Thursday, 25 July 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Age Group: YA
Genre: Dystopian
Pub Date: February 2012
Publisher: Harper Collins
I totally get the hype! However, I feel like it didn’t quite live up to everything I’ve seen about it. Don’t get me wrong, Divergent was a fantastic book, dull of everything I could have wanted from a dystopian novel: action, drama, and romance, and I really enjoyed it. My Youtube video explains why I didn’t feel it meet my expectations.

Divergent is about Tris, who lives in a world where everyone is divided into “fractions” based on their personality. Instead of choosing the selfless faction she was born into, Abnegation, Tris choses Dauntless, the brave nation. I really liked Roth’s world, I thought it was really clever, and thought-out, and I haven’t seen one like it. I would have liked more explanation about how the system came into place, but maybe that will happen in the sequels. 

The plot, pacing, and writing were amazing. It became addictive: I wanted to read on and on. There was never a dull moment in this book, as something was always happening. As much as the world was unique, I feel that the story wasn’t, but while I was reading it, I frankly didn’t care because I was having so much fun and there was enough twists to keep it unpredictable. The other reason why I didn’t care too much about the plot was because I felt the whole thing was about Tris and her discovery of herself.

Tris was a great female character. I often find dystopian books lose their sense of humour with the doom and gloom, but Tris was pretty funny. And good, and kind, and most importantly, flawed. I felt all of her actions were really true to her character; she was brave, yet not excessively heroic. Most importantly, despite living eons into the future, she was really relatable. She’s just a teenager struggling to find out who she is and where she belongs.

As for the romance? Well Four, Four, Four… It was impossible not to like Four. He’s got that whole bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold thing down. He also had great character development and loads of twists in his background. However, as much as I liked Four and Tris, I feel like there could have been some more background or development in the other characters. I would have loved to find out more about Tris’ family, or Christine, or even Eric. Roth created amazing characters, but left me hanging.

I think it’s the lack of connection I had with the other characters which gave me the emotional disconnection with most of the plot that wasn’t directly to do with Tris and Four. And this was the major flaw for me. The only emotion I felt during the whole book was “I’M SO EXCITED WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT”, while other dystopians have provided me with so much more.

Sum It Up: A must-read for dystopian lovers. I really loved the book, thought it was different and action-packed, but didn’t quite live up to the hype for me.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The World's End (2013)

Director: Edgar Wright
Producer: Nira Park, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Writers: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman

File:The World's End poster.jpg
The World’s End comes from the eclectic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead), and is the finale in their “Cornetto Trilogy” (using the world “trilogy” in the loosest sense). Gary King (Pegg), a man living in the past, is determined to reunite his old gang (Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Considine) to complete a pub crawl from their youth in their childhood town. However, all is not as it seems in their hometown, and suddenly everything turns, well, a bit apocalyptic.

It was fun, I’ll give it that. Pegg and Frost chemistry and friendship just sizzles across the screen, and there were enough jokes and character to keep it entertaining. I loved how all the characters took individual journeys and the writers were committed to having character development within all the chaos that was going on. But the main problem I had was the trailer had given away its biggest plot twist: the alien apocalypse. This meant I found the rest of the film fairly predictable, until it got to a shocking last fifteen minutes.

Plot aside; it was the characters which really made the film. There was something distinctly sorry and funny about King, who is clinging onto memories of old, and Pegg has never had a better formed character: obsessive, compulsive, and plain deluded, which makes a great comic character. Frost’s role as Andrew was the stark contrast to Gary (he hadn’t drunk in sixteen years), and he provided a clever humour, as well as a balance to everyone. The World’s End really highlighted good British comedy, within the high budget extravaganza. It was less slapstick and more witty, and you can see it shine through the American films in the same genre.

In the end, The World’s End didn’t live up to my expectations. Explosions, robots, and fight-sequences were tossed out every ten seconds and after a while the drinking and fighting got a bit repetitive. It was only the gems in between which saved it. I got that it was meant to be an alien invasion-comedy crossover, but it didn’t make enough sense to be a good alien invasion, and it was so caught up with trying to be one, that some of the comedy got left behind.

