Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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584843The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Genre: Gothic, Horror, Historical, Mystery

Publishing Info: 1998 by Vintage (first published 1983)

Pages: 200

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor in London, is summoned to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, and to sort through her papers before returning to London. It is here that Kipps first sees the woman in black and begins to gain an impression of the mystery surrounding her. From the funeral he travels to Eel Marsh House and sees the woman again; he also hears the terrifying sounds on the marsh.

Despite Kipps’s experiences he resolves to spend the night at the house and fulfil his professional duty. It is this night at Eel Marsh House that contains the greatest horror for Kipps. Kipps later discovers the reasons behind the hauntings at Eel Marsh House. The book ends with the woman in black exacting a final, terrible revenge.

 

I’m not usually one for reading in the horror genre, but this was more of a Gothic ghost story so I didn’t mind reading it. The book is short which I think helped with its readability. If it had been longer I probably wouldn’t have been so interested in wading through it, but since it was only short I figured it wouldn’t take long for me to read it. I read it over a few days but could have easily read it in one sitting, not only because of its short length but also its easy to read style.

The plot is simple – there’s a house in an eerie marsh and it’s haunted. I did like the mystery element to the story when Arthur Kipps was trying to work out what had happened at the house and why the woman in black was haunting it. It was the story of the dead characters that was most interesting, while the characters who were actually living were for the most part a little flat.

Although I enjoyed it I wasn’t totally gripped, which is what you really want from a ghost story. The settings were suitably spooky and there was something unsettling in the way the woman in black wasn’t a see-through ghost like you’d imagine, but was more real and therefore creepier. There weren’t actually many ghostly bits set in the house though. Kipps actually spent a lot of time in the village near the house and more suspense could have been used in those scenes to keep my interest more.

I thought the ending brought the whole thing together and gave the book more weight. I had thought it was going to be a really dull ending but then the twist gave it a dark ending which was more sinister and satisfactory than I was expecting.

 

Accessible Classics

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If you want to get into the classics but you go into a bookshop and are horrified by the thought of attempting to get into Dickens or War and Peace, these are some good books to start with. There are plenty of classics that aren’t too daunting, but here are a few suggestions from a mixture of time periods and genres.

 ‘Older’ Classics:4d4918fd2f57d4832a5f3ee971632994

Jane Austen – This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like a good period drama, it might be worth giving an Austen novel a go. Pride and Prejudice is probably the most famous, but there are also Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Persuasion and Mansfield Park.

Around the World in Eighty Days – Don’t go into it expecting it to be like the Jackie Chan film which, while keeping the basic plot, embellished it rather dramatically.

Gothic Fiction:527444

Frankenstein – The ‘myth’ of Frankenstein’s monster has changed and developed so much over the years that most people don’t know the original story. It is a surprisingly easy read.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – I didn’t realise how short this is before I purchased it, at around 70 pages.

20th Century Classics:parody-book-cover-of-the-002

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – You may have read this as a child, but if you haven’t it isn’t too late to delve into the imaginative and quirky world of Lewis Carrol.

The Bell Jar – Probably the most famous novel on depression and an incredibly important book in the history of mental illness in literature.

Detective Fiction: bdea5c13123beb8f6cff2d76abfef9ad

Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes is the most famous detective around. Doyle wrote four novels and many short stories centred on the famous detective. These books are very easy to read and the mystery keeps you hooked. The published order of his novels are: A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear.

Agatha Christie – Some of the best are considered The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and The ABC Murders, but there are plenty of them to choose from.

Science Fiction: fahrenheit-451-c

Fahrenheit 451 – This novel imagines a world in which books are burnt and although not as well-known as 1984, is a captivating and thought-provoking read.

Animal Farm – A political and satirical novella, this is a must read if you are interested in the classic science fiction genre.

(other science-fiction choices: 1984, Brave New World, Flowers for Algernon)

 

Book Review: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

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408e2356-919c-43f7-81e6-4a3b2baa3e0eNorthern Lights by Philip Pullman 

Genre: Children’s/Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: 1998 by Scholastic Point (first published 1995)

Pages: 399

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

When Lyra’s friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him.

The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where armoured bears rule the ice and witch-queens fly through the frozen skies – and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about.

Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her – something with consequences which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights…

 

It’s taken me a while to get around to reading this well-known first book in the His Dark Materials series. I thought it was about time. I’ve seen the film a couple of times but not for a few years, and I’ve decided I don’t like reading books after I’ve seen a film adaptation. The film is really different in many ways, but a lot of it is similar to the books. I feel that it just ruins the element of surprise because you know some of what is going to happen. The bit of the book I found most exciting was the end section, probably because they didn’t include that in the film so I didn’t know what would happen, and the twists were actually a surprise.

There seemed to be quite a bit at the beginning at Jordan College, before she actually left. Having seen the film I knew the plot was going to get interesting, but if I hadn’t known that I’m not sure the beginning few chapters would have pulled me in when I was the target age of the book. It just took a while to get going, and there were points throughout the book that were a bit slow.

