Monday, November 22, 2010



I jest, not that sort of casting, I'm talking film casting.

In the news this week two roles worthy of discussion. First Scarlett Johansson is set to play Jane Austen heroine Elizabeth Bennet the zombie-slayer version in Pride and Prejudice with Zombies. Secondly, and the role that interests me most, is that newcomer James Howson has been cast as Heathcliff in Andrea Arnolds adaptation of Wuthering Heights.

James Howson is believed to be the first non-white actor to star in the role in any screen adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic 1847 novel.

Howson, who is in his early 20s and from Leeds, will follow in the footsteps of Hollywood legends Laurence Olivier, Ralph Fiennes and Timothy Dalton.

And by casting him for the pivotal role the production team may have fulfilled Bronte’s wishes – because some academics believe Heathcliff was not meant to be white.

In the novel, the young Heathcliff is found abandoned at the former slave port of Liverpool by the kindly Mr Earnshaw, who adopts him.

The boy is described as a ‘dark-skinned gypsy in aspect and a little lascar’ – a 19th Century reference to sailors from India 
Daily Mail
What do you think? I love Scarlett but I don't think she'll make a great Elizabeth Bennett, though as this isn't really a 'real' Elizabeth I guess she'll be ok as a zombie slayer version.
Howson I think will be an interesting change from the white, chiseled 30 something actors we usually get playing the role. I can't wait to see what him and Kaya Scodelario bring to the parts.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Maybe This Time

Title: Maybe this time
Author: Jennifer Crusie
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 9780312303785
Category: Contemporary Romance, Ghost story, Chic lit
Rating: MA

Synopsis: Andie Miller is ready to move on in life. She wants to marry her fiancé and leave behind everything in her past, especially her ex-husband, North Archer. But when Andie tries to gain closure with him, he asks one final favor of her before they go their separate ways forever. A very distant cousin of his has died and left North as the guardian of two orphans who have driven out three nannies already, and things are getting worse. He needs a very special person to take care of the situation and he knows Andie can handle anything. When Andie meets the two children she quickly realizes things are much worse than she feared. The place is a mess, the children, Carter and Alice, aren’t your average delinquents, and the creepy old house where they live is being run by the worst housekeeper since Mrs. Danvers. What’s worse, Andie’s fiancé thinks this is all a plan by North to get Andie back, and he may be right. Andie’s dreams have been haunted by North since she arrived at the old house. And that’s not the only haunting. What follows is a hilarious adventure in exorcism, including a self-doubting parapsychologist, an annoyed medium, her Tarot-card reading mother, an avenging ex-mother-inlaw, and, of course, her jealous fiancé. And just when she thinks things couldn’t get more complicated, North shows up on the doorstep making her wonder if maybe this time things could be different between them. If Andie can just get rid of all the guests and ghosts, she’s pretty sure she can save the kids, and herself, from the past. But fate might just have another thing in mind…

Thoughts: The chic lit version of The turn off the Screw. Not nearly as Gothic and with more added baking. I’d call this one more of a ghost story with a side of romance than a romance story with a side of ghost. I read this book last night, by candlelight with winds and rain whipping at my windows. About 3:00am I was dying for a hot cup of tea and a little midnight snack but as I was too scared shitless to leave my bed I suffered through the night snackless and quivering under my duvet. There might have been ghosts in my kitchen waiting to kill me. Specifically the gothic governess ghost who had black soulless eyes and kills by domestic dust storm. That dead bitch was scary.
From whoa to go I got through this book in about four hours. I couldn’t put it down, I had to find out if the ghosts were real, who they were, if they were bad, if the kids were sociopaths, and if the butler… or in this case house keeper, really did it. Fast paced and never boring this twist on the classic tale was both funny and heartbreaking.
The dialogue was witty and natural and I enjoyed its flow a lot. Each character had a distinct voice and the female protagonist Andie was strong and self assured, I like that in a fictional lead. I am not fond of insipid, wishy washy women characters who need a man to save and complete them. Andie was none of that.
Crusie did an excellent job with the children. Their behaviours, tastes, interests and dialogue were all very accurate for their ages, being a seven year old girl and a twelve year old boy. There is nothing worse than reading a story inwhich the eight year old is babbling like a baby or the two year old is conversing like a teenager. She was spot on with these kids.
As much as I enjoyed this book I did have a few criticisms. As with the original gothic classic it was kind of disturbingly suggestive as to what exactly the male ghost was doing in his haunting of the 12 year old boy. Andie did call him a pervert so following her line of reasoning he was possessive of the boy for pedobear reasons. Though how he managed this without a corporeal body is anyone’s guess. Just the fact he was creeping on the boy was disturbing enough. I really didn’t like that part of the book. The story probably could have been told without this aspect, or even this ghost, I think Crusie probably only kept him in so as to strengthen the link with The turn of the Screw.
I felt that the main romantic protagonists, Andie and North did not have that much in common. Besides a physical attraction they were polar opposite’s personality wise, they just didn’t really make much sense. But then opposites do attract, or so they say. The kitchen sex was pretty hot though, oh to have a pantry that large… for the food storage of course. A ten year separation was also a bit of a mind stretch. After a twelve hour engagement and only a one year marriage a ten year separation was a chasm of time. Especially with zero contact that entire time. A romantic reunion would have been more plausible after a shorter time apart I think.
I loved the two little twists at the end with regards to the ghosts. One added a humorous ending and one a bit of a sinister twist. And now we know why the housekeeper dealt herself two hands when playing Gin.

