books, reviews

Book Review – The Shadow Tribe: Book 1 by Jaffrey Clark

381005795_star_rating_system_2_and_a_half_stars I’ve had this book sat in my NetGalley account for a while now and, as I’m trying to get better at sending my feedback, I decided it was finally time to read it. This was one of those books that sounded like a really interesting read. I don’t tend to read much fantasy these days and I tend to particularly avoid fantasy for younger readers. It’s the kind of genre that can be done so well but, on the flip side, just be turned into a horrible stereotype of things gone before. There is a fine line between creating a brilliant fantasy world and just shoving a load of random letters together to get a magical sounding city name. But, despite my misgivings, I’m always willing to give the genre a chance and this one sounded interesting.

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films, reviews, TBT

TBT – Twilight (2008)

220px-Twilight_282008_film29_poster5_Star_Rating_System_0_and_half_star I want to start this TBT post by saying that, no matter how much fun it was discovering films from 1988, I’m so fucking happy that my Throwback Thirty series is over. The problem with watching films for this blog is that, more often than not, I don’t get to watch the films that I want to. It can be a bit of pain having a craving to watch something but having to put it permanently on hold to watch a shitty film from 1988. However, there was a part of my that really liked having a themed TBT series. So, I was all ready to start a new series in which I go back a re-review films that I’ve already written about on the blog. (Which, as it turns out, is something of a fuckload.) I thought it might be interesting to compare my feelings then and now. But, I’m not sure if it’s actually a thing worth doing so, disclaimer, I might very well abandon it in the next few weeks and just review films I haven’t done before. But for now, and partly because the New Year is about reflecting as much as it about looking forwards (thank you Janus), I’m going to get all nostalgic and go back to the start.

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books, reviews

Book Review – Beach House by R.L. Stine

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So, this week may seem like something of a departure for someone who, only a couple of weeks ago, was ranting about how simplistic YA fiction is. And I realise that it is slightly hypocritical of me to then go on to read and review a teen horror novel from the 90s. However, I’ve been obsessing over this book for so long that I needed to reread it. I first read this book hen I was a teenager myself. I loved R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books when I was a kid so, once I started to get a bit more mature with regards to my reading, I started to “borrow” my older sister’s Point Horror books. Most of them were forgettable but this one stayed with me. I don’t know of it’s because it was the first one I read or whether it was just the story itself but I’ve never forgotten it. Well, I didn’t remember the name of it. Which didn’t really matter until last year when I got an urge to find it again. So I went through every beach related title in the set and finally found it. I started reading it night after I’d finished Long Way Down and turned the final page the next day. What a blast from the past.

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books, reviews

Book Review: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

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Anyone who has read a few of my book related posts may know that I have a rocky history with YA fiction and I’m not entirely convinced by contemporary poetry. So you’d think that I’d definitely want to steer clear of a piece of YA fiction written entirely in verse. But Long Way Down is the kind of book that I couldn’t ignore for long. Loads of people I respect on Bookstagram loved it and I heard loads of praise for it in general. So, when To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before proved too much for me to handle, I decided it was time to give it a try. After all, it’s not a very long read so I knew I could blast through it in a matter of hours. And I am still trying, though not very hard, to read more poetry this year. It feels like a novel written in verse is the ideal way of doing this as I sometimes find it difficult to get into poetry. It’s not exactly a normal method of reading when you’ve got a collection of poems loosely tied together by a similar theme but that are all separate. As this one contained such a tight and concise narrative, I was excited to see how it would work.

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books, rants

Bookish Post – YA? Ya ready for this rant?

For the first time in a really long time I haven’t got a new book to review. So, for the first time in a really long time I haven’t got any inspiration for my Wednesday post. It definitely doesn’t help that my current read is so bloody uninspiring. I don’t really know what possessed me to start reading To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, especially as I didn’t even like the film that much. I guess I thought it would be an easy read but I just can’t get into it. It’s fallen into so many awful YA traps and I genuinely hate reading parts of it. There is something about an adult writer trying to write the voice of a 16 year old that never quite works. I know that there is no way that I could write a convincing 16 year old yet, still, YA writers keep trying. It got super bad when she used the word “beotch” twice in quick succession. This was a book that was only written a few years ago. Who was still using the word “beotch”? It’s ridiculous. I’ve spent so much of this novel cringing. Which is why I’m being so bad at reading right now. I just don’t want to pick up this book.

