20 December 2012

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey

Fans of Tolkien have been holding their breath for the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, and have all let it out in a sigh of relief. The film, which was again directed by Peter Jackson, was a fantastic translation from the book. You will not be disappointed.

It is difficult for anyone reviewing this film not to compare it to its predecessors, and yet it has to be done.
Visually, the film is full of the epic landscapes we saw in the first three films. It includes many sets that you will be able to recognise, as well as a good few characters. Gollum is the main character to notice. Although he is played by the same man (Andy Serkis), the technology that created him has improved, and now we can see every facial expression in huge detail. Serkis's acting is, as always, impeccable, and he has played Gollum very well. He is younger here, and is not yet bitter and damaged. Instead we see his split personality and his love of the ring shine out, but also his playfulness and trusting nature that is all but gone in later years.

In comparison to the book, the film follows the plot smoothly and tells the story in acute, and accurate, detail. Even the embellishments fall in line with the plot of The Hobbit. There are some differences, but none that should offend a fan of the book. It has a very different feel to the Lord of the Rings. Originally written for Tolkien's children, the book is much more light hearted. It has all the action we would expect, but we find comic relief in the company of dwarves, and in the Hobbit himself, Bilbo Baggins.

The cast is full of English actors; Ian McKellen of course, Richard Armitage (Robin Hood), Aiden Turner (Being Human), James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday) and Ken Stott, to name a few. But the actor that was entirely perfect for his role was, of course, Martin Freeman (Sherlock) who played Bilbo Baggins. There is something about the way that he is uppity and yet valiant, not quite brave but certainly willing to give it a go and at the beginning somewhat unlikeable; it is so much like the character in the book. You find yourself laughing at his predicament, at his conversations with others. At the beginning he is a character to ridicule, but as this film goes on, you soon learn that there is more to him than meets the eye.

So what's next? This is only the first part of the trilogy, the other two being The Desolation of Smaug, and There and Back Again (where we can meet the character voiced by Freeman's Sherlock costar, Benedict Cumberbatch). We can look forward to these within the next two years, and with any luck they will follow on in the footsteps of An Unexpected Journey.

Five out of Five. It was a truly enjoyable film, and one that can be watched over and over.

27 September 2012

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure - Joanne Harris

The third book in Joanne Harris's Chocolat series promises another beautifully written adventure from Lanquenet-sous-Tannes.

It has been 8 years since Vianne Rocher left Lansquenet, and things have changed drastically. Les Marauds now houses a huge population of Magrebins, and the minaret of their Mosque looms above the houses. The catholic church is in disarray, and Reynaud is in trouble. And then there is Ines Bencharki, whose prescence in the village distrubs everyone - French and Muslim alike.

One of the most wonderful things about Harris's writing is the way that her characters are so realistic and compelling. Vianne Rocher is a much-loved character who we can really sympathise with, and it is brilliant that the author has once again given her legions of readers another story with her in it. The writing style is also exactly what we have come to expect from Joanne Harris. Her decriptions caress your senses and the plot is just fast enough to  keep your interest without becoming actiony.

The plot and the ending will keep you on your toes. The plot builds slowly but keeps forming questions in your head, but the cresendo is fast and keeps you turning the pages. There are a couple of lovely twists in there too; the mystery surrounding Ines Bencharki is interesting and it is only revealed at the very end of the book. You never guess who she is until she tells you, and her story is compelling, startling and emotional.

The themes of this book are interesting too. There is a lot of emphasis on religion, which is a theme she has delved into before in 'Holy Fools' and in 'Chocolat'. A theme that recurs in the series is prejudice, as the people of the village seem to have so many of these, this time against an unmarried woman with a child. Sound familiar?

However, this book was not quite as engrossing as the first two. There is not as much 'magic' and  it is not as much to do with the food as to do with the people of the village this time. Hardcore Harris fans may miss this, but for the rest of the population, this will be an excellent book full of human interest.

For the most impact, read the first two books. References to the past are plentiful, so if you havn't read them, chances are that you won't get the whole picture or why certain things are so distressing.

Even though the plot isn't quite as enchanting as the other two, this book still gets an 8 out of 10 from me. My favourite is still 'The Lollipop Shoes'.

1 September 2012

Crossed - Ally Condie

WARNING: This is the second novel in this series. Please don't read on unless you've read the first one because I guarantee this content will ruin the first one for you.

I tried reading this after I'd read Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. It was the second in that series too and it totally put me off of this book because they are so different. My advice to you is to read the books in the same series one after the other, and to read them with different books and genres in between to differentiate better.

So anyway, the point is that I may be a little prejudiced because I was so into the other story that I wasn't ready for this one. The plot is good, but in my opinion it is a little too slow going. The first book was great, but you can definitely tell that this is the middle book - often the most difficult to write. Here, Ky and Cassia have been separated by the Society and are desperate to find each-other again.

The plus side is that we find out so much more about Ky. In this book, he has a voice and along with it comes a lot of extra information to process. We understand him so much better, and I think this is a good thing. Sometimes, though, I found that the voices got confused. I flicked back through to the beginning of each chapter a few times just to check who was speaking.

We also have a few new and exciting characters who are quite likeable, as well as some information about the Rising... and not forgetting a very interesting secret.

So overall this book wasn't particularly enthralling, and nor was it awful. Until the third book comes out, I think I'll reserve judgement on the series as a whole; the end seems promising though.

As for this book, I think it's a 5/10.

Reached is out in November 2012

2 August 2012

Runemarks - Joanne Harris

Five Hundred years after the end of the world, and the goblins had been at the cellar again.

