Monday, 27 May 2013

Book #23

Morning Glories: P.E. by Nick Spencer

 The first days were just the beginning--when the faculty cancels classes and sends the students on an outing in the nearby woods, all hell breaks loose--sending the Glories on a mysterious journey through time and space.
And I'm irrefutably hooked.

The layers here are insane. Once you think you've guessed the answer to something, a layer is stripped back to reveal something even more macabre. Your brain can't compute everything - you don't know your arse from your elbow. The headfuck is amazing.

Everyone seems to have something to hide, and the academy is intent on bringing it all to the surface. I'm not really sure which characters to trust.

I loved the dialogue. Spencer captures the teenage attitude perfectly, and his pop culture references are spot on.

It seems as though Spencer has spent the last three volumes using mystery and intrigue to dig himself into a hole. I am so interested in finding out how he's going to dig himself out of this, and tie up the loose ends. I won't be reading volume four any time soon, which may be a blessing in disguise as volume five hasn't even been released yet.

Lastly, I'd like to give a small thanks to Jake, who left a comment on my review of volume one, explaining the concept of graphic novels, arcs, trade paperbacks, and all of the general jargon involved in this type of literature. Thank you - it has helped a lot.

Book #22

Morning Glories: All Will Be Free by Nick Spencer

One of the most prestigious prep schools in the country...But behind it's hallowed doors something sinister and deadly lurks. When six brilliant but troubled new students arrive, they find themselves trapped and desperately seeking answers...and escape from a place where nothing is what it seems to be.

Now we're talking.

This volume goes into our six protagonists in more detail. Their collective histories are disturbing, and it's clear to see they all have one thing in common: keeping secrets. I had mentioned in my review of volume one that the six main characters seemed to be each of them a stereotype, but this volume does wonders to flesh out their characters and dispel any clichéd character leanings. That being said, the fleshing out of the characters is far from complete, and Spencer leaves us in anticipation; we still have no idea what's going on here.

As I've said in the past, I'm not an expert on illustrations, but in this novel I felt that some of the characters looked incredibly alike. I kept mistaking some of the minor characters for each other, and although the plot is the type where I wouldn't be surprised if they were the same person, I feel as though it may be just homogenised drawings. 

I read this in one sitting. More and more is so gradually revealed, that I just couldn't rip my eyes away. I said in my review of volume one that I didn't feel satisfied at the end of the book. Although I felt the same this time, the difference is that I trust Spencer to deliver in his next volumes.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Book #21

The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson

Tracy is ten years old. She lives in a children's home, but would like a real home one day, with a real family.

I loved this book when I was younger. Having no experience whatsoever of foster care, orphanhood, or anything other than the two-parent family, I was fascinated by Tracy's story. Fifteen years on, I still have a lot of respect for Jacqueline Wilson, and found myself swept along with Tracy's fast-paced, but problematic life.

The story is written in first-person, as though Tracy is writing her own autobiography. She is a brilliant character, so funny and imaginative. Best of all, Tracy is a feisty little madam. As a kid, I just thought she was brilliant, and able to look after herself. Now, I can see Tracy has developed a thick skin during her time in care, and her bossiness, forwardness, and hot-bloodedness are all survival tactics for the difficult environment in which she exists.

Tracy is such a believable child narrator. She isn't overly naive, yet she is in no way mature. I possibly found her funnier now than I did when I was younger; things like calling her social worker 'Elaine the Pain' just totally appealed to my stupid sense of humour.

I found I was picking up on more details when reading this as an adult. Tracy describes her mum as a beautiful, rich, classy woman, who will come and pick her up in her Cadillac as soon as she's finished shooting a film in Hollywood, or returns from sunny Spain. She's too busy to call, and too far away to visit. Reading now, it's clear that these are all just white lies of Tracy's created to help her cope with her mum's absence, but children won't necessarily pick up on this; I don't think I did when I was ten. It made the novel that wee bit more sad for me, and more realistic.

Nick Sharratt's illustrations are dotted throughout the novel, and they do nothing but add to the story. I particularly like the illustrations of Tracy's letters to Cam, and the way Sharratt draws us in using his drawings. It was so exciting. I remember loving his skills when I was younger, and I still do; he makes Wilson's novels even more fun, and he makes a Wilson novel easily recognisable from any other.