3.5 stars

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As my last entry says I am the proud mama to a brand new bouncing baby e-reader, naturally then I have been on the prowl to stuff said e-reader with lots of nutritious e-books. One gem of a storehouse I have come upon is GirlEbooks. The brainchild of Laura McDonald and her mum Joyce GirlEbooks aims to make classic and contemporary works by female writers available to a wider audience through the e-book medium. This is what they have to say about the e-books they provide.

You can get ebooks in lots of places on the internet, but our ebooks are hand-crafted and professionally formatted. Each ebook has a linked table of contents and text reflow for small reading devices. We create covers, correct errors introduced by digital conversion, and offer the ebooks in multiple formats to accommodate most ebook reading devices. All of our ebooks, even the ones in the ebook store, are DRM free (no digital rights management). This means that once you download the ebook, it is yours forever.

That is an amazing service and the e-books are FREE. There are some to purchase books available on the site but most are free to download, gorgeous covers and multiple formats included.  Here are my picks from the selection on offer...

My favourite Austen, it's no secret to those who know me that I have a bit of a crush on Henry Tilney. I can't help it, I have a weakness for witty, sarcastic men and this one is particularly adorable.
Northanger Abbey, written around 1798 but actually published in 1817, follows Catherine Morland on a visit to Bath and later to Northanger Abbey, the house of new acquaintances, the Tilneys. Because she has been reading Ann Radcliffe's gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho, Catherine expects her visit to be full of fantastical mystery, murder, and romance.

The only Austen I have yet to read due to it's scarceness in publication, along with lady Susan, which conveniently is packaged in there as well.
Also known as Sand and Sanditon, this unfinished novel was written in 1817, the last year of Jane Austen's life. The novel ends at Chapter 11, after a promising introduction of the seaside village of Sanditon, a few major characters, and several intriguing minor characters. Also included are The Watsons, Lady Susan, Frederic and Elfrida, Love and Freindship, Lesley Castle. The History of England, A Collection of Letters, and Scraps.

I love this book. This is the book Catherine is reading in Northanger Abbey. It's almost comical in it's gothic clicheness. A really fun read and a perfect companion book for Northanger Abbey.
Set in 1584, The Mysteries of Udolpho tells the story of Emily St. Aubert, a young French woman who is orphaned after the death of her father. The novel is a quintessential Gothic romance, replete with incidents of terror, castles, seemingly supernatural events, a brooding, scheming villain, and a persecuted heroine. Jane Austen featured The Mysteries of Udolpho and other similar Gothic novels that were popular at the time in her own work, Northanger Abbey.

Seen the mini series, adored the mini series, but still haven't read the novella's. Time to get onto that.
This collection of novellas centers around the fictional English town of Cranford and surrounding areas and forms the basis for the 2007 BBC mini-series of the same name. The first novella, Cranford, was first published in 1851 and tells the story of the Jenkyns sisters and their nosy neighbors. Next is Mr. Harrison's Confession, a witty piece about a young doctor who recently moves to the town of Duncombe and is involved in many misunderstandings. My Lady Ludlow, written in 1858, is set before the other two novellas. In it the narrator recounts her childhood growing up in Lady Ludlow's household while documenting her observations of political and country life at the time.

I've only recently discovered Georgette Heyer. I know, I know, how could I never have heard of the amazing wonderful talent that is Heyer before. It baffles me too. I read my first Heyer, The Grand Sophy, earlier in the year and loved it. High time to try another I think.
The Black Moth, first published in 1921, is Georgette Heyer's first novel and is also the first novel in a four-part series including These Old Shades, Devil's Cub, and An Infamous Army. The Black Moth is set around 1751 during the Georgian era and comes disguised as an amusing but uncomplicated romance. The story appears so straightforward that you may be inclined to read it with half a mind, but that would be a mistake.

