2013-06-30 02:59 pm
Entry tags:

[Susan] In This Month!

Awesome things done this month
June was surprisingly busy for me - I am gainfully employed now! I went to a four-day long gaming event and played new tabletop systems! I have successfully completed my first year of my Librarianship Masters - including a module where I built a terrible website for this blog! :D

In book-related news, I was a guest on the second episode Lady Business+, where Renay and I talked about The Scorpio Races! (Horses are mandatory.) (Dead mothers are not mandatory, but are a really annoying trope.) I had an excellent time, and Renay made us sound super smart. Plus twitter has brought me interesting facts in response, like "Butter tea is actually a thing that exists in Tibet", and "Character X] DID have a mother... But they died."

Media consumed this month:


Posts coming up next month!
  • Eight years after I started the series, I have finally got the last few volumes of Full Metal Alchemist and I'm starting a big re-read! Next month I'll be reviewing it up

  • I attempt to decide my feelings about The Shining Girls.

  • I have Opinions about Mass Effect Library Edition Volume 1 that may or may not be oscillating between "Bad art induced rage" and "fangirl squee".
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
2013-05-17 10:44 am
Entry tags:

Quest: Stories with accurate depictions of male characters

I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but internet: I need your help finding stories with accurate depictions of male characters.

(This comes from discussing Looking For Alaska and being told that maybe I don't like the protagonist because he's a very well-written teenage boy, and from trying to discuss The Dresden Files and being told "It sounds like you just don't books with accurate male characters in them." Once is a co-incidence, twice is carelessness.)

In the spirit of not becoming what I hate - someone who dismisses or dislikes books based entirely on the gender of the main character without thinking through why: does anyone have any stories with accurate/realistic protrayals of male characters? I suspect that I need to read things to judge how accurate this suggestion is. :\

Don't worry - soon, we will return to your regularly scheduled flailing and ladies!
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
2013-04-09 10:09 pm

[Susan] The Gentleman's Alliance Cross Volume 1 by Arina Tanemura

The cover of Gentleman's Alliance; a brown-haired girl scattering flowers.The Gentleman's Alliance Cross Volume 1 by Arina Tanemura // Published by ShojoBeat (Viz), 2007 // Borrowed from the library // Read and reviewed March 2013

In return for a business loan of 50 million yen, the prestigious Kamiya family gave their daughter Haine away to the Otomiya family. Haine, now an Otomiya, is appointed to the student council of the exclusive Imperial Academy, a private school for the aristocracy. Even though Haine is of proper lineage to be on the council, she finds herself struggling to find her place among the many secrets of its elite members, especially those of the president who holds her heart--Shizumasa Togu, aka "the Emperor."


A girl lying back on a bed in rumpled clothing, with an close-up of her face next to it.The Gentleman's Alliance Cross is very pretty! Whenever I think "shojo art", I think of something like this. (Other options include the art of Skip Beat! or CLAMP; that is what I know! I'm sorry!) All of the main female characters are large-eyed and lovely, with gorgeous costume design and fascinating hair - which has the disadvantage of sometimes making it really hard to tell anyone apart. There are some panels where I've actually had to sit and squint to work out who the hell is talking because I couldn't just couldn't tell, and sometimes the panels feel busy and cluttered. On the whole though: very pretty, and very much my style.

The story... Haine Otomiya is in love with Shizumasa Togo, Emperor of Imperial Academy, and is doing her best to earn her way to a ranking in school that means that she can actually see him. To that end she fights snake-bombing trouble-makers, "rescues" Togo from "kidnappers", joins the student council, attempts to reconcile the boy who convinced her to give up her delinquent lifestyle with the icy Emperor of Imperial Academy and change both him and the way the council operates for the better. I have no problem with the story, in theory - all of these elements can be interesting! It's just that they're put together in a way that I'm really... Not okay with.

Cut for some character-arc spoilers! )

BASICALLY: My primary interpretation of this manga is that I'm supposed to take away the message that Shizumasa is a terrible person, and the good end is that Haine realises this and starts dating someone nicer. I suspect that I might be wrong on that one. Shizumasa is actually the main reason I wasn't enjoying this manga (I don't like him! But everything and everyone revolves around him!), but I got the second one out of the library at the same time as I got the first one out, so I might as well read that too.

Verdict: The art is good and I like the secondary characters, but the lead male character and the heroine's obsession with him wore on me fast. Wouldn't specifically recommend it, but if it's in the library it's worth flicking through.
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
2013-02-17 12:57 pm

[Susan] Pisces Rising by Peter Cave and Margaret Wredden

The cover of Pisces Rising by Peter Cave and Margaret Wredden; a red background and a dolphin leaping. Pisces Rising by Peter Cave and Margaret Wredden // Fontana Books, 1979 // Bought at a carboot sale // Read and reviewed February 2013

Fathoms deep they lay in wait, these sea creatures man had exploited for so long. Soon their concerted might would be ranged against mankind – the slashing, tearing jaws of the great sharks, the numbing shocks of the stingrays, the fury of the killer whales and the guile of the dolphins. Man would be taught a lesson, slowly and agonisingly, and he would have only himself to blame...


I read this pretty much entirely because cheap-and-rubbish-70s-scifi with bonus dolphins on the cover (Seriously, it has 85p printed on the cover as the recommended retail price - this thing is pretty much a historical artifact!)! And the best part is that it is exactly as good as it looks.

This book contains, in no particular order:

  • A fairly illogical story with the silliest, most anticlimatic ending. The blurb in my copy makes it sound like a story of Evil Corporations vs Noble Idealistic Scientist... Which is dropped fairly quickly. Along with pretty much everything else in the initial set up beyond ANGRY FISH.

  • Terrible stereotypes (the American scientist is heroic, any of the non-white characters are racial stereotypes are introduced to die and/or suffer, and of the female characters are ineffective peace keepers, mothers, secretaries, or Plot Point Children, the military people are pointlessly stupid, violent and cruel.

  • Some ridiculous names in this - seriously, there's names that sound like something from an aquarium ("Bluey the Blue-Ring Octopus"... Why are these the default names? Why the Shakespearean names... Why many of the names? I have no idea what the logic is behind them.).

  • Every problem in this book (every single one!) being caused by stupid military people (I include the fish/underwater mammals in this) or scientists doing something really stupid, pointless, and damaging to everyone. It is really annoying to see someone do something so blatantly ridiculous, so reading this book is sometimes really frustrating.

