Saturday, 27 July 2013

Book #28

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

The true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. 
I have been called gullible before. In fact, I've been called gullible on many an occasion, and I really am. I believe what people tell me, but I'm not stupid. These 'memoirs' are a complete work of fiction. They are full of sheer nonsense, things that just wouldn't happen, things that are total figments of the author's imagination. I looked into this further, and found that the family Burroughs lived with, who the memoirs are based on, sued him for damages. He was forced to rebrand the novel as a book, rather than a collection of memoirs, and then stated the book was only 'loosely' based on his life. How embarrassing.

Reading this book is like talking to one of those people who lie to get one up on you. If you're telling a story, they tell theirs with added extras to make it all sound so much more exciting than yours. Burroughs is this person. The family have a paedophile living in their garden, who falls in love with Burroughs when he's thirteen. They spark up a relationship, and the family are absolutely fine with this. The children play with an electro-shock machine the doctor casually keeps under the stairs. The youngest child shits under the dining room table, and no one cares, nor cleans it up. Burroughs and one of the children bring the ceiling in the kitchen down one day, creating a huge hole in the roof, and no one really notices. The best one of all was this medical professional helping Augusten fake his own suicide attempt so he could be committed to a mental institution. The reason behind this was that Augusten didn't like school, and this would mean he didn't have to go. It's a load of fabricated tripe.

Nothing linked together. Each part of the story was just another piece of shit thrown in to jazz it all up. The ending was abrupt and dull.

I don't understand the praise that has been heaped on to this book. It's a badly written account of an emo kid's exaggerated teen years. Please avoid this.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Book #27

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

“War,” says the Mayor. “At last.”Three armies march on New Prentisstown, each one intent on destroying the others. Todd and Viola are caught in the middle, with no chance of escape. As the battles commence, how can they hope to stop the fighting? How can there ever be peace when they’re so hopelessly outnumbered? And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await? But then a third voice breaks into the battle, one bent on revenge.
I haven't felt so shocked by a book in a long time. It's one of those books where you feel so lost once it's finished; you've lot a few friends, and yourself, along the way. This trilogy is emotionally exhausting, but so worthwhile. The main message here is how love will always triumph over war, and it's an important one, but Ness explores so much more of human nature. It's an incredibly rewarding read.

Ness is a strong writer. The plot here flows more calmly than it did with its two predecessors. Ness balances character development and action-packed plot movements well. Nothing seems to have been written in just to hold the reader's attention - we are captivated enough. Nothing is predictable - every single plot twist was such a shock to me that I felt almost wounded by them.

A new voice is introduced in this installment; a foreign, alien voice. Ness does a brilliant job of making him sound spiritually different, but believable. His voice brought a fresh viewpoint to the trilogy, and seeing the war through the eyes of those most oppressed really was valuable. This voice has such a hatred for the human race, that he cannot see past this, and cannot see the goodness that comes from many of the humans. I loved that his alien race don't communicate in voices, but in thoughts, each one culminating into one voice - the voice of the entire species, all connected as one.

Ness shows us that no one can be trusted during wartime. Everyone has an ugly face and the worst intentions. Alliances have to be forged in the deepest of uncertainties, and difficult, life or death decisions have to be made by our two protagonists. There is an obvious absence of pure righteousness here. Every character does something horrible. War makes monsters of us all.

I finished this trilogy with tears in my eyes. It was such a wonderful journey, and I cannot recommend it enough. The only thing I would suggest is reading all three back to back, with no new books in between. They have to be consumed as a whole, inhaled as one. Absolutely wonderful.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Book #26

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode.
This is absolutely wonderful sequel. It's rare you find a novel better than its predecessor, but this is one of those unique moments. The story follows on from the sinking feeling I had when The Knife of Never Letting Go didn't quite end as happily as I had hoped. Todd and Viola are instantly separated and we follow the story of them both being adopted by different camps - Todd by Mayor Prentiss, and Viola by a rebel female group called The Answer.