Who doesn't love a good Agatha Christie novel? There are two on the site so far, two of the lesser known mysteries but this one had a cup of tea on the cover, how could I not get it?
In this first novel by Agatha Christie, published in 1920, she introduces the inimitable Poirot, who would go on to appear in 33 Christie novels and 54 short stories. The plot of The Mysterious Affair at Styles deals with a straightforward case of an old woman poisoned with strychnine for the obvious reason: her money. The way Christie handles a plot, however, nothing is ever straightforward. The story spirals round and round, leading the reader in one direction, then another, convincing the reader that first one character, then another is the guilty party.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: Kobo, e-reader

I have recently purchased my first e-reader, a pretty little white Kobo. It was an exciting purchase; I’d wanted one for a while and decided to treat myself after a particularly horrid hospital stay where an e-reader would have been a most welcome companion through the long nights in recovery where sleep stubbornly eluded me. Never having used an e-reader before my expectations were simple, I expected it to behave like a book. Look like a book, read like a book, feel like a book… well a book for the 21st century. I’m not a technological genius, I am still not even sure how to answer my cell phone, I hit about 10 different buttons and hope for the best. Therefore I didn’t want to faff around with programming things, I didn’t want complicated operation and I didn’t want hassle. What I did want was a storage device for my e-books, I wanted turn on and insta-read, I wanted simple operation, convenience and pleasant aesthetics. Pretty much it had to be functional and pretty.

The kobo delivered on all of the above and at an extremely pocket friendly price. If you are looking for an entry level e-reader at an affordable price the Kobo may be worth a closer look. It comes pre-loaded with 100 ready to read e-books a full list of which can be found here. I found this a big draw, 100 free books that I don’t need to load on myself, yes please. Included were all my girl Jane Austen’s books, some Bronte, Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, The picture of Dorian Gray, in short all my favourite classics all ready on there, no work needed from me other than clicking on them and reading them.

The kobo supports ePub and PDF formats and it’s as easy as pie to transfer your books to your device using either a desktop app or adobe digital editions. I prefer to use the later as the desktop app is slightly lacking in features. I do use the desktop app though when buying books, it’s a breeze to do, too easy in fact. This could get dangerous.

There is a slight issue with reading some PDF’s, they show up too wide for the Kobo screen and require you to scroll to see the whole page. I found the easiest way to overcome this is by using a small programme called Calibre. It’s an e-book conversion programme that will convert many file types into ePubs for you. You can also use it to add your own cover art to your books before you upload them to your device.

The kobo is the perfect size for holding in your hand, it’s book sized. Logical you say. Indeed. The whole thing is a little smaller that an A5 sized piece of paper with a generous enough screen that you get a whole page to read in pretty much book sized text. You can adjust the text size and the font but I prefer the pre-loaded settings. The e-ink is an easy on the eye dark grey.The screen is not back lit and while this is fabulous for the eyes in preventing eye strain it makes it a wee bit difficult to read at night without a night light or a clip on reading light. The back of the kobo is a pleasant to touch quilted hard rubber making the tablet easy to grip. The navigation button sits in the lower right corner and you give this a little click when you want to turn your page, just like where you’d turn an actual page on a real book.

The refresh rate is a little slow. After you click you get a negative image of your page before the new one appears and it did take my eyes some time to adjust to this nuance but now I’m not bothered by it. I click the button as I’m digesting the last sentence of a page and the new one is up by the time I’m ready to read on. I believe this is an issue with most e-readers due to the nature of e-ink and not specific to the kobo.

The kobo doesn’t have wifi or built in dictionaries, it doesn’t come with a keyboard or the ability to play mp3’s but then I didn’t buy it for that. I bought it to read books on and it does that superbly. It’s slim build and convenient size makes it easy to slip in my purse and it has an exceptionally good battery life, two weeks or eight thousand pages worth of reading in fact.

Overall I'm very pleased with the Kobo and would recomend to anyone who wants an actual e-reader. If you want the games and the internet and the text ability then the iPad store is to your left.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review: Glimmerglass

WARNING: Review contains mention of rape

Title: Glimmerglass (Faeriewalker, #1)
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
ISBN: 978 0 3125 7593 9
Category: Fantasy
Rating: YA

Synopsis: Dana Hathaway doesn’t know it yet, but she’s in big trouble. When her alcoholic mom shows up at her voice recital drunk, Dana decides she’s had it with being her mother’s keeper, so she packs her bags and heads to stay with her mysterious father in Avalon: the only place on Earth where the regular, everyday world and the magical world of Faerie intersect. But from the moment Dana sets foot in Avalon, everything goes wrong, for it turns out she isn't just an ordinary teenage girl—she's a Faeriewalker, a rare individual who can travel between both worlds, and who can bring magic into the human world and technology into Faerie.

Soon, she finds herself tangled up in a cutthroat game of Fae politics. Someone's trying to kill her, and everyone wants something from her, even her newfound friends and family. Suddenly, life with her alcoholic mom doesn't sound half bad, and Dana would do anything to escape Avalon and get back home. Too bad both her friends and her enemies alike are determined not to let her go . . .

My first impressions of this book were it was gearing up to be quite good. An interesting premise, two worlds overlapping, the Fae and the Human, with one key doorway city, Avalon. However the more I read the more it was shaping up to be another very formulaic YA tale. Average Mary Sue with some hardships moves to a new area, suddenly finds herself irresistibly attractive to the natives and crushes on the hottest guy who, shock horror, likes her back.  Mary Sue turns out to have some super power that will save everyone, cliff hanger ending, please wait 9 months for the next book in the series.  Except the ending wasn’t so cliff hanger. In fact I’m still waiting for the story climax. I felt as if the entire book was an introductory chapter because nothing of any significance actually happened.