  • Lectures (whole pages!) on how Man (and it is always Man, never humanity - yeah, this book contains some really blatant background sexism.) is destroying the enviroment in general and fish/the ocean in specific. It's... Very pointed. Very preachy.

  • Decent world-building and underwater mythology. It's kinda interesting, but not great enough to justify... Well, the rest of the book.

  • Basic errors that even a layperson (i.e. me) can pick up - I'm gifting my copy to a friend who scuba-dives and is interested in this sort of thing to see if he picks up more than me, but there seems to be things like basic misgendering, inaccuracies in actions and statements... It doesn't make sense, some of the things they get wrong.

  • Some deaths and attacks that are genuinely atmospheric, horrifying, and inventive! Some of the effects a sudden lack of fish would have on the world are really well-thought through and interesting, with the obvious flaw of some of them are absolute nonsense.

  • FISH TELEPATHY. When telepathic fish is not the strangest thing in your novel, you should probably... Take a look at that.


BASICALLY, this is one sexy love-interest away from being the literary version of a made-for-TV "Syfy" original, so if you like those it may be worth trying to grab a copy. It is exactly of the quality and enjoyment level of one of those and the very least; pretty bad, but a decently entertaining read!
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
2013-02-10 07:09 pm

[Susan] Looking For Alaska by John Green

The cover of Looking For Alaska by John Green; a black cover with smoke rising up from a candle on it.Looking for Alaska by John Green // Penguin, 2005 // Gift from Renay // Read and reviewed February 2013

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.


As I said before, I was reading John Green's backlist as I was going to an event he and his brother Hank were doing (I went with Tonks and it was so much fun!). As I said before, I wasn't keen on the protagonist of Looking For Alaska.

I finished the book on Monday and I'm honestly not sure how I feel about it. It's very well-written; the prose is full of colour and life, easy to gulp down. Many points to John Green; he is readable. I have no complaints about the writing or the realism or the humour (this book is seriously funny when it wants to be, especially regarding the pranks.). My complaints are entirely about the content.

Part of it is that I don't actually like Miles/Pudge. It's generally okay when I'm reading (apart from specific scenes where I have to put the book down and fume for a few seconds because wow he is sometimes insensitive and annoying.) but when I stop reading, I realise that he's self-absorbed and annoying and kinda subsumes Alaska and her problems and in some ways he wants to take her whole existence into his own little story and I am not interested in that. This is entirely just me1, but I just couldn't get into it. On the flip side, I couldn't stop reading. Curse youWell! Time to stop caring about Alaska as a person, let's move on to seeing her as an object in Miles' character development! and I wasn't impressed. Miles doesn't seem to care as much about Alaska's absence as he does about himself and his feelings for her. ([personal profile] bookgazingraises interesting and spoilerific points about this - namely that this is what people actually do. I'm guilty of this myself, in some ways. That doesn't mean that it's not really annoying!) John Green himself explicitly acknowledges that this is a problem, and I believe that it is something he addresses in Paper Towns... But it's something that still bothers me in the here and now.

I can't honestly say that I like this book. I can acknowledge, objectively, that it is quite good, but there is nothing about this book that relates to to me - not as a student, a girl, a teenager, as someone falling in love for the first time, as someone grieving for the first time. It has funny parts and emotional parts (the Colonel is particularly good for these; his feelings about his mother and his last line are genuinely touching.), and parts with genuine emotional resonance. I just... Couldn't get into it. I think that I might get on great with a different John Green book - but not this one.

1I have been informed by Tonks that one of the reasons Miles might annoy me so much is that "he's a very well-written teenage boy", and as I was at an all-girl's school between the ages of eleven and eighteen and didn't really socialise outside of school, I managed to skip teenage boys entirely, which means I might have unreasonable expectations for how obnoxious teenage boys actually are.
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
2013-02-03 04:04 pm

[Susan] Week in... Books, Gaming, and Web Originals

"Week in..." is a regular post to let me discuss what I've been reading, watching or playing lately in fewer words than a full review. It's primarily here to be useful and let me talk about things that either I'm not planning to review, or won't be getting around to for a while.


Books

No-Time Party Cakes // Looking For Alaska // To Write Like a Woman // The Scorpio Races )

Games
Mass Effect 3 )

Web Original
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries )

So that's what I've been up to this week - how about everyone else?
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
2013-01-31 05:03 pm

[Susan] Liar by Justine Larbalestier

The cover of Liar by Justine Larbalestier. A mixed-race girl stares at the viewer, pulling the collar of her jacket around her face.Liar by Justine Larbalestier // Bloomsbury, 2010 // Borrowed from the library // Read January 2013, reviewed January 2013

Micah will freely admit that she’s a compulsive liar, but that may be the one honest thing she’ll ever tell you. Over the years she’s duped her classmates, her teachers, and even her parents, and she’s always managed to stay one step ahead of her lies. That is, until her boyfriend dies under brutal circumstances and her dishonesty begins to catch up with her. But is it possible to tell the truth when lying comes as naturally as breathing? Taking readers deep into the psyche of a young woman who will say just about anything to convince them—and herself—that she’s finally come clean, Liar is a bone-chilling thriller that will have readers see-sawing between truths and lies right up to the end. Honestly.


After years of avoiding posts marked "IF YOU HAVE NOT READ LIAR THEN PLEASE MOVE ALONG OR THIS BOOK WILL BE FOREVER RUINED FOR YOU", I have finally read it! I am allowed to read posts and listen to podcasts and it won't ruin my reading experience!

... Guys, seriously, when people put that warning on a post, they're not joking! I am trying to recommend this book to everyone I know in person (everyone I know online having already read it), and all I am comfortable telling people is "It's about a death narrated by a compulsive liar and anything else I say is spoilers." It is best to go into it knowing AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE.

'I was born with a light covering of fur.' (Cut in case of spoilers - none intended, but cut as a preventative measure!) )

BASICALLY: I really love this book, I think it was clever and wonderful and exactly as good as the internet had been promising it would be. Definitely recommended, and everyone should read it! Especially before you read any posts about it!

Other people talking about this book (spoilers spoilers spoilers):
  • Galactic Suburbia

  • The Book Smugglers

  • Ana of Things Mean A Lot on the cover fiasco

  • Renay
  • cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2013-01-31 11:46 am

    [Susan] Wither by Lauren DeStefano

    The cover of Wither by Lauren DeStefano; a girl in a ball gown sitting in a dark space, with circles highlighting her face, her wedding ring, and the caged bird next to her.Wither by Lauren DeStefano // Harper Collins, 2011 // Borrowed from the library // Read December 2011, reviewed January 2012 // Trigger warning: (skip) Forced marriage, underage sex and pregnancy.

