The End of an Era

Tags

, , , ,

It has been a while since I’ve posted as I have been frantically finishing my last coursework for the year. In fact, the last coursework of my degree. Perhaps my last coursework ever. My time at university has ended, after three years of ups and downs. I can safely say I picked the right subject, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning new things. I made friends and joined numerous societies. Now that time is over it’s time for the next step in life, whatever that may be.

IMG_4033edit

Book Review: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

7095108Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Poetry

Publishing Info: 2010 by Margaret McElderry Books (first published 2004)

Pages: 537

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Kristina is the perfect daughter: gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble. Then she meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild ride turns into a struggle for her mind, her soul–her life.

Ellen Hopkins, whom mediabistro.com has called “the bestselling living poet in the country,” exploded onto the young adult scene with her first novel, Crank, which has become a national bestseller. School Library Journal acclaims Crank as “a stunning portrayal of a teen’s loss of direction and realistically uncertain future.” Publishers Weekly raves, “[Hopkins] creates a world nearly as consuming and disturbing as the titular drug.”

Crank is a transfixing look into the tortured lives of addicts and the people who love them.

 

Crank is the second book by Ellen Hopkins I have read and, like Impulse, takes the form of the novel in verse, or verse novel. I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed the verse novel form when I read Impulse, and was keen to read more by Ellen Hopkins. Once again Hopkins tackles a serious issue head on. While Impulse looked at mental health, Crank follows its protagonist through drug addiction.

I don’t know much about drug addiction and have never read a book about it, so I found Hopkins’s blatant and open address of the issue difficult to read but enlightening. The verse novel form particularly suits the subject matter in this case, and Hopkins uses the verse brilliantly, fully capitalising on its potential. The poems are written in erratic stanzas that range across the page, with some of the verse in ‘normal’ stanzas and some spread across the page, others formed in shapes, and many other myriad and interesting styles. This reflects the erratic Kristina and the highs and lows of her addiction.

The other characters were fairly typical and flat as they weren’t given the time to become well rounded characters. However, I didn’t feel this was as big an issue as it would be in other books since the focus of the story is very much on Kristina’s internal conflict with her addiction. The plot was also fairly predictable in places, with some eye rolling on my part at some points which appeared to be presented as ‘twists’ but which weren’t all that surprising. Yet, as with my previous point, it didn’t really matter that much to me because it’s more of a character and emotion driven story that a plot focused novel.

The book was well paced and being told in verse didn’t hinder it carrying a strong narrative. However, the ending felt quite rushed compared. The last several poems summarised the end of the story too much, meaning it lost the emotional impact it had carried in the rest of the book.

Book Review: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Tags

, , , , , , ,

twilight-meyerTwilight by Stephenie Meyer

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Publishing Info: 2009 by Atom (first published 2006)

Pages: 434

Star Rating: 2/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With his porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edward is both irresistible and impenetrable. Up until now, he has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Bella is determined to uncover his dark secret. What Bella doesn’t realize is that the closer she gets to him, the more she is putting herself and those around her at risk. And it might be too late to turn back …

 

It’s probably clear from the 2 star rating that I didn’t particularly like this book. As I said in my previous blog post, I’m reading Twilight for the first time, as it’s on the reading list for my degree. I’ve seen and disliked the films, and I’ve heard so many mixed opinions about this book that in many ways I didn’t actually know what to expect. Would I hate it as much as I was anticipating? Or would it be not as bad as expected? I tried to go in with an open mind.

The book actually starts out reasonably well (much to my surprise). Unfortunately it set up an expectation that I might not hate the rest of the book as much as I expected to, but that hope didn’t last all too long. It starts off fairly typically – a girl moves to another town, which she dislikes greatly, and is the new girl in school. Something that’s been done plenty of times before, but although Bella didn’t want to move, it was her choice to, not her parents’ choice. That piqued my curiosity because it seemed to be a contradictory situation and I was interested to know why Bella had made that decision even though she seemed to hate Forks so much. So my initial impression of the book was a reasonably good one. Bella seemed to be an ordinary girl, and not quite as bland as in the films (I think the acting contributed there).

Even when Edward was first introduced I still didn’t mind the book. If I hadn’t seen the films and knew nothing about the story, I probably would have been intrigued to find out more about the mysterious Cullen family. At first, I could understand why Bella was interested in Edward, his peculiar behaviour towards her meant that it made sense for her to be thinking about him and wondering if and why he seemed to hate her and have a physical aversion towards her. Then they get talking and spend a lot of time staring at each other and Bella spends a lot of time thinking about Edward, and I mean yeah she’s a teenage girl with a crush, but she’s constantly thinking about it and it just started to get on my nerves. I still didn’t mind the book too much though. At this point, I didn’t even dislike it yet.

Then the book goes downhill. Dramatically. Insta-love is one of my pet peeves that annoys me most about young adult books. Bella and Edward hardly know each other, and yet a third of the way through the book Bella starts thinking about how she ‘loves’ Edward – “unconditionally and irrevocably”. Um, no dear, you’re obsessed and infatuated, not in love. The whole middle section of the book was the worst part by far for me. It just went on and on, with so much awful dialogue and going on about being ‘in love’ even though they only just met. Don’t start me on how stalkerish Edward is – watching her sleep every night? That equals breaking and entering and stalking. That’s not romantic, that’s creepy. Bella’s dependence on Edward is also so much the problem, which is why I used the word obsession earlier.

