For Christmas I got not one but THREE books from my awesome friend Olivia. They were a trilogy by James Dashner, The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials and Death Cure and came with the tag line “A must for fans of The Hunger Games”. One of my favourite things about Christmas (after the chocolate and the wine) is making a start on the Christmas book haul, curling up next to the fire and getting lost in new stories. I’d seen The Maze Runner around, actually, but just didn’t get around to buying it. Too many books, never enough time to read them all! Anyway, I was delighted to get a chance to sink my teeth into some good ole fashioned dystopian sci fi madness.
The Maze Runner is about Thomas, a boy who wakes to find he has no memories and no idea who or where he is. It turns out he’s in the Glade, a piece of land in the centre of a maze with around 50 other teenage boys. Some of the boys have been there for as long as two years, some turned up like Thomas only a few months ago. None of the boys have any memories of anything outside the Glade, their lives before or why they’re there. All they know is that doors to the maze open every day in the morning and close every evening and that regular supplies are sent them. They know not to get stuck in the maze at night, as terrible creatures which are half biological, half machine patrol the corridors, and the walls move, altering the maze corridors. The boys have spent two years trying to solve the puzzle of the maze and find a way out, a way home, by sending runners to plot the maze every day but have so far discovered no clues as to how they can escape.
This is all to change with the arrival of Thomas, and a day later, a girl (shock!) called Theresa. Now I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say that Thomas, Theresa and the boys all work together to try to crack the maze before it’s too late and they all get killed.
Sadly, I can’t really say much about the other two books either without ruining everything but I’ll try a quick no-spoilers summary. Thomas, Theresa and the boys are part of some tests set up by a company called WICKED to find a cure for a horrible disease which has ravaged the planet. The two books see them battling all kinds of things in order to survive and hopefully ensure the survival of mankind.
I found this trilogy to be extremely gripping, almost impossible to put down once picked up. I started them shortly after Christmas and had finished the final instalment by 2nd January. The three books are exciting but also quite brutal in places. Let’s just say that not all the original boys make it to the end. Hell, let’s just say that not even half of them make it to the beginning of the third book! That’s not even giving anything away, Dashner kills off characters with surprising readiness. It’s good though, because you don’t know what to expect and it keeps the trilogy from becoming too predictable. The books are also full of nice little touches, like the language adaptations the boys make while they’re living in the Glade, and the fact the boys are all named after famous scientists.
However, I did have some minor problems with the trilogy. I found them to be slightly childish, even for me! If I’m honest, I don’t think these books are exactly aimed at my age group (or anyone over the age of 18) and think they would probably suit teenage boys best (I’d say boys around fourteen would love them). Despite these books being full of mature themes such as violence, death and sacrifice, I found something lacking with Thomas’s relationship with Theresa and feel it should have been explored in more depth.
I also felt the central premise of the books to be ridiculous. I love sci fi, and have absolutely no problem with someone proposing unlikely future worlds. However, they have to be backed up with something, the author has to make their future seem not just plausible but possible, like it could actually happen. You might initially think The Hunger Games seemed silly with its districts and fights to the death in the style of gladiators. But the reality TV aspect and the corrupt Capitol made it all seem that tiny bit more possible. I mean, we’ll watch just about anything in a reality TV format, and the materialistic, fashion-obsessed caricatures that live in the Capitol did make you think a bit about the way society seems to be heading today. Sadly, I felt Dashner’s novels were lacking some of this. I just didn’t buy that in order to cure a virus you needed to put some teenage boys in a maze for two years, and then through some other hard trials in which they mostly all perish. And when you realise what happens in the end I wanted to yell at the book “WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST DO THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?” It’s frustrating at times.
But overall, I really enjoyed reading them. They are similar in feel to The Hunger Games trilogy so I say if you enjoyed those, give ’em a go! I think I’d mostly recommend these books for a slightly younger less cynical audience, however, and think teenage boys especially will love them. They’re exciting, fast-paced and brutal (in an acceptable way, like the literary equivalent of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, rather than Hostel or Saw or anything).
What’s this?! Two posts in a week?! Try not to die of shock. I’ve got a lot of ground to catch up on and some pretty hardcore new year’s resolutions to at least pretend to attempt before I inevitably give them up before the end of January. So what was I up to in December? THIS:
New York, Mini Christmas Puddings and more Cassandra Clare
After a disastrous and faintly depressing November I had a much better, more fun-filled December. I absolutely love Christmas, and spent much of the first two weeks of the month making hundreds of mini christmas
puddings for various occasions. I also went to see Mumford and Sons with Anna and Simon which was boot-stompin’ good. The best part of December, however, was going to New York with my family for my sister’s 30th birthday.
