Book Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Vanishing Girls

Written by Lauren Oliver

Narrated by Elizabeth Evans, Saskia Maarleveld, and several others

Published 2015 by HarperCollins

Runtime: 09:39:47

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before—before Dara kissed Parker, before Nick lost him as her best friend, before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred. Now the two sisters, who used to be so close, aren’t speaking. In an instant, Nick lost everything and is determined to use the summer to get it all back.

But Dara has other plans. When she vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl has vanished, too—nine-year-old Madeline Snow—and as Nick pursues her sister, she becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances may be linked.

In this edgy and compelling novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

My Review:

I was initially captured by this story because of the relationship between Nick and Dara, sisters and best friends. It reminded me instantly of my own sister and I’s relationship. The stark differences in the two, the similarities, and the way they combined perfectly to make a lasting friendship – I could tell this was the foundation to a good story with solid characters.

Things get complicated when a boy gets involved. Parker, their childhood friend. I’ll admit the love triangle here was a bit awkward. Parker was the sister’s best friend since they were small children and now he’s dating one of them, the other obviously in love with him… it seems so unhealthy. The romance and heartbreak seemed out of place throughout the novel. It did tie in at the end, but in such a small way I thought the whole plot revolving this could have been tighter.

The title of the story is “Vanishing Girls” though, and that’s what the story kept trying to lead up to. The story of Madeline Snow’s disappearance wasn’t subtle to the rest of the plot. It was obvious it was going to tie in, but stayed separate for so long. Regardless, it was compelling to read and the mystery surrounding it was the best part of this story. Things finally started to get intense when Nick caught on the trail of the truth.

After I finished the book I realized that many of the things that annoyed me about the book were set in place for a reason. The story is ultimately about Nick’s healing and coping process. However, her time spent working at Fantasy Land amusement park bored me. Again it played a small part in the conclusion of the novel. Lauren Oliver wove a lot of symbolism into the story though, Fantasy Land included. Again, it wasn’t very subtle, but the writing was clear and engaging.

Finally we get to the twist ending. I might have appreciated it more if I haven’t read so many endings just like it recently. It’s not that its uncreative or even unoriginal, there’s just been so many variations of this already. When I reached the end of the novel, I expected to have this hurting chest, bereft of air, can’t-believe-it moment. I mean, it was good, and I tried not to compare it other novels, but the comparison was just too relevant. With the conclusion of the novel, a lot of things fell into place. I understood small details of the story that I was confused on their placement.  Everything fit together, but still, not very tightly. Some things, such as the relationship with Parker and Fantasy Land, I felt were overworked into the novel to have such small importance in the conclusion.

Overall, the novel was an enjoyable read. I read the audiobook version, which became a bit confusing at times due to the number of narrators. I believe a print version would have been easier to follow. Each narrator, particularly for Dara and Nick, would use voice variations for quotations, which is great narrating. The problem came in when the voices of Nick and Dara were read differently by each narrator, the story just lost its reality. It is more difficult to get lost in a novel when the voices literally change. Also, the return back and forth between the present and the past made it more difficult to follow in the audio version.

2.5 Stars

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver is an entertaining read. The mystery was gripping, and the conclusion brought clarity to the whole story. Despite some loose connections and drawn out scenes, I enjoyed this novel. I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Book to Box Office: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner

2014

Directed by Wes Ball

Starring Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter

Based on the novel by James Dashner

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IMBD Synopsis:

Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape.

 

My Review:

As far as recent book to film adaptations, The Maze Runner had some major plot changes. I’m usually not against changes for film, and I agree with most of the scripted changes in the plot of this film. However, the most noticeable alteration was the timeline. Things moved extremely quickly in the film. Instead of three months, things were happening in three days. The change seemed unnecessary and much less believable, even for fiction.  The amount of knowledge Thomas discovered in three days after landing with no memory in a jungle full with wary boys, it hardly seems feasible, and therefore less entertaining to fantasize.

The other major change was the discovery of the exit to the maze. It is much more complicated in the book than in the film. The book’s solution required years of knowledge and mapping, cunning and teamwork. In the film, Thomas was even more of a superhero and was able to find a single clue that led them to the answer. I understand for the sake of movement in film and time limits, this change wasn’t altogether a horrible mistake. It had its merits and was an interesting concept, but I wish there had been more a of a team effort to to match the novels motif.

AND, since I can’t wait to mention it, the grievers; they were so completely different than what I imagined in the book. I can’t deny that I was a little disappointed. I got the impression that the filmmakers were a little bit lazy with this aspect of the movie. Making the grievers resemble giant mechanical spiders seemed like an easy fix to the complex and entirely original monster that Dashner described in his books. Then again, they were satisfyingly disgusting and terrifying. Many moviegoers commented that they didn’t believe the film would be so graphic in this way. I would like to believe the filmmakers mad this choice then to appease the faint-hearted moviegoers, and not because of a lazy, creative slump.

