Friday, 7 October 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

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Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children is a young adult book about a safe place for children with extraordinary abilities. This place, which is trapped in a 1940s time loop, is then discovered by a teenager named Jacob. Sound familiar?

Usually when a novel feels reminiscent of previous tales, it gives the entire story an air of laziness. It just ends up feeling like the author’s primary concern was to take what people liked from previous stories and add them into a hastily made melting pot. And if the author doesn’t care about the story they are telling, then why should we?
But not in the case of Miss Peregrine.

This book feels like many a young adult and/or children’s story before it. It has the gothic aspects of Lemony Snicket, with a fantastical world that mimics books from Tom’s Midnight Garden to Narnia. 
However, instead of feeling like a worn out cliché, this book feels like coming home. It recreates the warmth of its predecessors wonderfully. As a result, atmospherically it is a joy to read. But this is also a world with danger continuously lurking for our protagonists. There are always monsters around the corner. Monsters which also have really cool designs and that feel genuinely threatening. Enough to be very effective antagonists.

As for the main characters, Jacob doesn’t really have much of a personality, but he is likable enough. In addition to this, there are enough colourful characters in the house itself to hold the readers interest.

But the greatest part of this novel has not even been brought up yet and is entirely unique. That is the way in which genuine vintage photographs are used to tell the story. This then creates a fantastically eerie atmosphere, which lingers for all 300 or so pages. In addition, to have the characters presented to you visually in this way brings the story to life in an entirely fresh way. And the way in which the pictures are linked in with the narrative and are often added in at just the right time is very clever indeed.

Overall, this is a warm and entertaining book that will keep you hooked until the end. 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (play script) by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

The first thing that needs to be established about the much hyped eighth addition to the Harry Potter franchise is the most obvious fact of all. This is a play script. As many have pointed out, it does have a somewhat different vibe to it, but this was inevitable with any switch in format. There isn’t as much description or development as there would be in a book, but that it because it has a different context and a different purpose. Books are designed to wrap you up in their world over longer periods of time, whilst plays are designed to be performances presented to you all in one go. This isn’t really an eighth Harry Potter book, in the way that many would have hoped. But it still manages to be an incredibly heart-warming, emotional and wildly fun read (and watch, I can imagine), if you can accept it for what it is.

Having made the point about development, the way in which several of the characters in the play are developed is actually very good. Without giving too much away, there are two outstanding but distinctly different examples of relationships developed that deserve a mention. The first is the relationship between Harry and his son Albus, as introduced in the epilogue of Deathly Hallows. It is deep, complex and angst ridden, but also done in a very realistic manner. The second, and better done, of the two is the friendship between Albus and Scorpius, Draco Malfoy’s son. Their relationship is at the core of the play and it is probably the best part about it. Trust me, adorable doesn’t even cover those two.

What is also admirable about Cursed Child is that they take an admittedly clichéd direction with the story- however, it is set up in a way that makes it fit in very well, with the rest of the set up considered. The opening scenes are also done in a way that builds up a lot of the emotions that run through the rest of the story very well. The final point is probably the most basic one of all- it is really really funny. Like, laugh out loud and get weird looks levels of funny.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a very fun read with a strong emotional core that will leave the majority of Harry Potter fans satisfied.  

Thursday, 19 May 2016

What She Left by T.R Richmond

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

This cleverly constructed and addictive mystery has almost everything you could want from a thriller. It will keep readers hooked until its final pages, mostly out of a desperation to find out what happened to the protagonist, Alice Salmon, on the night she mysteriously drowned, once and for all.

Many of the book’s most prominent characters are not the most likable people and this can make certain segments a bit of a struggle. However, this is more than made up for in the originality of the structure. Alice’s texts, emails and other media related to her life are slowly pieced together by a Professor (who is obsessed with Alice to a slightly creepy extent), allowing the reader to be fully immersed within the world of Alice Salmon. This idea also works well in the fact that it really allows the reader to get to know Alice, as small things such as music playlists really flesh out her character, making her seem like a real person. This then in turn makes the reader even more desperate to know what actually happened on the night of her death.

