Friday, 28 March 2014

Book Review: The little old lady who broke all the rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

Welcome back to my newest blog feature: Friday book reviews! (And yes, I am aware I need a snappier title than that - if you have any ideas, feel free to get in touch!). This week's book review is The little old lady who broke all the rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. 

Guys, just going to apologise right now for the length of this review/rant! Feel free to skip to the end if you want!

I downloaded this book on my Kindle when I was looking for something quick and light hearted to read – I'd heard some good things about it, plus it was discounted on the Amazon store, so I decided to give it a go.

Oh. My. God. I honestly don't know why there was so much hype around this book. I absolutely hate being mean about anyone/anything, but I really am struggling to think of any good points for this book....

The little old lady who broke all the rules is about a group of pensioners who live in a retirement home that is slowly but surely taking away everything they enjoy in life. Martha, the main character in this hapless group, convinces her friends to commit increasingly risky crimes, in an effort to get out of the retirement home and into prison, where they believe a better standard of life awaits. Needless to say, their crimes don't go quite to plan, and soon they're involved in all kinds of mischief and adventures...

I didn't find this book funny. At all. Now, generally I've got a pretty good sense of humour but the 'humour' in this book was just completely lost on me. As this book was been translated from Swedish, I'm seriously wondering if something got lost in translation. The jokes fell flat, characters that were supposed to be funny/cracking quips just came across as annoying or they didn't make any sense. I was almost cringing in some places as the author tried to make an ordinary situation funny, when it would've worked perfectly well without the humour.

Although Martha is the main character, the book does flip from time to time to different character's viewpoints e.g. the police chief, some random criminals that have very little to do with the story, the staff at the retirement home etc. But because of the way the book is written, I found it very hard to differentiate between who was who, especially if the chapters were about the different pensioners, as they essentially all had the same voice. Little bits of the character's background were dropped in every now and again but I was so disinterested in the story, I wasn't bothered about finding out any more about the characters, because they were so flat to begin with. While the author does try to make the characters stand out, she seems to have given them completely stereotypical qualities e.g. the hapless policeman that ignores everything that he's told because he's convinced he's right, the brainy one of the group that can magically turn off alarms and come up with ingenious solutions to problems, the 'hard' criminal that turns out to have a softer get my drift.

I'm going to have to stop writing now before this turns into even more of a giant, whiney rant. I was really disappointed in this book – the writing wasn't good and there were some seriously questionable editing going on – for example, in one scene Martha hugs and talks to her 'boyfriend'...but a few pages later we're told about how he's just been released from prison and Martha runs to greet him! Seriously, what?

Final comments: If you're looking for a book that you can just switch off and read, then by all means give this a go – but honestly, if you're looking for a bit of light hearted humour, go for The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared instead – now that's a fantastically funny book!

2 out of 5 cupcakes 
(but only because I'm giving some allowance for possible translation issues/people's sense of humour being different from mine)

Friday, 21 March 2014

Book Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

When I first heard about Wool, I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. The premise just sounded a bit..well, odd. But trust me, this book is well worth sticking with – it's amazing!

Wool is set in a post-apocalyptic future. The few survivors of mankind now live together in a giant underground silo, but their lives are controlled by rules, regulations and a strict hierarchy. If anyone chooses not to conform, they're sent outside the silo for the 'cleaning' – a job that there's no return from. When Jules is unexpectedly thrust into a prominent position within the silo, she slowly begins to realise how rotten those at the heart of their community are – but when you've been brought up to conform, will anyone be brave enough to stand with her? Or is she entirely on her own?

While the idea of an underground silo sounds interesting, I really wasn't sure how it would work in practice. But once all the mechanics of it was explained, and you see how everyone works together to keep the silo running, I was hooked – especially once you find out what happens 'outside' the silo, during the cleaning.

Jules is the strong, smart female protagonist who's not afraid to speak her mind and does what she thinks is right, even if it goes against everything the silo teaches her to believe. It's interesting to see how she copes with a situation that is essentially thrust on her when she didn't want it, and then how she deals with it when everything (and I mean everything!) goes horribly horribly wrong.

