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A-red-lipstick-wearing bibliophile extraordinaire. Word nerd & Joss Whedon fangirl; Literature lover & book reviewer. Lady Libertine; Tea collector; Potterhead.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Review: Quiet

Susan Cain looks at the plight, sorry, power of the introverts in a seemingly extrovert world in her debut book Quiet.

I had no choice but to read this, I'm fairly certain if I was given one, I would have put it down and walked far, far away. It wasn't from a lack of interest but rather the sheer grating feeling I got from reading it.

It seemed to focus a lot on corporate America and how introverts can actually be an asset to the work force and even more valuable to their extroverted counterparts. It seemed less about equality and understanding at work and in society and more about how much more advantageous it is when you're an introvert. This is something that didn't sit right with me, perhaps it was too much for my British taste buds but I felt this could have worked a lot better if she had spoken about personal experiences and struggles rather than other people's anecdotes on success over their rivals.  It's almost as if she wants to counteract the 'Extrovert Ideal' with an introverted one.

The book was split into several sections all of which seemed to reiterate information over and over and over again. There was enough repetition to drive me to madness. The kind of madness that introverts suffer at the hands of an open-planned office.
The levels of stereotypes were astounding, I have come to the conclusion that extroverts are rash, love to party and don't really think all that too much and the introverts, well they're the serious thinkers, the creative types; level headed. It acts as much as a validation tool as it does as a self help guide: You're an introvert? Don't worry, you're a thinker, you're smart. J.K Rowling is an introvert, so was Steve Jobs, they were rich and powerful. You're going to be a-okay. 

There are parts that do get quite interesting, you know as much as informal science experiments can get. She seems to bollix it up by making out as if introverts are a league of extraordinary hipsters, with their bespeckled faces, poor fashion choices and curiously described facial hair.


My problem is I hate anything that tells me we live in a one-or-the-other society. Gay or straight, male or female, good or evil and yes, introvert or extrovert.
The current world population stands at approximately 7 billion. With such a staggering number to consider, I'm not sure why or how we allow ourselves to think so simply.

RATING: ★☆☆☆☆

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Being Inspired.

I suppose I'll be using this space (on occasion) to shamelessly share some of my own creative writing, it won't be very often so you won't be tortured for long. I blame all the talent I've come across recently at a local spoken word night, Word Up- something I shall be mentioning again at some point in the coming week.

I found a poem I wrote at the tender age of 17, when I was inhabiting the lands of inexperience. It was half done, so I've taken the liberty today to complete (and improve) it. So, here goes. Enjoy, I guess.

***

It took less than a minute for my whole life to turn round;
Shackled and bound.

Shackled and bound?
You want me to--
Tie you down?
Tie you up.

You want me to--
Take your wrists
To tie them up, to tie them like this?

I let myself be pulled into a blood drawn kiss.
Your love, it was kind of like a fist.

We made quick work of turning turning pain into pleasure.
As sharp as a needled syringe.

Needled syringe?
No, as a whip, a paddle, a cut.
A butterfly stitch.
As sharp as a broken glass tumbler--

I may have held the key to your restraints
but it was your spell I was under.

It was becoming obsessive,
harder and harder not to miss.
Your love?
Well, it was kind of like a fist.

The problem was we weren't our only addiction.
I called us junkies--
You called it 'a most pleasurable affliction'.

Even when we were high,
a length of silk would bind together our wrists
Our love;
It was kind of like a fist.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians


can honestly say I don't remember the last time the protagonist in the story was my favourite character. I guess we can go with Harry but I was eight, by the time Prisoner of Azkaban was released- it was Severus Snape or it was nothing.
It's probably just because they just weren't Percy Jackson. At the age of twelve our ADHD New Yorker learns that he is the son of a Greek God (later finding out his father is Poseidon), his best friend is a goat and mythological monsters are trying to kill him. He takes refuge in the safe haven Camp Half-Blood where he trains to become an awesome monster-slaying demigod.
Percy also finds out that he's part of an ancient prophecy; a child of the Big Three (Zeus, Posiedon and hot-as-hell-Hades) will aid in the saving or destruction of Olympus upon their sixteenth birthday.
Occasionally during his time at Camp Half-Blood, Percy and his friends are sent out on potentially life ending quests (complete with a prophecy from a mummified Oracle). These quests involve a lot of monsters, pet hellhounds, trips to Hades, a giant underground labyrinth and Zeus' master bolt. Each book deals with new monsters and problems orchestrated by the same evil, I love the way it ties the plot together in the end- everything is arranged beautifully.

I heard many whisperings and murmurings about how much this series is like Harry Potter, I won’t lie about it there are loads of similarities in characters as well as circumstance. My sister and I played a ‘Which Harry Potter character is this?’ game during our reading of the series, it was a lot easier for me as I was juggling both at once.
Personally, I don’t think it there was enough of a similarity between them for it to be a major problem. Rick Riordan made a world in his own right, much in the same fashion that Rowling did. He deserves every praise in the world for his series.

