BOOK: The Skull Throne (2015)

The Skull Throne Year: 2015 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,509 minutes / 25.15 hours You’d think a book with (what I assume is) Renna Bales (nee Tanner) on the cover would follow her and the group of people she’s traveling with. You’d think a book titled “The Skull Throne” would spend a lot of time addressing the now-empty Skull Throne. Instead, we only got brief mentions of these two sub-plots. While I’m happy that the latter didn’t have many pages dedicated to it, I’m disappointed that the former was addressed for only a few scant sections at the beginning and end. Instead, the majority of this book spent time in places that didn’t advance the overall story at all. Having read all the books (and the “3.5” novella) up until now, my concerns that arose during Messenger’s Legacy seem to have materialized. Sure, I do enjoy following the three main characters from The Warded Man, but there were certainly moments where I thought I was reading...
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BOOK: The Fifth Season (2015)

The Fifth Season Year: 2015 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 927 minutes / 15.45 hours It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book with such a unique magic system in place. I truly enjoyed the amount of thought that went into a world where the main source of power was that of the earth itself. From magma to solid obelisks, the ability to control the vibrations of the planet (either to amplify or dampen) had an interesting and logical follow-through in its characters and storyline. I’m honestly looking forward to eventually starting the next book in the series since the world was built so well. It’s no wonder that it ended up winning the Hugo Award for that year. While I suppose The Fifth Season is also partly a pseudo-post-apocalypse story, it was only shown in small snippets and references here and there. Consequently, this would make this story almost “modern fantasy” in comparison to some of the classics. Additionally, this would explain some...
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BOOK: Origin (2015)

Origin Year: 2015 Author: Dan Brown Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours When it comes to Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of books, I have appreciated his ability to mold art and symbology into a tight and thrilling narrative. His works have not been without controversy, the main perpetrator, of course, being The Da Vinci Code. In Origin, Brown leaves the world of classical art for the modern pieces that are still filled with meaning and symbology, just not in ways that lend themselves to uncovering ancient mysteries. While there is plenty of interesting plot points and twists along the way, Origin seems set to stir the pot of controversy more than tell an interesting story. It’s been quite some time since the last Robert Langdon book released, so this book needed to advance its technology to be able to keep up with the modern times. If anything, I felt the inclusion of artificial intelligence down-played why Langdon was even involved at all, since he was mostly the “answer man” who knew the...
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BOOK: In Ashes Born (2015)

In Ashes Born Year: 2015 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 310 pages As someone who enjoyed the core Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, parts of it seemed rushed in order to focus on the rise of Ishmael Wang to the penultimate title of “Owner.” Along the way, there were characters and sub-plots that I would have loved to see more of but woefully had to settle with focusing almost entirely on Ishmael’s story. From his time at the Academy to whatever happened with his first marriage, I think these moments not contained in the wrappings of ship life would have added a few moments of reprieve between the exciting world of Solar Clippers. In Ashes Born manages to quench my thirst for more stories set in this universe. It also manages to pull together many of the interesting characters over the core 6-book series and place them on track to have perhaps the most exciting adventure yet. Similar to how Ender’s Game pulled disparate characters together for a final battle...
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BOOK: The Black Star of Kingston (2015)

The Black Star of Kingston Year: 2015 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 160 pages Immediately after I finished reading The Green Ember, I picked up this short story/prequel and read through it in one sitting. I had become pretty well invested in the world created in The Green Ember and wanted more of it before diving into the sequel, Ember Falls. While The Green Ember mentioned a story of The Black Star of Kingston in its main plot, I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed as I would have hoped. Sure, all the things that made The Green Ember great were mostly present in The Black Star of Kingston, but it felt a little…underdeveloped. Once again, the strength of the plot and characters helped provide entertainment as I read this story. However, without a more comprehensive understanding of the lore of this series, I wasn’t quite sure where this story fits in with the rest of the canon. I knew it was a prequel...
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BOOK: The Long Utopia (2015)