    By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape--before her time runs out?

    Together with one of Linden's servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?


    I really didn't mean to read this one - I didn't know anything about it, but I'm generally wary of YA books with girls in floaty dresses on the cover. But then the sequel was stalking me around Waterstones (Every time I went in, I had a moment of "Ooh, that book looks interesting", picked it up, and only then remembered that I'd done this before.) so I decided to exorcise it by reading the first one in the series.

    ... It worked!

    (As an aside, I really liked the cover for this, and the way it throws subtlety to the wind to highlight all of the symbolism. It's nice, I like the design, and it is a floaty-dress cover where the floaty dress is actually appropriate!)

    'I wait.' (Cut for length of review and vague, unmarked spoilers. )

    In conclusion... I really enjoyed this book, much more than I expected to, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you why. It's was fun, in a depressing sort of way, despite its flaws, and I guess that's enough!

    If you like this you might like:
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood or The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers if you like dystopian/post-apocalyptic futures where baby-production is the major societal concern and role for women, and the reactions people have to this.

  • In Time if you like the aspect of "genetic manipulation means we're all going to die really young!"


  • 1: I appreciate that it's not anyone's responsibility to educate anyone else, but I'm still not sure why Jenna and Rhine didn't explain about the truth - ANY of the truth - to Linden when they had the chance. I do wonder how the story would've gone if they had.
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2013-01-24 03:57 pm

    [Susan] Week In... Books, Gaming, and Cartoons

    "Week in..." is a regular post to let me discuss what I've been reading, watching or playing lately in fewer words than a full review. It's primarily here to be useful and let me talk about things that either I'm not planning to review, or won't be getting around to for a while.


    I'm back! I apologise for the delay, I managed to complete and burn myself out on a ferociously difficult piece of coursework about book blogging (seriously, I didn't even read anything last week or the week before, that's how bad it was.). I will be endeavouring to catch up on posts and hopefully make up the discrepancy, I hope this is acceptable!

    Books

    Liar // Mr & Mrs Smith // To Write Like A Woman // The Scorpio Races )

    Gaming

    Mass Effect 1 // Mass Effect 3 // Resonance of Fate )

    Cartoons

    Animal Man shorts )
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2013-01-11 11:58 am

    [Susan] The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell

    The cover of The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell; a complicated black and white building on a colourful background.The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell // Gollancz, 2009 // Borrowed from the library // Read November-December 2011, reviewed December 2012

    A man comes to on the floor of a shabby apartment in the middle of Budapest. His head is glued to the floorboards with his own blood. There's a fortune in cash on the kitchen table. And he has no idea where, or who, he is. He can do extraordinary things—speak any number of languages fluently, go three days without food or sleep, and fight with extraordinary prowess. But without a name, without a past, he's isolated from the rest of the world; a stranger to everyone, including himself—until a chance encounter with a young scholar leads to his first friendship, and his first hint that someone out there knows more about him than he does. Someone is sending him clues about his past. Photographs hidden in books and crates of wine. Cryptic clues pointing towards a murdered woman. And clear warnings against Stephomi, his only friend. But that's not all; Gabriel Antaeus is seeing strange, impossible things: a burning man is stalking his dreams and haunting his mirrors, his dreams are filled with violence from the past, and his pregnant young neighbor is surrounded by an extraordinary golden aura. Something dark and violent in Gabriel's past is trying to resurface. And as he pieces the clues together, everything points towards an astounding war between angels and demons—a battle not just for the future of the world, but for the minds and souls of everyone in it.


    Oh, I was not keen on this one. The blurb made it sound really interesting, at least the first half - mysterious people plus angels plus demons sounds like the sort of thing I would gobble down in a heartbeat! And yet this... This felt like a slog. I kept picking it up resentfully, muttering about how I didn't want to read it, I'm not enjoying it - the only reason I did finish it was because it had been on my to-read list for years.

    (I am still really disappointed that the story isn't as good as the blurb. So disappointed.)

    Part of my problem was that I couldn't really stand the narrator. While paranoid/unstable narrators can be interesting in their own right, and I have no objections to characters taking time for very justified freak-outs, but Gabriel was just... I couldn't like him. Part of it was that he was extremely self-righteous - nothing is his fault, and everything he says or does is right (if he's wrong, then he'll either find another justification or be dramatic about it.). The rest of it is that he almost comes across as an unreliable narrator - I'm willing to believe that what Gabriel reports is factually right, but not the conclusions he draws - and that's not actually a trope I like. On top of that, his relationship with Casey comes across as really creepy, even in his own narration.

    The rest of my dislike for this book comes from the fact that it is so hamhanded. It is trying to make about good and evil not being so different, but it feels like the book is trying to beat me over the head with it. (See also: Devils are charming and friendly! Angels will terrorise and intimidate you! ... My notes for this do have "CHAOTIC GOOD DROW ARE A THING!" written on them in big letters, I'm sorry.) Worse than that, Gabriel and his mysteries actually bored me. There were Dramatic Reveals all over the last third of the book and I just didn't care.

    I was much more interested in Casey and her story, and that didn't get enough screentime. For something as important as Casey's pregnancy, I really felt like there should have been more time spent with her. Her story was actually more interesting than Gabriel's turned out to be - a teenager alone in a foreign country, trying to look after herself and her brother while dealing with her mysterious pregnancy - and quite frankly, I would probably read a book about her. I guess what I want is for Casey to be focused on as a person, rather than as an object in a cosmic struggle or of Gabriel's obsession, with a satisfactory conclusion to her story!

    I have to admit though, the writing does have its good points, despite some serious plot holes. It managed to portray Gabriel as an unsettling, genuinely creepy guy even as he's trying to convince himself that he's acting rationally/justified in acting irrationally. The way it handles the final chapter while staying in the limits of the diary format it uses actually worked really well, in my opinion! Just a bit too-little-too-late.

    The back labels this as a "Theological thriller", which makes me laugh. There's a lot of debate about "Could you kill baby Hitler?" and the like, and so much discussion of theology, but... I would have said it was more moral than theological, despite the presence of angels and demons, if that makes sense? Certainly I wouldn't have said that it was a thriller, theological or otherwise. (Suspicion: they made up this genre so that they wouldn't get lumped in with the fantasy novels, even though that's really the best fit for it.)

