Friday, 31 May 2013

Book: Aurelia by Anne Osterlund

Book 1 of the Aurelia Series

Aurelia is the Crown Princess of the land of Tyralt. She lives in the palace with her father, step-mother and step-sister, Melony. But there have been assassination attempts on her life and her old friend Robert, who was schooled alongside her and who is the son of the retired palace spy master, returns to the palace in order to discover who is behind the assassination attempts. At first Aurelia is completely in the dark about both the assassination attempts and the reason behind Robert's return, over the course of the book these both become plainer to her...

First I need to get the mini rant out of the way, I enjoyed this book, BUT and it is a big but, I found that my enjoyment of it would have been much greater if there hadn't been a strange lack of capital letters. At first I thought this might be some strange, and unexplained, way of differentiating between high-born and low-born characters, but after reading for a bit it became more obvious that there was no pattern to it, most of the time when a name was written it was without a capital letter. The lack of capital letters also stretched to the starts of sentences and new paragraphs, all of which I found quite distracting from my enjoyment of the book, as well as detracting from the flow of prose.

Saying that, I did enjoy the book, which I would say is a mystery, and was pleased to realise that my guess at who was behind the assassination attempt was correct (another fist pumping moment I'm afraid), especially as I didn't feel that it was particularly obvious, in fact my idea was just a hunch! However the 'main' accomplice was a surprise to me, I did not see that one coming.

The romance seemed to be a case of childhood sweethearts, or at least a pair of childhood crushes that they didn't grow out of! I thought that the relationship between Robert and Aurelia was really sweet, they recognised each others faults and liked each other despite of that.

The ending was not what I expected. I will admit that I was expecting the fairy-tale guy-gets-the-girl (or more realistically for this book girl-gets-the-guy) ending, and it wasn't that really! But that just makes me excited for the sequel, Exile, which I will be reading (and hoping that it contains more capital letters than |Aurelia!)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Film: The Hunger Games Catching Fire Trailer

I know that I haven't done a Film or TV post recently, which is more to do with not having watched anything related to books I've read than anything else, but here is the first trailer for Catching Fire.

One of the things I like about it is it doesn't even show the Quarter Quell, yet it still feels like it is teasing for the entire story! All the characters still look overfed but the hair and costumes look awesome! I'm excited for the film to come out!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Book: Shymers by Jen Naumann

Book 1 of the Shymer Series.

Olive has grown up in hiding, in the free lands, since she was 6 years old. After her father's death she and her mother are captured and taken back to Society where Olive's mother is put into 'suspension' and Olive is sent to live in an orphanage. In the society it is mandatory for everyone to know their DOD, or Date of Death, and under 18s are then split into two groups and school, the Futures and the Shymers. Futures all have DODs after they turn 18, and tend to be physically enhanced to the 'perfect' blonde appearance, Shymers all have DODs before they turn 18, are generally ignored and looked down upon in society up to the point that parents abandon Shymer children to orphanages like the one Olive gets put into. On her first day of school, at 16, Olive makes friends with a group of Shymers, including Bree and Harrison, who she instantly falls for and who falls for her instantly. Yet all the time Olive is dreaming of returning to the Free Lands, but now she wants to take Harrison and Bree with her, yet when she gets there things are not all that they were planned to be...

The story was told from Olive's point of view, with the occasional section told by Harrison, the change to which was made obvious and so it was easy to tell who was speaking. I found that this was a different way of telling the story, and in this case it was useful. There wasn't as much is he-isn't he interested speel that you get sometimes because the reader is aware that he is, so it allows more time to be dedicated to the other plot points.

The relationship between Olive and Harrison did seem to be a little romanticised, almost like a fairytale where the Prince sees the Princess and they instantly fall in love, and in fact at one point Olive does liken them to it. The fact that she (and the author) recognises that it is overly romanticised makes it far less annoying than in other books (it is an overused plot point), and this meant I could just go with it rather than getting frustrated. Saying that, though it was love at first sight, there seemed to be a lot of obstacles to overcome for them to even admit they liked each other, again making the fairytale storyline less annoying.

The Society that they were exiting from was interesting, the idea that everyone knows when they're going to die is slightly disturbing, but that wasn't what made the Society the most disturbing. It was how people were treated vastly differently because of when they would die, and to some extent what they looked like, because   Futures and Shymers appeared different. I'd be interested to learn more about the structure of the Society itself.

The twists in the story, because there always are some, one of them I found coming, and that involved the mystery surrounding Kendall, there may have been a fist pump involved when my theory was confirmed. The other major twist I didn't see coming, probably because I hadn't thought about it, if I had then wording of a certain event earlier in the novel may have given it away.

One thing that annoyed me majorly was the severe amount of good luck the main characters seemed to have, and I'm not just talking about Olive. In a situation like they were in they shouldn't have been able to find each other quite so easily!

I know I will be reading the next book simply because I have a theory about who the underground people are and I want to know if I'm right, as well as the fact that I enjoyed the book. Saying that it is far from the best dystopian book that I have read, though I do believe that the sequel will be better simply because the author has had this book to refine her writing.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Book: Captured by Erica Stevens

Book 1 of the Captive Series

Aria is the daughter of the rebel leader, but she's been captured by the ruling Vampires to be used as a blood slave. Sold at auction she becomes the property of the heir to the Vampire throne, she is resigned to her fate which she thinks is worse than death, solely sustained by the slim chance that her brother's friend, Max, who was captured with her, could save them both as promised. Little does she realise that there is more to Prince Braith than she thought, and that she would start to feel things she hadn't felt before.

First thing, Arianna (Aria's full name) is one of my favourite names, making her instantly likeable to me! Throughout the book you can see that she is feisty and independent, she doesn't like leaning on anyone, which I like about her! Her views on Braith change gradually, though she is instantly attracted to him, but because to start with it is more of a physical attraction, it makes the growing feelings more realistic.

Onto Braith, I kept forgetting that he was a Vampire (probably because Aria seemed to too half the time!), in fact none of the Vampires acted noticeably vampireish unless they were talking about their age or did something like snap a stake in half (both of which happened very infrequently). This did mean that in my head they just seemed like brutish humans, the kind of people that you tend to get at the top of a defunct system.

