"review" · cinema · recommend · Uncategorized

{film} John Wick?

The tagline: Don’t Set Him Off!

When I tell you how fantastic I found director Chad Stahelski’s John Wick (2014), you’ll likely question my sanity because it really shouldn’t be all that good.

I seriously questioned my decision to not disappear up the stairs while Sean watched a film that, upon first press, reads like a Steven Seagal film of old(er times). I’d grown up on those revenge-action-thrillers. More recently, Keanu Reeves’ role as John Wick would’ve been cast with Liam Neeson or Jason Statham and I rarely sit through a one of them. The dialog, typical plot, blood-letting and tire-squealing action of these genre films rarely find me amused. I was at the edge of my seat, giddy in amusement with John Wick. Its a film that is self-aware, its tongue planted firmly in cheek, unrepentant and playful within its genre.

I was intrigued by the premise: instead of some relative (usually the wife) of a retired uber mensch being brutally murdered, Sean told me that the revenge plot stems from the brutal murder of John Wick’s dog. That was all we knew. The unfolding of just who John Wick is was worth the ignorance. It earns you that immense pleasure in the exchange between Aurelio (John Leguizamo) and Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). John Wick won me over at Tarasov’s “…Oh.”

The non-linear movement through time, the shifts, begin to stabilize chronologically as the film progresses. Disintegration takes on a new form as the violence ups its ante (think South Korean action films). There is a righteous meting out of justice for that sweet little puppy (whose death is handled as delicately as possible). There are beautiful cars, choreography, gun-reloading and martial arts. And there are quality actors.

As the film progresses, the surprising cast was one revelation after another–even as Reeves proves all the more perfect for his role. His age really works for him as John Wick, and I think he actually emotes (which was admittedly awkward for me). I am going to pause for a moment to also admire the bad-assery that is Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins). But is she punished for being a bit too greedy and a full-measure too bold in her breaking of the (male dominated) rules? Little is fair in the film, but what does one expect from a revenge-action film. One certainly doesn’t expect that ending, though we should’ve anticipated it (shouldn’t we’ave?).

Familiarity with John Wick’s predecessors add to the entertainment factor; it certainly reads like redemption for years/hours spent in the genre. However, I don’t think you need a history. What you will need is a sense of humor–and a fairly strong stomach.

——————

Director: Chad Stahelski, Screenplay:Derek Kolstad, Starring: Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Michael Nyqvist (Viggo Tarasov), John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Alfie Allen (Iosef Trasov), Willem Defoe (Marcus), Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins), Bridget Moynahan (Bridget), and Ian McShane (Winston).

Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use. Running Time: 101 Minutes

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{comics} many happy returns

Zita-Cover-300rgbThe Return of Zita the Spacegirl

By Ben Hatke

First Second 2014.

Zita-Interior-FULL-91That the entirety of Ben Hatke’s The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is an epic jailbreak comes as no surprise. From the very first book in the series, Zita has been held against her will—or has she? We know her slip through the portal and into Space was an accident. We know she wants to return home. In the course of the first book, she discovers herself lost more than once and the second risks dangerous compromise. But since then, Zita has become the Spacegirl, how could she possibly go back?

The series has been packed with difficult choices for Zita. I consider such turmoil a favorite one of the adventures’ many charms. Too, that at the center of her conflicts are friendships and her desire to the right thing and do something meaningful. She rejects the accusation that she is “Zita the Crimegirl,” a “danger to society,” but Hatke throws that perspective out there. I mean, she did steal a spaceship and consort with known criminals. Then we come to learn that this particular adjudicator is corrupt. Heart matters, and it prevails; what it isn’t is painless.

Zita the Spacegirl has always been an entertaining adrenaline jolt of adventure with inventive creatures and awesome characters. Zita is sassy, earnest and resourceful. She is caring and yet heartless in the way children can be. Zita has also proven to be intelligently written by a storyteller willing to explore challenging situations that will resonate with his young audience. I love how Zita struggles to maintain courage in the face of difficult circumstances, and where she finds the friends and resources to help her along the way.* I love the persistent themes of identity and loneliness. Love how the forms of imprisonment vary.