    Suffice to say, I didn't enjoy this book. It did have some good moments, but the amount of work it took to get to them didn't make it worth it for me.
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2013-01-07 07:49 pm

    [Susan] Boys of Summer by Chuck Austen and Hiroki Otsuka

    The cover of Boys of Summer by Chuck Austen and Hiroki Otsuka; a girl in a bikini and baseball gear with her shirt falling off and a man in the background who is wearing a baseball uniform.Boys of Summer by Chuck Austen and Hiroki Otsuka // Tokyopop, 2006 // Bought as part of a lucky dip/grab bag from Forbidden Planet // Read November 2011, reviewed December 2012

    Meet Bud Waterston, a decent-looking guy who happens to be in full hormonal bloom. He's also on his way to college, and drools over the sexual liberation he will no doubt face living in a coed dormitory full of hot babes. Unfortunately for Bud, things don't go exactly as planned--he meets the girl of his dreams, who won't give him the time of day. But just because he strikes out on his first attempt doesn't mean he won't keep trying to hit a home run...as long as he doesn't drop the ball!


    This book was really disappointing. I mean, it could have been good, but... No. The art isn't bad! It manages to be ridiculous when it's called called for, and dramatic when it suits the mood. It's got decently clean lines nice contrast. It just feels gratuitous as all hell.

    Seriously. I've read books twice as explicit and didn't feel half as scummy as I did reading this one. I think it's because one of the recurring gags is "LOL TITS AND PERVERTS ARE HILARIOUS LOOK AT ALL OF THIS SWEET PERVO-VISION WE BROUGHT YOU!" and that's... No. Seriously, this is something that actively annoys me (especially when it's combined with poses that physically couldn't work and "Here's a picture of the main cast fully clothed - except for the girls!" See also: the cover.) and turns me off books at the speed of light. I don't find it funny.

    It's disappointing though because when it's not being gross, the story's not that bad. It's a lot better when it's focusing on the sports-related shenanigans and Bud being SERIOUS. When he's having sweet moments with his family or being a baseball wizard, it's actually okay! When he's got something to prove with baseball, it's pretty dramatic and fun! However, I really don't care about the romance aspects or the "OMG you have a girl on your team I DEMAND YOU REPLACE HER WITH MY LESS COMPETENT BFF!" plot point, and some of the humour just goes right over my head (for example, the two team members who struggle with english feels like a pop culture reference that I'm just not getting.).

    Basically when it's good, it's pretty okay; but when it's bad, it's bad in all of the ways that get on my wick.
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2013-01-06 08:13 pm

    [Susan] Week in... Books, Films, Gaming and Plays!

    "Week in..." is a regular post to let me discuss what I've been reading, watching or playing lately in fewer words than a full review. It's primarily here to be useful and let me talk about things that either I'm not planning to review, or won't be getting around to for a while.


    Books

    Fun Home // The Women Men Don't See // Clockwork Fairies // Sailor Moon Volumes 7 and 8 // Until Death Do Us Part Volumes 1 and 2 // Cake Decorating With The Kids )

    Films
    X-Men: First Class )

    Gaming
    Mass Effect 1 and 3 )

    Plays
    The Lion King Stage Show )

    And that's me done! What interesting things to up your week?
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2013-01-04 07:03 pm

    [Susan] Skellig by David Almond

    The cover of Skellig by David Almond; a plain blue background with a white feather outlined on it.Skellig by David Almond // Hodder Children's Books, 1995 // Borrowed from the library // Read October 2011, reviewed December 2012

    Michael was looking forward to moving into a new house. But now his baby sister is ill, his parents are frantic, and Doctor Death has come to call. Michael feels helpless. Then he steps into the crumbling garage and encounters a strange being who changes his world forever.


    I really liked this! It is a very nice, simple story, with the fantastic elements built on a lovely foundation of reality that makes me happy. It has perfectly believable characters, from things as big and important as Michael's conflicted feelings about the baby, to the moments of his school friends being believably annoying.

    I also like that there isn't just Strange Occurances: Fantasy, in this book; everything in Michael's life is in upheaval, so much of what's happening to him falls under Strange Occurances or Strange People. And all of these things - his new neighbours, the baby, the man in the garage - seem to have equal effect on him and tie together really well in the end.

    My favourite part of the book though is the fact that it still made me think and still made me look at things in new ways. For example, the owl-like aspects and comparisons, or the sections about Persephone - seriously, I studied Ancient History, I've gone over the Persephone myth more times than I can remember, and this book still offered me a perspective on it that I'd never considered.

    It's also interesting the difference in perspective age brings to this story. On the one hand, I think it's a good and comforting story, but on the other hand I ended up chatting to another student on my course about this book, and we agreed that as an adult, there's an extra layer of creepy in the discovery of Skellig that just wouldn't be there in a child's reading. It's a really odd feeling.

    That said: this is a really good read with imagery that is beautiful or gross and sometimes both, and I really enjoyed it. Definitely recommended, and I'm planning to pick up the prequel when I can find it at the library.
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2013-01-02 02:23 pm

    [Susan] The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

    The cover of The End of Everything by Megan Abbbott;  a girl swimming in a lake.The End of Everything by Megan Abbott // Picador, 2011 // Borrowed from the library // Read October 2011, reviewed December 2012 // Trigger warning: (skip) Paedophilia, stalking, rape/dubious consent, suggested emotional incest

    Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hood and her next-door neighbor, Evie Verver, are inseparable, best friends who swap clothes, bathing suits, and field-hockey sticks and between whom -- presumably -- there are no secrets. Then one afternoon, Evie disappears, and as a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the balmy suburban community, everyone turns to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, or upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger?

    Compelled by curiosity, Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth. Haunted by dreams of her lost friend and titillated by her own new power as the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secret after secret and begins to wonder if she knew anything at all about her best friend.


    This book is very odd. In some ways, it's predictable, but in others it's genuinely shocking. I like a lot about it, but some aspects are just complete headscratchers.

    Lizzie is a character that I would consider a headscratcher, which is a little awkward considering that she's the point of view character. For example, I can't work out the point at which she's telling the story - is it when she's still a teenager? Is it long after the events in question? I got the impression that it was the former, but the narrative voice really doesn't sound appropriate for a young narrator. It's very pretty and rhythmic, but it doesn't feel natural for such a young narrator. The imagery is really striking - the girls playing, Dusty's prom, and Lizzie's brother explaining what happened to Evie.