I wasn't too sure how I felt about the magical elements of the story, the blood leash thing, I didn't understand how it acted differently for different people, and would have liked more of an explanation. Also Braith's sight (and that is all I will say about that), I didn't quite understand how what was going on was going on. The tracking ability of vampire blood I can fully accept, they're vampires, because they're not real I can accept them doing pretty much anything so long as they're not shapeshifting or doing something ridiculously unvampire-like, knitting for example.

I guess that you could place this book into the dystopia category that I like to read, though I do tend to avoid books with vampires in them normally, not too sure why, probably a combination of not wanting to come across too main stream, feeling that the human-vampire romance thing is overdone, and that I like to feel like books like this could happen, it adds to the creepiness. I did enjoy this book though, and I will be reading the sequels (hopefully soon), and it has encouraged me to look into more paranormal books, though vetoed carefully by plot!

I mentioned above that I felt that the human-vampire romance thing was overdone, though this is most definitely the case, I didn't feel that Aria and Braith's romance feel into this category, as mentioned above I had trouble picturing the vampires as vampires at some points, this wasn't a problem, they were just long-lived kind of sadistic, really pale humans in my head (not sure where I got the pale from). But this did mean that I didn't feel that the romance was clichéd, it just fit with the story. Though I do see a potential love triangle coming into effect in the next book!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Book: Give Me Something by Elizabeth Lee

Lila is a con-artist, and she's in love with her partner in crime, Nick. She agrees to do one last hustle, not taking into account that the mark, Tucker, might be more than he seems, and not taking into account what she might feel. Tucker isn't like the normal marks, he's young, attractive (and a good kisser), and Lila finds herself struggling to keep all eyes on the job.

Warning: This book contains scenes of a sexual nature (just in case you're bothered by that kind of thing). Though I would also like to point out that they weren't out of place, it was just part of the story, it wasn't sex for sex's sake (unlike some books that I could mention), which made it so that this book didn't feel pornographic!

I first came across this book on the Goodreads 'First Read' giveaways page and liked the book summary so much that though I didn't win, I downloaded and read it anyway. I am really glad I did! This isn't the kind of book that i normally read, there isn't really any action in the typical sense of the action, but the suspense and the intrigue made up for that!

I guess you could say that this book was a kind of coming of age tale, the main character, Lila, is 20 and at college, and its a story about how she grows and tries to become a better person, with some romance thrown in of course! It is the classic love triangle, old friend who she thinks she's in love with (Nick), and the new exciting guy that treats her like a princess (Tucker) and the struggle of who she should choose. I must admit that I started out very much supporting the Lila-Nick relationship but somewhere around the middle I think I changed my mind, probably something to do with being inside Lila's head.

I found Lila really easy to identify with, not that I have ever been a con-artist, but as the blurb says what girl hasn't batted her eyelashes and worn a low cut top to get something from a guy, but she's 20, at college and clueless about what she wants from guys...literally that is every 20 year old girl! So despite the unusual job choice, she is an ordinary (well and very beautiful) girl, easy to relate to, easy to read!

As I said before, not my kind of book on the surface, but I will be looking at Lee's other books soon!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Book: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

The Delirium Trilogy Book 2

Following Lena's escape from Portland (sans Alex) she makes it to the Wilds, and is found by a group of Invalids led by Raven. The book then splits into two stories, one past and one present. The past follows Lena as she learns to live in the Wilds and what is expected of her, and the building of her friendships there. The present follows her journey as part of the resistance, where she is watching the son of the president of 'Deliria-Free America'. Little does she know that when she is kidnapped with him that he'll turn out to be more than just a poster boy, and maybe she'll learn more about deliria...

Firstly, I would have thought from looking at the way in which the story pans out it could get confusing, i.e. the switching between then and now, but in fact I didn't find it so at all, it was always really easy to tell which Lena was talking, and because it always switched reliably it made it really easy. I did miss the little quotes from the beginning of each chapter though!

I liked the way that Lena's character progresses. After what happened to Alex it would have been easy for Oliver to have her as a ridiculously love sick girl, but she didn't. Lena wasn't even really in denial, the parts where she was promising herself that Alex would be alive if she did so and so were quickly followed by her saying that she knew it wasn't real, it was just a way of pushing herself. I also like the way that when she was getting closer to Julian there was no massive amount of guilt or thoughts of having to stay faithful to someone who wasn't around at all. It was very real.

Similarly I liked the character of Julian, he had a real depth to him and I enjoyed discovering it as Lena did! And I hate to say it but I liked Julian a lot more than I liked Alex, and I like Lena with Julian more than I liked her with Alex, just a feeling I think.

Now we get to the love triangle. Just like the first book it didn't really exist, Julian and Lena grow to like each other (and it's cute!), and so it is just them. However, the conclusion of the book makes it more than obvious that in the next book Lena is going to have to make some choices, and despite the fact I don't particularly like the love triangle thing, I still have a strong opinion about who she should choose!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Book: Annoying the French Encore! by Stephen Clarke

This is a mini-ebook which is an update for Stephen Clarke's book 1000 years of annoying the French (which I have also read).

Clarke has an incredibly witty way of writing about facts, which is kind of similar to his fiction writing skills in his book A Year in the Merde (and subsequent sequels which I am yet to read, but probably should). He also wrote a book on Paris that I have read.

His style makes something that could be incredibly dull very interesting, and though 1000 years focuses on history, mainly warfare and political, as well as little annoying things like where the baguette actually came from, Annoying the French Encore focuses more on the political side of things, and this is far more recent. I must admit that I was chuckling out loud at some points! It helps if you have a basic grasp of French history and political systems (I knew the France and the Fifth Republic, and France since the Revolution modules at Uni would be useful for something!) but it isn't necessary, Clarke has a clear and interesting way of explaining things!

One of the bits that made me laugh the most was the way that he described David Cameron walking out of an EU summit because of what Sarkozy said, made even funnier to me because it was about the same subject as my placement essay is (French Financial Transaction Tax!)

This ebook also goes into things such as the French jealousy of our Royal Family (true, I saw the French papers when the world discovered Kate was pregnant, important news was most definitely relegated!), French political scandals (and how the French just blow them over), who the French blame for the financial crisis (everyone but themselves), and the rumours of the merger of the English and French navies (to avoid 'bumps').

