Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Book Review: Divergent ★★★1/2


If you like the hunger games, you will enjoy this. Divergent is a dystopian novel set in Chicago in the future. In this world the society takes a test at the age of sixteen to determine which faction out of five based upon moral tendencies they are most akin to. The five factions represent selflessness, peace, honesty, bravery and intelligence. Upon being told which you should be in you then have to choose either to stay with your family in their faction or move to the one you are suited to, and be separated from the other groups. Being divergent is when you are suited to more than one group and are required to choose which faction you wish to be in. 
The main character Tris is one such divergent, and being so puts her in grave danger as by nature she doesn't conform. In a world where they are trying to create the illusion of peace by putting like groups together, and therefore forcing "natural" conformity and making them easier to control, she poses a threat to the system.

I really liked the concept behind this dystopian world, the idea of segregation is one that has occurred frequently throughout history, and segregation according to your virtues is simply a new form of this, one which these novels show is unsuccessful. it is made more plausible by being set in a currently existing city, and that landscape means you can picture it in more detail as there are recognisable landmarks. 

The plot keeps you reading because there is always something going on, always a new part of life in the factions to discover. It is however a little predictable, especially when moving into the second novel, because you know that there must be more than meets the eye to this world so are just waiting for the reveal.

This, like the hunger game is now being made into a film. I think this will be worth watching purely because the story is set in a current city so you do not have to extend your disbelief as much in order to feel like it is real. This is a really quick YA read, and I imagine lots of young readers will discover it even more with the film release, but it may still appeal to adults because the concept is so interesting. The series has three parts and is almost complete, with Insurgent already released (review to come) and Allegiant being released later this year.

A fun and interesting read.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Book Review: The Help ★★★★★


I will start by saying how much I loved this book, this is going to be a very positive review. This book has quickly snuck onto my "favourite books" bookshelf.

The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's, during the civil rights movement when there are still high racial tensions, and black workers are mainly seen as "the Help" and nothing more. The story follows Skeeter, a young white girl who has ideas to the contrary and wants to give the black women of Jackson a voice by writing their stories down for them.
Skeeter focusses her attentions upon Aibileen and Minny, two maids with extraordinary experiences, secrets and heart breaking stories to reveal about their employers, and while it takes a while for them to open up, the stories they tell are what makes this book so great.

This story is mainly about the characters, it has an interesting plot that is inspiring and invokes feelings of warmth upon completion, but the main purpose of the story is to tell you about the wonderful characters, it is their story that keeps you gripped.
Aibileen, the quiet woman devoted to the children she raises for her employers, Minny the best cook in town but who has a loud mouth, and Skeeter the white girl who goes to college and comes home without a job so by society's standards should make husband hunting her sole occupation.
The voices are very stereotypical, they have the inflections of a southern drawl and added tones which society has come to expect from that time period, and while this may offend some as it takes a little bit of getting used to, it adds to the atmosphere Stockett creates. The balance between telling us about the women's work lives and their home lives is what really keeps you hooked, how different they are, yet how similar they become when they club together to produce their side of the story. Stockett describes both the people and the scenery beautifully, and you can picture each Jackson home perfectly. The real strength of this book is its realism, you almost feel as if you can remember the events yourself.

The book also has been adapted into a film, and is well worth watching. It is as hilarious as the book and a very faithful adaptation. If you have seen the film that stemmed from this book, you may be put off reading knowing that you will already know about some of the funniest parts (especially Minny's "terrible awful") but I actually watched the film first and equally enjoyed the book. The book provides depth to the story that a 2 hour film simply cannot manage, and I would actually recommend watching the film first because it allows you to appreciate it on its own without being annoyed that wonderful scenes were cut.

