29 December 2013

Breathe - Sarah Crossan

Humans have devastated the earth, and now there is not enough oxygen to breathe. Instead of living freely, humans exist inside giant bubbles on the earth's surface, where machines pump in oxygen recycled from the air outside. Quinn is a Premium and has lived with the luxury of surplus air for exercise, and for having siblings. Bea is an Auxiliary, an only child who only wants to be ale to afford enough oxygen to allow her parents to dance with each-other, and yet the two of them are best friends and everything is running smoothly. That is, until Quinn meets the mysterious Alina, and then life takes a drastic turn for the worse, where the three end up on the run from pod officials, outside with only a few hours air to breathe.

Breathe is certainly a very thought-provoking book. It could easily be what could happen if we chop down too many trees, provided we work out a way to manufacture oxygen quickly. It really makes you think about what we are doing to this world as a whole, how we are destroying our resources but not doing a thing to restock them. There are too few environmentalists and too many people in the trade for profit, rather like the world in this book. Only now the environmentalists are radical thinkers, and the businessmen detain those under the dome.

The story got very involved, very fast. In the first chapter, we read about two teenagers, then in the next chapter we hear about a different two; it was enough to make my head spin. Eventually you realise who is meant to be what, and what you've already read about them adds up. But for the most part, the beginning was actually quite confusing and this didn't endear me to the book. However, since the story was so fast-paced, it kept interesting the whole way through, and the climax was very good. It keeps you turning pages to the very end.

Although Bea and Quinn do undertake journeys in their character, especially Quinn, I didn't feel that they meant a great deal. It was like the characters' thoughts were changed rapidly to push the plot along, rather than having any real epiphany. There seemed to be no confusion of the issue, only acceptance about the way things really were; this should have been developed as it is not realistic. Alina, on the other hand, does not appear to make a journey in terms of her character. She is apparently unaffected by the friends she has made, the death she has caused and the war she has started. I hope that in the next book we see much more in the way of character development.

This book is a teen fiction, and as I am an adult I can say that it is clearly not aimed at me. Therefore my opinion is much more critical than the average teenager. A 14-year old who loves dystopian fiction and sci-fi would utterly love this book. As for me? I give it a 6 out of 10.


23 December 2013

George R.R. Martin - A Game of Thrones

" In the game of thrones, you win or you die" - Cersei Lannister

In the fantasy Kingdom of Westeros, Robert Baratheon the usurper sits on the Iron Throne. The children of the forest, the dragons and the white walkers are all long-dead, extinguished by the long summer. But the Hand of the King is dead, possibly murdered, and King Robert travels North to Winterfell to name his new Hand; Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark. But beyond the wall there are whispers of ghosts, and Ned Stark is not keen to leave his home defended by his young son.

Meanwhile Aerys Targaryen, the heir of the king deposed by Robert, is trying to amass an army in the east, and his first act is to marry off his only remaining relative, his sister Daenerys, to a Dothraki khal, the leader of a huge clan of barbarians. The Stark words have never been truer; 'Winter is Coming'.

There is a fair bit to say about this book, but first off I have to admit that the TV series has done an excellent job of adapting the book. Each character and each story is accurate, and some characters, such as Samwell Tarly, have come into their own in the TV series, where he didn't make too much of an impression in the book. This, however, is based on this first book alone, further reading needs to be done before judging it as a whole.

The best part of the books is that each character is meticulously made. They have separate strengths and weaknesses, multitudes of personality traits and a distinct voice. Even though the book is written in third person, when you start a chapter, you know exactly who it is about. The chapters alternate between a host of characters; the entire Stark family (minus the youngest member) has a voice, along with Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister. Favourites so far are Arya Stark, Ned's youngest daughter, and Tyrion, the dwarf. Having seen the second series, I have extremely high hopes for these two narratives as the story progresses and dearly hope they don't die.

The plot is well woven and builds up wonderfully at the end. There are some shocking, grotesque and sexual moments dotted throughout the book, so it is best recommended to adults. There is really nothing about life that is missed out; it is real life on a fantastical scale, with a fantasy setting, more intrigue, more death, more action and more plotting. Prepare yourselves, because the series is just getting started. 9.5 out of 10.


22 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The sequel to An Unexpected Journey is finally here, and fans of the book are going to love it. Once again, we follow Bilbo, Gandalf and the band of Dwarves as they carry on in their quest to conquer Smaug and claim back the Lonely Mountain and the Kingdom of Erebor.

Unlike the last film, where the beginning is somewhat a recollection and a chance to bring in the likes of Ian Holm and Elijah Wood once more, the second hurls you headlong into the story. There is no backtracking and no long-winded back-story; you are straight where the story of the first film ended. This makes the film much faster in terms of pace and settles you in to what is actually a very well-made middle film.

The plot of the original book is followed very nicely. No part is missed out (unlike in the Lord of the Rings, where a greater part was missed out due to timing issues) and in fact extra parts that piqued our curiosity in the book have been put in, such as Gandalf's adventure in Dol Guldur where he attempts to deal with the Necromancer. New ideas have also been added, and while I felt that the inclusion of Legolas is unnecessary, it does bring together the two sets of films so people who have never seen the Lord of the Rings will have extra people to recognise. Fans of the LOTR films will love this inclusion, as Legolas is a very well-loved character. Gimli is even mentioned, which is amusing as I was debating how old he might have been at this point and was entirely right.

There are a couple more new bits thrown in for good measure; A huge action sequence with Smaug (which I feel went on for a tad too long) but it was all very watchable and quite intense, a she-elf by the name of Tauriel, whose storyline is actually very interesting and quite lovely, and then there is the fact that not all of the dwarves go to the Lonely Mountain. This part is very different to the book, but I liked it nonetheless because the story had several plot-lines rather than it focusing on one thing for too long.

So now we get on to the visuals. As always with adaptations of Tolkien's novels, the scenery, the design of costumes and the effects are simply magnificent. For me, though, I particularly liked Laketown and Mirkwood, despite the fact we see quite little of it. Oh and Smaug? He is just as terrifying as I ever imagined him to be, and yet not really as clever as he should be thanks to that enormous action sequence where Smaug is simply following the dwarves about and getting confused by the fact there are so many of them.

The actors in this are all excellent. Martin Freeman shines again as Bilbo, as he discovers he has more courage than he thought; this time tables are turned as Bilbo begins saving the dwarves. Luke Evans also does a great job as Bard the Bowman, and Bard's story is a given a little bit more significance too (but you'll have to see the film to find out how!) Aiden Turner also comes into his own with a flexibility that I can only marvel at. How is it that one man can play a vampire and a dwarf and play the characters in an utterly different style? Kili is an extremely likable dwarf and is given his own subplot in this particular installment. It leaves me secretly hoping that the third film ends up slightly different to the book (again, spoilers!)

There is one tiny little thing I think this film, as well as it's predecessor, lack. The book was for children originally, and so it had a large amount of comedy in it. Most of the dwarves were amusing, the conversations with Smaug were witty, the barrel sequence was hilarious and highly memorable. I think the film has left out most of the hilarity in favour of the darker mood that encapsulates the LOTR franchise. I think I would have liked to see lighter moments in this film as it would be much more in keeping with the book.

In a nutshell, The Desolation of Smaug is everything I could have asked for. It is full of references to the other books, new plot-lines to add interest and has a vast amount of action. Apart from the lack of comedy, the film is a roaring success in my eyes. It is certainly something that most people would like, particularly people who are fans of the fantasy genre and of Tolkien. 9 out of 10.


29 November 2013

Every Other Day - Jennifer Lynn Barnes

In Kali's world monsters, or the preternatural, were discovered when Darwin took his trip on the Beagle to the Galapagos Islands. But instead of finding finches and turtles, he found impossible creatures that we had only ever heard about in myth and legend. Some of them are even classified as endangered species, but every other day, Kali sees them as her prey. Every other day, Kali turns from a human into something else; something fast, that heals quickly, that feels no pain, that hungers for the hunt and for the death of preternatural beings, because of this, Kali has never had any friends.. Until one day she saves a girl from a bloodsucking parasite and actually speaks to someone at her school. Action, friendship, psychic abilities and a good splash of conspiracy theory all play together to create a compelling and quite original story.