And what a fantastic series it was.
It was fantastically written, and at times absolutely hilarious (whether it was intentional or not I don't know). More often than not I found myself laughing out loud at what I was reading, wherever I was. They were fairly easy to read too, each book only took a few days to read. I got a bit of stick from a book seller about wanting to read it, according to her it wasn't very challenging. Hey, we don't discriminate on this blog, I read whatever I feel like. What can I say? Riordan makes Greek mythology fun and really knows how to bring together the historical and the contemporary. Sometimes the language made my face cringe a little, but I was used to it by the end of the second book- I inwardly grimaced far less after that. Anyway, thinking about it really- the language of today’s youth is similar, so two thumbs up in that respect.

I've already mentioned how much I loved Percy, I'm not sure why out of all the protagonists I've been introduced to in literature HE is one of my favourites. I guess I find his naivety charming, or maybe the fact that outside of Camp Half-Blood he's completely unpopular. Maybe because some of the other characters didn’t have enough exposure for me to fall in love with them too. *coughHADEScough* I don't know, but I warmed to him quickly. The same goes for Percy's half-brother Tyson, his innocence was beautiful, I loved him from his introduction.
In the same respect I also found myself with an almost impossible to shake dislike for Annabeth. (I know I must be in a thimble sized pool here.) It wasn't anything she'd done or not done I just didn't quite grow to like her the way I did with Grover. Personally, if we're going for female favourites, I much preferred Clarisse. That girl had a lot of zeal, I found it hard not to like her; I loved the way she had an unreasonable and insistent dislike for Percy, even when she liked him, she hated him.
(The most Snape-like Character Award goes to Hades, I wish there was MORE of him.)
I could literally go on forever, this needs to be given a chance, away from it’s similarities to other novels and series. Almost definitely away from it’s Hollywood counterpart but I won’t even go into that right now. Seriously, pick up these books I’m fairly certain you won’t regret it. 

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Review: Looking for Alaska


Miles is a nerd; a scrawny, friendless nerd with a penchant for famous last words. The story begins with Miles waiting to leave Florida for Culver Creek Prep School in Alabama. When asked why he simply responds ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps.’ (Incidentally, the famous last words of writer Fran├žois Rabelais.)
He finds it in friends, smoking, drinking and pranking, of which all orbit a single life force. Alaska. The bookworm, ever mysterious, slightly screwed up; Alaska, it’s no surprise that our young protagonist falls head over heels in love instantaneously. 
When tragedy strikes, Miles and his friends take an emotional and philosophical journey which helps them to answer Alaska’s frequently asked question, “How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?*”

The book is split in to two parts, ‘Before’ the tragedy and ‘After’- I loved it that way. The transition between experiencing a Great Perhaps and dealing with it’s sudden loss was amazingly done. The plot however, was predictable, I was sure of what was going to happen in the first 50 pages and I was almost I was right when it came to the mystery. The emotions that came from these wonderful characters, were raw, they were real and they were beautiful. 
The predictability made absolutely no difference to me, I loved this book. Loved it. It was incredibly written, some passages were so moving they literally took my breath away. (Usually this was accompanied by a clutch at the heart and the fighting back of tears.) I particularly enjoyed the final prank, while hilarious it was also heartwarming, a true homage to an incredible friendship. 
John Green has the ability in both his vlog and his writing to completely captivate his audience. (Well, he captivates me, anyway.) I find myself being able to take his words, hastily paint it over real life and marvel and the wider perspective, so it’s no surprise I felt the familiar pangs of reminiscence when reading Looking for Alaska. 
Quite suddenly, I was 17 years old again and at the beginning of my own adventures into experimentation and recreation.
I was me, he was him and we were about as messed up as each other. He was 24, a drug addict and I, much like Alaska was hell bent on self destruction. I was a lot like Miles, too; finding adventure in at-the-time dangerous activities but all the while, trying to find a comfort in the void of misery I inhabited.
He captured the loss perfectly, having been there myself round about that age, I felt most of the emotions the characters did. There was no resolution for them in that respect and I don’t think there ever really will be. 
Green evidentially didn’t forget to be awesome when he wrote this book and if his others are half as good as this one they can be nothing short of great. 

Rating: ★★★★★ 

*straight and fast.

Review: Insurgent


Much like the beginning of this book, I'm going to rush in exactly where I left off, on a train and exhausted; sleeping in the arms of man/boy Tobias. (Four, when we're mad at him.)
In terms of content and pace, I'm in the more unpopular pool of liking this book at lot more than Divergent. I'm in a mind to say that more happens but it's very much all filler and no killer again. The main crux of the action seemed to happen in the last few chapters and I'm not sure why some of the things that happened, happened- but more on that later.
On the bright side, the main body of the book was filled with a bit more action, amongst Triss' confusion a lot seemed to happen in terms of getting a deeper insight into the other factions. I was really happy about that, although I do enjoy reading about Dauntless and Abegnation- the other factions seem like the Ravenclaw/Hufflepuffs in Roth's world- it was nice to see the others get some of the limelight. Roth also goes into more detail about what a Divergent actually is and that was something I was struggling with.