    Plus, Lizzie induces headscratchy behaviour in others - why does everyone in this story seem to confide in Lizzie? People who've never met her and don't necessarily know her invite her into their confidences like she's the last confessor they'll ever meet. It kinda fits into plucky-girl-detective trope she's trying to fit, but even that feels inorganic with the rest of the book. It makes sense - the point of the story doesn't seem to be the mystery of who took Evie and where, but more about the emotions of those left behind - but it feels strange.

    Lizzie's emotions in particular are strange to me. Her own obsession with Mister Verner raises some uncomfortable points - for example, the parallels between her relationship with Mister Verner and Evie's with Mister Shaw; and the fact that it is an obsession - she seems to desperately want to become Evie for him, and part of her determination to help find her seems to have come from wanting to make Mister Verner happy. There's also the fact that (perhaps because of her age), she has a very romanticised view of what's happened to Evie. It's very... Well, it's feels very weird to see her picturing a pure, sweet love for Evie when it's very obvious to the reader that that really isn't gonna be the case. I have less of a problem with it because it's clear that she's wrong (Spoiler: (skip) (and I was so glad to see the scenes where she realised this - from her brother explaining what happened to Evie, to her thinking "No, that's wrong" when Evie herself is talking about her kidnapping - although the fact that Evie is suggested to be something is a somewhat-willing victim is even more disturbing.), but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Also, I maintain that the discrepancies in Lizzie's memories are quite predictable.

    Honestly, I'm not sure whether I like this book or not. It's interesting, and there's a lot to think about, but it's a very strange read, and I'm not sure if I'd consider it a good read. All I can suggest is that it's readable and thought provoking, but all of its good points are matched by how disturbing and strange it and its characters are.

    Other reviews:
    The Book Smugglers have examined The End of Everything here. I definitely agree with everything in their review, and they have made excellent points that I've not really discussed here.
    cirquedesgeeks: Tonks: Enemy of troll-leg umbrella stands ([Tonks])
    2012-04-09 09:57 pm

    [Tonks] Review: Once Upon A Time

    Hello there! I'm Tonks, and I'm sorta new around here. I say sorta, because I've been involved behind the scenes for a while, but I've only just been given the powers of posting. I'm a PhD student in chemistry trying desperately to find something to do that isn't chemistry. I'll mostly be doing reviews though I may treat you to a rambling monologue about something if you're really lucky. I'll mostly be talking about films, books and tv shows I like, and I'm also the resident music geek, so I'll ramble about that a lot. But without further ado, I present my inaugural review.


    Once Upon a Time


    The Evil Queen being evil. And slightly sexy.
     

     Once upon a time, the standard beginning to every fairy story ever. Staid, boring, cliché and tired out. Once Upon a Time is also the title of a new TV show from ABC but it is anything but tired or old (though it may dip into cliché occasionally).

     

    The premise of the show; every story book character you’ve ever heard of, and probably a few you haven’t, have been banished from them their magical world to live in modern day America, without any memory of their pasts or their true selves. The curse that banished them is exceedingly powerful and can seemingly only be broken by one person; the lost daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, Emma Swan.

     

    It is through the eyes of Emma Swan that we see much of the story. She is brought to Storybrooke, the town where all the fairy tale characters are trapped, by Henry, the son she gave up for adoption ten years ago. Emma only means to drop Henry back with his adoptive mother, the town mayor Regina Mills, the Evil Queen, but once there she finds it difficult to leave. Henry who tells her this is because of the curse and that only she can break it. At first Emma thinks he’s merely an imaginative kid who hates his mum. But the longer she stays is Storybrooke, the stranger things seem, not least the way the mayor treats her.

     

    As the season progresses we are introduced to more and more characters, see the story through their eyes as their backstory is fleshed out through flashback to the fairy tale characters’ lives in the Enchanted Forest.

     

    The dual nature of the majority of these characters means they’re a lot more fleshed out a rounded than a lot of TV characters. The interplay and parallels between the real and fantasy worlds is interesting and the fairy stories told are not quite the ones that are generally told to children. This definitely helps to keep it interesting; elements of the stories are familiar but different enough to stay fresh. The slight changes in the fairy tales add more depth to the characters, and even some of the more evil characters seem more sympathetic in light of their embellished backstories. Themes of love and loss and betrayal fill this world, and the fact that magic has a price is drummed into you again and again.

     

    In this world, the story is filled with political machinations, intrigue and just a little backstabbing as the Evil Queen fights to keep the curse and her little kingdom intact. Opposing her is Emma Swan, fighting as much for her son as she is to break the curse (perhaps more so). Characters are complex, their allegiance is not always what you think it is, and often change sides. The ‘good’ characters are often flawed, the ‘evil’ characters have positive traits and can be sympathetic, and nothing is ever, ever what it seems.

     
    Once upon a time is excellent television; familiar enough to be easy to watch, different enough to keep it from being boring. The characters have depth and complexity lacking in far too many shows, and there is potentially a twist for every corner. Each and every episode you are essentially watching two stories unfold. So see if you can catch it and join the Emma, Henry, the Evil Queen, Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumpelstiltskin and a whole host of others as they fight the ultimate battle of good versus evil. You might just fall in love, true love.

    cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])
    2012-03-31 08:15 pm

    [Sam] Review : Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy

             


    Say one thing for Sam, say he's not very good at keeping up to date with his writing commitments. I keep getting waylaid by a million other tasks, not to mention my crippling apathy & laziness. Still, if I want to make any headway with my writing then I need to, you know, do some writing.  You have to be realistic about these things. So, without further ado, here is a very quick review of the book series I have just finished being enslaved to reading.

    The Blade Itself is the first book in Joe Abercrombie First Law trilogy. It's also his debut, and a damned good one at that. It sets up a wonderfully brutal fantasy world with hints of Middle Earth, Westeros and Sharpe-era England. The plot is a fairly standard one - a handful of disparate characters are slowly brought together and manipulated like pieces on a chess board in an epic quest to blah blah blah. Yes, yes I know it sounds like you've heard it all before. But trust me, the books have merit. The plot can't be given justice by a one-sentence description. The joy of it lies in the rich world he has created - and of course in its characters.

    You have Logan Ninefingers, the brooding warrior from the barbaric North, prone to philosophising about violence and leadership and whether a man can change his nature. You have Jezal dan Luthar, a spoiled prissy soldier swept up in matters beyond his control and forced to consider that he may not in fact be the most important thing in the world. You have Collem West, a soldier of common origin elevated, some would argue, above his station. You have Ferro, a traumatised killing machine who lives only to get vengeance on her hated enemies. You have the mysterious Bayaz, First of the Magi, a magician of boundless talent and limitless guile. Best of all, you have Sand dan Glokta, a ruthless inquisitor who was a promising young war hero until he was captured, tortured, broken and reduced to a husk of a man. 

