Thursday, 21 July 2011

Book #35

The Prime Minister's Brain by Gillian Cross

Everyone at school is playing the new computer game, Octopus Dare, but only Dinah is good enough to beat it. But she forgets who she is when she looks into the whirling eyes of the Octopus...What is happening, and how is the Demon Headmaster involved? And what will he do if he really does get into the Prime Minister's Brain?

The sequel to The Demon Headmaster! I enjoyed this one a great deal more than its predecessor.

The computer game plotline dragged me right into the book when I was younger, and it did this time too. The book was written in the 80s, and reading the descriptions of these old-fashioned computers the characters were using was quite amusing. I loved that Cross made Dinah carry one of these monumental contraptions across London on the tube. She must have been having a laugh. No one used a mouse either, all of the computer activities were command based. Press O to open, it was brilliantly retro. I also really liked the font changes in the novel which illustrated words appearing on a computer screen, à la:


Very enthralling.

The characters end up splitting up at the beginning of the novel, and the chapters are set out nicely to alternate between their different narratives, which varies the plot slightly and gives us an all-seeing eye of sorts.

Some of the language used is quite dated, and it reads sometimes as a jolly-oh Enid Blyton type of novel. This strangely contrasted with the futuristic, mechanical feel of the novel, and felt quite odd. The characters in the book do remind me a lot of the Famous Five, and to associate them with computers and the future is just completely bizarre.

I didn't realise there were six books in this series! I have only ever read the first two. I doubt I'll track down the remaining four, however, as I'm not too sure it would be worth my while.

I much preferred this novel to the last, but perhaps I am just remembering my feelings on first reading it. I remember absolutely loving it. I probably won't visit The Demon Headmaster and SPLAT again for a long while, though.

This is the end of my nostalgic readings for now. I am now moving onto some very thick books and I am excited, but slightly nervous about the imminent book avalanche that will no doubt occur when I try to remove the next one from my shelves.

35 / 72 books. 49% done!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Book #34

The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross

Dinah moves in with the Hunter family and starts going to the same school as her foster-brothers Lloyd and harvey. It's not easy, as they seem to hate her, and school is really strange. Pupils suddenly talk like robots and do weird things - even Dinah finds herself acting oddly. She's sure the headmaster has some kind of power over them, and is determined to find out more. But the Demon Headmaster is equally determined to stop her.

I loved this book when I was younger, and I especially loved the television series. Who could forget those horrible green eyes of doom? Yuck.

Despite this long lost love, I'm not too sure if this book is a good one for adults to return to. I remember finding it so exciting in my younger days, but reading it this time, I felt a bit depressed! I didn't feel a great deal of suspense as I read; there definitely should have been some there. I didn't have much feeling for the characters either; no love for the goodies and no hate for the baddies. It was all a bit bland.

The whole premise of the book is a terrifying one, and very reminiscent of Nineteen Eighty-Four (which is in fact mentioned in the book twice, but not as a comparison to events). The idea of a school such as this, with this kind of man in power is quite lamentable. However, (and I will ignore for the moment the fact that this is a book aimed at children) Cross shows us this scenario to be just a wee bit of a stress and a burden. No big deal, just a minor annoyance. This will probably pass over younger reader's heads, but it bothered me. I was particularly shocked by the snowball punishment. It was very cruel. The three characters who endured it seemed to be quite fine afterwards, but I was chilled to the core along with them.

Cross used the word "realer" in this novel, and my eyes crossed in frustration reading this horrible error. My particular copy was published in 1998, so I can only hope later editions have this mistake amended. It was awful.

Although more could've been done with the plot and the characters, it will always be a childhood favourite of mine. I'm moving on now to the sequel, which I seem to remember I enjoyed a bit more!

34 / 72 books. 47% done!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Book #33

99 Fear Street: The House of Evil (Collector's Edition) by R.L. Stine

Take a tour of the scariest house on Fear Street in this spooky trilogy. "The First Horror": Twins Cally and Kody Frasier have moved into the scariest house on Fear Street. Will they become its next victims? "The Second Horror": The minute Brandt moves into town, he's got three girls fighting over him. But Cally's ghost wants him most of all. "The Third Horror": Kody returns to the infamous 99 Fear Street to make a movie about her life--and find her sister. But soon the horror film is becoming all too real.

