27 February 2012

Review 19: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

"It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches. A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew - the forbidden love at the heart of it."

What an embarrassing blurb. Whilst this novel does tend towards somewhat overwrought melodrama, it is, on the whole, far better and far less dependant on the romantic element than that blurb implies. I found this story of magic, romance and history a pleasant respite from more weighty reading. It is not a difficult read, but it is a fun and romantic read with a largely awesome heroine, wonderful settings, pacy plotting and a healthy portion of history wound through it. Ultimately, it is a vampire romance (even though the woman is a witch so less helpless than usual) though so be warned.

First Line: 'The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable.'

24 February 2012

Review 18: Transmetropolitan Vol. 1 - Back on the Street by Warren Ellis

"After years of self imposed exile from a civilisation rife with degradation and indecency, cynical journalist Spider Jerusalem is forced to return to a job he hates and a city he loathes. Working as an investigative reporter for the newspaper The Word, Spider attacks the injustices of his surreal 23rd century surroundings. In this first volume, Spider ventures into the dangerous Angels 8 district, home of the Transients - humans who have decided to become aliens through cosmetic surgery. But Spider's interview with the Transients' leader gets him a scoop he didn't bargain for."

The very first few pages made me laugh a couple of time and therefore I had high hopes for the rest of the volume but unfortunately I felt it lost any subtlety and slipped into coarseness for the sake of coarseness with horrendously unlikeable characters, a plot I didn't really care about and finale I felt like I was supposed to find triumphant but instead found somewhat dull.

First Line: 'So that ignorant, thick-lipped, evil whorehopping editor phones me up and says, 'Does the word contract mean anything to you, Jerusalem?'

23 February 2012

Review 17: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

"A virus has swept the world, making everyone over the age of eighteen infertile. Teenagers are now the most prized members of society, and would-be-parents desperately bid for 'conception contracts' with the prettiest, healthiest and cleverest girls - cash, college tuition and liposuction in exchange for a baby. Sixteen-year-old Melody has scored an amazing contract with a rich couple. And she's been matched with one of the hottest 'bumping' partners in the world - the genetically flawless Jondoe. But her luck is about to run out.

She discovers she has a sister - an identical twin. Harmony has grown up in a strict religious comunity and believes her calling is to save Melody from her sinful intentions. All Melody wants is to meet Jondoe and seal the deal - but when a case of mistaken identity destroys everyone's carefully laid plans, Melody and Harmony realise they have much more than DNA in common."

If you take this on face value, you would have little choice but to find it rather childishly offensive in its frank, simplistic discussion of young teenagers having sex and getting pregnant all for material gain. However, I think McCafferty was attempting to write a satirical look at our society and the way that people seem more and more willing to exchange celebrity and material gain for their bodies and lives. It's weakness is that the satire isn't really strong enough and it's audience, young adults, will the most part read it straight. It's too adult in language for children but it's too simplistic for adult readers unfortunately. I'm not even 100% sure McCafferty was aiming for satire.

First Line: 'I'm sixteen, pregnant, and the most important person on the planet.'

22 February 2012

Review 16: Wuthering Heights - The Graphic Novel by Emily Bronte

"When Mr. Lockwood rents a country house from Mr. Heathcliff, he soon learns all about his landlord's turbulent history, including his undying love for Catherine Earnshaw, who haunts Heathcliff from beyond the grave, and his vengeful tyrannies against anyone who dares stand in his way. Can Lockwood stop himself from being dragged into Heathcliff's violent world?"

This 'QuickText' series of graphic novels is designed to make classic novels more accessible to younger readers and Wuthering Heights is on the shortlist for the Stan Lee Excelsior Award (www.excelsioraward.co.uk) which I am reading and voting for with some of my students. I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of the original novel, I just find it so depressing and I find Cathy and Heathcliff just too cruel. For teenagers though, this offers a great way to get a hold of the plot and keep track of the complicated family relationships with moody watercolour artwork that suits the tone of the story.

First Line: '1801 - Mr. Lockwood arrives...'

20 February 2012

Review 15: Fables Vol. 16 - Super Team by Bill Willingham

"Evil stalks the borders of Haven. Fed by fear and driven by darkness, Mister Dark has risen, more powerful than ever! Soon, the Fables' defenses will fall, and the day of doom will be upon them. But lo, there shall come... the F-Men! Assembled by the great and powerful Ozma and the wise and wheelchair-bound Pinnocchio (don't worry, his legs work fine - he just wants to look the part), these fabulous Fables will combine their powers to form a team-up to end all team-ups! Every super-heroic personality will be represented: Big strong guys! Guys in cool armour! Miniature people who can bounce around inside the bad guy's ear canal! That one girl who can fly! Even a roguish, hairy anti-hero with claws: Bigby Wolf himself! Together, they will overcome their fear and defeat Mister Dark once and for all! Or maybe they'll all die horribly within seconds. What do you think this is, a super-hero comic?"