This book was exceptionally well written – there were a couple of occasions where the author seemed to go off on a slight tangent about the background of the silo, or someone's particular job etc, but it wasn't such a big deal that it detracted from the overall story. The big twist in the story is just...amazing – while I had my suspicions about what was going to happen, I was still shocked (and thrilled) when they were confirmed. Despite it's slightly slow start, I honestly couldn't put this book down; it was fast paced, full of surprises and I really felt for all of the character's situations – I even felt a limited amount of sympathy for the bad guy in all this (Bernard), as Hugh Howey does a great job of explaining the background/rationale behind all the character's motivations and desires. I've already bought the second book in the trilogy, Shift, and I can't wait to get my teeth into it!

Final comments: Although it might sound like a bit of an odd/niche story, Wool is an exceptionally well written debut novel from Hugh Howey and well worth checking out!

5/5 cupcakes

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Book review: Half Bad by Sally Green

Warning: this review contains mild spoilers!

 Half Bad Cover

I was always going to be slightly biased towards this book as 1) I am a huge sucker for giant marketing campaigns and 2) it was written by a fellow North Westerner (still not entirely sure whereabouts in the North West of England Sally Green is from, but I'll take what I can get).

So, Half Bad is a YA book about witches. There are two types of witches – Black and White, and on a witch's seventeenth birthday they have a giving ceremony, which determines which kind of witch they are going to be (I think this is determined by what kind of witch gives them their blood at the ceremony, but I'm not entirely sure...).
Nathan is half and half – his mother was a White witch, but his dad is the most powerful Black witch alive. As he grows up, the Council (who are all White witches and believe Black witches should be wiped out) takes increasing interest in him, as they try to determine what kind of witch he'll be. They imprison Nathan in the hope that they can manipulate him into killing his own father, but he escapes and goes looking for his father instead. It's a race against time for him to 1) receive his three gifts at his giving ceremony on his seventeenth birthday (because if he doesn't, he'll die) and 2) find his father before the Council does.

The book starts with a bang – when we first meet Nathan he's locked up in a cage. Sally Green does a fantastic job of drawing you into Nathan's world, simply by starting the book is what is essentially the midpoint of the plot. The background to Nathan's world is intriguing, and I really enjoyed finding out about the rules of this world, the psychology of both White and Black witches, and about Nathan's own upbringing. However, around halfway through the book, I have to admit I started to get a teeny bit restless. As we follow Nathan on his journey to find his father/another Black witch called Mercury who can help him with his giving ceremony, he makes friends with another Black witch, escapes from Hunters (White witches trained to kill Black witches) numerous times and falls in love with a White witch (naturally). After the halfway point, I started to get a bit bored and found my attention wandering, as Nathan just seemed to be running around and not doing an awful lot apart from moping/thinking about Annalise/agonising over his future (think of the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and you'll get my drift).

Overall, Half Bad is a great debut book and I like the fresh take Sally Green has on witches. The world building was good and I was satisfied with the explanations behind the character's motives and world. The writing is gritty, and the author doesn't skimp on the bloody or violent details like most YA authors tend to do. It's this style of writing that really makes you feel for Nathan and his situation, and makes the whole thing seem more real, as though there really could be witches running around trying to murder each other while us 'fains' (non-magic folk) wander around blissfully unaware. The main theme running throughout the book is the age old question of nature vs nurture, and as a reader, you're constantly wondering which direction Nathan will go – will he stay true to the beliefs he's been brought up with, or will the White witches and their endless persecution turn him into a witch's version of 'Frankenstein's monster'?

