cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
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 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])
"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.


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 )

X-Men: First Class )

Mass Effect 1 and 3 )

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])
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])
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])
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])

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. 

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])
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])
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.


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])
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.


Cirque des Geeks

About Us

Welcome to Cirque Des Geeks! We are a trio of geeks who review books, manga, comics, tv shows, and films as the mood takes us. Our trio comprises Sam (the fez-wearing philosopher), Susan (the book-addled librarian), and Tonks (the shape-changing scientist). Our interests are wide and varied, but generally come back to science fiction and fantasy in all their forms.

Sam and Tonks can also be found working with Black Stump Films (On Vimeo and Youtube) making short films.

We do not have a formal posting schedule, but the current goal is at least two posts per week. If you wish to be kept in the loop of what's happening, please follow us on twitter - [personal profile] cirquedesgeeks.

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