Tag Archives: Fiction Reviews

Best of 2009 – Part 1

I’ve finally started piecing together my highlights of 2009. I’ll be splitting this up into at least 2 blog posts – this one includes best album, movie and book. The next post will include best game, live event, TV Show and webcomic.

Obviously this isn’t an expert link – it’s restricted to only what I’ve seen, heard, read or played and to my own personal tastes. Your milage is going to vary, so leave a comment with your own “Best Of”s, suggestions for what I’ve missed out on, or a link to your own blog posts about it.  You no longer have to be a registered site member to comment which should make things easier.

Best Album Of 2009

Biffy Clyro’s “Only Revolutions”

I love Biffy Clyro. A lot. They’re Scottish, they’ve got strong catchy melodies and beautiful lyrics, and since they broke out in the music scene with “Puzzle” they haven’t set a foot wrong. “Only Revolutions” takes things up a notch without compromise, and without losing the style that got them where they are.

Runners Up: Muse “The Resistance”, Placebo “Battle for the Sun”. Brand New’s “Daisy” could also be worth a place here once I give it a good play-through.

Best Movie Of 2009

“Up”

There were a lot of great movies this year, but when it comes to a balance of story-line, style, characters and soundtrack “Up” has to be my choice this year. A heart-string tugging return to brilliance for Pixar.

Runners Up: “Coraline” was a brilliant comeback for traditional claymation, and though “Avatar”s story gets a lot of slack it’s beauty, special effects and skilled use of what’s normally a gimmick have made it a game-changer for movies to come.  “District 9” was another close one.

Best Book Of 2009

This wasn’t my best year for reading. I’ve been short of time to get through my own tastes, or any of the critically acclaimed newcomers like “Wolf Hall”. Instead it’s been a stream of stories forced into following the “Twilight” formula.

Not the best quality genre to pick from, but I have to restrict my choices to what I’ve read.

“Hush, Hush”

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My favourite new YA of 2009, “Hush, Hush” a smart plot backed up with solid mythology, relatable characters and absolutely brilliant dialogue with sharp innuendo throughout. When other YA books are sticking to the formula Fitzpatrick unashamedly breaks out of the mold with her strong-willed protagonist and far from perfect love interest.

No book is perfect and it does suffer a bit from sledgehammer hints (inserting the words ‘angel’ in at every opportunity while the protagonist spends far too long figuring it out) it doesn’t stop the story from being completely gripping from start to finish. I can’t wait for the sequel.

“Fallen” Book Review

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“Fallen” by Lauren Kate
Release Date: 8th December 2009 (US), 17th December 2009 (UK)
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Doubleday (Random House Children’s Books)

If you’re going to judge a book by it’s cover, then “Fallen” is great – a black-haired, pale girl in a black dress stands against a blue-lit forest. Aiming straight for the gothic-at-heart, the large curving font for the title makes it look a lot like an Evanescence cover. That’s not a bad thing –  it’s eyes catching.

Then there’s the back cover blurb. If you’ve just finished that guilt-ridden-but-enjoyable binge of every recent vampire book within reach, searching for a way to fill the hole left by the end of the “Twilight” series, it’ll be all you need to read before taking the book to the counter and continuing your paranormal romance spree. The endorsement by P.C. Cast – author of the “House of Night” series – doesn’t hurt either.

SOME ANGELS ARE DESTINED TO FALL.

Instant. Intense. Weirdly familiar . . .

The moment Luce looks at Daniel she knows she has never felt like this before. Except that she can’t shake the feeling that she has. And with him – a boy she doesn’t ever remember setting eyes on.

Will her attempt to find out why enlighten her – or destroy her?

Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, FALLEN is a thrilling story about forbidden love.

“Fallen”‘s main girl is Lucinda Price, a mouthful of a name thankfully shortened to simply Luce. A boy mysterious burned to death while with her, so she’s been packed off to the fantastically gothic Sword & Cross reform school, complete with ever-present CCTV, barbed wire, overgrown vegetation, a full Olympic swimming pool inside a church and a military graveyard where you get to spend detention cleaning up old marble statues. It’s set in the marsh covered side of Savannah, Georgia, but the city itself is never really explored because reform school pupils aren’t supposed to just nip to the shops.

Luce focuses her attention on the gorgeous and alluring Daniel Grigori, but as soon as they make eye contact he flips her off. Charming. There to pick up the gauntlet, however, is the smooth-talking and charming Cam.

They are some of the first of “Fallen”‘s large cast, including the ‘wacky’ and rebellious Arriane, a blunt girl with horrible scars across the back of her neck; the much moodier will-break-your-face-with-her-New-Rocks punk kid Molly; chubby Penn, who always wears multiple layers and has access to everyone’s confidential files and dreadlocked smuggler Roland who handles getting contraband items into the school.

The teachers are a little bit more negatively portrayed – the kind-hearted, motherly librarian (who classes are so boring); the history teacher who’s not too bad a bloke when not lecturing his (bored) class; the manly female teacher and ‘warden’ Randy and a strict and cold gym teacher.

