal creatures that obey his whims, other toys grow to life-side proportions, a rat-like beasts come pouring in through the windows, and her familiar statue-friend turns into a man, Clara suspects the stories her godfather told her of magic were more than just stories after all.

John Stole is kidnapped and is pulled through a Door to another world, and, with her statue Nicolas in tow, the two jump into the portal and into the world of Cane to save her father.

This is where Legrand’s vivid imagination takes over, and fills in the “holes” in the mostly-familiar The Nutcracker story. Cane is a dark world ruled by the evil faery queen, Anise. Faeries rule here, and humans have been banished to the slums, or are treated as slaves. Magic in this world is tied to metal (think of the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa). Faeries and steampunk. Fey-punk?

Intriguing set up, no? I loved the concept, I loved the dark feel of it, and I was impressed with the dynamic Legrand crafted between Anise and Clara.

Despite having so much working in this book’s favor, I had a hard time connecting with both the story and the characters. A couple reviews have mentioned the uneven pace, which might have been a factor, too, but I mainly had an issue with too much telling when it came to the character’s emotional state. I always knew how Clara was feeling, but it was because I was told, rather than feeling it for myself, so I was removed from her and the urgency of her quest.

Which is a shame, really, because just as often, I would come across passages and turns of phrase that were absolutely gorgeous and vivid. I think a little more depth into the characters would have made this a much fuller experience.

I have yet to read Legrand’s MG books, but I will definitely check them out.

I would recommend Winterspell to fans of fairytale retellings, fantasy and steampunk. It’s quite an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

PerfectChemistryPublisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Published: December 23rd, 2008
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 357 (Paperback)

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created ‘perfect’ life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she’s worked so hard for: her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect.

Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

I will admit that I went into this assuming I’d hate it. Doesn’t that summary sound exactly like every other star-crossed lover book/movie you’ve ever heard of? It kind of sounded like Crazy/Beautiful, but reversed.

I dove in anyway.

I ended up loving how Elkeles toyed with the concept of stereotypes in this, pitting the blonde cheerleader against the Mexican bad-boy. Some of the characters in Perfect Chemistry embodied their stereotypes, while simultaneously struggling against them.

From the title of the book, the blurb on the back, and the picture on the cover, you can pretty much guess where the book is going before you even start reading it. But it’s all in the details, my friends.

By the end, I was so invested in these two, I was in tears. In tears! And this from someone who was sure she wouldn’t be able to get through it. It sounds like such a stereotypical (ha!) YA romance on the surface (ha!), but when you give it a chance, it surprises you.

Well played, Elkeles, well played.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

Yay!

Since I just signed the contract and sent it off today, I guess I can officially say:

Holy hell, Batman, I have an agent!

Wee!

I am now represented by Liza Fleissig (I’m getting better about spelling that without needing to check if all the i’s and e’s are in the right place! Huzzah!) of the Liza Royce Agency.

I’m really rather excited about the whole thing.

And terrified.

There is definite terror, too.

What if no publishing houses want my book?

What if it does get published, but then everyone hates it?

What if, what if, what if…

But. Excitement! I think I let out a “Woo!” when I dropped the envelope in one of them big blue boxes at the post office today.

*Passes out*

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Hello! I was tagged for the Next Big Thing by my writer buddy/crit partner, Bob Gmelin.

Here be the rules of the Next Big Thing:

  1. Use this format for your post
  2. Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
  3. Tag five two other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

I’m going to answer the questions for my completed novel that I’m querying at the moment. I don’t think I should even attempt to answer these questions for my nano novel. That thing is a clusterfu a hot mess.

