Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Review: Hunger by Michael Grant

Dear Blog,
Review.  I have one.

Summary (from Goodreads): It's been three months since everyone under the age of fifteen became trapped in the bubble known as the FAYZ. Things have only gotten worse. Food is running out, and each day more kids are developing supernatural abilities. Soon tension rises between those with powers and those without, and when an unspeakable tragedy occurs, chaos erupts. It's the normals against the mutants, and the battle promises to turn bloody.
But something more dangerous lurks. A sinister creature known as the Darkness has begun to call to the survivors in the FAYZ. It needs their powers to sustain its own. When the Darkness calls, someone will answer -- with deadly results.

Review: I said in my review of Gone that everybody seems to say that if Stephen King had written Lord of the Flies, then it's Gone.  This equally applies to Hunger, with more action, more disturbing scenes, more anarchy, more villains, more gross twistedness, more characters, more enemies, more powers, more mysteries and more danger than its predecessor.  It's a non-stop adrenaline ride which doesn't stop the whole way through, set over the course of only about five days, if my poor maths skills is correct. 

I can't help but wonder if, because this is planned to be a six-book series, books 1-5 will all be pretty similar, revealing as little as possible, with a showdown at the end where everybody lives and let live, which happened in the last book as well.  I do hope it doesn't turn out like A Series of Unfortunate Events,   where the books ask more questions than they answer and every book is the same.  I hope this because the Gone novels are truly, truly awesome, and I don't want to dislike them. 

Another thing: Quinn didn't really appear until about 150 pages in before resuming his role as not-so-awesome sidekick.  I wonder what that was about.  I don't really like Quinn, perhaps just because he seems a bit of a wimp (I'm fully aware that I'm calling the kettle black, here, and if I was in the FAYZ I would count down until my 15th birthday so that I could get out of there).  Though I guess that adds realism to the story-I mean, people would be scared- I still wanted to whack him with the 600-paged hardcover edition that I got from the library.  Albert, too, was an obnoxious brat, but I think he was meant to be so that was OK.

Caine and Drake are wonderfully evil. Well, Drake certainly is.  I have my suspicions that Caine will eventually join Sam, Astrid etc, because Drake will try and take over anyway.  And Diana-Diana is awesome.  If I was a villain I would like to be like Diana.  Why so?  She's just cool, and makes for a much better sidekick than Quinn.  She's clever and manipulative and, though she is eternally loyal to Caine, I think she's the one running the show.  The relationship between Caine and Diana is tense, slightly twisted but very compelling. 
Sam.  Sam, Sam, Sam.  He sort of loses it a couple of times, which he didn't really do in Gone.  The responsibility really seemed to get to him, but I guess it would get to me, too.  I really would not like to be Sam.  Nor Astrid, Dekka, Brianna, Albert or anybody else in the FAYZ.

There was so much going on in Hunger, so many problems; the Zekes, starvation, the Gaiaphage, the freak/human war, the mysterious child that is Little Pete, etc., etc, it could have so easily been very confusing, but all these plot threads are so exciting, and it's so well written, jumping from scene to scene quickly.  Also, almost each scene ends on a cliffhanger, so it's kind of impossible to forget where you left off.  At one point I did actually skip forward to find the next scene with Brianna in it before going back to read the other scenes *guilty laugh*.  You know something is truly exciting when you do that.  Also, Hunger makes you think a lot about what you would do in that situation.  I like to think I would run to the supermarket to stock up on food, torches and batteries (and plenty of books of course) and then hoard it all at home for myself.

Summary: Truly, truly fantastic.  Scary, disturbing, slightly disgusting at some points, but it wouldn't be any fun if it wasn't.  You would have to be cut off from the world in a FAYZ-like manner to  not have heard of or read Hunger and Gone.  Rating: 5/5. 

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Some awesome book trailers

Dear Blog,
I realised that I hadn't done a post with book trailers for a while (okay, months, my only other book trailer post was my second ever post, in which I mentioned a couple of favourites).  Which is a shame because book trailers are truly awesome things. 
Speaking of which:


I don't know why but I don't like the way Gemma looks in this one...Either way, that aside, if I saw this as an advert for a film, I'd be like, I must see this now!!!  Even though I've read the book it makes me feel sort of scared watching it. 

THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN by Susan Pfeffer (actually, this a trailer for all 3 Moon Crush novels)

*squeals in excitement* I can't wait to read this, even though I have to because I've run out of space on my bookcase, I'm skint, plus my TBR pile is epicly massive. 


I ordered a copy of this off Amazon the other day, but it hasn't arrived yet.  Meh.  Anyway, I love this trailer because a) it's pretty and b) the guitar music is wonderful and I want to find it somewhere.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE by Sarah Dessen

I know it looks really shallow, but kudos for the actual design. I bet it's probably easy but from the point of view of somebody who only makes little films about the universe on Windows Movie Maker, this is a piece of art.  And how do they get the writing to appear in all those different directions?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Dear Blog,
Hex Hall is only the first of all the books on my 2010 debut author challenge list that I've read. Though I've ordered The Sky is Everywhere off the internet and Before I Fall from the library, most of the books on the list on Goodreads were first published in the Land of the Free, and here in the sceptr'd isle most of them either a) haven't been released yet or b) if they have they're in hardcover and expensive. But Hex Hall appeared at the library -someone must have ordered it in- and I grabbed it off the shelf and took it out on one of those automated-computer-system things faster than you can say "Witchcraft". 

