Friday, 26 June 2015

'Cinder' by Marissa Meyer (2012)

Synopsis: Cinder is a retelling of the Cinderella fairytale and is the first novel in a young adult sci-fi/fantasy series called The Lunar Chronicles. The various countries of the world have been reorganised into new empires, a deadly plague is ravaging the planet, and the Moon has been colonised by mysterious aliens called the Lunar. Linh Cinder is a 16 year old cyborg and lives in the futuristic city of New Beijing, the capital city of the Eastern Commonwealth. Cinder is essentially the property of her cruel stepmother Adri as cyborgs are viewed as less than human and have no rights. Cinder spends her days toiling away as a mechanic and her only friends are her kind-hearted stepsister Peony and her eccentric robot Iko. Two events then occur which turn her life completely upside down. Firstly Cinder is approached by Crown Prince Kai who secretly hires her to repair an old android, even though Kai is supposed to be preparing for the arrival of the cruel and powerful Lunar queen Levana (who wants to marry Kai and conquer Earth). Secondly, Peony contracts the plague whilst accompanying Cinder on an errand. An enraged Adri then sells Cinder for medical testing. However, when Cinder is injected with the plague she doesn't die and turns out to be immune to the disease. This brings her to the attention of a peculiar scientist called Dr. Erland. As he starts to do research on Cinder's physiology she begins to learn more and more about her mysterious past - and why she might be the only hope for Earth.


I've been hearing some wonderful things about The Lunar Chronicles for a while now so I was really looking forward to reading this first book in the series. To be honest I'm afraid that I can't really recommend Cinder as wholeheartedly as many other book bloggers out there have because there were certain things about this book that just didn't work for me, like the setting. New Beijing wasn't anywhere near as atmospheric as I would have liked. I never really got a feel for the city and apart from a few little things like a Buddha statue being mentioned there was no real indication that the story was taking place somewhere in Asia. It could have been taking place pretty much anywhere so the setting was very underdeveloped in this respect. This book is also very predictable at times - Cinder's true identity is obvious! - and I wasn't particularly sold on the romance between Cinder and Kai. The two of them do get a decent amount of time together but I just didn't feel any chemistry between them.

Having said all that Cinder is a clever and inventive take on the classic Cinderella story and although Marissa Meyer's prose is by no means spectacular it's definitely solid and readable. The thing that I enjoyed the most about this book was all of the political intrigue and brewing tension between the Lunar and the Earthens although I did like Cinder. She's practical, resourceful, sarcastic and brave and is very easy to sympathise with. There are some compelling secondary characters in this book as well. Queen Levana is genuinely sinister and there's far more to Dr. Erland than meets the eye but my favourite amongst the secondary characters was Iko. Her over-the-top personality and crush on Kai was pretty amusing and she actually reminded me a little bit of the grandmother from Disney's Mulan! :)

Although I found Cinder flawed I still thought that it was an engaging and interesting read overall and I am curious about its sequels. I'll probably get round to those books later on in the year.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, 15 June 2015

'The Talisman Ring' by Georgette Heyer (1936)

Synopsis: On his deathbed the elderly Baron Lavenham arranges a marriage between his great-nephew Sir Tristram Shield and his half-French granddaughter Eustacie de Vauban, a refugee from revolutionary France. Eustacie has a very limited circle of acquaintance in England - as a result of the Baron having quarrelled with most of his neighbours - and the Baron is concerned about her prospects. The Baron's actual heir is his grandson Ludovic but the Baron exiled him to the Continent a few years before, after Ludovic was accused of murdering a man in a dispute over a valuable heirloom called the talisman ring. Sir Tristram and Eustacie obediently agree to marry but soon realise that they aren't at all suited to each other. There's a big age gap between the two of them and Sir Tristram finds Eustacie's fanciful, romantic ways silly and annoying. Eustacie thinks Sir Tristram cold and boring. Eustacie then decides to run away to London in the hope of obtaining a position as a governess. She escapes on horseback in the middle of the night and is immediately plunged into an adventure when she encounters a handsome smuggler in a dark forest who turns out to be her cousin Ludovic. The two of them are then forced to take shelter in an inn called the Red Lion after Ludovic is shot in the shoulder whilst escaping from customs officers. At the inn they then encounter a sensible 28 old year old woman called Miss Sarah Thane, who is hoping to have an adventure herself, and her eccentric older brother Sir Hugh. The very next day Sir Tristram turns up at the inn to look for Eustacie and becomes reluctantly involved in the adventure to clear Ludovic's name and to recover the talisman ring.