One thing I was hoping for was a connection with the main characters, I started to forge thin threads to some of them and was hoping to cement a bond that would have me crying with them. Unfortunately these characters were nowhere to be seen.

Triss bless her heart, is clearly suffering from PTSD, you know- having watched both her parents die, shooting her brainwashed best friend in the head and having one of her worst nightmares come to life at the hands of a sexy Eric.
Triss is more of the Post-Heaven-Buffy than the Badass-Baby-Buffy I was told all about.  She's more confused and conflicted than ever, she doesn't seem to know what she's doing or who she's doing it with. Trusting her boyfriend's abusive father without a moment's hesitation being one of those things. To deal with the growing guilt, she takes to throwing herself into immensely stupid situations. All the while she's brooding over Tobias and if she's not fighting with him, she's shutting him up with her tongue.

The usually level headed and least-Dauntless of the lot Tobias seems to have channeled his inner Bruce Banner, he's a downright arse to Triss most of the time in this book. Even after finding out about Will, he's more upset at being lied to rather than being concerned that his girlfriend is pretty much crumbling before his eyes and not at all sympathetic to her reasons behind not being able to yield a gun. Of course that's when he's not putting blind faith into a mother that's been absent for most his life or hulking out and beating up his dad in public. 
Caleb and Peter, well they seem to have lost and gained a heart almost simultaneously. They're definitely my two favourite characters, if I had to choose. Their inevitable switcheroo wasn't all that surprising, you could see it a mile off. They still keep true to the foundations of their characters which is a good thing.
I want to take this time to say how much I love Uriah, because I do. I really love Uriah.

The character deaths still a big fat zero for me, I don't know why Roth makes the most random people die. Marlene's was fairly sad but I didn't connect to her on any level, her murder was horrific though, I was clenching my teeth for a bit afterwards. I won't even pretend to remember the name of the guy who died on the ladder. I moved on faster than Triss did.
The most annoying was Jeanine's death though, she was supposed to be the trilogy's Big Bad and she died far too easily and barely put up a fight. I hope she comes back as some kind of android and is worse than ever. That would be cool.

The book ended true to form in a frozen in time moment, that would certainly unfreeze at the exact moment it left off in book three. Again, the twist could be seen clearer than headlights on a dark night but it was satisfying having the big reveal. It indeed answered a lot of my questions, especially the history behind the factions.

Don't let all my ranting fool you, I really like this series. It's probably one of the more messed up trilogies I've read, all my reviews indicate me disliking it but I don't. It's ever so confusing; I really enjoy myself while I'm reading it, Roth writes wonderfully despite all the flaws I find. I'm greatly looking forward to the next installment. I know it's a bit of a wait though, so until then. Be brave, readers

RATING: ★★★☆☆. 

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey


I managed to procure this book from a friend (apparently, they're sold out everywhere) this week after I had an alarming amount of people ask me if I'd read it and my thoughts.
I know the hype around this book, as I'm sure everyone else does; a-once-Twilight-fan-fiction-re-worked-into-original-prose; fantastic sex. Most people/reviewers seem to be split right down the middle either passionately loving or hating it in equal measure. There was only one way to settle it in my mind. I had to read it.

Bella Swan Anastasia Steele is a 21-year-old university student on the brink of graduation, she's plain, clumsy, innocent, naive and completely unsure of herself. She has to interview the elusive Edward Cullen Christian Grey, the CEO of a multi-million dollar company on behalf of her sick friend, he instantly takes a shining to her and we get ourselves into the beginnings of a D/s (BDSM) relationship. 
The biggest issue I seem to have with this book is the negative portrayal of D/s relationships in general. Christian is portrayed as a monster, to be a Big D (Dominant not Dudley Dursely) doesn't necessarily mean you were a victim of trauma. (In the book he does have baggage naturally. I'm guessing the fanfic would have pointed towards Edward not having a soul.) Ana is perfectly 'normal' so enjoying her role as a submissive must mean she has issues of her own surely? Trying to change Grey's natural choices to a more acceptable (vanilla) one seems wrong to me. It's not a subculture for no reason, it's not for everyone.
D/s relationships are based on a mutual absolute trust and absolute choice. When done right I can't imagine there being wrongful abuse; Ana knew what she was getting into, though perhaps may not have fully understood her own choice and reactions. Similarly, Christian seems to impose his lifestyle on her without her express consent- it's an absurdity considering how well versed he seems to be in it.   It's so obviously abuse at some points, it was uncomfortable to read and not at all erotic.

Then there's how closely it resembles Twilight. Anyone who tells you otherwise is blind, or lying to themselves. We have Ana, the clumsy object of every male's desire but-she-doesn't-know-it; Christian, who is obsessed with keeping her safe, has a problem with what she drives and is fiercely overprotective and jealous; Jose the dark skinned, black haired friend who she has no interest in no matter what his feelings are.