Summary (from Goodreads): Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.
By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

Review: I'm very, very glad that I came across this copy.  Because it is an awesome book. But first there are two minor things I need to get out of the way before I start praising nearly everything about this book:
Though this entry's got the US cover at the top, I actually read The UK edition.  The UK cover is inaccurate in many ways, the main one being;- Elodie, Anna and Chaston look  slightly wrong and, I imagine, so does their uniform (which doesn't look like uniform at all).
The other thing is, it reeeeeeally bugs me when they bother to make a new cover for a book and they don't make the effort to skim through it and change all the spellings. For example, *thinks up random sentence* the phrase defence of his grey-coloured pyjamas ought to be defense of his gray-colored pajamas in the US edition, and vice versa for the UK edition.  This gets on my nerves because I am completely OCD about grammar and spelling. 
Now that's out of the way I can start praising.
Sophie was a brilliant protagonist. She was funny, she was smart, she had attitude.    She was all-round an awesome character who said such awesome one-liners as,   "So if you can heal with your touch, why are you working here as like, Hagrid, or whatever?" She is the anti-hero to end all anti-heroes; a kind of Worst Witch for teenagers (and a lot more awesome than Sabrina), but still manages to be truly kick-arse*.  Also, instead of a certain feline  named after a colonial town, Sophie has a vampire as a sidekick.  How cool is that?!  And as I guess a true side-kick ought to be, Jenna is her own character.  She fights with Sophie occasionally, but ultimately they're friends.  Speaking of which, I liked that in this book vampires were seen as slightly evil.  Even though Jenna wasn't an evil bloodsucker, it was a change from vampires being goodies. 

I guess it's kind of hard to be original in this genre, and Hex Hall is certainly a big cauldron (no pun intended) of all sorts of different books.    Some of which I'm not too keen on, i.e Harry Potter, House of Night, etc.  But because Hex Hall took lots of little bits from many, many different novels; a little bit of one book there, a little of another there.  And as far as I can remember, Hex Hall is the only boarding-school books I've read where all the students there are there because they're bad in one way or another (the niceness and force of good in HP gets on my nerves a bit). Which was a cool change.

Conclusion: If anybody else is reading this for the 2010 debut author challenge, move this to the top of your list and read it now.  If you're doing the challenge but aren't fussed on reading Hex Hall, add it to your list and read it now.  If you're not doing the challenge, just get a copy and read it now.  The bottom line is, guess what, READ THIS BOOK NOW.  Rating: 5/5.

*I don't know why but saying that with the British/Australian spelling doesn't seem quite as cool as with the North American spelling.  Maybe I just can't pull off sounding cool.  I certainly can't do an American accent.

In My Mailbox 11

Dear Blog,
IMM returns as ever, hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren.
I didn't get much this week, mainly because even though he really isn't that old, my father nearly had a heart attack when he was looking over my shoulder while I was sorting out my Goodreads page.  He must have seen my To-read shelf because he said, "SEVENTY FOUR?"  And he didn't really believe me when I said, "no! no!  Most of those I don't actually own.  Only about 20 of them are on my bookcase."  That's because it's a lie.  About 45 of them are on my shelf. This made me realise I have serious issues and really ought to get through lots of them before I buy/borrow any more.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. 
Summary (from Goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey

dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life—and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Summary (from Goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Maya and seventeen-year-old Lochan have never had the chance to be 'normal' teenagers. Having pulled together for years to take care of their younger siblings while their wayward, drunken mother leaves them to fend alone, they have become much more than brother and sister. And now, they have fallen in love. But this is a love that can never be allowed, a love that will have devastating consequences ...How can something so wrong feel so right?
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
Summary (from Goodreads): For Nora Grey, romance was not part of the plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how much her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch came along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Nora is drawn to him against her better judgment.

But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure who to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is, and to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.
For Nora is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen - and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her life.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (review coming soon)
Summary (guess where from?  Yes, Goodreads): Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.
As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

So, yay!  I've wanted them all for ages. I know that review copies for Forbidden went out a few weeks ago but, well, I'm too nervous to contact any publishers as yet.  What exactly do you say?  How many readers do you need?  How long to you need to have been blogging for?  Somebody please tell me it's not as daunting as it looks!
So, well, that was my literary week.  What about yours? 

Friday, 25 June 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Translucent

Dear Blog,

Today I bring with me a review of the manga Translucent by Kazuhiro Okamoto for Foreign Language Friday. 

Name: Translucent (original title:  Toransurūsento- Kanojo wa Hantōmei)
Written (and drawn) By: Kazuhiro Okamoto
First published in: Japan
Translated by: Heidi Plechl
Summary (from the blurb of volume 1): Eight grader Shizuka Shiroyama is  an introverted girl, dealing with school woes, bossy peers, and a medical condition-the mysterious Translucent Syndrome- which causes her to periodically turn semi transparent or completely invisible.  One classmate, the hyperactive Mamoru Tadami, is falling for Shizuka despite her prblem, and his dogged determination and unconditional support brings hope to her life.  As Shizuka struggles to overcome her difficulties, her illness becomes a metaphor in the ordinary lives of jer classmates and friends, as they try to work their way through life and relationships.