Parts of this book were just oddly bizarre and I wasn’t sure why they were included at all if not to shock. In one scene Dana and her friends are attacked by stick creatures reminiscent of something from Rupert the bear but more evil. An apt evil minion for a fairy book, a vaguely humanoid creature made from sticks and straw with sharpened stick fingers that glistened with blood. I understand how that came to be, one boy was attacked and we are told he had deep scratches on his chest. But then Dana goes on to describe another sharp pointy stick appendage between the creature’s legs also glistening with blood. What the hell am I meant to take from that? The stick creature brutally raped someone? What other conclusion am I to draw? Yet Black tells us of no rape victim, and no other mention is made of it. But it’s one glaringly disturbing visual that haunted me for the rest of the book. I couldn’t even really take in the rest of the next few pages and had to reread them. I went back over it looking for more explanation, a deeper understanding of what I’d read. Nothing.  So why even include that in there? There was sufficient gore and description of the fighting wounded and allusion to the creatures menace already without the need to make reference to a pointy stick penis covered in blood that had probably just been used to stab a teenage girl through the uterus. Considering this is a book aimed at young adults I feel that was an unnecessary and cheap literary shock tool.

Also Ethan is quite possibly the creepiest male protagonist I have ever read. The guy can’t keep his hands off Dana. He’s up in her business flirting and groping her and just being generally disrespecting of the personal space bubble. The pièce de résistance however in his tirade of inappropriate was when he did the equivalent of roofying Dana by putting a chillax spell on her to make her compliant so he could make out with her. What a babe.

So what did I like about this book? Well a few things. As I mentioned before I really enjoyed the premise. The fairy world and Human world co-existing as sideways dimensions accessible through the portal of Avalon. There exists border patrols, kingdoms and politics that all have the potential to be a great infrastructure for a story.  I’m hoping the next book does justice to this as this one seemed to fart around, skim the edges and go nowhere.

I really enjoyed the side characters. The broody quasi goth Keane and his hunky knight of a dad Finn, Lachlan the kind hearted troll and Kimber the new friend living under her brothers shadow. All very interesting secondary characters who pulled me in. Far more interesting than the main protagonists in my opinion, but then I’m known to fall for the underdogs, it’s my thing.

I’d recommend this book only to those who are into the genre of fae books. Not one I’d read again but I’ll give the sequel ago in the eternal hope there will be some improvement in the lead characters and the direction of the story.

3 out of 5

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Perchance to Dream pop-up book

I saw this today on Lisa Mantchev's journal and fell in love. A POP UP BOOK! I mean really, who doesn't love a pop up book and this one is just a work of art. Such a treasure to have on your book shelf. One of those special items you keep to show visiting children and watch the wonder and awe light up their faces as beautiful scenes erupt forth from the pages like magic itself.

Having just bought Eyes like Stars I haven't quite got to the second book in her The Théâtre Illuminata trilogy but that didn't stop me falling in love with the pop up book of gorgeous created by mixed media artist Kari Armstrong. Oh to have such creative skills as these.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wanted: The Replacement

How creeptastic is this cover?
I don't even care if this book turns out to be rubbish, I'm buying it anyway just for the cover.

Thankfully it doesn't sound rubbish at all, it sounds eerily good in that teen paranormal romance meets the underworld sort of way.
Mackie Doyle seems like everyone else in the perfect little town of Gentry, but he is living with a fatal secret - he is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now the creatures under the hill want him back, and Mackie must decide where he really belongs and what he really wants.
A month ago, Mackie might have told them to buzz off. But now, with a budding relationship with tough, wounded, beautiful Tate, Mackie has too much to lose. Will love finally make him worthy of the human world?
Scheduled for release on the 16th of September 2010, just in time for Halloween, this Rosemary's baby meets The Graveyard book is a  dark fairytale I will definitely be wanting to sink my claws into. Check out the music on this book trailer. Spooky!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book inspired perfume

Not quite a book review this time but staying on the literary path I wanted to share these fun products I purchased on Etsy recently.  Latherati is a book inspired bath and body product store on Etsy. Selling soaps, artisan perfumes, lip lusters and body lotions scented and flavoured after well known works of literature.
I’ll confess straight off the bat I have a little problem with Etsy, a little can’t stay off it problem.  I have a particular fondness for all the cottage kitchen bath and body products on there. There are some high quality materials available for purchase to suit practically every taste, nose and skin type.  So imagine my delight when I fell upon Latherati, beautifully crafted body products bred with my other passion, books.
Take a look at some examples of the inspired scents Julie from Latherati has come up with.

CURIOUSER, inspired by Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - sweet orange marmalade, white cake, tea and a hint of black pepper.

, inspired by Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - warm, tangy ginger and tart lemon with a bottom note of cedarwood.

