Books

Beneath – an accident on the Atlantic Ocean, a secret underwater world, a must-read novel guaranteed to leave you wanting more.

by Maureen A. Miller (c) 2018

10 out of 10 stars!

A mostly spoiler free review

When?

It is the year 2019, 2 weeks before first semester college courses begin.

Who?

Stella Gullaksen is on her best friend’s family’s sport fishing boat (the Starkissed) in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 miles off the coast of New Jersey, ready to vomit. A supposed casual overnight tuna-fishing trip has turned topsy-turvy as a non-predicted, yet wretched, storm has hit. Jill Wexler is that best friend. She, her mother Anne, her dad, Don, and her older brother Colin are also on the boat.

What?

The unexpected storm is so bad that the boat capsizes and sinks. As Stella is sinking, she is pulled into a siphon so strong that she cannot break out of it to swim back to the surface. She is sucked down, down, down . . . and then a tow pulls her sideways and she loses consciousness.

Where?

When she awakens, Stella is in an undersea cavern system – 2000 feet below the ocean surface! (though we later find out it may actually be 6000 feet below) Oddly, she is able to breathe. The entire cavern system is oxygen filled! Colin is already there. Why can she see him? Colin had strapped a flashlight onto his wrist before he went overboard. As they are discussing why the flashlight is working at such a deep distance, a hand shoots out of the pool and slips back under the water. Colin jumps in. Moments later he returns to the surface with his father in tow. Not long after, Jill also surfaces.

Still somewhat in a state of shock, Colin and Jill hand the flashlight to Jill & Mr. Wexler and decide to explore as far as the flashlight’s glow would allow them to go. As they reach the farthest distance of the light, they both agree that there seems to be a glow coming from deeper within the caverns. When they decide to push forward and beyond the distance of the beam, they run into a man who appears with a lantern.

Wait! There are other people in the undersea cavern? Real, live, people? Yes! People who have been missing at sea or pronounced dead from long ago have made a small colony with the flotsam and debris which has been sucked into the cavern too. The man takes Stella and the family into the bowels of the cavern system where a village exists, a product of years and years of salvage.

Although the riders of the Starkissed are surprised to see them, the people aren’t surprised by their presence. Apparently they were expected after Mrs. Wexler showed up in another of the various arrival pools. Mrs. Wexler, however, did not fare well in her journey and was not in good shape. She was laying in critical condition in the village’s “infirmary,” a gutted torso of a sheared aluminum airplane.

Others?

What’s the status of these people who disappeared decades ago? They are malnourished looking, pale, and their skin appears to be super thin. Oddly, they appear to be much younger than they are. They haven’t aged at the same rate they would have on the surface, perhaps due to no exposure to the sun’s harmful rays and the pollutants in earth’s atmosphere.

Currently there are a handful of residents, but we discover others have come before and after these ones, only to die from their injuries, CO2 disorientation, or from trying to escape.

Spoiler alert: We discover later that although the residents of this underworld don’t seem to age, the longer they stay in this atmosphere, their bodies begin to change into something other than human.

How?

Hydrothermal vents sustain the oxygen in the caverns.

How about the neighborhood? It is actually formed from wooden ship carcasses, pieces of old war planes, remains of cargo containers, pieces of yachts, naval ships that have sunk in battle, and such. Items such as medical supplies, cans of food, soap, clothing and whatnot have been gleaned from the flotsam that’s been sucked into the pools. Items are sorted through and those not used immediately are kept in a supply cavern for later needs.

The residents have a system of torches dotting the walls which provide light.

Each resident is assigned a chore to keep the ‘village’ going. Laundry, re-oiling the torches, gathering and moving toilet waste to a designated cave so as to regulate the carbon dioxide in the cavern, sorting the “inventory” that arrives, and fishing, are some of those chores.

The start of each new ‘day’ is marked by the ringing a bell after the long sleep time of ‘day.’ Speaking to one of the residents, Colin discovers that they think it is getting close to the year 2000. Although in actuality it is the year 2019, Colin doesn’t think there method of tracking time is too bad considering there is no actual way to track the rotation of the earth .

What now?

We learn that people don’t leave the cavern because there is no way to leave. People who have tried to leave have been sucked back by the siphon … or have been apparently eaten by sharks – the body parts that have returned indicate that.

