Top 5 Wednesday: Children’s Books

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This is my first time participating in Top 5 Wednesday, a group hosted on Goodreads. This week the topic is children’s books! This one is actually harder than I was expecting, as I realised I couldn’t remember many books from my childhood (besides the obvious – Harry Potter!).

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1) The Fire Within (The Last Dragon Chronicles) by Chris d’Lacey

For a long time I have loved dragons (and probably will do forever). The first book in this series is children’s fiction, but the rest of the series is probably on the middle grade and young adult borderline. I loved the idea of clay dragons coming to life. I actually never finished the series as I haven’t read the last two books. That is rather remiss of me and writing this blog post has made me rather eager to finally finish the series!

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2) Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

When I read this in primary school, I remember the story really sticking with me. It was different to the sort of books I would normally read. I also remember it being quite a sad and heartbreaking book. At the time, we were studying World War I and the book (although fictional, of course) brought the topic to life.

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3) Geronimo Stilton series by Geronimo Stilton

These books always brought a smile to my face. With fun adventures (and colourful pictures!) they were always an exciting and entertaining read. After looking it up on Goodreads, I’ve discovered there are now 64 books in the series! That is a mammoth amount! I only read a few when I was younger. I seem to remember Cat and Mouse in a Haunted House being one of my favourites.

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4) The Lady Grace Mysteries by Grace Cavendish

I have always been interested in history, and went through a particular phase of being obsessed with it. I was also obsessed with this book series, and was continuously loaning them from the library. The books follow Lady Grace, who is a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and solves mysteries – that is a hook and a half for sure. Combining my love of history and a good mystery, this series was perfect to keep me entertained.

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

How could The Hobbit not make the list? I had this book read to me as a child, and it probably contributed to my love of fantasy. I went on to read The Lord of the Rings when I was 12, and that series has stuck with me more, probably because I was a bit older. Tolkien’s world is so detailed and vivid. The Hobbit is another one that I am eager to reread.

What books do you remember loving from your childhood? Or are there any you have read more recently? If you’d like to participate check out the group on Goodreads.

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Film Review: Wonder Woman

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wonder-woman-final-posterFilm Review: Wonder Woman

Release date: 1st June 2017

Director: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright

Runtime: 141 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Historical

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Prior to its release, Wonder Woman was a highly anticipated female-led and female-directed superhero movie. I had my doubts, since films don’t often live up to their hype. Man of Steel, which I liked, is the only other DC film I’ve seen, and since many of their films have flopped and had negative reviews, I was a little apprehensive. In this case, I was thrilled it met expectations.

Wonder Woman follows Diana of the Amazons, who chooses to leave her paradise home and join the war to end all wars when an American pilot (played by Chris Pine) crashes on the island. I knew nothing about the Wonder Woman comics before I saw the film and didn’t realise the background to the character is of Ancient Greek mythology. As mythology has always been an interest of mine this was a pleasant surprise.

Gal Gadot does an excellent job of playing Diana, and it’s refreshing to see a new face playing a lead superhero role. The other cast members also played their characters well and side characters had personalities rather than being cardboard two-dimensional afterthoughts. There are some good touches of humour throughout which also adds to the likeability of the characters.

The cinematography is stunning. All of the fight sequences were well thought out and choreographed. As I watched, I couldn’t help but marvel at the stunning way these sequences had been filmed, capturing such detail in fast paced action scenes. At the climax, the film took a different direction than I was expecting, with a twist that I didn’t see coming and which made for a thrilling final conflict. It did slide into clichéd sentiments towards the end, but it didn’t prevent the ending from being satisfying. The film was perhaps a little too long, with small scenes that could have been cut down a little to give a better flow to the movie.

Book Review: Soulmates by Holly Bourne

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16099393Soulmates by Holly Bourne

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: 2013 by Usbourne (kindle edition)

Pages: 548

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Every so often, two people are born who are the perfect match for each other. Soulmates. But while the odds of this happening are about as likely as being struck by lightning, when these people do meet and fall in love, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and lashings of rain are only the beginning of their problems. After a chance meeting at a local band night, Poppy and Noah find themselves swept up in a whirlwind romance unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. But with a secret international agency preparing to separate them and a trail of destruction rumbling in their wake, they are left with an impossible choice between the end of the world, or a life without love…

 

This book takes the popular cliché of soulmates and puts an interesting spin on it. It was interesting to see a different side to the idea, but although the concept was good, the story was a little weak. One thing I did like was that it was set in the UK, as most YA books are set in the US. This made a nice change for me since I’m from the UK.