Review: Two things before I actually start: 1), this is a review of the first 3 volumes, 'cause volume 4 is scheduled to come out on August 15 (a day after I leave to go on holiday to Italy for a fortnight, dammit) , and I've heard (ok, read on a website) that volume 5 is going to be released in November.  But this is all internet rumours, so don't believe this is the truth.  2, I told myself when I started doing Foreign Language Friday that I wouldn't spend the whole time waffling about all the manga I read.  Which is a lot.  But manga is books, and even more it is a teenage book, and even more it is a very awesome book.  Books, plural, I guess I should say.  The Translucent books are my favourite manga of all time (even better *gasp* than Strawberry Marshmallow, which I reviewed here, and Azumanga Daioh, though I guess you can't really compare them to Translucent because Translucent has a plot and Strawberry Marshmallow and Azumanga Daioh are both slice-of-life manga.  And these brackets have gone on far too long and I better get back to reviewing now).

The artwork is good; simplistic and slightly minimalist at a first look but as you look closer and get more and more sucked in, everything seems more complex and beautiful.  Much like everyday life I suppose.  One thing: the artwork sometimes looks a bit weird and surreal.  But then, it must be tricky to draw something and give the impression of invisibility (I can't draw anything to save my life).  If .  The picture on the left also a picture of nearly-invisible-Shizuka (there are some scenes in the book where you can't even see her unless you look very closely, but I can't find any on Google Images). 

Now onto Shizuka herself.  And all the technical bits about the plot and the writing and stuff you find in novels. 
Translucent is awesome because it's all about life.  There's so much to learn from the books: about first love, friendship, happiness and uniqueness.  I realised when I was typing up the summary that it probably does sound a bit corny and High-School-Musicaly.   The bottom line is IT IS NOT.  Translucent is a wonderfully touching series and it always leaves me with a warm smiley feeling when I've finished reading.

The characters are absolutely everything to this story.  Apart from Shizuka and a few other characters turning invisible now and again (including Keiko Haruna, who is always invisible, and who you only know is there because you can see her cap and glasses), the characters are all regular, everyday people, with dreams and aspirations and secrets.  What makes Shizuka such a compelling character is that in every other aspect from her Translucent Syndrome, she is an ordinary  fourteen-year-old girl.  She wants to be an actress. She has a crush.

Speaking of which.  I love, love,  love the relationship between Shizuka and Mamoru because it's so...normal.  As yet.  They're friends and then they realise that they're slightly in love with each other. Their "first date" had me in stitches.  I wish Mamoru was my friend.  He's funny, sweet, and collects plastic models.  Oh, and he pretends komodo dragons are monsters.  Who wouldn't to be his girlfriend?
Shizuka herself is a likeable character, though she's kind of pessimistic.  Sometimes I just want to pat her on the back and say, "smile, Shizuka!" but I'm the sort of person who stays up until the small hours worrying themselves sick about everything from a fear of open water to the demise of the human race, so I can't really talk.
My favourite character is probably Okouchi-san.  I know she's meant to be tough and mysterious, but the little bonus manga strips between chapters reveal otherwise. Oh, and she also has a crush on Mamoru, which adds an extra dimension to their relationship (as I said, who wouldn't like him?!).

Summary: if you read one manga, then I suppose it ought to be Translucent. It's an easy read, but it's deep and full of emotions and everyday life.  Rating: 5.

Book Blogger Hop

Dear Blog,
Friday+ book blogosphere = the book blogger hop.  Hosted by Jen of Crazy for Books.  Hello, nice to meet you, and welcome to my humble corner of the internet.  I hope you like it.
If you've come via the hop, it would be awesome if you could leave a comment so I can return your visit.
So, well, there you go.  Hop onwards, book bloggers.
*goes to read blogs*

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Review: Hold Still

Dear Blog,
I finished Hold Still yesterday so, well, as ever I have a review, but alas a short one because my Russian homework summons.

Summary (from Goodreads): An arresting story about starting over after a friend’s suicide, from a breakthrough new voice in YA fiction.
Devastating, hopeful, hopeless, playful . . . in words and illustrations, Ingrid left behind a painful farewell in her journal for Caitlin. Now Caitlin is left alone, by loss and by choice, struggling to find renewed hope in the wake of her best friend’s suicide. With the help of family and newfound friends, Caitlin will encounter first love, broaden her horizons, and start to realize that true friendship didn’t die with Ingrid. And the journal which once seemed only to chronicle Ingrid’s descent into depression, becomes the tool by which Caitlin once again reaches out to all those who loved Ingrid—and Caitlin herself.

Review: I've read a lot of depressing books lately, but when I saw Hold Still at the library the other day I has to borrow it before anybody else could, because after discovering it on Goodreads I've wanted to read it.  So, well, despite having read many tragic pieces of literature of late, I read it.
Hold Still isn't just a glum suicide book.  Far from it!  It's as much about life as it is death, and has  the bittersweet hope that everything will be alright, sort of, at the end.  It's a heart-wrenching emotional journey for both Caitlin and the reader.

The writing is amazing stuff.  It's wonderfully raw and poetic, and especially towards the beginning it has an empty, hollow feel like the soul has been torn out of the book (much as, I guess, somebody might feel in the aftermath of a suicide).  But instead of just filling the book with empty pages (*cough cough* New Moon), there is writing.  And it is meaningful.  It's easy to write about death and get carried away in the emo-ness, but everyday life carries on and that's what Hold Still is all about. 