    The characters really make these books worthwhile. Through their quests, fights, squabbles, wars, betrayals, back-stabbing, snarkery, sarcasm, highs and lows you come to know and care about them shockingly quickly. The one that makes the most impact is Glokta, as his viewpoint passages are peppered with internal monologues. Abercrombie does a great job making each viewpoint character's chapters stand out. The Northmen's chapters contain colloquialisms and oft-used phrases of theirs (the death euphemism "back to the mud" being a particular favourite of mine). Jezal's tend to have scathingly biting comebacks he utterly fails to voice.

    This is one of those series where almost every character is a bastard, going about their bastardy lives and doing dastardly barstardy deeds - and yet each character is strangely endearing, likeable even. It's not like you can't identify with any of them and so find it difficult to root for them.

    The characters fight and learn and grow against a backdrop of war an intrigue, where lies are piled on lies and betrayal isn't a matter of if but of when. It's a nasty, brutish world with little time for happiness and pleasantries. And yet it's compelling reading. The pages practically turn themselves in some parts.

    I urge you to seek these out and give them a try. If you like Game of Thrones, The Lies of Locke Lamora and other tales of fantasy-flavoured bastards' shenanigans then I can guarantee this is right up your alley. 
     


     
    2012-02-20 01:32 am

    [Susan] Review: Looks Could Kill by Nancy A. Collins

    Title: Final Destination: Looks Could Kill
    Author: Nancy A. Collins
    Published: Black Flame, 2006
    Notes: Bought in a library sale // 383 pages // Horror/Slasher // Paperback // Read 19/2/12

    TRIGGER WARNINGS: (skip) This book contains mentions of abuse (physical, sexual and drug), graphic deaths, body image issues (bulimia, surgery abuse), and trauma.

    Blurb: Strike a pose. It could be your last...

    Working on the fiendishly clever premise that you cannot cheat Death and he will eventually catch up with you no matter what you do, the Final Destination series continues with this nerve-shredding trip into the limelight. Looks Could Kill sweeps you into the ultra-glamourous world of supermodels and fashion photographers. When an upcoming starlet is horribly disfigured trying to save her friends, she is given an unexpected second chance. All she has to do is help Death do away with her friends.

    Opportunity knocks for budding young models... but Death just lets himself in.


    Judging a book by its cover: There is really... Nothing to this cover. It's not distinctive or impressive, in my opinion, and the mask doesn't even match the one described in the book. The silhouette and indistinct background really don't help to set this book apart, or give any hint as to what it might be about. I don't approve.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm going to admit that I didn't even know the Final Destination films were a thing until they started advertising Final Destination 5 on buses. Lex had to explain the basic premise (a disaster occurs, a group of people escape - and then they're killed off in gruesome disgusting ways until there are none left.). I'll be honest: this is not my scene. The only thing involving slashers (of the murderous rather than fanfic-writing type) that I've really enjoyed in the past is Hack/Slash, which has The Last Girl from a slasher attack going off to hunt down other slashers. That is a review for another day - now, I have a tie-in novel to review.

    If you, like me, work on the theory that all tie-in novels are probably quite bad to begin with, then this is something of a pleasant surprise - well, in that it's not actively bad and the prose is actually decent. There's a fair few typos, and as the characters in this book are all in the fashion world every time a character turns up is prefaced with a list of colours and labels. I ended up skimming over these paragraphs by the end, because a) my brand recognition is limited/non-existent and b) whenever someone tries to describe fashionable clothing in a book, it throws me out of the story trying to work out whether or not those colours go together. Apart from that... Prose-wise there is nothing really distinguishable about it.

    If you're wondering whether I'm lumping the deaths in with that - the various methods of death are... Inventive, I suppose, and I found the Rube-Goldberg Device nature of some of them to be interesting, but again, the writing didn't make any of them stand out to me. In most cases, I admit I was just going "Wow, they did not deserve to die like that. No, I don't care how pissed off at them you are - I don't think any of them have done anything to warrant that." I assume that what the author was going for was "disgusting" and in most cases they managed to reach it. Pointlessly, ridiculously, and often predictably, but they reached it.

    Part of my reaction is probably from the format of the book, where the characters' backstories are revealed not long before they're killed. (Am I the only one to notice that when a female character has massive issues, it's always because of something their mother did or did not do? I'm not sure whether or not this is just because of the setting - I don't want to excuse it either way - but I still find it strange and somewhat off-putting.) Most of the characters: actually kinda sympathetic! I know this is a shameless manipulation ploy, but it is effective. Honestly, out of all of the characters, I find Death to be the most petty and vindictive character in this book - if you prefer you Deaths as cute goth rockers or humourous skeletons or just an impersonal being, this is not the interpretation for you. This is a cruel death who arranges for people to suffer, who actively hates life and is trying to destroy it all. I... Didn't really like this version of Death, because he was such an asshole. Plus, I have a hard time with the premise (Sherry deciding that peoples' lives aren't as important as her own looks), which I think is partly me having a horrible case of privelege, and partly me not wanting to get into that kinda headspace. I can appreciate that her back is against a wall in almost every respect (no skills, just drove off her friends, no money coming in.) and that she's been offered magic to fix all of her problems - but I still think that the fact that apparently no one over the course of her therapy or time in hospital discussed options or plans or... Anything at all about her future with her? Cabby didn't get in touch with her after her outburst to discuss things? Also: she got hit by shrapnel that only got her arm and face, no where else on her body? I have trouble with it. And I'm not keen on the ending - I know it could be considered poetic justice, but it's just... There is enough death in this book, okay? I do not need the slasher to come back for one last scare.

    Also, is it just me or does this book have a massive plot-hole in it? (Skip this spoiler) On page 96, Death says that "It is imperative that those who escaped their deaths be reclaimed by me in the exact order in which they were originally slated to die..." (emphasis mine). The thing that gets me about this is that Cabernet is shown to die before Gunter. I know that in theory, there was probably something on the way down that could have killed Gunter before Cabernet died - but we're not shown that. We're shown Cabernet dying before he does in the premonition, and then later Gunter getting killed while Cabernet is still alive. I suppose that my real problem with this (apart from that I liked Gunter and wanted him to live with his family) is that I can't imagine why Death would take any significance from a photo, as Gunter surmises he's doing, when he knows the order they were supposed to die in. Did anyone else have a problem with this?