LONGBOURN, inspired by Pride and Prejudice - Sweet honeysuckle with green leafy grass notes smoothly blended with zesty lemon and herbal undertones.

AVARICE, inspired by Wuthering Heights  - warm cedarwood, patchouli and black pepper with hints of raspberry and a lush green forest.

Quelling my natural impulse to buy one of everything I started with MILKMAID, inspired by one of my favourite novels Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  I chose the lip luster a moisturizing blend of coconut, castor & avocado oils, mango butter, vitamin e, beeswax and the delicate flavor of milk. It is really quite scrumptious the flavor reminds me of milk bottles, those soft chewy lollies that come shaped like old school milk bottles. Maybe they are just a New Zealand thing, I’m not sure, but the flavor is delicate and sweet and quite comforting. I can’t stop applying it, it glides on smoothly, isn’t heavy or sticky and is wonderfully moisturizing, which after all is the important thing.

I also purchased the matching roll on artisan perfume DAIRYMAID - a sweet blend of milk and honey and fresh butter cream. This scent is absolutely divine, if you love the foody smelling oils from more well known artisan perfume makers like Bpal then you’ll love this. A deliciously soft scent that evokes feelings of comfort and warmth. Sweet sugary vanilla tones married with a lighter  floral note I can’t quite place, sweet peas maybe? This has been my perfume du jour all week. It lasts very well too, not quick to fade plus the roll on applicator bottle makes it cake to apply. No spills.

I read on the front page of her shop she’s running a competition on her blog for ideas for a new perfume based on a Gothic novel.  Naturally I ran right over to suggest my all time favourite’s like Northanger Abbey, Mysteries of Udolpho and Jane Eyre only to discover plenty of others had the same idea as me. Are my choices that predictive? So I dug deeper and came up with another The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe, after all you can’t get much more Gothic than Poe.
Why don’t you pop over and suggest your favourite Gothic novel, you never know, you might just be applying it as a perfume soon.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: The Dark Divine

Title: The Dark Divine
Publisher: EgmontUSA
ISBN: 978 1 6068 4057 3
Category: Paranormal Romance
Rating: YA

The Dark Divine is a paranormal romance in which our protagonist Grace must decide between loyalties to her pious god-fearing family or her growing feelings and desire to help her estranged childhood friend and one time foster brother, Daniel. Daniel has had a tumultuous and painful life for one so young and he parted with his foster family and best friend Jude, Graces brother, in an abrupt and savage way.

Graces family refuses to discuss the events that led to their estrangement with Daniel and throw themselves subsequently into church and community work for God. Daniel returns to Graces life under the pretence of wanting to get into a coveted art programme and needing to take an AP art class, at Graces religious Holy Trinity school, to qualify for entrance. It soon becomes evident there is more to Daniel and his history with her brother than meets the eye. Secrets are being kept on both sides and Grace sets out to uncover them.

First of all just let me say the protagonist of this story has a great name. Grace Divine. For a story with strong undercurrents of biblical doctrine this is about as apt a name as one could hope to devise for a heroine.

Grace is the child of a pastor; this plot point is used to set up Graces world and her character. She lives in a religious home where common place teenage ways of life are eschewed for a more wholesome church centered life style. An over bearing, slightly neurotic mother has a no cell phone rule for Grace along with a no hooking your computer up to the internet in the bedroom rule. I have to say the whole computer thing gave me a case of twilight déjà vue. There was one scene in The Dark Divine reminiscent of Bella’s internet search on her old computer for Vampires the night after she had dinner with Edward Cullen. Thus went a similar scene in which Grace searched on her old computer for her monster.

Grace attends choir and bible study instead of the hanging out at the mall, and instead of kicking back with friends at the weekends she helps out at her dad’s church sorting boxes of food and clothes for charity. Some may find this goody good persona a little hard to stomach; I’ll admit to rolling my eyes in a few places at how prudishly boring Grace came across as in some places. Despain however manages to keep Grace a relatable character by giving her common ground with her target audience, providing her with moral and ethical dilemma that’s common to all. Honour thy father and Mother as an absolute or pull away from them and make choices for your own life and the possible betterment of others. Do parents always know best? And what of parents that are abusive to their children, do they deserve any honour at all? Grace learns there are no absolutes; life isn’t black and white despite what the bible says. Sin and forgiveness have a sliding scale and that slider sits at a different place for every one of us.

Despain manages to make her supernatural universe fairly believable; she created a plausible background story and incorporated fictional historical letters into the story that lent it a credible twist as well as filling in gaps to the story our narrator and main characters weren’t aware of. The supernatural monsters in Despain’s universe and called Urbats, Hounds of Heaven… or Dogs of Death according to other transcriptions. Created long ago to be god’s watchdogs and fight the forces of hell. Over time they gave in to their human emotions, acted on their desires until eventually their beast side took over and they became what we know today as werewolves.