We also discover that unbeknownst to each other until this event, Stella & Colin have an attraction to each other. They want to get out of this place and return to the world above. As they question the residents about possible ways out, they discourage the two from exploring the cavern system. They so stongly affirm that there is NO way to the surface through any other part of the caverns that the two feel that there is something important being kept from them. Of course that only prods them forward. They begin to explore the cavern system when everyone is sleeping at ‘night.’

The residents begin preparing for their ‘New Year’ celebration.

And we musn’t forget Mrs. Wexler. She has been unconscious since her arrival. … When her outcome is clear, things change almost immediately. One of the residents, who now realizes how much she misses her own mother, shows Stella & Colin a possible way out of the caves. …The remainder of the book revolves around this possible way out.

Nope, I’m not spoiling the end!

The overall premise of Beneath was truly different from most of the fiction I read. The shocking things that were unveiled were explained plausibly enough that I could ‘buy’ into it. The main characters were people I cared about: I was rooting for Colin and Stella the whole time. The end was satisfying, but left me wanting to know MORE – so much so that I bought the sequel to find out what happened next!

It was an excellent book too!

I highly recommend this book. It is different. It’s well told. And, it is definitely memorable.

Books

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson Focuses on Dalinar’s Backstory

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The Stormlight Archive: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Multiple intriguing points of view
  • Gripping character backstories
  • Different lifeforms than in any other series
  • Unique magic system
  • Richly developed cultures
  • Objects unique to the realm of this book
  • So many quotable moments
  • So much research put into this
  • Illustrations and other worldbuilding snippets between sections of the book
  • Quotes that introduce chapters are interesting and relevant
  • Phenomenal ending with twists
  • The interludes could be books of their own

Cons

  • No noticeable cons

Review

This series is without a doubt the best one I have ever read. From character development to worldbuilding, Sanderson knows how to weave a compelling story. Oathbringer is the third book in The Stormlight Archive. With this book, my favorite character has shifted from Kaladin to Shallan.

Psychologically, Shallan is a fascinating character. She makes alternate versions of herself such as Veil and Radiant, until she has trouble figuring out who she really is as a person. Even when she has a better grasp on who “Shallan” is, she wonders if she should discard her original personality in favor of one of the alternatives that is less broken. A big part of Shallan’s character arc is coming to terms with her own brokenness.

I should also say that I never liked the idea of Shallan and Kaladin as a potential couple. I won’t spoil who she ends up with, and I wouldn’t consider whichever choice she made to be a con for the book, but I thought I should mention that. And the reason is that I prefer Shallan and Adolin because they have phenomenal chemistry. Adolin wants Shallan, not her false personas. He is so sincere. I am not big on romance, but they are honestly cute together.

Also, Pattern as chaperone is hilarious.

“What,” Pattern said with a hum, “is a chaperone?”

“That is someone who watches two young people when they are together, to make certain they don’t do anything inappropriate.”

“Inappropriate?” Pattern said. “Such as…dividing by zero?”

The interludes between the sections of the book remain a testament to Sanderson’s solid writing skills. He made me care about characters who may only get a few pages of development here and there, but are nonetheless multifaceted and interesting. Two of my favorites are Rysn and Kaza. Rysn has been crippled from falling from a greatshell’s head and is now keeping ledgers. Kaza is slowly turning to smoke the more she uses her soulcaster. I love them both so much, especially Rysn.

The Windrunners are joined by new members, and I really appreciate the ideals that they must swear to.

Windrunner’s first ideal:

“Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.”

Windrunner’s second ideal:

“I will protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

Windrunner’s third ideal:

“I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right.”

The Windrunners are my favorite out of all the orders of Radiants.

This really was more of Dalinar’s book, just like The Way of Kings focused on Kaladin and Words of Radiance focused on Shallan. We finally learn more about Dalinar’s first wife, which is honestly amazing. Dalinar really has a strong character arc, turning from a warmonger to a peacemaker. It is his tragic and violent past that influences him in this novel, although his softer side is involved as well.

The ending was everything I could have wanted. It did not disappoint, with ample twists and tons of suspense and tension. I was in awe.

In conclusion, you should definitely read this book. Read the first two books first, obviously, but this one was amazing too. This book would be best for lovers of high fantasy.

