Three Audiobooks: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Pride and Prejudice, The Girl With All The Gifts

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

After listening to Neil Gaiman give a reading of the first chapter of The Ocean at the End of the Lane,  and thoroughly enjoying it, it only made sense to continue where I left off. This was my first Gaiman! I have seen the Coraline and Stardust adaptations, but I've somehow managed to avoid his writing up until now. In short, I was very impressed with it. 

This is a curious story. In my goodreads review I mentioned that there was a quote in the novel that I found somewhat emblematic of my reading experience. That quote was:
“I wondered if that was true: if they were all really children wrapped up in adult bodies, like children's books hidden in the middle of dull, long adult books, the kind with no pictures or conversations.”
I felt like this was a children's book hidden within an adult book - although, fortunately one that was neither dull nor very long. 

Reading this book reminded me of something that I find a lot in fantasy: evil that seeps in due to openings between worlds, as well as openings between childhood and adulthood. It is ultimately about childhood/adulthood, innocence/knowledge - all those big things. But it doesn't feel so big while reading it. I suppose that's what I meant about it being one kind of story being hidden within the other. 


 Pride and Prejudice

A re-read, although it's been so long that I barely remember it. However, what I do remember very clearly, having watched it upwards of ten times, is the 2005 adaptation - the Keira Knightley one, directed by Joe Wright. It's easily one of my favourite films purely because of how utterly joyful it makes me feel. There is no other film that makes me smile more. So while reading P&P, I found myself not only intensely picturing the actors and settings and so on, but also inserting scenes and moments that exist only in the film into my textual head canon. Prime example: the Darcy hand-flex.

Most of my thoughts on P&P are inevitably focused on how the film diverges from the text (or, in my case, the opposite). I was actually quite surprised to remember that Bingley really has no awkwardness about him at all - he's just the loveliest, most unassuming guy in the world. He really won me over. I also liked the extended interactions between Elizabeth and Wickham, especially when they moved into "he knows that I know" territory, which is always fun.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Rosamund Pike, who plays Jane in the Wright adaptation. It was a great listen. I think any Jane Austen book would make a great audiobook. The soothing, comforting quality of her writing is just so lovely to listen to. That said, my assorted Jane Austen physical book collection is still in the works, so perhaps I shouldn't listen to them all just yet.


The Girl with All the Gifts

This was a surprising one. I chose it for a few reasons, the first being that it's actually on the reading list for one of my upcoming classes next year; the second being that the premise just sounded far too mysterious for me to postpone; and the third and final reason being that I saw the lovely Mari from mynameismarines fame had given it a glowing review on goodreads. Since finding Mari on booktube I've found that we have extremely similar tastes, so her stamp of approval is definitely one that I value quite a lot.

I quickly found myself in love with this book. However, once the reality of the zombie apocalypse narrative set in, I have to admit that I did become a little less enthusiastic, even somewhat disenchanted with the story. Zombies aren't my thing. I really did have to stop myself from rolling my eyes every time the narrator pulled a "Ever since the breakdown...".

One thing that truly astonished me was how masculine the style of writing was. Once the initial conflict broke out, the narrative dove headfirst into an expletive-heavy, punch-happy, fuck-yeah language. I think this might have had something to do with the fact in these moments that we switch focus from Melanie to Parks, but I'm not sure. What was really interesting was that I assumed M. R. Carey to be a woman - perhaps because the story is about a young girl, with a woman, Justineau, being the follow-up main character. But once the zombies (or "hungries") and the accompanying narration set in, I immediately changed course. I felt like it couldn't have been written by a woman - and I was right. It's not. This is definitely more an insight into me and my gender biases (because of course a woman can write about zombies in a violent and expletive-filled way), but I just found it interesting that my mind moved so quickly from decidedly female to indisputably male.

Despite my anti-Zombie feelings, I still really enjoyed this novel. I loved that it was calling back to Pandora. I loved the inevitability of that. It made the ending so strange but also so fitting. The ending is certainly very original, even if much of the story is clearly built on top of zombie culture.

Uprooted, Throne of Glass, Six of Crows

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Over the past few months, I've been making an effort to read more fantasy. Not necessarily YA fantasy, though my choices might suggest otherwise. The three fantasy books that I have picked up so far this year are Naomi Novik's stand alone Uprooted, Sarah J Maas's series starter Throne of Glass, and the first in Leigh Bardugo's new duology, Six of Crows

The following reviews don't contain any major spoilers, but they aren't really geared towards potential readers either, seeing as the failures of these novels are what I'm going to be focusing on, sadly.



Uprooted (the UK edition) has one of the most beautiful covers out there. Unsurprisingly, that was what first drew me to it. I simply had to have it on my shelf. That said, the title also intrigued me, and the premise sounded right up my street, so it wasn’t just the cover that won me over. It really did seem like the full package.

So, where did it all go wrong? Initially I thought it was promising. It’s well written, and the book doesn’t hesitate to delve straight into its premise. However, I soon found the characters to be pretty tired. Agnieska, the clumsy-but-intuitive girl. Sarkan, the aloof anti-villain. Their inevitable romance (which I didn’t totally hate, I do love a beauty and the beast / Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester romance).