The idea is the key to how this book works so well. The amalgamation of all the creatures that have ever terrified you, all put into one world and with seemingly one person to protect the humans from them. It is a really great concept, and certainly not one that has been thought of before. Yes, a few may have Kali has no idea what she is and why she feels the need to hunt the 'things that go bump in the night', and so the entire story has undercurrents of this persistent question which brings huge revelations in the latter stages. In the meantime, the main action is in battling preternatural things and trying not to get killed. It all culminate with one whopping twist. You can kind of see it coming, but not until a few minutes before it happens.

Character-wise, I thought Kali was a wonderful voice, with just the right amount of sarcasm and abnormality that you immediately warm to her. The book is in first person, so you truly get the sense of who she is as a person as well as the deep sense of loneliness that she has at the beginning. However, it was actually her new friends, Skylar and Bethany, who I liked the most; Skylar for her absolute vivacity and bravery, and Bethany for everything she ever says - if you want a sarky / snarky comment, she's your girl.

A surprising and captivating read, if only it was longer and better developed. But this may be because it was meant for teens rather than adults. I am really hoping for a second book that delves more into the world and the other preternatural creatures. 8 out of 10.

28 November 2013

The Woodcutter - Kate Danley

The woodcutter is not a man, but he is not fae either, he is the protector and keeper of the peace between the twelve kingdoms. He lives his life to keep the treaty between humans and fae; he helps those who are lost in the woods and ensures that all the twelve kingdoms remain peaceful. But something is wrong. Little girls are being killed in the woods, pixies are touching the ground and fairy tales aren't going the way they always have. There is an evil plot afoot, and the Woodcutter must be the one to end it.

First off, the one resounding element to this book is a complexly woven fairy-tale narrative. It brings together not only classic stories like the Princess and the Pea or Jack and the Beanstalk, but also that of mythology (and even A Midsummer Night's Dream). This is expertly done, but at the beginning it can be very confusing. One moment, Cinderella is being stalked by a beast, then Red Riding Hood shows up and the next minute the King and Queen of the fairies are riding in. It is a lot to take in, but keep reading and the pace soon slows enough for you to catch your breath.

Next is the characters themselves. The only character who you really get to know properly is the woodcutter, and even then he still seems a deep mystery. We know that he loves his wife, we know that he is calm, solid, and knows exactly what to do... Well, most of the time. The character who I would have liked to see developed was the Gentleman, whose true name never surfaces. I would love to know who he is and what he had to do with the whole plot. Maybe there's a second book coming that I don't know about? The same could be said for the Queen. Why did she embark on such an elaborate scheme.. not just because she was greedy, surely?

The end was really quite breathtaking. The book kept building and building until something had to give, and when it did, it was perfectly poignant. I expected a little bit of blood, but instead the author left out the gore in favour of a beautiful but quiet ending.

A nice book to read, especially if you are a huge fan of fairy-tales and love it when authors mix things up a bit. 7 out of 10.

Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers

Ismae is the one of the daughters of death, feared and hated for all her life for the mysterious powers granted to her. That is, until she finds sanctuary with her sisters in the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns the arts of death. Three years later, Ismae embarks on her first few missions as a novice, unwittingly getting herself tangled up in the tenous politics of the Brittany court. Ismae must protect the Duchess and kill traitors to the court, but soon she finds that her orders from the convent and her own thoughts disagree immensely.

Phew, this was a quick read. It was fast-paced and never lacked in interest. In fact, there was a huge amount going on behind the scenes here. The amount of thought and research that must have gone into this book is brilliant; an almost supernatural fiction within a war that actually took place. We all know the outcome, but the story of how it happened in this book adds an extra facet to this slice of history. In fact, I might go so far as to say that it adds interest to it, as I now want to know how many of the characters may have been real people (or at least may have been based on them).

One small point to mention is that it did strike me as a similar storyline to that of Throne of Glass, and even reminded me in part of a few chapters from the Mistborn series; all these dangerous women dressing in finery to do the work of someone else, whilst enjoying the frivolity a little bit too much, and yes, even falling in love while they are meant to be working. At least in this book Ismae makes a good few kills, and isn't meant to be stone-hearted from the word go.

All the concepts in the book are extremely interesting as to the idea of worshipping death and the special gifts given to his handmaidens. The idea of 'marques' of death on those who are meant to die is one concept that really made me wonder about the idea of fate or destiny tying into the story in some way, as well as into real life. Does someone choose the way and the time in which we all die? It may be a macabre thought, but by the end of the book, my mind was reassured. After all 'death is not without mercy'.

A good little book, and I didn't see the twist coming for a while!
8 out of 10


The second book of the His Fair Assassin series, Dark Triumph, is the first person account of Sybella, another of death's daughters. It's out now, and I can't wait to get started.

27 November 2013

Charity Shop Book Bargains

Charity shops; they're not the most glamorous of places, but boy do they have some great bargains. But I won't harp on about the amazing clothes your can find in there, or the lovely home-wares you can scope out, or even the cheapo DVDs. Nope, today I'm talking about that beautiful hideyhole in the corner at the  back: the book section.

My local charity hops are all really great for books, but there's one in particular that seems to get all the bestsellers and the prize nominations; The British Heart Foundation. I can't go in that shop without picking up something that I either already own or something that I've been wanting to read for ages. In that shop, I've found Water for Elephants (I bought it) alongside The Song of Achilles, and they've been priced at the most about £3.50.

So here's a quick round up of some of my charity shop buys that will (probably) make you want to pop off into town for a bit:

Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams - Jenny Colgan
Jenny Colgan's food-based books have been selling really well recently, and this is a recent one, priced at £3.00 (I think)

The Library of Shadows - Mikkel Birkegaard
Secret societies, strange abilities, murder and arson attempts, all tied in to the world of books. I couldn't not buy it for £2.00.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
A girl on the brink of our world and another more frightening one must make a decision which will change her life. 4.5 stars on Amazon, £1.75 paid in a charity shop.

The Kingdom Beyond the Waves - Stephen Hunt
A strange-sounding steampunk novel reminiscent of a quest to find Atlantis.

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
There were actually two copies of Cloud Atlas in the shop, but this one didn't have the film cover on it and therefore it's much prettier, so I went for it. I bought it for a measly £2.00 and really enjoyed it!

And of course, though I haven't featured it in the picture, Water for Elephants, which was an emotional and educational read.

Have you bought some amazing reads from charity shops? Please share them with me!

26 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


This film is best seen after the first film in the series, titled The Hunger Games.

Katniss and Peeta have won the 74th hunger games together and can now reside in peace with their winnings. But they are far from safe; as they journey through the districts on their victory tour, they see the sparks of the rebellion they have started. President Snow wants these sparks to be put out immediately and threatens Katniss to do everything in her power to make the people stop rioting. When Katniss fails, Snow takes matters into his own hands. The 75th year of the Hunger Games is a quarter quell; a very special type of games hosted every 25 years where the usual rules are changed a bit. This year, Snow's message is made very clear when the finalists are chosen from the existing victors; forcing Katniss into the games. Prepare yourselves; this film is scorching (apologies for the terrible wordplay).

Not only is this an excellent set up for the final two films (I feel they should be one film to avoid this ridiculous milking of stories that all the film makers seem to be doing now, but more about that another time) but it is also a stunning story. Some people I have talked to took one look at the trailer and thought that the film was just going to be a rehash of the first, but, having read the books, I knew better. As in the first film, the story does take a little bit of getting into. Much of the film takes place in the districts, and it builds up this massive sense of rebellion and defiance. It is stunning storytelling and I often found myself smiling in victory or tearing up in misery; it is very emotional. There is one hugely shocking scene fairly near the beginning that really took by breath away, but I wouldn't want to ruin it for you; you'll know it when you see it.

