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!