1. What is your working title of your book?

DREAMSCAPE.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had a (very minor) prophetic dream. When it came true, it got me thinking about what it would mean to see something big. What if you couldn’t stop it? Is it even possible to stop it? Is the future fixed, or is it fluid? And then I wondered how all of these questions would weigh on the mind of a fifteen-year-old girl. And I ran with it from there.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Oh dear. So I was originally calling it a fantasy. But then people told me it was more paranormal than fantasy (though there’s an element–ha ha–of magic later). In my latest revision, it took on a mystery bent. Several CPs told me they think it’s more mystery now than anything. *Sigh* So I’m going with “mystery with elements of fantasy.” ‘Cause, yanno, that’s not obnoxious or anything.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I think Amandla Stenberg (She played Rue in The Hunger Games) would be great as Pandora. How cute is she?!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Because I’m too lazy to whittle this down to a less wordy, less punctuation-laden sentence, I’m copy & pasting something from one 0f my early query-drafts: “Blamed for the death of a schoolmate and ostracized by her hometown, fifteen-year-old Pandora Sims is eager to begin anew at The Rese School for the Gifted, a school exclusively for Seers–but on the morning of her departure, a Vision of magic and fire blurs the line between fantasy and reality, and Pandora fears the life of a stranger is threatened by forces beyond her control.”

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

An agency!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I usually draft in about six months. (Unless I’m doing nano, of course.) How long have I been editing the thing, though? Egads. Years.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Eesh. This one is hard. People automatically go to Harry Potter due to whole kids-with-powers who go to a school-for kids-with-powers thing. My CPs made sure to rid it of anything they thought was even remotely HP-like, already knowing it would draw the comparison even before anyone read it. I haven’t read any YA books where all the MCs (and side characters!) can “see” the future in one way or another. I’ve had people compare the light-heartedness and humor of the story to the Percy Jackson series.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Nothing aside from that initial dream, really. I’m a panster at heart, so once I knew who Pandora was, I let the story unfold on its own. Many, many times. Like I said, I’ve spent years revising the sucker.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It was important to me for Pandora to have a core group of really loyal friends. One CP told me she doesn’t feel like there is enough of that strong girl-friend vibe in YA. It’s usually girls pitted against each other. She said it was refreshing to see how their relationship plays out in mine. I hope I did the friendship justice. Nothing compares to a clan of close gal pals!

Now, I shall tag…

Beth Hull

Danica Paige

GUTGAA Meet and Greet

Hello!

I’m Melissa, and I’m new to this whole GUTGAA thing, but I’m excited! I have been writing “seriously” since 2002, and have two books in the proverbial drawer (which will never see the light of day). The third one (YA fantasy/mystery), which has consumed the last eight or so years of my life, is the one I’m going to be pitching (hopefully!). When I’m not writing, I’m reading or walking dogs (that’s my job), or both! Amazing how often you’ll get stopped on the street by strangers when you’re simultaneously walking three dogs and reading a book.

I live in Sacramento, CA with three cats, a dog, and whole lotta books.

Where do you write?
Usually in Panera. I have a hard time focusing at home. I usually end up looking at something online (Vlogbrothers, why must you entertain me so?!) or doing the dishes (Okay, that’s a lie) or taking the dog for her 500th walk. If I go somewhere, it forces me to work. I used to go to a place in the mall (yes, the mall). I found this perfect little corner where it was just secluded enough that I wouldn’t get distracted, and just noisy enough that I wouldn’t go bonkers in the silence. But then they erected a Subway across from my favorite table and ruined the ambiance of the whole place. How dare they! (I was there so often, all the security guards knew me :\)

Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
Wait! What! I can’t go to Panera now. It’s almost 2am! I don’t want to get arrested.

Favorite time to write?
Middle of the afternoon and early evening. Mornings and I do not get along. It’s amazing if I can get myself out the door in time to wherever I need to be with a matching pair of shoes on my feet.

Drink of choice while writing?
Lemonade! Frozen lemonade from Panera in summer is a little slice of heaven.

When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
On the rare occasions I write at home, it’s usually quiet. If music is on, it has to be instrumental. Anything with words distracts me. I like writing to ambient noises… something about the hum of background chatter gets the creative juices a-flowin’.

What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
My MC is a Seer (she can see the future). I had one very minor prophetic dream once, and that got me thinking: what if I had a vision about something big? What if I had a vision about something big and I couldn’t stop it? It took on a mind of its own after that!