If you have never read a book by Stephen Clarke and you are interested in France and French culture (or you want a laugh) then what are you waiting for???? Get to a book shop or amazon and order now!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Book: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

The Chemical Garden Book 1

16 year old Rhine is a twin, living in a world where genetic engineering and tinkering has ended in women dying at the age of 20, and men at the age of 25, killed by a horrific virus. To make matters worse, girls are kidnapped off the streets and sold into polygamous marriage for the elite. After being kidnapped Rhine is sold to become 21 year old Linden's wife, along with 13 year old Cecily, and 18 year old Jenna. But after talking to Linden's dying wife Rose, who has just turned 20, and other members of staff, including 18 year old Gabriel who she is instantly drawn to, she starts to realise that things in the house aren't all what they seem.

The reason I put the ages of all the characters in the above summary is because I found the ages shocking. I'm 20 years old now, it is scary to think that in this dystopian world I would currently be dying of a horrendous virus, well more realistically I would be dead, my 21st is next month.

The telling of the story seems to focus in on what has caused the problems in the world, this genetic engineering that has caused early death, probably because Rhine is so concious of it. Almost straight away you see a character, Rose, suffering from the virus, and some of the descriptions make it sound like she is old and frail and then there will be a reminder that she is only 20 and it brings back the shock. There's also the finality of it, Rhine wants to get away and live the rest of her life outside of the house where she is being held.

The love triangle that you tend to get in young adult dystopian fiction is slightly skewed from normal. Rhine is kidnapped and forced to marry Linden, but as the novel progressed you could see how she at least cared what Linden thought, and as she got to know him she started to understand him and his motives. In complete contrast there is Gabriel, who is a member of the staff, she seems almost immediately drawn to him, but what I liked about their relationship was it progressed, at one point even explicitly saying that they were friends, and they acted like it. It was refreshing not to have the whole love at first sight connection thing.

I found the dynamic between the sister wives a little odd at first, after a few days Rhine became best friends with Rose, and then she was good friends with Jenna, and despite Cecily's frequent tantrums, nobody actually hates her and she doesn't seem to hate anyone. There seems to be no jealousy or rivalry particularly. Though this could be believable as the girls all went through similar things, I found it a little hard to believe that three girls cooped up on one floor didn't have more cat fights and fallouts, particularly when they are teenagers!

This book was definitely not what I expected (though I can't explain what that was), but I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the next one, hopefully it will be soon!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Book: The Slave Factory by Julian Darius

This book follows the activities of a slave factory in Africa at the decline on of the slave trade. It follows several main people, Father Finnigan who lives at the Slave Factory, Bowlu, a slave, and Captain Stephenson, who operates a slaver.

There are two stories running side by side, the first is Bowlu's, from when he is captured from the Mene tribe to when he leaves the slave factory, and that of Stephenson's boat arriving at the Slave Factory to purchase slaves.

This book had the potential to be particularly moving, particularly Bowlu's story, but in my opinion the clunky writing detracted from it. Unlike the other characters, Bowlu's narrative is in the first person and is in broken English. I can understand why the author has done this, he wants to get across the alieness of what is happening to him, but personally I just found that it detracted from what could be an emotional tale. It also took quite a while for me to understand who was actually narrating those chapters, which again detracted from the feeling of the novel.

Another issue that I had was that the ending was very abrupt. It didn't actually culminate a plot arc, it just gave you a run down of what happened to the ship, the slaves and the workers at the Slave Factory, ultimately it left me wondering what the point of the story was, which says a lot when any book like this should effectively be about why slavery is bad, or it should leave you with the impression that it is more accurately.

The one thing the book really left me grasping after was why Father Finnigan sent Bowlu away (and why he's pretending to be a priest), it just didn't make any sense because it wasn't explained.

I felt disappointed in this book, where it should have left me reeling about the horrible way people were treated during slavery, it just left me thinking about the clunky writing.

Monday, 20 May 2013

A Comparison of dystopian novels: Love and Sex as Rebellion

The Starting Note

I had always intended to do another of these posts, but I hadn't a concrete idea on what to do it on until the topic of the place of love and sex in rebellion came to me. I have also read a few more dystopian novels since the last comparison post, so I will be referring to those books too. As before a list of the dystopian novels referred to is at the below.

I had planned on posting this a few days ago, but I remembered that Delirium by Lauren Oliver, was in my 'to read' folder on my Kindle, and considering that dystopia is completely surrounded by the supression of love, I thought that reading that before posting was prudent.

EDIT I have now linked the book list at the bottom to any previous posts I have written on them.

Please be aware that what I write below will contain spoilers from the books listed below. Also please be aware that I will refer to sexual relationships in this post.

A Comparison of Dystopian Fiction: Love and Sex as Rebellion.

This topic doesn't really cover all dystopias, there are some such as After the Fear, Never Let Me Go, Masque of the Red Death, Prison Nation and Divergent (and sequels) where sex and love between people aren't seen as a problem at all, there is still completely free choice, well apart from the obvious divisions between people due to physical barriers. It is also worth noting that the book Reform didn't really go into anything related at all, and so it is unknown what the position is on sex and love in that dystopia.

The prime example of sex and relationships as rebellion is Orwell's 1984, where Winston and Julia have sex in various places because of the rebellion it signifies, this is particularly backed up with Winston's thoughts the first time they have sex about defying the Party. Winston and Julia's relationship then does progress, to the point that before they go into the Ministry of Justice they promise that they won't betray each other (the fact that ultimately they do is besides the point, that is more about making the point that the Party can break anyone, making it one of the bleakest endings to a dystopian possible). Though this started off as rebellion, it ended in a relationship, probably because it is human nature to crave companionship (and to some degree sex.)

In a similar way Atwood's characters in a Handmaid's Tale, Nick and Offred, have an affair in the rigorously controlled Gilead, where they could both effectively be killed for having sex with each other. Again this comes down to the human need for companionship and sex, though on Offred's part at least, we have no real idea about Nick's thoughts, actually having sex for rebellion's sake doesn't seem to be the case. Again, as with Winston and Julia, and perhaps more so, Offred and Nick's relationship grows, she herself tells us that she told Nick her real name, something that the readers themselves don't even know for sure (personally I agree with the logic that her real name is June, as that is the only name listed from the Red Centre that isn't accounted for later in the novel).

