Thursday, 13 December 2018

In Which The Love Triangle Is Plot-Relevant (Matched by Ally Condie)

Have some optional music, which I really think fits the world this book is set in.'"I think people should be able to choose who they match with," I say lamely.
"Where would it end, Cassia?" she says, her voice patient. "Would you say next that people should be able to choose how many children they have, and where they want to live? Or when they want to die?"' - Ally Condie, Matched, page 246

I had absolutely no interest in this book until a friend recommended it to me because she thought I would like the world. 

She was right.

If I was rating it on the world-building alone, this would have been a five star read. The Society rose after some global-warming related event (so, basically, in twelve years time this will be our future) and it controls everything. Who they marry, where they work, when they die, what art they access to... I particuarly liked the way they ensured that no one could survive without them: everyone only possesses the knowledge necessary to their jobs, so people who don't work with food don't know how to prepare it. Those who prepare it don't know how to grow it. And on. And on. And on. A few people seem to think that a normal life, even one so heavily controlled, does not constitute a dystopian world, but that normal life is only guaranteed to those who play by the rules. People who break the rules (even children) have that normal life taken away. Things that we take for granted, like the right to marry, are only allowed to those who do as The Society tells them.There are also the pills, one of which is designed to keep the people calm. Compliant. Another - the effect of which I won't spoil - raises some questions about how much Cassia and friends really know about their pasts.

It's a shame then that Cassia isn't particuarly interesting. I do like her character growth, how she slowly becomes disillusioned with the society, but if you asked me to describe her I'd draw a blank. Xander's not quite as bland. I can at least say that he's competitive. Ky is probably the easiest character to pin down - ironic, considering he puts so much effort into being invisible - he's quiet, mysterious, and more daring than you would think.

Plot-wise, we move very slowly. The love triangle is the plot. I did not feel particuarly drawn to either relationship, but there was a question throughout as to how manufactured said relationships were, whether or not the characters were being manipulated, so I'm willing to let that slide. 

Overall, I'm sad that the characters and the plot weren't at the same standard as the world-building. That said, if I happen to see the sequel at the library I will definitely read it.

Dystopia is not usually my genre. Do you love it? Hate it? Sound off in the comments!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Taylor Swift Book Tag

I listen to a lot of country music, and that started with Taylor Swift (yes, I know she's pop now, and, yes, I know that she was arguably pop as far back as her second album, no one needs to tell me this) so, for old time's sake, I thought I'd steal the Taylor Swift book tag from Books and Cleverness.

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together  
(Pick a book or series that you were pretty sure you were in love with, but then wanted to break up with.)

The Embassy Row series by Ally Carter. I loved the first two books, but I couldn't stay with them anymore after reading the final one. An absence of the awesome supporting cast, Alexei reverting back to his controlling ways, and a fate for the villain which seemed more than a little off considering the heroine's past all contributed to this book break-up.

(Pick a book with a red cover.)

A book about young love, cake, and flesh-eating horses.

 The Best Day
(Pick a book that makes you feel nostalgic.)

Love Story
(Pick a book with forbidden love.)

I just finished reading Matched, a dystopia with fantastic world-building. You can read my full review on Thursday.

I Knew You were Trouble
(Pick a book with a bad character you couldn't help but love.)

Why pick one when you can have six? Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthias, Jesper, and Wylan are trying to pull off a heist, and they're all fabulous. 
 (Pick a book that someone ruined the ending for.)

I read the blurb for the second book before I'd finished the first, and it spoilt a major plot twist. This was a good two years ago now and I'm still mad about it. I expect to die mad about it.

Everything has Changed
(Pick a character who goes through extensive character development.)

Damian Wayne from DC Comics. Depending on where you drop in (because let's not pretend I've read anything in order - for the most part I've actually been working backwards) he can be a tiny assassin, a vigilante who has to be reminded not to kill on every other page, or an anti-hero. He never stops being arrogant or insecure, but he never stops trying either.

You Belong with Me
(Pick your most anticipated book release.)

This is your tri-annual reminder that I am a huge fan of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. According to Goodreads, The Mortal Word comes on the 29th of November and it is no longer the final book in the series. Yay!

Forever and Always
(Pick your favourite book couple.)
This is way too hard a question, so I will answer it like this: I'm a sucker for a good childhood friend romance, I love stories about two people who are complete opposites falling in love, and I love it when broken people put each other back together. Just make it cute, make it funny, and make me want to throw the book against the wall every time you tease it.