Let's not forget how simply inconceivable it is. Ana, a near graduate student at college; doesn't own a laptop and doesn't have an email address. In fact, she uses her journalist friend's laptop when she requires it. What? Anyone who has been through higher education knows how far in life you get without a laptop. Walking on water is easier to achieve than a undergraduate degree without Microsoft Word.
Her character generally is a grating one, especially when it comes to voicing her limited opinions about sex. James has her nicknaming condoms 'foil packets' and gave her the insufferable habit of calling her vagina 'down there'. As a rule of thumb, if you're mature enough to do it, you're mature enough to say it. 
I have to hand it to the author though, she has certainly mastered the fine art of Meyer's repetition in her prose. I have all the 'murmurings', 'mutterings' and 'lips pursed into straight lines' I could ever hope for and some new ones to boot.
My two absolute favourites, Ana's own and frequently mentioned inner goddess who has an insatiable libido- incidentally one that ends up in one of her many shattering orgasms. Ana shatters so much I could only see it in the manner of Humpty Dumpty, although unlike him I don't think all the King's horses and all the King's men will be able to put this poor girl back together again.

As for the sex? Well, I've had better. As far as smut goes I've read fantastic sex scenes in stories with infinitely better plot lines. Where the sex is indeed secondary to the story and not the only thing worth reading. I would love to see some of these authors with original works in bookstores everywhere
I gave the book a one star review, it's not overly generous but it is- in my humble opinion; perfectly justified. This truthfully, was a bit of a car crash read; it was poorly edited, littered with grammatical and even spelling mistakes and it's written terribly but still I found myself powering through it in a single afternoon. I put its single star down to some of the unintentionally hilarious scenarios. "Oh shit. It's my mother."

I do however, implore the author to change the name to Fifty Ways To Sate Your Inner Goddess. It would make me so happy and definitely soften the blow of this book overthrowing the Potter series as the fastest selling paperback, ever.

RATING: ★☆☆☆☆

Review: Divergent


Review: Divergent
I'm trying this new thing were I try to take things slowly, reading books in one or two nights doesn't really allow me to remember things. Having said that, I didn't expect to swallow this book whole the way I did, it wasn't meant to happen anyway.
I really enjoyed this book, although probably not in the same capacity as I did when I first picked up The Hunger Games (my other Tumblr recommendation). Although it IS wonderfully written, (in an easy to read without getting too confused kind of way).

Beatrice Prior lives in a world where her society is split up into five factions, Abegnation, the selfless; Erudite, the intelligent; Amity, the peaceful; Candor, the honest and Dauntless, the Brave.
Every person, at the age of sixteen gets the opportunity to choose the faction they would like to be in by taking an aptitude test.
With her inconclusive results, Beatrice struggles with the choice of staying with her family or leaving to discover who she really is, all the while harbouring the secret that she is in fact, Divergent. When it comes to the choosing ceremony, she makes a decision that will ultimately change her life forever.

I would have liked to have known a little about how the factions came into being, I probably would have sacrificed a chunk of the horrendously long Dauntless initiation process in order to have it. I don't know about anyone else, but I do like to know why my future is oh so dystopian. Sooner, rather than later.
I found this lack of backstory in the beginning a bit of a deterrent more than anything. I felt like I had to just accept that they were there in their position and not question any of it, which naturally let me to question but why? every couple of chapters. As the animosity between the factions grew, my frustrations grew with it. At least I got to find out why being a Divergent is so dangerous, though.

Once the first stage of initiation was over and done with, the book really started picking up for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the next two stages, Roth’s imagination seems to have no bounds when it comes up with ways to scare her characters senseless.
The introduction of the Dauntless-born initiates offered up a respite from the ‘evil’ faction members, which I found I desperately needed and gave way to a nicer image of the faction and what Dauntless could be like without all the corruption.
And corruption there was, as we find out in the last 100 or so pages of the book. This is where the plot truly thickens, with a truly nasty surprise for Tris and the rest of the members.

Regardless of how much I enjoyed the latter part of the book, I still found there was a key ingredient missing and I’m not sure why that is. I wasn’t attatched to the characters the way I should have been, so the deaths meant very little to me. Even the romance in the story was lacking somewhat, I didn’t get the same twisting knot in my stomach when I truly feel sorry for the star crossed lovers. Four did make an impression on me, as did Tris- I’m hoping the second installment will truly make me care for them.
My real intrigue lies with black haired, Dauntless leader Eric. Although, where’s the surprise there?

Despite the few flaws, Roth still kept me interested enough to read the whole thing, cover to cover in a record time. I have hope for this series, I really do- I’m not ready to count it out when there’s a second installment just waiting for me and could completely turn it around.

Watch this space, I guess. 

RATING: ★★★☆☆ 

Review: Perfume


Review: Perfume 

For me, when it comes to literature, there are two things of which I am absolutely certain; a little magic goes a long, long way and I have a definite penchant for the brooding anti-hero of a story.

