30 August 2011

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria is an 18 year-old orphan, who is now homeless. But there is one thing that may save her; the language of flowers.

As we read through the book we discover there is more to her than we first thought. There is a bitter, hidden past that seethes underneath the narrative. there are some good memories too, but all of this has an undercurrent of guilt mingled with longing.

The book is written very well, with a lot of emotion being displayed as well as an interesting fascination with flowers and their meanings. The content makes the reader want to learn more about the main character and her past and she is so multi layered we wonder where her emotions come from. In fact, all of the characters are quite complex and realistic, making the reader feel like they know them personally.

One of the things that could be improved on is the ending. Although it is realistic enough, it comes as a slight shock. As it is written in the first person, the reader gains a good insight into the mind of the character. However, the change in her mind that we see seems rather abrupt compared to the thoughts we are privy to throughout.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is the context concerning the language of flowers. In the Victorian period, couples forbidden to see each other or marry would often use bouquets to send messages. Each flower had a different meaning that the recipient would find out before sending a reply. For example, in the book Hazel means reconciliation and a yellow rose means infidelity.

The way that this idea is entwined into the life of an orphan girl is simple and well thought through. As a young girl she learns the language of flowers and then later uses it in floristry to develop a good business.

The main themes of the story seems to be the lack or abundance of love and emotion, and how it affects people's lives. The protagonist shows a need for love, and yet a hatred of others. We see why in the many flashbacks from her past.

There are claims that this author could be the next Joanne Harris (the author of Chocolat). This may be a little bit too much of a presumption as it needs a bit of work to get to that kind of standard. Joanne describes foods to the point of you salivating, therefore we as readers need to almost smell the roses, so to speak. Unfortunately the authors style is in need of a bit of a fine tune, and as previously stated, the ending needs a bit of work as it didn't quite flow with the rest of the book.

Maybe with a bit of work, Vanessa Diffenbaugh could be capable of some very poignant literary works. As for now, The Language of Flowers gets an 8 out of 10.

For the Wikipedia page on the language of flowers, click this. For flowers and their meanings, click this.

Conan The Barbarian

This film hasn't had a lot of publicity in the weeks prior to its release, but now that people have seen it for the first time, there should be.

Conan has been around for a while now, becoming famous from the pages of the original books by Robert E. Howard, as well as featuring in comics by Marvel and being written about by various other authors. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first to play him on the big screen, and he immediately shot to fame.

So with this in mind, how did this film work out?

The plot is rather similar to that of the 1987 film, where Conan sets out to avenge his father and also rescues a Princess. However, it has to be said that there is a lot of depth and vision in this 2011 version. The scenes are both bloody and brutal as people get killed in rather... imaginative ways. There is an air of magic and war that the fantasy lover would adore. And amongst all that is the character of Conan himself.

I have not read the books, but I was reliably informed that the film had indeed done them justice. Conan is every bit the warrior, but also the human. He likes to drink himself into a stupor with his winnings and have lots of beautiful women around him, and here the film fails to disappoint.

The acting was very good, but of course Jason Momoa, playing Conan, simply stole the show, even with the likes of Ron Pearlman (HellBoy), Stephen Lang (Avatar) and Rose McGowan (Charmed) in supporting roles.

The end was the only part that could have been better. At any moment I was waiting for something else to happen, but it never did, and I was left feeling like they left out a bit.

A fast paced and exciting film, it shows all the promise of becoming a firm favourite with fantasy and comic book lovers alike. An 8 out of 10.

21 August 2011

Ultraviolet - R.J. Anderson

This book is something of a mystery.

It is the story of a girl with extra-ordinary abilities; to see sound as colourful shapes, to attribute meanings and colours to letters and words - synesthesia. Alison wakes up in a hospital after having what appears to be a psychotic episode in which she claimed she had killed someone. as a result of this, she gets sent to a mental institution.

The story is beautifully written. It provides an insight into both the world of a synesthete (which is an actual neurological phenomenon) and that of a person in a mental institution, who may or may not have a mental condition. The feelings of the protagonist are so well described that the reader can very much sympathise with her, even whilst thinking that she may be crazy.