We spent 6 days in New York and crammed in as much as we possibly could, from the Empire State Building (standard) to singing in piano bars in the Meatpacking District (amazing). We had a great time, although I must admit, I was so tired when I got home I could have done with another holiday, preferably on a beach somewhere! I don’t want to bore y’all with a long list of everything we did but I will mention a couple of odd things.
Firstly, apparently, spending $50 on just a steak (no chips or anything!) and $60 on a not-so-spesh bottle of red wine is normal for New York (Sparks in Midtown, if anyone’s interested). Ouch. Secondly, I can’t believe I thought I was going to be able to walk around Tiffany’s and resist the urge to spend all my remaining money on something shiny. Ouch. Thirdly, the Picasso exhibition at the Guggenheim was a tad disappointing but discovering what we called the boob dog series was a unexpected highlight of the trip for me. If you go, make sure you look out for it! Fourthly, don’t go anywhere near the East Village when it’s SantaCon, unless you want to see drunk Santa, dancing Santa or naked Santa.
And finally: thanks weather, you did great. It was sunny, crisp and not too cold. I loved New York and definitely didn’t want to return home despite my sore feet and the cold I had acquired whilst out there. I highly doubt it’ll be the last time I go! Here are a couple of the photos I took on my phone. I took a load more with my proper camera but haven’t had a chance to properly sort through them yet (let alone pick/resize them). I might do a separate photo blog about it, watch this space. Oh, just one last thing! The squirrels in Central Park are CRAZY FRIENDLY. Ok, I’m done now.
Returning home on 18th December not having done any Christmas shopping was a little stressful. I basically ran around the shops like a headless chicken for a week. I also had a bit of a literary crisis, as I was reading The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo and I was finding it slow and incredibly confusing. In the end, I gave up and failed in my mission to resist Cassandra Clare’s books and even though I knew I was going to get left hanging (because the two series she has written aren’t complete yet) I returned to The Mortal Instruments books to find out what happens to Clary after the satisfying conclusion of book 3.
I read the fourth and fifth books in the series, City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls. I was really hesitant about starting City of Fallen Angels as things seemed to end in a good place in the end of the third book and I didn’t want it ruined. And I must admit I was slightly irritated with some of the characters moping around and not talking to each other properly. Although I enjoyed it as I like Clare’s writing style (multiple character points of view, excellent pacing), I found myself getting frustrated and wondering where the book was going. It did build to a great ending though. I’m trying desperately not to give anything away just in case there are any readers out there who haven’t read the first three. I hate it when people give too much away in reviews.
I loved City of Lost Souls, however. In fact, I think it is probably my favourite of the whole series. I loved the story, it was tense and exciting and built to a dramatic final showdown which had me pacing around my bedroom. I also liked Clary in this book, she finally gets into the fighting spirit and is a bit more badass than she has been, which is great. Simon is also excellent and steps up majorly. I also found the book slightly more grown-up than some of the others. Although City of Lost Souls didn’t finish on an awful cliff-hanger, I’m still desperate to know how the series ends. I can’t believe Clare’s going to keep us waiting for over a year! It’s like waiting for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix all over again!
Oh dear, I’ve spent far too long rambling about The Mortal Instruments series and no time to talk about The Infernal Devices series by Clare, which I also read. Two books of the trilogy have been released so far, with the final instalment coming in a couple of months. The first two books are Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince. I really liked liked these books, especially as they are set in Victorian London and I love all things nineteenth-century-related. They’re about Tessa, a girl who moves from New York to London and then finds out she can change her appearance and turn into anyone, dead or alive. She is rescued from imprisonment by Will and Jem, two dashing shadowhunters. The books are similar in feel to the Mortal Instruments series with lots of mystery, demon-fighting and love dilemmas. I want to say so much more but can’t go on all day (this post is already long enough). I think I like Clare’s writing so much because she is the master of creating lovely, brooding male characters (my favourite) and strong, inspiring female characters. She does all this as well as managing to pace her novels excellently, and I never manage to guess what will happen next. And for these reasons, I’ll keep reading her books even if they are, strictly speaking, aimed at a teenage audience.
