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Quote Monday #36

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Top 5 Wednesday: Books You’re Thankful For

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This topic is pretty open for interpretation, and my list incorporates a variety of reasons to be thankful for. There are so many books that could be included on this list, but I’ve listed the ones that came to me first, that were my instinctive choices. T5W is a group hosted on Goodreads, if you’d like to participate check it out here.

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The Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

This book series really increased my love of fantasy even more, and provided one of the biggest inspirations and fuels for my forays into fantasy writing. I loved the world and the characters (and of course – dragons). I just fell in love with the story and characters. It’s been a while since they read them actually so I really ought to re-read them and remind myself why I love fantasy so much.

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Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip

Ombria in Shadow was so different to other fantasy books I had read; it really opened my eyes to what fantasy could be. That it could be lyrical and mysterious, not just epic. This was the first book by McKillip I read and I fell in love with her writing style immediately. It was instantly my favourite book. She’s also one of my favourite authors and I’ve loved other books by her as well.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I know, such an obvious choice, but I really can’t imagine life without the Hunger Games books. I could read them again and again because they’re so thought provoking but also totally engaging. Each one in the trilogy is brilliant and hard-hitting for different reasons. I’ve chosen the first book for this list, as this is where it all started, and the rest of the series wouldn’t have existed without it.

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Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Some books just stick with you and this is one of them. A real eye-opener. I found listening to Hannah’s tapes through Clay an interesting narrative choice and one which really worked for the story Asher was telling. It was haunting to read. There’s some important messaged in this book.

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The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

This was a hard book for me. I struggled to get through it. It was painful to read. But it was the most amazing book. An element of it hit really close to home, and I found it quite upsetting to read, but I feel like I came out stronger on the other side.

Book Review: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

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71qbw-gazclChangeling by Philippa Gregory

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Publishing Info: 2013 by Simon and Schuster (first published 2012)

Pages: 272

Star Rating: 2/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

In 1453, seventeen-year-old Luca Vero, accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, is recruited to help investigate evil across Europe but frees his first subject, Isolde, from captivity in a nunnery, and together they seek the one who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.

 

Philippa Gregory is such a well known name in the book world, and especially in historical fiction. This was my first time reading one of her works and unfortunately it was a poor introduction. It really wouldn’t encourage me to read any of her other books, but I would have hoped some of her other novels are far better than this. It was quite shocking to read such a bad book by a bestselling and well-known author.

The premise is interesting and had potential, but it fell a long long way from that. My main issue with this book is the plot – or lack of it. It reads like its split in two halves. The first half of the book is readable but unremarkable. Luca is investigating witchcraft at the nunnery where Isolde has recently been made Lady Abbess. I found the mystery intriguing and didn’t guess the ‘solution’ to the investigation. It wasn’t a great mystery, but it was okay. There was just about enough to keep me reading.

It went quite downhill after that point. The second half of the book is a rambling mess with no direction. Coincidence after coincidence follow one after another. They happen to stumble upon another unusual happening to investigate totally by chance and decide to get involved, but it’s totally unconnected from the first half of the book. I couldn’t get into the second half at all because I could not see the point of it. The ‘solution’ to this investigation was highly predictable. I guessed it almost instantly so there was nothing to keep me engaged. There was no end goal, no point. There wasn’t even a point in all the characters being there except Gregory wanted them to all be there, so she found a lame excuse to shoehorn them all together. The plot (if you can call it that) is poorly planned out and it just seems to be a random jumble of events.

A book with a questionable plot can be carried by good characters. That was not the case here. All of the characters, including the two protagonists, were totally bland. Luca and Isolde had absolutely no personality. I didn’t feel invested in them at all because they were so flat and uninteresting. I don’t think I have read another book that had quite such bad characters. Usually at least one has a flicker of a personality, even if the others are weak. Not in this case. None of the characters were interesting or likeable and none of them developed. The characters have vague goals but Gregory steers them away from those goals to suit her plot and hopes the reader won’t notice. I noticed.