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films, reviews

Tuesday’s Reviews – All The Boys I Loved Before (2018)

to_all_the_boys_i27ve_loved_before_poster 5_star_rating_system_3_stars I will always kind of believe that reviewing a Netflix film for my Tuesday review is something of a cop-out. It doesn’t feel as though it takes much effort and, as we’ve come to see, most Netflix original films aren’t that great. Netflix does something things amazingly well; documentaries; animated shows; reviving old comedies; and stand up specials. What it hasn’t yet nailed is films. Some have worked really well. Okay, I mean Okja was worth watching and others were enjoyable enough. But the majority of films I’ve watched in the last few years have been disappointing or just ridiculous… I’m looking at you A Christmas Prince. So when Netflix announced that it was adapting the hit YA romance novel All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s a book I’ve seen all over Instagram in the past but dismissed it due to it’s awfully clichéd romance cover and my horribly judgmental personality. But I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for the film version so I had to check it out. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be for me. Any teen movie not starring Chad Michael Murray and Hilary Duff will feel right.

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books, reviews

Book Review – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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It seems appropriate to start my review about this YA novel discussing prejudices by talking about my own. I openly admit to you all here that I’m prejudiced against YA fiction. I’ve always been disappointed by the simplistic narratives and underwhelming writing on offer in so many popular YA books. I know there are some really good ones out there but the majority are just so obvious, repetitive and dull. I’ve always found it a little hard to accept that so many adults these days are reading Young Adult fiction. I think YA books are great… as long as they’re read by Young Adults. The thing is, a lot of the people who read YA these days aren’t of that demographic. They’re adults. And maybe it’s because they don’t have the time or energy for something more advanced or maybe they just don’t see the appeal of other fiction? I don’t know but I find something a little bit sad about anyone over the age of 20 who reads only or primarily YA fiction. I just haven’t enjoyed very many YA books that I’ve read in recent years. It’s all so immature and simplistic. The use of language just isn’t on par to anything I’d normally read. Still, every so often there comes along a book that I can’t ignore. This was one of those books.

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books, meh, rehash, review, sci-fi, women

Tuesday’s Reviews – Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Today is International Women’s Day which mean I would have ideally been able to write my post from yesterday today. I don’t want to get too ranty feminist but it’s fucking brilliant that we’ve got to a stage where a classic, male-lead film can be rebooted starring some fantastic female comedians. Yet, it still riles me that women are accused of being unable to cope with taking the lead in an action based narrative. You may have seen several sexist YouTube comments claim that women just aren’t suited to playing the action hero. I mean whoever heard of a women kicking ass and taking down dangerous enemies? Oh, yeah except all those women on screen and in books who are constantly doing just that. One of the all time greatest female action heroines has to be the great Ellen Ripley of Alien. Sigourney Weaver basically paved the way for strong women to play the hero rather than the victim. Thankfully, that practice is on going and YA fiction is always attempting (and failing) to replicate her. Latest YA sensation Illuminae is no different.

Illuminae is one of those books that has so much fucking hype around it that you can’t ignore it. It’s perhaps one of the most talked about YA books of recent years and has been all over Instagram thanks to its unusual format… but more on that later. The novel is set in 2575 and tracks the events directly following an assault on a planet. The planet in question is home to an illegal mining colony and is attacked by the company’s biggest rival. The limited survivors find safety on the corporations three nearby ships but their problems are only just beginning.