As for the characters, I couldn't wait to see what they had done with a few of them, and they seriously didn't disappoint. Finnick (Sam Clafin) is cast absolutely perfectly cast (and really very good-looking) and I loved how they portrayed Mags, Nuts and Volts. A nice surprise was the casting of Jena Malone as Johanna, whom she played with real guts. You may remember her as Lydia in Pride and Prejudice or Rocket in Suckerpunch, and I thought this role is perfect as a springboard for her to get into bigger and better roles. I loved how the film doesn't shy away from the love triangle, and I'm glad I dislike Katniss almost as much as I did during the books; my heart bleeds for Peeta, and since I know exactly what will happen in the next two films, it also bleeds in anticipation.

Everyone was rather on par in terms of their acting skills; there was no-one who stood out for the wrong reasons, but no-one stole any scenes entirely. However, Jennifer Lawrence impressed me in that very shocking scene I told you about earlier. Josh Hutcherson has always played Peeta beautifully, and he doesn't let the character down in this film either. Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket) was very good for the few minutes that we saw of her. I thought it was nice how this element of her character was brought into play and Banks showed her outer shell cracking rather nicely.

Fans of the books will love this adaptation; it is so true to them and has included little bits and pieces which have made me truly happy to watch, filmgoers will revel in the level of pure emotion and adrenaline and eveyrone else will be very impressed. One word of warning though; the book stops of a cliffhanger and so does this film. You will be itching for an entire year to watch Mockingjay- Part 1, that is, unless you read the books!

9.5 out of 10 - the only downside being that the build up was slightly too long.


25 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Caution - Spoilers!

This film is best viewed after you have watched Thor and Avengers Assemble so that all events are in context.

Thor is still trying to clear up Loki's mess after the recent events in Avengers Assemble (or The Avengers, if you're not from GB), so he hasn't had the time to go running around after Jane Foster, however much he would like to. But Jane hasn't been quite so tied up. In the meantime, she has been doing some investigation of her own, and ends up getting pulled into another world, one where a mysterious weapon known as the Aether was hidden away. Unwittingly, Jane absorbs the Aether and then is taken to Asgard by Thor when he comes back and realises something is wrong. But soon Asgard is attacked by the Dark Elves, who were believed to be long dead, and they are looking for the very thing that Jane has absorbed. In a desperate attempt to save Asgard, Thor asks for Loki's help to escape unhindered, even though doing so is treason. The question is, can he really trust the God of Mischief?

Like the first Thor film, this one is packed with action, a few laughs and a lot of cool effects. Team that up with a time-constrained story-line, brotherly affection, a few laughs and a bit of romance and you have a pretty good film. In fact, it's more than good. It is really exciting. Fans will love the Captain America cameo, legend geeks will love the main theme of the story; the fact that the worlds are aligning and may be destroyed may be a reference to Ragnarok, and everyone else will love the adventure, the comedy and the romance of it all. The story takes a few twists and turns, but none that aren't obvious once you think about it a little bit. It isn't anything that will change your thinking or shape you as a person, but it is a really exciting and beautifully executed film. As I may have mentioned in my review of the first film, the effects are stunning and the landscapes of Asgard and of the other worlds are breathtaking.

As always, Chris Hemsworth acts all macho as he should; like a pro. He gives Thor a tiny bit more complexity this time around, which is nice to see, but the character doesn't evolve hugely from the end of the first Thor film. Tom Hiddleston remains my favourite as Loki, who really does go through a character arc. It is nice to see Loki looking less than his usual arrogant self when tragedy strikes, but he still manages to resume his mischievous tricks when he is out of his prison. I was quite amused and yet a little unimpressed with the continuation of Dr Selvig's story considering a lot has happened to him since he last saw Thor, and I feel that Darcy is no longer needed in the plot, she and her new intern only distracted from the story as a funny side-plot. However, I was impressed with Christopher Eccleston as Malekith, the Dark Elf and the antagonist of the plot. Although he played a fairly one-dimensional character, I felt that he did it all with a real presence and he felt like a very worthwhile opponent.

It's nothing new, but worth a watch anyway, especially if you love your Marvel comics and superhero films.
7 out of 10.

Image; nulled.org

23 November 2013

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

Six intertwined lives, spread out across time, and yet they are all linked through one common theme; mans' hunger for power and their ability to fight back against it. It can be as simple as an escape from a nursing home or as huge as the uncovering of a bloody conspiracy.

The book is split into eleven parts and goes chronologically until it reaches the far future, where it turns back on its-self to complete each of the stories. In terms of suspense and intrigue, this is a really good idea, especially when the author leaves their characters on a life-or-death cliffhanger, such as in The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing and Half-Lives. However, it does take some time to remember what has happened in the previous narratives when you arrive back at them further into the book. Some of them are even cut off in the middle of a sentence (such as Adam Ewing's Journal), which means you may have to turn back to the previous pages (all the way at the beginning of the book) to see the first part and makes sense of it.

Despite this issue, the book is a very good read (and so it should be; it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004). Each storyline is meticulously thought out and researched, especially in the case of the Journal, where there is a fair amount about the resident tribes of the Chatham Islands (being somewhere around New Zealand and Australia). Each voice is extremely different, and there is no mistaking any of the characters for each-other. Perhaps the most different of all is Zachry, a Valleysman living in a post-apocalyptic earth, whose dialect is very difficult to read. For example; "All three of 'em cackled like a danglin' o' screechbats an' I redded diresome'n'steamin'." It takes a little bit of time for you to get used to this dialect, but as the whole story comes as one chapter, it is a little bit easier to take in than if it had been split apart.

I particularly liked reading An Orison of Sonmi~451 and Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After as I love the idea of what the world could be like years into the future. They paint pictures of world's that are quite different from our own, and yet we can see that they are fairly possible, given the right conditions.

Compared top the film though, the stories seemed to lack the direct links that were laid out. In the book, each main character is meant to be a reincarnation of the previous one, but in the film, there are several reincarnations of several characters, adding depth and interest to the story. Sonmi's Orison clearly explains the concept of souls crossing the ages in the film, where the book gives a few vague references with no solid points for comparison in all of the stories. I found that the film also added in a lot more action and got into the main point in the story a lot sooner. This is particularly evident in Sonmi's Orison, where she spends a lot of time on her own. The film cuts this part out entirely in favour of a more full-on narrative.

The book leaves it up to us to interpret how each story is linked, and some people may find this aggravating. The idea is much more about people and their will as opposed to the reincarnation idea that flows through the film. Cloud Atlas is a long and fairly difficult read, and it is not for everyone's taste, but please give it a go. It is sure to inspire you.

8 out of 10

PS: I saw this for £2.00 in my local charity shop, it was a bargain!

27 October 2013

Cinder/Scarlet - Marissa Meyer

Welcome to the world, hundreds of years into the future. It has seen World Wars 3 and 4, it has introduced androids into the mainstream, it has discovered another race that is living on the moon and for the last 15 years it has seen a deadly plague wipe out thousands of people.

Cinder is a mechanic and a cyborg; a second-class citizen looked at with disdain, but she is the best mechanic in New Beijing. One day, Cinder is working in her stall when she receives an unexpected guest; the crown prince, Kai, venturing out of the palace to find someone to fix the royal android. No more spoilers! What happens next is an awe-inspiring and in places heart-breaking adventure for Cinder, culminating in a tense finale where the truth finally comes out. Did I guess it? Yeah, but not too far ahead of time.

In book number two we meet Scarlet, a girl living in the south of France with her grandmother. That is, until her grandmother is kidnapped by a vicious gang. A mysterious street-fighter named Wolf soon comes into the picture, and it turns out he is more involved than Scarlet first thought. Although she doesn't trust him, she enlists his help when she realises he'll be of some use. This book is even bigger than the last, with new revelations about the Lunars and their disturbing abilities, a few new characters to add more depth to the story, and some explanation as to Cinder's back-story, the first clue having been found out in the last few pages of Cinder.