And then there’s Kasia, who plays the role of ‘friend’ - and that’s it. Her story begins and ends there. I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to YA, and although this book doesn’t classify itself as YA, it still manages to uphold one of its most annoying tropes - the blind, unconditional best-friendship. I am all for stories about friendship, especially female friendship. But I can’t stand it when books have these extremely hollow friendships where the friends only purpose in life is to be the ‘friend’.

I also struggled with the plot. I ended up skimming through the entire climax. Never a good sign. To me, it felt like the ‘battle’ sequences (the heart tree sequences) were extremely repetitive. It reminded me of a video game, where each ‘boss’ might have the same formula for defeat that gets more difficult and requires more skill as you advance through the game. As an engaged, active player (or, say, a protagonist), this repetition doesn’t become boring because the exponential difficulty levels constantly demand more and more from you. As a passive reader, however, no more is being asked of me. I’m just forced to read about the same characters going through the same motions to achieve the same end. By the time the novel reached its final battle, I was so done with trees.

When I finished Uprooted, I realised that not only had I been seduced by its pretty cover, but that I had also been lied to by it. The style chosen for this edition implies a certain level of subversion - if that makes any sense. The premise is very traditional, almost so much that it clashes with its cover. My descriptive vocabulary is really failing me here, but there’s definitely something very ‘alternative’ about it. In my mind, the cover falsely promises the reader something other than your ordinary fantasy story.

Interestingly enough, the US edition is exceptionally traditional. It’s so by-the-book that it almost looks dated - like it should have been on shelves twenty years ago, if not even earlier. I really disliked the US cover when I first saw it. I almost thought it was ugly, especially in contrast with the gorgeous UK cover. However, in retrospect, it is so much more fitting for the type of story that Uprooted is, which is undeniably ordinary.


Throne of Glass

Sarah J Maas is a name that seems to be everywhere. I had heard good things about both of her series - Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses. I decided to go with her first, which, according to the little author bio inside the cover, Maas began when she was just sixteen. I was extremely impressed when I read that. As I began to read the actual novel, any notions of a teenage literary prodigy I might have had quickly faded.

Throne of Glass lacks logic. As does its protagonist, Celaena Sardothien. I mentioned this in my goodreads review, but there was one thing in particular that really stood out to me, and that could be seen as emblematic of most of this books downfalls, and that is this: During the course of the tournament Celaena is competing in, many of her fellow champions are brutally murdered - slaughtered, in fact. Torn open, organs removed, claw marks on marble floors - the works. In a later scene, Celaena is informed by a dream-vision-ghost-princess that there is an evil in the castle that she must destroy. Celaena cannot fathom what this could be, and only makes the connection that the monster who has been regularly killing people just might also happen to be the mysterious evil in the castle. Yes, Celaena, 1 + 1 does indeed equal 2.

This is the kind of mistake that any writer at any age could make, admittedly. It’s probably very easy to forget how simple some things are when you’re trying to construct an elaborate mystery. However, for an editor to miss this, and all of the other gaping plot holes and inconsistencies, is unforgivable.

This book suffered from a serious case of what I like to call ‘subplot pretending to be plot’. The tournament, despite its promises of grandeur and violence, was really just background noise, and was often skimmed over. The book’s main concern was romance. There was a scene in which the prince teaches her how to play pool, for crying out loud. The narrative valued flirtatious banter over just about everything else.

I might have enjoyed this book more when I was sixteen, which makes sense, considering Maas’s own age at its conception. At the grand old age of twenty two, however, this was not for me. Love triangles posturing as epic neo-feminist fantasies no longer tick my boxes. It probably goes without saying that I will not be continuing with this series anytime soon. I may pick up A Court of Thorns and Roses one day out of interest to see how Maas has improved over the years, but I’m in no rush to do so.

As an aside, the lovely booktuber Marines did a review of Throne of Glass (here) a while back. We appear to have been on the same wavelength on many of this book’s downfalls, so I would highly recommend her video, and her channel in general, if you’re so inclined.


Six of Crows

I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up had it not been for the hype. I knew that Leigh Bardugo had a prior trilogy that took place within the same fantasy world, so that initially discouraged me. But there was so much insistence on the fact that this was a new, stand-alone series, so I was soon convinced.

Starting, for once, on a positive note: Six of Crows has fantastic characters. It has a lot of characters, which was difficult at times, especially considering the fact that I read this over the course of more than four weeks, due to college getting in the way. There were a lot of people that I kept forgetting about. But the main ones, the proper #squad of POV characters, were honestly brilliant and so much fun to read about. Bardugo even went into hardcore flashback mode at times, and it was still great, because I actually gave a shit about who these people were. Inej was by far my favourite character, although I can genuinely say that I liked all of them.

I found that, perhaps because I’m unfamiliar with Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy, the worldbuilding was a little lacking. I suppose she didn’t want to repeat an info dump given in a different book (that most readers have likely read), but it ended up leaving me utterly lost on certain points. Description in general is something that I struggled with in this book. I found it hard to visualise the actions and settings being described, especially with regards to the heist sequence.

I initially gave this book a 3/5, due to the fact that I found the plot a little lacking. The characters were a lot more interesting than the heist itself. However, looking back, I feel like I might have been a bit too harsh. Characters are what I read a story for, and Bardugo’s bande à part are just fantastic. They are the reason why I’m excited for the sequel, and why I am absolutely going to read it as soon as it comes out. So, in short, I am hereby changing my rating to a solid 4/5.