On the other hand, looking at Huxley's Brave New World, the idea of relationships is completely forbidden, sex is a recreational activity to be shared with everyone. Though there is a small love story, it is one sided, and it is from the perspective of John the Savage, who wasn't brought up in the World State and so basically has normal ideas about emotions. This means that a relationship would be rebelling against the state, but ultimately in this case couldn't happen, simply because the state has everyone so successfully controlled.

An interesting book to look upon in this light is The Program, which is a newly released book which I would highly recommend. In this book the protagonist Sloane, and her boyfriend James, have a relationship which regularly involves sex. Instead of being frowned upon this is instead almost encouraged as the controllers of the Program believe that it reduces the risk of 'catching' suicide. Upon Sloane's induction into the Program she begins to forget James (which is what the Program is aimed to do), and meets Realm. Though you get the idea that sexual relationships are frowned upon within the Program, everyone seems to think that Sloane and Realm are having sex (they're not) and no one does anything to stop them. However, after being released from the Program, Sloane is told to stay away from James (who has also been cured), which she doesn't listen to, going to the extent of meeting up with him constantly and even having sex. Though having a relationship isn't against the state, the Program seemed to want to stop people feeling the same as they did before the cure.

Looking at dystopias where the oppression of women is the key to the dystopian rule, so books such as 2022 and Whores, as well as the classic The Handmaid's Tale already mentioned above, sex and relationships can be used to rebel, like the aforementioned Offred and Nick relationship, though this isn't always the case. In 2022 there is no active sexual rebellion, though the culmination of the plot is due to Natasha rebelling against the idea of becoming a concubine to her brother-in-law, so even though she doesn't commit an act of rebellion through sex, she is rebelling against it. Similarly in Whores, women are allowed to have sex, and in fact men are encouraged to view women as sex objects, though there is no real case of anyone saying no outright. On the other hand, it is actually stated by Mae that she turned to lesbianism because of the oppression towards women, but she was originally straight, in a way this is also a form of sexual rebellion.

The introduction of the love triangle into young adult dystopias has also impacted on this. Though some relationships are approved of, others might not be, which could make acts of love and sex more rebellious. Taking one of the most famous examples from the below list, Katniss and Peeta's relationship in The Hunger Games is a state-approved one, in which they are believed to be married and having a baby, despite the fact that they are only 17, the only person who seems to really disprove about this is Katniss' mother, well and Gale, but this is where it becomes more rebellious. Despite having an 'onscreen' relationship with Peeta, Katniss still considers how she feels about Gale, even kissing him. Though at the surface not an act of rebellion, she is doing something contrary to that which the state decided.

The Glimpse contains another prime example of the love triangle at work. Though it doesn't have the same stringent 'matching' system as Delirium has, there is a very formal (and early) system of getting married. But the protagonist Ana falls in love with someone else, and after effectively being forced into the 'marriage' she escapes to find the boy she's in love with. Though in this case I think that the rebelling is more because of being in love, rather than by being in love itself.

Moving on to the dystopias that are a lot more restrictive in the sense of who you can love and have sex with. Though in the Selection you can love pretty much who you want, except with the same social pressures as are found in today's world but with the caste system exaggerating them, you aren't allowed to have sex until you are married, in fact America even has to sign something to promise that she is a virgin. This would make having sex before marriage one of the ultimate acts of rebellion, though it is presumed that none of the characters have done it. However, in the first few chapters of the book it is clear that America and Aspen, who sneak around behind each others back, go as far as they can without actually having sex, and by pushing their luck they could be seen as rebelling. Upon America's entrance into the Palace it is explained that the girls are not allowed to have relationships of any kind with anyone other than Maxon, and when Aspen appears he and America rebel against this rule and kiss a few times. Rebelling through being in love becomes an even bigger issue in the sequel The Elite, in which America's friend and fellow member of the elite, Marlee, is punished by having her caste stripped away and being publicly whipped, just for being in love with someone else.

Going even further than the Selection and the Elite, is The Ultimate Choice, in this book, overpopulation forced the dystopia and so there were restrictions put on who could have children and who could even have sex. The protagonist, Cassie, breaks these laws once and gets pregnant (and then is forced to elect for suicide), though it somewhat seems like she did it accidentally and wasn't consciously rebelling. However the rebel group that she runs into, and accidentally joins, are very much rebelling through relationships and sex (to get illegal children), they know what they are doing and continue to do it. It does seem though, that with that many people making up the population, it would be easy to do something like having sex, without anyone ever realising, which would somewhat detract from the point of rebelling.

Finally there is Delirium, and the subsequent books (though at the moment I have only read Delirium and two short stories Annabel and Hana from the series). The dystopia in Delirium is based on a forced cure for love, when a citizen reaches 18 they are 'cured'. If a teenager falls in love before the age of 18, then they are cured early, though this can lead to complications mentally, the impression is given that this actually happens fairly regularly, though the intensity of it does seem to progress as the novel goes on. It is worth noting that in this case the love that is being cured is not just romantic love, but is love for everything, family, hobbies, pets, friends etc, though predominantly the story is about romantic love. Boys and girls are kept separately until they are cured, and as soon as they are cured they are 'matched' with another person who they will marry after they have finished their education.

Firstly there is rebellion such as that of Lena and Alex (who only pretends to be cured), they rebel simply by being in love, and wanting to be in love. This is also similar to Lena's mother who loved her husband despite him being unable to love her, the cure didn't work for her, and that she loved her children and showed it in ways that other parents were incapable of. Then there is the second type of rebelling, such as Hana does, which is elaborated on particularly in Hana. She goes to illegal coed parties (with illegal music, after curfew) and a lot of people going there are kissing, having sex, doing what teenagers that are nearly 18 normally do in today's world. Hana also shows that not everyone is into it for the love, some are for the desire (which is also undesirable according to the state), shown by Steve's reaction to Hana's questioning, and the room full of girls' underwear pegged out. It is important to note that this form of rebelling would today be seen as standard teenage rebelling, and so shouldn't be taken as a serious rebellion against the state (though that is of course how they see it), and the true rebellion comes when the people in love start to do things such as runaway to the Wilds rather than when they kiss someone or have sex.

Another thing that is noticeable about Delirium is that the state takes a stance on sexuality (compared to most dystopias where same sex couples are simply not mentioned), and though the state says that they are unnatural, you do see it happening, particularly in Hana, though the rebellion for same sex couples is more or less the same level as for mixed sex couples in this instance.