This is everyday life for Maddy, who was born with a strange coppery symbol on her hand, known as a runemark. It marks her out in her simple village as an outsider and someone not to be trusted. Her only friend is an old man called one-eye, who suddenly wants her to travel into Red Horse Hill, where the goblins come from. Maddy's world is soon ripped apart as secrets are revealed, enemies and allies resurface from the old world and all Hel breaks loose.

If there's one thing Joanne Harris can do and do well, it's to tell a great story. This book is no exception. But what we have to remember is that this is her first novel for Young Adults, and is therefore slightly less sophistiated than what we are used to from her. As a result, her characters are lacking a little in complexity. The protagonist, Maddy, doesn't really star as much as she should, instead making The Captain (don't worry, you'll work it out when you read it) a much more prominent character in the readers eyes. She also does what she's told most of the time, which isn't the most spunky attribute in a protagonist. However, she is so integral to the plot, I can almost forgive this minor lapse. And anyway, I've always had a soft spot for The Captain.

However her plot is, as always, beautifully thought through. The action is in place from the beginning, which gets you right int the plot. Her descriptions perfectly capture imagination and the imagery puts you right in the middle of the story. Fantasy teen fiction is usually to do with education, groups, a selfish streak and almost always has a love interest. 'Twilight' is a nice example of this, as is the likes of 'Matched' or 'Divergent'. 'Runemarks', like the popular 'Hunger Games' trilogy, is so much more than a simple teen story. It turns away from angst and romance, and into the fray instead. It talks about religion, mythology, family, betrayal and a battle of wills. Maddy has so much more on her shoulders than your usual teen heroine - ie: the end of the universe.

Finally, I have to comment on the subject matter. Norse mythology is something that I haven't really taken a great interest in compared to the likes of Greek and Roman myth. When 'Thor' came out, I took a bit more interest in the matter, but now I think I definitely need to read up. I commend Joanne Harris for choosing this mythology as her basis. Not a lot of people are educated in the liked of the World Tree and Ragnarok, but I certainly hope that this book helps with that.

Oh, and one more thing.. this is no Percy Jackson.

8 out of 10. Only because I wasn't quite prepared for the amazing contrast to her other works and the change to her style because of the teen genre.

Runelight, the sequel, is out now.

12 July 2012

Mistborn Trilogy - Brandon Sanderson

Unless you've been living under a fantasy rock for the past couple of years, you'll know that Brandon Sanderson is well on the map for fantasy fiction. His work is articulate, complex and intriguing, and his writing style is excellent. He's even ghost writing the rest of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.

I was mesmerised by the covers of these books, and the story sounded equally compelling, so I borrowed this particular set from my boyfriend and I was not disappointed.

What if the Dark Lord won?
(If that isn't an interesting first sentence to a blurb then I don't know what is.)

Vin is a lonely, abandoned girl working in a thieving crew when Kelsier strolls into her life. After learning that she is actually a very gifted Allomancer, he takes her in and gives her a life she had never dreamt of before - one where you trust others and laugh, and eat enough food. But Kelsier is about to turn everything on it's head. He is planning to overthrow the oppressive and cruel Lord Ruler, and with Vin's help, they may just succeed.

So that's just the premise of the first book. After that, the plot grows into a twisting mass of story, each book more detailed and grander than the last. Never mind trying to defeat a tyrant, there are bigger things in store.

The Mistborn trilogy is and engaging read, set in a world where mists always come at night, where people ingest metals to wield powers we could only dream about, where strange creatures roam and terrible things happen. It is full of suspense, action and mystery - in others words, it is every fantasy-lovers paradise.

The writing is perfect. There is a touch of humour, which balances the slightly gruelling subject matter. There is a level of detail that is very well thought through. Sometimes you wonder how someone can think of a world where everything makes perfect sense according to the laws there - the balance of forces, the explanations for everything that goes on in the plot. The history, the religions, the species. It amazes me how beautifully they all combine to create these books.

I like the characterisation, though it did take some time for me to warm towards Vin. But overall, every character was very different, and given different drives. It always disappoints me to see similar characters whose voices or feelings you can't recognise straight away. But here you know who is talking without having to read the name.

I can't actually say too much without giving the plots away for each of the books, so I will leave you with this: You need to read these books. 10 out of 10.

PS: I can't wait to get on and read the other Mistborn novel, The Alloy of Law

3 July 2012

Fever - Lauren DeStefano

I was casually walking around an Oxfam bookshop, not really wanting to buy anything in particular, when I saw this little beauty. The first one was great, and I was waiting for the oppurtune moment to pick this one up on the cheap from Amazon. But at a meagre £2.00, I just had to snap it up. It was so much cheaper than anything else I would ever find.

In my experience, trilogies always have one downfall: The second book is never quite as thrilling as the other two. The first one tends to be a story in itsself, and the third one is the huge climax. The second, therefore, is the build-up. There are only a few exceptions, and I'm sad to say that Fever is not one of them.

While the storyline was very good, I found that it lacked the goal that we had in Wither. Although I absolutely loved the characters, I found it harder to sympathise with them in this book.

However, the plot was very good. It has intrigue, love, loss, and it always keeps us wondering what is going to heppen to our beloved characters. Their time is running out, and their mortality is more pronounced. This time, you really can't see where it is going to lead you. I thought the ending in Wither was rather obvious, but here there's a twist that you don't see coming. Again, the cover perfectly encapsulates the story, though you don't see it at first.

A little review, this one. As there's not so much more to say about the writing, the characters or the themes that I didn't already say in my review for Wither.

7 out of 10 this time. But I have more hope for the final book, Sever, which should be out early in 2013.

