Book Reviews





Feature and Follow Friday - Songs and Books

Feature and Follow is a meme hosted by ParaJunkee and Alison Can Read. Go have a look at their blogs! Each week there is a new bookish questions to answer. This week's question is:

Q:  Is there a song that reminds you of a book? Or vice versa? What is the song and the book?

I featured this as part of the Book Blogger Love-A-Thon not long ago, but I think it bears repeating. I am wholly convinced that Philip Pullman was a Queen fan. Listen to Bohemian Rhapsody and tell me it's not the plot for The Subtle Knife!!! 

What songs remind you of books? 


The Boy Who Could See Demons - review

Sometimes, it happens. Sometimes you come across a book so brilliant, so gripping, so well written... and sometimes it lets you down when it matters most: The Ending. I'm trying really hard not to rant in this review. I'm trying extra hard not to hash it all out in CAPITALS. I'm saving my emotion for my own End.

The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke is such a wonderful book that wastes so much of its potential.

The book is about a boy called Alex, who claims to see and interact with a 9000 year-old demon called Ruen, and his psychiatrist, Anya. It is set in Northern Ireland, not long after The Troubles - which is a running theme throughout the narrative - and we follow Alex as he tries to explain to his new psychiatrist the presence and effect of demons in his life, all the while dealing with his mother's clinical depression and the secret of his parentage.

Told from two different points of view - Anya and Alex - we discover a rich and multi-layered narrative covering themes of inherited guilt, depression, Irish history, schizophrenia, trust, loss and friendship.  I was absolutely hooked from the start as the book swept me along with it's unrelenting pace, divulging information carefully and temptingly.  Who is Ruen? Is he real or is he imagined? Is he really helping Alex or is there something more sinister going on? I never found myself left wanting for answers. They came at the right time and moved me swiftly onto the next question without stopping for breath. It was enthralling!

I felt the inclusion of the political and religious unrest in Ireland was very well done, and brought a grounding aspect to a storyline that could easily run away with it's own paranormal overtones. The Troubles were featured in a very honest and "this is just life" kind of way that I found shocking, but yet it made sense. The exploration of The Troubles' effect on the next generation was very interesting and, in fact, quite eye-opening. I felt that the setting of this novel is part of what made it so special. It felt new and it felt timely. I can't really explain why...

I loved the characters and felt for each of them individually. Anya was wonderfully crafted with a vulnerability and hard edged views, leaning on her professional abilities as a crutch for her own past. Micheal was a great counter to her tunnel vision. Alex was so fully realised I felt he could walk off the page at any second....

Which is what made the ending of The Boy Who Could See Demons so frustrating!

**WARNING - here be spoilers**

In an almighty error of judgement (I'm sorry, but that's exactly what it is) the entire storyline comes down to "it was all just a dream." I. WAS. FURIOUS. How can such a clever, sympathetic, complex and beautiful novel fall so spectacularly at the last hurdle?!

I felt like the author had been laughing at me the entire time.

A twist should never make the reader feel like they're stupid. A twist should make you go "wow, I totally didn't see that coming! I need to read this again NOW and see where I missed it!" but at the end of this book, I felt like a fool. A fool for putting a lot of belief, enjoyment and time into something that was going to GIVE UP on me when I never once thought of giving up on these characters. I thought that "it was just a dream" was so cliched, overused, predicatable and SILLY that this book would never even THINK about it.

I was geared up for a twist, but I was geared up for a mind-blowing revelation of cleverness! I was ready for Ruen to be something I had never considered. I was ready for Alex's dad to have been drugging his onions and making him hallucinate or something. I was ready for cause-specific brainwashing. I was ready for ANYTHING but "it was all just a dream" ARGHHHH!

(Sorry, I failed at the no caps thing)

**Here the spoilers end**

Right. So, at the end of the day I need to rate this book. Here's what I think:

If it had ended with Anya on the floor at the "final meeting" and Micheal's "Anya, what have you done?!" as the final lines - 10/10

However, that wasn't the ending, and although I loved every single second up until the real ending, I have to take it into account as a whole. Therefore - 5/10


World Book Night - round up

It's World Book Night! Tonight, lots of lucky people will receive free books from World Book Night Givers. So what do you have a chance of recieving? Here is the Book list for 2013:

So, if I'm honest I have only read three of this year's selection: The Knife of Never Letting Go, Treasure Island and The Island. I would probably say that Treasure Island was the best... The other two just didn't live up to their hype for me, but Patrick Ness' Knife Of Never Letting Go series was quite interesting, stylistically, and is hugely popular with others.

So if you could choose to recieve any book from this year's crop - what would you choose?!

I think I would pick the Philippa Gregory one. I love me some melodramatic historical fiction!

Loser - review

This has been a long time coming - seems ages since I've had a book to review!