Considering Cinder was written in just a month, Meyer has a really well developed sense of both her characters and her plots, building the back-story well in advance of the other characters coming into play in their own books. She began with a simple idea; a sci-fi fairy-tale, but has built it into a full-on save-the-world type story that entirely transcends the original fairy tales. With each book you read, the story seems to get bigger and more intriguing - answering your questions but in turn giving you new ideas to think on.

The characters are all likable, and they are all very well built, with their own specific traits, habits and flaws. I love the fact that Cinder isn't perfect or particularly beautiful, unlike her fairy-tale counterpart, and Scarlet's determination to find her grandmother, no matter how terrifying her situation is, is inspiring. Yes, the second book, Scarlet, is more hard-core, and the bad guys get even scarier.

These two books have it all; romance, action, complexity, futuristic settings and a hint of the other-worldly. Cress, the next Lunar chronicle out in 2014, is surely going to be even better!

9.5 out of 10

20 October 2013

The Alloy of Law - Brandon Sanderson

It has been three hundred years since the end of the events in the Mistborn Trilogy, and our previous heroes have fallen into myth and religion. The powers of Allomancy and Feruchemy still go on though, and the new society they built is on the brink of modernity with the invention of electricity. But society has become corrupt once again, and there are few people who still keep the peace.

 Lord Waxillium, our protagonist, is one of those law-keepers. He is an Allomancer and a Feruchemist, able to push on metals and store his weight, a very useful combination. He has been forced back to the city from the roughs due to the death of a relative and it is now his duty to look after the estate left to him. But Wax is much more interested in patrolling the streets, looking for trouble, than the life of an aristocrat.

When Wax learns about the mysterious Vanishers stealing train cargo, he tries to resist investigating, but when a friend from the roughs turns up on his doorstep and his fiancee-to-be is kidnapped, it all gets a little too close for comfort.

The original series was really gripping and wonderfully complex, and this book is no exception, despite being much smaller and quite separate in terms of the story-line. I would not say that this novel could stand alone, though. You definitely need to read the Mistborn books first to understand the language used and the way that Allomancy and Feruchemy work. However, the links to the previous events of this world are very nicely incorporated and you even get a nice surprise at the end of the book. The world its-self is as well-drawn as ever, and you really get a sense of place and an image of where you are.

The way that policing and electricity are involved are very interesting, as we never truly got quite the sense of time and place that we have in this book from the previous ones. Here, we can imagine a world not so different from our own. It shows exactly how the world has evolved and exactly where it is lacking. Still, the focus is more on the action than the growth of the community, and on personal growth for that matter.

In fact, we don't see a large amount of personal growth from our protagonist, but since it is a rather short book, I did not expect to. While he does learn a few things along the way, his growth is outshone by that of Lady Marasi, who managed to come to terms with her near kidnap and all the fighting relatively quickly. The best character of all was Wayne, Wax's right-hand-man from the roughs. He brought all the comedy and fun to the book, and his conversations with Wax are extremely enjoyable to read. He also has a very useful power combination. I loved the way that Allomancy and Feruchemy have been combined to create some awe-inspiring powers, therefore also increasing the complexity of the world.

Sanderson's writing style is a little bit less easy to read in this book, but the story and the characters are still as compelling as ever. A lovely companion book, and one that has clear potential for a sequel, should he ever think one up - you become really rather interested in Wax's marriage prospects. Fans of the Mistborn series will be in love once more. 8 out of 10.

Image: booksmugglers.com

7 October 2013

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien is Ardalan's most infamous and feared assassin. She has spent the last year in the salt mines of Endovier after being betrayed and captured; a death sentence to most, but she has miraculously survived. Now the crown prince has dragged her out of one hell and into another; a competition to become the hated King's champion (a kinder word for his personal assassin) and eventually win her freedom. However, the palace, the prince and her captor (the moody captain of the guard) are not as they first appear. Instead, she has something new to worry about; something evil is lurking n the palace, ripping competitors apart in the night. Celaena has to act before she becomes the next corpse.

Told in third person, from the viewpoints of Celaena, Dorian (the Prince) and Chaol (the Guard), Throne of Glass throws you straight into the story, at the moment where Celaena is being freed from her prison. We are intrigued from the start as there are already questions that need answering; How did she get there in the first place? Who betrayed her? How did she end up as an assassin? The plot carries you along at a steady speed throughout; nothing happens too fast or too slowly and everything is there for a reason. Unfortunately, the twists are very easy to see coming and it would have benefited the author not to sow quite as many seeds as to the plot of the second book.

Our protagonist is a strange character; she seems at odds with herself most of the time.. her assassin training giving way to a much more materialistic and silly girl. Despite that, she is quite likeable, funny and easy to empathise with even though she is a killer. The main worry here is that she actually doesn't seem like an assassin - there is one killing in the entire book and although her fighting is well described, her thoughts and actions are much too normal. The emphasis of the book actually divides its-self a bit too evenly between her relationships with other people and her adventures, fighting and planning.

This doesn't make the book any less entertaining, though. In fact, it only makes you like her more as you discover she isn't as heartless and cold as you think. It seems that most appearances are deceiving in this book, as many prejudices about characters turn out to be wrong, including your own.

The most interesting part for me was the competition; the sizing up of competitors, their alliances and the tests they undergo. I would have liked to see a lot more of this as some of the tests were just skipped over in favour of developing the love triangle. As brilliant and human the depictions of each relationship was, I could have done with a bit more action.

The story carries on in Crown of Midnight, and it has four prequels attached to give background information, which unfortunately I have not read; The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, The Assassin and the Desert, The Assassin and the Underworld, The Assassin and the Empire. The story has a lot of plot points that are unexplained, and I am sure these novellas go a long way towards covering what is references in the book. Looking to the future, there are very clear plot-lines to develop, and I hope to read about political warfare, actual warfare, lots of assassinations and a few difficult decisions for our antihero.

I read this very quickly as was always yearning to read more. Gripping and interesting, but the main character was lacking ferocity.

8 out of 10

Beautiful cover image taken from infinity-of-time.blogspot

5 October 2013

Pitch Perfect

Sometimes you wonder exactly what goes on in a room when a film is being thought up. I often make up those conversations in my head, and I reckon the one for Pitch Perfect went a bit like this;

"Oh, I know what will work right now! People love Glee, right?? Let's make a film version!"
"Yeah! But let's make it at Uni to appeal to a larger audience"
"Yeah! And Bridesmaids was pretty popular recently, let's add some of the humour from that into it!"
"Yeah!" Everyone nods in agreement.
This, I believe, is how Pitch Perfect came into being.

So anyway, the story is that Beca (Anna Kendrick, Twilight, Scott Pilgrim) is being forced to go to University by her dad, but really she just wants to jet off to L.A. and be a music producer. After being cornered in the shower by a member of the all-girls a capella group, she eventually joins and tries to shake things up a bit. The group is full of misfits (each have their own, sometimes pretty weird, personalities and quirks) and they really don't sound good. That is, until they all learn to work together. Queue lots of singing (Anna Kendrick is really good!), a fair bit of choreography and a lot of hideous word-play on the words 'a capella'.

This could have easily been an utterly terrible film, but it wasn't; there was enough of a plot, romance and interest to keep the film from going back to its cheesy roots. Instead of being overly happy, whiny or corny (see Glee), it actually provided us with a realistic viewpoint of a group of girls struggling with issues and trying to achieve something. There was character development in a few characters and comedy provided mostly by Rebel Wilson (who was pretty good considering I loathed her character in Bridesmaids). Oh, and look out for the competition commentators because they are hilarious.

This is a really entertaining film to watch (OK, one or two moments verge on going too far in the gross and cheesy categories) and even the boyfriend found it funny! Good songs, great vocals and all in all very enjoyable.

9 out of 10.


4 October 2013

The Glass Books of the Dreameaters - G.W. Dahlquist

Miss Temple is just a high-class woman making her way in Victorian-era London, but when her fiancee Roger suddenly severs their engagement, she takes it upon herself to find out exactly why. The story starts off a little slow, but soon it turns into a complex and thrilling plot which is full of intrigue, and all of it links back to Roger and the mysterious glass books in the title.