A strong entry into a wonderful series. I absolutely love Fables and this was a relatively short but creative entry that manages to resolve some stories, prolong others and create new ones in an organic and exciting way. I finish each volume frustrated the next isn't available yet. The central element of the 'super team' is very tongue in cheek, but the series' ability to merge the humourous stuff with the darker, more serious stuff is one of its key strengths. This won't be a disappointment for fans of Fables.There are spoilers aplenty in the rest of the review so be warned.

First Line: 'The Ascent: In which we take a moment to see what's been happening in the Business Office lately.'

17 February 2012

Review 14: Bossypants by Tina Fey

"I reached under the bed for the whiskey bottle. Little freckles of blood dotted the sheets under my shoulder. Oh God, another tattoo? I pulled at my skin 'til I could see the twisted ink. It was the Chinese word for 'Celtic symbol'... is just a brief example of what you will not find in this book! 'What's your deal? asked Anthony Kiedis as he stroked my cheek... with a Wheat Thin. 'I'm a writer,' I said, sounding more like a little girl than I wanted to. It was that night that I had the idea for Avatar.... is neither true nor in this book! But it is a product placement for Wheat Thins!"

Unfortunately, I was disappointed by this. I had really high expectations, which was probably part of the problem but it just didn't make me laugh. It made me smile and I liked it but against all the reviews saying it was laugh out loud funny, it just wasn't for me. I read Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman last year and for me, that was the better in the autobiography with comments on feminism and life category. However, Fey is very readable and very likeable and I did enjoy reading it but more because it was interesting likeable than because it was funny.

First Line: 'Welcome friend, congratulations on your purchase of this American-made genuine book.'

15 February 2012

Review 13: The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

"When five young mothers - Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett - first meet in a neighbourhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born. The five women slowly, and often reluctantly, start filling journals, sliding pages into typewriters, and sharing their work. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a a women's movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes - ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success. With one another's support and encouragement, the Wednesday Sisters begin to embrace who they are and what they hope to become, welcoming readers to experience, along with them, the power of dreaming big."

I definitely liked this novel but it didn't emotionally affect me in the way I had hoped. I think this was primarily because it was so based in American culture which is familiar to me but for the most part, I haven't experienced these things directly, and also because the women are that little bit older than me and their children are a key part of the story, and another thing I can't personally relate to. Having said that it was a pleasant read and it made me appreciate my friends that bit more.

First Line: 'The Wednesday Sisters look like the kind of women who might meet at those fancy coffee shops on University - we do look that way - but we're not one bit fancy, and we're not sisters, either.'

8 February 2012

Review 12: The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

"Every girl who has taken the test has died. Now it's Kate's turn. When her mother's dying wish is to return to her hometown, Kate's willing to do anything to make it come true. Even if it means starting at a new school with no friends - and no hope. Then she meets Henry. Dark, tortured and mesmerising, Henry offers Kate a reprieve. She thinks he's crazy. Yet when he brings a dead girl back to life right in front of Kate's eyes she's not so sure any more... Claiming to be Hades, God of the Underworld, Henry's prepared to make Kate a deal. He'll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests. If she succeeds, she'll become a goddess - and Henry's bride. If she fails she'll never see her mother again."

This is a rather confused novel. It has an excellent prologue with an intriguing premise and many twists and turns but is unfortunately let down by messy plotting and confusing characterisation. Disappointing due to the huge potential of the basic story but ultimately a bit of a frustrating read. Having said that, I imagine it will be very popular with its target audience due to the supernatural romance and tormented hero.

First Line: 'How did it happen this time?'

1 February 2012

Review 11: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

"In 2073 on the remote and secretive island of Blessed, where rumour has it that no one ages and no children are born, a ritual sacrifice takes place. It echoes a moment ten centuries before, where, in the dark of the moon, a king was slain, tragically torn from his queen. Their souls search to be reunited, and as mother and son, artist and child, forbidden lovers, victims of a vampire, after they come so close to finding what they've lost. But can love last forever?"

A refreshingly different young adult novel of love and people across the ages all centring around one mysterious island and two people pulled together in different ages. I struggled to put it down and was fascinated to see what story Sedgwick was creating for each of the distinct vignettes that span 2073 to a unknown time centuries ago. This is absolutely my favourite Marcus Sedgwick book.

First Line: 'The sun does not go down.'