Sum It Up: Not as clever as their previous work, but still funny and with a heart. And lots of explosions.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 22 July 2013

All Our Yesterdays Book Trailer

My lovely and talented friend, Casey from DarkReaders/ TheBitterProductions has made and amaaazing book trailer for All Our Yesterdays by Christin Terrill which is out on the 1st August. I've been hearing people rave about this book, and now this trailer makes me want to read it even more!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and DisappearedAge Group: Adult
Genre: Humour
Pub Date: July 2012
Publisher: Hesperus Press
I think the best way to describe this book is a Swedish, black-comedy version of Forest Gump. The title sums up the beginning of the book pretty well, when Allan Karlsson leaves his nursing home and gets entangled in an adventure involving a suitcase of money, murder, thieves, a hot-dog retailer, and an elephant. The story is interspersed with tales from Allan’s past, involving some of the biggest events in history.

This is a very cleverly thought up book. I found Allan’s present day adventures fun, and his past was bizarre and strangely educational. I think the main issue with the plot was some of the jokes skimmed over the top of my head as I didn’t know enough of the 20th century history that was covered. I found the chapters I enjoyed the most were the ones that I had background knowledge too. However, there were lots of instances where anyone would find the situations hilarious, and as every good black comedy does, it made murder funny.

The main source of entertainment was Allan himself. He wasn’t a conventional comic character; it was his naivety and lack of interest (and fondness for vodka) that made him so funny. There was something unbelievable about him, the way he didn’t care for politics or religion or money, but it was that which made him a brilliant character. As for the supporting characters, well there was something a bit mad about all of them: whether it being a student in everything, or being a lack-wit that managed to take over a country. And it was the way that Jonasson made all these insane events seem realistic that made the book so engaging.

The only complaint I have is in the writing. I found myself loving the story, but at the same time I found the writing to lag or to have too much superfluous information. I ended up skipping over large paragraphs of text because I wasn’t that interested. If anything, this book did make me want to brush up on my history and politics, and I found it to be a good, unreliable source of events that I want to know about. The good thing about it being written by a Swedish author was that there was no British or American bias to the story, meaning that unlike Forest Gump, it was easier to get a fun and slightly more truthful story.

Sum It Up: A fun and witty story, perfect for those with an interest in history and politics, but for those who don’t, it can drag a bit.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Monsters University (2013)

Director: Dan Scanlon
Producer: Kori Rae
File:Monsters University poster 3.jpgScreenwriters: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon
Starring: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi
Rating: U/ G

I have a strong feeling that my nostalgia for Monsters Inc. is going to bias this review, but I’ll say it anyway, I loved this film! There, I said it.

Monsters University is the prequel to Monsters Inc. and follows Mike and Sully before they became the scare duo of the original film, back to their “collage” years. Mike and Sully are initially enemies, due to Sully’s lazy attitude, and Mike’s lack of scariness. After nearly getting expelled, they are forced to compete in the “Scare Games” together, where they bond and discover what a great team they are.

Mike and Sully are as great as they were in the original. They contrasted each other and reflected a little bit of everyone. Pixar really tapped into everyone’s love of the underdog, and the supporting cast of Oozma Kappa was hilarious. Helen Mirren’s first voice acting role deserves a mention, as she was definitely the scariest monster of them all.

It’s very predictable up till the end, and for once I don’t care. Because Monsters University has all the charm, character, and wit of the original. It reminded me off my childhood love of Pixar, and the universality of its stories. Or maybe it has a little to do with me going to university this year… Was it the best Pixar film ever made? No. But Pixar’s bar is pretty high. The entertainment for adults as well as children was showcased through the film, with plithy remarks that were sure to skim over children’s heads but into adult mind. Most importantly, it tugged at your heart-strings. I genuinely cared about all the characters, and although I could guess at the ending, it didn’t make the journey any less enjoyable.

What I liked the most about the story was the message it sent out. In a society where a university degree seems like everything, and the attitude of “ you can do whatever you want to”, Monsters University took a daring stance on it. Despite studying his hardest, Mike was not cut out to be a scarer like he dreamed off, but he found out that there was something he was better at instead. The ending also showed that you don’t need a university degree to achieve what you want, but hard work and effort.

As for the animation? Pixar is upping its game with each production. Fur was a breakthrough back in 2001, but now the backgrounds are starting to look more like film clips from the real world. For me, the real testament of Pixar’s true ability was in the six-minute short film The Blue Umbrella before the main film, which not only showcased Pixar’s astonishing skills (for the first minute I honestly thought there was real world shots), but its ability to make you feel things you never thought you could.