(Sorry about the miniscule book cover! This isn't the newest or most popular book, so I found it difficult to find a clear cover picture, unfortunately!)

I must have read this trilogy a thousand times many moons ago. I loved scaring myself, and I loved reading about the supernatural. I can't remember, however, being as scared reading it as I was this time. I am the grand old age of twenty-three (almost twenty-four!) and I was jumping out of my skin when I heard the slightest noise in my empty house. This is what R.L. Stine is all about. I am a grown woman, it's ridiculous.

I find it amazing how kids can read these books, actually. All three were filled with such gruesome and gory scenes, terrible cliff-hangers at the end of each and every chapter, and trauma every few pages. It was delicious.

The first book in the trilogy is exciting, but upon reading the next two it's soon quite obvious that it's also an excellent set-up for what's to come in the next two installments. The ending is absolutely shocking - my book is the Collector's Edition (three books in one), I have no idea how I would've felt if I only had the first book and wasn't able to read on afterwards.

The second book becomes darker and a bit more creative, with Stine dabbling in ritual magic and voodoo. I found our male protagonist to be slightly irritating, particularly when he has three girls fawning over him at one point, making him think he was a bit of a ticket. His ending, though, was almost as delightful as the last! The twist was perfect, and I had forgotten all about it. Although I did work a few things out before they happened in book two (which, to be fair, is to be expected with an adult reading literature aimed at a younger audience), it was in no way as predictable as Call Waiting.

The third was probably my least favourite, but was still enjoyable. I found the plot to be slightly unbelievable to begin with - all of these horrible events happen at your old house, so you decide to go back so you can star in a film about it? Nonetheless, I enjoyed the gore, and I enjoyed the casualties. It was possibly the most gruesome of the three, but this is a very close call. I'm not too sure if the second or third installments would be as exciting if the reader hadn't experienced its predecessors, however.

I am an absolute sucker for being scared. I love it, and I had forgotten how wonderfully spine-tingly R.L. Stine's stories and words were. I have no idea where all of my old Point Horror and Goosebumps books are, but I really will have to have a look because I had lots of fun reading this one, despite having to put all of the lights on in the house before going downstairs for a glass of water during the night.

Normal service will resume soon; two more children's novels to go!

33 / 72 books. 46% done!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Book #32

Call Waiting by R.L. Stine

A killer who phones his victims before murdering them is stalking Karen, and if Karen cannot trace the caller, she will become his next conquest.

I found a few of my old, young adult books while cleaning, so I'm going to give them a bash. It's quite a difference reading books which are so short, and with such massive text size! R.L. Stine was one of my favourites while growing up, first Goosebumps, then Point Horror as I 'matured'. It was interesting to read this one from an adult's perspective, but I was sad to discover I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I was expecting!

To begin with, the entire story was incredibly predictable. I worked out about ten pages in who this 'phantom' caller was going to be, and the other little plot points weren't too difficult to fathom. This is a kid’s book, though, so I’m sure I can forgive this.

Stine portrays his teenage characters quite well; I think he gets their feelings and actions spot on. In particular, Karen's crazy teenage girlfriend behaviour was quite accurate, and can be attributed to people in real life quite easily. For this reason, I didn't like Karen. She was a complete brat, very selfish, and cracked in the head. I didn't particularly like any of the characters; none of them were developed enough.

I liked that the book was set in the 90s. It was so odd to read, especially as it's set around telephone calls and there were no mobile phones in those days. I also enjoyed the incredibly 90s Saved by the Bell patter that was peppered through the dialogue. Awesome!

This definitely isn't R.L. Stine's best. There are many other Point Horrors he has written that have had me terrified. I think it may be down to the fact that there isn't anything supernatural going down in this one, just emotions and silly behaviours. It was enjoyable nonetheless and has inspired me to have a dig for the huge amount of others I had back in the day.

Stay tuned for another R.L. Stine review!

32 / 72 books. 44% done!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Book #31

The Shack by William P. Young

Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his great sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgement he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever.