16 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

We all know the story. An evil queen looks into a magic mirror every day and asks it if she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and one day it says her step-daughter is more beautiful than her. The queen has a hissy rage and orders a Huntsman to kill the girl, but he doesn't. She then runs away into a forest and lives with seven little men before being found and poisoned with an apple. The prince wakes her up and the queen mysteriously disappears. The End.

There have been loads of adaptations of this story, but something about this version had me intrigued. The film flows rather nicely in with the original telling, but there is something much more haunting and fantastical about this version.

The characters are multi-faceted and realistic; something that a lot of adaptations of the fairytale fail to do. Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is the evil queen with destructive powers to match, and though she does want to kill Snow White because of her beauty, there is a lot more riding on it than we first suspect. Her powers weaken as Snow White becomes more beautiful - a side affect of a piece of magic from Ravenna's youth. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is a much more ballsy (can I say that?) character than her insipid Disney counterpart. She even rescues herself. And she has excellent reasons for being terrified of the forest: it is really, really creepy and has a rather nasty defence mechanism. Oh, and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) comes complete with his own history and motives.

The second thing that is exceptional about this film is the effects and the overall look of the film. The costumes are exquisite and perfect for what seems to be a medieval time frame with a modern twist. The landscapes are flawless, right down to the trees in the forest and battlements of the castle. But the effects... Ravens turning into queens, apples rotting away, hands melting, fairies and rather well known actors playing dwarves. It is a feast for the eyes.

The acting was excellent, but I think I was most impressed by Sharlize Theron, whose depiction of the easily angered queen was both convincing and a little scary. I love the way that she also made her more human. We can see that she fears for her life and that she still wants revenge for her past. The dwarves were amusing and interesting at the same time. They were acted well and even they weren't one-dimensional.

One or two things bothered me, though. Firstly, I didn't think Kristen Stewart suited the role too well. Snow White was being described as life and as a thing of beauty (more beautiful than Charlize Theron, who is stunning in my opinion) that everyone would follow. While she is a very pretty girl and her acting has certainly improved, I feel that she didn't quite fit with what they said about her. Another thing is the Prince-like character, William. I really didn't think that the story really needed him at all. He was only used for a couple of things that could have easily been changed slightly so he wasn't in them.

Despite that, I think that Snow White and the Huntsman is an excellent film, and I will definitely be buying it when it comes out on DVD. So I'll give it a 9 out of 10.

12 June 2012

0.4 - Mike Lancaster

'My name is Kyle Straker, and I don't exist any more.'

It was a normal day in Kyle's village. Up until the point where everyone stopped moving except for Kyle and the three other people who had been hypnotised. Sound intriguing? I certainly thought so when I had a quick read of the reviews on Amazon.

The plot is a little slow at first, but soon picks up when our lead characters find themselves in a predicament. And it gets more exciting. But I mustn't ruin the plot for you! There is a giant element of danger that is slow in coming at first, but gradually increases during the read. However, I found that the end simply petered out. Maybe this sets up a second book, because if I were Kyle or the other three main characters, I wouldn't leave things as they were.

What I like the most about this book is the way that it has been set out. The tapes that Kyle records his story on are very much in the fashion that 'The Handmaid's Tale', by Margaret Atwood, is written. And yet the reason for the use of tapes is so very different to anything I was expecting.

The entire concept is a very clever one, and I love the Sci-fi element to it all. But I don't dare say anything else, for fear of giving up the plot again. Oh, and 0.4 is a very clever title too. I love how that little number keeps you guessing!

     (This is a tough review to write.)

So, I think all I can say is that if you like Sci-fi and you like a puzzle, this is a great book for you to read. Adults don't have to worry too much about the Young Adult tag. There isn't too much teenage angst in here, though if there's a second book, there could be more.

It's a sturdy 7/10.

The second book, 1.4 is out now.

6 June 2012

The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is perhaps best known for writing Stardust (made into the 2007 movie of the same name), Coraline (also made into a film) and Good Omens, which he collaborated on with none other than Terry Pratchett. While these books are both absolutely brilliant, Gaiman's other books also have so much to offer you as a reader.

The Graveyard Book starts with the murder of a family by a mysterious man known only as Jack. But Jack isn't entirely successful, and the baby escapes to the nearby graveyard where two ghosts decide to take him in and protect him. Bod grows up with the ghostly residents of the graveyard, playing with the ghost children and learning the tricks of the trade. But soon enough the graveyard is too small, and Bod wants to explore more of the world around him. Meanwhile, the man Jack has been biding his time, and he still wants to finish what he started.

This book, first and foremost, is a ghost story and a tale of revenge. It features a host of paranormal characters and includes a few creative concepts that children may find a little disturbing. So although this is a children's book, think of it as similar in scaryness to Coraline (which features people with buttons for eyes). I love the way that Gaiman has written the reasons why we do not normally see the dead or feel them, and how he has integrated these ideas with Bod's story.

The characters are numerous for such a small book, but Gaiman does an excellent job of developing each one as much as he needs to according to their role. Bod, however, is quite a strange protagonist, as we cannot easily understand him. I think that this adds to the story rather than takes away from it. After all, wouldn't you be odd if you had grown up in a graveyard?

Gaiman's style of writing is good in the way that it keeps the reader so effortlessly entertained. At the beginning the writing style is a little confusing where Gaiman uses grammatically incorrect sentences for effect. However, I feel that this keeps the reader on their toes, which can be difficult for an adult reader with a children's book.

As for the plot, it is an entertaining and dramatic ride that is never dull. I have come to expect this from Neil Gaiman after reading a fair few of his books. There are a couple of nice twists, albeit one that an adult reader may see coming.

An excellent piece of storytelling. 9 out of 10.