The Long Utopia Year: 2015 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 725 minutes / 12.08 hours After the events that take place in The Long Mars, I was expecting the next book in the series, The Long Utopia, to be about the CEO of the Black Corporation and the settlement he established to help him live longer. Instead, I got a story that had little to no connection to the previous plots. That being said, at least there was a story with a projected conclusion instead of merely a series of random events that eventually led to the sudden destruction of some location (as had been the case up until now). While I did appreciate some of the back-story for Joshua Valienté, there wasn’t anything in Joshua’s behavior or motivations in any of the previous books that indicated that he was even interested in learning about his past. I also was pleased that some of the “limitations” of this universe were brought back, or at least provided...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours What happens when you genetically splice together a reboot and a sequel? This film. It's interesting to find a franchise that's willing to recognize the past material and build upon it, while also adding slightly new elements to it. The idea of training dinosaurs just like pets was undoubtedly the strongest element of this movie, even if the result was the same as it's ever been. Part of the problem with this reboot, however, is that the characters don't seem to click, even to the point of the relationships feeling forced. While there were plentiful nods to the first film that started off the franchise, the plot seemed almost identical to the 1993 classic, but with plenty of cliches and hokey lines to go around. I think sequels like this recognize the elements that made the original great, but almost spend too much time overanalyzing to try and recreate the magic. These films ultimately fall short,...
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BOOK: Killer Thrillers (2015)

Killer Thrillers Year: 2015 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 899 pages I was glad I picked this triad of books up for free, as I probably would have asked for my money back otherwise. Consisting of three books, The Enigma Strain (with a bonus few chapters of the next book in the series), The Atlantis Stone, and The Depths, the drastic need for an editor (or beta reader group) became apparent by the end of the collection. I’m almost a little disappointed that there were so many errors in proofreading and logic in these books since I would think they’d be cleaned up a bit from their first publications in order to be compiled together here. While I did finish these three books, I can probably blame The Enigma Strain for that fact. The first book in this collection, The Enigma Strain was a passable thriller, even if it was a little cliché and stereotypical. I was vastly more disappointed in The Atlantis Stone, which hardly...
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MOVIE: Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours In the never-ending array of superheroes feeding into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to support such franchises like Captain America and The Avengers, it can be difficult to make some of the B-tier and C-tier heroes seem interesting enough to devote a whole movie to them. To ensure each movie feels different from its predecessors, certain unique attributes must be applied. Whether it’s the sci-fi-themed Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or the mind-bending visuals of Doctor Strange (2016), each film requires a gimmick to make it work. For Ant-Man (2015), it’s comedy. If you approach Ant-Man as a standard superhero film, you’re likely to be disappointed. There are almost too many off-hand references to much of the MCU to make anyone not familiar with the vast array of movies lost and confused. Plus, the hero’s “origin story” in Ant-Man is almost par for the course. However, if you watch this film with the understanding that it’s more similar to comedy/caper/heist films than a superhero film, you’re likely...
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MOVIE: Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours For many years, the running joke about the movies that have won the Best Picture Oscar is that they only won because another film should have won years prior. Spotlight (2015) is this generation's All the President's Men (1976) in that it is an excellent film about investigative journalism that broke open a huge cover-up, changing the world forever. Both films deserved to be Best Picture, but Spotlight manages to take an uncomfortable subject and be frank and open about the problems that we still see in today's society. Since most of the movie is comprised of uncovering the truth behind the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, it's surprising how gripping and well-paced the film ends up being. Part of the genius of this film is the high-energy dedication these four journalists have in uncovering the terrifying truths that had been lurking in the shadows for decades. While such a subject could easily create a...
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BOOK: Time of Destruction (2015)

Time of Destruction Year: 2015 Author: John C. Meyer Length: 386 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** Having written a time-travel novel myself, I can understand how difficult continuity can be to ensure the story makes sense. In Time of Destruction, the continuity of events is certainly there, but it lacks in so many other areas as to make it almost unreadable. While the continuity of the timeline was well thought out, the continuity of details was not. From limiting the “time bubble” to 30 minutes of air, then allowing an antagonist to exist in the space for a full hour, to inconsistencies in the spelling of minor characters’ names (even on the same page), Time of Destruction has a good story buried deep within a mess of simple writing errata. Right from the start, the format of the book highlights the author’s lack of quality control. From the right-hand pages having the page number in the gutter margin to the right-aligned text to...
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BOOK: Shadowguard (2015)