    My final opinion is that while this book was okay as a one-off read, I'm not sure that I'd read it again. I marked it as a 2 star book on GoodReads (Although I have had a serious debate with myself about whether or not I should knock points off for using the phrase "Fo shizzle my nizzle."), but honestly it's closer to a 1.5. If you like slasher films, or even the actual film series this is a tie-in novel for, you might enjoy it more.

    (I apologise for the scattered nature of this review - it is being written straight onto the computer while I'm feeling somewhat sleep deprived, rather than drafted a couple of times beforehand.)
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2012-02-06 11:16 pm

    [Susan] (Forfeit) Review: Only An Alligator by Steven Aylett

    Title: Only An Alligator
    Author: Steve Aylett
    Published: Gollancz, 2002
    Notes: Lent by a friend // 133 pages // Surreal? Fantasy? // Paperback // Read 28/1/12 - 30/1/12

    Accomplice is the Wonderland of a sick Alice. In this self-contained, less than comfortable city the surreal and the nightmarish is everyday. And in its midst is the simple Barny Juno, nemesis of a king demon, who must tirelessly ignore the hordes of hell.

    Judging a Book By Its Cover: I actually find this cover fairly uninspiring. It's too plain for my tastes (Yes, I find the infinite background of logos plain, mainly because I'm not keen on the logo. What do you think they actually are?), although the plastic alligator's okay I guess.

    The Review: This book was chosen to be my forfeit book, and I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to review it. Only An Alligator is the literary equivalent of a magic eye painting - you have to unfocus your brain and let it wash over you, otherwise there is no way to get through this book. By which I mean that the blurb is probably the clearest description of what is supposed to be happening in this book that you will get from it. No, really.

    I enjoy the premise of Only An Alligator - a young man pisses off a demon by accident, the demon gets the (very, very mistaken) impression that this man is a genius plotting against him, and everyone who isn't the demon is blissfully unaware of any of the attacks and schemes against them. I enjoy the ideas of it - everyone having a statue that's linked to their life, floor-lobster that breed where there's corruption, a city grown from spores. It quite funny - sometimes from an aspect of the world building, sometimes from the ridiculous situations people end up in, sometimes from their reactions to the same (most of them being acceptance of this as normal), sometimes from Bread Eggs Milk Squick and the reverse Oh Wait This Is My Grocery List. (Fair Warning: links go to TV Tropes. Click at your own peril.) The story and characters didn't really have depth, but then there wasn't room in the book for depth between all of the random events that happened. Beyond that - it left the texture of the colour of liver in my brain (not the texture of liver, the texture of the colour), and I'm not sure I would read it again.

    My only suggestion is that people read the first page and judge from that whether it's the sort of thing they would enjoy. Conveniently, I've reproduced the first page for you below!

    1: The Idiot

    Enthusiasm and coherence don't always go together.

    Maybe it was the mascara in the spaniel's eyes, or just dumb luck. Either way Barney was playing with fire. As they passed the scary glare of the creepchannel entrance, the dog began laughing so hard the mascara was blotching with tears and Barney knelt to check it out. Behind him, sour light needled from the creepchannel mouth like a drench of ice and vinegar.

    And the dog Help had always been a strange one. He could shuffle all his fur down to one end of his body, sit upright in a chair like a human, whistle after women, and attack anyone who started singing in a sprightly manner. He'd clamp his jaws and hold on, looking up at you silent and rueful of this unwanted intimacy. His ears turned blue and flowed like water. The butter-wouldn't-melt mischief of his species had reached its pinnacle with Help. So it was no great surprise to Barny when he slipped his leash and did a runner into the stewing vortex.

    Kicking through emeralds, Barny ascended the little slope, passed a beached and tilted grandfather clock and entered the demonic transit system. Of course, he was instantly assailed by searing pain, stickled spinelight and corrosive etheric bile, but he was thinking about his dad's birthday. Pa Juno had been complaining about some undulant psychic parasite in his shack. Classic poltergeist activity and everyone was sure it was the ghost of his hair come back to mock him.


    So yes. My opinion on this book is something of a resounding meh, mainly because if I try to form a strong opinion on it one way or the other my head starts hurting.

    If you liked this...

    ... Try some of Steve Aylett's other stuff! I believe that I've read Atom, which I found amusing enough to read chunks of it aloud.
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2012-01-30 12:45 am

    [Susan] Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

    UK cover of 'The Scorpio Races' by Maggie StiefvaterTitle: The Scorpio Races
    Author: Maggie Stiefvater
    Published: Scholastic, 2011
    Notes: Borrowed from the library // 482 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read 24/12/11-25/12/11

    It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

    Some riders live. Others die.

    At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

    Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.


    Judging a Book By Its Cover: I really like this cover. It's simple and eyecatching and detailed and effective, although I can't honestly say that I noticed the heart until um, now. (Dear publisher: are you trying to market this as a romance? Because if you are then I'm confused.) But yes, silhouettes and squiggles and a limited colour pallette is in fact the key to my heart, why do you ask?

    The Review: I will be perfectly honest with you: this review was impossible for me to write. I mean, I'm sure writing "This book was incredible and I wanted it to never ever end" is not considered good reviewing technique!

    I've never read anything by Maggie Stiefvater before - I have the vague understanding that her other series revolves around fairies and maybe werewolves? And one of those "all-consuming teen romances of DOOM!"? But I spotted this in the library and remember that one of the Book Smugglers quite enjoyed it - the rest is history, really.

    I really enjoyed this book. It has brilliant, realistic characterisation, a detailed world setting, fantastic writing, relationships that make my heart ache, a touch of feminism, and killer horses that rise up from the sea. I don't know how else to sell it to you, and I don't know how else to review it other than to write up the notes I made after I read it. ... This got long, I'm afraid, so I've put it behind the cut.

    THERE ARE UNMARKED SPOILERS BEHIND THE CUT, PROCEED WITH CARE.

    Let the teal deers roam wild and free! )

    YES. THAT. This book gives me ~feeeelings~ and suffice to say that I love it a lot. Kinda embarrassingly and to the point where I actually bought myself a copy after I returned the one I read to the library.

    If you liked this...
    ... and can think of any other titles REMOTELY LIKE IT please for the love of sanity let me know. This is one of my (possibly even my absolute) favourite books of 2011, and I would love to read more like it.