Zita-Interior-FULL-141

I was reading through my reviews of books one and two and appreciate the consistency in this series. And Hatke’s stories do not wane, but rather quietly ups the ante. We reach a conclusion that leaves us reeling, literally. The fast-paced and heightened suspense of a spacegirl’s adventure pops and we are left with a wake.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl was always going to be bittersweet, and Hatke does not disappoint. He writes in many returns and it is completely satisfying. He also writes a gorgeous twist or two. That ending is fantastic. I may have called Hatke a naughty name, but it was with the utmost affection as I laughed out loud and closed the book.

Must own. Add it to the back-to-school list. Shop for the Holidays already. But make sure your library (personal and/or private) has this series.

———-

*Notice how Hatke builds his heroes by trial rather than prophetic gifting. Notice how much the stories value imagination, grit, and daring.

{images are Ben Hatke’s}

cinema · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · wondermous

{film} Guardians of the Galaxy, 5 Reasons.

I’m sure someone will decide their means for being relevant will require them to pan James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). They’ll claim some disconnect with the director’s work in general as their opening disclaimer or some such entry wound into their “review.” I am fine–relieved, actually–to be absorbed into the clamoring for an encore. Was the film perfect? no. Was it AWESOME? yes. Look for the early-bird special if you need to, and take a friend.

5 Reasons to see Guardians of the Galaxy (in no particular order).

gotg crew
Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (voice Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Groot (voice Vin Diesel), Drax (Dave Bautista)

# : You are a fan of mischievous heroes in space and the silliness that is sure to prevail aka Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Gamora and Nebula have siblings, can one future casting call be Gina Torres (Zoe in Firefly)? But, really, the comedy, much of which was unanticipated and then subjected to the long-joke, was fantastic. Its a film that doesn’t rely on the energy of the audience to keep you laughing. Too, that the film is based on an under-read, lower-tier-developed comic has some appeal. While this may frustrate those who like to debate which characters get cast and how terrible the reboot was, I liked going into the film with the notion that we were not wading through a lot of backstory and bickering. It is fun feeling like you are discovering a hero for the first time with a theater geeked on the SFF genre alone.

gotg pratt
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star Lord

# : Chris Pratt, and not only to witness the musculature. The comparisons of Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly) and Han Solo (Star Wars) to Peter Quill are accurate and appealing.He is hilarious and charming, and you never once doubt his abilities to play an action star. When he plays the goofball, it isn’t because he lacks intellect or strategy. Pratt has range, and bless it, but they do not push the romancing Gamora line too far. Pratt’s comedic timing is golden. Natalya cites Quill’s dancing (near the beginning) as her favorite scene: she always thought heroes should carry their soundtracks with them. I actually like his troubled looks, like when he is subdued in the prison (just after the shirt went back on). Pratt does not suffer from the lackluster nor the over-the-top. I’m not sure the casting could have more perfect.

gotg gamora
Zoe Saldana as Gamora

# : Gamora (Zoe Saldana) as kick-ass, smart-ass, and vulnerable. Saldana finds and uses complexity in a character that could be just one idea of a female in comics or another. Yes, we were still subjected to the “male gaze.” I’m thinking of the opportunities for her to show she is not unaffected by the world around her. She isn’t a strong character because she is invulnerable, in fact, her circumstances make her courage and capability all the more impressive. The fight choreography is spectacular, though the quick cutting and cross-cutting during her fight with Nebula was frustrating in it’s lack of spectacle. Love how smart yet charmed Gamora is by Quill–and we are still laughing about the “Kevin Bacon” scenes.