The rest of December was spent eating, drinking and partying with my family and friends! Good times. Now it’s time to look to 2013 though, and think about what I’m hoping to achieve this year, and how I’m going to make it happen. Exciting!
Oh my god this post is 1130 words long and counting! If you made it this far you deserve a medal!
Before I move on to this wonderful new year, I thought you might like to know what I’ve been up to since my last post (the one about NaNoWriMo not the one about being hacked!). Well here’s part one of what I’ve been doing:
NOVEMBER: Failed NaNoWriMo, Read the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare Instead
At the end of October, my wise sister told me that if I spent half the time I spend reading writing instead, I’d be able to bash out 10 novels before the end of the year (or words to that effect). She was right. I do spend a ridiculous amount of time reading and not doing anything else. Not just books either, I trawl the internet every day for hours reading articles and blogs. It’s getting out of hand. I am the master of procrastination, and reading allows me to tell myself I’m achieving something as I can pretend to myself that I’m doing some form of “research”. 2012 was the year I pushed the definition of research to its very limits.
Anyway, when Anna said this I did feel a little guilty and decided to attempt NaNoWriMo 2012. What better to get me to start writing? I even blogged about it to make sure I actually stuck to it (LOL). It was all going so well, in two days I’d written 2000 words and had a pretty fun love-at-the-end-of-the-world type plot planned.
After the first two days things began to unravel. I went to three different bonfire parties in four days which meant, naturally that I’d left my novel temporarily and promised to catch up in the week. I wrote a little more on my phone after a drunken night out (totally illegible drivel) but after that I had lost the drive to forge on. I told myself I was too busy, I’d catch up next week when I had more time.
The following week, I discovered the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. I’d seen them before but thought they looked a little too childish, even for me. However when I saw them recommended on another blog by a grown up man, I thought I’d give them a go. Plus they’ve made the first book into a film and I wanted to check out the books before the films release later this year. NaNoWriMo was a lost cause after that.
I’m not sure why I was worried about the Mortal Instruments series being too young, as they’re similar in feel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Divergent, The Hunger Games trilogy, and many other YA books I have read and enjoyed. I suppose I don’t want to be that person who only reads YA, so I try not to limit myself to it all the time. I enjoy reading all sorts and don’t want to be defined by one genre. Having said that, YA fantasy and Sci Fi is always what I feel like writing about when I sit down to blog. It is an exciting genre that’s getting better and better and I don’t feel as wary of writing critically about it as I do with classics and literary fiction.
Anyway, I read the first three books in the Mortal Instruments series in about a week and a half. The books are City of Bones, City of Ashes and City of Glass, and all follow Clary, a girl who has her world turned upside down after finding out she is a shadowhunter, a demon killer. Clary meets other shadowhunters her own age: Isabelle, Alec and the rather lovely Jace. When her mother goes missing in mysterious circumstances, Clary needs the shadowhunters’ help. Her search for her mother and missing childhood memories takes her all over New York, with her geeky and sarcastic but loveable friend Simon dragged along for the ride. As the books progress, Clary learns more about her past, her parents and the world of shadowhunters, downworlders and demons.
I liked these books because they were plot-driven, super exciting stories with a cracking forbidden love story
(although I did start shouting in frustration by the middle of the third book). What’s more, Simon, who should just be the annoying friend, turns out to be an excellent character. In fact, I’d say that Clare found the perfect balance between keeping the plot moving and exploring and developing the characters. All in all, I bloody loved these books! Even if I am indulging my inner teenager.
The Mortal Instruments series will eventually be made up of 6 books but only 5 have so far been released. Because the third book ended in such a wonderful place I told myself I would leave it there and resist the temptation to pick up the other two until the series had been completed (in 2014!!). Clare has also written another trilogy of books set within the same world but set in Victorian times, these are called The Infernal Devices. Only two of the three have so far been released, so I told myself I would wait until the third book came out before picking up the third. We’ll see how far I got with all this temptation-resisting when I recap on December!
So, that was my disastrous November. Failed NaNoWriMo, went to a lot of parties and read a few books. Any time I wasn’t reading/partying I spent helping my sister photograph a school and generally panicking over my lack of a serious job. But hey! It’s a new year now, so moping is strictly forbidden. Bring on 2013!
This year I will actually be attempting NaNoWriMo 2012. For those of you who don’t know what this means, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is where people around the world commit to writing a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. I’ve been wanting to have a go at this for a few years now but didn’t have the confidence. This year however, I’ve decided to give it a go!