    1: ... Not that I've read any that do that. Nope. Ignore any occasion where I've bitched and moaned about switching to the boring character, or grumbled about Soon I Will Be Invincible not being as awesome as I expected.
    2: No really, this one actually gave me chills.
    3 Look, I have a trope that makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, which I will elaborate on when I get to reviewing The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or The Long Price. Suffice to say that inhuman overly-powerful god-like/supernatural beings who don't care about humanity but have an extremely dangerous soft spot for one particular human are an awesome thing that pleases me. It comes up more often than you'd think!
    cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
    2012-01-22 11:58 pm

    [Susan] Review: The Dream Travellers by Sherry Ashworth

    Title: The Dream Travellers
    Author: Sherry Ashworth
    Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2004
    Notes: Borrowed from the library // 330 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read 14/10/11-22/1/12

    When a mysterious lodger named Dolf Hunter comes to live with 12-year-old Sam Kenyon and his family, it's the beginning of a seriously spooky adventure. For Sam has seen the man before - in a nightmare. He discusses the shifty new tenant's arrival with his best friends: Hannah, Dean, and Amy. Together, they decide to trail him - and learn that Dolf Hunter makes strange straw dolls that will allow them to visit each other's dreams.

    At first, the children have fun visiting each other at night in their dream kingdoms; but soon, they become aware of an increasingly sinister presence. For while they're trying to stalk the mysterious lodger, someone - or something - is stalking them in their dreams...


    Judging A Book By Its Cover: This is a fairly striking cover! I like the shifts in colour (from black through a sky-like spectrum to pink - I'm not sure if the colours they've chosen for the title text are right with it, but go figure), I like the dramatic silhouettes (although I genuinely did not notice the egg and the running figures at the top until I was almost at the end of the book), I like that the silhouette of the man is faded but undeniably present, and the character he's looming behind most makes a lot of sense in context. I don't like the pose they've chosen for Amy because it looks so awkward. Is she supposed to be walking? It just looks odd in contrast to the other poses on this cover.

    The Review: I have actually been meaning to read this book for years now. The author came to my school to give a talk, and described the book1 in a way that made it sound like my sort of thing in a way that I knew her other stuff wasn't. Plus, she read out an exerpt that concluded with an image that stuck with me. The protagonists are trying to find a way into the villain's dreams, and conclude that the only place it can be is in Hannah's dreams - where she doesn't want them to be.

    Sam thought maybe she was embarrssed by her Dream Kingdom. Hannah could be a bossy girl at times, and maybe there were parts of her that she didn't want her friends to see. [...] But they had to go there anyway.

    "We don't mind what your kingdom is like, Hannah."

    "No," she said.

    "No!" said the receptionist behind the gleaming metallic desk. "No!" struck the large clock in the lobby. "No!" whistled the wind which blew through the revolving doors.

    "Why?" demanded Sam.

    "Because I only ever have nightmares." [Page 107]


    I liked the image of a kingdom of nightmares compared to kingdoms of happy dreams, which is probably why I remembered this book when I first started making a list of books I wanted to read. As to whether or not it was worth the wait...

    I still really like the ideas behind this book - the idea of dream kingdoms intrigues me, and in fact the dreams themselves are really well described and done! They have the right level of whimsy and sheer randomness you get in your dreams (like an ocean that tastes of sweet and sour sauce, or leaves that sounds like bells - plus the illogical conversations that come with them). I loved some of the things in the background of the dreams. The plot, once it got going, was fairly fast paced and I raced through the book in about an hour.

    On the other hand, it took me the best part of three months to muster the care to read further than page 94 of The Dream Travellers and I think that the writing is to blame.

    The writing is really simplistic and lacks authenticity - the dialogue doesn't feel right for starters, in that I can't imagine anyone actually saying any of the things the characters say, at least in the way they say them. There's no ambiguity, in either emotions (because the characters seem able to read each others' minds), or plot (the plot and what the characters need to do next is generally handled by having an adult appear, provide exposition, then leave. Or there is the fact that Amy somehow knows and explains the villain's appearance, plan and motivation at the beginning of the book before they even know that the villain exists, which comes up all of once.). So much of the story is told rather than shown - people's emotions are narrated to the reader rather than shown to them, and Hannah's nightmare kingdom is described as scary rather than actually being shown to be scary. It gets better as the book goes on, but it still feels off to me.

    ("Susan," I can hear some of you saying. "This book is blatantly aimed at twelve year olds at the oldest. Why are you complaining about that?" To which my response is "Because I finished reading Skellig the day I started reading this, which set the bar high - it's aimed at younger children than that and manages not to talk down to them. Because Diana Wynne Jones says you're wrong. Because being young does not mean that your stories need to be written entirely in flat notes.")

    There doesn't seem to be much struggle either - the characters achieve their goals without meaning to, or being sure how they achieved it, they have to work out very little of the plot themselves, and in some cases manage to solve the plot by accident.2 This just seems like an odd way to handle it.

    It also seems odd to me that in a book that explicitly says that every person in the main characters' friendship group is vital and important, everyone takes a back seat to Sam. He is the Hero, and his friends seem to serve mainly to help him. It's similar to having a destined hero (see... Pretty much every fantasy series with a destined hero, starting with Harry Potter.), except without Sam actually having an epic destiny. He is just the villain's primary target because the villain thinks he'll be easier to get to. I don't know - I feel that the other characters don't get enough development, that most of them seem to be more stock characters than anything else. Other people's mileage may vary - I just feel that things like "And this character can see and speak to ghosts" needs to be explained with a little more than "Well, she's Chinese and sensitive."

    (As an aside, I thought that having Amy's race not be described but mentioned with an off-hand "Once he had heard Hannah's mum refer to her as an 'elective mute'. Which was better than calling her [racist epithets here] which was what some of their class did." It was an interesting way to handle it - I'm not sure it was the best way, but it's not one I've seen before.)

    I want to say that the bad guys could have done with a little more depth (the villain's three helpers are introduced over half way through the book and serve mainly to cackle maniacally and metaphorically tie hostages to train tracks), but I think that having the main villain pose as a nice man who is just trying to be friendly was interesting. I don't think it was handled particularly well (I generally find those things more convincing if the person starts off as friendly or starts pretending early on, rather than "Oh, it's half way through the book and most of my plans are working! Well, better try to be nice to lure in the good guys."), but I think it was interesting.

    At the heart of it though, I think this is an interesting book that could have been handled better. It wasn't bad, and it's a short read (this book is really short - for some reason all of the text is double-spaced.), but it's average at best.

    If you like...


    1: I don't think it was even published at the time, which means that this title has been in my brain for at least seven years. Now I feel old.
    2: I am willing to give examples for this, but I think that would involve too many spoilers.