*CoughSeverusSnapeCough* 
Patrick Suskind's gives me an abundance of both.
Here we have the life and times of murderer and master perfumer, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. (Just Grenouille, for short.)
Grenouille has the best nose in the world, with the unparalleled ability to catalogue and remember every smell in existence, be it the individual smells of wood, objects and people.
However, by a cruel twist of fate, we discover that Grenouille does not possess an odour of his own. Unable to identify himself olfactorily (and therefore not at all) he ventures out to create the perfect human scent, even if he has to kill to get it.

Although a born villain, Grenouille is a lovable old rogue. You feel gut wrenchingly sorry for him, witnessing him growing up as he tries to 'see' and understand the world through his extraordinary sense of smell.
He is perfectly aware of who he is, an evil opportunistic vagabond and makes no excuses for it. He's a perfect abomination; his brutal honesty and his complete loathing of the world around him only makes you love him that much more.

You only have to look at Suskind's writing style to really capture the beauty of the story and it's definitely where the magic comes in. This author has a magnificent way with words, at times the wording was so romanticised, at one point I had to stop and take a second to remind myself that I was reading a description of sewage and fecal matter and not a rose. In a way, the imagery reminds me a lot of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. It's so beautifully romantic.

If that's not enough to sway you to read it, there is the most astoundingly, exceptionally messed up hanging scene I have ever read in my life. Ever. You need to trust me and read the book to see what I mean.

Absolutely brilliant!

RATING: ★★★★★ 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry


I've been mulling over this review for months. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, I'm just not quite sure how I feel about it... yet.
Here we have Harold Fry, a socially awkward, painfully ordinary man. Harold lives an ordinary retired life, with his ordinary wife. You get the feeling in the beginning, although he's not quite happy, he's perfectly content to be ordinary.

Until he receives a letter that is. A letter from a terminally ill Queenie, an old work colleague who disappeared; someone who Harold harboured a secret guilt for. Upon posting his reply to Queenie, Harold finds himself walking from one postbox, to the next, to the one after- until he comes to the conclusion that instead he's going to walk to Queenie. Walk across the country from Kensington to Berwick in naught but his yachting shoes. It's up to him, to keep her alive.

Harold is an old man and we come to discover a man who is riddled with regrets. Regrets regarding his wife, his son and the regret of letting an old friend walk out of his life. What we have here, is a modern day Everyman. During this pilgrimage Harold reflects on the choices he's made in an attempt to reconcile and move passed them. He chances upon meeting fascinating characters throughout his journey, each with their own regrets and problems. Harold seems to take these burdens upon himself, to help heal himself and those around him. There was a particularly moving story Harold hears in a tea shop from a white hair gentlemen who admits to partaking in acts of gay sex.
Needless to say, I adore Harold Fry; I'm not quite sure if I want to be just like him, or wish I had a friend that was. Harold has the uncanny knack of warming you from soul to toes, I'm not sure if it's his innocence, his naivety or his sheer will to cling on to hope or just a combination of all three. Whatever it is, I found myself rooting for him with ever cell of my being, I needed him to get to Queenie if not for his sanity then my own. 
What Rachel Joyce has given me, is a wonderfully simple story about faith, hope and love. It's a nice reminder that, regardless of how old we are, we are never too old to discover who we really are. The only drawback in the book is the mention of Facebook and Twitter, which in my opinion, gives it a rather short shelf life; I don't see myself picking up this book in ten or fifteen years time, so against the bigger picture it's nothing but a minor irritation. All in all though, Joyce has done exceedingly well in her first novel- I would definitely read more by her in the future. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: Shadowmancer


I was about 14 when my then best friend first handed me a copy of this book. "Read it." That's all she had to say. And I did. I started anyway, I had a vague recollection about the sea and moonlight. I never got passed the description of the moon.
It was at a time in my life where my book love hit an all time low and I was in that awkward goth stage. It was Edgar Allen Poe or it was nothing. 
"Read it," she said.
We danced this same book tango for years and she gave up the day we parted ways at 16,she took the book with her. Years later it became symbolic, only known as the one that got away. When I started this book list, I knew it had to be on there.
Unfortunately, Shadowmancer has been honoured with my first ever poor review. There are so many reasons why this book falls short for me and of it's expectation to 'counteract the rise in atheist propaganda'.  
The story speaks of the loathsome Demurral, the antagonist of the story and the archetypal good-vicar-gone-bad. As a character, Demurral is mean, stealing money out of the collection plate kind of mean. You see, Demurral is fed up of serving God and so he decides to act on that lovely cliche; if he can't join Him he's just going to have to beat Him. He needs the Keruvim to properly control death, problem is- he only has half of it. Not to worry, he already knows it's twin can't stay away for too long.
As with all stories, there needs to be the good guys. Queue, Raphah and his band of merry agnostic men. Raphah is young holy man from Africa who possesses divine healing powers from God (Riathamus). Using this force of goodness he shows people the righteous path and the will to follow it. With the help of characters; the smuggler Jacob Crane; Thomas, the village utchin; and his tomboy sidekick Kate, Raphah sets out to thwart Demurral's plans. 
I'm not new to Christian stories being interwoven into fantasy and children's literature, C. S Lewis' series holds a very special place in my heart. I guess the difference is The Chronicles of Narnia was done well without being too preachy. Shadowmancer goes in the complete other direction, at times I wasn't sure if I was reading a fantasy novel or a sermon. For me the novel seemed to be about each character's journey to accepting God in their hearts.
The characters were little to be desired, they didn't seem fully developed to me at all. Save for maybe Jacob Crane, but his character was all but lost as soon as he accepted God as his saviour. There were other characters that seemed to disappear completely, seemingly off the edge of the earth and for no plausible reason at all.  I don't know if they're yet to appear in the sequels or if it's just down to the inconsistent plot. 
I don't think I'll be holding my breath to find out though. It's highly unlikely I'll be picking up any of the sequels any time soon. 