What’s your most valuable writing tip?
Enjoy it.

Looking forward to meeting other writers! :)

Reducing Word Count

There are plotters and there are pantsers.

There are putter-inners and taker-outers.

I’m the latter in both cases. My drafts are always too long. Woe!

After another round of feedback from my beta readers, I decided to go with the persistence wisdom of the lovely Beth Hull, and pulled out one of my characters (to save her for another book). My character was not at all happy about this, by the way. Even when I assured her that her new home will be even better. I haven’t heard from her since. I hope she comes back.

At any rate, I was sure this most recent set of revisions would result in a shorter manuscript. Since, you know, my goal was to strictly take things out. Well, somehow, when I was done, the manuscript was even longer than when I started! Which was endlessly amusing to my writer buddies (read: the poor saps who were often with me while I bashed my head against the table. “How is this possible?!”). It just made me want to cry. Especially since I was so happy with all the new additions.

Danica was forced, once again, to talk me off the ledge, and pointed me to a handful of posts by writers (aspiring authors as well published ones) who were in the same boat as me: stuck with a too-long manuscript. They had all gone through their manuscripts to check for repetition, and the necessity of every chapter and character and plot line, and still had a too-high WC. So then they went through their manuscripts in search of commonly overused and/or unnecessary words to axe. Some claimed they loped off 5-15k with this method alone—never touching a single scene!

Madness, I said.

But I tried it anyway because I was out of ideas.

It took me almost two weeks to get through the list (we compiled it from the several smaller lists), but, by jove, I cut out fourteen thousand words! Fourteen! Amazing.

I’m posting the list below for anyone who’d like it. It was helpful to print it out, and then cross the words off as I went.

A
about, actually, almost, appear, around

B – D
basically, behind, close to, down

E
even, eventually, exactly, extremely

F – J
finally, fairly, gaze/gazed, had, headed/heading, in order, just, just then

K – N
kind of, like, look/looked, mostly, nearly

O – R
only, out, over, possibly, practically, probably, rather, really

S
said, sat, seems/seemed, seriously, simply, sort of, somehow, somewhat, suddenly, supposedly

T
terribly, that, together, totally, truly

U – W
up, usually, utterly, very, was, were

I tackled each word individually. Typed it into find (click “find whole words only”), assessed the usefulness of the word in the sentence (sometimes the usefulness of the sentence itself–or the paragraph!), and then moved on to the next one. Reading sentences out of context made it easier to cut things, too. There were a few times where I deleted half a page! It’s like losing ten twenty thirty pounds!

I’m not going to lie… the experience was god awful. I spent hours and hours in Panera, often begging my writing buddy to “please just stab me in the face!” I said it so often she started to ignore me altogether. Sometimes I’d bounce up and down in the booth, or laugh hysterically, or declare I needed a cookie. Sometimes all three happened at once.

Every other type of editing I’ve done has required some level of creativity. This was tedious. I hate tedious!

It was worth it in the end, though. If you attempt this, know it will take hours (and the general breakdown of whatever sanity you might still have). I expected “that” to be one of the words to take me the longest, but the one that nearly killed me was “out.” It took two days. Two days.

What are your trouble words?

Oh, and if anyone has others to add to the list, let me know!

Happy cutting :)

Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Expected release date: June 19th, 2012
Genre: Chick Lit
Pages: 288 (Paperback)

I received a copy of Monarch Beach from Goodreads.

I realized while reading this one that unless there is a zany main character, or a unique situation, chick lit isn’t really for me. (I really enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries, for example.) If it’s mainly just about real-life struggles women go through, I start to get antsy. Maybe because these types of books are too realistic and not enough of an escape for me.

So take this review with a grain of salt.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

This is one of those lazy Sunday afternoon books. It has the expected drama (I gasped during the first page), the hot new guy, and a few sexy scenes. It’s enjoyable the way romantic comedies are enjoyable: you go in pretty much knowing what you’re going to get. So, in that sense, I would say this book for the most part fulfills all those desired elements.