For me though, the last third of the book wasn't up to the same standard as the rest of it, and the action felt more rushed than punchy - the last few pages in particular were a whirlwind, and the last line, which was clearly supposed to end the book on a dramatic note, simply made me roll my eyes. There's also the case of the typical 'forbidden love'/insta-love that unfortunately seems to happen so often in YA literature these days; Nathan's love interest, Annalise, comes from the purest White witch family around - although naturally she rebels and decides to follow Nathan instead. To me, I think this aspect of the story could've been written slightly differently to make in more intriguing, as it's completely obvious from the moment Nathan first meets Annalise what's going to happen. Saying that, Half Bad a good start to the series and I'll definitely be checking out the second book when it arrives next year – I just won't be rushing out to buy it like I did with this one.

Final comments: A good solid debut, but a couple of slices short of a full cake I'm afraid.

3/5 cupcakes

Book reviews and other exciting news...

I'm a poet and I didn't know it! Hahaha...ahem....

Moving on...

I think it's time I started blogging a bit more regularly - I always mean to post about some topic or other, but then I end up forgetting/procrastinating/falling asleep instead. So, I am very excited to announce that from now on, I will be posting regular book reviews! I'm aiming to post these up every Friday - with the exception of this week, which I'll be posting up today instead...

Just a couple of things to mention about my reviews - please bear with me while I get the hang of it - I'll probably ramble on for a while until I get into a rhythm and realise what's important and what's not! Also, I'll be rating my reviews out of 5 cupcakes instead of 5 stars - simply because I love cake and I'm desperate to find a legitimate way to incorporate it into this blog ;). Also, while I won't be sticking to a definite category of books (because I do love to read most genres), there probably will be more YA reviews on here than any others, simply because that's what I love to read :). But I am open to any and all suggestions, so please let me know if you think there's an amazing book I should check out!

In other news - this isn't that exciting (sorry, I lied in the title - BUT IT GOT YOUR ATTENTION DIDN'T IT! HAHAHA! Ahem...) but I'm going to be updating this blog over the next couple of weeks - my WIPs have changed completely since I last wrote that page, and I'm currently looking around for different backgrounds etc, just to make my blog look a bit more interesting :).

I'm also toying with the idea of bringing back my author interviews...if I can remember how to get into my Authonomy account that is! But if you can think of anyone you think I should interview/if you're an author and you wanna be featured, please just drop me an email :)!

So that's all for today! Have a great weekend, folks!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

March IWSG: But is there any substance...?

Guys, just going to apologise now if this post is a little short/rushed!

Welcome to the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG)! On the first Wednesday of every month, authors from across the world/interweb post up their fears and insecurities about their writing, and we all provide support/tea/cake/virtual hugs to encourage all your lovely authors to keep writing.
IWSG was set up by Alex J. Cavanaugh (you can check out his blog here) and there's now an official IWSG website, which is full of helpful tips, tricks and encouraging posts – you can check out that awesome site here.

So this month I'm focusing on my actual plot line – I'm currently halfway through writing a proper detailed synopsis for my NaNoWriMo novel (which I'm praying will turn into my first actual real novel) and something struck me as I began to flesh out each scene: do I have enough substance in my story?

I'm pretty sure I know who my characters are, what their motives are, where it's going to be set etc, but as I wrote out each scene, I began to wonder which of my scenes were essential to the story (which I'm hoping will be all of them) and which ones were 'filler'.

I hate the thought that 75% of my book might be made up of those awful, stilted dialogue scenes, or scenes that describe in minute detail of how my MC got up, stared out the window, made breakfast, ate breakfast, put on her socks, had a completely random argument with her parent(s), brushed her hair exactly 100 times, put on her shoes, picked up her bag, stared soulfully at her reflection in the mirror (enter convenient description of MC's physical appearance here) before finally running out of the house and catching the bus to school. Or something along those lines. You get the picture.

Are there some scenes you should leave in so the reader gets a bit of a background of your MC, or should every scene have a specific purpose? I personally prefer the latter option – but I'm just hoping that my opinion on what's essential to the storyline doesn't differ too much to my reader's!

So that's it for now! Hopefully I'll get a chance to blog more often this month – there's a couple of book reviews I'd love to write up for you guys to read :).

Until next time - happy writing!