Loser, by Jerry Spinelli, is a book I bought on a bit of a whim. Spinelli is one of those authors I look at and think "why haven't I read more of your work?!" Before now, all I had read was the Stargirl series, and I remember how much I loved it. So Loser found its way onto my Kindle.

The book is about a kid called Donald Zinkoff. He's a kid who is inherently "uncool". His handwriting is illegible, he likes to squeal "yahoo!", he wears a 3ft giraffe on his head, he likes winning silver stars for his shirt... and, he's always last. Last in the alphabet, last to be picked for teams, last in races, last in the class to get an A... To those outside of his family, Donald Zinkoff is a loser; in all senses of the word.

We follow Zinkoff as he makes his way through school right up until graduation. We see him naive and oblivious to the way that his fellow students' perception of him changes as they grow, we see him making a strained best-friendship based on mutual loneliness, we see him connect easiest with adults in various stages of isolation more than with kids his own age...

I have to admit that not much happens in this book. I would say it was more of a character study, but there wasn't any character development either. I think there was a message in the last paragraph, but in all honestly I found it confusing and un-affecting, and I think I interpreted it wrong. This was hugely surprising to me, because I felt the message in Stargirl was so well realised - It affected me. I wanted to go out and be a better person. Loser simply left me thinking "well, that was nice. Zinkoff seems like an interesting kid." But at the end of the day, so what?!

Weirdly, I really enjoyed reading the book. Chatting with Orisi B the other day she mentioned that despite disliking a certain book's ending, she very much enjoyed the journey to it - and that totally applies here. I really liked exploring Zinkoff's quirks and especially the relationship between Donald and his father. (Another book with present and un-monstrous parents! YAY!) The chapter in which Donald goes to be a mailman with his dad is lovely. I also enjoyed meeting the characters of Nine Hundred Block, but I do wish their stories had been fully fleshed out. The Waiting man had such a presence, but was never actually a character, and I wanted to know so much more about him!

Having recently read Wonder, I couldn't help but to see large comparisons between the two books - despite a large difference in the central character (August has a facial deformity, Zinkoff is just "different"), Wonder proved to have more of an emotional connection than Loser, though.

Overall, Loser is a book well written, by a brilliant author, but I would recommend Stargirl more.
5/10 for Loser.

Feature and Follow Friday - Which author would you hang with?

I haven't blogged in a week, guys - I'm so sorry!  I've been putting in all hours at work and it's left little time for much else, but don't worry I'll be back on it soon! I liked this week's hop question, so I'm joining in with another Friday feature :)

Q: If you could hang out with any author (living) who would it be and what would you want to do? 

Without hesitaion, the first author that came to my mind was Carlos Ruiz Zafon - my favourite author. I admire his writing style so much, and his characters stay with me long after I finish reading his novels. I would love for him to show me around the Barcelona that inspired the way he writes about it; the gothic, cobbled Barcelona that makes his books so atmospheric.

I would also love to go to the pub with Caitlin Moran. I'm pretty sure I'd snort wine with laughter, but the embarrassment would be worth it ;) I'd love to chat feminism and put the world to rights with her!

So how about you? who would you choose?!

Books and Films in 2013

I have just read some horrifying news. The Maze Runner is to be made into a film, undoubtedly following the success of The Hunger Games... 

I was surprised by this. As this post suggests, I am no fan of the book. And now I am even more flabbergasted that such a messy piece of fiction has been commissioned to a high-budget franchise.

No wait, I'm not surprised. "Franchise", "following the success of"... they all sound strangely familiar in the current film climate. With Beautiful Creatures "following the success of" Twilight, and The Host adding to the Stephanie Meyer "franchise", it's no wonder that our cinemas are about to be flooded with whatever else fits the bill for a quick money spin.

But today, I also watched the newly released trailer for Elysium. It's an original concept (no book or predisposed fan base to "watch-it-no-matter-what") and it looked brilliant. So, these films are still being produced then?

On a book blog, I'm not about to reach too deeply into the film world, but I have to say I'm getting a little tired of cinema stealing all the books. There are scriptwriters and producers and directors in abundance with awesome, original ideas. Lets see more of these? We can read these adapted stories whenever we like - but the un-funded ideas of a scriptwriter may never get to exist!!

Perhaps, as we have seen before with Buffy (if you will forgive the geeky example), they will create their own multimillion, multi-platform franchise?

I'm really asking for film makers and sponsors to stop looking for a quick, or "safe", way to earn their kudos.

I honestly feel that The Maze Runner should NOT be a film. I don't feel terribly strongly about it, because people will watch what they want to, and there are fans of the series out there... but when The Maze Runner is considered, and compared against an original idea of it's time like, say, District 9... you tell me what should be made.

(Feel free to replace District 9 with any defining original concept of your preferred genre. )

Comfort reading

What are your ultimate re-reads? Your "comfort blanket" books? 