As said in my sister's blog, it certainly is a tale of two halves, and this is where my initial comment comes into play. Although there were many clues and I had already guessed where the story was going, it came as rather a surprise when the book took a somewhat drastic turn from the mental institution when we finally learn what happened. And to be honest, that may not have been a good thing.

The end was somewhat unimpressive compared to the rest of the book. It was almost off topic and rather less life-like than your average person who picked up the book on the blurb alone would have liked. The author obviously wanted it to end like that, but the way it was done was sudden and therefore quite a shock to the system.

Unfortunately, for this lapse and for the ending overall, the score is rather a lot lower than it could have been: 4 out of 10.

16 August 2011

Blueeyedboy - Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris shows us her darker, more twisted side with this stunning novel about a murderous blue eyed boy and his life.

Completely online, the book shows us the posts of the protagonist; the fiction, open to the public, and the restricted posts, where his true nature comes alive. The online world becomes a sort of cocoon from the rest of the world for him; it allows him to have friends and a life away from his suffocating mother. The way the book is written means that the lines of fact and fiction blend together so well you don't know what's real in his story. Could the dark fiction really be a guise for the truth?

The story is full of twists to keep the reader interested, as well as the intriguing murder of an innocent blind girl. Family relationships take centre stage in this story, as we see an overbearing and violent single mother juxtaposed with what might have been a lovely family. But life is never that simple, and that family were not all that lovely, in the end.

Death, of course, features largely in the book. It exists rather a lot in the main characters fiction, in the place where he goes to do things he otherwise would not do. Mental health is also a subtext, as most of the characters seem more than a little unbalanced.

Joanne Harris writes in an almost flawless manner, giving her characters scarily realistic personalities and pushing those unwanted thoughts of ours to foreground. What if the boy next door was a murderer? What if what people write in their stories was actually an autobiography?

All I can say is that this has one heck of a finale. For anyone who has a slightly darker imagination, or anyone particularly interested in online writing and murderers, this one may be for you. For Joanne Harris readers, you may like to know that there are a couple of friendly places lurking among this story that may just please you.

10 out of 10 for a wonderfully compelling and gripping read.

(For a similar read, try Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players)

15 August 2011

Delirium - Lauren Oliver

'What if Love was a Disease?'

Lena has always lived in fear of the disease called 'Deliria Amor Nervosa'. The scientists have developed a way to eradicate it entirely, and now each person has the procedure after their 18th Birthday. She is looking forward to it; she doesn't want to end up like her mother. Everything was going smoothly.. that is, until she fell in love.

This dystopian novel by Lauren Oliver is by far, much better than her previous effort. It subtly shows a delicate relationship forming as well as making a believable narrative on what seems like a not-so-different world from our own. We soon find out differently - that uncureds have curfews, are separated from the opposite sex. These people are fenced in to their own city with fear of the one thing that our society seems to hold the most dear; Love.

Like her other novel, Before I Fall, this is also a teen fiction and therefore may not suit adult readers. However, it is a good read and has a couple of surprises up its sleeve. Despite the beginning, where the reader sees simply our world without love in it, the novel deepens into something much more meaningful. It peels back the veneer to reveal a society that keeps all its inhabitants in place with an electric fence and mountains of lies.

Prepare to be hooked, teen fiction lovers.

I give this book an 8 out of 10.

11 August 2011

Matched - Ally Condie

Cassia lives in a world where everything is regulated for the good of the community. There are 100 songs, 100 poems, 100 paintings and everyone learns enough for what they need in their jobs. No-one writes or draws, and everyone carries 3 pills to help them along with their lives.

The society chooses their job, their partner, the day of their death, their clothes. They are fed meals that keep them healthy, and are given long lives because disease has been eradicated.

But there is a dark and sinister side to this society. They are only perfect because of the lengths some people are willing to go. And if you don't conform, they can do anything to you. They are always listening, monitoring your movements, conversations, even your dreams.