I was really unsure about this one, and I still am to a certain degree. It's an incredibly religious text. I believe my reservations in that area may have something to do with me not fully enjoying the book, and they will certainly be a burden to me when attempting to review it. It really felt that rather than telling the reader a story here, the reader is to be taught a lesson about God, and about why he allows such pains and sufferings to take place in our world.

The protagonist was a man who had turned his back on God after his youngest daughter had been abducted and killed. God then writes a note inviting our protagonist to the shack where the ordeal happened, in order to have a wee chat. Believable?

The theological explanations which are given here are written in an extreme, poetic, Hallmark card fashion. There were times when my eyes began to glaze over due to an influx of biblical buzz words and motivational sentences.

However, God is certainly presented as someone to think about. Young challenges our preconceived notions of God, and questions our judgements upon Him, and judgements upon our peers.

Young is not a terribly good writer. Many times I noticed words which seemed to have been placed into a sentence by extreme use of a thesaurus. There were far too many adjectives, and a disturbing amount of similes. He is, however, a man who has gone through some ordeals in his life, spent a great deal of time evaluating these and trying to find God. I respect that.

This book would be a better read for practising Christians, or indeed people with an interest in religion. It has certainly changed some of my perceptions of God, but it has absolutely not given me any sort of incentive to convert to Christianity, as the blurb and various reviews I read suggested it would.

31 / 72 books. 43% done!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Book #30

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

Baby is twelve. Her mother died soon after she was born so she lives with her father - and his heroin addiction. She's grown up in Montreal' red-light district, never staying anywhere long enough to call it home, and now Baby is losing the only constant in her life; her father. He's been sent to hospital and she's been forced into foster care. She longs for his return; other people's families are no substitute for her own. Starved of affection, Baby is attracted to all the wrong people. And when her father betrays her and she is sent to a juvenile detention centre, she is more at risk than ever. Baby' survival rests on her gift for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness which fall into her lap.

There are so many reviews of this book out there, and it’s difficult to find one which will say a bad thing about this book. It has been praised so highly that I had no choice but to read it. It’s described it as outstanding, witty, riveting and believable. To me, unfortunately, this book was none of these things, and I cannot begin to imagine why people thought it was. I hated it from beginning to end; it was truly awful.

When I start a book, I like to finish it. I like to get a good idea of the writing style, and if I hate the book from the beginning I like to see whether or not my opinion can be turned around. This has been known to happen. Forcing myself to finish Lullabies was nothing short of self-torture. There was nothing in this book that made me want to keep reading. The characterisation was laughable! I had no shred of concern about anyone in the slightest. This is a very young girl who has been thrown into a world of prostitution and addiction. O'Neill did absolutely nothing to evoke my sympathies in this girl; in actual fact this poor abused girl was a chronic irritation. From the beginning, pieces of plot are thrown at us for nothing more than shock value. I didn't feel shock. I didn't feel anything because I wasn't connecting with anything in this book at all. It was a completely numb experience for me.

The Independent on Sunday said this book was full of 'magical imagery'. I do beg to differ. O'Neill tried too hard to romanticise scenes, giving us the most ridiculous imagery that could ever be imagined. Her similes were irrelevant and nonsensical; it seemed as though they were just thrown in to put stars in our eyes. Each sentence seemed to be a line of nonsense which had just been thrown in for effect. The plot ended up extremely disjointed as a result of this - I had no idea where I was for the majority of my time reading. I’d have laughed if I wasn’t too busy grinding my teeth.

Not only did O'Neill overly fabricate her writing style, her morals leave something to be desired as well. There was no sense of right or wrong in this novel, the themes of addiction and prostitution were embellished into elements of a wonderful, glamorous life. There was no shred of empathy, just a severe elaboration of a girl's poverty stricken life.

Although I can appreciate what O'Neill was trying to do with this novel, it is safe to say that she has missed the point by a long shot. I could go on and on about this book's shortcomings, but I would be sitting here for a long time. I just can't even begin to fathom why this novel has won and been nominated for so many book awards, where better novels have deserved to win, but have missed out. It’s shocking.

If you value my opinions at all, please avoid this one. I feel like I have wasted my time reading and reviewing when I could've been reading something else. Avoid like the plague!

30 / 72 books. 42% done!