gotg groot
Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

#: Groot. Yes, all the fuss is warranted. A bit of humor is floating around about how the production staff really only needed Vin Diesel to read a few variations on his one line. Digital manipulation would manage the actual reading for the film. Vin Diesel insisted, in what is taken as a lug-headed fashion, on reading the scripted lines as they would sound in the scene. I am having a hard time imagining what the results would have been with the original plan, but between the effects and Diesel’s reading, Groot was a flawless presence on screen.

gillan nebula
via David White interview; Karen Gillan as Nebula

# : The Make-Up and Special Effects. David White is the special effects makeup designer on the film, “he created the tangible, high-concept looks for Gamora, Drax, Nebula, Yondu, Korath, and the film’s numerous aliens.” You can read Scott Pierce’s interview with him on Co.Create (there are images of the process), “‘I’ve been fortunate to have been around the Marvel world for a little while,’ White says. ‘I like to think my own artwork and style has worked well within the universe’.” Indeed it does. The Kree architecture/design produced in the film is noteworthy. The ships are amazing as well. Sean favored the Black Aster, but we agreed that the ships, tech and the battle scenes were frankly marvelous.

"review" · cinema · fiction · foreign · mystery · recommend

{television} Mans

Heard rumors BBC comedy drama, Jim Field Smith directed Wrong Mans (2013) was good, and have had it queued to watch. Don’t put off the Mathew Baynton and James Corden created/written show (available on HULU) like we did. Especially if you could use a bit of post-holiday pick-me-up.

wrong mans image

It all begins by answering someone else’s phone. The consequences of mistaken identity is compounded by further misapprehensions in a series of six thirty-minute episodes wherein Sam Pinkett (Mathew Baynton), Town Planning and Noise Guidance Advisor for Berkshire County Council, and his acquaintance and accomplice Phil Bourne (James Corden), the mail room employee, try to survive one unexpected disaster after another. The madness is in just how mixed-up everything becomes, the brilliance is in how the series works it all out—and ends it. Yeah, that ending is deliciously demented.

Wrong-Mans-3

Sam and Phil are just your average guys which makes their feats of bravery amidst all the intrigue all that more astounding—and entertaining. The show is just ridiculously funny with clever little touches—the credits person has too much fun. And stick around for credits to catch the synopsis of the episode in little animations.

The actors are obviously having a good time with this little comedy, but the camera-work and editing are just as playful. The Wrong Mans is a wild ride, completely silly and wonderful.

of noteThey’ve been getting some flak for the poor grammar in the title–apparently poor grammar is not a laughing matter for some. The opening sequence of credits clarify matters, as does the opening episode. The “wrong man” becomes two when Phil gets involved; and really, you should not mistake the series for being dark & broody noir as ‘Wrong Men’ would only suggest.

———————————

wrong mans

Wrong Mans (2013). Directed by Jim Field Smith. Written/Created by Mathew Baynton and James Cordon, w/ co-writer Tom Basden; composer Kevin Sargent; editors David Webb & Victoria Boydell; Exec Producers Charlotte Koh & Mark Freeland; producers Mr. Smith, Charlie Leech & Lucy Robinson. Set/Shot: UK. BBC2 Television. Starring: Mathew Baynton (Sam Pinkett), James Corden (Phil Bourne), Sarah Solemani (Lizzie), Tom Basden (Noel Ward).

"review" · cinema · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} into darkness

I did a quick spoiler-free post here. This will have “spoilers!” (yes, you heard River Song correctly my Whovian friends.)

star trek Chris-Pine-and-Bruce-Greenwood-in-Star-Trek-Into-Darkness

Kirk (Chris Pine) has a thing or two to learn about being a Captain of a Starfleet ship. There is protocol, one. Another: honesty and transparency in filed reports. We’ll be unamused by the irony of this one later. His risks involve rule-breaking and we can hardly fault him choosing love/friendship over an impersonal order. Kirk not only represents a human element in character and station, he fights for it. He often comes across as so given over to human emotion/desires that we are to be pleasantly surprised that he is quite calculating/intelligent. He is a great character.