There is plenty of danger to add to the narrative including a psychotic AI  called AIDAN, a deadly virus turning people into killers, and a huge enemy battleship getting closer by the day. It’s fairly standard science-fiction kind of affair with the traditional YA over-the-top romance thrown in for good measure. The novel is presented as a file full of official documents pertaining to the events following the assault and follow the movements of two teenage survivors; Kady, who is suspicious of the superior officers and starts investigating on her own, and Ezra, who is immediately conscripted to a unit of fighter pilots. Awkwardly, the pair broke up the day before their home was destroyed but, despite being on separate ships, find themselves missing each other.

Their conversations are included in the dossier and are as clichéd YA soppy teenagers as you’re likely to meet. These characters aren’t realistic, which I realise is a bit of a shitty thing to say about a novel set in space, They just don’t feel like real teenagers and there was never a moment when I connected with either main character. They’re just the same YA characters that reappear time after time and it’s getting dull. Strong willed female raging against the system? Gee where have I seen that before?! Whether that had anything to do with the limitations of the form or just bad writing, it’s safe to say none of the characters presented to us have any real depth. The nearest we get is the pair recovering from losing their parents. Classic YA: if you need to make your hero troubled just kill their fucking parents.

I can’t deny that Illuminae was a triumph of style and format. The idea to present the novel as a series of documents, verbal accounts, emails and visually stunning pieces of prose was a fantastic way to get everyone’s attention. However, it does present some issues with storytelling. The story doesn’t progress as fluidly as it would have in a more traditional format and there are times when the visuals make for an uncomfortable reading experience. I mean I can’t be the only one who found it overly complicated when the writing flowed around the pages meaning it was impossible to read anything at the middle of the page, can I? Whilst I was as excited as anyone by the styling of the novel, I found I tired of it incredibly quickly.

Which would have been fine is the narrative was interesting enough to counter that annoyance. However, it’s nothing but a rehash of every science-fiction trope in the book. There isn’t an original idea in this novel and it’s absolutely disgraceful. Anyone with any real knowledge of classic science-fiction will not only have seen the aspects of this narrative elsewhere but will have seen them done better. AIDAN is nowhere near as terrifying a prospect as HAL 9000. The crazy virus is nothing we haven’t seen before. The idea of people uncovering their superiors keeping secrets and fighting to uncover it is just yawn inducing at this point. The only original idea that Kaufman and Kristoff has was adding in a soppy teenage romance to add to the equation. It’s almost insulting to their many readers.

Illuminae defines the idea of “style over substance”. So much attention was given to trying to create an unusual form that very little attention was paid to the actual story. It’s a fucking patchwork quilt of science-fiction stories all knitted together into a not very clever or suspenseful narrative. It’s compelling in its own way, I’ll give it that, and the short ‘chapters’ make it easy to keep reading. However, I can’t say I was every wowed by any aspect of this story. In fact, it just made me want to watch 2001 again so I can see sci-fi executed well.

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book, death, fucking beautiful, review

Boo by Neil Smith

The dust jacket of Boo reminds me of the ‘Travel Writer’ episode of Black Books. You know the one where every quote on the back of Jason Hamilton’s new book says he’s charming: “Every one of these blurbs says he’s charming: ‘I was swept away by a wave of charm.’ ‘I was immolated in a firewall of charm and charisma.’ ‘I almost exploded from the concentration of charm on the page.’” The one thing everyone seems able to agree upon regarding Neil Smith’s first full length novel is that it’s charming. Nothing like creating a little bit of pressure for yourself, is there. Still it was a novel that I’d been keen to read for some time: an incredibly charming novel that’s reminiscent of The Lovely Bones? Is it any wonder I lost sleep over this thing?