Come Back, Be Here
(Pick the book you would least like to lend out, for fear of missing it too much.)

Sorry, guys, but I'm happy to lend out my books. I'm not one for keeping them pristine. A good book should look read, I think. Besides, I trust my friends. I don't think I'd actually miss a book, unless I'd just finished it and it had an ambiguous ending or I was trying to figure out where it would go next.

Teardrops on My Guitar
(Pick a book that made you cry a lot.)

"All my life, all I'd ever heard was: Emily's so shy, Emily's so quiet, Emily's so clever. Thinking back on it now, I don't know if I was ever any of those things, or if I just became shy and quiet and clever because everyone said I was." - Tanya Byrne, Heart-Shaped Bruise

First of all, let's get one thing straight. There's a reason why I have a Goodreads' shelf called ALMOST Made Me Cry. I. Don't. Cry. My heart is stone and my tear ducts are broken.

(You're a tiny excitable witch.)

I never denied that. 

That said, Tanya Byrne's Heart-Shaped Bruise brought me to the brink. It's the story of Emily Koll, who went looking for revenge and found herself sat in a young offenders' institute awaiting trial. Her voice is painfully relatable.

Shake it off
(Pick a book that you love so much you just shake off the haters.)

My old book club hated this when I forced it on them. To be fair, it's the prologue to the Runemarks series, which none of them had read, and it's Norse mythology, which is just plain weird in places.

What's your favourite music genre?

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Vigilantes Unlimited (Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee)

Bruce/Batman, a man with a butler, four (living) proteges, at least one of whom he's adopted, two on/off girlfriends, whatever the hell Huntress is to him, and multiple superhero friends: "Have I become the very thing that all monsters become... alone?" - Jeph Loeb, Batman: Hush

A mysterious new villain has appeared in Gotham city. Yes, another one. No, there are no limits to how many mysterious villains Gotham City can have. New boy Hush has somehow mobilised all of Gotham's vigilantes against Batman in a grand scheme to unmask him. Luckily, there is also no limit to how many vigilantes Gotham City can have, or Batman would've bitten the dust at the end of issue one.

The Good
  • This book has everyone. Well. Everyone who was around at the time. Who wasn't dead. Or Cass. I'm not quite sure where Cass is, but I'll assume she was somehow unavailable. Anyway. It has Nightwing, Catwoman, Robin, Oracle, Huntress, Superman, Lois Lane... I feel like I'm forgetting someone. Oh well. I'm sure they're not important.
  • Dick and Tim referencing the fact that Bruce has never mentioned this friend before, Batman referring to Oracle as "invaluable", the banter between Clark and Lois... 
  • The fact that Bruce apparently owns the Daily Planet - finally, we know why Clark never gets fired despite frequently disappearing to fight crime.
  • Catwoman repeatedly calling Batman out on his fake loner schtick. At one point he is angsting about being alone WHILST TALKING TO HER. 
  • Despite the fact that I seem to have a near-constant need to drag him, I didn't actually hate Batman in this. (High praise, I know.) Mainly because his narration is unintentionally hilarious. Apparently throwing a teenager out onto the street was "difficult" for him. Also, the sheer amount of self-depreciation when Tim was introduced. Like, he said there wouldn't be another Robin after Jason AND YET...That said, I stand by my tweet.

The Bad
  • Without giving anything away, I feel like they wasted a good plot by not making the fake reveal the real one. The real culprit was obvious, given that he'd spent half of the book popping up mysteriously with his face in shadow. 
  • The plotline with Riddler felt like it had been shoehorned in. What was the Lazarus Pit used for? Well, you'll never guess it, that's for sure.
  • Can we please talk about Huntress' stomach-baring costume? Dying from a stomach wound is supposed to be slow and agonising, which means, as much as it pains me to say it, her fashion sense is actually worse than Dick Grayson's. At least none of his costumes have been life-threatening.
In conclusion, this was a good read despite the endless melodramatic angsting. 

Are there any characters you feel a near-constant urge to mock?

Saturday, 1 December 2018

November Wrap-up

November's been a busy month. I managed to get a Christmas job, read eight books, draw three half-decent pictures, and win NaNo. 

News from the Reading Front

I did get a tremendous amount of reading done this month, although the same books are stuck on my currently reading shelf and most of these are library books so don't be fooled by the illusion of progress.

Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beaumon - 3 Stars - Review written, but I'm umming and ahhing about posting it.

Young Justice Book One by Peter David - 4 Stars

Crow Girl by Kate Cann - 2 Stars - Review

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie - 3 Stars 

Sleepless by Lou Morgan - 4 Stars - Review

Ten Little Herrings by L.C. Tyler - 4 Stars

Supergirl: Identity by Joe Kelly - 2.5 Stars 

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee - 4 Stars

Reading Challenge Check-in

Since I'm going to spend the next month wrapping up reading challenge after reading challenge, I'm just going to go over what I read for Pretty Deadly Review's Autumn Bingo card.

 One Word Title - Sleepless by Lou Morgan 
Mystery - Mrs McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie
Black Cover - Batman: Two Face and Scarecrow by Bruce Jones and Sean Murphy
Fall Release - Super Sons Volume Three: The Parent Trap by Peter J. Tomasi
Found Family - Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee
Killers - Ten Little Herrings by L.C. Tyler
Less than Three Hundred Pages - Crow Girl by Kate Cann
Features Animals - Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
LGBT+ - Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman 

The winter card is out (you can find it here) and I'm already excited because I'm currently reading Matched which, as it happens, was recommended to me by a friend, I have a whole bunch of graphic novels to read which I know will feature tech, and I always get books for Christmas.

News from the Writing Front
I won. I won and I'm not happy about it, because I don't feel like I've gotten anywhere. I feel like, this year, it became about getting words down rather than writing a story. There was no time to think. And I was miserable. Maybe I missed the support of the Creative Writing Society I was in at university, or maybe I just need some new ideas. I've been working off ideas I had as a child and a teenager for years, and none of them seem to fit together quite right. 

I'm seriously considering not doing it next year.

(Famous last words.)

Did you enjoy NaNo this year?

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

What Do We Have Against Illustrations?

Before I begin, I will hold up my hands and admit that I don't read a lot of illustrated novels. 

(Possibly that's because there aren't a lot of illustrated novels outside of Middle Grade fiction.)

Illustrations aren't really something that I think about when I'm choosing a book, but I'm not going to downplay the surge of joy I felt every time I turned a page whilst reading Northanger Abbey or Bleak House and discovered that the book was a whole page shorter than I'd thought.

Not that that's the reason why I'm advocating for them...

Nowadays, illustrated books are something that we're supposed to "grow out of" along with sci-fi, fantasy, laser tag, ice skating, drawing, watching literally anything animated, going to the arcade, fancy dress, drinking cordial, and, as far as I can work out, anything that isn't sitting in a corner, watching the news, and filling out tax forms. 

But it wasn't always that way.

The Sherlock Holmes stories? Originally published with pictures. In fact, it was common for stories serialised in periodicals to be published alongside pictures. Many writers of serialised stories (Dickens, for example) were writing for a general audience of adults and children. It was not immature or shameful to be eagerly following Esther Summerson through the trials and tribulations of her life.
From left to right: Esther Summerson, Caddy Jellyby, and Ada Clare ("Caddy's Flowers" (1853) by Phiz. This is an original illustration from Bleak House. I give credit for scanning the image to George P. Landlow.)

Of course, I'm not saying that children shouldn't be encouraged to strive to be able to read books without illustrations, but we don't have to elevate one type of story above another to  to do that. If you want someone to keep reading once it stops being a compulsory part of their education, you should be encouraging them to read what they enjoy, not what you think they should enjoy. Once a person can read fluently, it's up to them what they do with that skill. 

Creativity is important in lots of areas: science, English, art, music, drama, cooking, a number of sports, and even politics. Illustrations can encourage it - I started teaching myself to draw by copying characters out of manga books.

My final point is perhaps a little shallow, but I still think it's worth making: illustrations are pretty. I'm not someone who enjoys going to art galleries, but I can appreciate a well-illustrated story.

Do you think illustrations should make a comeback?

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Ivyclad Ideas: Manga

This is the ninth in a series of posts aimed at helping anyone joining my reading challenge to fill the board. Ivyclad Bingo permits basically any type of book: novel, ebook, audiobook, comic, manga... 

The following are not recommendations, they are suggestions.

(What's the difference?)

If I haven't read it, it's a suggestion.