Despite some excellent foreshadowing clues, which were obvious in retrospect, I was actually caught off guard by the ending. It’s not often a book blindsides me with its ending but this one succeeded. I can say with complete honesty I didn’t see that one coming so well done to Despain.

This was another book with another beautiful cover that had absolutely nothing to do with the story. I mean I like the pretty covers, don’t get me wrong, an attractive cover will get me to buy your book nine times out of ten. But how hard is it to make your pretty cover have at least some connection to the story?

3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978 0 5750 9085 9
Category: fantasy/supernatural
Rating: YA

Is love enough to complete you?

Mary, the story's protagonist, exists in a post apocalyptic world where most of humanity have become a zombie race known as the Unconsecrated. Living in a small isolated village, and believing themselves to be the last of the unturned, Mary and her people live under the rule of a sacred Sisterhood. The Sisterhood are tasked with protecting this surviving pocket of humanity, keeping order and unbeknown to the villagers guarding a few deep and dark secrets. Mary has been raised with her mother's tales of the ocean, a vast and salty expanse of water of which the only evidence was a photo now long since lost in a village fire. When Mary’s mother is bitten and subsequently infected she chooses to become one of the Unconsecrated instead of being killed. This puts in place a chain of events for Mary that has her challenge the rules of her village, the ways of the sisterhood and ultimately her entire way of life. Mary soon embarks on a path of discovery, to discover the answers to the secrets, to discover herself and to discover this mythical ocean told to her by her mother.

Let’s start with what I liked about this book. It was engaging, it had good pacing and that ‘it’ factor which prevents you from putting it down. It’s a refreshing break from the onslaught of Vampire books flooding the YA market right now, still has that supernatural element that brings all the fantasy lovers to the yard yet delivers something outside the box. It’s also good to see a zombie book aimed at girls. Much like the immensely popular The Hunger Games this book requires its Heroine to fight for her life in a dystopia where no protection will be afforded to you just because you’re a frail teenage girl. No strapping werewolf or sparkly vampire steps up to the plate to rescue and protect her. Mary does pretty much all the stunt work herself.

The first person narrative worked and it didn’t. It seems to be the in thing in YA fiction right now and to be honest it’s just not my cup of tea so I may have a built in prejudice. It had its places where it worked, particularly at the start of the book. The abrupt tone and brevity of the sentences worked to show us Mary’s grief and numbness. Though as the book wore on her continuing in this style had the effect of casting Mary as rather distant and unsympathetic in character. It also prevented us from seeing inside any other characters heads and as Mary turned out to be a little on the shallow side I could have done with the variety.

Overall I just wasn't feeling it for the main protagonist of this book. She came off as immature to bordering on mentally deficient in some parts. There was one scene where Mary and the object of her affections Travis were holed up in a house on a platform, because zombies can’t climb apparently. Isolated and alone with your true love, a horde of flesh eating zombies literally pressing in at your door and what does Mary do? Does she make the most of their confinement and use the time to develop their relationship? Does she put her head together with him and perhaps devise a clever escape plan? No to both. Mary locks herself in the attic day after day and broods. She sulks, she feels sorry for herself, she’s morose to the extreme. She plays dress up with some frilly frocks she finds in a trunk and has an epic emo moment where she writes her feelings out on notepaper, attaches them to arrows and then shoots them into the heads of the amassing zombie horde.

Mary came across as having very little compassion for anyone other than herself. People gave up their lives for her, Travis, her brother, even Harry would have risked all for her safety yet all Mary was interested in was seeing the Ocean. Despite hundreds of zombies and their unrelenting objective to eat her brains Mary still found time to sulk due to having her feelers hurt by pretty much all of the characters at some point in the story. Dear Mary, get over yourself.

Throughout the book Ryan tried to set up a love triangle between Mary and the two brothers Travis and Harry. She failed horribly. The romance had no development. As there was little in the way of character development there was no real interest in seeing either brother win her affections. We are told in a few sentences they grew up together. That’s the extent of the history you get on them. No explanation as to why they both find her so alluring or vice versa, other than Travis has nice eyes. Considering the underpinning theme of this book is seeking your own destiny and not settling for safe, combined with how pointless the love triangle was when all was said and done, then I have to wonder why she bothered at all. It seemed to be a redundant plot bunny that went nowhere.

Very few of the characters had any real depth, I felt no connection to them, they almost all had walk on parts. Character development was on the thin side in this book.

My main critique of the book was that there was just not enough information to make this universe plausible. What information we were given left more questions or seemed too improbable to be believable. Like how they made clothes, where they obtained reading and learning material, how they avoided incest. The books Mary came across on her journey all seemed so old that they disintegrated to dust so what were they using to learn from back at the village, because they weren't illiterate. Surely they would have the same aged literature as elsewhere so unless they were producing their own books you would assume the villages paper products where fast becoming dust too. If they produced their own where were did they obtaining fresh ink and paper from? Did they even have a printing press? Did they have any industrial machinery? The whole isolated tiny village thing with no outside connection just didn't bode, there weren't enough details provided for it to be credible. It was little things like this that nagged me right through the book. I needed more details, more background information, more answers. I can only suspend my belief so far.