Boo is a novel that takes us into a whole new realm in this story about thirteen year old Oliver Dalrymple. Oliver, known to his classmates as Boo thanks to his pale skin, is an outsider who finds it easier to recite the periodic table than to make friends. Oliver lives a quiet, lonely life until he dies in front of his school locker: something he attributes to a heart condition he’s had since birth. A short while into his stay in Heaven, Oliver is joined by fellow student, Johnny, who informs Boo that they were actually killed in a shooting by the mysterious “Gunboy”. With the two boys suspecting that their killer is hidden amongst, the pair team up with their new friends to track him down.
Neil Smith’s novel is an interested concept that is part murder mystery, part bildungsroman, part afterlife narrative. Smith’s Heaven is perfectly realised in great detail. Oliver is a scientist and reacts to his first real brush with spirituality with a rational mind. He carries out experiments on himself and his surroundings: working out how long it takes both him and the buildings to heal when broken. Through his narration we learn everything we need to about the afterlife; what kind of toothpaste the dead use, what their houses look like and what they eat. There are plenty of differences between life in Heaven and life on Earth but occasionally oddities make their way through to remind residents of their past.
Heaven is set out fairly logically with age-groups and nationalities being kept together in their individual towns. The residents remain at the age they are at the time of their death but get 50 years before they “redie” and pass on. They are watched over by their omniscient God who they call Zig. He sends them food and supplies whenever they need it and sends a few exciting objects every few years when technology advances. Smith’s Heaven is quirky certainly but there is no denying that, despite it’s sad premise, is as charming as promised.
There isn’t a great deal to Boo‘s narrative but, thanks to the character of Oliver, there is enough detail to keep you reading. The overall reveal of the ‘murder mystery’ isn’t exactly ground-breaking or hard to figure out. However, the journey to get there is heart warming in its own way. Oliver goes from a friendless, weirdo to someone who finally finds his place. He makes new connections and finds a best friend in Johnny. It is the strengthening of their friendship that keeps the story moving forward.
The novel is beautifully written but there are moments when Smith’s indulgences causes the pace to lag somewhat. Oliver’s narration is littered with off-hand remarks and witty interjections which feels a bit forced and unnecessary. There are plenty of references to science and literature which don’t always seem relevant to the plot. The narrative, though streamlined, does drag in places and I was eager to rush over some of the middle sections. I did enjoy reading Boo though but I was a little put off by how often it feels too simplistic. Smith sometimes stresses his points so much that the reader doesn’t need to think for themselves. There are a great deal of clever insights into the life of young people but it doesn’t always translate in the writing style.
However, the novel is still a great success and has the right kind of emotional pay-off when the time comes. When Smith leaves Oliver to explore and feel free within his surroundings the narrative soars into life. There are plenty of important issues to jump into play as Oliver gets further into his new world. Some of these are handled better than others but all raise valid points. The novel handles difficult subjects sensitively and manages to ensure that the sadness that hangs over every page doesn’t engulf the reader. There is just as much to be joyful within Boo as there is to lament. It’s something readers of every age should experience.
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books, fantasy, George RR Martin, meh, review, Tolkien

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

On one of my random lunchtime bookshop trips I found this beauty on sale for half price and decided to pick up a copy. I thought I’d heard about it from someone on YouTube but, after some research, I’m pretty sure that I was mistaking it for another book. Nevertheless, I found myself at the starting point of a few uninspiring novels and, after being excited by the writing in the final sentence of the first page, I started my journey.