Pixar may not be quite back to its former glory, but this film is a step closer to it, and gives me faith for Finding Dory, its next sequel.

Sum It Up: Funny and sincere, Pixar’s film will appeal to children, older original watchers of Monsters Inc. and adults. So really, it’s just for everyone.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Zoobiquity by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers

Age Group: Adult
Genre: Popular Science
Pub Date: June 2012
Publisher: Virgin Books

A time ago I wanted to be a vet. So when I came across this book it sparked a curiosity in me. There are very few medical popular science books around, and even fewer veterinary related ones. And I have to say it was a truly illuminating book, and one anyone interested in medicine (be it animal or human) or science should read.

Although written by two authors, Zoobiquity is written from the perspective of Dr Natterson, a doctor, and her journey discovering comparative medicine. The book is very easy to follow, and you don't need a insane amount of scientific knowledge to read it (which in my experience, a lot of "mainstream" popular science requires). I'm only 19, but I could have easily read this book at 16.

Zoobiquity takes us on a journey comparing important issues in the medical community (obesity, cancer, STD's, mental health) with how they play out in the animal kingdom. And the facts you learn from it! Did you know dinosaurs got cancer? 

The way the book is written in an accessible way. The work doesn't feel "dumbed down", yet it doesn't make you feel stupid reading it. It's written in a friendly tone, with a few popular culture references, but sounds intelligent enough to be taken seriously.

More importantly, it feels like you're reading a revolutionary book. Right at the beginning, the book states that doctors and vets barely talk to each other, and I have the sneaking suspicion that she's right. This book is written to draw attention to the overlap between animal and human medicine, to encourage more discussion, and to look for ideas and cures outside the realms of the human hospital and into the natural world.

It is by no means an easy read, it requires you to think. But isn't that what you want from a good science book?

Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 13 July 2013

USA Book List!

Right guys, I’m off to the U.S of A in a couple of weeks, and I thought it may be fun if I do my favourite all-American books. Books which really capture my mental vision of America: freedom and sunshine and all that jazz, as well as my heart. So why don’t y’all come along with me with my book-trip across the states? I’ve also picked the bits from the books I would love to take with me.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
Do I need to say anything more? To me it showcased the good and bad of America, as well as taking me on an intense ride. This book showed the dark side of the American dream, yet there was something intoxicating about the lavish parties, and wealth and youth. There was something classy and gritty about it all, and I loved every second of it.
Take: Gatsby. Come on, who wouldn’t want him as a road trip companion?

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower
I have a confession: I’ve always wanted to go to an American high-school. Having said that, I have a feeling I would be more like Charlie out of Perks, than Regina George (bonus points to everyone who gets that reference). After spending most of my teens reading and watching sugar-coated American high school dramas, it was refreshing to read a book that resonated true to what could be an actual high-school experience.
Take: That famous “infinite” moment in the car with Charlie, Sam, and Patrick

The Princess Diaries (The Princess Diaries, #1)The Princess Diaries
I’m quite a nostalgic person, and The Princess Diaries was the first American YA I read. It’s the book that caused me to fall in love with New York (despite never have being there), plus it was just so fun! I related to Mia so much (except the whole princess thing), and again it was me secretly living my dream of American high-school through her (I had a small obsession when I was a teen).
Take: Fat Louis. He’s a cool cat. And maybe a tiara…

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird
This was the first American classic I read, and introduced me to the harsh reality of the South in that era. I think as much as I want to think everything is all sunshine and flag-waving, there’s a dark side to everything, and I felt To Kill a Mockingbird’s significance as I was reading it and found it a real eye-opener into racism in the USA.
Take: Atticus Finch (he’s just awesome)

Tell me what are your all-American books in the comments below!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Why YA is not a Scam

So yesterday, in a little corner of the internet, a debate happened on Twitter between Patrick Ness (@Patrick_Ness) and Shoo Rayner (@shoorayner). Patrick Ness is the award winning author of Chaos Walking, a dystopian YA trilogy, and Shoo Rayner writes for younger children. Rayner wrote a blog post on why he thought Chaos Walking was not suitable for children, the glamorization of violence in YA, and if YA is a genre caught up by the “glamour of Hollywood”. You can read the article here. Ness responded, and what resulted was an interesting, civil discussion between them.

I am utterly on Ness’ side with this, as I think Rayner has not acknowledged three things about YA literature. The teen reader, the purpose of reading, and why YA is necessary.