I recently took stock of the books I read over and over again, and thought I would share with you some of my favourite comfort reads:

His Dark Materials Trilogy

Home to my favourite literary characters! Sometimes, I just want to spend time with them. The book shows me something new every time I read it, and every time I read it, I feel like I understand quantum physics a tiiiiny bit more ;)


Harry Potter

The books of my teenage years. I have read Order Of The Pheonix more than any of them. The familiarity is comforting. The line "Have a biscuit Harry" makes my LIFE.

Second Glance

This book is a bit silly, and a nice little reminder to be good to your fellow man. It was my first Jodi Picoult novel, and my most-read.

The Road

I have pages falling out of this book, I have read it so much. I like the simplicity, the day by day approach, the option to believe it ends well. Love it.

So what books are lying well-worn on your bookshelf? Are you thinking about downloading their e-versions for longevity?

Feature & Follow Friday - Did you hate it?!

Happy Friday everyone! Today, I'm answering another question hosted by Parajunkie and Alison Can Read! This week's question is:

Have you ever read a book that you thought you would hate? Did you end up hating it? Did you end up loving it? Or would you never do that?

I read a lot of books I think I will hate, because I don't think I should hate something before I've given it a go! Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it really doesn't. Most notable recently have been:

The Bronze Horseman: I really don't like romance so when I bought this book I had ridiculously low expectations. However, the first part of this novel blew me away. I wept. I actually wept at a book. What a nice surprise this book was :)

On the other hand...

Paranormal romance had been gathering quite immeasurable hype after the Twilight novels, and so I read Starcrossed very warily. I didn't think I would like the YA romance but I thought the historical Greek elements would make up for it. How wrong I was. I thought this book was shockingly bad.


Wonder - review

Wonder by R J Palacio is shortlisted for The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013 this year, and I was eager to get page-turning to find out why.

'I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.'

August "Auggie" Pullman is a ten year old boy born with a severe facial deformity. He is about to go to school for the first time. Acutely aware of how his face causes reactions in people when they see him, Auggie is scared of what the children at his new school will think of him, and how well he will settle in. When the school's headmaster arranges for a group of "well regarded" children from Auggie's class to welcome him, though, Auggie finds he has at least two friends already. As he copes with the day to day politics of middle school life, Auggie grows immeasurably as a person and receives an honour that affirms that he is not "ordinary", but surprisingly to Auggie, it is not because of his face.

I really enjoyed Wonder and found it to be a quick and absorbing read, touchingly told. It is written from the points of view of the people who know Auggie: his sister Via, Via's friends, Auggies schoolmates, and Auggie himself. I found this to be wholly enjoyable. Each of the voices are clearly defined and their tellings overlap beautifully. I especially enjoyed reading Via's narrative of being the constant shadow of the family, second fiddle to her brother's needs and careful not to cause unnecessary worry when there was so much already for Auggie. I probably felt more for her than any one else. I also loved Miranda's chapter, for how it linked with Via's.

I have to say it was refreshingly nice to see a parental unit in a book that was so caring, happy and involved in their children's lives. Actually, a parental unit itself in a children's book seems to be something of a novelty these days... Yes, they had their flaws, especially where Via was concerned, and maybe they were a little too perfect - but you could tell they loved their children and wanted the best for them. I'm standing up right now and saying we need more parents in children's books. 

While Wonder is undoubtedly a great coming of age story with strong (verging on preachy) themes of acceptance, kindness and friendship, I can't help but feel it is a story I have already read before. It's a "look beyond the surface" morality tale told a million times over in YA and NA genres, not to mention teen movies and Disney. It's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Auggie). It's My Sister's Keeper (Via). It's Beauty and the Beast (Summer)...

I don't know if it's just me, but I kind of want - even expect - these shortlisted books to challenge me in some way, or have a unique point of view. I mean, it's just all very sweet for Auggie to be a nice kid, and that other ten year olds were able to look deeper. But what if they looked beyond the face and found Auggie was actually not a nice person? What if ten year olds just don't have the maturity to look past deformity, despite the willingness - desperation? - of the adults to be seen to be all welcoming? Would these perspectives not have made for a less cliched story?

The age of the children in the book was actually a constant source of wonderment (ha!) for me in this book - but not in a positive way. I had to remind myself almost EVERY chapter that these kids were ten. I don't know if kids have changed much since I was ten, but dating never came into our school lives at that age. Empathy was hard to come by let alone natural grand gestures of friendship towards a kid who everyone thought had "the Plague", as happens in the book. Maybe I just went to a harsh school ;)
On the other hand, Auggie has teddies and calls his parents Mommy and Daddy at the beginning of the book. There is a complete polar spectrum of ten year olds here!

That aside, though, Wonder is a book I will widely recommend to my friends and family. Ok, I wasn't challenged in many ways, but that doesn't mean it is not a great book. Honestly, if you don't close the final page with a fuzzy sense of Happy in your chest you really can't be human!

8/10 for Wonder, and I'm being harsh only because it's shortlisted for awards!