The one thing I did like about the book, and which salvaged it a star, is the setting. It’s clear Gregory did her research. I felt transported to 15th Century Italy and the details really made it come to life. This is clearly where her strength lies, but it couldn’t make up for the total mess of the rest of this train wreck.

This is the first book in the series and I wouldn’t choose to keep reading. However, I bought the next two books a while ago so I will attempt to get through them and see if I hate them just as much.

Book Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

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61l75lvsm2bl-_sx322_bo1204203200_More Than This by Patrick Ness  

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, LGBT

Publishing Info: 2015 by Walker Books (first published 2013)

Pages: 480

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

From two-time Carnegie Medal winner Patrick Ness comes an enthralling and provocative new novel chronicling the life — or perhaps afterlife — of a teen trapped in a crumbling, abandoned world.

A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .

 

The intriguing back cover description of this book caught my attention. The first half, however, didn’t. I started this book in February and got half way through it before I had to put it down due to heavy university workload. It has taken me a long time to pick it back up again, even though I finished uni in July and have had plenty of free time. At first, I felt really engaged. The book threw up so many questions, I wanted to keep reading and find out the answers to them. However, it didn’t go anywhere. The first half is so slow and the plot so stagnant I started to lose interest.

When I picked it back up again a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t hard to orientate myself again even though it was so long since I last read it, because so little happened. From the midpoint of the novel things start picking up and the plot moves forward instead of just stagnating. It is quite a heavy read though.

The one thing I did like about the slow first half is that it reflected the main character’s isolation and the length of time he was alone for. That was very effective, and I found it so at the time I was reading, but that first half just dragged on for a bit too long. The same effect would have been created if that section had been a bit shorter.

The characters are good. I liked Regine and Thomasz because they weren’t perfect characters. They were well rounded with flaws and depth to them. I also liked how the book played on reader expectations. The main character often thinks of what would happen if he were in a story, which is clever as the book refers to its own form.

The ending is quite ambiguous, which really works for this novel. It leads the reader to ask questions, to question the reality of what they’ve just read, and to think about the issues brought up in the book.

This book treats young adults as intelligent. A lot of YA, not all, follow cookie cutter formulas and don’t really push young readers or make them think. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of book. I do like a good easy read. But it is good that a book like this is out there too, because it’s the sort that really does make you think, and that’s a great thing to have in YA publishing.

Film Review: Dunkirk

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dunkirk-posterFilm Review: Dunkirk

Release date: 21st July 2017

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Aneurin Barnard

Runtime: 106 minutes

Genre: War, Historical

Watched in: 2D Impact

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

I was quite stunned to discover that this film was still in cinemas yesterday when a friend suggested we watch a flick. Almost seven weeks since its release date, Dunkirk was not only still on with multiple screenings per day, it was still showing in Empire’s biggest screen at my local cinema – the Impact screen. It was my first time in the big Impact showing, and the screen was absolutely massive, covering the entirety of the front wall of the room. The sound was bogglingly loud, much louder than a normal screen, and unfortunately I’m not good with loud, so the sharp racket of gunfire and bass heavy soundtrack wasn’t enjoyable for me and did spoil the experience a bit. The film itself was great, and I would gladly see it again (in a quieter, though unfortunately smaller, screen or at home where I can change the volume).

The name of the film says it all. It follows the events of the evacuation Dunkirk during the Second World War. While it was a mark of a military defeat, the evacuation of thousands of soldiers was a victory. The film follows several characters closely – a group on the beach trying to get on a ship to take them home, fighter pilots in the air, and the civilian boats coming to rescue the stranded soldiers.

It was in some ways a very strange film. There was no context and no set up. It starts at Dunkirk. Most of the characters the film follows are unnamed, and nothing is known about them. I think this was probably a deliberate artistic choice, which was interesting and different from the norm for historical films. However, it also made me feel disconnected from the characters.

The filming was spectacular. They used minimal CGI, filming on location at Dunkirk beach and with real planes and ships. It was refreshing to know that what I was seeing was mostly real, as so often these days filmmakers rely on CGI when some of what they are filming could be done without it.