Of course, one of his greatest traits is also one of his worst flaws. He can run with the emotional in less healthy ways, like vengeance. Arrogance is a bit of a problem as well. Kirk is uncomfortably volatile at times. We like that he can be hard to anticipate, it produces the right sort of tension—for the audience, not his superiors. He weighs risks with his gut rather than his mind; and we have to trust his gut. [aside: tests have shown that people who trust their gut suffer less from buyer’s remorse. it is a fallacy to think that the gut is anything less than a refined-since-birth-decision-making part of your brain.] As Pike (Bruce Greenwood) worries, perhaps Kirk’s ‘gut’ is too young, and he’s been placed into his position too soon.

I’m still warming to Chris Pine, but it was a great moment for him when sitting at the bar receiving grace. The character shouldn’t wear humility well, but for those necessary glimpses, Pine was convincing. Our theater audience was completely still. The film moves to humor and we can breathe. Then we are launched into dread and the spectacle of a firefight. –was it just mean or did anyone else notice that extraordinary delay in responders?–

star trek stid-banner

The villain, we believe, is one of Starfleet’s own, an agent gone rogue. And we aren’t wrong in the sense that this mystery man is employed by the powers-that-be. Our particular anxiety is that he represents only his own interests; and what we know of them makes us uncomfortable with how they do not align with our own. Of greater threat: he is physically and intellectually superior; he observes fewer boundaries; and seems unstoppable. Furthermore, he is in some ways a victim of the same terrible power that has targeted the USS Enterprise. The dilemma is hardly an either/or. And each character (good and bad) removes themselves to answer for their own beliefs, rather than uphold or defend a national rhetoric.

The villains are those gone rogue, acting in their own interests, but then the heroes are portrayed in pursuit of their own conscience as well. And this isn’t to say that any of the aforementioned interests do not consider those for whom they feel responsible (nation, brethren, crew). In the end, it is whomever has the greater moral solution, that gets the gold star, and neither militarization nor vengeance gets that star. Primarily because certain sacrifices are unwarranted, no place is made for their consequence: loss of lives (often collateral) being a big one; betrayal is another. It is telling who elicits feelings of betrayal and why. Some such conflicts can be resolved given time and communication: Uhura/Spock; Kirk/Pike; Kirk/Spock; Kirk/Scotty… Others cannot be resolved because self-sacrifice is out of the heroes’ hands. They are not going to die for a worthy cause, but for the egotism of a tyrant (read Marcus).

Kirk shares sympathies with varying perspectives throughout the film and he is able to institute whatever stop-gap is deemed necessary from crossing those lines that the film’s villains have. The crew helps. They come with their own experience and sense of reason. They, too, calculate the cost and when it comes down to risking another’s life instead of their own, that seems to be the line to withdraw into any other solution. The relationships become strained in the shifts of power/authority, but they bear up and it all balances out—after all, they are their own. Kirk isn’t the only [action] hero with a skill-set all his own.

Star-Trek-into-darkness-zoe-saldana-as-uhura-33015492-637-692Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is pretty badass and more than a device to elicit sexual tension and/or a power struggle between alpha males. They’ve cast another intelligent, decisive young woman to model underwear with a raised brow and little more. Uhura and Spock’s relationship continue to be a fascination; as is the bromance between Spock and Kirk, sigh. The relationships between the crew members gives not only the film an endless supply of humor, but a lot of heart as well.

I continue to be impressed with how well this new cast have come to inhabit characters created long past and yet still allow themselves to be known. The sets and costumes undergo a similar presence. Old jokes and references to Star Trek past are nice smiles and anxious moments in the present—and they are actually more than a quaint nod to Trekkies. For instance, the “red shirt” was employed in a way that increased a sense of Chekov’s (Anton Yelchin) peril.