Then the book redeems itself a little in the last quarter of the book, where something actually happens. Having seen the film I knew what happened, but I can imagine it would be quite exciting if you didn’t know what was going to happen, and there were a couple of twists. This last section did definitely keep my attention.

This book could have been okay if not for its fatal flaw – the obsessive relationship between Bella and Edward, and their irritating professions of love. Which unfortunately, as a romance story, is the main part of the book. I liked the rainy and bleak setting of Forks, and there were some good descriptions of the setting. The history of the Cullen family is interesting and I like that Meyer gives the backstory of the family and how they came to be the kind of vampires they are. The minor characters were actually more likeable to me than Bella and Edward. I really liked Alice as a character and also liked the other Cullens even though they didn’t feature much until the last section. I also liked the idea of vampires who hunt animals rather than humans, but that they still find that difficult. It seemed realistic to me that they would still find restraining from human blood a challenge even after a hundred years, and this creates an interesting inner conflict for the vampire characters.

I won’t be reading the rest of the series as I know I would probably just end up being annoyed and frustrated with it. There are so many books I want to read, and would rather spend my time reading ones that I know I’m going to enjoy more. Maybe one day though I’ll wade my way through the rest of the books out of curiosity.

I’m Finally Reading Twilight

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

twilight-meyerFrom reading Dracula last week, I’m going the complete reversal on vampire books by reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. It’s not something I would choose to read, but I have been curious to read it for a long time to see what it’s really like. Since it’s on the reading list for the Children’s Literature module I’m taking for my degree, I now get the pleasure of finally finding out.

My knowledge of this book is based solely on the various claims from both sides of the argument – Twilight fans and Twilight haters – and the films. Having heard that the books are better than the films, I’ve tried not to let my dislike of the films cloud my judgement over the first book in the series. This is easier said than done though, as I’ve found it difficult to separate myself from all the things I’ve heard about it and form my own opinion through reading it. It seems to be impossible to be unbiased because it’s just such a famous book and people have said a lot of negative things about it. I can’t help but wonder whether I would like or dislike it if there wasn’t all that surrounding it, if it were just a book I’d picked up off the shelf that I hadn’t really heard of and didn’t have any preconceptions about. That’s something we’ll never know so I’ll just have to attempt to be as objective as possible and take it at face value as well as I can.

I’m about halfway through currently, and although it started out fine, things have gone dramatically downhill in the last few chapters. Full review to come when I’ve finished reading it!

 

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

9786023Dracula by Bram Stoker

Genre: Gothic, Classics

Publishing Info: 2011 by Penguin Classics, Hardback Clothbound (first published 1897)

Pages: 454

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

The vampire novel that started it all, Bram Stoker’s Dracula probes deeply into human identity, sanity, and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire. When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client. Soon afterward, disturbing incidents unfold in England—an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby, strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck, and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his “Master”—culminating in a battle of wits between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries.

 

Dracula is a long book, and although my interest in it waned and revived at various points, my overall feeling after finishing it was that I had on the whole enjoyed it. Many a classic has told a lacklustre tale of Victorian families, but throw vampires into the mix and you get an altogether more captivating read. I have the Penguin Classics hardback clothbound edition, which is of lovely quality, with thick and smooth pages.

The novel is written in an epistolary form, using a mixture of diary entries, letters, telegrams and newspaper articles, told from a variety of viewpoints. This is something which not every reader will like. The book is constantly switching between narrators and between the different written pieces (letters, diaries etc.), something which I had expected to dislike. However, because it moved around a lot between different characters, and so different stories (until the various threads become intertwined later in the book), I think that prevented me from becoming bored with it. Often when narrators switch too often it feels disjointed, but this format works for this book, as the patchwork of letters and journal entries is itself an element of the plot.

All was going well, until the latter half of the book when the male characters began to emphasise ridiculously one of the female characters ‘femaleness’ and how they didn’t want her to witness the terrible, vampire-y things going on. This went on quite persistently in ridiculous volume for a couple of chapters. Now, obviously women were viewed by society in a particular way in the Victorian period, so this isn’t exactly surprising. It was how much it was emphasised through the repetitiveness with which the male characters discussed her sensitive disposition as a woman and other such phrases. It became very irritating and made me frustrated at the book, which up to that point I had been mildly enjoying. At least she proved herself to be intelligent and resourceful, despite their attitudes towards her.

The concluding section of the book when the chase of Dracula commences was exciting and kept my attention, making me want to read to the end to discover the fates of the characters. So despite some moments that dragged and my attention wavered, and the section where the woman was treated as weak, the rest of it was actually pretty good. My conclusion upon closing the cover was that I was glad to have read it. Vampires are such a prolific part of our culture, and there have been so many varied adaptations and interpretations of Dracula, that it was interesting to read the original story.

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Tags

, , , , , , ,

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

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags

, , , , , ,

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…

Tags

, , , ,

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…

IMG_1395edit