Let’s start with the teen reader, the target audience that Rayner had continuously failed to recognise. I think the confusion cropped up between the differences between teens and children. Rayner kept throwing around the fact that Ness had won the Carnegie medal (an award for children literature) despite his book being not aimed at children.

Hold up.

Legally in most countries those under the age of 18 are classed as children. Awards seem to work the same way. There are adult awards, and children awards. So under these technicalities, teenagers are children. That is why Ness’ book was in that category, because it is aimed at teenagers. Just because teenagers don’t fit into your idea of what children are, doesn’t mean they don’t exist in that category.

However, teenagers are not children under the definition of the word. We have higher cognition, understanding, and are going through some freaky changes (amiright?). And we need books to address this. For me the point of literature is not just to entertain, but to make you think and feel. So we need books that don’t talk down to us. Books that challenge us and make us think about society so when we are old enough to make a change we will. YA literature helps people who go through difficult times have something to relate to, it can give people a cause, or, in the case of Chaos Walking, make people look differently at the world.

And that’s why YA is not a scam. It’s not something made up by Hollywood to give adults something more exciting to read, or to make children grow up too fast. Books aren’t making children grow up fast. That fault is due to the internet, widespread information, and society in general. I am proud to have been a teenager in this era. In an era where I’m actually taking interest in what’s going on. Where I use information as knowledge and technology as a valuable tool. I don’t feel like I’ve “grown up” fast, and I would hate a person who does not know me to make a blanket judgement and say that I have.

I am now going to address Rayner’s idea that children and teenagers are being “conditioned to kill each other”. I’ve made it irrefutably clear several times on my Youtube channel and blog that I am a science student. I have looked this up and so far there has not been any concrete evidence of direct correlation between violence on screens and aggression in young people. So far, there has been evidence for aggression, calmness, and nothing at all. So Raynor, you’re telling me that in a medium that is less visual, it is going to affect my likelihood to be aggressive? In fact, books which portray aggressive protagonists may be helpful to society to help understand the individuals they are based on in reality. 

Novels and stories are exaggerations of real emotions and stories. That’s why they are exciting. Teenage assassin spies are brutal, but in an era of child soldiers and trafficking, are these books just not drawing parallels through issues going on in the real world to real children in far more awful consequences? We no longer live in the time of Enid Blyton, where everything will be solved by teatime and we’ll all sit down with some ginger beer. If anything the Famous Five is far more unrealistic than some modern day YA I’ve read. YA is there to address current issues, not to dwell in the irrelevant past.

As for Chaos Walking? I read The Knife of Never Letting Go when I was 14 in 2008, and continued to read on as the books were published. And I thought they were fantastic. I agree with Rayner in the respect that no, they’re not books about sunshine and unicorns, and yes they are very tragic and brutal, but unfortunately so is life for some people and children. The point of literature is to make you think and feel, as well as entertain. And boy, did those books do that.

There is a point which I do agree on in Rayner’s article. Is YA dominating children’s literature too much? I feel that for a while it has. YA is a relatively new category in the history of literature, and maybe that’s why there has been such a boom in it. When I look back to my childhood reading, I can only think of the classic books I read (okay I admit, I read a lot of Enid Blyton). Having said that, the most successful book of this generation is a middle-grade book, Harry Potter. I think middle-grade and younger children’s books are going to see a rise now that the hype of YA has died down a little. Books like Percy Jackson and the Fairyland series are excellent books enjoyed by all ages, and I think plenty is still to come.

Ness and Rayner brought up an excellent debate on Twitter, and you should check the whole thing out. However the whole issue boils down to the categorisation of teenagers by adults. We are not children, and we are not adults, but we do have a voice, and we do deserve to be heard. And that is fundamentally why YA is so important.

Sorry for the rant guys, my blood was boiling over this. Please leave some comments and join in the discussion!

Note: Rayner has written a follow up article here. I would love to rant about how he thinks scientific evidence is invalid due to who paid for it, but I won’t. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil, #1)
Age Group: Middle-Grade
Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date: May 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins

I really wanted to love this book. Really. I saw in in a bookshop and immediately fell in love with the cover and concept, and I was over the moon when I saw it was available on NetGalley (thank you Netgalley and HarperCollins for this copy). But I didn’t love this book. It was one of those cases of “concept much better than execution”, and left me unimpressed in the way it carried out its so-called messages.