24 May 2012

Bumped - Megan McCafferty

The issues of sex and love are never too far from our thoughts, and are maybe more of an issue for teens in modern day than ever before. As the number of teen pregnancies rise in our won world, McCafferty creates a world where it is not only expected, but encouraged. It gives a completely balanced view, but in the end, you know what she thinks of the idea.

In this world, the virus ensures that at some time between a person's 18th and 20th birthday, they become infertile. Now, there are teenagers that make money out of this by donating their sperms and becoming surrogates, and the prettiest, cleverest and healthiest girls make the most money and have the most contracts. Melody is one such girl, and she has scored the jackpot; she is contracted to bump with Jondoe, the best in the business. But there is one thing she hasn't taken into consideration; her identical twin, Harmony, who is bent on converting her sister to her Christian religion.

The premise of the book is intriguing. Could you imagine what our world would be like if we had to rely on teenagers for children? And this book delivers this in an extremely interesting and appealing way. There was one thing I didn't expect, though. Instead of one voice telling the story, it has two - the first person narratives of two extremely differently minded twins. This means you get to see each of them in a much more intimate way, and you can see their growth and thoughts in the story as it progresses.

The plot has a couple of twists which are unexpected. Coming from me, that's high praise - normally I see the twists coming for miles. It has a nicely flowing narrative and was quick to read. And there is a really great cliffhanger at the end. The characters are interesting and exactly teenage enough to be realistic. While they are not the multifaceted beings I have come to expect in adult works, they are definitely not one-dimensional.

One thing that lets the story down is the beginning. The amount of slang that the characters use tends to confuse you, and makes the conversations difficult to understand. It also bursts straight into the story, which is good normally, but for me it felt like we were playing catch-up for far too long.

Overall though, the book is a thoughtful look at pregnancy, surrogacy and teenage angst. Young adults will love it, but adults might not due to the immaturity of the voices. Despite this, I do want to read the second one anyway, possibly thanks to the giant cliffhanger.
It gets a 7 out of 10.

The second book, Thumped, is out now.

21 May 2012

Wither - Lauren DeStefano

The cover of this book has captivated me for a while - a beautiful young woman, a bird in a pretty cage.They are a couple of wonderful metaphors for entrapment and youth. The image, I can tell you now, does the story real justice. It includes the most important factors of the book, right down to circling the wedding ring on her finger. But no part is more important than what you will spot on the back cover; a depiction of an hourglass, nearly empty. The age-old symbol of time running out.

Could you imagine a world where men die aged 25, and women die at only 20? Where young girls are stolen away to be sold as prostitutes or brides to those willing to pay? Rhine is 16 years old when she is taken and sold to be a wife to 21-year-old Linden, whose first wife is already dying from the virus. At his mansion she is well-cared for, but she longs to see her twin brother and the lights of her home again. Down in the basement, something awful and terrifying is happening. Rhine desperately wants to escape, but time is running out, and in four short years she will be dead.

This story is heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time. It is so full of emotion - of love, loss, sisterhood, anger, loyalty and even hate. It is despicably easy to read: You could get lost in it for hours only to find that you are much too close to the end. The plot is quite familiar and yet the way it is written and the difference in tone is entirely new. Notes of Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' ring out from under the plotline; the take on the forced nature of being a wife for someone who you have never known is so akin to being forced to be a surrogate, like the handmaid. The absolute captivity and underlying fear is so extremely evident in the story.

The world is well-imagined and bursting with fine detail. The perfection of the world in which Linden lives, with his holograms, his golf course, his fine food and his servants is a stark contrast to the streets of Manhattan, where you board up your windows to stop orphans from stealing your food.

The characters are developed nicely. Each of them, even the minor characters, are multi-dimensional and so realistic. Rhine's voice is so strong that if you're not careful, it could start sounding an awful lot like your own, should you be stuck in such a difficult situation. You completely understand her thoughts and feelings, and she always does exactly what you think she should, or what you think you would do.

I could not put the book down and finished it within two days. I can't wait to know what happens next, in Fever (the second book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy).

An intriguing, realistic and achingly wonderful book. 10 out of 10.

Dark Shadows

What do you get if you cross vampires, witches, ghosts and werewolves with Tim Burton?
Well, a bit of a mess, really.

The storyline is pretty good, and it has a great premise: A young man spurns the love of a witch because she's in love with someone else. The witch makes the other girl jump off a cliff and makes him a vampire. He gets locked in a coffin for nearly 200 years, until some workmen find him and dig him out. He sees his estate in ruins and vows to help his family.

That's all fine and dandy. What ensues is somewhat unpredictable and slightly corny. The vampire clearly doesn't fit in, so in come all the amusing bits from the trailer. They seem to be to be dotted in somewhat haphazardly around the main storyline, so they seem random and out of place. It's funny for a while, but then becomes a little tedious.

This doesn't mean to say that the whole thing is a shambles. Johnny Depp is, as always, a superb actor. And the prescence of the lovely Eva Green and Michelle Pfieffer is enough to boost the appeal enormously. Chloe Moretz's role really didn't make sense for me. Some lines she came out with were a little out of place again, but the part that made the least sense was a sudden turn of events nearing the end, which just made me utter 'really'?

The effects were very good, and I rather liked Helena Bonham Carter's character. And the musical score is great. But unfortunately the good outweighs the bad for me on this occasioin. I usually love Tim Burton, but there was something about this film that didn't quite sit well with me. Hopefully his next film, 'Frankenweenie' will have him back on form.

Entertaining, but sadly lacking. A 6 out of 10 from me.