Shadowguard Year: 2015 Author: Gama Ray Martinez Length: 228 pages I picked this book up for free on my Kindle recently, probably due to some promotion to heighten awareness of the latest book in the Pharim War series. As the first book in this series, Shadowguard doesn’t waste any time getting down into the action of the story. Somewhat light on exposition and description, the world created here is still vibrant and fascinating, regardless. The story's characters and setting immediately immersed me in the world, and that's not even mentioning the interesting magic system Gama Ray Martinez has created. It fell in line with the fantasy genre without being too derivative of it. Some may say a series of books about a magical boy learning magic at an illustrious school sounds a lot like the Harry Potter series. The fact that the Pharim War series has a fantasy world setting, and isn't just a hidden part of our real world, makes it distinctly different from J.K....
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MOVIE: Hardcore Henry (2015)

Hardcore Henry Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours When the trailer for this movie came out, I had high hopes for this “conceptual” idea. With the increased popularity and proliferation of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, I could see a film like this doing well in an immersive environment like VR. After all, the whole film is from the first-person Point of View (POV), so anyone wearing the VR headset would feel almost as if they were experiencing the movie from the main character’s perspective. Granted, this film was not created for VR headsets, and after seeing it, I’m kind of glad that it wasn’t. Hopefully, future filmmakers can take the lessons from this film and create better movies that could use the format to its best advantage. Up until now, the only time you’d see something in a first-person POV is in a video game. In fact, most “first-person shooters” (FPS) are “filmed” in this fashion to immerse the player in the...
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BOOK: Thing Explainer (2015)

Thing Explainer Year: 2015 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 64 pages Growing up in the 1990’s, one of the defining books that helped me understand the world around me was David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work. Using “cartoonish” drawings of plenty of everyday (and not so everyday) machines, I gained plenty of useful knowledge that probably led me to eventually earn my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2009. While Macaulay’s illustrations were straight forward enough that they didn’t need explanations, some concepts around today certainly need some words to help gain an understanding of the way things work. Enter Randall Munroe, famed “xkcd” webcomic author and an all around smart guy. In late 2012, he published a comic that described each of the systems in NASA’s Saturn V rocket with simple words. Described as “U.S. Space Team’s Up Goer Five,” the concept of using shorter, more common words to explain complicated concepts came to its full fruition in Thing Explainer. Using the thousand most common words, Munroe...
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BOOK: Lonesome Cowboy (2015)

Lonesome Cowboy Year: 2015 Author: Frank Lowe Length: 284 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** The book with the generic cowboy on the cover contains a relatively generic story inside. I wouldn't classify it as "Action/Adventure" due to a pretty significant omission of fight scenes. "Drama" would probably fit it better, since that's the main, driving force of this book. I will admit that, while being about a country singer, it doesn't focus too long on the "losses" in life (i.e. the guy lost his dog, his truck, his girl, et cetera). Of course, the types and magnitude of the successes of the main character do make the story hard to believe at times. Told in the third person, Lonesome Cowboy suffers from having a "telling" narrator instead of the characters "showing" their emotions. Consequently, even if the characters do show their emotions, the narrator telling the reader these emotions before they happen makes the whole bit seem repetitive and redundant. In fact, there's almost...
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BOOK: DreamLync (2015)

DreamLync Year: 2015 Author: K.A. Black Length: 122 pages I initially had my doubts about this book. There have been plenty of stories written about the challenges and cautions of a simulated society. From The Matrix (1999) to Sword Art Online, the blurred lines between the real world and a digital one are well within our reach as a global community. And while books like Ready Player One certainly have a nostalgic feel to their plotlines, DreamLync manages to flip the concept on its head and show how hard it is to pull oneself from a heavily digital social experience. While I would argue that the timeline for this book would be in the next 20-30 years, instead of more than 100 away (just look at Her (2013) for example), the same interpersonal problems will likely still exist. Told via the almost forgettable "everyman" John Adams (not to be confused with either U.S. President), DreamLync shows the reader a world that could easily be ours (without...
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BOOK: The Crossing (2015)

The Crossing Year: 2015 Author: Michael Connelly Length: 564 minutes / 9.4 hours Having already blasted through the rest of the Mickey Haller series, I finally arrived at a book that didn't center around the defense lawyer. Instead, The Crossing follows Harry Bosch, Haller's half-brother (which we learned back in The Brass Verdict). I realize that Mickey Haller is merely a spin-off series from the main Harry Bosch series, so it was interesting to finally enter the main storyline of Connelly's longest-running character. Now I see that he writes Bosch books in third-person, as compared to Haller's first-person, which was why I was confused when the POVs switched in one of the previous books featuring both of them. Coming into this series at the twentieth book was a little jarring to me, but not entirely disorienting. There were plenty of references to previous books I had not read; but by the sounds of them, these predecessors were certainly exciting. What probably helped with my transition...
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BOOK: Lives of Unstoppable Hope (2015)

