Thursday, 24 January 2013

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of GrayLina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

I am still reeling in shock after finishing this book. It was so unbelievably deep and moved me so much that I can barely bring myself to start reading another one.

To be completely honest, when I picked this book up, having not read the back and basing it purely on the cover, I thought it was about the Holocaust. When I discovered it was about Stalin, I was a little put off because I had never read anything about him before and I didn’t know what to expect.

I watched an interview with Ruta Sepetys and in that she said how much less people know the full extent of what Stalin did due to the prisoners released from the camps were not allowed to speak of what had happened to them and that that had made her all the more determined to tell this story. I learned so much about what happened in Siberia during that time whilst reading this novel that it made it an even greater read than it would have been without.

All of the characters are well developed and the author weaves their individual, well rounded personalities into the novel so well that I really cared about each and every one of them. Lina, the main protagonist, is such an inspirational, strong girl who I grew attached to within the first chapter. I loved how her drawings and expression of who she was through her art remained a huge part of the story even with the terrible conditions in which they were in, and that made me love her all the more.

The situation and conditions in which these characters are living really upset me at points; the ways in which they were treated really made me angry at times, so I liked how the author brought out so many emotions in the reader. A lot of the deaths in the story were so abrupt and done so coldly that it made them seem all the more real, and again, the writing style of Ruta Sepetys made me feel so many emotions throughout the entire novel.

I thought the ending was perfect and although sad, I was satisfied with what became of the characters remaining. Overall, an amazing, touching story that I don’t think I wil ever forget. 5/5 stars.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Tin Tin in the Land of the Soviets by Hergé

Tintin in the Land of the SovietsIn his debut adventure, Tintin is pursued by Bolshevik agents trying to prevent him from exposing the new Soviet regime. Punctuated by slapstick and political revelations, this story is based on the writings of an anticommunist Belgian ex-consul to the Ukraine. Herge's early style revealed strong graphics, influenced by photo-reporting from the period, marking the historic debut of a major artist.

This book was the first graphic novel that I had dared to go near to in a long time, as I generally do not enjoy them at all. However, I am glad to say that this book changed my mind!

The plot was very fast paced and easy to laugh along with, even if it was a little unbelievable. I liked how Tin Tin and Snowy moved around so much, and how everything that took place was just so ridiculous.

The illustrations were great, and really brought the story to life for me. As there is not much text, the book was extremely quick to get through, but the illustrations reinforced everythig that was written and realy made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.

I loved Tin Tin and especaily Snowy as main characters. Tin Tin handled various situations very well, but Snowy’s sarcastic comments throughout really made me laugh.

Overall, a great read. Not quite as good as reading a novel, but better than any other comic I have read before. 4/5 stars.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Harken by Kaleb Nation

Harken (Harken, #1)After surviving an assassination attempt, teenager Michael Asher discovers that he is at the center of a worldwide conspiracy reaching higher than any earthly power. A supernatural organization desperately wants him dead. He doesn't know why. Everyone who might have the answers has already been killed.

Tumbling into a web of international secrets, Michael is forced to fight back and dig up the truth. He begins to question how much of the world is truly as people are led to believe it is. Are there things that humanity is not being told? Who is the puppet master? And how far into the maze can he venture before he is lost forever?

This book wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. There were some aspects I really enjoyed, and others not so much.

I enjoyed Michael as a character, and thought that he was a very strong protaganist and was well rounded during the novel, but I never really felt attached to him. Although I liked reading about what he was doing, I couldnt really bring myself to care about what was going to happen to him. The character that I enjoyed the most was Michael’s little sister, Alli. For some reason, I grew attached to her straight away and wanted more of her witty, hilarious character in the novel.

The plot was quite fast paced, and something of interest happened in every chapter, but from the start, the story didn’t grab me. I definitely believed in the conspiracy and found the whole idea plausible, but it wasn’t anything that I would chose to read again. A lot of the time I felt I could predict what was going to happen, although a few twists were thrown in here and there which made everything a little more exciting.

The writing style was good, but that’s as far as it goes. I generally do not like the use of exclamation marks in novels (with the exception of dialogue), and this book was no different. I found that the exclamation marks made everything a little contrived and awkward.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t anything too memorable. For me, it was just lacking in the strength and background of some (not all) of the characters, and in catching my attention from the start; I never really felt engaged or immersed in the story.

3/5 stars.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing—his most trusted adviser dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself.

Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

First of all, I want to just mention that I absolutely adored this book. At first, I was a little intimidated by the length of it and found the amount of characters a little overwhelming, but found that once I was immersed within the story, I seemed to fly through the novel quicker than I ever could have anticipated and soon knew who everyone was without even thinking about it.
The world building was done so effortlessly that before I even got past the first hundred pages or so, I believed that everything that took place was taking place, and that this perfectly carved world was the one in which I was living.

The characters were another part of this book that I really enjoyed. There was not one character that was merely there; every single person mentioned in the novel came with their own detailed back story and had a part to play. My favourite characters were Arya and Daenerys, whether it be because they were young or that they were particularly feisty, but I was really drawn to them and found myself getting exicted when it came to their chapters.