Ultimately it is clear that a lot of the rebellion behind dystopian novels comes down to love, not just of the romantic kind, and actually in some cases despite of the romantic kind (mainly thinking of the Hunger Games in this instance). Even some of the dystopias listed in the top paragraph because love and sex aren't oppressed or restricted in them rely on love to get the revolution and rebellions going!

The Novels

It is probably worth noting that some of these I haven't read in a while, and that several are counted as Young Adult novels, though in my opinion this does not mean that the dystopias they portray are any less suitable for adults. Reviews of several of the below books (particularly the more recent ones) can be found on my blog. I have left a gap before listing the dystopias I have read since writing my first dystopian comparisons post. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Book: The Little Black Book of Tea by Mike Heneberry

Its not often that I read non-fiction books but I read this one all about tea. It may seem like a slightly strange subject to want to read about, but I love tea and wanted to know more about it. I found it a really interesting,  and I finally discovered what the difference between black, green and white tea which I wasn't clear on before. I also found it really easy to read, one of the reasons that I don't read non-fiction books very often is that I sometimes found them heavy going. This one was clear, well laid out and very readable.

One thing I didn't particularly liked was the strange pictures that popped up in places for no apparent reason, they looked a little bit like clip art and not what I would  have expected from a book like that.

There was clear information about useful things like steeping time for different teas, and it told you how to understand the grading levels of tea (which is again something I had no clue about before), it also gave you a range of recipes, not just of things made with tea, but also of things to have with tea, and it amused me to see that one of the recipes was a substitute for clotted cream, which apparently can't be found in America, Americans being quite clearly the target audience for this book. Personally I would have preferred it if it wasn't aimed at a particular nationality, but ultimately it didn't really make much of a difference.

This is a light, quick read, with interesting information and clear descriptions, sections and recipes!

Book: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Lena lives in the future USA, when love has been classified as a disease and everyone is 'cured' at  18 so that they never fall in love. Lena is counting down the days until her procedure when she meets Alex, and falls in love. As she starts to feel things that are taught are illnesses she starts to question the society around her.

This is another book that I chose to read because it kept being recommended to me, but I had previously dismissed it because of the blurb. I'm glad that I didn't listen to myself originally! I really enjoyed this book.

Something pretty refreshing for a dystopian novel was that there was no love triangle (though in a society that 'cures' love that shouldn't be too surprising really!), though Lena is very naive about it, in her view Alex is completely god-like, without a flaw, which is frustrating as a reader because everyone has flaws, but at the same time it is understandable, and actually a sign of good characterisation for Lena, she is after all a teenage girl and that is how any teenage girl would be in that situation.

As I mentioned already, Alex was far from my favourite character, I'm not too sure why but there was just something about him. Lena and Hanna had a good dynamic between them, it felt like their friendship was real, it really seemed like there was a life time of things behind the relationship.

I found that it was good for the expansion of the dystopian setting that there were quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Some of them were simple children's rhymes, some was the scientific things about the disease called love, and some banned quotes etc. Without those I think that the dystopian society wouldn't be as concrete in the reader's mind, as we'd only know what Lena knows, which ultimately wouldn't be as much.

There were a couple of twists in the story, the first of which I didn't see coming until a couple of sentances before the reveal, and the second one right at the end, I saw something similar happening but without the finality that it did happen with, all it leaves me with is questions about how Lena will move on from the events in Delirium.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Book: Section 132 by Helga Zeiner

The story follows a 13 year old girl called Martha who is sold into marriage in one of the extremist Mormon compounds practising polygamy, and follows her life as a Mormon wife. It also follows Richard and his company that buys the land next door and seems to get drawn into the abusive world of the Bishop's family.

Before I even start WARNING this book contains distressing descriptions and adult situations. This includes one fairly thorough description of a rape, as well as violence and other sexual scenes. I think that it is especially important to note that the rape scene is involving the 13 year old Martha.

Though I feel that people should be warned about the above issues, I think it is also important to note that they are necessary. The author could not successfully create an extremist Mormon environment without taking into account that young girls are sold into marriage and effectively raped, and that some of the men doing this must enjoy it. What adds to this disturbing image is the fact that even the 'good guy extreme Mormons' (i.e. the ones that don't like Brother Jacob/the Bishop) think about their young wives and what they are required to do, the one instance that jumps to my mind is Brother Lucas and his young twins, who he has threesomes with regularly.

Saying this it did seem at times that I was reading two different books, particularly near the beginning, before Adam became involved in the story and Richard and Brother Jake started interacting. Richard's story, including his ever so blatant love interest and assistant, Daisy, where very real and modern, exactly what you would expect a property developer to be like ultimately, and then you do have the compound, where putting it mildly, things are backwards.

The love stories in the novel, there are two. Both of which I saw coming, though one of them was blazingly obvious from the beginning. The other one I guessed would happen before I got the first 'confirmation' of it, and actually that story kind of gave me the fuzzy happy feeling, which is quite a feat in an otherwise a very depressing novel.

The two 'growth' plot lines that were done, that of Martha and that of Richard, were well done, though I believe that Martha's was much better written (though this could be solely down to the fact that the author has been a teenage girl and so had more of an idea about what she was writing about). I especially liked the way that Martha, and Jake Jnr when he played a bigger role, questioned the religion. There was no straight out 'this is a load of rubbish', it was a slow realisation and questioning, particularly for Martha who started out in the novel as a happy bride.

This was a well written, slightly disturbing, and though provoking book, which I suspect will be on my mind for quite a while. I would say read it, if you feel you can handle the darker aspects of it, especially as it could get quite dark.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Book: Poison Study by Maria V Snyder

Yelana is saved from execution and given a second chance at life by Valek, as a food taster for Commander Ambrose. As she learns about poisons and other stuff she discovers more about herself and the people that know her, and tries to escape from the dark past that put her in prison in the first place.

I really really enjoyed this book, much more than I thought I would. And Valek, I don't normally tend to like male characters quite as much as I like Valek, but there was something about the way he is written that just makes him seem so genuine, and that really is a sign of good writing. Yelana grew on me, I wasn't into her all that much, she seemed a bit whiny, particularly for a murderer, but as the book got on and she realised things and realised what she was thinking I started to like her. Definatley enjoying the dynamics of team Yelana-Valek (and wouldn't want to be against them or anything!)

