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.