Ness writes from the point of view of both Todd and Viola this time, alternating chapters. This gave us perfect insight into each camp's comings and goings, and let us see where assumptions or misunderstandings of the other's movements were happening in both camps. Viola is a brilliant character, so mature and level-headed, and it was incredible to hear her side of the story and comparing her to Todd. She never loses her way, and her constant mission is to return to Todd and save him, always with good intentions in her mind. In comparison, Todd seems to become swept up in his work in New Prentisstown, with his friendship with Davy, and the influence of the Mayor. At times I felt he was going to lose his soul completely; this was heartbreaking, and the realisation that good people can be turned bad in real-life is a harrowing one.

One of the most interesting areas of the novel is how Ness shows both Viola and Todd to be unknowing pawns in a greater picture. Both camps see them as expendable, and use them to their own advantage. So, although we think we know who the good guys are, it's never entirely clear who can be trusted. 

My favourite character here was Davy Prentiss. He is so flawed, but I loved him entirely. He was portrayed in the first book as evil to the core, chasing Viola and Todd and trying to attack them constantly. Here, he is forced to work with Todd, and we are able to see him in a much brighter light. He's a bit of an arse, but he's human. He's lonely. He only does the horrible things he does because his father has ordered him to, and all he wants is his father's love - something he never manages to achieve. His Noise burns with colour every time his father praises him, and this made me both rage and choke at the same time. Davy's a flawed character, but at times it was as though he was a better person than Todd. He's the imperfect Manchee of book two.

Mayor Prentiss is one of the most terrifying villains I have ever read of. His ability to brainwash and control people, his cold heart, his ability to view his own son as a disposable solider, and the fact that he has so many men employed just so he doesn't have to get his hands dirty, are all factors scarily similar to some real-life leaders we've had both in history and in modern times.

But Mayor Prentiss isn't the only evil in this book. Ness shows us that evil can show up in lots of different forms, whether in wartime or not; most interestingly in those we trust. This raises some interesting questions, particularly for a young adult novel. Does fighting against one evil mean you're not evil yourself? What makes people expendable? Why should they be? How can you fight against being controlled by information? Or manipulation of information? Why should we show kindness to the oppressed if they don't show gratitude? Should they show gratitude? What's the difference between fighting for freedom of oppression, and terrorism? If there's a difference, where is the line? I could go on and on about this, but I think these are important questions to come from the novel, and it's impressive that Ness can write these into such a story. He explores war and how it affects different people. It's good to get a young target audience thinking about such things, and if they can relate these questions to anything in the media, then all the better.

The story is so emotional and affected me in so many different ways. I felt as though I was taking blows myself, I felt hurt, confused, and upset. I choked up at some of the deaths, and I mourned some of the things Todd and Viola had to experience. I am so excited to move onto Monsters of Men today, and I'm already planning buying the trilogy for someone's birthday present. This is wonderful - read it.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Book #25

Morning Glories: Truants by Nick Spencer

Still reeling from the climactic events of "P.E.," the Glories find themselves lost in time and space, confronted by a new group of students who might be even more dangerous than the faculty themselves - the truants!
Volume four is the plateau for me. After three very exciting installments to this story, the fourth is nothing more than a mindfuck. Don't get me wrong, maybe those of you with higher brainpower than me would understand it more, maybe the break between reading the volumes didn't help, but this one was so incredibly confusing and nonsensical. Still, no questions are answered, more are asked, and we are thrown into a whirlwind of time travel, brain-feeling ghosts, now you see me madness. I'm frustrated.

The range of characters keeps getting bigger and bigger, making it more difficult to lose track. I was enjoying getting to know our core characters in more depth, but after the introduction of the truants, our originals have blurred into the background somewhat. There are some new characters who look similar enough to be twins (such as Akiko and Irina), but are in no way related to each other, meaning to have to keep your wits about you as scenes cut into each other quickly.

Maybe my expectations were just set too high. I didn't feel there was as much excitement as volumes two and three, only sheer confusion. I will absolutely read volume five as I need some sort of closure on this, but at the moment I feel as though my brain has been put in the microwave.