Dracula - Bram Stoker

Some of you may have noticed that recently I've been reading the classics on and off. Pride and Prejudice was the first classic (other than Shakespeare) that I read, and that was a few (FIVE) years ago now. God I feel old. In the past year or so, I've read George Orwell's '1984', Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World', Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', and at some point soon I'll be setting my eyes on H G Wells's 'The Time Machine'.

Generally speaking, I've found the classics pretty difficult to read, and none more so than 'Lord of the Rings'. It was like trudging through sticky mud that goes right up to your waist. Though 'Dracula' is (along with Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein') one of the most well-known horror stories ever, it is extremely difficult to read and to keep reading. I ended up reading Dracula in 30 minute bursts, usually ending up with my eyes blearily blinking away sleep. It wasn't that the story is boring, but more that the way it is written does not offer too much attention in this day and age.

Written in a diary form, the book follows a group of people whose lives are severely affected by a certain Count Dracula. It all starts when we follow Jonathan Harker to the Counts castle in Transylvania for a business transaction. Instead, he endures a terrifying ordeal, in which he discovers the Count is not a man, but some kind of monster. The Count has more planned, though, and leaves for England while Jonathan is still stuck in the castle.Soon, the Count has hurt many more people, and the lives and souls of Jonathan's friends and fiancee are at stake.

I had seen the 1992 film adaptation of the novel (featuring a good few excellent actors) before I had read the book, so I knew the story well. It does make a few adjustments to the book that I am not entirely sure about. However, I must admit that the book is not nearly as action-packed and therefore I found it a little lacking. Instead, it relays the feelings and personalities of each of the characters whose diaries we read. it displays the character relationships impeccably and eloquently shows the love that they all feel for one another.

The thought behind this story is evident in the writing and the detail to which Dracula has been given.The idea of vampires has captivated people for years and so the research had to be excellent to provide a character that would fit in with everyones take. And has it worked? I think that the fact it is so well-known 115 years after it was published is proof to that. The in-depth explanations as to why the Count can and cannot do certain things is definitely lacking in the adaptation.

However, it is with some regret that I have to say that a lot of modern audiences would find this book a little dull. There is a lot of conversation, and the events seem to be gone over many times when switching to different speakers. The going is slow, and some diary entries may seem almost pointless. if you're looking for something a bit easier on the mind and with a bit more excitement, I would watch the film.

A good read, but clearly showing its age.6 out of 10

6 May 2012

Birthday Books

So it was my 21st Birthday on Friday, and of course I got a lot of books. That's the beauty of an Amazon Wishlist - no thinking required apart from which item to give on their part, and I get the books I'm interested in reading.

There is no doubt in my mind that I will be reviewing them, so I thought Id list them for you:

Bumped - Megan McCafferty
0.4 - Mike Lancaster
Runemarks - Joanne Harris
Wither - Lauren DeStefano
Green Rider - Kristen Britain (I also got The High King's Tomb, which is actually the third book in the series)

Three out of these books are dystopian, which is suspect is becoming a little bit of a pattern with me. But there is something about dystopian literature that really sits well with me at the moment. maybe it's because I feel the need to read something about a world that is entirely different to my own. I think that might be why I also like fairytales, sci-fi and fantasy so much. They are so different, and normally almost entirely a fabrication from someone's mind. It's a perfect chance to really see who an author is.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to reading these books and reviewing them for you. With any luck, they won't be too difficult to read and I'm sure they will be as interesting and enjoyable as their blurbs sounded to me.

30 April 2012

Avengers: Assemble (The Avengers) (2012)

This film is based on Marvels comic: The Avengers, and sees our more well-known heroes - The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) team up with The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to fight against and intergalactic invasion. At the forefront of this plan is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's adopted brother, who we last saw falling into space after the Bifrost was destroyed (luckily Odin was able to send Thor back to earth for this film).

Unfortunately as I have not read the comic books, I have absolutely no idea if the film is in any way relevant to the comics, but I hope so. There's nothing better than seeing a good film adaptation of something you already love.

The most impressive part of this film is that way that the plot ties in nicely with the other films, particularly with Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011) (and so I've been told, Iron Man 2) - the most recent ones to join the Marvel film collection. But this story has been building for a while now, ever since we first saw a S.H.I.E.L.D. worker and Nick Fury back in Iron Man (2008). We've seen enticing clips of Mr Fury ever since and have been dying to know what it all culminates into. Speaking of the Marvel collection, I also think that the references given to them are very good, and the combination of the characters is actually nicely realistic. After all, you can't have too many ego's in one room without someone having a clash.

Another good thing about the film is the way that it is not all action. Mind games are afoot, and the characters display a nice wittiness - something you don't see in the likes of the recent Batman movies. Iron Man s a particularly good source of laughter. I love his utter frankness. But I have to say that everyone has their moment.

Of course, the action is great. the special effects are faultless as far as I could see. The 3D was realistic and didn't ruin it for me - something that can happen if the fighting is too dense or if the shots are too fast in my case. But I really do admire the acting. After all, they do have a stellar cast with many accomplishments and credits to their names. The story gripped me enough, but I think it was the acting that really brought it to life and made me care. I don't even know who to credit as the best.

One bad note that i feel should be addressed: the actual story. In its most basic sense, it comprises of one of the most generic plots. The aliens are invading earth and the earth people need to defend it. BORING. But shove a group very skilled and super-powered people into the mix (and a couple of Gods) and you've got a hit. The film manages to carry off the storyline with a lot of back story.. not just your typical invasion after all.

This film deserves a 9 out of 10. I still prefer Captain America.