star-trek-into-darkness-pic02

Star Trek: Into Darkness was/is an exhilarating ride. Its humor and action sequences replete with suitable quantities of chase, fights, crashes, and explosions entertain. The drama of maturing the captain and his crew as individuals and in relationship foster an even greater affection for the franchise. Action films, at their crux, need only artfully timed effects and quips to satisfy the viewer. It needs nothing else to recommend what our heroes and villains look like. It is a nicety when they work a bit harder. It is a sweet strangeness when an action film, a genre characterized by violent conflict, to use its own terms as a conflict. –what is the purpose of the USS Enterprise? –on what terms (policy) do we interact with foreign entities? –what kind of vicious cycles have we found ourselves in and seem to perpetuate upon increasingly shaky justifications? We harbor both villains and heroes and this is an excellent source of conflict for an action film already rife with internal conflicts to confront.

Our villains may rise up from among us, but they are made (engineered) into their presented state by those who are given over to fear and anger, as well as a hunger for prestige that can only seem to be articulated in terms of war. “Power corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton). And when this happens, the film reminds us of an equally time-worn truth: that we have moral compasses within ourselves and amongst our community of persons [who are also not sheep]. It is evidenced in the powerful legacy of those heroes who are created by the people from among the people—spoken of in terms of service and rescue and self-sacrifice. It is no coincidence that the dedication at the end of the film is made to post-9/11 veterans.

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-Teaser-Poster

—————–Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)——————

Directed by J. J. Abrams; written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Damon Lindelof, based on “Star Trek” by Gene Roddenberry; music by Michael Giacchino; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey; produced by Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci, Lindelof & Bryan Burk; Paramount Pictures. Starring: John Cho (Sulu), Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison), Alice Eve (Carol), Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike), Simon Pegg (Scott), Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy), Peter Weller (Starfleet Admiral Marcus), Anton Yelchin (Chekov).

PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence. running time: 132 minutes.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{book} path of beasts

Sean expressed surprise that I was reviewing the final installment in a series, that is how infrequent I manage this.

pathofbeasts coverPath of Beasts (Book 3 of the Keepers Trilogy)

by Lian Tanner

Delacorte Press, 2012

hardcover 377 pages

The city of Jewel is in peril once again, as it is held captive by the frightful Fugleman, his band of Blessed Guardians, and an army of merciless mercenaries. There’s no doubt that Goldie and Toadspit want to get their city back, but how can a small group of children fight against such overwhelming forces of evil? And how, as Goldie is determined, can they avoid bloodshed in a war that will set thieves against soldiers, and trickery and deception against a mighty cannon that shoots cannonballs bent on destruction? ~publisher’s copy.

I adore Museum of Thieves and it really is a must for middle graders. It stands alone rather nicely, but then Tanner is so enjoyable the second book is all too tempting. And City of Lies is an adventure of its own imagination and preoccupations, not the typical bridge. Path of Beasts draw both books to a close, and in ways unexpected.

One of the difficulties Goldie must face in the first novel is how, for the sake of “safety”, the adult population of Jewel has given most all of their self-will over to the guidance of The Protector and the Blessed Guardians. Over the course of time, generations have been crippled by this “utopic” culture. The citizenry are a cowed populace, terrified of any hint of wildness. The parental figures, who are doing this out of love, right; not just (ir)rational fear?, have not fared well in the eyes of the reader.  Alongside Goldie and company, the reader would perceive them to be mindless and inept. Not so in Path of Beasts—with some of the parents, at least. Those who are determined to fight back, in sometimes brash but also very quiet subversive ways.

