Archive for January, 2014

Let’s go for a classic this week. Believe it or not, before this year I had yet to read ‘Alice’s adventures in wonderland’ or ‘through the looking glass.’ My experience of these was limited to Disney films and references on movies like the matrix. I know, I’m a heathen.

Most people know the jist of the story even if they haven’t read it, but I’ll add the blurb anyway:

Weary of her storybook, one “without pictures or conversations,” the young and imaginative Alice follows a hasty hare underground–to come face-to-face with some of the strangest adventures and most fantastic characters in all of literature.

The Ugly Duchess, the Mad Hatter, the weeping Mock Turtle, the diabolical Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat–each more eccentric than the last–could only have come from that master of sublime nonsense, Lewis Carroll.

In penning this brilliant burlesque of children’s literature, Carroll has written a farcical satire of rigid Victorian society, an arresting parody of the fears, anxieties, and complexities of growing up.

Carroll was one of the few adult writers to successfully enter the children’s world of make-believe: where the impossible becomes possible, the unreal–real, and where the height of adventure is limited only by the depths of imagination.

I loved it. I didn’t give it five stars, but I think that’s mostly because I expected too much. I also didn’t like the looking glass as much as wonderland. I’d give five stars to wonderland, and looking glass would just scrape four.

This book doesn’t make much sense, but it does have its own logic that you only really understand if you drop all your own logic and just go with it. Understand?

All those rumors about Caroll doing LSD make a lot of sense reading this. As a writer it felt like I was reading something that had been written so fast it was just a stream of consciousness. I’ve always been a slow writer (sigh), but if I suddenly started writing really really fast whilst being half asleep I imagine my writing would start to look a little like these stories.

Wonderland has a different feel reading it to looking glass. I liked both of them, but it felt like wonderland had been written by a writer who threw all the rules out the window and just said ‘heck, I’m going to have fun with this.’ It doesn’t make sense, but because of that it makes its own peculiar brand of sense.

Looking glass felt like Caroll decided he was going to replicate what he did with wonderland but was at points in the story hit with the crippling need to make it good, and make it make sense. It didn’t feel to me as much of a stream of consciousness, and it wasn’t as fun.

Overall I’ say try it. Give it a good go by pushing everything you know about everything out of the window, try to go along with it without applying logic. You may like it, you may not. I liked it, but my mom hates it because it doesn’t make sense, and my sister hates it because she finds Alice too opinionated. Whereas I liked that about Alice because it made her more unique and I liked her ‘muchness.’

For more reviews on this book check out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24213.Alice_s_Adventures_in_Wonderland_Through_the_Looking_Glass

After hearing about this book so many times I decided to give it a go. I do love fiction with people with any kind of super power (BIG fan of x-men as a kid – and as an adult too). I don’t know why, but I went into this thinking that it would be a difficult read (maybe the cover struck me with literary vibes?) It was actually an easy read, quite slow, but accessible enough.

At first I didn’t like the main character. He struck me as spoiled. The book opens with him deliberately trying to get fired from work because he doesn’t want to work there, but also doesn’t want to work anywhere else either. Maybe because I spent so many years struggling to get work, this rubbed me the wrong way.

After the tragedy mentioned in the blurb I liked him a little more. He has some teenage rebellion things going on before all this, but on the whole he’s a good kid. He loves his family, and when he’s feeling hurt he doesn’t take it out on other people. He is a bit undefined though. He does have a personality, but it doesn’t jump off the page.

Here’s the blurb:

A horrific family tragedy sends Jacob 16 to a remote island off Wales, to the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, where he finds unusual old photographs. The children, one his grandfather, were more than peculiar, perhaps dangerous, quarantined for good reason – and maybe still alive.

Goodreads has mixed reviews. Some people loved it, others hated it. One of the most common criticisms is that it feels disjointed. I admit I picked up on that vibe. The first half is very different to the second half. We spend the first half wondering about the mystery of Jacob’s grandfather’s past, and then the mystery is reveals quite easily and from then on it’s a different book.

I liked both halves of the book, so I didn’t mind this disjointed nature. A bit more of a fight to find out about the house’s past would have been nice, but I was intrigued enough by all the cool ideas afterward to distract me from any disappointment. I did find it slow to start, and there were a lot of characters in the second half to keep track of. Part of me did like all the characters though. It was a bit like the reason why I love parts of the x-men films set at the school. You have all these really neat characters in the background, and it makes it very interesting. You do want to know more about them, but just the fact that they’re there makes things pop out at you much more vividly.

There was something very different about this book from other books I’ve read. I can’t quite put my finger on what, or whether it’s a good or a bad thing. The last half was kind of like watching an old television show. There was a nolgastic feel to it, like I was watching a show I’d enjoyed as a kid. That may just be my odd mind though.

My verdict: not without its flaws, but worth a read. This book has something that I found addictive. The last scene really makes me want to read the next book and see what happens next for these guys.

For more reviews on this book see this link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9460487-miss-peregrine-s-home-for-peculiar-children

A graphic novel about world war two with mice as Jews and cats as Germans. Sounds a little out there, right? Not so much. I found it to be one of the most poignant  and realistic books on the holocaust I’ve read since Schindler’s Ark. The story goes back and forth between the author: Art, showing his difficult relationship with his father, and his father’s youth as a Jew in war-time Poland.