22 April 2012

Sleep, Pale Sister - Joanne Harris

This book is a totally different genre to what we know Joanne best for, and so some readers may be shocked to learn that she dabbles in a bit of Gothic ghost stories, or murder, or the Internet. This is the second book she wrote, and while it didn't sell too well initially, I hope it will make a nice comeback soon.

The book blurb reads:
'Henry Chester, a domineering and puritanical Victorian artist, is in search of the perfect model. In nine-year-old Effie he finds her. Ten years later, lovely, childlike and sedated, Effie seems like the idea wife. But something inside is about to awaken. Drawn by her lover, Mose, into a dangerous underworld of intrigue and blackmail, she meets Fanny Miller, the brothel-keeper, and her shadowy daughter, Marta - murdered ten years ago on the day of Henry's weekly visit... And as friendship becomes possession and Henry's secret past is revealed, Effie and Marta plan their revenge together.'

Now, this sounds very interesting to me, but unfortunately the blurb makes the book sound better than it is and gives most of the story to the reader at the same time. I've only quoted it to you because you're bound to read the blurb anyway.

The storyline is pretty interesting, but to me it does take a while for things to get going. The intrigue at the beginning of the novel is really nice though. We get a real sense of Henry as a character. His guilt is palpable, and we only feel sorry for him to begin with, albeit a little weirded out. The story is told well, and is confusing in such a way so that you don't really understand what is going on until she tells you.

The multiple first person narrative can be a bit tricky, but luckily each character has a specific personality so usually you can figure out how it is rather quickly. This is very effective as we really get a sense of how the characters think and feel, and know everything that is going on. Considering this is a story where three main characters are completely oblivious of one fact or another at certain times, I feel that this is a good thing.

I think what Joanne Harris is good at is giving us a perfect sensory experience. At some points, I was truly a little scared. While at others I could perfectly imagine the effects of the drugs that the characters were taking.

Overall, the book is a good read, but not up to scratch with her usual work. I'd give it the benefit on the doubt, though, as it was only her second book.

Despite the fact that she is my favourite author, it's a 5 out of 10 from me.

5 April 2012

Wrath of the Titans


The sequel to 2010's Clash of the Titans in now in our cinemas - following the Greek Mythology trend once again. And it truly does follow in its predecessors' footsteps with non-stop adventure and stunning effects.

Perseus has chosen to live his life as a human - he has a son now, but his wife, Io, is dead. The Gods are weakening as humans pray to them less and less; soon, all their work will be undone and the Titan, Kronos, will be free to destroy the earth.When Zeus is captured and taken to the Underworld, it is Perseus's duty to bring him back before Kronos is unleashed.

What follows is an unrelenting stream of action that is filled to the brim with Greek Myth, all of which doesn't even happen to Perseus in the stories. It may help to read up beforehand if you don't know it too well, as some things can be difficult to understand. You may need to know, for example, that Poseidon fathered the cyclopes'. The mixture of mythology is interesting, too. In the first film, the mythology simply pertained to Perseus. But here, we see ideas that come from the stories of Theseus, Jason, Orpheus and Hercules too. I think the writers of the film have real skill to combine so many elements into one flowing narrative, and I think they work extremely well together.

Sam Worthington returns in his role as Perseus, but I felt that the character lost some of his personality in this sequel. One point that i found frustrating about the film was the way that Perseus seemed much weaker and less able to fight. In fact, in most of the fight scenes, he seems to be getting beaten up. Yes, he is meant to be about 10 years older, but that does not mean he wouldn't have retained his strength through fishing every day.

Rosamund Pike, who you may have seen as Jane in Pride and Prejudice, is the replacement actress for the part of Andromeda. She does it so well, I think you can hardly tell the difference (apart from that her hair is blonde now). With the likes of Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Bill Nighy as supporting actors, the film stand up extremely well. One surprising performance was found in the virtually unknown actor, Toby Kebbell, who played Agenor - the son of Poseidon. His portrayal was different to that of the other actors, and he injected a sense of comedy and fun into what could have been all too serious. You may have seen him in Prince of Persia as Prince Garsiv.

The concepts of the film were extremely interesting. For example, it includes a labyrinth that is quite unlike any that I have seen before. However, the best setting is undeniably the Underworld, especially that of Tartarus - the prison of Kronos and the other Titans

Overall, I think the film delivers and entertaining sequence that has been well thought through, if not so well acted at times. It clearly leaves us with the message that family, brotherhood and father-son dynamics are far stronger than anything else that can be thrown at you. Mythology buffs will love this take - as long as they're not too intent on having the story correct. I give it a 9/10

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

"O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!"

                      - Miranda, The Tempest

This book, which was first published in 1932, would spark the tide of dystopian literature that followed in eras that, let's face it, weren't too happy with life in general.

What we need to remember, when reading this classic, is that some of the concepts that are included hadn't even been invented yet. It was first found that hormones could control ovulation in the 30s, but the first oral contraceptive was first introduced to the public in the 60s, a good 30 years after the book was finished. Huxley was writing about things that may seem to be old to us, but at the time they were new, exciting and radical ideas.

The story is based in a futuristic Britain, where cities, towns, even villages comprise of multistory buildings. Where Soma, a drug with no bad side effects, makes everyone happy. Where babies are mass produced from tubes and everybody belongs to everybody else. And the way the whole society is put together is simply fascinating. The babies are divided into their social classes as soon as they are conceived, and are conditioned to fit in to them perfectly. Some will have alcohol in their blood surrogate, some may be deprived of nutrients at a certain stage of their development.This is all totally normal. And necessary for a fully functioning and happy community. Because after all, if an Epsilon had too high an IQ, why on earth would he want to clean for a living?