I’ll admit I was a bit late to start with this, I only remembered it started on November 1st last night at around 10pm so at the moment I’ve only written 600 words. Still it’s a start! I will hopefully be making up for this today, cramming in a couple of thousand words. The aim is to write about 1700 words a day.
The big question was what to write about? Well, I have tentatively put that I will be writing a sci fi novel “probably involving some form of time travel” on my NaNoWriMo profile, but I’m not sure how this will play out. I had a great idea about a story involving time travel but have already confused myself over paradoxes and things so I’m tempted to abandon the time travel plot in favour of something more straight forward. Still, they say you should just write whatever comes to mind first, and worry about editing in December. So that’s what I’m going to do.
I haven’t decided yet if I will be writing one novel or several short stories, or even just some articles. My aim is simply to write lots all through November, as practice makes perfect and ultimately I want to write for a living (this is the dream). I think it’s excellent practice for getting into the mindset of writing lots every day.
Here’s a snippet of what I’ve done so far:
“I have seen the future, and it makes a mockery of Orwell and Huxley. They didn’t realise how much power chaos has.”
Cringe! I must admit that when I started last night I was thinking of an extremely overdramatic plot involving the end of the world so it’s a bit doom and gloom at this stage. Hoping to lighten things up a bit today with some ace characters so we’ll see where the writing takes me!
Wish me luck! I’m going to need it to make it to the end of November! I really don’t want this to turn out to be ANOTHER thing I start and don’t finish!
I recently read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and whilst I thought it was an excellently written book, and I generally enjoyed it, I found the middle section a bit of a drag. After some consideration I’ve realised why. I simply don’t like it when authors write in an accent or dialect.
In fact, the more I thought about it, the more this realisation rang true, and I began to remember other examples. I have never really loved Wuthering Heights (gasp!). This is primarily because it was sold to me as a tragic, timeless romance and I discovered it to be a book full of pathetic, bitter and petty characters that don’t have a single redeeming quality between them. However, my dislike of the book was deepened by Joseph, the disagreeable servant who speaks in an unintelligible Yorkshire dialect throughout the whole novel. Also he’s miserable and irritating, and generally (in my opinion) superfluous to the plot, although I’m sure I once said how his character is an example of the hardened labouring classes of nineteenth-century rural Yorkshire or some such claptrap when I studied the book at school. My point is, any book that contains the below speech is just asking to be thrown at a wall in exasperation.
We’s hae a Crahnr’s ‘quest enah, at ahr folks. One on ’em’s a’most getten his finger cut off wi’ hauding t’other froo’ sticking hisseln loike a cawlk. That’s maisterm yah knaw, ut’s soa up uh going tuh t’grand ‘sizes.
Back to Cloud Atlas. It isn’t half as bad as Wuthering Heights, but it still got to me a bit. The middle section is set an indeterminable amount of years in the future after the collapse of civilisation. The story is narrated by a man living on an island inhabited by several tribes who live without electricity, technology or any of the “Smart” of the “Old’uns”. It starts:
Old Georgie’s path an’ mine crossed more times’n I’m comfy mem’ryin, an’ after I’m died, no sayin’ what that fangy devil won’t try an’ do to me
Upon reading this first sentence my heart sank. Yes, I know it’s not that different to “normal” writing, and it’s definitely easier to understand than Joseph but I couldn’t bear the thought of a whole chunk of this novel being written like this. In my experience writing in an accent makes it awkward for the reader, constantly trying to sound out the words in their head, and it usually ends up ruining the flow of the prose.
It’s not that I don’t see where David Mitchell is coming from; it makes perfect sense to write the middle section like this as it is an oral account, not a written one, and therefore it wouldn’t make sense to be overly formal. I totally understand why he felt the need for a dialect. I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine that countless years in the future after the collapse of civilisation language won’t be the same as it is now. Hell, I know that language is evolving every day and if my Victorian/Edwardian/until 10 years ago ancestors read this they would be horrified and perplexed by my informal, scatterbrained writing. I think it’s actually extremely clever of Mitchell to have written the book like this, with each section written believably in the language of its setting. The middle section is meant to be a narrated story, not a written journal or tale like the other sections, and as such it fits in with the rest of the book nicely. And the rest of the sections are also cleverly written. The proper and precise language of Adam Ewing’s Journal in the nineteenth century seems entirely credible, as are the funny, flowery and verbose letters from the 1930s.