Phew! What a read! The book lasts for a marathon-like 800(ish) pages, switching between the viewpoints of our three protagonists; Miss Temple, Dr Svenson (a German officer initially trying to keep a wayward Prince out of trouble) and Cardinal Chang (a mercenary hired to kill an influential man, only to find him already dead). These three unsuspecting heroes eventually team up and together take a stand against the group whose sinister 'process' seems to have stolen people's souls, including Roger's.

As you can already fathom, there are a lot of characters to get your head around in this book. Not only are you trying to piece together which members of the Cabal are really in charge, but which ones the protagonists have each encountered and who has allegiances to whom. The result is that it takes a long time to fully grasp what on earth is happening and it can create confusion when names or situations are mentioned but you cannot place them.

The idea of inadvertent heroes facing off against an evil group isn't all that new. In fact, the general story is quite reminiscent of Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker, yet another steampunk novel, but the complexity of the plot and the idea of the indigo clay and its' properties were  impressive. A few questions remain as to how the glass and the alchemical equipment works during the processes and how the clay is made into glass and gas. Maybe the next two books will offer better explanations and descriptions of both of these aspects.

As for the characters, they are extremely well drawn; each of the cabal members have their own reasons for acting as they do and how they choose their alliances. Even some characters that seem harmless throughout have secret agendas. Out heroes also each have interesting back-stories, some more in depth than others, and they go through differing character arcs. Miss Temple, being someone who is not used to action or adventure, let alone wielding weapons against strong enemies, goes through the biggest transformation and yet somehow retains the sense of self that we see in the first chapter.

The writing style is very like most Victorian books, where every element of what happens is described in detail and the plot moves slowly and steadily. Some of you may find this a bit demanding and even slightly dull. I felt I needed events to move more quickly to keep my attention up.

Expect a lot of action, and lot of things going on at the same time and a fair amount of confusion in places. Also, as a disclaimer, this book is also quite provocative and some may feel uncomfortable reading those parts in public. All in all, the book is a good one, a long adventure and an excellent idea, though you may find yourself drifting off if you are reading to late at night. Despite the fact that the book could have done with some editing, I am looking forward to reading the next two books in the series (pictured below).

7 out of 10.

Image from gaskella.wordpress

This book is available as a serial on your kindle, but I would recommend buying the whole book as you can then flick through to parts you can't recall properly. It is a little bit daunting, but it is much easier to keep the plot in your mind this way.

Thank you to Penguin for giving me the opportunity to read this book.

5 September 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones - Film

Ever had one of those weird thoughts that maybe you can see something that everyone else can't? Like a certain shade of pink, or maybe you've got some kind of synesthesia like on Heroes where you can see music? Well, imagine being able to see an entire person that other people can't, and imagine that you saw that person murder someone else. That's exactly what happens to Clary Fray (Lily Collins) when she enters a nightclub with her friend Simon (Robert Sheehan). Soon Clary is immersed in a world where half-angels with strange rune tattoos are at war with demons, often disguised as ordinary people (or dogs). Oh, and the killer part? She's apparently half-angel, and her mother has been taken away by the enemy.

I haven't read the books, so unfortunately I can't decide whether it does them any justice, but I can say with confidence that the plot is a good one with some good twists. Yes, perhaps for an adult the twists were a little bit predictable, but this movie is for teens and I think it plays to them perfectly. A lot of the plot is made up of relationships, whether that's a love quadrangle or the bond between mother and daughter. it really adds to the immersion into Clary's life as you leave the film feeling like you have to know what happens to all these complex relationships. There is one big old love story, as per usual, but I have to say that this is the first time I have ever found Jamie Campbell Bower kind of hot (sorry, Jamie, I'm sure I'd melt in person). However, there is a beautiful twist nearing the end which makes the whole thing go to pot (by the way Cassandra Clare, well done on that plot point, it adds so much confusion!)

The film has a few action sequences, but surprisingly it focused a lot more on he growing tensions between the characters than the storyline. In the end the story was a pretty solid one. Again, there were parts which were quite obvious (such as how the baddie is got rid of), but there was lots of confusion as to who was really the enemy and I suspect that City of Ashes will build on this (as well as a few other elements that were left open-ended. Personally I want to keep my eye on what becomes of Simon).

There are quite a few actors too look out for here; Lily Collins does a far better job of portraying Clary than she did of Snow White, but I'm letting her off as that entire film didn't do that well so it probably wasn't her fault. Jamie Campbell Bower is the mysterious and quite-good-looking Jace, and he does a pretty good job of acting like a tough guy. Robert Sheehan's (Misfits) talents at acting like an arsehole (but we loved Nathan anyway) were entirely wasted as he was playing Simon the lovely best friend, but he gave it a good go. No-one really stood out. It was a level playing field in which the scenes were never hogged by one actor. You can judge for yourself whether that's a good thing or not.

Having seen the film I definitely want to read the books and find out what happens.. I don't think I could wait, which is always a good sign! The whole concept of a secret world hidden inside our own is a captivating one, and it certainly makes an entertaining film, just maybe not one that will set the world alight.

7 out of 10


25 August 2013

The Lone Ranger

Hi Ho, Silver! Away!

Yeah, that's right; the popular TV series has been made into a film by Disney, and you know what? It's really entertaining.

The story of the lone ranger is told by an aged Tonto, looking back fondly on the transformation of a law man into a gun-slinging outlaw, bent on seeking justice and revenge for the death of his brother. The one thing that any viewer should know is not to go into the film expecting anything other than a romp. Take it with a pinch of salt, and you'll be laughing through the ridiculous chase sequences and oddities. 

The film plays entirely on the fact that Disney have kept the original storyline, but made some amusing changes along the way that will make devoted fans of the series happy. 'Kemo Sabe' (the name that Tonto calls him, for example, originally meant 'trusted friend', or trusty scout, but in this version it means 'wrong brother', a jibe that the survivor of the ambush should have been Dan Reid and not John. The kids will be happy too, with the duo of Tonto and Reid quipping their way through the movie.

With a cast that includes the ever-impressive Johnny Depp (Tonto) and Helena Bonham-Carter (Red Harrington, all you need to know is that her fake leg is a gun), the film was always sure to be a good laugh, if nothing else. But it surpasses that with Depp playing his not-entirely-sane native American character to perfection. Oh, and the spirit-horse? Weird, but hilarious.

The story was good, too. It had a nice plot that enabled the two leads to develop their character well. Particularly that of Tonto, whose back-story turns out to be pretty integral to the plot. The climax, to the famous William Tell Overture, is exciting and hilarious. The whole film is hugely enjoyable and slightly mad; a great way to spend a couple of hours.

With tons of action and a lot of laughs, the film is great for all ages. 
Dare I give it a 10/10? I think I will.


For the IMDB page, click here.

1 August 2013

Upcoming Books

I have had these in my possession for write some time, and soon I will be reading them. First, though, I will be reading the 800-page giant that is The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, which was kindly given to me by the people of Penguin to read. I may be some time, but by God I will have a review for you when I'm done. In the meantime feel free to enjoy my reviews of films (both old and new, but mostly new..ish) and, if something takes my fancy, maybe even a rare food post.

Look out for this little lot in the coming months:

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (bought for £2 in a charity shop!)
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
I Am Number Four - Pittacus Lore
A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin (Yes, all of them)
Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams - Jenny Colgan
The Library of Shadows - Mikkel Birkegaard
Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas
The Alloy of Law - Brandon Sanderson
Grave Mercy - Robin Lafevers
Spartacus: the Gladiator - Ben Kane

Er.. just a few then! But hey, it's a nice range isn't it?

31 July 2013

Inferno - Dan Brown

Robert Langdon's fourth foray into an international crisis begins quite differently from his other adventures; finds himself waking up in a hospital, in a completely different country to the one he thought he was in, with no memory of the past two days. To make things worse, a woman he can't identify is trying to kill him, and all he can do is to go along with the doctor who saved his life. What happens next is a breathless chase through the streets of Florence, with Langdon frantically trying to recall his actions.