The big twist, every novel has one though sometimes they are smaller, and this one I did not expect on any level, took me completely by surprise, though thinking about it there are some clues early on that should have clued me in! Though I don't think that the big twist actually changes anything about the story, it explains why there are no magic users in Ixia, but other than that it isn't actually a big plot point.

One thing I did kind of struggle to figure out was what genre this book fits into, I don't think I fully came up with an answer in my head, I guess fantasy simply by virtue of the fact that magic plays a part in the story, but that seems too broad. For me it just doesn't seem to fit any, which personally I think makes a good book!

All I can think of now is how much of a shame it is that I have a lot of books to get through before I can read the sequel Magic Study!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Book: Petite Mort by Beatrice Hitchman

The novel follows the story of Adèle Roux, a young French girl who goes to Paris hoping to become an actress in the age of silent film. She gets involved with the Durands, André a special effects guru and inventor working for Pathé, and Luce, a famous actress. La Petite Mort is a film that contains a never before seen effect (that is actually never really explained) and a part which Adèle is offered and plays. In 1967 the missing film of la Petite Mort is found and Juliette, a journalist, starts to investigate its disappearance, and the still missing fragment including the 'effect', she also starts interviewing Adèle for what she says will be her memoirs.

This book wasn't quite what I expected it to be, though I did enjoy it! I lived in Paris for 6 months and so the street names, arrondisments and places all seemed familiar to me, though I'm not sure I would have understood the references to the arrondisments (I've explained arrondisments at the bottom of the review for anyone who doesn't know what they are) without having lived in Paris.

I expected that the book would follow Adèle through the making of the film, whereas in reality the film barely got a look in, though it was a necessary ingredient towards telling the story. In a way I guess that this book was more of a coming of age story, for Adèle at least, though I was shocked when I realised just how young she was (during a conversation with Luce she says that she is 17 about half way through the novel). The story was very much that of Adèle's private life, and ultimately about her love life. Though there were interruptions telling of Luce and André's pasts (as well as Juliette's side of investigating the missing film and interviewing Adèle.)

I wasn't too sure what to make of the interruptive style. At first glance it wasn't particularly clear who each chapter was about, with the exception of Adèle's chapters, who it was was written in small letters at the start of the chapter. However once you started reading it became instantly clear who the chapter was about. Adèle and Juliette's point of views were both first person narrative, though they were easy to differentiate as Adèle's was a more day-to-day account, whereas Juliette's was solely based on the film not her personal life. Then Luce and André's point of views were both in the third person and were a lot more compressed time wise, a lot happened in a short space of time. On top of this there were large jumps in the time between their chapters, though this didn't detract from the story as those jumps were necessary to get the story moving.

The twist that is mentioned in the blurb: I did not see it coming. I was convinced that I had it figured out when something happened that I wasn't expecting, but then it took me right up until Juliette started to explain what happened to Juliette that I really got what it was! As a piece of suspense writing this was fantastic! Hats off to Ms. Hitchman.

I would recommend this book in the blink of an eye, I found that Adèle's story was captivating, and each of the characters had a depth to then that really added more to the story, gripping and surprising!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Book: Six of One by JoAnn Spears

This is a rather odd take on the divorced-beheaded-died-divorced-beheaded-survived tale most people know of Henry VIII and his wives.

The story follows a contemporary woman, Dolly who is about to marry a man called Harry, who in turn has 6 ex-wives (all alive) and three children; Mary, Lizzie and Neddie. At first I thought that the similarities between Harry and Henry VIII were a bit annoying and a lack of imagination on the part of the author, however once the concept of characters being 'cosmically linked' was explained, I understood why this was as it was and saw that this was how the plot would work.

On the eve of her wedding, Dolly is transported to a place between life and death (at least I guess that is where it is) and speaks to a variety of Tudor women, including Henry VIII's grandmother, mother, sisters, daughters and wives, among others. The lesser characters, so not the wives or Lady/Princess/Queen Elizabeth I, didn't seem particularly fleshed out, but then again they didn't really need to be, they were only in the frame for a short while.

The wives were interesting. The author has taken the classic stories about the wives and changed them so that each of the wives has a surprising reveal, none of which I could see coming. It was quite refreshing to hear the wives' tales without any input from Henry or any other male character. Even more surprisingly perhaps, is the fact that the least surprising story was that of Ann Boleyn. In fact this was also the story I liked the least, the others all seemed like events that by some strange twist of fate could happen (particularly for Katherine Parr and Anne of Cleves), whereas Ann Boleyn's tale required things to break the laws of the world we live in. I suppose this seems a little strange considering that the concept of the book is based on that of an afterlife, heaven, hell and God, and also from someone who has a read a lot of fantasy. In this case Ann was the wife that I believed the least, she just didn't quite have the spunk that I have come to expect from fictional Ann or Anne Boleyns.

Also I was surprised about the lack of information about Catherine Wiloghby, given her part in the story. Her name is mentioned, as well as a few references to her mother in Katherine of Aragon's Tale, and a couple of sentences explaining her marriage to Charles Brandon and subsequent interest into her from Henry VIII. It felt like more could be said about her, I think it would have been interesting to have written about what happened to her after the death of Henry VIII to compare with what happens next for the contemporary characters.

It sounds as if I am being particularly negative about this book, I am not meaning to, it is very different and original. And though it does not follow the standard constraints of historical or Tudor fiction, it is worth reading, particularly if you are looking for something light and easy to read.

Book Mini Review: The Boyfriend Bylaws by Susan Hatler

Not the kind of book I normally go for, as in set in the modern world and about little more than romance as this one is.

I enjoyed it as a light read, it was really easy to read and move on with, and ultimately is a believable situation about people being in love with the idea of being in love.

Very enjoyable light read.

Book Mini Review: Free Four: Tobias Tells the Story by Veronica Roth

Through necessity this has to be a short review, there is not a lot that can be said about a 15 page 'book'. This is a retelling of one of the scenes in Divergent, told from Tobias' point of view. I thought that it was interesting to see what he thought of Tris, Eric, and the other initiates. I don't think I would want to read a whole book from his point of view, and not just because he is male, but because he knows too much. However, I do think that reading a pivotal scene like this one from his point of view adds to the story and gives it more layers.