The zombies themselves didn't make sense either as far as zombies go. They walk around and exist just fine with limbs hanging off, bones sticking out, fingers broken off to stubs yet an arrow to the noggin kills them dead... again. Fire will kill them, drowning in a river kills them; an axe in the chest kills them.  The plot holes are glaring.

The most absurd condition of all was they are kept out of the village by a chain link fence. I realise zombies are not the cleverest supernatural creatures ever to be thought up but a chain link fence, that's it?

I found the ending to be very abrupt and unsatisfying and hardly an ending at all really, more like a lead in for the next book.

The moral of the tale; Is love enough to complete you? Will marriage and babies and the love of a man make you happy? If not don’t settle. Get out there and follow your dream. Get off the beaten path and make your own way… even if there are hungry zombies after your brains.

3 out of 5

Review: Manhattan Dreaming by Anita Heiss

Title: Manhattan Dreaming
Author: Anita Heiss
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 9781741668926
Category: chick lit, aboriginal
Rating: M for adult themes

The premise of this book is this: a young, black (I'm talking Australian black, btw - so Aboriginal) woman gets offered a job in New York City and moves to get over a heartbreak. Who is a young, black woman moving to NYC because she's done with Australia (see: always being let down)? Let me give you a hint, she has two thumbs and is writing this here blog.

After picking it up, I told Andrea about it and she said "Is she writing your life story?" because honestly, based on the blurb it is just that. But see, this is where things get interesting. I have a friend that is Lauren, she dates a man she knows is no good for her, but she continues to stay with him. I have the gang of great girlfriends, I have the supportive parents. So this book should resonate with me, right? Well, no it didn't.

My main failing is that I feel it is trying too hard to be something it isn't. I felt I was getting continually hit over the head with "LOOK AT ME, I'M LIKE CARRIE BRADSHAW/BRIDGET JONES BUT I'M BLACK. I'M BLACK. I LISTEN TO BLACK MUSIC, I WORK WITH BLACK PEOPLE, I AM BLACK BLACK BLACK". To me, my culture is so within me I don't feel I have to continually hit people over the head with it. I use the word tidda (it is my best friend's nickname), I wrote a thesis on Aboriginal identity in Hip Hop music, I get it.

This has all the makings of something great - a heroine who is funny, she's going on an adventure to find herself - but it lacks, well, something. I relate more to Bridget Jones - a thirty something, white, Londoner - than I do to this Aboriginal woman who lives a life that is similar to my own. The ending is trite, and we after a whole novel where we are told that Lauren hates being stereotyped, she does the same thing to bring us an ending that literally made me roll my eyes. I'd say this was some clever post modern take on the way Aboriginal people are portrayed in society and how that intersects with how they live their life - but I don't think this book is that deep.

2 out of 5.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review: The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet

Title: The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet
Author: Colleen McCullough
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 978 0 7322 8724 5
Category: historical fiction, pastiche
Rating: M for adult themes

I'm an unashamed Austenite. So an Australian author, writing a Pride and Prejudice sequel should be good right? Wrong!

I picked this book up thinking that it would be a way for my sick self to pass some time over this weekend. I only got fifteen pages in when I knew this book was not for me. This was the quote where I knew this would not end well:

It was a vile thing, he thought, to marry beneath one's station, no matter how great the love or how tormenting the urge toconsummate that love. And it had not been worth the pain.

I'm sorry, but has McCullough read Pride and Prejudice? I get that this is a sequel to the original, but within fifteen pages there are two character assassinations. Firstly, Darcy is this man who married Lizzy (it is implied) because he wanted to get his rocks off, and secondly Lizzy comes across as this woman who is so unhappy with her husband - but will not tell him. Lizzy Bennet would never hold her tongue where Darcy was concerned. She told him what she thought of him when they were not attached - do you actually believe that when she was married to him and safe in their union she would hold her tongue?

Also, Darcy has everyone, everyone, call him Fitz. Yeah.

So the main story is not about Lizzy and Darcy - and quite frankly I wish she just would have killed them off - but about Mary Bennet. Let me break this down into fan fiction terms: Mary is quite literally a Mary Sue, Lizzy and Darcy are OOC and this book is DNW.

Mary writes a treatise on the poor and then travels around being all feminist and shite. Her ideals clash with Fitz's (I shall call him that because he doesn't deserve to be called Darcy), and meets some radical Scotsman who backs her up - DUN DUN DUN. There is a stupid plotline with Darcy's dad, as well. It is so, so bad. It isn't historically accurate at all, either.

I was about to spoil the ending, but you might want to read this. I think McCullough needs to stick with dirty bird priests and leave the sequels to those who can bring depth to Austen's characters - not make them totally unrecognisable.

1 out of 5.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale Review

"A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story."