At times the story wasn’t shown in chronological order. When I first realised this, when it was switching between scenes at night on the beach, and in the day in the channel, I was a little disorientated. Once I’d realised that was what had been done, it was very clever how the scenes were shown in a way that wasn’t too hard to follow (though I lost sense of what was happening in a couple of places). The pace makes the film quite intense all of the way through, with little let up for slow paced scenes which films usually have. In a way, this is reflective of what war and battle is like.

I haven’t watched many war films. It’s not usually a genre I would go for. The only other one I can think of I have watched is Pearl Harbour, which is rather cheesy and dramatic. It was therefore quite a relief to find that Dunkirk was grittier and real, not Hollywood-ised in the way films so often are. It’s an ambitious film that somehow manages to make a war film seem more like an art film than an action movie, but with the intensity and tension of one.

Book Review: The Hollow by Agatha Christie

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2da87b54f6f4af60e4d249408b40948d-agatha-christieThe Hollow by Agatha Christie

Genre: Detective Fiction

Publishing Info: from the Agatha Christie Collection, Planet Three Publishing (first published 1946)

Pages: 252

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

When socialite Lucy Angkatell organises a weekend’s entertainment at her English country house, The Hollow, it seems she has thought of everything: the capable butler, the requisite number of kitchen maids – in fact, the only thing she seems to have overlooked is the fact that most of her guests hate each other.

A far-from-warm welcome greets Hercule Poirot as he arrives for lunch. Instead, a man lies dying by the swimming pool, as a gun sinks slowly to the bottom..

 

Having only read one other Agatha Christie novel – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – I have little to compare The Hollow to. While The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was written in a first person unreliable narrator style with a focus on the solving of the crime, The Hollow has quite a different focus. The murder – and Poirot – do not appear until a third of the way through the book, with the earlier chapters exploring the characters who will fall under suspicion.

Set in a country house with a host of guests, I was expecting a formulaic mystery. What I got was an exploration into the impact of murder on a group of people. Poirot features very little in the book. The focus is very much on the guests of the weekend country get away, their relationships with each other, and their reactions to murder. Since Christie spent time letting the reader get to know the characters, I cared more about them when murder came into the equation. Having more understanding of the victim and suspects’ characters meant I felt more engaged with the story.

Despite the focus on character, rather than mystery solving, I was still glued to the pages, eager to reach the end and find the solution to the murder. Satisfyingly, it wasn’t a predictable ending, and I hadn’t worked out the ‘whodunit’.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of Christie’s earliest published novels, with The Hollow published twenty years later. A development in her writing is evident. I found the writing in Roger Ackroyd rather simplistic, more so than I had been expecting. It was a pleasant surprise to find a much more mature and sophisticated style of writing in The Hollow.

Reading this book has made me curious to read more of Christie’s work. I hadn’t heard of The Hollow until I found it in a second hand book shop. I think it is therefore quite under-rated. It is a very interesting character study, whilst still being a highly satisfactory murder mystery tale.

The 13th Doctor – Unlucky 13? Or Revival?

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The announcement of the next actor to play the Doctor is always eagerly anticipated by fans. It is also always analysed in the aftermath, with some full of excitement, while there will always be some who are critical or sceptical. The announcement of the thirteenth Doctor was bound to catch a lot of attention. With Steven Moffat leaving the show – to be replaced by Chris Chibnall – and a new doctor, the next series could provide the opportunity to revitalise the show. That meant a lot was riding on the casting of the thirteenth Doctor.

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I, like many, felt the show begun to go downhill when Steven Moffat became the show’s head writer. Undoubtedly, he has written some amazing episodes for the Doctor Who. The Matt Smith years were enjoyable, though bogged down by some complicated series plot arcs. Peter Capaldi made an excellent doctor, but wasn’t always given the best opportunity to shine, and didn’t gel well with Jenna Coleman. The introduction of Bill provided a spark. A plucky and entertaining companion, combined with some excellent writing, made the latest series a dramatic improvement on the previous couple. Yet, it still felt like the show could be better.