If you want to sign up for the Ivyclad Bingo 2018 Challenge, there's still time! Just click here and follow the instructions.

As it's looking more and more likely that I'm not going to manage to create a post for every category, I thought I'd jump ahead to the one I was really looking forward to making. 

For anyone who hasn't read manga before, the biggest difference between it and Western comics is that manga is read from right to left instead of left to right. You might slip up a couple of times during your first volume, but, after that, it becomes second nature. by Natsumi Mukai

This might be quite a hard one to get hold of, because I've tried to buy it since I read it and had no luck, but check your library. It's the sometimes heart-breaking, but always adorable story of four +Anima, people who gained animal features/powers due to experiencing incredible trauma as children or teenagers. Cat by Kentaro Yabuki

I think this was the first manga series I ever read in full. It's about Train Heartnet, an assassin turned bounty hunter, Sven, his business partner, and Eve, a girl with nanotech powers. They fight crime and, eventually, Creed, an old colleague of Train's. It has an older teen rating, but I was only about thirteen at the time and I don't remember anything particuarly disturbing - there's a bit of nudity in one volume, and a bit of language, but the violence is only on par with superhero comics. Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

If you haven't read this, it should be on your list. Ed lost an arm and a leg trying to bring his mother back to life using illegal human transmutation. His brother, Al, lost his body and is currently a suit of armour. The only thing that might turn them back to normal is a Philosopher's Stone, so Ed joins the military as the Fullmetal Alchemist in the hopes of tracking one down. Heroes you can root for, awesome world-building, political intrigue, and conspiracy upon conspiracy make Fullmetal Alchemist one impossible to put down. Terra Formars by Yu Sasuga and Ken-Ichi Tachibana

People fight highly evolved cockroaches on Mars. I warn you now, anyone can die.!! by Haruichi Furudate

I've only read the first couple of volumes of this one, but I've seen enough of the anime to feel comfortable recommending it. A good sports anime makes you root for the characters and so, as it turns out, does a good sports manga. After losing his first and last volleyball match in middle school, Hinata vows to defeat Kageyama, a prodigy setter who is known as the King of the Court. This is not that story. The Labyrinth of Magic by Shinobu Ohtaka

What starts as a fun, dungeon-questing story a la Dragon Quest turns into a magical, political fantasy with stellar world-building. It's set in a world inspired by Arabian Nights and gives its own take on characters like Aladdin, Alibaba, and Sinbad. by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

A manga about making manga. No. Seriously. Hey, if anyone can pull it off it's the duo who made writing names in a notebook and eating crisps dramatic. Mashiro and Takagi team up to create manga and there's more than money riding on it for Mashiro, who made a deal with his crush that they would get married when she voiced a character in an anime adaption of a manga he had created.

  School Judgement by Nobuaki Enoki and Takeshi Obata

Ace Attorney set in an elementary school. If that doesn't sell it to you, I don't know what will. 

Recommend a manga to me!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

We're All Bad Here (Sleepless by Lou Morgan)

"'You shouldn't be here, dearie,'" - Lou Morgan, Sleepless, page 203

"'Grey, I know you.'
'Do you? Are you sure?' He narrowed his eyes at her. 'How well does anyone ever know their friends?'" - Lou Morgan, Sleepless, page 323

The real horror story here is the desperation kids feel when it comes to passing exams. This story could happen. Hell, it probably has happened.

Seven kids take a study drug. They still have to study - this isn't a way to get out of doing the work - but they take everything in better as a result. There's an atmosphere of peer pressure in the room in that first scene, when Tigs gives out the pills. After that, the story becomes a psychological horror with a fair bit of gore and a heavy dose of what you are in the dark. I spent most of the book rooting for Izzy to go and talk to Grey. I figured that, being good friends, they could get through it together. Thinking back over his actions and decisions, maybe I was wrong, though I'm still not surely what precisely was off about him. Not in the way I am about Mia, Izzy, and Tigs.

This is a plot-heavy book and the characters don't really grow or change, but each of them has just enough traits and motivations to keep them memorable. I felt sorry for most of them. How do you expect people to make good decisions when under so much pressure? Personally, I think exam culture is to blame for a lot of things both in and out of the story. The writing is gloriously atmospheric, the imagery is brilliant, and the tension will keep you reading.

I docked a star for the confusing ending (no idea what happened there), but other than that this was a great reason to get even further behind on NaNo.

What was the last story you read with a confusing ending?