And the illustrations?  The artwork is just as wonderful as the writing.  Hold Still is to photography and art what If I Stay is to music.  Plus, the photography/art  aspect to this book seems much more visual and exciting than Drawing With Light, another book about photography and visual things that I've read of late.  Reading Hold Still feels like looking through a photo album. It would make an excellent film.  So kudos to Mia Nolting for making the artwork mean as much as the words (after having looked at her website and seen some more samples, I am completely in love with her work). 

The supporting characters are good, too.  Of all the exciting cast of characters, I think Dylan was my favourite. Ingrid played a massive role in the book too, of course and I feel like I ought to say something about her.  But we only read about her anger and fear and intense emotions through her jounal and Caitlin's memories, but at the same time despite all her importance, she still seemed a little vague. But perhaps that was just because she was dead. 

Summary: Heartbreaking but hopeful, and sad but sweet. As any good tearjerker ought to be, I suppose.  Rating: 4.

PS  50 Followers!  Yay!  Thank you, blogosphere! 

Monday, 21 June 2010

Review: Catching Fire

Dear Blog,
I finally got round to reading Catching Fire this weekend, so, well, here's my review.

Summary (from Goodreads): Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Review: I put off reading this for a while after I finished the first book in the trilogy.  This is because I don't want to read these two and then have an epic wait for the release of Mockingjay. Eventually I could do nothing but give in and read Catching Fire.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first started.  I mean- the Games were in the first book.  What would happen in the next two?  The answer is, well, more action, more passion, more danger, and more excitement than before. 

There's much more romance in this book than in the first.  I suppose I can't write a review without saying something about my Peeta/Gale preference. While reading these books I keep changing- when Katniss is with Gale I want them to be together for the rest of their lives, but when Katniss and Peeta are fighting for their lives in the Games, I was thinking, "Yep, Peeta is the one for Katniss".  Now having read Catching Fire I now know that my heart (as well as Katniss') belongs to Peeta. How could you not like somebody who saves your life so many times? And is quick-witted and funny and charming and clever and awesome in every aspect of the word?!

Katniss is as brilliant a protagonist as ever.  She's smart, quick-witted, and about a thousand times braver than I would  be if I was in her situation.   It's a tricky balance of making the protagonist strong enough to survive and realistic enough in their...what's the word?  Youth?  I'm not sure.  But we need protagonists to be like us, the readers. Also, I take my hat off to her for not just spending the whole book going, "oh no, two people love me!" (*cough* the Twilight Saga *cough*).  I guess there were more important things at stake.

Speaking of the important things at stake. Catching Fire is a much more sinister story than The Hunger Games, in which most of the terror evolved around the arena.  But in Catching Fire you realise that even outside the Games arena there's no escape from the fear and horror, as everything seems equally sinister in the rest of Panem. If I was Katniss I would definitely have run as far away as I could from Panem, even if I didn't really know what was out there.   That's because I am a little coward and Katniss is not.  And of course the fate of the Districts kind of rests in her and Peeta's hands and if I was mysteriously sucked into the book, I would merely be a small unecessary character somewhere (I'm thinking District 11 because I live in the country) who wouldn't even be mentioned.

Now then.  I'm not sure if what I'm going to say next is a spoiler or not.  Perhaps if you haven't read the book you ought to skip to the Summary at the end of the entry.  If you have, or you aren't planning to read Catching Fire (to the latter people, READ IT NOW), then just read on.

Paragraph That May Or May Not Be A Spoiler- This is probably because it was the second time, but when Katniss, Peeta et. al re-entered the arena it didn't seem quite as terrifying as in the first book.  I was just like, "Okay, they're back in the arena again." And although what happened in the arena was scary, it wasn't as heart-poundingly "what is this horrible place?  why are we here?" as in The Hunger Games. Perhaps because in Catching Fire the reader understands and knows the answers to these questions.
The scenes in the Games seemed kind of rushed, like it was only set over about 50 pages or so. I know it wasn't, but the whole thing is over in about two days and so it did seem slightly rushed and hurried.  And I didn't really get the scene where they all broke out of the arena.  Speaking of which- surely they can see onto the other side of the forcefield that guards the arena?  What divides the arena from the rest of the world is never properly explained.
End Of Paragraph That May Or May Not Be A Spoiler.

Now then.  The ending.  This is the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers and will leave you screaming, "WHY?! Curse you, Suzanne Collins, for leaving us hanging in such a way!"  Not that this is a bad thing, of course.  The cliffhanger is excellent and I believe that Mockingjay ought to get a midnight release à la Harry Potter (in my opinion the Hunger Games trilogy is better), just so that we can find out what happens after the last sentence in Catching Fire.  I wander if there will be ARCs of it...if so, I must definitely get my hands on one.

Summary: awesome, awesome, awesome, and I jump up and down in my seat just thinking about the release of Mockingjay.  Rating: 5. 

Sunday, 20 June 2010

In My Mailbox 10

Dear Blog,
IMM returns, after I had missed it for two weeks.  Hosted as always by Kristi at The Story Siren.