“If His Honor had said such terrible words to her six months ago, Blessed Guardian Hope would have cowered before him and begged for mercy. But her time in Spoke had changed her.” (181)

Tanner even attends to Blessed Guardian Hope’s progression over the course of the trilogy, moving the simpering figure to one with her own mind and a voice to go with it–to an extent. Hope’s self-discovery is a consequence of the adventures in service to the Fugleman. And hers is one example of how a person can choose to abide their oppressors or rebel against them. Costs are measured, are weighted. And in the end we come to a central theme to Path of Beasts: “Hold to your true self ” (283). And allow it of someone else while you’re at it.

pathofbeasts

We remember that Goldie left the Big Lie (in Book 2) with a passenger. While Bonnie had mastered Princess Frisia’s bow and Toadspit was now a gifted swordsman, Goldie had another person residing inside her—a bloodthirsty one. The military strategy Frisia offers is reason enough to listen to her, but Goldie is not keen to take a life. Her tools are trickery and deception, and truly these are the instruments best suited to retaking the city. Frisia takes over at moments and Goldie fears madness. Tanner writes with the smoothest of transitions in and out of Frisia’s consciousness. She also moves Goldie so close to her boundaries we fear she may be overcome. We are certainly curious how Tanner is going to relieve her heroine.

The publisher’s copy mentions a lone walk of Goldie’s and Toadspit in a duel to the death. This comes late in the book and each protagonist’s challenge is a culmination of all they’d been working toward. Toadspit aka Cautionary is all his names imply when we first meet him and he is downright charming by book 3. Goldie (and the reader) are reminded that for all the risks and all the terrible things she’s endured, she made the right decision.

“They were kind, in a rough sort of way. And after a while, what they did began to seem normal. They gave me another name and I forgot who I was. Kindness can do that to you, quicker than cruelty. (226)”

These are the words of a child turned Slaver. You see the sort of challenges Tanner is unafraid to present to her reader: that kindness could make a person become/do evil things? This makes sense as we, with Pounce, wonder how some of the parents do not fight for their children—sense punctuated by Goldie’s father’s “brave” act. Path of Beasts interrogates self-preservation as well as how are unnatural notions/ways normalized to the detriment of self and/or other.

pathofbeasts brizzle_colourTanner’s imagination, the action and the adventures, the villains and the heroes, all of it is highly entertaining. I tend to go on about the issues that create much of the conflicts because they are so unusual and so incredibly relevant to the audience. Tanner’s children are clever and capable, they are creative and exercise self-control, they have fears, but they have incredible courage—born of a willingness to risk themselves (let alone their discomfort over uncertainties) for someone they love. Someone needs to remind children of this–and their parents.

my review of Museum of Thieves and of City of Lies.

{cover illus. by Jon Foster; interior illus. (2 seen above) by Sebastian Ciaffaglione}

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · young adult lit

{book} blink & caution

Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones

Candlewick Press, 2011.

Hardcover, 343 pages. teen/ya fiction.

Blink & Caution is a great title, and I was not disappointed that the story and the characters so named were worth the intrigue.

Two street kids get tangled in a plot over their heads – and risk an unexpected connection. Boy, did Blink get off on the wrong floor. All he wanted was to steal some breakfast for his empty belly, but instead he stumbled upon [a kidnapping involving an important CEO]. Now Blink is on the run, but its OK as long as he’s smart enough to stay in the game and keep Captain Panic locked in his hold. Enter a girl named Caution. As in “Caution: Toxic.” As in “Caution: Watch Your Step.” She’s also on the run, from a skeezy drug-dealer boyfriend and from a nightmare in her past that wont let her go. When she spies Blink at the train station, Caution can see he’s an easy mark. But there’s something about this naive, skinny street punk, whom she only wanted to rob, that tugs at her heart, a heart she thought deserved not to feel. Charged with suspense and intrigue, this taut novel trails two deeply compelling characters as they forge a blackmail scheme that is foolhardy at best, disastrous at worst – along with a fated, tender partnership that will offer them each a rare chance for redemption.—publisher’s comment.

Need a break from the first-person narrative trend of young adult fiction these days? I couldn’t get enough of Tim Wynne-Jones’ narrative styling for Blink.