There were many a suggestion – and some not very subtle hints in the latest series’ dialogue – that the next doctor would be a woman. When the announcement trailer aired (ironically, after the men’s Wimbledon final, which is arguably always promoted and hailed more than the women’s final), and the hood was pulled down to reveal the thirteenth doctor as Jodie Whittaker, the internet exploded with a mixture of reactions. From elation, to horror, to deflation, the public gave their judgement through social media. Some said it would stop them watching the show, that Doctor Who was dead to them. This, I felt, was quite an unfair pronouncement. Can’t they at least watch one episode and then pass judgement? Many felt it was about time a woman was cast. Many praised the casting of a woman in the role for the first time as a win for equality.

The headlines – the thirteenth Doctor a woman. This is why there is no victory. The headlines were not – Jodie Whittaker cast as the next Doctor. The emphasis was placed on the fact a woman had been cast. All this does, is highlight that feminism is not finished. Women have far more rights and face less prejudices than they did a hundred years ago. But we are not equal. The Doctor is a regenerating alien and, as seen through the regeneration of the Master into a woman, can change gender as much a matter of course as changing height, or hair colour, or eye colour. The casting of a woman is, to me, undoubtedly a good thing. The issue is that Jodie Whittaker’s credentials as an actor are overshadowed by her gender in the media.

With multiple big changes happening to Doctor Who, the next series could either mark the revitalisation or demise of the show. If throughout the series it is constantly referred to how the Doctor is now a woman, it could be a disaster. It could be like having political correctness shoved down our throats. If it is treated like a normal regeneration (albeit of course with some reference to the change of gender, it is bound to be a surprise to the Doctor!) with another great actor taking the reins, then it could be a great move. Having enjoyed Broadchurch – both Chibnall’s story and Whittaker’s acting – I have hopes for the next series. Let’s hope the number 13 revives the show, and doesn’t cause its demise.

Book Review: The Kill Order by James Dashner

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9781909489431The Kill Order by James Dashner

Genre: Young Adult, Post-Apocalyptic

Publishing Info: 2013 by Chicken House (first published 2012)

Pages: 331

Star Rating: 2/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Sun flares have unleashed devastation on the earth. Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and against the odds they survived.

But now a violent and high contagious disease is spreading like wildfire. Worse still, it’s mutating, and people are going crazy. Mark and Trina will do anything to save their friends – if only they can avoid madness and stay alive…

 

The opening few chapters got my interest, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to keep reading to find out why the virus was happening. The opening action sequence was exciting and gave me high hopes for the rest of the book. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue as well as it started.

The plot is vague. It just didn’t really go anywhere. Despite the constant action, I lost interest because there wasn’t anything else to keep me engaged. There was a lot of action, maybe too much. The action scenes become quite repetitive. Some of them were hard to follow. There was a scene at some kind of base, where I just couldn’t visualise the awkward attempts at describing the characters’ surroundings and spent a few chapters feeling confused because I couldn’t visualise what the characters were doing. In a couple of places, Dashner made the odds the characters had to face (e.g. the number of enemies in a fight) so difficult that it seemed unrealistic for them to get out of those situations.

The fast pace also meant there was little time to develop characters. As with the Maze Runner trilogy, most of the characters were bland, and the book lacked any kind of character arcs. Only Alec’s personality came through, but only through repetitive emphasis on his characteristics.

I wasn’t keen on the flashbacks, but that may have been to do with the way they are written. The narrative switches to present tense for the flashbacks. Dashner’s writing seems to read even worse in present tense than it does in past tense. His writing is simple, which I didn’t have too much issue with in the other books, but for some reason in this one it’s very clunky. I also felt the dream flashbacks didn’t add anything that couldn’t have been conveyed in other ways, such as through Mark’s thoughts.

There is a strange prologue and epilogue with Teresa and Thomas which doesn’t connect much with the main story. I wasn’t sure why Dashner wrote this book. It showed more about how the virus broke out, which was interesting, but beyond that I didn’t see the point. If I hadn’t previously read books by the same author, I likely would have given up on it, but as I enjoyed The Maze Runner, I thought I would give it a chance and read to the end.