The only slight disappointment (emphasis on slight) is the final reveal of what happened to her. Although it could have ended with a worse scenario, thinking about it logically about 10 pages before it is revealed may lead to the reader working it out. In spite of this, getting to that point is as fun as any TV mystery. In addition to this, the novel’s conclusion is not only satisfying but is actually very moving.

On the whole this is an addictive and thrilling mystery that offers readers everything they could want from the Mystery genre.    

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Martian by Andy Weir

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

Much like its 2015 film adaptation, the strength of this book truly lies in its protagonist. The situation that Astronaut Mark Watney finds himself in when he is left stranded on Mars is serious enough to create swathes of dramatic tension and Weir does this admirably. But the story is also lifted by the constant humour that Mark adds to his situation. This then makes him an incredibly likable main character to follow and causes readers to continuously root for him, in addition to lightening up the book as a whole.

This is a story that could have gone incredibly dark, but it is instead often peppered with laughs, as opposed to the doom and gloom that could have arisen. Much of the story is also focused on problem solving, as opposed to primarily focusing on Mark’s struggles. The latter angle would have allowed Weir to create high emotion and dramatic tension, but would have become tiring by the end of the book, so I am glad he did not go for that perspective.      

Structurally, the book is a patchwork of styles. Wier skilfully combines Mark’s Logs (written in the first person), with a more traditional third person narrative and Mark Watney’s conversations with NASA. The changes between styles can seem jarring at first, but they come to suit each part of the story perfectly. The first person logs work brilliantly to showcase the main character’s personality and strengthen his relationship with the reader. Meanwhile, the third person sections are more descriptive, allowing Weir to really ramp up and the tension and play up to the emotional side of the story.

In spite of this, the book is grounded in the Science of the situation, as would be expected, giving the book a sense of realism throughout.  

Overall, this book is an addictive and thrilling read, with a great narrative structure and an incredibly likable protagonist.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.

This type of story, with its setup of having several versions of the same story caused by minor tweaks in the opening, has been seen many, many, many times before (most notably in the Gwyneth Paltrow fronted 1998 film ‘Sliding Doors’). But here it is used to far more interesting effect than most readers would probably predict. Instead of having a clichéd ridden ‘good’ and ‘bad’ version, the complex lives of these characters intertwine in the three separate versions, with both positive and negative consequences arising from the small changes to their first meeting. The various paths that (often star crossed) lovers Jim and Eva tread are also connected by various unifying plot points, coincidences and events, which add to the realism of the story as a whole. Connecting the various narratives in this way also adds a sense of realism, as readers will genuinely feel as if the stories are only different because of those all important changes in all three openings. The book also has a very nice writing style, with sharp clear prose fitting the story perfectly. Another near-perfect element is the way in which the author explores the way in which the changes in the narratives affect the book’s central couple as individuals, in addition to their lives as a couple, as this then allows them to develop as characters.

At the same time, the three versions can become very similar at times. As a result of this, along with the book’s 60 year timespan, the book can become quite confusing to read, as there are certain, rather frustrating, points where you have to continually remind yourself of which story you are in. This sense of confusion is also not helped by the authors’ tendency to drop readers straight into a chapter, slowly revealing the latest development in the characters’ lives. This can be effective at times, as the way in which the reader slowly comes to realise events can lead to them having a bigger impact, especially during the book’s more dramatic moments. But when it is used in chapter after chapter after chapter, it can get rather tedious to read. In addition to this, the book’s timespan can also be a problem. There are certain points, particularly in Version One, that could even be described as Soap-Opera esque, as the author desperately looks for events to pad the story out so that all the versions reach their conclusion at the same time.

However, overall the book does well with its concept and is enjoyable to read, in spite of some structural issues that can make it confusing at best and downright frustrating at worst.