Lives of Unstoppable Hope Year: 2015 Author: Stant Litore Length: 124 pages As a Colorado author, I often run across other authors at conventions in the state. I’ve seen Stant at a few of the conventions, the most recent being Mile-Hi Con 2016. Because I’m connected to the Colorado author community, I saw some of my author friends post that this book of his was available on Kindle for a very affordable price. While I haven’t officially introduced myself to Stant Litore, after reading this book, I may want to because it really spoke to me on a deep and emotional level. I appreciated Stant’s open and intimate look into the life of him and his family, especially in light of the medical struggles of his daughter, Inara. I’m sure I would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t had at least some member of their family in some sort of hopeless medical condition, be it a parent, spouse, or child. Having had some...
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BOOK: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Year: 2015 Author: Alan Dean Foster Length: 606 minutes / 10.1 hours If you’ve been following along recently, you’ll know that I’ve been on a bit of a “movie” kick when it comes to the audiobooks I’ve listened to. While there are plenty of movies based on books, I haven’t really been one to read novelizations of movies. That being said, I’ve found the writing style in my own novels to be a bit of a novelization of the ideas in my mind, since I usually try and describe scenes in a cinematic way. At any rate, I was expecting a story that held close to the film, and this book certainly delivered on that promise. I’ll admit that the more I think about the plot and characters of The Force Awakens, the more I find that it almost exactly matches the events of A New Hope. However, there were some weaknesses in the first installment of the Star Wars...
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BOOK: Dark Ages – 2020 (2015)

Dark Ages: 2020 Year: 2015 Author: J.D. Dutra Length: 476 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** If you like to read to escape from reality, this book is not for you. Practically pulled from today’s headlines, Dark Ages: 2020 takes a look at a potential future that could be mere years away. Of course, in order to do so, there’s a lot of conspiracy theories that would need to come true in order for this novel to be a reality. That being said, the one thing this book does well is to remove any hope you might ever have in humanity. Not only on a local and personal level but as a civilization as a whole. Unfortunately, none of the characters in this book are likable. They all have flaws and these flaws aren’t just minor character flaws, but full-blown ethical quandaries. The reason for this is that each one of these characters is an extreme stereotype. Honestly, this book almost comes across as...
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BOOK: Unstoppable (2015)

Unstoppable Year: 2015 Author: Bill Nye Length: 651 minutes / 10.85 hours I grew up on Bill Nye’s science show on PBS. I appreciated his straightforward approach to teaching science to children that was both informative and humorous. Possibly in part due to this, I now find myself with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and employed in a very technical field. I also find myself writing books which are surreptitiously educational, hoping that the entertainment value of my writing will subtly inspire people to learn more about science. Consequently, merely based on the author of this book, I was interested in reading it, despite the somewhat vague and ambiguous title. While there was plenty of very interesting material presented in this book, much of it I had already known about by keeping up with the technological advances of the world today, I felt like its order was a little off. Right from the get-go, Nye hammers home that global climate change is a problem....
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BOOK: Modern Romance (2015)

Modern Romance Year: 2015 Author: Aziz Ansari Length: 374 minutes / 6.23 hours I was honestly surprised by this book. As has been the case with most comedians and the books they have written, I expected this to be a bit of an autobiography in the veins of Bossypants , Yes Please , The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy , and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Instead, I was presented with a book filled with data, analysis, and information about how modern relationships work when compared with the relationships of past generations. Having gone through some of this “Modern Romance” myself, I could certainly relate to the information being presented, nodding my head in agreement as things I noticed suddenly had explanations pinned to them. But it wasn’t that the book was not an autobiography that surprised me, it was the humorous way that Aziz Ansari managed to present this subject matter, while also maintaining high scientific rigor. If I were...
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BOOK: How Then Shall We Live? (2015)