The first half of the story revolves around Luce adapting to this school and its pupils, having a bad-run in with Molly and feeling inexplicably attracted to Daniel even though his words to her mostly consist of  lines like “Go away”, “Don’t talk to me” and “You are not my friend”. Luce’s obsession doesn’t go away, though, and in typical teenage girl fashion she proceeds to stalk him and have Penn go through his files while she tries to explain to them that she knows she’s seen him somewhere before. Wait, did I say typical teenage girl fashion? I meant typical teenage girl in a school full of unstable reform kids behavior.  At least nobody’s been horribly burnt to death yet.

While my tongue is firmly in-cheek there, despite the slightly creepiness of it, Fallen’s target audience knows what it is to be head-over-heels with a guy so Luce’s longing will be alien to none of them. For older readers, she’s difficult to relate to with her single-minded focus on that one hot guy but as “Twilight” has already shown us, teenage girls just get it. At least she’s not climbing in his window to watch him sleep, right?

While she’s obsessing over Daniel, Cam is desperately trying to get in Luce’s pants and what was once charming and sweet is quickly getting creepy and desperate. As Daniel begins to soften and meet Luce off-campus, still trying to convince her she’s being silly and delusional because they’ve never met, Cam’s forced advances become a quick-trigger for a fist-fight.

There’s a dramatic rescue that rings true to “Twilight”‘s ‘saved from death by being crushed by a large object’ scene, replacing the car with something a bit more symbolic. There’s also another big fire where someone is horribly burnt to death, but they were too undeveloped for me to care very much.

Aside from those above scenes, though, the first half of the book is in need of some editing. Lauren Kate’s prose is clean and easy-to-read, but without enough action and conflict the endless repetition of stalking Daniel, being rejected by him, leading Cam on despite being a bit repulsed by him, and then crawling back to Daniel afterwards gets tiring. The long, eventless build-up didn’t work in Stephenie Meyer’s work and it doesn’t work here. As this is an advanced copy I was reading, with a bit of luck the editor will take a harsh hand with it before final release.

Lauren’s character development is also flawed – while Arriane, Penn and Cam are both varied and exciting characters, Lucinda and Daniel fall flat. Daniel’s constantly mean for no good reason, and despite Luce’s swooning over his looks and her mysterious attraction most girls would write him off as an ass and move on.

Luce isn’t much better – while she starts off promising with her past as a possible-arsonist-and-manslaughterer, her single-minded fixation on Daniel over any of her friends and cruel leading on of Cam makes her difficult to like. She’s better than Bella Swan, but still too passive. At one point she’s facing her own death and just lies back and thinks about how pretty Daniel is instead of trying to avoid it.

I think Lauren Kate knows she’s far from perfect though – possibly acting as her mouthpiece, one character says about Luce: “you’re nothing more than you appear to be: a stupid, selfish, ignorant, spoiled little girl who thinks the world lives or dies on whether she gets to go out with some good-looking boy at school”

Author Lauren Kate

Author Lauren Kate

The truth if, whether the distinguished readers among us like it or not, most teenage girls are exactly like that. They are going to love it.

The first book in a four book series, the story ends with some cliffhanger set-up for the second book “Torment”, due out September 2010. While its pacing is flawed and it’s main character difficult to love, Lauren Kate shows a lot of promise with world-building and her beautiful settings, along with memorable and likeable side-characters. With some work on developing Luce, and an increase in pace now that introductions are over, the series has a definite potential to progress into something very good.

Until then, young girls are going to love it anyway.

Rating: 3/5 – As the start of a series this dark romance has potential.
Other Books By This Author: The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove.
For Fans of: Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”, P.C. Cast’s “The House of Night”, Becca Fitzpatrick’s “Hush, Hush”,

An advance copy was provided for this review by Random House.  The work may change before final print.

You can also check out a review of the sequel to “Fallen”, “Torment“, or read my review of Lauren Kate’s novel “The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove“!

Book Review: Stephen King’s “Cujo”

I’m a fairly recent convert to the world of horror writer Stephen King – I picked up “Carrie” about two years ago and loved it absolutely, then picked up “On Writing” and found it fascinating and inspirational. Since then, I’ve come across his books regularly in charity shops, as well as some nice deals in Tescos – all of which have lead to a growing collection.

After “Carrie” and “On Writing”, I read and enjoyed “Misery”. Now was the turn of “Cujo”, the horror story of a beloved family dog that turns rabid and starts terrorising the area, drawing in around a family that have just moved into the area.cujocover

Vic Trenton is an advertising designer, and he and his wife Donna move with their four-year-old son Tad from New York to Maine. In Maine, the Camber family – abusive husband Joe, his wife and their son – own a big Saint Bernard named Cujo. Joe Camber has a reputation as a fair-priced and skilled mechanic, and when the Trenton’s car breaks down the two families meet briefly.

Shortly after, Cujo falls into a bolt-hole filled with rabid bats and is bitten. He hasn’t been vaccinated, and his sickness (aided by the suggested possession of the ghost of a murderer who once lived in the town) because a “vortex that draws in everything around it”. Suddenly too smart and far,far too strong, the St.Bernard is now not only easily capable of killing, but driven to do so until nothing is left alive.