I've just finished The Thirteenth Tale and really enjoyed it.
It contained a lot of the elements I enjoy, it was a story about stories, a book about books, it was timeless and well written, engaging, suspenseful, gothic and a little creepy. It dealt with siblings and twins, familial bonds and dark family secrets. There were ghosts and skeletons, literally. References to classic literature, medical studies, knitting, gardening, fanciful imagination's. Pretty much hit all my buttons in one.

It is the story of Vida Winter and her desire to have her true life story recorded before she dies. Until now Ms Winters story has been a patchwork of lies and fictions that suited and amused her. For as many biographies on her life that exist so do as many stories.

"I've nothing against people who love truth. Apart from the fact that they make dull companions."

Vida Winter chooses Margaret Lea, a biographer of the dead for the task after reading a paper she wrote on a couple of brothers. Margaret lives above an antique book shop filled with stories of the long since deceased and this is where she feels at home in spirit as well as in body. She has never read any of Vida Winters modern books despite the fact she is lauded as one of the most prolific and well read authors in the UK. To familiarise herself with her works before she decides to accept the task of recording Ms Winters story she takes a rare book from her fathers collection called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, the book hooks her in but she is disconcerted to discover the book only contains twelve tales. which is also what makes this edition so rare. The Thirteenth Tale was never included in the original so it was recalled and renamed, however to the public the Thirteenth Tale, much like Vida Winter herself still holds a strong fascination and curiosity.
Margaret agrees to write the biography and soon falls under the spell of the story, as do we the reader. Vida's story is a dark tale of mental illness, abandonment, siblings, twins, sisters, lust, ghosts and murder. The more Margaret is drawn into it the more her own dark secrets and tragedies come to the surface and both Margaret and Vidas stories contain threads and elements that weave them both together. One story sitting on top of another.

The writing is beautiful, the themes although dark are not graphic or abhorrent, much is alluded too but the picture it draws in the mind is very clear. The book is full of quote worthy quips and set in a timeless era where one is left wondering if you are reading classic literature set in modern day or modern literature about a time gone by.

"Politeness. Now there's a poor man's virtue if ever there was one. What's so admirable about inoffensiveness, I should like to know. After all, it's easily achieved. One needs no particular talent to be polite. On the contrary, being nice is what's left when you've failed at everything else. People with ambition don't give a damn what other people think about them."

Hush, Hush Review

This is another book I bought solely on the pretty cover. When will I learn.

Very Twilightesque in its format. Another female protagonist I couldn't quite muster up much enthusiasm for and at many a point felt like smacking her around a bit.

Is biology class the teen equivalent of a singles bar? Why are all these kids hooking up in Bio. What's wrong with economics class is what I want to know.

Some good UST between Nora and Patch. Patch is fairly hot and to be honest the only thing that kept me reading. I may have developed a little bit of a crush on this character.

A few good quotes within the text.

"My daughter got implants. She said she did if for herself, but what woman gets boobs for herself? They are a burden. She got the boobs for a man. I hope you do not do stupid things for a boy Nora."

"“You smell good, too,” said Patch

“It’s called a shower.” I was staring straight ahead. When he didn’t answer, I turned sideways. “Soap. Shampoo. Hot water.”

“Naked. I know the drill.”

Overall a quick and entertaining read for a slow and boring day but not something I'd be likely to reread.

Review: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
ISBN: 978 0 4390 2348 1
Category: science fiction, fantasy
Rating: YA

At last a heroine I can love. Katniss Everdeen is no Mary Sue, and thank god. I have had about enough of those watery, insipid female leads to last a life time. This girl is a survivor. You get a good picture of her character, her motivations, her thinking. She is a normal girl put in extraordinary circumstances trying the best she can to survive both for herself and her family.

This is one of those 'read in a day' books because you can't abandon the story for medial things like cooking meals and basic hygiene (Spell check thought my misspelling of this so bad it suggested I meant aborigine. MAKES NO SENSE) practices. You have to know what happens next, how the mini arc's play out, if they survive or if they perish.

There are many things about this book that will appeal to many types of readers I think. I like well developed characters and interactions but not at the expense of plot, this book balances both. There's the surface appeal of the Team Gale vs Team Peeta if you are character driven and enjoy the developing potential of a love triangle. Love vs Survival. Then there is the deeper appeal of the plot and the politics and injustices of war and theoretical post apocalyptic civilization.

Taking place in a much altered and devastated future USA now called Panem a yearly televised games show takes place called The Hunger Games. Every district has a lottery, where one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen to participate as tributes from their respective districts. The book follows Katniss and her partner Peeta as they fight to the death against 22 others in a hostile and manufactured arena until there is only one survivor.

I mean it's a winning formula, the reality show Survivor shows us this. What are they up to now, their 2oth season or something? People want to see other people struggle. Weed out the weak, flush out the strong. Only the cleverest and the fittest survive.

Take that immeasurable successful game show and marry it with real life war, murder, hunting, actual lord of the flies survival in a hostile terrain, all against the backdrop of blossoming teen romances, and you have The Hunger Games.

4 out of 5
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