The Talisman Ring was Georgette Heyer's final Georgian novel. In my opinion this book is also one of her funniest and I can completely understand why it's a fan favourite. It was a delightful read! It's got some hilariously funny laugh-out-loud moments and the story is full of adventure and suspense. This book's got murder, theft, chases, disguises, fist-fighting, gun-shooting, smugglers and even a Headless Horseman (er, sort of). And I really loved the main characters and how they all bounced off of each other in this one. Eustacie is hilarious and adorable, Ludovic is swashbuckling and dashing, and Sir Tristram is quick-thinking, practical and sarcastic. There are some very fun secondary characters in this book as well such as Sarah's older brother Sir Hugh (who is far more interested in drinking brandy than having adventures), the innkeeper Mr Nye, and Ludovic's sidekick Bundy. My absolute favourite character in this book was Sarah though. She's adventurous and fun-loving but still very sensible and rational and I loved her sense of humour. She's a wonderful character.

I came very close to giving this book five stars but in the end I chose not to, because the plot is a little bit convoluted at times and I don't think Sarah and Sir Tristram had enough scenes together. Their characters fell in love too quickly for my liking and I think their romance could have done with some more development. The scenes that they did have together were delightful but there should have been more of them. But in all other respects The Talisman Ring is utterly charming and it's definitely one of my favourite Heyer novels :)

Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, 12 June 2015

'Paper Towns' by John Green (2008)

Synopsis: Quentin Jacobsen is 18 years old and lives in Orlando, Florida. Quentin has had a crush on his beautiful next door neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman ever since they were both children. The two of them were good friends back then but have gradually drifted apart over the years. Margo is now one of the most popular girls at their high school while Quentin hangs out with band geeks, so Quentin is utterly bewildered when Margo climbs through his bedroom window in the middle of the night. She then manages to persuade Quentin to accompany her on a wild night of revenge pranking. Quentin then begins to hope that Margo will start to socialise with him more but when he goes into school the next day he discovers that she hasn't turned up and has ran away from home. This isn't the first time that Margo has run away from home though so no-one is feeling particularly concerned. However, Quentin begins to suspect that Margo wants to be found and that she has left him clues to her location. When Quentin eventually manages to work out where she is, he and his friends go on a road-trip to find her.


John Green's The Fault in Our Stars was one of my favourite books of 2014 so as you can probably imagine I was really looking forward to reading Paper Towns. But this one was such a huge let down. :( I found the early chapters amusing and engaging but after that the book deteriorated for me. Overall I found most of Paper Towns extremely slow-paced and boring and I really disliked its characters. I'm not usually the kind of reader who necessarily needs to like the characters in a book in order to enjoy it but the characters in this book were so annoying! Margo is an immature, self-obsessed, conceited brat who thinks that people who care about the future and actually want to have normal lives are shallow and fake. And the book is told from the POV of Quentin who has a massively unhealthy obsession with Margo and keeps going on about how "wonderful" she is which was extremely frustrating! And yes I do realise that the book is trying to make a point about how we can idealise others and see people for who we want them to be instead of seeing them as they actually are but that still didn't make Quentin's constant thinking and talking about Margo for pages and pages any easier to take. I can think of other books which have made similar points in a far more entertaining fashion.

I still love The Fault in Our Stars and I still really like John Green as a person - he comes across as a really nice guy in his YouTube videos - but I found this book a huge disappointment and I can't see myself reading any of Green's other books any time soon.

Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Bookish and Not-So-Bookish Thoughts

(c) Lianne @ EclecticTales.com

Bookish and Not-So-Bookish Thoughts is a weekly blogging event hosted by Bookishly Boisterous. It allows book bloggers (and non-book bloggers) to write about pretty much anything, bookish or otherwise (i.e. share exciting plans for the weekend, rants on things they've encountered during the week, etc)

1. Hello again, dear readers :) At the moment I'm currently re-reading an old favourite of mine - Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles - and after that I plan on reading John Green's Paper Towns.


2. Not very long ago I watched the brilliant and very moving 2002 BBC miniseries Daniel Deronda. The miniseries was written by Andrew Davies, was directed by Tom Hooper (who did The King's Speech and Les Miserables) and starred Hugh Dancy, Romola Garai and Hugh Bonneville. I really loved this miniseries and it's made me much more interested in reading the George Eliot book :)

3. This is my approximate reaction to Eddie Redmayne getting confirmed as the lead in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them :D

4. A new Northanger Abbey vlog has started today! Northanger Abbey is one of my top three Jane Austen novels and I've been wanting a vlog series adaptation of it for ages!