My three-star rating is mainly due to Amanda herself. She didn’t really have any flaws. When bad things happened, they happened to her. Too much of a victim, maybe. The first chapter (the chapters are long in this book–sometimes as long as 40 pages) is essentially the backstory of her relationship with sexy but lecherous Andre, her husband of ten years. The chapter is bookended by Amanda catching Andre in the act. She had my sympathy in the beginning. What woman wouldn’t side with another woman who just caught her husband cheating on her? But all the backstory actually hurt her case for me. Red flags popped up all over the place, and I found myself thinking she was an idiot for falling for someone who even admitted that the concept of monogamy was “foreign” to Frenchmen. Hello, Amanda! Run away now!

The fact that he had been cheating on her for years and that she had no idea was a little unbelievable, too. She didn’t even have her suspicions. I found it hard to feel for her the more I knew about her past. And, again, maybe this is how things really are. Maybe lots of women marry the “wrong” men and want to believe so badly that they’re happy that they’re blind to even their own suspicions. But in fiction? In fiction, I want the woman to have some inkling, to have some plan of action when the shit hits the fan, to be stronger than the rest of us out here in the real world. To give those of us in this type of situation a role model for how to stand up for ourselves and get out.

Amanda constantly asked her best friend what she should do, but she never had any plans of her own. Then her mom swoops in and offers her an all-expense paid summer vacation in Laguna Beach so Amanda and her son Max can spend some time away from Andre.

Amanda’s family is incredibly rich, so money is not even a thought for them. Amanda often tells us about the luxuries of the St. Regis, from the chauffeured Bentley that drove them all over town, to ordering exorbitant amounts of room service. Beyond having a cad of a husband, she doesn’t suffer from or struggle with… anything, really. Aside from raising Max, she doesn’t work and has never had to. And she very well could now, at this point in her life, since Max is in school all day. Her life is pretty uncomplicated and a bit decadent. A completely different world from mine.

If the first chapter had been reduced to a few key things (Andre is a pig; Amanda’s friend from prep school, Stephanie, is Andre’s silent partner in his restaurant; Amanda has an eight-year-old son), and the details of their marriage left out (to be sprinkled in periodically later), I probably could have gotten past the brand-name-dropping. With my sympathy for her already waning, her lack-of-life-struggles only made it worse.

But this might just be another example of why I’m not the target audience for this book. Shows like Sex in the City never appealed to me. But for others, the rich life style might be something they can relate to, or something they want to live vicariously through. I’m not a brand name kind of girl, so mentioning her Manolo’s or her Theory sundresses didn’t impress me.

See what I mean about the grain of salt?

All that said, I was able to read the book with relative ease. The ending was actually a bit unexpected, which I appreciated.

If you’re looking for a beach-book, with a bit of a vicarious-woman’s-fantasy vibe, you’ll probably really enjoy Monarch Beach.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Publisher: EgmontUSA
Expected release date: June 12, 2012
Genre: YA Paranormal/Sci-fi
Pages: 336 (Paperback)

I was so excited to win this as a raffle door prize at a SCBWI conference. I really enjoyed Hourglass.

A threat from the past could destroy the future. And the clock is ticking…

Kaleb Ballard’s relentless flirting is interrupted when Jack Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, timeslips in and attacks before disappearing just as quickly. But Kaleb has never before been able to see time travelers, unlike many of his friends associated with the mysterious Hourglass organization. Are Kaleb’s powers expanding, or is something very wrong?

Then the Hourglass is issued an ultimatum. Either they find Jack and the research he’s stolen on the time gene, or time will be altered with devastating results.

Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their unusual powers to find Jack. But where do they even start? And when? And even if they succeed, it may not be enough…

I was a little worried when I realized Timepiece is told from Kaleb’s POV. Not because it’s Kaleb, but because lately I’ve read sequels where the the story is not only told by someone else, but often by the MC’s child, or years later. I want the same storyline and time(ha)line I fell in love with in book 1! Thankfully, Kaleb’s story pretty much starts up where Emerson’s left off in Hourglass.