As with any of Dan Brown's works, this book is highly intelligent and meticulously thought-through. There is always an impressive amount of research with all of this authors books, and this book certainly doesn't disappoint. Although I don't confess to know anything about the subject matter, the book made me feel like I learnt a lot. The focus this time is on Dante Alghieri's The Divine Comedy, specifically on the epic poem's first part; Inferno, or in other words, Hell. It also delves into the concept of Man's existence on this planet and the impact of our ever-increasing numbers. Of all the Langdon books, the ideas and truths that it sets out pack the most punch, and resonate with the fear of death that is in most of us.

The one thing that make strike some readers is the similarity in plot points to other works in this series; a female companion, a race against time (this time to save the world), a treasure hunt with clues in art and literature, a shocking secret, an organisation or two that is deeply involved in the threat.. the list goes on. Landon's knowledge and his useful eidetic memory pieces it all together rather well, and manages to escape through several memorised routes... every other chapter.

The twist in this story is that Langdon has no idea who to trust or how he got to Florence and, as always, we are right there piecing the puzzle together with him. This story seems a lot more personal and character-driven than the like of Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol. Here, the story progresses in a way that in much easier to read and has a wonderfully human element to it.

This is a classic thriller in every sense, a book for the masses, as Brown's other works are. It is a very enjoyable read, but the end is seriously lacking. It isn't definite as to whether the threat can be stopped or not, or if it will be, and although this leaves it open to interpretation, sceptics may think that this is actually a ploy to get us to read the next book (if any) in search of answers. Should there be more Langdon books? Yes, definitely, but just give the end more punch. We don't want to be left standing there with a book and a bunch of questions.

It's a 7 out of 10.

Image from flipkart.com

23 July 2013

The Elite - Kiera Cass

*Warning; spoilers may occur as this is the second book of the series. For a review of the first book, see this post*

There are only six girls left in the competition to become Prince Maxon's bride, but America Singer already knows that she has his heart. Or has she? As she struggles to get over Aspen, who is now closer than ever, Maxon seems to grow away from her. With the rebel attacks getting more frequent and tasks getting more difficult, America's emotions are in turmoil. Expect more tears, more tension and more danger as the competition gets even more serious.

There is something truly remarkable about the way that this book draws you straight back into the midst of the Selection; it's as if you never left the palace. The competition has grown more intimate, and only the six finalists, the Elite, remain. They are tested and set tasks, and slowly but surely Prince Maxon needs to eliminate the girls based on how they do.

America is still totally undecided on whether she wants Maxon or Aspen, and sometimes this can be a bit of a chore to read. Different situation occur and changes happen so fast, she changes her mind from what seems like one day to the next. Just as you think she has finally chosen Maxon (come on, we're all willing her to), something happens to shake her belief in him. Sometimes her distrust in Maxon seems entirely unfounded though, and you do wonder how much she really cares for him, or for Aspen, for that matter. As a character, America seems to get stronger and more sure of herself in this book, and it is really good to see that change in her. You are willing her character arc to make her into a princess, and though sometimes she disappoints you, it builds you up for the climax beautifully.

There are one or two shockers, but the biggest one had me in floods of tears. You can see it coming a little bit beforehand, but it is fairly unexpected even then. It was truly horrific to read, but at the same time you are so relieved; it could have been much worse.

As suspected the book ends on an insanely high note, coming off of a hugely low point which leaves you both thrilled and excited for the next book. I read this book in a day and it was such a whirlwind of emotion I was left breathless. It's a 9 out of 10.

Image: readbreatherelax.com
This book is the second book of the series. The first is The Selection, by Kiera Cass. The Prince is a novella accompanying the first book. For a review on this, please click here.

22 July 2013

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

This classic horror-story begins with letters from Captain Walton to his sister about his voyage. In them, he writes about his trip and then about saving a man from an icy death. The man is Victor Frankenstein. We then read his narrative to the Captain; a story that has embedded its-self in our imaginations ever since it was first published. It is the story of a clever young man who acted as God and created a monster.

What is perhaps the most interesting part of the story is not actually in the reading of it, but in the concept. This is actually a dark take on the story of creation in the Bible, where God created humans in his own image. In Frankenstein,  we see a man creating life, and this comes in the form of a hideous, mis-formed creature- an abomination in every sense. And although it is not said obviously, we can imagine that God plays a large part in how the events of this story turn out; the man who plays God is punished, he becomes a shadow of who he once was, and everything he ever had is taken away from him by the creature he made. It seems like God has let out his wrath for the presumption that a man should be allowed to create a living creature unnaturally.

Another aspect that is particularly interesting about this book is the way that the story has fixed its-self in popular culture. Many aspects of our commonly known Frankenstein story are wrong. For example, many people are under the impression that Frankenstein is the name of the monster. This could be because of the film title The Bride of Frankenstein which implies that the bride belongs to Frankenstein and not the monster, who she is really created for, therefore the two get combined in our thoughts.

Most of us are also familiar with the fact that the monster was made up of the body parts of several corpses and animated with lightening to get the heart to beat again. However, the book says nothing of digging up bodies or harnessing electricity. We can assume, by the fact that Frankenstein alludes to organs and the like, that he does work with dead bodies and does put them together, but we never know exactly how he goes about getting it to live again. He only says that he discovers the secret of life, but not what it is. This was disappointing, in a way, as it was almost expected, but it also added an element to the plot in that Frankenstein does not wish anyone to attempt what he has done, so he deliberately keeps back any information likely to help them succeed.

As for the reading of the actual book; it is a very difficult undertaking. The narrative is long with several offshoots and slightly arduous descriptions. Victor's narrative begins in his childhood and travels right through the years to the point where he is found in the ice, having chased his tormentor from Switzerland.

The character of Victor was also unappealing in places. It was mainly to do with the fact that he was quite weak in mind compared to the characters that we are accustomed to. The sight of his creation filled him with so much horror that he was bed-ridden for months, and then he kept lapsing back to this state of a regular basis. He felt sorry for himself through most of his story and did not seem to have much compassion for the creature that he had forced into being. We are so used to strong-willed characters with much more backbone that this eponymous protagonist that he seems a little bit boring to the modern reader.

This is definitely a book for an avid reader who picks things up and is determined to continue. It is not for the faint-hearted, although the horror aspect will do little to chill us now. It is for someone who is quite used to reading classic books; they all seem to have a quite laboured writing style which makes them fairly difficult to read. Even I came close to putting this down, but I persevered and I am very glad I did. It gets a 5 out of 10 though, as it was a good concept, but was gruelling in execution.

This was a Kindle edition, bought at no cost. 

12 July 2013

Hollow Earth - John and Carole E. Barrowman

From Captain Jack Harkness (that's John Barrowman to all you non-Doctor Who fans) and his sister, Carol, comes the story of two highly gifted children who are in deep, deep trouble. In this world, there are people called Animare who can bring their drawings to life, and there are Guardians, the people who are sworn to protect their individual Animare from harm. Matt and Em are the forbidden children of both an Animare and a Guardian, and have therefore inherited both of their powers, making them more powerful than any other that has come before them. They have developed their powers at an alarming rate, and one day, they go a step too far; they animate themselves into a drawing in the middle of a public gallery. Soon, they are running from organisations bent on binding their powers. Their only hope is to go to their grandfather in Scotland, to a safe house where they will learn to control their powers and find out who they really are.

This idea of having the power to animate drawings is a great concept, but sometimes you can't help feeling that it could have been slightly better executed. Elements of danger in the plot mean that they use their powers quite often, but hardly any of the animations make you think 'Wow, I wish I could do that'. There are more ideas that wrap into the story; the idea of Hollow Earth, a legendary place where all the terrible things that have ever been imagined are caged, and the Societies that have been built to protect the Animare and the unleashing of Hollow Earth.