I haven't got much these last two weeks, seeing as in the few weeks before I bought/borrowed far too many:

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd
Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper
Marie Antionette: Princess of Versailles by Katherine Lasky (Sooo pleased I got this without having to pay about £10 for postage from the States.  I found a copy in an Oxfam in Harrogate.  Also, luckily, it was the original Royal Diaries edition instead of the ugly UK one)

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (review coming soon)
Hunger by Michael Grant

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (from my mother.  Though the story is interesting, I'm on page 200 and not much at all has happened).

I'm always puzzled why the UK often insists on getting different covers for books, especially if the original is so awesome, eg., The Hunger Games, If I Stay,  the Moon Crush books.  BUT I do think that in some cases the covers here on the sceptr'd isle are much cooler (e.g, Gone, many of the Sarah Dessen books, the Books of Bayern).  Anyway, I could go on for many many more entries about book covers, so I better stop now.

That was my week.  And what about you?  What books did you get? 

Friday, 18 June 2010

Foreign Language Friday: The Book of Everything (and Book blogger hop)

Dear Blog,
Before I start with Foreign Language Friday, let me say welcome to all the people visiting by way of the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jen at Crazy for Books.  Hello, and nice to meet you. Welcome to my humble weblog.
Now on to Foreign Language Friday.  Today I'll be talking about Guus Kuijer's excellent The Book of Everything.

Name: The Book of Everything (originally called Het boek van alle dingen)
First Published In: Dutch
Translated By: John Nieuwenhuizen
Summary (from Goodreads): Thomas can see things no one else can see. Tropical fish swimming in the canals. The magic of Mrs. Van Amersfoort, the Beethoven-loving witch next door. The fierce beauty of Eliza with her artificial leg. And the Lord Jesus, who tells him, "Just call me Jesus." Thomas records these visions in his "Book of Everything." They comfort him when his father beats him, when the angels weep for his mother's black eyes. And they give him the strength to finally confront his father and become what he wants to be when he grows up: "Happy."

Review: Because the picture quality is so rubbish, you can't read all the words swirling around the outside of this editions' cover.  It's all praise from newspapers and websites, and this extraordinary book really deserves every word that spins around the bright yellow cover.  However, despite all the critical acclaim, nobody I know seems to have read or even heard of it.  Which is a shame because it's great.

This is, as the title suggests, a book about everything.  Mostly, it's about emotions,and people, and religion, and where it all fits into the world.  It's true in this case that less is more: The Book of Everything has more meaning than a 1000 paged tome about the history of the world, or even Sophie's World, because The Book of Everything is on ground level with people.

  My favourite characters were Mrs van Amersfoort, the quirky "witch" from next door, and Margot, Thomas' older sister.  Margot was particularly awesome, even though she was portrayed as a giggly suck-up to their father, she snaps out of it about 3/4 of the way through the book when she's had enough of their obsessively religious and abusive father.  Go Margot!

Thomas was heartbreaking.  Mostly because of his innocence.  I'm not sure if his naïveté is actually realistic for a 9-year-old, but it his extraordinary way of looking at the world and the strange things he sees is still slightly heart-wrenching, but on the other hand he's utterly charming and sweet.  For example, the letter he writes to Eliza, a sixteen-year-old with a leather leg who lives down the street.  I wish he was my little brother (I would happily swap him for the 4-year-old  Star Wars obsessed jedi-in-training who is currently my brother).   He's so honest and funny.  I loved the lines, "she was religious, but not too badly", and "Thomas went to a Christian boys' school, so naturally he swore all the time with his friends, but he had never heard an adult swear" (or something like that, but I don't have the book with me at the moment so I can't quote it directly). 
So  much like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, his innocence makes the tragic things (his father beating him and his mother, etc) seem even  more horrifying, even though they're not too graphically described.  So it's hard to tell if this really is, as a quote inside the book says, a book for both old and young.  

There's a lot in this book about religion, including the fact that Jesus appears now and again to Thomas, and both he and God are portrayed as pretty useless and unable to intervene with anything.  Jesus seems like a nice enough character in this book, even though I don't believe in God, Jesus, the afterlife, etc.  At one point Thomas realises God can't help him, and believes that God died because He (I'll put He with a capital H) was so sad at what was happening. 

Apparently Guus Kuijer is a very popular author in the Netherlands, but this is his first book to be published in English.  I'm not sure if any more of his work has been translated into English since then, but if so I'll definitely read them. Speaking of which, the translation is excellent.  Though I guess I wouldn't know since I haven't read the original, even though I can read Dutch pretty fluently (even though I can speak barely a word).  This is because I speak English, German and some Norwegian and by putting them together, you get Dutch.  It's like a northern European pidgin.  Anyway, if it weren't for the various indications that it was first published abroad, you wouldn't know.

Summary: quirky and serious, funny and tragic, weird and wonderful, original and yet full of post-war everyday life, though you can read it in one sitting, The Book of Everything deserves to be read by teenagers, pensioners, schoolchildren, parents, basically everyone.  Rating:3.5

Monday, 14 June 2010

Review: Looking for Alaska

Dear Blog,
I have returned from Yorkshire, and I bring with me a review of Looking for Alaska by John Green. Seeing as I have blogged little the last two weeks, I have many many books to write a review of.  Sorry.
Anyway.  This will have to be a short review because I stayed up very, very late last night surfing, aka a teen writing website I am now thoroughly addicted to.  Anyhoo, I'm tired and sleep summons. 