We have a small group of main characters in the story that round it out nicely for us. We see he world through very different viewpoints; a normal Delta citizen, who is almost perfectly conditioned, an Alpha-plus who isn't happy with the world at all, the boss who keeps the world turning, and the savage- a man from an undisturbed civilisation very similar to that of a Native American tribe, who is brought into the futuristic world.

While the story isn't particularly thrilling for a modern reader, they may be able to gain an insight into Huxley's mind, and what he thought about his own civilisation. The book really makes you think about the power of government control and about how someone from and African tribe, for example, would react to our own civilisation if they had it forced upon them. And the result is rather shocking, I have to say.

I find that the parallels and differences with Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' are extremely interesting. There is a savage who is clearly misunderstood, but instead of forcing him into slavery, the people in the book are fascinated by him and welcome him into their civilisation. The clear references to many of his texts are also interesting. I like the way that the savage uses the quotes as arguments for his own feelings. Huxley must have been extremely moved and must have read Shakespeare avidly to use them so many times within his work.

To conclude, I think that this is a book that is worth reading for those of you who like the genre and want a more adult read than the current dystopian fiction has on offer. The concepts are interesting and the story is good, though not nearly as action-packed as modern books and with a lot more conversation.

Still, I give it a 7/10.

4 April 2012

The Hunger Games (film)

Dystopian novels for teens are definitely trending at the moment, and it's all to do with this gem of a trilogy. Being a huge fan of the genre already (both Adult and YA), I practically swallowed the novels whole. I can safely say that they are fantastic for a person of any age and, somewhat controversially, any gender too.

So, when I heard that the film was coming out, I was worried. Very worried. Hollywood had already crashed and burned all over my beloved 'Northern Lights' - they had created a monster of a film called 'The Golden Compass' in it's place. But, surprisingly, 'The Hunger Games' actually left me with an even clearer message than the books had about reality TV, politics and privacy.

The book follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen as she bravely volunteers, in the place of her 12-year-old sister, in the 74th Annual Hunger Games. The film is NOT to be confused with the events of the film Battle Royale, which, although it has a very similar basic idea (ie: children killing each-other), is lacking in any meaning.

What is truly remarkable about this film is that the politics and the main concepts are cleverly depicted in a way that anyone can understand. Even people who have not read the books have come away knowing exactly what was going on. No confusion, just a burning desire to go read the books to find out what happens next. I personally love the way that the 'tracker jackers' have been explained - but you'll have to watch it to know more!

The world itsself has been perfectly realised. It's almost exactly how I imagined it. Readers of the books will be happy to know that the plot is never strayed from, and i believe that some minor discrepancies actually enhance the viewing experience. Plus, it gives those who haven't read it yet a couple of nice surprises. Things I may have wanted to see aren't hugely missed, and things that will turn out to be of importance are put in.

I believe that all the fundamentals of the story are there, as well as parts that I thought were extremely important to put in. There are poignant moments and particular phrases that will really help when making the second, third and fourth films. This may have something to do with the fact that the writer -Suzanne Collins, helped out with writing the film's script, and must have had a very good hold on the production.

I have only one problem. Because the concept is a difficult one, the beginning is somewhat slow. The action doesn't start for a little while, and there is a fair amount of talk. At the very beginning there is a little bit of writing. I advise everyone to read it. If you don't, I guarantee you won't really get the beginning at all. However, don't let that stop you from going. As soon as you get past the blurb, your inquisitiveness gets the better of you and you are catapulted into Panem, the Capitol and The Hunger Games itsself.

The casting was excellent, too. Some fairly well known names like Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones and Donald Sutherland played fairly integral characters, which was good as support. But virtual unknowns Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class) and Josh Hutcherson (The Vampires Assistant, Journey to the Centre of the Earth) took the lead roles. And may I say that I think these two are destined for good things. Their acting was extremely good, but I think that Hutcherson just gets my top spot for his perfect portrayal of Peeta Mellark. Oh, and Lenny Kravitz is in it, too, for all you music lovers.

Many have dubbed it 'the next big thing', and while I usually don't like that label, I think that they're right. With a film as consistent as this one I think that 'The Hunger Games' franchise could be as successful as Harry Potter, and, if there is any justice in the world, ten times more successful than Twilight.
It's a 9.5 out of 10.

For an excellent list on Young Adult dystopian fiction, please go to THIS blog post. And there are tonnes more, you just have to search them online.

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Tris lives in a world where you get to choose how you live your life. There are 5 factions - Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Erudite and Dauntless. Each citizen chooses theirs when they are 16. after that, they belong to that faction for the rest of their lives. But what happens if you don't slot neatly into one faction; what if you are divergent?

Dystopian fiction for teens is bang on trend at the moment, thanks to the huge success of 'The Hunger Games'. And this book doesn't disappoint, even for an adult reader. The plot isn't all that twisty and can be obvious to an adult reader, but the depiction of this interesting dystopian concept is excellent. The plot, at times, can be a little cliche - this genre and romance seem to go hand in hand - but overall it is a thrilling, fast-paced read. The events culminate to an unexpectedly huge crescendo, and I wonder how the next novel will fare after that. One possible question that may remain in the reader's mind is exactly how the world came into being. Hopefully, an explanation will be given to us in the sequel.

While the novel does not compete with 'The Hunger Games' in terms of technical skill, it has many features that make it well worth the read:-

The characters are believable, likeable and realistic to their world. This, I think, can be see very well in Roth's protagonist, but also in her other characters. For example Albert, another initiate, is torn between a crush on a girl and the will to survive the initiations (or risk being factionless and living on the edge of society). I think it is good that they don't act or think exactly as we do, otherwise they wouldn't feel right to the reader.