5. This means that we now have web series adaptations for all of Jane Austen's novels apart from Persuasion. I'm curious: does anyone out there think that Persuasion could actually work as a modern-day vlog series? As much as I love that book I really don't think it would and there are two reasons why I think this:

  • The main reason why Mr Elliot pursues Anne is because he's after a landed title and that would be difficult to adapt for the modern-day. But at the same time I would hate for them to get rid of this subplot because I love how jealous Captain Wentworth gets of Mr Elliot.
  • How on earth would they handle the letter scene?!

6. On a sadder web series related note, I've found out that East and West has been cancelled because of one of its creators having mental health issues. E&W was a web series adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. The few episodes that it had were wonderful and showed a lot of promise. I wish the creators all the best and I hope that someone else will now make an attempt at adapting the book.

7. Agent Carter is finally getting shown on UK television! :) I've heard such great things about the show and hopefully this will mean that we'll get Daredevil soon.

8. Here's a trailer for a film I'm really looking forward to!


9. And another!


10. Over the past few Sunday nights I've been watching the BBC's adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I'm a massive fan of the book - it's my favourite fantasy novel after The Lord of the Rings! - but I've got pretty mixed feelings on what I've seen of the miniseries so far. I'm really not happy with the portrayals of Lady Pole, Stephen Black and the Gentleman but I looove Enzo Cilenti's Childermass and Bertie Carvel's Jonathan Strange. Jonathan is adorable and hilarious and Childermass has the best exasperated facial expressions :D And I can't wait to see the Raven King. They'd better not mess him up or I swear *cracks knuckles*

Saturday, 6 June 2015

'The Hound of the Baskervilles' by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)

Synopsis: The Hound of the Baskervilles is the fifth book in the Sherlock Holmes series and is set before the events of The Final Problem. At Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes is approached by a man called Dr Mortimer who then asks Holmes to investigate the death of his friend Sir Charles Baskerville. Sir Charles died at his family estate in Dartmoor. The death was attributed to a heart attack but Mortimer is deeply suspicious. Sir Charles died with an expression of terror on his face and Mortimer noticed huge canine prints in the vicinity. Sir Charles had also been greatly troubled by the Baskerville family curse in the months leading up to his death. During the time of the English Civil War, Sir Charles' ancestor Hugo Baskerville supposedly sold his soul to the devil and was then killed by a giant spectral hound. The family has been believed to be under a curse ever since and Mortimer now fears that Sir Henry Baskerville (Sir Charles' Canadian nephew and heir) might be at risk. Intrigued, Holmes and John Watson go to meet up with Sir Henry who has recently arrived in London. Sir Henry has received a threatening letter but is still fully intent on claiming his property. Unable to leave London for the time being, Holmes asks Watson to accompany Sir Henry to Baskerville Hall and to protect him should the need arise. Even without Holmes, Watson soon notices that something bizarre is going on at the estate. There's an escaped convict on the loose, secretive servants, odd neighbours, a sinister mire, and the sounds of a dog howling in the night...


The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most famous story in the entire Sherlock Holmes canon - and for good reason! This book was my first Sherlock Holmes story and even now it's probably still my favourite :) Unlike A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four this book doesn't give the villain a lengthy and tedious backstory and it has a wonderful gothic atmosphere! At this moment in time I've only read the first 2/3 of the Sherlock Holmes canon but, judging from the stories that I have read, I'd say that only The Speckled Band and The Copper Beeches come close to capturing the level of suspense and creepiness of this novel. In excellent descriptive passages, Doyle manages to make Dartmoor seem like a truly eerie and dangerous place. Doyle is criminally underrated as a writer, I tell you!

Dartmoor

Some Sherlock Holmes fans actually dislike the fact that Holmes is technically absent for about half the novel but I'm not one of them. Holmes still has a presence in the story and personally I love the fact that Watson gets the chance to step into the limelight for a change! The book reinforces how determined, loyal and brave Watson is and he gets a lot to do. He spends a great deal of time interviewing people and gathering clues for Holmes in this one and he even manages to solve a subplot all by himself! The Hound of the Baskervilles is a fantastic story for him!

Finally, another reason why I love this book so much is because of its wonderfully eccentric and memorable Dartmoor characters. There's Dr Mortimer with his obsession with phrenology, Mr Frankland and his love of lawsuits, Mr Stapleton's interest in butterflies... and the villain in this book is awesome too! Definitely one of the cleverest and most formidable in the canon!