It was very slow in places and fairly predictable. There were points where I found myself getting bored but decided to persist to find out what would happen in the end. Some scenes dragged too much. A lot of the book was orientated towards building the characters and showing their relationships to each other, which was done well, but there was just too much of it. The characters were likeable and well rounded, but the lack of plot and conflict dragged the book down.

The last quarter picked up the pace but then it lost me again with such long explanations about the science behind soulmates. It wasn’t that it was overly scientific, Bourne did a good job of explaining it, but it was just too drawn out for me and my interest dwindled. The emotions were written very well in the last section of the book, and it was heart wrenching to read at times. The ending was one of the strongest parts for me. It didn’t fall into the formula of typical endings and provided a sad, but more realistic, ending than many books.

I didn’t hate it, but it’s just one of those books that isn’t very memorable.

 

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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ho00004330Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Release date: 28th April 2017

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell

Runtime: 136 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the follow up to the highly successful first film in the franchise. The first film provided great music, quirky characters and bucketfuls of fun adventure. In some ways, the sequel can’t live up to the first film for me, but it is equally enjoyable. This time, the group has found friendship together, but the cracks are beginning to show and while the first film brought the characters together, this film shows them having to overcome their differences to realise the importance of their friendship. The main plot centres on discovering Peter Quill’s parentage, which I won’t say anything more about to avoid spoilers.

Most of the humour was amusing, although there were a couple of places where it felt too forced or overdone. Baby Groot provided both cuteness and humour, but while still having character and not being reduced to a comic twig. None of the new characters stood out especially, it was still the returning characters from the first film which I liked the best. It was good to see more of Karen Gillan’s Nebula, and this second film explored the sibling relationship between Nebula and Gamora much more, giving more insight into their past and complex relationship.

The design of the whole film was once again excellent. There are some beautiful set pieces which are so creative and made great viewing on the big screen. As well as the visuals, the action was also good, with tension filled action sequences.

The only problem is it seemed to be trying too hard to live up to expectations. They threw so much at it that at times it missed a beat. However, on the whole it was thoroughly exciting and enjoyable, and that was my overall impression after exiting the cinema.

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean Salazar’s Revenge

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mv5bmtyymtcxnzc5m15bml5banbnxkftztgwotg2ode2mti-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean Salazar’s Revenge

Release date: 25th May 2017

Director: Joachim Rřnning, Espen Sandberg

Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Kaya Scodelario, Brendan Thwaites

Runtime: 129 minutes

Genre: Adventure

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is the fifth film in the franchise and an attempt at rebooting the series. Notably, they’ve decided to call it ‘Salazar’s Revenge’ here in the UK instead of ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ for no apparent reason. It would be far less confusing if they just gave films and books the same names. I prefer ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ and since this is a line in the film it fits much better. Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, who once again has an undead seaman seeking revenge upon him. Sound familiar? Javier Bardem plays the undead Spanish captain who wants to destroy all pirates. Jack joins with astronomer Carina and a sailor, Henry, to find the Trident of Poseidon.

The film features some memorable and bizarre scenes that are familiar in style and comedy to fans of the franchise. Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbosa and once again plays a great double-crossing pirate alongside Captain Jack. Kaya Scodelario did an excellent job playing the intelligent Carina, providing a strong female character whose superior knowledge regularly results in confusion from the bumbling pirates. Henry on the other hand, although acted well by Brendan Thwaites, was fairly two-dimensional. His goal is to find the Trident of Poseidon so he can free his father from a curse, but this is about all we know about him. He lacks any defining characteristics and faded into the background compared to other characters.

In many ways it was more of the same, following similar plot lines to previous films in the series, and certainly doesn’t compare to the original film. There is a very odd scene on an island which I think was supposed to provide comedy but just seemed rather silly to me. There’s a scene early on which seems rather unrealistic and excessive, but this is a Pirates film so it’s easy to overlook that and enjoy the spectacle for what it is. In the end, that’s why I gave this film four stars. It wasn’t brilliant, but was thoroughly entertaining and if you just take it for what it is then it’s an enjoyable comedy adventure flick.

The film ties up some loose ends and unfinished stories from previous films, and so would seem an appropriate place to end the franchise. I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t make any more films, as I felt Salazar’s Revenge provided an appropriate ending for the series. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made another one though. So long as they’re still making money they’ll keep making them. I also wouldn’t complain about them making another one, so long as they can actually come up with a good plot for it, and make it a justifiable addition to the franchise.

The End of an Era

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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.

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Book Review: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

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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

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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.