I also really liked how the chapters changed perspectives; as it is such a long book, without the constant switching and swapping, I would have become bored very easily, so the way it was written helped me get through the book much faster than I thought I would.
Overall, an amazing journrey. 5/5 stars, and a must read for anyone who hasn't picked it up yet!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Lucinda's Secret by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

 Lucinda's Secret (The Spiderwick Chronicles, #3)

This book focuses heavily on the history of the Spiderwick family, introducing us to Aunt Lucinda, the only living person who understands what the Grace children are going through, and also giving us a back story of Arthur Spiderwick, to whom the original Field Guide belonged.
The story progresses at a fast pace, aided by beautiful illustrations, making it easy to fly through, and the writing, as always, was concise and flowed nicely.

Jared’s witty character was really brought to life, for me personally, in this installment in the series than any of the others so far. I loved his witty decisions and the way he tackled certain events towards the end of the novel were thoroughly entertaining to read about.

Exciting revelations were made right towards the end of the book, making me even more eager to move on to the next one. You can see my reviews of previou installments in the series, The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone, by clicking on the titles. Another 5/5 stars!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola

The Ladies' ParadiseThe Ladies' Paradise is a compelling story of ambition and love set against the backdrop of the spectacular rise of the department store in 1860s Paris. Octave Mouret is a business genius who transforms a modest draper's shop into a hugely successful retail enterprise, masterfully exploiting the desires of his female customers and ruining small competitors along the way. Through the eyes of trainee salesgirl Denise we see the inner workings of the store and the relations and intrigues among the staff, human dramas played out alongside the relentless pursuit of commercial supremacy.
I was first introduced to the story of the Ladies’ Paradise through the BBC adaptation that was set in London and renamed a more concise ‘The Paradise’.  I loved the programme, and so was desperate to read the book, seem as they are always better than anything on screen, and I am pleased to say it did not let me down.
The writing throughout this book is fluent, descriptive and creates well developed and realistic characters with such ease that I found myself mourning the loss of the prominent narrative when I moved on to another read. The book is translated from the original, which was written in French, and so I have to say that the translator did an amazing job at not losing the story through the language change.

The book was certainly not too plot heavy, but for me, the story carried along at a nice pace. I would say, however, that if you do not like period dramas and stories that are not too action packed then you might want to give this one a miss.

And finally, to the characters. Denise’s situation was a lot harsher in the novel than it was transferred to screen, so at first I was a little shocked when she brought along with her her two brothers and her uncle turned her away. However, this only made me admire her more; I grew along with her as the story progressed, and enjoyed every second of her story. Mouret was something/somebody else that was a lot harsher on page than on screen, so I was a little surprised at how cruel he was during the first few chapters of the novel, but again, as he softened, I warmed up to him and began to enjoy him as a character again.

Overall, I absolutely adored this book and without a doubt give it 5 stars. A must read for anyone who likes period dramas and also what I view as a great introduction to classic novels.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Seeing Stone by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

The Seeing Stone (The Spiderwick Chronicles, #2)'The Grace kids are just beginning to get used to Aunt Lucinda's strange old mansion when Simon suddenly disappears. Jared and his sister have to rely on the help of a mischievous house boggart, a nasty bridge troll, and a loud-mouthed hobgoblin to get him back.'

This book, like the first, was incredibly quick to get through and the perfect light and easy read that I was looking for.
This installment in the Spiderwick Chronicles introduces us to more creatures that belong to the alternate world revealed to the Grace children in the Field Guide (click here for review), and also starts to build up the idea that not everybody in this world views Jared, Simon and Mallory in a particularly favourable way.

The writing was again, descriptive enough for the story, and the chapters flowed nicely. The illustrations were as before, absolutely amazing and really brought the novel to life more than I realised in the first book.

The end of the Seeing Stone led on nicely to the third book in the series, which I will definitely be reading soon. Overall, a simple, fast paced read that kept me turning the pages all the way through. 5/5 stars.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium (Delirium, #1)'Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.'

I was really excited to read this book as it was going to be the only dystopian I had delved into after reading The Hunger Games. I though the concept was unique and intriguing, and was interested to see how a world without love would work.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book; the writing was good, the concept (as I already mentioned) was unique, the characters were believable, and the world building was solid.

However, I did have some problems. For starters, after the first hundred pages or so, I got really tired of Lena. All she seemed to do was moan and wallow in her own despair, and after a while I could only get through about ten pages at a time before having to take a break because she grated on me so much.

I also found that the very descriptive writing style was - well, it was too descriptive. It seemed to focus on ridiculous things - there is a scene when Lena is riding her bike somewhere, and it took about five pages for her to actually get there, and then about a paragraph was spent detailing what took place there. The writing style did make it easy to imagine the world, and really aided the world building, but at times just seemed a little too much for the little things that were happening.

Finally, the book was too long. The first few hundred pages could have easily been condensed with a little less focus on things irrelevant to the story, and at times I really was just reading to finish it. However, during the last hundred pages or so, the pacing of the plot really picked up and more and  as more things started to happen I started to look forward to reading the book and was excited to get to the end. If only the first half of the book had been like the second, it would have been almost perfect.

The ending was good, but I could kind of see it coming from the moment what was going to happen was proposed by the two main characters. I was particularly shocked by the ending, but still a little surprised to see how it was done, which was very enjoyable!

Overall, I gave Delirium 4/5 stars. I was going to give it 3, but the last hundred pages really bumped up the rating.