It’s heart breaking and funny too. You get a real sense that his father is just telling it like it is. We get to hear about the good parts, but also the bad too. While I loved Schindler’s Ark, it followed so many people that it could only add the extremes (not a bad thing – just a different type of book), but in Maus you get a real sense of Vladek’s life. Most of all you get a real sense of how different things were during the war. Morality was different back then, people had to do things to survive, and because of that you couldn’t trust many people.

Reading the graphic novel, you feel the atmosphere of the place. The art work does a good job of emphasising the story, and sometimes making it so much more powerful by showing it as it is with little comment. There are moments that will stay with me forever, and the idea that this actually happened is overwhelming.

There are two books: Maus 1 and Maus 2. Maus 2 wraps up the storyline nicely, while Maus 1 ends on a ‘to be continued’ note. Being graphic novels they were a short read. I spent a lot of time going back to absorb the artwork and memorable lines, and I still made it through each in a few hours with distractions included in that time.

I’d say that if you are half as interested in world war two as I am then Maus is a must read. It (a little ironically since the characters are shown as animals) puts a human face on the war. I’ve read a lot of facts and figures about world war two, and even some biographies, but this connected me to that place and time almost like I was there with them.

Best of all the people in this book are not heroes. Some do heroic things, but when people do you feel scared for them because the book puts you solidly in a time where heroic acts often killed you. Most are just people trying to survive and trying to help their families survive. This is what made the book so much more realistic than others I’ve read. This is the life of a typical Jew in world war two Poland, who by wits and more often pure luck made it through something that killed so many just like him.

Maus emphasises that the killings were random. The Nazis wanted all Jews dead, and if Vladek or his wife Anja had worse luck then they could have easily ended up dead.

In case you want to read further reviews on this book, here’s the link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15196.Maus_I_

Here’s one that surprised me. I really didn’t like Clare’s earlier book ‘City of Bones,’ but I decided to try out this book anyway. Clockwork angel is set in the same universe, but at a different time to the ‘mortal instruments’ series. I started reading the book with apprehension, sure I wouldn’t like it. Now, it has its flaws, but in my opinion Clockwork Angel is a much better book than City of Bones. The author has improved so much.

City of Bones had a lot of technical problems that, as an author made me cringe. I really liked the idea, so wanted to love it, but it was a three star book for me at best. Clockwork Angel is a much smoother read. While the characters are very similar to the types of characters used before, they seemed deeper, more real. The technical writing difficulties (such as a boatload of convoluted similes) are less, and the storyline is more structured. Reading City of Bones was an odd experience as the storyline seemed to hop around for little reason. Clockwork Angel was more tied together. I didn’t get the idea that she’d chucked a scene in for the heck of it, instead every scene seemed to have some purpose to the overall story.

I think she did a good job of capturing Victorian London. Some might argue that they were strangely modern thinking in terms of women, but I think she managed that quite well by making her main character surprised that the Shadowhunters involved women so much. And even then, the Shadowhunters weren’t at our standards of treating women as equals.

There were things that I didn’t like about it. The writing itself still felt a little off, some of the things the characters said felt stilted, and it still had a little of the ‘everyone has a tragic back story’ vibe that drowned City of Bones. But all in all I enjoyed this one. It had a couple big twists that were pretty good, and it was an easy read.

As always, if you still aren’t sure whether to read it, check out more reviews here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7171637-clockwork-angel

So, as a big fan of apocalyptic and dystopian books I came across the description for ‘The 5th Wave’ and had to try it out. It’s also got over four stars on goodreads which is a bonus in my book. I’ve found that most of the time ratings averages on goodreads are pretty spot on. I don’t think I’ve found anything over four stars on there that I ended up hating.

Here’s the description:

The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Looks pretty promising, right? I liked Ender’s Game, and I’m part way through The Passage right now, and while it’s not my favorite read so far, it’s got a lot going for it. And cool point: aliens. I’ve been reading quite a bit of vampires this year, so a change is nice.

Let’s go over why I didn’t give it five stars. The main character seems kind of flat to me. Now, I get that she’s in shock for most of the book, but I was still expecting a little more spark. Some warning when the author is about to change POVs would be nice. I got confused a couple times, and this wasn’t helped by most of the characters sounding similar to each other. There’s the next point:  POV characters sounded very much the same except the five year old.

I didn’t like the structure of the beginning of the book. The author opened it at a good place, sticking us right in the middle of a critical choice in the main character’s life, but then delved into a lot of infodump and back story to get us caught up. I’m in two minds about this. First the disconnected nature fit in with the main character’s fractured mindset. But on the other side of things it was a lot of infodump and I wonder whether there was another way for the author to introduce that information.

Now, in Angelfall for example (a similar book), there wasn’t as much infodump in the beginning and action started right away. The 5th Wave was a slow start, but it did start moving in the end. It was a slower book, more about the tension than anything else. We did get some action near the end though.

Good points: nice twist. I did see it coming from very early on, but that’s not a bad thing. It did seem very obvious, but then again I’m pretty good at guessing what’s going to happen. I annoy the heck out of my sister when I’m watching movies with her. Not a fan of spoilers that one. I was hoping for a second more unexpected twist, but no luck.

Though the characters were a bit flat, some did have interesting quirks. There’s this guy who is terrible at lurking – she always finds him out. When you learn more about his background that doesn’t make sense, but it was cute at the time.

The idea itself was pretty cool and it was an easy read. I’d say, don’t expect to be totally wowed by the book, just enjoy it as a simple read and you should like it just fine. And as always, in case you want to read more reviews about it, here’s the link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16101128-the-5th-wave