The School for Good and Evil follows Sophie and Agatha, and their entrance into the title’s School for Good and Evil. The school is to train villains and heroes to star in their own fairy-tales. Sophie is beautiful and seems like a perfect princess, and Agatha is ugly and should be a witch. Shock horror, Sophie lands in Evil, and Agatha lands in Good. The rest of the book follows them taking part in classes, and trying to get to where they belong.

Let’s start with the good points: the plot and writing. Despite the issues I had with the rest of the book, I found it an engaging read, and well written. Chainani created a brilliant world, and despite the parts I found confusing, I kept on wanting to keep reading on. He is also a great writer, with enough description to make me see the world, witty one liners, and lots of colourful and fun ideas.

Sadly, that is not enough to carry the book.

I found this book preachy and confusing. Whatever message it was trying to give was erased a few chapters on by a contradicting idea. The problem was that Chainani was dealing in extremes: pure good and pure evil, making it very hard to see what was a statement and what was exaggeration. For one, the Evers (“Good”) vanity was constantly criticised, which I find pretty preachy, yes being overly vain is a bad thing, but wanting to indulge in grooming and make up surely isn’t. Yet, there was no middle ground covered, except when Agatha got a makeover to find out nothing had happened except she was beautiful all along. This seemed to contradict his message that beauty is a not essential to be good, and I would have preferred to have seen Agatha come to terms with her looks that didn’t involve a fairy godmother. But was this all exaggeration?  Also it did not offer any clear reasons for why people were good and evil. Were they just born like that? I kept waiting for a reason for Sophie’s actions, but never got one.

That was another issue, the inconsistency in Sophie. Agatha I liked, she was a well-rounded character, funny and flawed, and more importantly I understood her. She wasn’t pure good, but just good enough. Sophie was a mess. As I said before, I could not understand anything she did. Everything seemed to boil down to an obsessive need for Happy Ever After and vanity. Yet the only explanation was that she read a lot of fairy tales and wanted to get out her hometown. One moment Sophie was desperate to prove how good she was, the next she was the Ultimate Evil. This made her a good plot device, but an awful character.

Was this a good middle-grade book? I probably wouldn’t give it to an 11 year old. If you want to offer a good fairy-tale twist, there are better things out there (check out Cathrynne Valance). I found it confusing and I was way above the age-range. Nevertheless, it was exciting, fun, and sometimes very clever, so I guess my summary of this is just as inconsistent as the book itself.

Sum It Up: An erratic story with a fairy-tale twist. It makes an interesting read, but don’t expect anything too deep.

Rating: 5/10

*I received this copy from HarperCollins via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Monday, 1 July 2013

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice
Age Group: Adult/ YA

Genre: Classic, romance

This was really the best classic romantic novel I have ever read. It is witty, is is romantic, and it has excellent characters, and I thoroughly understand why it has survived for 200 years, and has inspired romantic literature as a whole. 

I only had a vague idea of what the plot is about, having managed to avoid most adaptations of it. I have to say, for a book which I thought I knew what was going to happen, it remained surprisingly unpredictable. The book starts off when Mr Bingley moves nearby to the Bennet household, and he immediately hits it off with Elizabeth's sister. Soon the infamous Mr Darcy arrives, and Elizabeth immediately hates him. You can see where that was going to go. However, what I wasn't prepared for was all the side plots and twists which kept the book entertaining and moving along.

The characters really makes the book. Elizabeth Bennet is everything I would want from a modern day female heroine, let alone a 21st century one. She is sharp, funny, and headstrong. She would not bow down to pressure, and was easy to sympathise with. I found her family to be full of character, and even liked the annoying ones, such as Collins, as they were so well written. Each character had their own quirks and motives, from Bingley's sisters to Lady Catherine. 

Pride and Prejudice may be a love story, but I found it to be an examination of class and character, one which is relevant even today. Austen's themes are clear, don't judge people on their first impression, and there are more to them than you think. That can be seen from Elizabeth's impressions on Darcy, and his on Jane. It is also a fascinating historical account on the importance of marriage, and the rigorous rules imposed around it.

All in all, I really loved Pride and Prejudice. It didn't matter to me how it was written, or the time it was set in, all I really cared about was the story. And if that isn't the mark of a good story, I don't know what is.

Sum It Up: By far, one of the best classic books I've read. It was funny, relatable, and had a brilliant story. It's easy to see why it's a classic book.

Rating: 10/10