The only negative that I have found with The Help, is the controversy behind it. The author, Kathryn Stockett, admits in the last few pages of the book that some of the events depicted were taken from her own experiences, and upon researching I discovered she was taken to court by the real Aibileen who had worked for Stockett's brother. The case was thrown out because of the time frame, but when I first heard of this I was a little upset, I don't doubt that she could very well have been inspiration for the novel, so to use her life experiences evidently without her permission seems to hark back to the very behaviour Stockett is dissuading in the novel.
This aside, the novel really is beautifully written, and I imagine it is these remembrances of actual occurrences that makes it feel so real to read.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Book Review: Shakespeare's Champion Detective ★★★

Another of Charlaine Harris's non-supernatural crime series, the Lily Bard mysteries are set in the town of Shakespeare, and over the course of five novels we meet Lily, a woman with many secrets who is always wary and on guard but who also knows how to stick her nose into other people's business. 

I am reluctant to class these stories as straight up mysteries, because often they feel more like an adventure. The stories begin the same, Lily goes about her job as the town cleaner and encounters useful nuggets of information that get called into use when some crime is committed, the main focus of the story though is Lily's development and how she goes about her life.

We learn very quickly that Lily is a tough nut, she is very good at kickboxing, and is known as the town recluse, she has good reason to be so wary as is revealed early on. Lily has had a bad past. To readers who aren't fans of Harris the reveal may seem surprising, even gruesome and distasteful, but Harris writes from some level of experience when it comes to characterising Lily. Her character can appear cold and hard at the beginning, but she develops nicely throughout the five novels and towards the end we see her develop in a way that seems natural, as she realises trusting in others isn't a weakness, and she have to be the way she is to survive.

Because the main focus is Lily herself the crimes are often either fairly simple to solve as a reader or complex enough that you don't guess them while you are too busy wondering about Lily herself. This may seem a bit pointless, after all what is a story without an important plot, but the story arc is really about character growth rather than plot progression with these.

I enjoyed this series, though not as much as I enjoyed the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, I think they make a well rounded tale which would make for an enjoyable read.


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Book Review: Oxford, the Epicentre for Supernatural Activity ★★★


I initially picked up this story because I had heard glowing recommendations on YouTube and on Goodreads. So many readers were enamoured with the world within that I had to have a peek at a synopsis, the words Bodleian and Oxford had me suckered in straight away, how can I turn away a book set in a library?! 

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness follows Diana Bishop, an academic who is currently based at Oxford university, and who requests a manuscript from the Bodleian's stacks which turns out to be an important historical document that the supernatural community have been attempting to get their hands on for centuries. Diana is from magical witch stock and had been attempting to keep her ties to that world hidden, however she is unwittingly drawn into a battle for control over the manuscript and her own life. She is not alone in the adventure however, as she receives the assistance of Oxford's resident vampire Matthew Clairmont, a creature of great power but who keeps a lot of secrets from his new love.

While reading this book I noted that it felt different to read than other books of its genre, it is a debut novel and the author had withheld quite a bit of explanation throughout, presumably because the information is going to be imparted in later novels. While reading I found this frustrating, and not in a way that made me intrigued or sucked in enough to want to keep going, it was simply annoying. The plot often felt like it was moving around too much without enough actually going on, but at other times had me gripped with the action. The main love interest in the story was also strange, the relationship felt both stilted and exaggerated at times, and Diana often didn't read as if she was the age we are told she is. 

The book is a bunch of contradictions, but it had potential which did lead me to read the next story, on finishing I wasn't sure I would though!


Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Library


Hello all!
Today I want to have a little chat about my library books. As you know I am a librarian, I am actually a full time librarian now (more or less) and so i spend even more time than before surrounded by books, and I get to take lots of them home!

Lately though I have had to be strict with myself, in our county you can borrow 30 books at a time, and previously I have been borrowing pretty much to my limit, there are so many that I just can't wait to read, and I might forget about them if I just don't take it home right there and then, that I scan my card and into my bag it goes. This behaviour is not good for my reading corner.