However, it’s not the language I have a problem with, it’s phonetic writing. Even though writing in an accent like this is the best way for Mitchell to convey that a) it’s an oral account and b) language has changed in this future setting, I still don’t like it. Phonetic writing slows the reader down because you have to translate the words in your head (internally you go, “oh I see, by “an'” he means “and”). I don’t really want to have to translate what I’m reading. In fact, if I wanted to do that, I’d have bought a book in Italian and spent a month trying to decipher it. What I really wanted was a novel written in my own language that I could lose myself in. It’s made even worse by the fact that English is the least phonetic language in the world (it feels like it anyway). We’re just not used to reading like this! We carefully learn how to spell and say every word properly when we’re really young and then we stick to it. Stubbornly.
I’m only picking on Cloud Atlas because it is fresh in my mind. Please understand that I thought that it was a great book, and the language thing was really only a minor irritation. I’m just using it as an example of a bigger issue I have had for years. I also had similar troubles with Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and even though it was a good book, I struggled through it because of the phonetically written speech. I think that generally, I have a pretty good idea of what most accents sound like in English, and if an author was to write that a character spoke in a Scottish/Irish/German/Whatever accent I would be able to hear it in my mind all on my own, without any help from the author. Sometimes it feels like writers just like showing off.
So there you have it. I reeeeaally don’t like accents and dialects in writing. In my opinion they’re unnecessary and awkward to read. Rant over.
N.B. I allow only one exception: I don’t really mind Hagrid’s slight accent in the Harry Potter books as it’s very easy to understand, doesn’t interrupt the flow of the writing and accounts for such a small part of the series. But as a Potter geek I’m probably a bit biased.
Ok! I’ll admit I have been totally rubbish at blogging recently, and have even been avoiding the blog for the last couple of weeks! I’m not sure why, I think it’s because the longer I left it the more daunting it got… if that makes sense? Anyway, I decided to just bite the bullet and blog about a book I read aaaaggges ago, but was one of the most fascinating takes on the future I’ve read. I know I said I was leaning against book reviews but I’ve had a change of heart and besides, this summer I read A LOT and have lots to tell you about!
You may not know this, but I’m a HUGE fan of end of the world/post apocalyptic books. The more desperate the situation the characters are in, the better! I’m not sure why I like them so much, it could be because they make me feel a lot better about my life in a it-could-be-so-much-worse kind of way, or it could just be that they’re exciting books that enable us to visualise that which we hopefully won’t see in our lifetime (although apparently the world is in fact going to end in December this year so… eek).
You might not initially think that The End Specialist was this type of book, based on the central theme. It’s what I call a “what-if” book, a sort of fictionalised mental exercise in which you imagine how society would change if something was radically altered. In this case it’s “what if we invented a cure for ageing?” and explores how this cure would affect the whole world. But if you thought there was going to be a happy everyone-was-immortal-and-lived-forever-in-peace ending, you’d be corrected as soon as you saw the title of the prologue, which is: “A Note About The Text From The Department of Containment, United North American Territories”. An ominous beginning if ever there was one.
The End Specialist follows John and what happens to him after he gets the “cure”. Written as if a blog, the book is different from others which explore the world after a major catastrophe (The Road, The Hunger Games, etc.) as it explores the disaster while it is happening. You get a real sense of being stuck in the middle of events which will change the world as we know it forever. It’s also interesting because it explores not only the social impacts of the “cure” (divorce rates soaring, marriage rates plummeting, people having fixed-term marriages), but the economic (population rates rising, resources running out, starvation and disease) and the political (Russia makes all its soldiers in the army get the cure and begins a new aggressive foreign policy). The book jumps forward a few decades several times throughout the book, and in this way Magary is able to explore the really long term affects of such a “cure”. Eventually, people begin wishing they could die, and there becomes a market for people who are willing to help them. These people are called “End Specialists” and our protagonist, John becomes one.
Overall I found this an interesting, if a little depressing, read. The sheer amount of thought put into the central concept of the book and its consequences is staggering, and very impressive. Magary has considered every possible outcome of the cure and has included it into his not-overly-long novel. However, John isn’t a hugely sympathetic character and the real fall back with having a blog-style book is that it becomes faintly ridiculous during moments of life-shattering action that he would be blogging all the way through it (I don’t want to spoil the end so I won’t go into detail). Having said that I’d definitely recommend this to any fellow fan of the genre.