After finishing the book, I did an internet search to find out how the book connects with the main series. I felt there must have been a bigger connection. It turns out one of the characters from The Maze Runner is in The Kill Order. Was I supposed to remember one tiny bit of dialogue from the main trilogy? I don’t even remember reading the bit of information that shows the connection to the character. Maybe I missed something totally obvious, and I’m the odd one out. There was nothing in The Kill Order to suggest one of the characters was one from the main trilogy. I think there is too much reliance on memory of a small detail included in the other books. If I had to do an internet search to understand what I was reading, then it was too subtle.

I would have enjoyed the book more if I’d realised the big connection to the Maze Runner trilogy. However, the book and characters should have been able to stand on their own without reliance on the connection to the main series. The fact that only understanding the connection to the Maze Runner trilogy character would have made me care about the characters and plot, just highlights how flawed The Kill Order is.

Book reviews of the trilogy:

The Maze Runner

The Scorch Trials 

The Death Cure

Top 5 Wednesday: Book Covers You’d Live In

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This week’s T5W is the top 5 book covers I would want to live in. There are so many amazingly designed book covers out there, it was hard to choose! T5W is a group hosted on Goodreads, if you’d like to participate check it out here.

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1) The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The design of this particular edition really caught my eye, so it is the edition I own. With the mountains and the trees, I would love to live there. Plus, Hobbiton always seems like such a friendly, fun place.

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2) Under the Trees by Ashley Maker

The bright green colours in this cover make the forest look really enchanting. I do love a good wood. I’m always taking photographs of trees.

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3) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

With Hogwarts in the background of this cover, how could it not make the list? I expect this one needs no explaining.

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4) Dragonfly by Julia Golding

The colours on this cover are so striking, and when I read the book I imagined it being a really beautiful place.

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5) Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas 

I haven’t read the book yet. The design of this cover is really creative, and the scene depicted drew me in. (disclaimer: the glow in the dark cover did not influence the purchase of this book…nope…not at all…)

Best Books of the Year (so far)

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As we are now just over half way through 2017, I decided to post a list of the best books I have read so far this year. I have reread some books – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Hunger Games trilogy – but this list will feature books I have read for the first time.

cover93280-mediumReplica by Lauren Oliver

I rarely buy hardback books – they’re too expensive and heavy. However, I just could not wait for the paperback of Replica to come out. The idea of the story being told from two points of view, and flipping the book over the read the second half of the story, just seemed so cool. I was curious to see whether Lauren Oliver could pull it off, and desperately hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed. I was not, and it is one of my favourite books I have read this year. Without the two ‘stories’ in one, would the actual plot of the book hold its own? I’m not sure, but I speak-laurie-halse-andersondefinitely enjoyed it in this form, and the two points of view weren’t gimmicky like I had feared. I eagerly await the next book in the series, and hope it lives up to the first one.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is the first novel I have read by Laurie Halse Anderson, and will forever be one of my favourite books. It doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics it deals with. The poetic writing style and imagery is stunning. The metaphors woven into the book are really effective. I felt totally pulled into the story.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson  51k75eaduxl

With Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson once again writes about mental health. I found the writing as engaging as that of Speak, and although this is also one of my favourite books, it didn’t bowl me over in the same way as Speak. I didn’t know much about eating disorders before reading this book, and I found it enlightening to read about what it can be like to experience it.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Having seen and enjoyed the film when it came ender-movieout, I wanted to read the book. The characters are aged up somewhat for the film, so the beginning of the book is even more shocking consider the child characters are so young. Ender is only six when he is sent to Battle School to begin his training. Some parts of the book were slow, but on the whole it kept me reading, with a satisfying twist at the end.

7095108Crank by Ellen Hopkins

This is the second book I have read by Ellen Hopkins, and only the second verse novel I have read. The book tells the story of a girl who becomes a drug addict. This is another one with tough subject matter! What I liked about the book is how Hopkins utilises the verse form to reflect the narrator’s addiction and mental state. I found it highly effective.

These are the best books I have read so far this year. I wonder what my favourites will be at the end of 2017!