Anime, Shows

A Flawed Character Worth Rooting For: Wandering Witch Season 1

Anime Review:

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina Season 1

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Entertaining, flawed main character
  • Good storytelling
  • Some strong, impactful episodes
  • Beautiful animation and art style

Cons

  • A little hard to get into at first
  • The episodic feel made it seem a bit plotless and like it was going nowhere

Observations

  • Almost all of the character development focused on one character

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Review

This anime is about a young traveling witch who visits various countries, cities, and towns.

When I started watching this anime, one of my first impressions was that I didn’t like the main character. I simply hadn’t considered her value to the show as someone with obvious flaws yet capable of change and development. It was a simplistic way of approaching the anime and I wish I had thought more carefully about it, because that attitude left me dissatisfied with the first few episodes.

As a writer, I should have realized the reason that Elaina grated on my nerves was not because she was a bad character, but because she was well-written and had a set of flaws composed of ones that annoyed me more than most other flaws would. It’s okay to have a character that is not likable as the main character, as long as she is well-written and has strong narrative purpose. And it took a reminder from my sister and a friend to help me see it that way.

The main reason Elaina bugged me at first was because she is so full of herself, especially as an adult. At the beginning and/or the end of most episodes, she describes herself as beautiful or amazing. For example, at one point she says she is so brilliant, the sun squints involuntarily upon seeing her. At another time, when asked about her specific talents, she says “I’m good at pretty much everything.” Sure, she’s right. She is a prodigy who became a witch in record time. But man, that gets annoying pretty fast.

She was apprenticed to a witch named Fran, who tried to teach her the power of failure by overwhelming her. That was a lesson she wouldn’t really internalize and learn until later, however, when she failed in more significant ways than just being defeated in a duel by a powerful witch.

Her parents have her make three promises when she leaves them to travel the world.

First, to run away from danger. She doesn’t do that very well. Even though she is apathetic most of the time and tries not to get involved in the conflicts and problems of everyday people, she gets in danger plenty of times without running away.

The second promise is not to think of herself as anyone special. I laughed upon thinking back at that one. She failed that promise with style.

The third promise is that she will come back someday and tell her parents about her adventures. She doesn’t do that, either, at least in the first season. She writes and publishes a book about her adventures, if that counts for anything. Perhaps her parents will read it.

She basically fails at all three promises.

It takes a botched mission to make her realize that she is not perfect, and what she experienced during that mission traumatized her. In episode 9, A Deep Sorrow From the Past, Elaina is the Clock Village of Rostolf. She is low on money and must take on a job.

The Lavender Witch Estelle offers her a job. Estelle had a close childhood friend, Selena, whose parents were murdered by a burglar. After their murder, Selena is sent to live with her uncle, who was abusive. Eventually she turned on her uncle and killed him, afterwards becoming a serial killer. She kind of reminded me of Toga from My Hero Academia. Estelle was eventually order to kill Selena, and she did it by beheading her. This traumatic event left Estelle obsessed with finding a way to go back in time and change her friend’s terrible destiny.

When Estelle tells Elaina this story, Elaina appears to be completely apathetic. She is truly only in it for the money.

Estelle reveals that she has found a way to time travel. She has been sacrificing her own blood to get enough magic to prep the spell. She wants Elaina to come with her since she will be drained of magic after the spell. Estelle gives Elaina a ring that allows them to share magic power.

When they go back in time, Estelle convinces Selena’s parents to leave the house so they will not be murdered. Meanwhile, Elaina watches the house so she can catch the burglar. The burglar never shows. Eventually, Elaina notices from the ring that Estelle is using her magic power. She follows the source of magic to find that Estelle is bloodied and lying on the ground next to Selena’s murdered parents.

Selena is standing there with a knife. It turns out she was originally the one who killed her parents, not a burglar. Her father had been sexually abusive and her mother had gotten jealous and hit her repeatedly.

Estelle rises to her feet and starts to strangle Selena with magic. Elaina is horrified that a friend is killing a friend and tries to stop her by taking off the ring. Estelle sacrifices all her fond memories of Selena in order to get the remaining energy necessary to behead her.

Once they return to the present, Estelle has no memory of Selena. Elaina holds herself together until she gets outside, and then breaks down into tears. She recognizes her own failures and is devastated from having watched love turn to hate and from seeing a child brutally killed. She admits to herself that she is inexperienced and occasionally helpless to stop bad things from happening.

The extent to which this experience impacted her is revealed in a later episode, when she enters an enchanted place in which there are multiple versions of herself. One of these versions is violent and exhausted, deeply hurt by what happened with Estelle and Selena. The true Elaina must come to terms with all the versions and aspects of herself before she is able to escape that place. This offers her a sense of closure and helps her move on.