Although the twins are in very real danger, most of the book is spent doing what they like and slowly learning new things. While there is a certain degree of danger (in the way that strangers appear and attacks happen), it is not apparent at every moment and the children certainly don't feel that. A very good point is that you never quite know who is in the wrong or not. You feel that all the characters have a point in their beliefs and many do bad things for good reasons, or make the wrong decisions based on their flaws, particularly in the case of the children. In a YA book, that area of grey in morality is very difficult to come by; mostly a character is good or bad, and there is no argument against it. Harry Potter seems like the best example here; Harry is good, Voldemort is bad, Dumbledore is good (no matter how slurred he gets in the press), Bellatrix is bad. You get the drift.

Hollow Earth, as mentioned before, is a book for children and teenagers and so the main characters (Matt, Em and Zach) are all rather young - 12 and 13, to be exact. It is therefore difficult for an adult to empathise with the characters; they sometimes seem a little too lost in their own little world and unthinking when it comes to danger or rules. However, hats off to Carol and John, who have created realistic 12 year-olds who their readers will love.

One idea that was quite interesting to read was when the book went back to the monastery as it was when it was besieged. The way this small story and the main adventure melded together was rather nice, and it added more history to a very contemporary tale. All in all a good little read that kids will love.

However, there is one little thing. It is a trend that is sadly growing stronger as authors try to engage more readers to buy their books and gain a sturdy readership; the story doesn't end. There are still so many questions left unanswered that you just know there will be another book. It leaves us undeniably hanging. yes, there is an excellent and quite surprising climax, which is very well written, but when it then doesn't complete the story with the climax, you finish feeling a little bit scammed.

Still, this book is exciting, magical and a really great concept. It is a great book to read for a child who immerses themselves in magical fiction. 7 out of 10.


9 July 2013

Now You See Me - Film

Four talented street magicians are mysteriously summoned to an empty apartment, and a year later they are hugely famous, having created a show where they are known as 'The Four Horsemen'. For their first big show, they rob a bank and give all the money to the audience. The FBI, led by Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) team up with Interpol to investigate, and a city-wide manhunt ensues. The acts get riskier and the stakes get higher, but why are they robbing only to give the money to others?

With a cast about as star studded as the walk of fame, the acting in the film is perfect; realistic, engrossing and with brilliant human moments, the cast have us gripped the whole way through. There are some scenes where a few actors excel more than others; Woody Harrelson wins the comedy award all around, while Jesse Eisenberg's know-it-all control-freak is brilliant in the scene where he is being questioned by police. It is Mark Ruffalo, however, who impresses the most as the agent who is way out of his depth. The rest of the cast doesn't disappoint; Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco and Melanie Laurent all put in great performances.

The film has an Oceans Eleven-esque feel to it, as some of the plot is based on grand scale heists and it has the whole 'explaining how it was actually done' thing that the Ocean's films go through. It has that exact same mystery and idea of sleight of hand that made the franchise so popular, but then it goes even further. There is a back-story within the plot that again leaves you guessing; who is the puppeteer? Someone brought the magicians together and convinced them to break the law, but who, and why? The answer keeps you guessing throughout, and you won't realise until it is finally revealed.

No scene is wasted, no part is uninteresting and nothing is as it seems. Curb your loins because you won't want to miss anything. This is a film for anyone who loves a bit of mystery and intrigue (provided you're 12 years old or with an accompanying adult), so please give it a watch. Pure magic, literally; 10 out of 10.

For the IMDB page, click here.

2 July 2013

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson

*Caution, Spoilers*

We all know the idea of the enthusiastic doctor and his mysterious counterpart, but how does reading the actual novella compare?

Mr Utterson, a lawyer, narrates the plot of this short book, giving us a view in from the outside. Something strange is going on with his friend, Henry Jekyll. He has written a will that gives all his worldly possessions to an Edward Hyde should be disappear or die. The problem is that Mr Hyde gives Utterson the creeps. Hardly anyone sees him, and when they do he is never up to any good. Then, one day, Mr Hyde shows his true nature and kills a man. A huge man hunt ensues, but no-one can find Hyde anywhere. But does Jekyll know where he is? Well, of course he does. But original readers of the story would have been wonderfully shocked at the confessions that come out after the climax.

The book is a short one, and doesn't stick too well in the mind (but I was very tired when reading this, and that may be why). However it is the idea of a man splitting his identity in half that is truly interesting; the idea that he could be on one hand a good man, and on the other a truly heinous character. This is based loosely on a real-life disorder; disassociative identity disorder (otherwise known as split personality), but instead of the personality sharing the same body Jekyll undergoes a physical transformation to a younger, shorter and more gnarled appearance. This idea has stuck in  our minds ever since this book was published, and although it is not a hugely action-packed book, it certainly puts the same thoughts in your head that makes it one of the greats.

Some aspects of the plot are not quite as expected; the narration, for example. I expected it to be soully the viewpoint of Dr Jekyll, but what we have instead is a mystery that is finally revealed at the end of the book. Unfortunately knowing the answer makes the book a little dull to read, as it is full of complex, old-fashioned prose. Still, it is short and not difficult to get through. I would not say it is a must-read, but it is a classic, whether I say so or not. 4 out of 10.

Image; Lovelaughterinsanity.com

1 July 2013

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants is an emotional and harrowing story about a train circus during the Depression. Jacob Jankowski is 23 years old and almost finished with his veterinary degree when both his parents die in a car crash. Soon he finds himself homeless, with no money and no degree, so he jumps a train and lands himself in the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

The very stark reality of circus life in the Depression era is highlighted in this book. Everything is examined, from the hierarchy between bosses, performers and working men to the poor souls who were tossed out of a moving train and the severe treatment of the circus animals in some cases. There is a huge emphasis of the discrimination of Black people, Polish people, Jews and Dwarfs. This proves to be a very educational read, along the lines of many great classic works. Life in general is also commented on; Jacob gets drunk for the first time, he falls in love, he has sex, he makes friends and enemies. There are many relationships in the book, some as simple as the love between a man and his dog, and some as complex as an abusive marriage to a paranoid schizophrenic. Even if you have not experienced some of these things yourself, the experiences within the book still resonate with the reader.

The book is narrated in first person from the viewpoint of the 90 (or 93)-year-old Jacob. He is in a nursing home and is looking forward to going to see the circus. As he does, he remembers his life 70 years ago, and all the events that transpired before the stampede of 1931, an event described in the prologue.

It is almost impossible not to be touched by this book. The love story that is ingrained at the heart of it is slow, tentative, taking its time just like in reality. The situation is extremely complex, and if you were placed in Jacobs position, you would not have a clue what to do either. The conclusion is disturbing but in a way perfectly justified and even realistic (there are rumours of this happening before).What a climax, too. Tensions rise throughout the novel, so much so that you are almost screaming at Jacob to man up, but when a few things happen in quick succession, you just know the stampede is coming.

This book is a must-read for anyone who loves romance and history. The setting of the circus adds an effective dose of fantasy into the mix, so you are always struck when there is a reminder that the world is a harsh place in those times. On that note, it is a hard-hitting read and can be sexually graphic, so it is firmly based in the adult reader category.

A truly absorbing read; 10 out of 10. I can't wait to watch the film and compare.

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The film, starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon is out now on DVD.

30 June 2013

Danio Yoghurt - Food Review

Frequent visitors to this blog can all agree that food reviewing here is a very rare occurrence. However, when something truly surprising or lovely is tasted, sometimes you just have to write about it.

The subject of this momentous blog is a yogurt. Usually they are gloopy concoctions of dubious flavour and rather too much sugar, fat and calories. Danio is a little different; a low fat, creamy pot of deliciousness with a fruit compote at the bottom.

Despite them being a little bit on the pricey side (88p a pot at Tesco, with no multi-packs to save on), they taste so good that it kind of cancels out the extra pound or two spent. There was also a deal to get 3 pots for £2.00, so naturally I leaped on that.