All of these things aside, the movie wasn’t too bad. It was certainly an  edge-of-the-seat kind of movie. The way it was filmed at just the right angle to make the maze looming, terrifying, and constantly ready to snap shut with its victim inside – well, that was pretty good. The maze felt alive, something that breathed, almost more so than the grievers. The casting was  a mix of ‘great’ and ‘okay’. O’Brien in the lead role was good, but lacked the frustrations of his curiosity and the unknown. Part of this I’m sure is the way the film was scripted, but it would have been nice to see O’Brien interpret some of that into his role instead of solely playing the stubborn and often ignorant hero. Alby, played by Alm Ameen, was broody and generous and a bit scared at all times. This is much how I imagined his character in the book. Lastly, Gally, played by Will Poulter, was a bit underdeveloped in my opinion, again due to scripting. Poulter did a good job with the role despite the scripting being a little generic. Thomas’s first interaction with Gally didn’t convince me that they would hate each other, yet that’s what audiences were led to believe.

Teresa’s role was even worse in the film than in the book. If they were only going to include the girl to cause trouble and not actually help solve anything, they should have left her out of the script entirely. That’s all I want to say about that.

Along with some well-chosen actors, the set design was amazing. I loved the layout of the maze and the glade. I actually liked it better than I had imagined it from my reading. And the costumes were another good feature of the film, the drab colors and similar design foreshadowed a bit to the organization that put the boys there and the reason.

This film is difficult to rate. The film alone was entertaining and I enjoyed watching it (two times actually). However, in comparison to the book, it made some unsatisfactory changes and failed to address my concerns about sexism from the book, actually making the situation worse. Am I the only one with this concern? I haven’t heard much talk about it elsewhere. Besides that, I would recommend the film to moviegoers, and I have heard many great responses to the film. As for fans of the book, be warned that it might not be what you expected, but it certainly isn’t a total failure. There are many redeeming qualities about this film in terms of its adaptation from the book.

I give The Maze Runner a 2.5 out of 5 stars

2.5 Stars

Vampire Academy: Film Review

 Vampire Academy FilmVampire Academy

Directed by Mark Waters

Starring Zoey Deutch and Lucy Fry

Based on the novel by Richelle Mead

IMBD Rating: 6.9/10 Stars

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 9%

Opening Weekend: 3.9 million dollars

 

My Review:

If you haven’t already heard, Vampire Academy didn’t exactly succeed its opening weekend. Both critics and reviewers have been a bit harsh towards the film. After watching the film myself, well, I have to agree with the public.

The funny thing is, as little as I liked the book, I was more so impressed with the film. The casting was spot on. Rose, although I still hated her character, followed the novel very well. Even better in fact. One thing that made this movie better than the book was that the director, Waters seemed to understand exactly what Mead was going for in the novel and delivered it better than Mead was capable of in her writing.That is, Rose was actually kind of funny. Her sarcasm was rich throughout the film and yeah, I laughed once or twice. Even Lissa had a few shining moments, she wasn’t as weak as portrayed in the novel, which I have to believe was Mead’s true intention. I was also impressed with Natalie and Mia – for supporting characters, they were capable of taking some of the spotlight. Natalie’s scene in the jail with her uncle was brilliant although her relationship with Rose and Lissa was breezed through and seemed odd in the film. Mia matched Mead’s description as exact as I could have imagined; she was both cruel and pitiful. I loved to hate Mia much more in the film than I did the book. And I suppose I should mention, the male actors were as tempting as described in the novel. Dimitri, played by Danila Kozlovsky, was the best surly yet sexy guardian one could dream. If all you want is an easy flick with something (rather someone) pretty to look at. Sure, this movie might be the best 104 minutes of your life.

For the book lovers, the film follows quite close to the book. While I followed along perfectly fine. There was a ton of backstory packed into the film. For 104 minutes, viewers were expected to follow too many complicated plot twists. Hopefully the sequel is more about plot and character development rather than packing in stale information. I suppose it is forgivable of the first film, but I think there were scenes that weren’t necessary.

Overall, I liked the film. I liked it better than the book. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but I really believe Waters understood what Mead was intending to accomplish with her novel. Waters interpreted the story the way I wished it had been written – with real humor. Although, it could have done without all the drama. I thought the characters were cast perfectly, but too much of the backstory was distracting from the action. Even with all of the backstory pressed into the story, all supporting relationships seemed to be lacking spark.

I give Vampire Academy 2.5/ 5 stars.

2.5 Stars