Those were my two favorite episodes, although there were many other good ones. Those were one of the few that seemed strongly connected as well. Most of the season felt somewhat plotless, with Elaina wandering aimlessly to various destinations. Each episode was like a vignette, a piece mostly independent of the others. The episodic feel was interesting, though not always satisfying.

In conclusion, I would recommend this anime to anyone who appreciates somewhat dark anime with an interesting lead character.

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Books

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny is A Compelling Sequel to Still Life

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Rating: 8.0 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Strong writing voice
  • Brilliant descriptions
  • Cozy small town setting
  • Most of the characters are likeable and beautifully written
  • LGBTQ+ representation
  • Creative murder method
  • Interesting poetry

Cons

  • Penny’s treatment of an overweight character and obsession with her weight comes off like fat-shaming
  • Characters such as the murder victim are one-dimensional

Review

There are no spoilers for A Fatal Grace in this review, but there are a few minor spoilers for Still Life, the first book in the series.

There are plenty of strange ways to kill a person, but electrocution on a frozen lake during a curling match wins the prize. And that’s no spoiler–it was in the blurb on the back of my version of the book. We know the victim is CC Poitiers from the first page. She’s one of the one-dimensional characters I was talking about. She’s just plain evil, like Disney’s 1961 Cruella de Vil. She even wears shoes made from the pelts of baby seals.

Touching her was like caressing a veneer of ice. There was a beauty to it, and a frailty he found attractive. But there was also danger. If she ever broke, if she shattered, she would tear him to pieces.”

Saul referring to CC

She’s prideful, cruel, abusive and detestable. She wrote an utter trash manuscript and embraced the appropriated and distorted philosophies of several cultures.

Publishing companies “immediately recogniz[ed] the manuscript as a flaccid mishmash of ridiculous self-help philosophies, wrapped in half-baked Buddhist and Hindu teachings, spewed forth by a woman whose cover photo looked as though she’d eat her young.”

With the way she treats her daughter Crie, it seems that she barely stopped short of eating her young. Crie is overweight and timidly wants her mother’s affection. Those are basically the two things we learn about her for almost the whole novel.

I hate how Penny repeatedly emphasizes how fat Crie is in really uncomfortable language.

And beside him an enormous child was wearing a sleeveless sundress of the brightest pink. Her underarms bulged and flopped and the rolls of her waist made the skintight dress look like a melting strawberry ice cream. It was grotesque.

Penny describing Crie

This is cringey and insensitive. This is a child we are talking about, and just because she is obese doesn’t mean everyone has to think of her as grotesque or gross. It keeps happening.

Madame Latour stared at the huge girl and felt a bit of her lunch in her throat. Those rolls of fat, those dreadful dimples, the underwear disappearing into the flesh.”

Seriously? She is so obese that she makes someone almost throw up? I don’t know why Penny needs to emphasize that Crie is unattractive and “grotesque.” She’s just a kid and she’s overweight, so what? Crie doesn’t get much development or depth for most of the book, which is a shame.

Armand Gamache on the other hand, has plenty of depth and is a character I can truly appreciate. He can be careful, pushy, kind, stern, intelligent, ignorant…

Armand Gamache knew something many of his colleagues never figured out. Murder was deeply human, the murdered and the murderer. To describe the murderer as a monstrosity, a grotesque, was to give him an unfair advantage. No. Murderers were human, and at the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped, no doubt. Twisted and ugly. But an emotion. And one so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost.

I love this description. Like much of Penny’s prose, it has a spark of inspiration to it. I also enjoyed the poetry by Ruth Zardo, another beloved character.

You were a moth

Brushing against my cheek

in the dark.

I killed you

not knowing

you were only a moth

with no sting.”

Ruth Zardo’s poem

It was nice to see some LGBTQ+ representation in the novel, mostly through Gabri and his partner Olivier, who are frankly cute together. Remember Phillipe from the first novel? He makes a reappearance too.

The research was good. She was either already very familiar with the sport of curling, or learned a bunch from research. Same with the details of the electrocution. A lot of work went into those details.

The ending was interesting and even though my prediction was correct, I wasn’t right about everything, and I don’t think everyone will predict it.

I would recommend this book for anyone who appreciates a good murder mystery and would appreciate a murder that is outside the norm.

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