And, dare I say, I actually preferred Kaleb’s voice to Em’s! So that was a nice surprise.

Since I read Hourglass in February, I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to follow the plot without needing to check out Myra’s Hourglass recap. I probably should have read it. Time travel, no matter how well it’s told, will make a girl’s head spin. So do yourself a favor and brush up on everything before you dive into Timepiece, just to save your brain cells for the new stuff.

I feel like I can’t give a full review of this because somuch happens and I don’t to give anything away. (Though, I will say, anyone who was on the fence about Kaleb will be a fan now!) It’s really good! I read it in about 24 hours, unable to put the thing down.

In Hourglass, the action didn’t really kick into high-gear for me until the last 100 or so pages, but with Timepiece, it’s pretty action-packed all the way along. There are more rips, they’re constantly changing, and now the time-travelers aren’t the only ones who can see them. Plus, Jack’s creepy self keeps showing up everywhere.

It’s a fun ride!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Publisher: Random House
Expected release date: June 26, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Adult (with a smidge of sci-fi)
Pages: 288 (Paperback)

In The Age of Miracles, Earth’s rotation has inexplicably slowed down. At first, days gain an extra few minutes. As the novel progresses, days swell to 50+ hours. Our narrator is twelve year old Julia, who, on top of dealing with the horrors of a changing planet, is dealing with the horrors of sixth grade. (I’m not sure which genre box this one falls into. It’s not quite YA, it’s not quite sci-fi. But just calling it “general fiction” doesn’t quite feel right, either.)

I’ll state first that I did enjoy this book. A lot of thought went into this novel, which I greatly appreciated. It’s beautifully told, and I was easily able to finish it in a few days.

That said, I had a few issues with it. For one, the science doesn’t really hold up. It’s a little hard to believe that scientists wouldn’t have seen such a big change coming, and that, years later, they still don’t have an explanation as to what caused “the slowing” in the first place. While I know that this is one of those messages-wrapped-in-science-fiction type of stories (like Signs or District 9–the latter being far more effective), I still believe the science fiction part of it has to be strong. It has to be solid enough to allow me to get lost in the surface plot, so I can then delve into the message. (Signs was about faith?! Really? I was too busy being livid that aliens who have mastered space travel can be thwarted by wooden doors and glasses of water…)

Running parallel to the story of what’s happening to Earth is Julia’s coming-of-age story. We get to experience her first attempt at buying a bra, with falling for a boy, with finding out that her parents aren’t as infallible and resilient as she once thought. I felt a connection to Julia to an extent. I think most girls can remember how awful middle school could be. Especially middle school boys! Okay, the girls were pretty awful, too.

Our storyteller is a reflective one–looking back on her twelfth year and on the beginning of the slowing. (Think of Kevin’s narration in Wonder Years.) We know from her storytelling that even though there’s been a drastic change to Earth, the world didn’t end, as she’s still around to reflect on how things used to be. This left me feeling a little detached–from both Julia’s story and the urgency of Earth’s. The pages kept turning, but not because I was desperate to know what happened next. It felt more like I stumbled upon someone’s diary, and I kept reading out of mild curiosity.

That, and hoping something would happen. I wanted Julia to crawl out of her shell a little, to become less casual. I wanted her to take a more active role in her own story, to do something rash or exciting because there was no way to know how much longer Earth would still be around. But the Earth’s days just slowly got longer, and Julia’s life just slowly carried on. I wanted her to venture out into the world so we could see more of what was happening beyond her little suburban street. While the details of people choosing to live on real-time versus clock-time, how flocks of birds fell from the sky, how whales beached themselves by the hundreds, was all fascinating, I wanted more of it. I wanted to see how it played out in other neighborhoods and cities. I wanted more examples of how this change divided humanity.