Summary (from Goodreads): Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words - and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet Francois Rabelais called the "Great Perhaps." Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young. Clever, funny, screwed-up, and dead sexy, Alaska will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps.

Review: In my time I have heard many many good things about John Green.  In my time as a book blogger I've heard even more good things. So I bought a copy of Paper Towns off Amazon and borrowed Looking for Alaska from the library.  And now I have finally got round to reading his books, how glad I am that I have. 
  This is one of those books that both boys and girls can read, but alas like many similar books the UK cover seems to look like it would appeal more to boys, which is a shame. Note to boys reading my blog: get the US cover instead, perhaps.  I prefer the UK cover.  It's pretty.

The book is split into two parts: "before" and "after".  I won't say what event divides the two, but I had known what it was beforehand because somebody posted it on a review on Goodreads and didn't mark it as a Spoiler post.  Grrr.  Anyway, even though I sort of knew what was coming, the writing was so raw and tragic it didn't stop me feel like crying in an empty, devastated sort of way when The Event happened.  I didn't, but only because my little sister was sat next to me playing  on her Nintendo DS and would have mocked me ceaselessly, even though she weeps buckets at sentences like, "my  brother died when I was two."  before it moves onto another subject.  Anyway, though she herself is a wet blanket, I wouldn't have heard the end of it I had cried.  So, well, I didn't.
That said.  We know something sinister is going on when Alaska says things like, "you all smoke for fun.  I smoke to die." and "I may die young, but at least I'll die smart". And, in truth, I wonder if The Event would have come as such a shock to me even if I hadn't accidentally discovered it on the internet.

Looking for Alaska is one of those books where the characters are absolutely everything. You could keep the story and the writing but have different characters, and I bet it wouldn't be half good at it is with the cast of characters. They're quirky and cool, but with enough flaws and rough edges to keep them interesting. I think this is why sex-drugs-rock&roll Alaska is so compelling and mysterious: not just to Miles, a.k.a Pudge, but to the reader as well. Her mood swings are confusing and strange, her personality equally intriguing: energetic one moment and slightly scary the next. I was sort of surprised at first-having read heaps of reviews, I was sort  startled when the first thing she says as she appears in the book is recount to the Colonel how a boy she was with honked her boob.  I was like, "oh. Um.  Okay then."

I've read some bad reviews from adults who are all, "this book is BAD. They drink.  They smoke.  they drink drive. They have sex.  Bad, bad BAD. Bleeeeeurgh." All I can say is, I don't care.   It's not like they're the only teens in the world to do this things, so, well, get over it please.

 Miles was a likeable protagonist.  As I've said before, I read few books with male protagonists because I feel slightly alienated from them.  But Miles seems real, like he was an animate object instead of words in a book.  I loved that his main talent was memorising last words-how original is that?! 
While their were moments of such fleeting weirdness and teenagedom, it's a very deep and philosophical book. It's full of the sort of  sayings you might want to add to your favourite quotes if you have a Goodreads account (as every bookworm ought to).  Actually, having read the book I proceeded to add about a squillion quotes from the book onto my page.

Random extra paragraph: While in Yorkshire over the weekend, my father and sister were in a labyrinth and I, having completed it, was stood outside talking to the man who had designed it, having a slightly intellectual debate about the philosophies behind mazes (yes this is going somewhere).  I mentioned the last words that are at the centre of Looking for Alaska "How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?"  The designer of the maze asked about it and then we had a long conversation about mazes and what they really mean.

Summary: emotionally draining whether you saw The Event coming or not, and an absolute must read for every teenager and adult.  Rating: 4.5.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Gone Fishing

Dear Blog,
this is just to say that I'm going to Yorkshire for a few days, and won't be back until Monday.  This means, alas, no Foreign Language Friday (again *sigh*) or IMM.  Too bad.   Yorkshire is abound with poetic everything, which will be good for my novels and poetry-writing.
This post is a little book related: I'm taking Looking for Alaska by John Green and Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper with me. 
Anyway.  Off I go.  I'll do many, many reviews upon my return.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Review: Unwind

Dear Blog,
I read this last week and I realised that I didn't review it *hits self*.  Anyway. Here's Unwind by Neal Schusterman, though it's a short review because my little brother keeps nagging me to use the computer.

Summary (from Goodreads): In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them.
Connor's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed -- but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.

Review: I am a complete sucker for dystopian fiction.  So when I saw Unwind in the library and read the blurb, I snatched it off the shelf and practically sprinted down the stairs to take it out. And it's a cool idea: unwanted children get taken apart -unwound- and their bodies used for transplants.  Hence, no *real* doctors are needed  or medicine are needed.  Why have an inhaler and whatever for your asthma, and have trouble breathing when you run/touch animal hair/inhale pollen when you can just get a new lung?   It seems like such a good, simple "why didn't I think of that?" idea, but you can tell that Neal Schusterman has given it some real thought.  I particularly loved the idea of Tithes- children from   extremely religious families who spend their whole lives preparing to be Unwound, and see themselves as sacrifices for God.
But on the other hand, it didn't really *feel* like a dystopia. No climatic disasters?  No Corporations? No nuclear war?  No enslaved citizens, living in poverty and forbidden to live freely à la The Hunger Games or Exodus?  Are you sure this is a dystopian novel?  It's only because of the Unwinding thing that it really is: there are references to contemporary people, places, even pop songs and films.  So it seems quite original in the genre in that sense, and even more unbelievable.  That world is so much like America (or anywhere in the western world for that matter), so it seems all the more frightening.  Could such a thing really happen in a world so like ours?     Kudos for that. 