This story has a lot of Stephen King staples: being set in Maine (in King’s fictional town ‘Castle Rock’), use of weird and wonderful local accents, a ‘big bad’ evil lurking behind the scenes, characters trapped in a deadly situation, and a very tightly-timed sequence of events that sync up in the run towards the finish.

It also has his enviable skill with characterisation shown in full. Throughout the course of the novel he creates an alcoholic, a scared child, a beaten wife, an adulterer, an animal and more, and each role s played perfectly. one of his tricks for this is to slip into first-person narrative during times of strong emotion. Which would be a bit like if I was just writing as normal, getting on with my review and OH GOD A SPIDER WHAT TO DO WHAT TO DO WHERE IS THE NEAREST MALE AHHHH.

cujoIn “On Writing”,” Cujo” was mentioned as the story King “barely remembers writing at all” as he was drinking constantly at the time. Which is an interesting tactic. I wonder if this implies that drunk texts from King are, instead of the usual garbled and emotional mess of most people, the beginnings of epic novellas? I don’t think this method would work for most of us, but if you try it, be sure to leave a comment to let us know – and you get bonus points if you’re still drunk while doing so.

Despite its polished and professional charms, “Cujo” is not without its flaws. Horror stories involve some suspension of disbelief, and when you have a sequence of tightly-timed ‘coincidences’ leading up to your finale, this suspension becomes even more important.

You’re wife’s cheating on you, your business is going down the tubes, and your car has broken down.  That’s tough luck, but it happens. Your wifes choice in flings in a psychotic author that trashes your house into a conveniently crime-scene like mess? These things happen, I guess. The garage where you repair your car is not only void of all humanity, but inhabited by a rabid dog and your wife and kid are stuck out there? They’re out of gas? It’s the hottest day of the summer? You’ve called them a dozen times but think you might leave it a few more hours just in case she’s out and besides, if you did call the police they’d be kind of incompetent anyway and take their sweet time about figuring out what’s going in?

Plot-writing involves a good amount of convenient coincidences – that’s an old cliche and a true one. However, writing is also all about sneaking in hints and little events that subtly manipulate the characters and story in the right direction, without giving away to the reader how it’s all going to end.

“Cujo” doesn’t quite have this pegged, and it leaves a lot of the book full of frustratingly unrealistic mistakes by characters, as well as choking up their pacing. The characters are stuck in a inescapable situation, and after the first attempts to save the day fail it just gets boring sitting back and tracking how many times people will mess up until King feels it’s time to wrap the story up.

If you’re looking for a quick-moving read, there are worse books to pick up. Other King novels tackle the flaws in”Cujo” more skillfully, but plenty of other writers come up with much worse. Most importantly, new readers will probably be too distracted by King’s skilled prose to notice its flaws.

“Cujo” is recommended as a decent introduction to Stephen King’s work, as well as a fun look into good characterisation and narration for budding writers. If you’ve been reading King’s stories for a while, however, it’s unlikely to be one of your favorites. 3/5.

Review: Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonflight”

So… Anne McCaffery’s “Dragonriders of Pern”. A famous series, particularly among those interested in

dragons, and one that’s been on my to-do list for a long time – because, as a writer of fantasy (well, cyberpunk) fiction involving dragons, it’s required reading.

I picked up the first book, “Dragonflight”, quite recently – it featured some gorgeous cover art pleasantly reminiscent of the work done on “Dragon Tamers 2: Digital Tempest”, and at first, I really enjoyed it. But in hindsight, there are sections of it that bother me…

It’s hard to explain my impressions of this book – perhaps it’s still too soon after reading it, but I’ll do my best.

‘Dragonflight’ does deserves its place as a fantasy staple – it’s well-written, for the most part, with a detailed world and brilliant effort put into grounding it’s main fantasy element – the dragons, which are all given personality as well as form, with their eating habits to their methods for firebreathing all rendered it satisfying detail.

The time it’s set, however, is not so clear – we’ve got a near-medieval world where important technology has been ‘forgotten’, but with telepathic dragons, extraterrestrial threats and time travel. Executed well, it could have been great – and the time-travel was a nice step up from the slow-moving first half of the book – but it wasnt really touched on, let alone explain, and too much thinking in to the situation tends to unravel the setting piece by piece.

So, where does it go wrong?

It starts with the main female character, Lessa. She starts out fantastic – strong-willed, ambitious, and delightfully dark-natured, and continues lie this, in part, for most of the book. But as it progresses and her relationship with the male protagonist happens, she seems to do a complete u-turn – not only does she let what’s described, in plain words, as rape by him pass with only the odd bit of snark, but she’s left helpless by his constant, rough shaking whenever she does the wrong thing.

She’s lead in a complete u-turn into some meek, abused housewife – and when you loo at Anne’s author bio, where she’s said to have started writing to protest ‘unrealistic portrayals of women’, well…

What.

I’m not a feminist, just smart enough to realise when abuse is clearly portrayed, nor am I a hater. I liked the book, and I’d still recommend the novel to fantasy fans. I’ll even be reading it’s sequels – though partly, this will be in the hope it gets better.

But I’ll be hoping the future protagonists are more of what Lessa should have been….