Oh, you think. A flock of questions come to mind, but the questions are too jittery to land near such a grumpy girl. So you turn the pages of the newspaper, looking for something else on the story, your story […] Oh, Blink, my smart friend. You have read more these last couple of days than you ever did in your life. Your brain is hurting from all the information in your brain box, flapping around trying to find someplace to roost, like pigeons scattered by a dog. (169)

The clever, quick and energetic flickering captures Blink. The images for metaphors drawn from his environs, just as the sources of his evolution as a character are. Caution’s narrative is a lovely third-person limited that suits the telling of her—a bit of distancing, a necessary watchfulness. The two narratives complement each other well, and as for the characters themselves? This is the kind of pairing readers will also find refreshing; although I was a bit concerned there with that ending. But you see the need for it. The length of the book travels some long and dangerous routes before reaching that end and its youthful (and not so youthful) audiences will likely be looking for that hand to hold.

Blink & Caution is the heart-pounding sort of read, Wynne-Jones making it very clear from the start the sort of peril each of his protagonists are in and that he is willing to keep them there. As the synopsis describes, the harshness of their existence, of the things they have and are going through place this novel firmly on the Teen/Young Adult shelf, but as jagged the edges are, many are allusions left to the vivaciousness of the imagination. It is the sort of read that lends itself to developing compassion in the reader rather than cultivating a gratuitous edge in a voyeur.

Caution is on self-destruct and what constitutes rock bottom for her is painful, as are the efforts and conflicts that draw her out. Blink is a victim of those intersections of rocks and hard places. Survival mode isn’t pretty and the human spirit takes a beating in them both. Of the two, however, Blink has this persistence of being that is hard to ignore. He is so vulnerable, so open to the reader and much of the world around him; yet not weak in any defined way that tends to illicit repulsion. He’s disarming. Wynne-Jones even manages to temper any sense of pity, favoring commiseration instead; which is well-crafted considering many of the readers will have experienced few of the actual circumstances.

However capable a good hero in these adventures should be, these two are tired, confused, and desperately trying to keep it together. And the investment in the story is as much about the Brent/Blink and Kitty/Caution as it is about that onward momentum toward the kind of disaster that they will risk their lives to escape—because they have to care about their lives enough to want an escape.

Other characters pepper the novel, some more attended than others but they live to serve the plot and protagonists. Some may call it neglect. I enjoyed the focus as the development of the protagonists is so finely tuned. Blink and Caution’s storylines cross in the present day, but the collision does not occur until Part II which is 142 pages in. Each line is compelling in it’s own way, weighted in it’s own way. Caution’s line carries her ever closer to the role she comes to play in Blink’s life and line. Blink’s drives the greater scheme of the story, the witnessing of a crime, an investigation, and the desperate grab for some profit from it. Caution injects the paralleling desperate bid for redemption, but redemption isn’t for her alone. And timing is everything.

Blink is my first love of the novel, but Caution, while appreciated before, adds another dimension of the wounded that is invaluable to the story. Add the “Afterword” on an inspired event and Tim Wynne-Jones’ thoughts about it, and you are further compelled to engage more than the heart-muscle. The novel wants to offer more than adrenaline with a touch of romance, but to dwell on the consequences of violence, intentional or no, victim or perpetrator. That he fuels his explorations with such determined characters offers a sense of hope for more than just survival, but redemption and a future happiness.

recommendations:  Blink and Caution is a bit Laurie Halse-Anderson contemporary fiction meets James Patterson teen adventures more heavily weighted toward a masculine version of the former. Wynne-Jones wields a fierce pen with Kitty/Caution, but his rendering of Brent/Blink is a point of adoration. The motel room interaction sealed it for me. I think Brent/Blink is the male youth that so many readers have been missing. If you are anticipating the eventual direction of your younger male reader toward Nick Hornby, Chuck Palahniuk, Joss Whedon, and Guy Ritchie, Blink & Caution is a good predecessor. For all the crap humans the protagonists encounter, there are some model-quality people and relationships as well. High school audiences & up, girls and boys alike, thrill-readers and drama-junkies both; urban dweller or no; for those who(‘ve) experience(d) broken situations or no.

of note: difficult to put down, especially after entering Part II. I stayed up to finish this one.