It also really makes you think about yourself as a person. If you were in this world, which faction would you belong to? Would you also be divergent? Or would you choose to be factionless? There are tests in the book that you can place yourself into and decide how you would fare in that world - your capacity for selflessness, or your deepest fears.

Overall, I give it a 9/10. Not perfect, but definitely getting there.

The second novel, Insurgent, comes out on hardback on the 1st May 2012.

22 March 2012

John Carter

John Carter is an explorer searching for a cave of gold, but he gets way more than he bargains for as he travels over to Mars and becomes involved in the politics and struggles that the inhabitants face.

The film is derived from a set of magazine serials and novels (called Barsoom) by Edgar Rice Boroughs, which date all the way back to 1912, so the concept is a very old one. There have been various comic book adaptations of the stories and in 2009 the first novel, a Princess of Mars, was released as a direct-to video film.

The film may be likened to Avatar in the way that it is set on another planet, but I can safely say that apart from that, I haven't seen anything similar to it before. The concept of a human being travelling to other planets has been done, yes, but has Dr Who ever saved a Princess from an evil man with a blue glowing hand? I think not.

The plot is difficult to explain, as it has many facets that need to be looked at. First, there is the character of John Carter himself. All he wants to do is get home to begin with, but as he gets to know the inhabitants of the planet, and the danger they face, he feels such a connection with them that the need to go home vanishes. The indigenous tribe (four-limbed, big green martians with tusks) are savage and their tempers are brittle, yet John finds some hope that there is more to them than their savage behaviour lets on. There is also a humanoid species living on Barsoom, and that's where all the trouble lies. One man has declared war on the planet, and because of him, it is dying. The Princess of Helium has run away after spurning his marriage proposal, and the hunt is on to catch her again.

But there's much more to it, and it is truly incredible that they have managed to make a film in which it is all explained and nothing is vague. The film has the odd bit of humour too, mainly at the beginning as it becomes more and more serious as the situation progresses. The style of the landscape and the presentation of the characters is very similar to that of 10,000 BC.

And I have to say that the acting isn't too shabby either. I think the most impressive was Lynn Collins (who you may recognise from X Men Origins: Wolverine) whose acting was completely realistic and whose prescence as sceen-stealing. A fun fact for you is that Taylor Kitsch, who plays John Carter, was also in X Men Origins:Wolverine as Remy LeBeau, otherwise known as Gambit.

The cast contains a bucket load of good actors: Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West and James Purefoy to name a few. I think the best idea of this film is that it is filled with well-known actors and actresses, and yet they aren't main characters. The way Disney does this with their films means that lesser known actors and actresses get their limelight, and something might come of it.

Disney has had a huge hit with Pirates of the Caribbean, we can't forget the visual perfection of Tron:Legacy or the thrilling action sequences from Prince of Persia : Sands of Time, but will this be a hit? We can only wait and see...

8 out of 10

16 March 2012

The Forgotten Legion Chronicles - Ben Kane

Fast-paced, action-packed and truly realistic. This is all the acclaim these books deserve.

The trilogy is set in Italy, when the Romans were at the height of their power and Caesar was cutting down his enemy one country at a time. But we don't follow Caesar. We follow four characters whose backgrounds are far more lowly than a noble. There's Tarquinius, the soothsayer, Brennus, a huge Gaul, Romulus and Fabiola, the twins whose lives were torn apart by their owner.

The story is very real, considering it is set in a time that was so long ago. The attention to detail is meticulous and the amount of research that must have gone into the trilogy is insane! The characters are perfectly defined. They aren't one-dimensional, and they all have different ideas, beliefs, goals and backgrounds. But the best thing about the way the characters are developed in the books is that they each have faults. They aren't your usual perfect beings, and some of them aren't the type that can even be lovable because of them.

The story is engrossing. I admit that the first book took a while to get rolling, as some books will. But I think that this was OK. Without the back-stories, the characters would be nothing more than the purposeless personalities you see in modern teen romance novels. Luckily, Ben Kane is not your average writer. And not only that, but these novels are set in a time when nothing is easy, and nothing is taken for granted. You won't see any star-crossed lovers here.

All three books take place over a good few years. The politics around Rome are continually changing during this time and I really commend Ben Kane for putting it across in a way that is easy to grasp. There's even a glossary of terms in the back for when you just can't remember what a contubernium is. Expect a lot of fighting, blood and sexual content. After all, this is Ancient Rome in a time of confusion and continual war.

So if you like your history, or just like reading about epic journeys, destiny and intrigue, this is the book for you.

It truly engrossed me.
Five out of five

The books go in the order: The Forgotten Legion, The Silver Eagle, The Road to Rome
Buy them: Right Here

5 January 2012

Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the Metropolitan Police had to deal with the supernatural? Well, now your pondering has come to fruition. Aaronovitch manages to combine the reality of being a Police officer in modern-day London with some rather ghostly happenings.

Junior Constable Peter Grant is guarding a crime scene in the early hours of the morning when he finds a witness to the crime. There's just one little problem. His witness is a ghost, and his story doesn't make any sense. Read on a few pages and you'll be hooked on the mystery of how on earth someone can manage to knock someones head clean off.

If you thought that this was just another Harry Potter, think again. Whilst this is admittedly set in a real world where magic is hidden away from the public and the main character does become a wizard (well, an apprentice), it is definitely an adult book. Sexuality and goriness are rife here, and there is even a bit of explanation to the magic.

This book is for people who love the sci-fi and fantasy genres, but yearn for something witty and (fairly) realistic. But really, I think anyone could read it.


I don't think I could have asked for a more entertaining read.

PS: Look out for the sequel: Moon Over Soho