In this story, Cassia, is matched with the person she is meant to spend the rest of her life with... there's just one problem. He might not actually be the one.

This fast paced and clever story leaves you wanting more and you can hardly put it down. The characters have strong personalities that are difficult not to get attached to. The book is all about the growth and strength of the main character and eventually her realisation that her society is wrong. It is the perfect teenage story as it mixes breaking the rules and love to combine in one excellent and almost grown-up narrative.

This is perfect for those teens starting to read dystopian novels.

Unbelievably, for a teen read, this deserves a 10 out of 10.

9 August 2011

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

This is the story of Offred, a handmaid in a post-war dystopian society where men rule and women are categorised and dressed to show their rank. The population is so low that Handmaids have to be assigned to the Commanders and are expected to have their children. Three miscarriages or deformed babies, and they get carted to the colonies; a place for useless men and women. If you were lucky, you would be picking cotton or fruit, but if you weren't, you were sent to die by cleaning up toxic waste. Some only had months to live.

The story is in the form of a diary, we are not sure to whom it is written, or even if the main character lives or dies at the end. Her only importance is to be a vessel, a surrogate mother for the Commander's child. We are shown how her life is ruled by fear; she is ripped from her old life. Her job, her family, even her name is taken from her, to be replaced by the name of the Commander she serves.

This book looks at our society and rips it to pieces. it shows us how we live for pleasure by condemning the characters to a life without it, for which the punishment is most likely death for those who seek it. The protagonist mourns the loss of things we currently take for granted, like wearing what we like, free speech, friendship, love, even having a job. It makes the reader realise how truly lucky they are to have these simple luxuries.

This is a complex and enticing story about a woman trapped in such a society and wishing to get out. It is a social comment on how people treat each other, of morality and the way we take things for granted. It takes into account the ideas of right and wrong and allows the reader to decide if the society is indeed cruel or if it is necessary.

Margaret Atwood delivers a heartbreaking and sophisticated read, it deserves a 10 out of 10.

8 August 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Finally, there is an ending to the intriguing phenomenon that is the Harry Potter franchise, and may I say that it doesn't disappoint.

The effects are simply stunning, with extensive  CGI in the form of dragons, knights, giants, magic and one intricate castle. The fight scenes are well choreographed and give it that edge that they just didn't have back in The Philosopher's Stone, 10 years ago.

I'm sure most, if not all, of you have read the book and so I won't say too much about the plot. However, the film, as always, does miss out a few plot points that may have helped the viewers who have yet to read it. Despite this, they weren't so shambolic or intrinsic to the plot, and the action soon overtook anything that may not have made sense.

As can be expected, the film jumps almost straight into the action, and within a few minutes we are given our first slice of adventure; Gringotts, complete with a beautiful set and some more wonderful CGI treats. The journey on the cart under the bank was well done due to the detail in the surroundings.
Bonus acting points in this section have to go to Helena Bonham Carter for playing a believable 'Hermione as Bellatrix', the stances and facial expressions were spot on and rather comic.

The battle of Hogwarts takes up the majority of the film - and rightly so. There is so much happening in this space of time that it would only be right to give it as much attention as possible. And the effects, again, were bewildering. Just the magic shield protecting the castle was awe inspiring, and it all looked so real, considering the castle is entirely CGI in these parts.

One point to mention is that you don't see more minor deaths, like those of Tonks, Lupin and Fred. This was much less emotional than it could have been. You also don't get to see Professor Trelawney throwing crystal balls at invaders, much to my own displeasure, but there were some comic moments to make up for this.

We tend to follow Harry around the place, which may lead to viewers feeling like they are missing the main action of the battle to get on with finding and destroying the Horcruxes, not to mention having a few revelations.

The end scene was one that leaves you a little bit hollow. It is the end. The characters are grown up (admittedly, not looking too much older than they already do, despite being meant to be about 35), Voldemort is dead, and an era is ending. Still, it is a good film, and worth seeing if only for the finality of the plot and the wonderful effects.

Not quite a 10, but close enough; I give it a 9 out of 10.