Initially these were free giveaways from a nice lady who was stationed outside Tesco, and nothing tastes better than free food. These, however, didn't just taste nice because they were free. They are thick (due to the amount of milk used in them, which also means they have more calcium), making them feel indulgent, and the compote is tasty, whether it is mixed in or on its own. They would actually make a lovely breakfast with a bit of granola mixed through it (don't miss that trick, Danone, you'll make a ton of money).

The compote itsself is great. The flavour is spot on for the fruit (possibly because it is made with real fruit and not flavouring. Does anyone else hate flavourings that don't even taste like the fresh fruit version? One thing that may split opinions is that the fruit compote does keep the seeds in (not the cherry stones though). While this does not make much of a difference in many of the flavours, the passion fruit one does notice as there is a crunch and a different taste there.

Now for the facts and figures. The 160g yogurt is high protein, containing 13g of the stuff, and low fat (0.2g) with 0.1g being saturates. It is 125 calories, which is a little more than your Muller lights but around the same as the low-fat Tesco yogurts. It contains no preservatives, no artificial flavours or sweeteners and is suitable for vegetarians. Flavours come in Strawberry, Cherry, Raspberry, Blueberry, Passion fruit and Peach.

These yogurts are delicious and really fill you up, so please give them a try if you're sick of swallowing tasteless food. A 9 out of 10, simply because some people may not like the seeds.

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29 June 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - Film

Another take on a fairy tale.. anyone noticing a theme with these last posts? The story of Hansel and Gretel continues from the tale we all know so well; The two children are left in the woods and find a house made of sweets, inside they find a witch who fattens Hansel up and makes Gretel work like a slave for her. Before she eats Hansel, though, Gretal frees herself and together they push the witch into her own oven, burning her alive. In Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, they got the taste of witch blood, and soon it was their mission to destroy the witches. With their parents gone, they go from place to place, saving children and killing witches with a multitude of weapons.

The film chucks us headfirst into the story. A town has had an abnormally large amount of children go missing, and they are in the process of trying to burn a woman for witchcraft. This is when Hansel and Gretel show up, introducing themselves with a string of swears and lethal-looking weaponry. They have been hired by the mayor to find the witch/witches and bring the children back. But it isn't that simple. It turns out that the witch in charge has bigger and better plans than just to eat some children. Her plot is much closer to home for the siblings.

As a warning, the film has a lot of gore and blood. But if you've ever seen Saw, you have nothing to worry about, it's nowhere near that bad. It does not take itself seriously in the slightest. It is more of a darkly comic action movie; the two protagonists get beaten up so much, but still manage to kill witches. It is probably best not to take it seriously too, or you will be able to point out a whole load of flaws with the action sequences (like Hansel being able to run at superhuman speed) and the realisation that  the plot is not as complex as perhaps you would like it to be.

As characters go, Hansel and Gretel are good ones. They are amusing, especially Hansel, who seems to really hate talking to people other than his sister. They have a nice relationship as siblings and clearly care about each other. As for the acting, there was not too much that Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner could do to inject much more personality into their roles. Since it was mostly action, they had to make do with the limited scenes during the beginning to really get a feel for them as people. Jeremy Renner did quite well in this, although there was that headbutting scene which made Gretel go up in my estimation by some way.

As effects go, it is pretty impressive. The witches makeup is great and there are so many different designs for them; I would love to see more. The creative input to the film is incredible and the designs of weapons and costumes alike are beautifully detailed. The landscapes and sets are truly great; the witches house at the beginning is a personal favourite.

In general, the film is enjoyable. It is fairly short and so can fit in rather well to limited time periods.  I think the word to describe it is cool. It does the job of entertaining, but it would take a huge fan of darkly comic fairytale takes to love the film. It's worth watch, but probably borrow it or rent it out. It's not one of those films that you would watch again and again. A 5 out of 10.

Image from comingsoon.net

27 June 2013

The Prisoner of Heaven - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

We devoured the twisting, dark tales of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game, and now we can finally see them both linked expertly in this companion book The Prisoner of Heaven.

Following the events of The Shadow of the Wind, we find ourselves back at the Sempere and Sons bookshop in Barcelona, where everyone is worried about Fermin, who we met in the last book. He is supposed to be getting married and should be ecstatic, but instead he has slipped into a deep melancholy. When Daniel finally makes him open up about it, he gets a lot more information than he bargains for. Fermin reveals the harsh realities of his life before he met Daniel, and also that he knows far more about the Semperes than he lets on.

The book is in a first person narrative, that of Daniel Sempere, but where it switched to the past (Fermins flashbacks) it becomes a third person narrative. This is quite effective as you can tell whether you are in the past or the present without reading the year in the chapter title (something which many of us choose to entirely ignore when we are wrapped up in a good book). Instead, you simply look for the 'I' for the present.

The Prisoner of Heaven is a quick read; much shorter and easier to read than its predecessors. The writing style tends to flow more and the information in the book is quite easily absorbed. Zafon has clearly got used to writing for his YA stories, but here we see that style being taken into an adult book and being adapted.

A couple of points which may cause issues; the book ends fairly quickly, with the climax amounting to a scuffle and major decisions made. But the real issue is that the book ends clearly on a 'this is not over' type note; there is clear intent for a continuation on the storyline. The other point is that although there is a huge amount of back-story and the initial chapter or two shoves you right into the mystery, nothing much actually happen in the present tense. There are a few worries, niggling problems and weddings to attend to, but the real story lies in Fermin's past. It makes you wonder whether the book wouldn't have been better written in Fermin's viewpoint as it was all happening.

All in all, though, it was a good read. You must, must, read The Shadow of the Wind before this one, however with The Angel's Game, you can read it at any point. For added interest when it comes to reading the book, I would read it last. This book is rather more like something designed to pave the way for a new story, rather than a story in itself, but it is still worth the read regardless. Good writing, as always, lovely descriptions, very enjoyable but was a little bit of an anti-climax. An 8 out of 10.

Image from thebooksmugglers.com

24 June 2013

Rise of the Guardians - Film

I am hugely aware that this film came out aaages ago, however, I have just seen it and want to tell you all about it..

This Dreamworks animation is the story of the Guardians (ie; Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman) fighting evil. This particular evil is the Boogeymen (otherwise known as Pitch Black), and he has a really nasty plan to get rid of the Guardians forever. What he doesn't know is that the moon has chosen a new Guardian, and quite an unlikely one at that; Jack Frost.

Jack is the protagonist in the story, and he is very unwilling to become a Guardian. But as time passes and he teams up with the slapdash band of make-believe characters, he finds that he is actually enjoying himself. Each character has had a bit of a makeover to how they usually appear: The Tooth Fairy is based upon a hummingbird, and her fairies look even more like them, Santa has tattoos and a |Russian accent, the Sandman appears to be entirely made out of golden sand and the Easter Bunny is an Australian, complete with boomerang... and he's about 6 feet tall. Jack Frost is a white-haired man-boy; it is almost impossible to guess his age.

The plot is fast-going, full of action and amusement, which is just perfect for its intended audience (children). However, this is a family film, and so even adults will be able to enjoy the amusing parts. They may even be more amused than the kids! What is actually quite nice about the story is that there is a sub-plot going on. Jack Frost has no memories of his life before he became magical, and he has always wanted to know whether he was loved, or if he had a family. He also has a fear of never being seen. Here's the thing about the Guardians; kids believe in them and so they can see them, but no-one believes that there is a Jack Frost.

Not only does it have a good plot, but the voice acting isn't half bad either. It boasts the vocal talents of Chris Pine (Jack Frost), Alec Baldwin (Santa), Hugh Jackman (our Australian Easter Bunny), Isla Fisher (Tooth Fairy) and Jude Law (Pitch). Together that have created some memorable personalities and some brilliant rapport. They bounce off eachother to great effect.

This is a really lovely film that has a powerful feeling of hope, belief and fun about it. It is very enjoyable to watch and well worth the money if you want to see your kids smile and laugh. 10/10, seriously. It is difficult to find a fault.

You can find Rise of the Guardians for £7.00 at Tesco.