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a brilliant book and I know for a fact that it makes a superb introduction to the Sherlock Holmes canon. I first read this one when I was about 12. Even though I didn't love this book anywhere near as much then as I do now the story still stayed with me and I'm convinced that I owe a big part of my love of Gothic literature and mysteries to it :)

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

'Summer' by Edith Wharton (1917)

Synopsis: Charity Royall is 18 years old and lives in a small, sleepy village called North Dormer in the Berkshire Mountains of New England. Charity was born in an isolated, crime-ridden community called "the Mountain". She was eventually taken away from the area and became the ward of a well off middle-class couple called the Royalls. Mrs Royall is now dead and Mr Royall has become a heavy drinker. He and Charity have an awkward, strained relationship and are barely on speaking terms. Bored and lonely, Charity has taken up a part-time job at the local library in the hope of eventually saving up enough money to escape her surroundings. At the library, Charity then meets a handsome young architect from Boston called Lucius Harney who has come to make sketches of some of the local buildings. Charity and Lucius are instantly attracted to one another and over the course of the summer they become lovers. But when Charity then discovers that Lucius is hiding something from her she's left not only heartbroken but in a deeply difficult position.


Summer is the second story from Edith Wharton that I've read this year as I read her novel The Age of Innocence about two months ago and absolutely loved it. It instantly became one of my favourite books and it definitely made me want to read more of Wharton's other works. After finding out that there was going to be a film adaptation of Summer I figured I'd make that one my next Wharton book. Edith Wharton is generally more famous for her New York high society novels and I understand that Summer is rather unique amongst her works (and a bit more obscure) due to its New England setting and the fact that it features middle and working-class characters. But Summer deserves to be much more widely known because it was a very interesting read and I continue to be in awe of Wharton's beautiful prose! Her writing is extremely atmospheric and lyrical and the three locations in which Summer takes place - North Dormer, the Mountain, and the large and lively town of Nettleton- are all so vividly described and distinctive that they became characters in their own right. Wharton's writing also shows a huge amount of sympathy and compassion for the plight of the poor.

Summer is a very short novel - in fact it's actually a novella - but considering its length I was kind of shocked at how complex and well-rounded the central characters were. Charity is quite a flawed heroine and it took me a while to warm to her. At the start of the story she comes across as being really quite immature and sulky but that being said I was always very interested in her storyline and my heart went out to her as the book progressed. I found that I could even relate to Charity to a certain extent as she wants to have more independence and to see a bit more of the world but is being held back by her limited finances. The character that I found the most compelling in this story though was Mr Royall as he seems to be suffering from intense depression and self-loathing for much of the story (we never quite learn the reason for this) and he's pretty morally ambiguous. I mean on the one hand the fact that he's sexually attracted towards Charity is undeniably creepy given that she's basically his adopted daughter and he does humiliate the poor girl at the 4th of July festival (yes, he was drunk and was furious at seeing her with Lucius but that still doesn't excuse his behaviour). But on the other hand Mr Royall seems to genuinely love Charity and to have her best interests at heart - and he does partly redeem himself at the end by saving Charity from a horrible life. Unfortunately, I wasn't as satisfied with Wharton's characterisation of Lucius as I was with her Charity and Mr Royall. He reminded me a little bit of John Willoughby from Austen's Sense and Sensibility only he didn't seem to have any of that character's complexity or depth.

Summer was a beautifully-written and compelling read and I found both the story and its complicated characters thought-provoking and haunting. I really enjoyed the ending of the book as well. Considering the time in which the book is set Charity ends up in the best possible position for a woman in her situation and gets a much happier ending than Fantine or Tess Durbeyfield! I have to admit that I didn't love Summer as much as The Age of Innocence though. The overall themes in that novel are richer and more powerful and I found its characters a bit more engaging and sympathetic, but nevertheless I still thought that Summer was a brilliant read and I now firmly consider Edith Wharton to be one of my favourite authors.

Finally I desperately hope that the film adaptation of Summer actually gets made. It's kind of bizarre. The film has an Imdb page and the director wrote a tweet about the project - which basically announced that Hailee Steinfeld and Richard Armitage would be starring in it - but they then deleted the tweet and there hasn't been any kind of an official press announcement about the film since then. It looks like there's been some kind of a stumbling block in the production :( I'll be gutted if the project gets cancelled because the book could make for a great film and Richard Armitage would slay the role of Mr Royall! Gah!

Rating: 5/5