Half a King is fantasy writer Joe Abercrombie’s first foray in the ever growing world of Young Adult Fantasy. It is the first in the Shattered Sea trilogy and Abercrombie introduces us to Yarvi, Prince of Gettland, who, thanks to a disability since birth, has remained an outsider in a kingdom that values strength over all else. Just as Yarvi is on the cusp of giving up his right to the throne he is informed that both his father and elder brother have been killed, forcing him to take the Black Throne. Before Yarvi is able to get his head around his new position he finds himself betrayed; his chair stolen from under him whilst he is sold into slavery. What follows is his bull-headed quest for freedom and ultimate revenge.
Abercrombie, like many fantasy authors, is clearly trying to build on some of George RR Martin’s success and plays the Tyrion Lannister card with his hero Yarvi. Unable to rely on the physical prowess that both his father and brother have in spades, the young Prince has spent years moulding his mind and training for the Ministry. Yarvi is an interesting character and his growth along his journey is certainly something worth following. He has something of an everyman quality about him and is somebody that readers would definitely sympathise and identify with.
However, I have to question Abercrombie’s inclusion of the disability. For the most part it only figures as a way for the writer to further the plot and create the correct environment for the narrative to work. Throughout his journey Yarvi becomes a stronger and more self-confident leader but there is never any real acceptance of his physical impairment. There is a slight hint that he becomes less bothered by other people’s response to it but he still lets it control his life. I’d much rather there had been a moment of utter acceptance where, like Tyrion Lannister advises in Game of Thrones, Yarvi is able to “wear it like armour”. Instead it becomes nothing more than a dull and unnecessary literary device from a writer unwilling to look deeper to give his main character flaws.
This is a problem I see throughout Half a King: it just doesn’t go far enough. There is very little character development except in the group Yarvi spends the majority of his time. The novel is narrated from Yarvi’s point of view so the only understandings we have of people are the often childish insights he offers us. We learn some of their history but hear nothing of their drive or dreams beyond what they tell Yarvi, which, in order to move the plot forward, is very little. None of these characters really exist in their own right and are only included to move Yarvi’s story forward instead of participate. The desire to keep the plot moving forward has led Abercrombie to ignore any of the pesky but desirable exposition and deeper exploration of the people he is presenting to us.
Now I realise that in terms of good fantasy we have been spoiled by the like of Tolkien and George RR because of their unfailing conviction to the world they create. I mean these writers both immersed themselves, their characters and, most importantly, their readers in a rich and ancient world with its own languages, customs and complicated geography. Abercrombie takes very little time within the novel to develop the ideas of the world he has created. We get a sense of the Viking-like people and their focus on war but, other than the brief stops Yarvi’s ship makes when he is enslaved, we don’t get to see much of the wider world. We get references to the history thanks to the elf-ruins the group come across but, as with so many parts of the story, these are forgotten about as quickly as they are introduced. I can only hope that Abercrombie is opening up the world in his future novels because without any amount of depth there is little to keep the reader engrossed in this setting.
Now I realise this all sounds very negative but I did find myself wanting to finish this book. The reason that so many of these areas are underdeveloped is because Abercrombie is so focused on ensuring that the plot is continually moving forward. I guess that is my one criticism of both Tolkien and George RR: the pair is known to keep their heroes from reaching their destination with whatever distractions that they could find. Half a King is fast-paced and always moving towards its ultimate goal with the same tenacity and blind-sightedness of its main character. It is a positive that means the novel is an easy read that keeps the reader involved.
Abercrombie has a gift for description and some of his imagery is beautiful.  It is also the first time I have experienced such decent action sequences in a written work. As much as I enjoyed the ASOIAFseries so far I have to say that Martin’s skill doesn’t exactly lie in his fight sequences or battles. Half a King doesn’t include a great number of heavy action sequences but those that do arise are handled pretty deftly by the writer. They are drawn with care and attention and are planned out to ensure a lack of confusion for the reader.
Ultimately, Half a King is a good read if a little unadventurous. The novel was just never going to live up to the hype surrounding Abercrombie’s first YA novel. Despite the excellent writing on display, there are obvious flaws. It is annoyingly simplistic, perhaps a consequence of the different audience. I think for most of my reading I imagined Yarvi as a much younger child than he was meant to be because his actions and thoughts seem so childish. If it weren’t for the moments of violence I would have genuinely believed I was reading a book meant for pre-teens. Even the story is less complicated than I think the audience deserved and the so-called ‘surprising’ plot-twist became obvious about half-way into the novel.
Of course this could all just the curse of the first in a series. Without a doubt this is a solid foundation for Abercrombie’s future novels and there are several plot points that were hinted at that could create some exciting work. The slow introduction of Christianity above the multiple ancient Gods is something that was occasionally hinted at so I’m hoping Abercrombie has a plan for this development later. However, there are certain things that he would need to work on whilst continuing. I can only hope that there is more depth to the two further novels of the Shattered Sea series.
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