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: Hunger Games Trilogy


I read The Hunger Games with the film's release breathing hot air down my neck; It wasn't the primary reason I gave in but I wanted my own imagination to fill in the blanks before Hollywood did it for me.
I went in blind. I read no reviews, no summaries and I didn't even bother reading the blurb. I ignored the posters and adverts and pictures of the actors the best I could- I went purely what I was seeing on my dashboard everyday. (Most of the time, this led to avoidance via rapid finger scrolling). I put my faith in you all and I'm glad I did, for I was greatly rewarded.

Set in an oppressive dystopian future, we are introduced to Katniss Everdeen, a District 12 seventeen-year-old badass hunter. She lives in a world that is the product of 'the first rebellion', an uprising from long ago. No longer a free country, all twelve Districts are reminded of their passed convictions by an annual (and very public) 'Reaping Ceremony' for the Hunger Games; a battle to the death consisting of 24 children. (A boy and a girl from each District.)
Without giving anything away; Gore ensues
The Games were created for the means of entertainment for the rich Capitol (one could argue it could also have been a way to distract the people of Panem from the real issues) and to distill an already strong fear in the hearts of the people of the Districts. They were at the Capitol's mercy and they knew it.
The plot reminded me very much of what's going on in society today, in the age of reality television and very much in the time of economical/political strife- so I found myself empathising and even relating to parts of the book which made it an even better read. 
Needless to say I was sucked in instantly.
Panem, the Districts and Games became very real to me. I was there at the Reapings, trying to remember to breathe. I could smell the blood and the roses. I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach when I was reading the twist of the second Quarter Quell and I spent the majority of the books curled into the foetal position crying my eyes out; mourning the loss of so many wonderful people.
I've not become attached to so many characters in one series since Harry Potter, I would love to spend another 500 words giving them all a heartfelt mention but I'll resist. Although, never again will gold eyeliner and sugar cubes be just gold eyeliner and sugar cubes.
Aside from Protagonist Katniss, whose strength, courage and will to live I admired, the bulk of my love gravitated towards the beautiful Peeta Mellark.
It had everything to do with his heart, but not necessarily what he gave to Katniss. He was, in an almost pure form, everything that is good in the world. I often looked to him to be the small pulse of light in what seemed to be a never ending tunnel of darkness.

I loved the series- I really did. It was bloody, it was controversial, at times it was a little cheesy, sometimes a little too cheesy- I love all kinds of cheese so I was happy with that.
It successfully managed to blur the lines between good and evil though, absolutely everyone was tinted in an (un)healthy glow of grey. At times I made exasperated sighs, because I knew what was going to happen next... but something else happened instead. It had a funny way of keeping me on my toes like that.
Most of all, it was chock full of hope in seemingly hopeless situations- you're always rooting for the good guy, even when you're not sure entirely if the good guys are actually good anymore.
In the end, once you've painfully uncurled your fingers and you've waded through the olympic sized pools of syrupy blood, you manage to see the silver lining in it all.

You know, after you've flushed all the blood from you eyes with tears. 

Rating:  ★★★★★ (!) 

Review: Slaughterhouse-Five


At the age of 21, Billy Pilgrim was drafted into the Army where he was a front line soldier in Germany, 1944. It is here he becomes "unstuck in time," reliving and re-experiencing  certain moments of his life; the time he was prisoner of war in Dresden or when he was abducted and taken to live in Tralfamadore with a porn star named Montana Wildhack. Billy's personal calling in life is spreading the teachings of the Tralfamadorians (well, it seems to be that way anyway). 
I read this book on a whim, it's one of those cult classics you're a bit scared to pick up, just in case you don't like it very much. Or at all.
I've got to say I was pleasantly surprised, not that it was a brilliant read (and a brilliant read it was) but by how much I loved it. Towards the end of the book I started reading at a snail's pace, savouring every single word and quite frankly, not really wanting it to end.

I loved the protagonist Billy Pilgrim. I love him and I adore him.
He reminds me of a less cynical, grown up version of Holden Caulfield, (Salinger's Catcher in the Rye) he was so lovely and kind to every person he comes into contact with. Even when they weren't very nice to him, which is a regular occurrence in the book (I'm talking to you, Roland Weary!) It's the kind of love that makes every fiber of your being ache for their happiness, I really wanted everyone to believe him about Tralfamadore. 
Incidentally, I found the writing style of this book to be very similar to Catcher in the Rye, it's not the only reason I loved reading it but it did relax my nerves once I started to get into it.
I couldn't recommend this enough, it's beautifully written and an absolute joy to read. I hope I get the chance to read it again one day, because it's easily dropped into my favourite reads category!