How Then Shall We Live? Year: 2015 Author: Stephanie Rodda Length: 146 pages The book with a question that’s practically answered from page one is as close as one could ever come to an “apocalyptic utopia” story. As a Christian, I understand the power of what God can do, but I also understand that some things come with His timing. In this book, each time a challenge arises, God seems to step in immediately and solve it, which really detracts from any thematic tension that could be present. Nothing really ever gets to the point where there’s an unbearable hardship because then it would seem like God isn’t instantly answering the characters’ prayers. Then there’s the characters. While I understand from reading the “study questions” at the end that these are based somewhat on real people, I found the characters in this book to be flat, cookie-cutter versions of ideal Christians. They didn’t feel human to me at all. I’d expect people in their situation...
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BOOK: Live Right and Find Happiness (2015)

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster) Year: 2015 Author: Dave Barry Length: 240 pages I grew up on the humor writings of Dave Barry. Each week I'd take his humor column to school and read it to my friends during my lunch break, laughing at his comedic style and funny topics. Consequently, I found myself enthralled by his books, each one leaving me in stitches due to his observational humor of the weird world around us (or at least around Miami, Florida). I was saddened when he decided to retire from writing these weekly humor columns. As such, each time he releases a new book full of his writings (mainly essays now), I usually pick it up out of habit. While I can usually blow through one of Dave Barry's books in a couple hours, I'm finding that I'm not nearly as amused as I used to be. It could be that I've grown up a bit and no longer find...
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MOVIE: The Martian (2015)

The Martian Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours I, for one, am excited that space travel is now a topic regularly covered on the big screen. If the general public becomes even a little bit more interested in interplanetary travel, perhaps I can see man stand on the surface of Mars in my lifetime. The Martian (2015) is merely the latest in a string of space-themed sci-fi movies that brings the excitement of outer space to theaters. While not nearly as continually intense as Gravity (2013), or as epic as Interstellar (2014), what The Martian does right is give a sense of scale to the challenge of returning to Earth from being abandoned on Mars. Gripping and just humorous enough to keep it from being dour, director Ridely Scott uses many cinematic techniques, including several montages, to tell the story many have already read from Andy Weir's novel of the same name. While many sequences and scientific explanations were obviously cut for...
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BOOK: Go Set a Watchman (2015)

Go Set a Watchman Year: 2015 Author: Harper Lee Length: 399 minutes / 6.65 hours Part of the problem of releasing a sequel to a beloved book 55 years later is a lot of other books have been written in between them. Consequently, there have been successful books written with some of the exact same plot and motifs, thus making the sequel feel like a rip-off instead of the other way around. In the case of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, I found myself drawing plenty of comparisons to Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (2009). While I felt the timeframe of Go Set a Watchman to be somewhat ambiguous, most of the similarities between it and The Help were in their heroines. Both were southern-born-and-raised women who smoked, were outsiders, and weren’t going to stand for racism. And while the main character of The Help did something about it, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch merely fell apart at the realization that everyone around her, including her...
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BOOK: Armada (2015)

Armada Year: 2015 Author: Ernest Cline Length: 384 pages When I first heard about Ready Player One years ago, I was excited an author would even try to capture the spirit of the hardcore pop culture lover. After I received a hardcover copy of that book for Christmas, I devoured every word and loved every moment of it. This was why, when I saw Ernest Cline had written another book appearing to be in the same vein of Ready Player One, I had to buy it and give it a read. This book was Armada. Unfortunately, I was not nearly as impressed with Armada as I was with Ready Player One. In Armada, the pop culture references were there, but almost to the point of oversaturation. There were plenty of references I didn’t understand because I haven’t encountered the source material, which was somewhat frustrating. Furthermore, what made the references entertaining and fun in Ready Player One was that they were tied to unravelling the...
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MOVIE: Insurgent (2015)

Insurgent Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours If The Hunger Games has given us anything from this uprising of Young Adult film adaptations, it's that each successive film is released in each successive year. There's no waiting for years for the next part of the trilogy to come out, only to have characters cast differently. The Divergent series is no different, but still stands in the shadow of its Hunger Games predecessor. This time around, we get the pleasure of Robert Schwentke directing the post-apocalyptic action. With his previous films like RED (2010) and The Time Traveler's Wife (2009), it's clear he can handle action as much as he can romance. While the action is excellent, the romance seemed to be a little lacking. Having read this book after watching the film, the plots start to diverge a bit (ha ha, get it?) almost in part due to the removal of the more sexually-charged relationship between Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James). Since the...
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