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.