The one bad thing about this though was that it took a lot to actually be able to find it! It was one of those mini e-book novellas that did not want to be found! Thankfully in this case I triumphed and managed to read it!

Book Mini Review: 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming by James Powell

This is only a short review because I found that there isn't really that much to say about the book. It is about the effects that global warming has on the world, and as you can tell from the title it is told in 2084. The protagonist interviews various people about the effects on their part of the world, their organisations, their economies etc. It is basically all doom and gloom, lots of people died, most of the world is underwater, indigenous species have died out, economies have collapsed, famine, war, lack of water. If you're looking for a cheery, easy read this is definitely not it. It is interesting, up until a point, though it is also very heavy going, especially as there is a lot of technical information, particularly relating to sea levels and temperature rises.

Book: Prison Nation by Jenni Merritt

Back to the dystopian stuff I'm afraid, though I do have some other genres lined up to read, promise!

I've thankfully just discovered that there is going to be a second book (called Lady Justice), which is good as I felt that the story has much further to go. Though at the same time if there was no further books I can see how Prison Nation could just be left there.

Something important to note is that the heroine, Millie, isn't your typical 'hate the Nation' type, well to start with. In the Nation, babies born in jail are kept in jail until they turn 18, then they are assessed for parole and released. Obviously the information they are told is very limited and what the Nation wants them to hear, so in essence they are brainwashed perfect citizens. Millie doesn't question the Nation much until people suggest she does, notably Reed and Orrin, but when she does she starts wanting to topple the Nation, this starts about the point that she discovers the truth about her parents.

I guess that looking at the book there are 3 love interests; Jude, Carl and Reed. Reed is the obvious one, it is obvious from the moment they meet that Reed and Millie are going to fall in love and become the, kind of typical, kick ass anti-dystopian rebel couple. Then there is Jude, he's a prison guard, a GF, and one of the only ones that has ever been friendly to Millie. But as is frequently pointed out, Millie is beautiful, I find it difficult to believe that we have heard the last from Jude or that he doesn't want something with Millie. Then we get to Carl. At first I thought Carl was going to be Reed, i.e. Millie's life love and half of the kind of typical, kick ass anti-dystopian rebel couple. It didn't take me long to realise I was wrong, and I didn't actually see the surprise reveal coming about Carl's identity.

The mystery I did solve early on, and certainly before we were told (well Millie was told) was the identity of Orrin's missing younger son. Thankfully I thought that the reveal was sweet rather than cliché, particularly the way that it was revealed, not your normal secret identity reveal! Plus the reveal itself didn't actually change the story, it just neatened up the plot slightly!

It took me a couple of attempts to get started with this book, but I think that was more to do with me and my state of mind rather than the book itself, as once I got into it I certainly enjoyed it, and I will be looking out for the release of Lady Justice to see where Millie 924B's story goes...or should I say the way that Millie Summers' story goes.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Book: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I was a little concerned after reading some reviews saying that this book wasn't as good as the first one, I have to disagree, I found Insurgent to be as good as Divergent was.

I felt that Tris/Beatrice/whatever she would like to be called at whatever point, was developed well, how she felt about things, the moments she suddenly realised things, they were all in line with how a person might feel in those situations. The one problem I had with all of the characters was that no one seemed really effected by any of the deaths, I realise that the rebel-war thing doesn't lend itself to grief, but it was a little unbelievable.

I had read complaints about how the big reveal at the end wasn't worth it, I can admit that I did find the reveal predictable, but ultimately it was really well built up and there are still questions that I want answers to, which unfortunately I have to wait until October to find out!

There were points in this book where I was surprised, namely by who betrays Beatrice, did not see that coming! Though I won't say any more about that in the interest of spoilers!

I also really liked the fact that Tris/Beatrice's and Four/Tobias' relationship is far from perfect, I suspect if someone looked into it they would find that they argued more than they kissed in this book!

This book has really left some questions, and there was an issue resolved that I thought would take up the entire trilogy has kind of made me slightly confused and interested in what is going to happen in the next book! Bring on October!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Book: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I was a little sceptical about this book at first, the blurb didn't actually sound like something that necessarily appealed to me, though I am glad to say that I was proved wrong through reading this. The reason I chose to read it was that it seemed to come up everywhere being recommended to me.

It still seems a little strange to me that humans would split themselves up and identify themselves by one trait, it seems contrary to human nature almost, but I guess that is the whole point of Divergent and Tris/Beatrice's story; that you can't be defined through just one of bravery, selflessness, peace, intelligence and honesty, that is not how human nature works.

What I noticed in this book more than in most young adult dystopian fiction is that the issue of sex is handled straight on, its not a kiss that makes the main character feel warm and fuzzy, or something that is presumed to have happened but not actually talked about, it is a real fear of Tris' and she has to face it. Add this to the fact that there was actually no love triangle, and it seemed very different.

I have been left with questions though (which is good ultimately), what on earth is going on outside the city? Why is the city fenced off? Who else is out there? Those are questions that I kind of hope will be answered in the next book (which I will be reading soon worry not!)

I was also very happy to have successfully worked out Four's real name before it was actually revealed! See if you can too!

Though 'Four' and Tris were well written, and well fleshed out, the other 'sideline' characters seemed less so, with the possible exception of Peter, who is, quite frankly, a maniac. Christina and Will both seemed to be so changeable, there was no concrete centre to their friendship with Tris, making them less real to me, in real life people aren't quite so fickle, well some are but not all. Uriah just seemed to be there to make Tris look accepted into her faction, showing that she isn't an outsider, again his depth has yet to be revealed. Eric and Jeanine (the 'bad guys') similarly seem to have less depth, they're just seen as evil and manipulative, there's no real information about what motivates them, other than power.

I realise that the above probably makes it sound like I didn't like the book, but that is completely wrong! I really enjoyed it and will be reading the next one, I just hope that the other characters will gain a deeper sense of being so that they fit better with the story.

Book: The Green Rider Series (so far) by Kristen Britain

The series so far comprises of: Green Rider, First Rider's Call, The High King's Tomb and Blackveil, in that order. 