 I think every  science fiction novel ought to be written with the same style: spare, but with enough description of the places and people to keep things interesting.  As much as I like imagining things for myself (which is why I loathe it when books are made into films), you need some sort of picture.  Other books need poetic, flowing description, but Unwind works best with every unecessary word cut out. 
I'm not so keen on the characters, though. They were all sort of annoying in one way or another: Conor seemed  selfish, Levi was a spoilt brat, and Risa seemed slightly two-dimensional and the steriotypical female, e.g looking after the baby while the guys did the work. As the book went on, slowly but surely  Levi and Risa got more bearable, but I was still pretty annoyed by Conor 352 pages after I had first met him, and his heroic deeds didn't make him seem any better.  He just seemed agressive and arrogant to my mind. 

Speaking of the 352 pages. It was fantastically paced and I was intrigued by it from the very beginning.  This is probably to do with the writing style.  It started slowing down slightly as the book went on, with less and less action, but the climax was excellent.   Dramatic.  Devastating. But hopeful, too.

Summary: Not a great book, but not a bad one either. It's definitely worth a read for all teenagers, girl or boys, whether they're fans of dystopian novels or not.  Rating: 3.5. 

Sunday, 6 June 2010

In My Mailbox 9

Dear Blog,
IMM returns, hosted infinitely by Kristi of The Story Siren.
I got some cool books this week, mostly from the library.  I live in a smallish village but we're about five miles from a town with a massive library.  It's like nirvana.  So many books *is happy just thinking about it*.  Anyway, about once a month I go into town and come back with armfuls of books (excuse the "Headspace", a.k.a teen section stickers on the side of the library books)

I ordered these off Amazon last week and they turned up on Tuesday:
Postcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers
Paper Towns by John Green

Looking for Alaska by John Green
Pita Ten volumes 1 and 2 by Koge Donbo
Powers by Ursula Le Guin
Hold Still by Nina Lacour (I've wanted to read this for ages)

Well, that was my week.  What about yours?

Friday, 4 June 2010

Foreign Language Friday: The Orange Girl

Dear Blog,
before I get on with Foreign Language Friday, I should say to everybody who've come here from the Book Blogger Hop over at Crazy For Books.  Yay for book blog hopping!
Now onto Foreign Fiction Friday.  Today I'll be reviewing The Orange Girl by Jostein Gaarder, which I mentioned briefly  on an Armchair BEA post.  I've decided that I really ought to talk about it in more depth, though this itself will have to be quick because it's 10:30 and I need to get a late-night bowl of cereal before going to bed (I'll post this review tomorrow)

Name: The Orange Girl (first published as Appelsinpikenl)
Written By: Jostein Gaarder
Originally Written In: Norwegian. 
Translated By: James Anderson

Summary (from Goodreads): At fifteen, Georg comes upon a letter written to him by his dying father, to be read when he comes of age. Their two voices make a fascinating dialogue as Georg comes to know the father he can barely remember, then is challenged by him to answer some profound questions. The central mystery of The Orange Girl is the story of an elusive young woman for whom Georg’s father searches in Oslo and Seville—and whom Georg finally realizes is his mother. This is a thought-provoking fairy-tale romance imbued with a sense of awe and wonder.

Review: I am a BIG fan of Gaarder's.  I first started devouring his novels when my grandmother gave me a copy of Sophie's World when I was nine or ten (I was the sort of strange child who had Dickens read to her as a bedtime story). I read it and loved it, even though it took me a week and a half to read and admittedly by the time it had got to the 18th century I was getting a little confused and didn't really *get* it, I loved it anyway.  So when I saw a copy of The Orange Girl at Waterstones I bought it and devoured it in a couple of hours, and it's my favourite so far of all the  Gaarder books I've read.  But why?  Why, in my opinion, does a 160-paged love story beat a 490 paged novel about the history of western philosophy? For one thing, I think aforementioned 490 paged novel is a little hard to swallow in one go, but, well, to my mind it's more than that.

I love The Orange Girl mostly because of its simplicity mixed with Gaarder's ability to open your eyes to the world.  You finish his books feeling slightly wiser, your eyes opened ever so slightly more to the wanders of the universe, whatever they might be.  In this case, fathers, sons, oranges, love, art, trams, Oslo, Seville, etc.  I was particularly excited about the Oslo and Seville part because I've been to both places (When I saw the trailer for the film, I yelled,  "I've been there!").  
Although Sophie's World should be a book everybody has to read at some point in their life, The Orange Girl ought to be on that list as well.  Yes, it's probably too sweet and happy for some, but at the same time it's quite deep as well, with many more meanings behind the simplistic plot, and it still manages to have plenty of surprises.