I have a small corner on top of my bookcases where my library books live, and I like to keep it tidy, bringing lots of books home doesn't keep it tidy because there simply isn't room for that many.
As you can see I currently have one too many on loan, but I really really really want to read Steve Jobs' biography, so I am letting that slide, I absolutely cannot take any more out though. I had to take back quite a few to get my selection back to a suitable size, and I really had to think carefully about which ones I definitely would pick up and read.

So why have I elected to keep these ones until they are finished?

The Well of Lost Plots is the third in a series of Jasper Fforde books about Thursday Next, she lives in an alternate universe where literature is the most valuable commodity of all. Nuff said.

The Night Rainbow I picked up from one of the displays at work quite randomly because it has a pretty cover, the synopsis hints at darker contents touching on depression and loss of innocence, the juxtaposition here really intrigued me. I can't wait to crack open the cover of this one.

Before I go to Sleep has had a lot of press coverage and is going to be made into a film with Nicole Kidman, you wouldn't believe the amount of times I have picked tis up and nearly brought it home and instead passed it onto a borrower I thought might like it, the other day there were three copies on the shelf though, so I decided it was time for it to come home. the synopsis hints at a woman who loses her memory every night and has to write herself a diary of the days events. Something fishy is going on though, and I love a mystery or thriller.

The Five People you Meet in Heaven is another book which has had a lot of attention. It is one of those books you feel like you should have read years ago but never did. It is about a man who dies and discovers that when you to heaven you actually have your life explained to you by five people who appeared throughout it. I love concepts of a different afterlife, one which defies the norm, and I think this will be an interesting and thought provoking read.

Vanished Kingdoms is a history book, but not your standard this war happened during so and so time period history book. This book is about fallen dynasties, royalty that has fallen out of favour, empires and republics that have been overthrown. I find history that is completely missing from the modern day fascinating, especially if there is a bit of doubt over what happened. I think this one will teach me a lot.

Company of Liars is a book that I have had a lot of recommendations for. Since I started reading historical fiction I have had various works suggested to me but Karen Maitland's works have always cropped up. Some of her books can apparently be quite gruesome, so I am starting with this one which is set during the plague. Lets hope i can stomach it!

I picked up The Yard shortly after i watched a BBC television show called Ripper Street. The show is set in victorian london after Jack the Ripper has had his day and the police are encountering a surge in murder and crime. The Yard appears to be along a similar vein, set one year after Jack the Ripper a new killer is on the prowl and the newly formed Scotland Yard murder team is on the case. It sounds gripping.

Another Non-Fiction title, From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg is a bit of a social history of the Internet. Another one spotted while browsing the shelves, and another one that I think might just expand my knowledge a little bit. I already have quite a knowledge of the Internet because of my profession but I always like to read new takes and opinions, you never know what nuggets of information you may have missed.

What I Did has an interesting synopsis and I predict it will get my brain whirring. It is about the repercussions that our actions can have on the order of things. A child runs across a busy road and his world changes completely, his father punishes him, a passer by sees this and reports him and the child's life and his family's begins to spin out of control. I like that this one reminds the reader that split second decisions can have a huge impact. Another one I can't wait to pick up.

Old Filth was a recommendation from a colleague, she assured me it would have me chuckling while also being in awe of the writers descriptive skill. this book follows a character throughout his life from being a child to being an old man, from being an orphan in the Raj through the British Empire and the Second World War. This one sounds like a fun journey.

Lastly Steve Jobs, I have wanted this book ever since it was released, but it wasn't cheap so I lumped for borrowing it. Once I have read it I will probably buy a copy anyway because Steve Jobs has had a huge effect on my life. At 15 I decided to go against the grain and convince my dad that I wanted an iBook, not a windows laptop, and since then I have been an absolute Apple convert. I know that the biography also tells us some of the negative points from Steve's life, but he was an inspiration to me so I want to read anyway.

So there you have it, the books I currently have on loan from the library.
if you use your library what do you currently have on loan and why?