When I started reading this series I had no idea that it was incomplete, though I am glad it is not, particularly as whilst getting to the end of Blackveil all I could think was that the story couldn't end there, it would have been too rushed, and leaving too many questions. I'm not sure whether or not it is because there is currently no book following Blackveil, but it felt less like a finite ending than the other three books, and the story is definitely not finished! My other note about reading them is that I got distracted about half way through The High King's Tomb, I'd say that this must be because I didn't find it as engaging as the other three books, though after starting the second half of the book I did find that I literally read straight through that and Blackveil.

It is easy to see the development of the writing style and the story, as the books go on there are more and more plot layers and levels, and actually even from the beginning the overlying plot is the same, and appears that will remain so over the rest of the series. 

At face value it seems that the main character, Karigan won't-attempt-to-spell-her-surname (or say it), has an awful lot of luck, she goes through a shocking series of events and escapes alive, though she doesn't escape unharmed, which makes it add a little credibility. It works because it is explained how she is saved or how she works it out, and she isn't just a weakling, she can defend herself.  

There was also the fact that in the series women and men seem to be equal in the society, there is very little problem with women walking around in trousers, or doing jobs that men would traditionally do in fantasy worlds, this is quite refreshing in the fantasy genre. 

On to the love story in the books...well it is very much a background part of the story, it's there but it isn't the  main story, and without it the story would still work. At first I was all for Karigan and Alton (as opposed to Zachary) but now I just want to punch Alton (anyone having read Blackveil will understand that!) though I'm still not sure where I stand on her and Zachary. 

All of the characters, even those on the sidelines, are well rounded out and feel like real people (well with magic) and it is good to see that 'good' characters do bad things, and they don't get away with it. This is another of those series where good and evil aren't quite as clear cut as you think they are (Mornhaven aside), everyone has a bit of both in them, and even the 'bad' guys, like Grandmother, are doing things for reasons that they think are sound. 

You should read this series if you're into fantasy, there are kick ass characters, real emotional complications, and adventure, everything that is needed for a good fantasy!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Book: The Program by Suzanne Young

Worldwide teenagers are becoming more and more depressed and committing suicide, it has been declared an epidemic. The Program has been designed to help sufferers, but is help worth having your sense of self erased?

I was a little nervous about this book at first, because of the content and how reading it may effect me, but I am glad that I read it, it is incredibly powerful, moving, and, surprisingly, hopeful.

At first I had a little difficulty determining whether or not Sloane was male or female, and by the time I figured out she was female for definite I had decided that it didn't matter. I also found it slightly confusing about how Sloane's brother, Brady, and his best friend (and Sloane's boyfriend), James, were in the same year at school but older, it made a lot more sense once Sloane told us that there was 11 months between her and Brady, making September and August workable birth months. 

This story had the real potential to be a downer, with all the characters being depressed and the ending turning out bad for someone, but though there were definitely bad events that happened in the novel, there was always an underlying idea of hope. At first it was the strength that James and Sloane gave each other, then it was the idea that even if you are completely erased and don't remember your past, if you love someone, whether romantic love or friendly love, you'll be drawn to them again and can recapture how you felt (even if you think that you are just capturing it!). This is particularly noticable with Sloane, James and Lacey post-Program (though you only hear about Lacey pre-Program, you don't actually see her).

In some ways the plot is a little predictable, it was obvious from the very beginning that a certain character was expendable and would commit suicide (which was necessary from a plot point of view for James, and then Sloane, to be committed to the Program), and the ending was partly predictable in relation to who chose who.

Differently  from most young adult dystopian fiction, the love triangle wasn't really a love triangle. Sloane loves James, she did before the Program, during the Program, and sort of after the Program, in contrast to Realm who when she is with, she feels guilty, there's never really any choice, and I don't think that the characters even think that there is a choice. The relationship between Sloane and James also feels really real, there's the plastic heart ring that has no value but has sentimental value to them, there's the place by the river, there's a lot of shared grief, instead of being a one dimensional relationship it was all there, it was all believable. 

This book is worth a read, definitely, and despite the subject matter, I actually came away from reading this feeling good, as I said before, in my eyes this book is all about hope.

Book: The Ultimate Choice by Lisa Hinsley

What would you do to save someone you love? What would you do to save your country and your people? Would you make the Ultimate Choice?

First off is a warning, this book can get pretty graphic, there is an attempted rape scene that is described in more detail then is comfortable (but the fact it does make you feel uncomfortable should tell you something about the quality of the writing!) and there are also some pretty graphic descriptions of the 'disease'.

It's set in London (well I think that it is London, saying in England is probably a better thing to say, you'll know why if you read it), and the country, and the rest of the world, are suffering from Overpopulation and as a result, enforced rationing, of which there are not enough of, and legalised (and encouraged, even enforced sometimes) suicide. It follows Cassie, who broke the rules by having sex without a permit, and getting pregnant (how she got found out), she's then forced to commit suicide (on a TV Game Show no less) in order to save the life of her son Jack, who she only had to herself for a week and is never actually present in the novel.

After reading the opening chapters, of Cassie's time on the game show, the Ultimate Choice (where 'suiciders' have people chosen for them to organ done to, and then get cut up on TV), and subsequent escape, I was a little worried that the book was going to drop off from an intriguing and exciting beginning. This feeling was encouraged by the character of Elijah, who I found really one dimensional (not to mention the creepy almost rape scene). However I was surprised that after Cassie moves on with her encounter with Elijah the story really picks up and gets back to what it promised to be.

This is where you get introduced to the real rebels, rather than the accidental rebels like Cassie, and I thought that the characters in the rebel group and their relationships with Cassie, really grew in a believable way, particularly Cassie and Liam's relationship.

There was no love triangle (something refreshing in modern dystopian fiction), and there was actually very little in the way of actual romantic love for Cassie, that wasn't the focus of the story.

I was very surprised by the ending, that was not what I expected at all, I didn't even see it coming until I started reading it, which was highly refreshing for any genre. There was absolutely no predictability, and the ending really finished off the story, there were no real loose ends.

The one thing I would have appreciated more about the end of the book, is if there had been an epilogue looking at Jack's world in a couple of decades time, though I'm not entirely convinced of Jack's continued existance at any point of the novel, Cassie only presumes she knows what has happened to him.

If you are prepared to take on some graphic scenes then I recommend you give this one a go, it's original and fresh!