This isn’t the type of book I would necessarily recommend, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, either. It’s definitely an enjoyable read. And when you suspend disbelief, the concept really is rather unnerving.

I probably won’t wish for more hours in the day ever again!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

Chronicle

A friend and I were supposed to meet up to write today. When I asked her if we were still on, she suggested that we see a movie instead. I’m always up for any reason not to work on my synopsis, so I readily agreed. She was the one who chose Chronicle (I let her choose, for I was the one who chose Joyful Noise last time, and I’m not sure she’s forgiven me yet). I didn’t even know what Chronicle was; I’d heard absolutely nothing about it. All Fandango told me was, “Three high-school friends make a discovery that gives them incredible powers.”

Powers? I’m in.

I was a little worried when the movie started, and I saw that it was another one of those found-footage movies. I’ve been leery ever since Cloverfield. While I liked the concept of Cloverfield, the whole found-footage part is what didn’t always work for me. There was a little too much of the jerky camera thing when the kids were running for their lives, too. (Not as bad as it was in The Blair Witch Project (Ugh!), but bad enough.) It wasn’t always believable why the kids were filming certain things… plus I remember feeling like the aftermath of the alien attack would have made for a far more interesting story.

But I digress.

What this movie did well from the get-go was characterization, especially with our main character Andrew. He was shy, socially awkward, and had a terrible home life (an abusive father and a dying mother). It made sense, in a way, why a kid like this would be recording his life. Partly in hopes to ward off his father’s fists, partly to capture some of the last moments he’d have with his mother, partly to put up even more of a barrier between himself and his schoolmates. And maybe, in a way, to record some of his final days of his senior year in high school.

Andrew’s only real friend is a his cousin Matt. (Hello, hottie!) Early on, Matt–worried about Andrew’s anti-social behavior–convinces him to come to a party being thrown in an abandoned barn. Andrew agrees reluctantly, and despite Matt’s warning, brings along his trusty camera. After an altercation with a guy in the party, Andrew ends up back outside by himself. Steve–a gregarious guy running for class president–finds Andrew, and tells him he should come with him, that he and Matt have found something amazing and they want to get it on camera. (Hello, hottie #2!)

The three boys venture into a mysterious hole in the ground–the aforementioned “discovery”–are exposed to some freaky glowing… something… and, next thing we know, they’re blessed with powers. It starts off small: being able to stop a baseball mid-throw, levitating legos. They learn that they have to build up their ability, to train it like a muscle. They push it too far, too fast? They end up with nose bleeds. Soon they can move bigger and bigger objects. Then they discover that they can fly, too.

The effects blew me away. And, coupled with the easy way in which the three boys interact with each other, it felt real (and voyeuristic!), too. That these seemingly impossible events really happened somehow.

With your average superhero movie, those bestowed with powers have some sort of noble duty, some important cause. But in this case, you just had three high school boys with the ability to move objects with their minds, to fly. So they did boy-things. They made plans. When things started to get out of control, they set up rules.

It was cool to see the beginnings of both a villain and a hero. Villainous backstories are often a little flimsy to me, but this one made sense. It was easy to see how someone who’d felt powerless all his life would start to change in light of his new abilities. How all his pent up rage essentially became a weapon.

When all hell started to break loose, it was fun to see all the different mediums used to continue the story when we couldn’t have Andrew’s ever-present camera. We got to see footage from cell phones and security cameras and other handheld recorders. Whereas Cloverfield felt limited, Trank utilized multiple types of cameras to give us the full effect of the chaos without it feeling too jarring or hokey. Despite the format, it still managed to feel like a superhero movie. Which is pretty amazing, I think.

It was an unexpectedly fun ride.

If you aren’t opposed to the found-footage genre (this one won’t make you throw up in your popcorn bucket due to motion sickness–promise!), and you like superheroes, you should check it out. It’s worth a viewing for the effects alone.

It’ll make your inner nerd hope like hell that there are other caverns like that somewhere. Because, really, who hasn’t wondered what it’d be like to fly?