I liked Lyra as a main character, she had a really strong personality and I wanted to follow her story, but there were few others that really stood out or were interesting. Iorek and Iofur were good characters. Roger was very bland and lacking in personality, like the author couldn’t be bothered to make him a proper character. What I did like was that the boundary between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ characters was blurred.

Plot-wise the story kept me engaged and the world building is also engaging. It was imaginative, with lots of little details that made it seem like a real place. It deals with quite complex themes and issues in places, which I expect will develop as the series progresses.

I’ve heard that the next two books are quite different to the first one, and maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but Northern Lights pulled me into the story enough to want to read the next books at some point in the future.

The Vampire That Is…Dissertation…

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Vampirism seems to be a great metaphor for final year of university/dissertation. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when deadlines come up something has to fly out the window, and it’s usually your social life and sleep (time for food is much too important to be thrown out that window).

With less than three weeks to go now till my dissertation is due in, I haven’t done a blog post in almost a month. So I figured I’d let you know why I’ve disappeared.

In just a few weeks time I will be posting regularly again. For now I have a beast of a dissertation to tame…

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Book Review: The Female Man by Joanna Russ

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61qwfptuypl-_sx325_bo1204203200_The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Genre: Science Fiction

Publishing Info: 2010 by Gollancz (first published 1975)

Pages: 207

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Living in an altered past that never saw the end of the Great Depression, Jeannine, a librarian, is waiting to be married. Joanna lives in a different version of reality: she’s a 1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man’s world. Janet is from Whileaway, a utopian earth where only women exist. And Jael is a warrior with steel teeth and catlike retractable claws, from an earth with separate-and warring-female and male societies. When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive.

 

The idea for this book is brilliant, but I was too confused all the way through to be able to really enjoy it. I liked the concept of exploring the restricted lives of women through parallel universes. What’s amazing to me is that this book was published in 1975, and some of the issues women face in the book are still around today.

It’s very imaginative and the parallel worlds are unique and captured my attention. The world building is creative for the two parallel worlds that are vastly different from Earth. Whileaway is clear, but the two worlds that are very similar to our Earth were a bit confusing. I wasn’t really sure at all times exactly which version of Earth they were on. There are some really vivid images throughout the book, so that I could imagine these unusual alternative universes.

From the start I was confused. I couldn’t figure out who the first person narrator was. At some points I thought it might have changed to another character but I didn’t really have a clue. It also doesn’t help that all four characters have names beginning with J, though that is because they are parallel versions of the same person, it just added to the confusion.

Some of the problem was that the sections of the book are split into really short ‘chapters’, some of which are only a paragraph or even a sentence long. Many of the short ones were confusing because they weren’t long enough for me to get my head around what was going on. Whereas the chapters that were a few pages meant the scenes were long enough for me to be grounded in the scene and get my head around what was happening.

As it went along I did have more understanding of each of the central characters, but even in the last quarter of the book there were times where I was confused about what was happening. The reveal in the last part of the book wasn’t much of a twist unfortunately, as I read what happened in the Introduction (I hate it when they do that). It possibly would have been more exciting if I’d had no idea what was going to happen. Though if I hadn’t known from the explanation in the Introduction maybe I would have been even more confused!

My enjoyment of the book was greatly hindered by the fact I was so confused all the way through. It also hindered the impact the book could have had upon closing the cover at the end, because I was still trying to get my head around what on Earth was going on (literally). It would probably make more sense upon a second read, but I’m not sure if I’ll want to put my brain through the hard slog that is wading through this book again.

Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

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9781406354386

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: Walker Books (first published 2010)

Pages: 320

Star Rating: 3.5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie’s struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.

 

What first attracted me to this book was the many poems spaced throughout the book, which are designed to look like they’re written in Lennie’s handwriting on an assortment of things including crumpled notepad paper and paper cups. I can’t imagine how that would look on an eReader, so I think this is one of those books which is best experienced in paperback.

The poems added an interesting element and created another level for looking into Lennie’s thoughts and feelings. The idea is that Lennie writes these poems on random scraps and they’re dotted around the town. The issue I had was that it randomly says Lennie scribbles a poem on a few occasions in the story, but then the reader isn’t given any insight into why she has written that particular poem, what her thoughts were when she was writing it. It’s flippantly mentioned that she writes the poem, and then that’s it the story moves on. This meant that it felt disconnected. It contrasted with the high level of access the reader gets to Lennie’s thoughts through the whole narrative and just seemed odd that her thoughts just disappear whenever she writes a poem. It just felt strange to read and inconsistent.

The book kept me reading and I found Lennie’s narration charming and at times humorous, as well as her quirky family putting a smile on my face. Grief, I think, as a major part of the book was portrayed well. I could feel Lennie’s emotions and the metaphors Nelson used meant I could really put myself in Lennie’s position and understand her grief. Everyone copes with grief in different ways, and I think this was shown well through the members of Lennie’s family.