Rating: ★★★★★

Review: The Invisible Man


If the internet generation has taught me one thing, it's that anonymity brings the best and worst out of people. When it comes to the worst, you can feel empowered and brave- after all, you can do and say whatever you please when no one can see you.
The Invisible Man follows the same social conduct, even though it was written in the turn of the 20th Century. Of course, there was no social media back then but man's search for power is a tale as old as time.
In the novel, we learn of the antagonist Griffin, a seemingly brilliant medical student who becomes fascinated with optics. Upon his research he discovers that invisibility can be achieved through the change of an object's refractive and reflected properties. (At least I think so, the science bit confused me some.) The physical body would remain the same but visually it can not be seen.
The story is based around Griffin's plight, the erosion of his moral compass and his susceptibility to murderous rage. 
I feel Wells made it as easy as possible to dislike Griffin and that was probably the point; I found it to be a distraction in the end as there were no other real characters to form a connection with.
Ignoring my dislike for the main character, it was written wonderfully and I found it to be an absolute joy to read. Often with sci-fi, the science bit can get a little daunting but this was written in a way that most, if not all of the audience can achieve a loose level of understanding. 
This is the first novel I've read by H. G. Wells, it's not my favourite book in the world, as far as science fiction goes but it hasn't put me off reading more by the author.
I don't know if I'd recommend this book to anyone, but if you like H. G. Wells and you like repulsive men doing equally repulsive things that mirror today's society... I'd say this is right up your street.  

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Review: The Fabulous Baker Brothers


I decided to buy this book after watching the Channel Four programme of the same name. (You can catch up here.) A cookery show offering two new faces to British television; a show with so much eye candy it quite frankly left me with a bit of a toothache.  
Each week, armed with flour and fire, brothers Tom and Henry Herbert, (a fifth generation baker and butcher respectively) give us 30 minutes of no-nonsense and theoretically idiot-proof recipes.
Well, that and a huge side helping of increasingly infectious innuendo and somewhat cheesy dialogue I never thought I would grow to love.
Quite simply put, this is one of the most beautifully written cookbooks I’ve read and a quite unconventional one compared to most. I was expecting to flick through a ream of recipes, but what I got was quite different:
Within two minutes of cracking it open, I was in my fluffiest robe and curled up on my sofa-leaving my sister to hold the fort in the kitchen. (Incidentally we were making a toad in the hole from this week's show.) I sat and read the whole thing, cover to cover.
I decided to read other reviews before writing my own, which is unusual for me and was surprised to see how many people didn’t take the book in as a whole. After all, this isn’t just a book of recipes.
The first two chapters, ‘An Introduction to Hobbs House’ and ‘The Baker’-swept me away to an unadulterated world of magic. It’s an inspiring story of a hard work ethic being passed down through the generations and it’s difficult not to hold them in a high respect because of it.
Occasionally, I read excerpts aloud to my sisters and the words just dripped from my mouth like honey. ‘Passionate’ just isn’t a strong enough word to describe these two, at times I felt I could literally taste the love they have for what they do and this is before I got to the recipes!
Of course, it was probably over romanticised in my head-as things usually are. 
Having an insatiable capacity to learn, the recipes themselves sent me in a frenzy of excitement*. They start off basic and increase in difficulty in the latter part of the book, it’s a good method to build up the confidence of novice bakers such as myself.
I have to admit, I’ve not tried out anything from this book yet-but only because I don’t know where to start; I just want to do it all at once. I know I’ll never fully master any of it-but trying to is going to be half of the fun; the other is feeding my wolf pack of a family. 
If there is a food heaven, I think I've just found it. 

Rating: ★★★★★

* A lot of people seemed to be disappointed that the recipes from the show weren’t included, but you can find all those here. Problem solved, really. Shame on you, low rating amazon users!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas


The 27th of January is 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau; it was by complete coincidence that I started and finished this book today. I don’t need to remind anyone of the horrors of the Holocaust or indeed, of Auschwitz, but in case you ARE wondering, a google search will more than suffice. 
I wasn’t aware of the books existence, until the film surfaced in 2008 and with my natural insistence of reading the book before seeing the film it was instantly put on my list.
It is told by the ever inquisitive nine year old Bruno, who lives in five storey house in Berlin, until one day his whole life is uprooted to a much smaller house in the middle of nowhere. Away from his sliding banister, best friends for life and his grandmother, Bruno finds himself alone with no real answer to why he’s there.
He’s alone, with no one to play with until of course he meets Shmuel- a boy who lives on the other side of the fence. The boy wearing the striped pyjamas.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this book and I certainly didn’t think it would take me just a few hours to read. I decided against having a box of tissues nearby, (a decision I bitterly regret in hindsight). In short this is probably one of the more beautifully written books I have read in a long time.