There are three main characters: Georg, his father, and the elusive and mysterious orange girl.  I won't give away who the orange girl actually is  because that would spoil the element of mystery.  But, well, without giving her away she's very much the mysterious girl-you'll-never-meet-again type.  So it's awesome that Georg's father goes after her instead of staring at her until she gets slightly creeped out and walks away. He has the guts to follow her, to find out where she's from, and though it borders slightly on obsession, when they actually fall in love it makes me sigh in a happy sort of way.
Georg himself appears to be the "main" character, and he's nice enough, I suppose.  He doesn't seem as real as his dad, who we travel alongside in the story. We're on the tram with him the first time he encounters the Orange girl, and the courtyard in Seville with him when they reunite.  but the real story is all about Jan Olav (his dad).  We watch Georg; we live with his dad. 

Despite the moments of philosophical wonder, it is somewhat syrupy sweet, simplistic and joyful.  As a fan of apocalypse novels and other such grim stuff, I find it nice to read something happy now and again.  Other readers might not feel the same way.  But, well, let this joyfulness not be a problem!  It's a quick read, but you'll finish it feeling a little wiser than you were at the start.

I read a review which said that apparently with many references to places in Europe, and translated into British English, it may seem "awkward for the American reader".  All I can say is, sorry, neighbours,  but we must put up with books in American English with references to places in the US.  Not that this seems to be a problem this side of the pond because we're used to it. Anyway, let that not be a flaw in the story. 

Summary: Everybody calls it a "fairytale" and, well, it is.  It's a nice enough read, not with the same mind-blowing "wow!  ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in Space!" (you have to read it to get that) element to it.  Still worth a read for all Gaarder fans old and new, young or old.  Rating: 3.75, with 1 and a quarter  knocked off for the simplicity and happiness, which some people might not like. 

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Review: The Truth About Forever

Dear Blog,
I come with a review of The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen.

Summary (from Goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Macy Queen is looking forward to a long, boring summer. Her boyfriend is going away. She's stuck with a dull-as-dishwater job at the library. And she'll spend all of her free time studying for the SATs or grieving silently with her mother over her father's recent unexpected death. But everything changes when Macy is corralled into helping out at one of her mother's open house events, and she meets the chaotic Wish Catering crew. Before long, Macy joins the Wish team. She loves everything about, the work and the people. But the best thing about Wish is Wes—artistic, insightful, and understanding Wes—who gets Macy to look at life in a whole new way, and really start living it.

Review: I don't read much contemporary fiction.  This is mainly because I feel sort of alienated from the protagonists, seeing as much teenage contemporary fiction revolves around secondary/middle/high school*.  And I'm homeschooled.  Apart from the first few years of primary school, I have absolutely no knowledge of what it is to be in school.  Anyway,  I still don't read much contemporary fiction.  Maybe this is because I'd rather read about the end of the world or the English civil war.
Enough of my rambling. Despite that, I am a HUGE fan of Sarah Dessen.  The formal education is minimal, the protagonists are easy to relate to, the boys are swoon worthy while still having awesome personalities, and there's lots to be learnt from the story. 

Now then.  Before I go on to praise The Truth about Forever,  this is the closest I will ever come to criticising a Sarah Dessen novel: if you took all the pages out, threw them up in the air, and put them back in any book, you wouldn't really notice.  There.  That is the only bad thing you will hear in this review.  From here my review is 100% praise, so if you're one of those people who likes reading really bad reviews you can just leave now.  

Anyway. I don't know a single Sarah Dessen fan who actually complains about the similarity between her books.  It's true, when you've read one, you've sort of read them all, but I DON'T CARE!  I don't think that any of her other fans do either.  She is the master of such fiction: the sort you read on perfectly sunny day or at the beach, with an ice cream while wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Though it would admittedly be cool if she played around with her plotlines and characters a bit more,  what she writes she writes well and there's no reason to complain.

One of the things I love most about Sarah Dessen books is the characters. They're incredibly easy to relate to, because unlike too many YA authors, Dessen writes like a teenager.  When you're reading, you forget that this is a New York Times bestselling author's sixth novel.  You feel guilty with her the morning of her father's death, bewildered when she first encounters the Wish Catering crew, and so on.  You, the reader, are Macy.  You're worried about your mother, you miss your father, you're worried about what's going to become of you and Wes when Jason returns.
Speaking of Jason.  He was the one character in the book I truly loathed.  But, well, I think the reader is supposed to loathe him.  But what did Macy see in him?  Perfection, obviously, but, well, why?!  If you've been together for a year and a half and haven't told him you loved him, I think you should know something was up.  

This is probably the deepest of the Dessens I've read.  There are so many lessons from Sarah Dessen books to be learned about life, love, death, friendship and everything in between. It's full of quotes like, "There is never a time or place for true love. It happens accidentally, in a heartbeat, in a single flashing, throbbing moment."  and "...Some things are meant to be broken. Imperfect. Chaotic. It's the universe's way of providing contrast, you know? There have to be a few holes in the road. It's how life is." It's full of wisdom and wiseness to get experience from, while enjoying a great story along the way.   The plot is, I suppose, simplistic, and with any other author it wouldn't be 392 pages, but Sarah Dessen writes about everything in such depth, making the boy+girl=life-changing summer seem much more complex.   

Summary: The Truth About Forever is as flawless as Macy strives to be. It's best read on a sunny weekend when you have nothing else to do and can just spend hours and hours devoted to it, and throw sleeping and eating to the wind. Rating: 5/5.

*With middle school and high school, shouldn't elementary school be called low school?