I was dismayed to find that the cliché love triangle had snuck into another young adult novel. It wasn’t completely despicable though, unlike others I have read. There was a reason for the pull both boys had on Lennie, and the ‘love interests’ were both fully formed and unique characters rather than cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Also Lennie was only really in love with one of them, so the book wasn’t full of irritating ‘ohhh who should I choose?’ dilemmas that drive me up the wall.

As a young adult contemporary romance it is by far one of the better ones I have read, with likeable characters and some humorous moments amidst the heart-wrenching portrayal of grief. It’s just a shame that the poems aspect of the book wasn’t effectively tied to the narrative.

Book Review: Replica by Lauren Oliver

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cover93280-mediumReplica by Lauren Oliver

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 520

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

From Lauren Oliver, New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy, comes an epic, masterful novel that explores issues of individuality, identity, and humanity. Replica is a “flip book” that contains two narratives in one, and it is the first in a duology. Turn the book one way and read Lyra’s story; turn the book over and upside down and read Gemma’s story. The stories can be read separately, one after the other, or in alternating chapters. The two distinct parts of this astonishing novel combine to produce an unforgettable journey. Even the innovative book jacket mirrors and extends the reading experience.

Lyra’s story begins in the Haven Institute, a building tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida that from a distance looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, Haven is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed. When a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects—Lyra, or 24, and the boy known only as 72—manage to escape.

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals for as long as she can remember. A lonely teen, her life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April. But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family’s past and discovers her father’s mysterious connection to the secretive Haven research facility. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two replicas and 51yr30oxbwla completely new set of questions.

While the stories of Lyra and Gemma mirror each other, each contains breathtaking revelations critically important to the other story. Replica is an ambitious, thought-provoking masterwork.

 

 

As soon as I heard about Replica I knew I had to read it. Having the book told in two halves in a ‘flip book’ format sounded so original and interesting. I wanted to find out whether Lauren Oliver manages to pull off the concept. I read the book one story after the other, starting with Lyra’s. It’s interesting that you can read the book this way, or starting with Gemma’s story, or with alternating chapters (though that would require a lot of back and forth turning over of the book). One of my concerns was that it would be repetitive, having the same story told twice from two narrators, but there are actually only a few scenes that overlap between the stories so this isn’t a problem.

People being experimented on is a well-worn trope, but Oliver’s writing style and characters really pulled me in. I wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen next, and what was really going on with Haven. I liked the conspiracy theory and mystery element. Although it kept me hooked, much didn’t actually happen event and plot wise since the same time frame is told twice. If it were to cover a longer period of time though it would have been a massive book since it would be doubled, so I guess it wasn’t really possible to cover more ground.

The voices of the two narrators were definitely distinctive, which is good since that can be where multi-narrative books fall down. I liked both Lyra and Gemma as main characters. The supporting characters were also likeable. 72 was a bit stereotypically the quiet and dark kind of figure. Pete was quirky and a more unique and interesting character who I thought was refreshing and different to other YA male characters.

There were some teenage stereotypes and clichés that made me roll my eyes, but I felt it stepped away from those enough. There was enough about it that was unique and engaging to counteract my dislike of the YA clichés.

It certainly wasn’t perfect, but I absolutely loved reading it and was one of my favourite reads of the last year. It kept me engaged the whole way through. I can’t wait for the second book in the duology to come out (also, duology for once instead of a trilogy!).

Film Review: Passengers

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passengers_ver2Film Review: Passengers

Release Date: 21st December 2016

Director: Morten Tyldum

Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen

Runtime: 116 minutes

Genre: Science-Fiction, Romance, Drama

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 3/5 stars

 

On a long journey to another planet, everyone on board is in stasis. Jim and Aurora wake up 90 years early, without the ability to contact anyone for help or return to sleep. They’re stuck with nowhere to go and only each other for company – besides the android barman played by Michael Sheen.

It wasn’t what I was expecting. Not in the good way as in it surprised me. As in, it was advertised in a way that made it seem like a different kind of film to what it actually was. The trailer and description makes it sound like a sci-fi action thriller flick with romance. When in fact it’s a romantic drama in a science-fiction setting, with a dash of action at the end. I liked the concept – two passengers wake up 90 years too early on a spaceship destined for a new planet. This is the base of the film and has a lot of potential as an idea. However, I wasn’t sure about the direction in which they took the film.

The digital effects are great with a creative design for the ship. Although the story is limited to this one space, and there were very few characters. The acting was good and Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence gel really well together. I liked that the film dealt with the psychological effects of being isolated on the ship, especially in the beginning of the film.

I went in expecting an action science-fiction thriller, which isn’t what I got. So it was disappointing from that point of view because I spent a lot of the film confused about how it could have been advertised as being so different to what it was. As a romantic drama set in space, it was good. There were some twists and turns. It was good and I enjoyed it but it had a lot of potential to be better. It’s a film that doesn’t know what it’s trying to be – it’s stuck between being a thought-provoking drama about serious moral issues, a romance, and a science-fiction action film.