I was physically unable to tear myself away and I instantaneously fell in love with Bruno. If not for his complete innocence, then his wonderful and frank ways of reasoning. ‘The (adequately named) Fury ... [had] a tiny moustache, so tiny in fact that Bruno wondered why he bothered with it at all or whether he had simply forgotten a piece when he was shaving.’ 
Of course, I fell in love with Shmuel all the same. The incredibly beautiful and ill fated boy who offers the bitter taste of realism to Bruno; facts that he often dismisses ‘Of course there were doors ... they were at the end.’ The faster they become friends, the more I wished wholeheartedly I could pluck them both from their worlds and keep them safe.
This is one of those books that keeps you rooted on the spot with the insatiable determination to read it until the very last page and I highly recommend it. After closing the back cover I spent a few minutes in complete silence, my heart and soul bleeding for those who lost their lives and those who gave up everything to try and save them. 

RATING: ★★★★★

Review: Treasure Island


I was a bit reluctant to pick this up at first, not for any reason in particular, but the feeling was noticeable enough for me to avoid buying it. Part of this reading journey is sticking my nose in a book where it wouldn't usually belong- so when I saw it on sale for a pound I snapped it up straight away. It still took me over six months to actually read it though. 
What I found inside was every child's dream; I was transported back to the times used to hunt for lost treasure around my house. I was sucked in from the very first page, Billy Bones had me by the scruff of my neck and I loved every single minute of it.
Roughly, here's how it goes: Boy lives in an inn. In walks Pirate. Boy finds treasure map. Adventure ensues. It's a clear coming of age story... and one of treachery. And of deceit. And of cowardice and bravery and definitely a little bit of insanity. Plus, it has the baddest pirates that we've all known to love andfear. (Long John Silver, anyone?) This is what all adventure stories should be made of!
I want to give as little detail as possible because I implore everyone to read this at least once, to read it soon and to be simply giddy with surprise and excitement- because I certainly was.
The only downsides I can think of is that the language is a little tricky sometimes; I'm well-versed in the structure of classic literature but even I had to do the odd re-read. Not that it should put anyone off, it's well worth the effort! Thirty-four chapters of pure adventurous fun! I just wish it didn't end so soon! 

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest--
...Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! "

RATING: ★★★★★

Review: The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart


I'd be lying if I said my eyes didn't gobble up the cover of this book in a single blink. Originally, it was bought for my sister's birthday and I couldn't wait to get my greedy little hands on it. 
Set in Edinburgh, 1874. It's the coldest night the world has ever seen and Little Jack has just been born; with a frozen heart. Doctor Madeleine, a lady who drinks her own tears, fits Jack with a cuckoo-clock heart; a device that must be wound up everyday to keep him alive.
Translated into English from its original French, this book quite simply oozes beauty. The imagery on the first page alone made my expectations rise exponentially. "Edinburgh and its steep streets are being transformed. Fountains metamorphose, one by one, into bouquets of ice." 
I expected a dark gothic fairy tale, but what I got was far from it and it wasn't just the anomalies of mentioning the World Cup Finals and Charles Manson in a story set in 1874. I simply couldn't connect with with the protagonist, his love interest or his overbearing adoptive mother.
The romance in the story began much too quickly for my liking, I found myself needing to read it in very small doses. Jack's feelings for the heel stomping diva Miss Acacia turned from puppy love to a sickly obsession in a matter of lines.
I was made to endure every flutter of Acacia's parasol eyes and every cringey metaphor or Jack's cuckoo-heart/penis within the first five chapters. I was beginning to hate my love for poetic imagery. "I'm sitting here alone on my bed, trying to relieve my aching clock by squeezing the gears between my fingers." 
Although warming this old romantic's heart, I found this to be a very difficult read. Usually a book of this size would take me less than half a day to read, but it took 3.
In the end (apart from being beautifully written) what really kept me reading and the additional factor to my final rating, the quirky, love sick lothario and clockmaker Georges Melies. (Who, incidentally is based on the REAL LIFE Georges Melies.) I found him charming, I wish there was LOTS more of him. 
RATING: ★★☆☆☆

A New Home.

November 2011 started with a book list, compiled from the endless unread tomes stacked around my house. As the list grew, my determination to read them all grew with it and in January 2012, I set up a review blog on Tumblr documenting my progress along the way.

I didn't realise how much writing reviews and literally becoming one of the greediest readers I know, would end up meaning to me. It really got me involved in a lot of amazing things not only did participate in this year's World Book Night but I recently ended up being part of a reading group for this year's Guardian First Book Award, too. Equally amazing and wouldn't have been at all possible if I hadn't thrown myself in front of the literature train. 

As much as I love my Tumblr account, which you can find here- I felt I needed a space without all gif images and photo sets of Harry Potter going in between my actual written words. Essentially, it'll be the same blog but with less Severus Snape and more literature based activities, (as well as my usual review stuff). I'll be keeping my old one too, I've grown rather attached to it. In the mean time I'll move all my old reviews on to this blog.

So here's to a new, grown-up home.
Thanks for joining me. 
Kaveeta