Overall, I think this is an important novel for children to read. It's short and snappy for adults, but really is worthwhile to spend an afternoon with. You'll laugh, you'll be touched, and you'll finish off with a warm feeling.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Book #20

Morning Glories: For a Better Future by Nick Spencer

Morning Glory Academy is one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country... but something sinister and deadly lurks behind its walls. When six gifted, but troubled, students arrive, they find themselves trapped and fighting for their lives as the secrets of the academy reveal themselves!
I've only just started reading graphic novels this year, and still can't call myself an expert on them in any way at all. I'm starting to find now, however, that I'm growing to love them. I love the fast pace, I love the gory pages, and I see them as quick adrenaline rushes of books. This is probably down to the fact that I have been recommended all the right books, but remains true nonetheless.

The story begins with the kids being brought to the school. This was done really well, with small flashes of their home life and backgrounds. They all fit into general stereotypes: the clever leader, the shy one, the mysterious one, the arsehole, the bitchy slut, the psycho. It reeked of The Breakfast Club, but they know that; someone even mentions Judd Nelson at one point. The students are collated in a prestigious boarding school, where strange things begin to happen. By strange I mean attempted murder from the teachers, ghosts, a cult in the basement, and a doppelganger who just blew my mind completely. Strange is perhaps an understatement.

I realise the book is first in a series of six, but I didn't finish it feeling completely satisfied. Nothing was explained, and this means you have to read the next one, then probably the next one, all the way to the sixth one. Surely something could have been tied up at the end? Something small? I feel a lot was thrown at me, and although I managed to deal with it, and follow the story, nothing was resolved.

This opening novel in the series seems to built on unanswered questions. There are layers upon layers of mystery just waiting to be unravelled in the following installments. My only issue is that with all the mystery points having been plotted, and all insinuations all made, I'm not sure the next chapters will be able to link all of these together. I suppose there's only one way to find out, and I will.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Book #19

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

When two seven-year-old girls go missing, all are under suspicion. Calli Clark is a dreamer. A sweet, gentle girl, Callie suffers from selective mutism, brought on by a tragedy she experienced as a toddler. Her mother Antonia tries her best to help, but is confined by marriage to a violent husband. Petra Gregory is Calli's best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli have been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Now Calli and Petra's families are bound by the question of what has happened to their children. As support turns to suspicion, it seems the answers lie trapped in the silence of unspoken secrets.
I liked this book. I normally go for something a bit more thought-provoking, but sometimes I like to settle down with an all-consuming easy read like this one.

For a first novel, I thought the suspense was well crafted, and the characters all had some lovely backgrounds for us to sink our teeth into. The pace was perfect; there was always something happening, and pieces of the puzzle were thrown at us rapidly. There wasn't much of a twist, however, and it was pretty predictable throughout.

Gudenkauf uses a multiple voice narrative to give us the plot from different points of view. I usually love this type of prose, and it worked well here. I particularly liked that everyone's voice apart from Calli's was written in first person narrative, subtly emphasising Calli's selective mutism. The different voices, although telling different parts of the story, didn't differ much in the way they were written. I love books (such as Trainspotting) where you can tell which character is speaking to you, simply by the way the prose is written, but here the voices were practically the same. I would have expected a seven year old girl and a well-educated fifty-seven year old father, for example, to have different narrative styles.

Having said that, the plot was gripping, the characters believable, and I found myself tearing through this in only a couple of days. Definitely a quick read, not for the literary hardcore and more something for those who like a book to sweep them along in a completely engaging story.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Book #18

To Hell and Back: An Autobiography by Meat Loaf
Meat Loaf's bizarre and spectacular life story is scarcely credible. After surviving an abusive childhood, during which he was almost murdered by his alcoholic father, he starred in one of the biggest stage and film musicals ever, then went on to record the third best-selling album of all time.
I'm not usually one for non-fiction, and particularly not celebrity autobiographies.  I find them to be generally full of name-dropping, exaggerated anecdotes, and a confused timeline. I picked up this one because I've always been a fan of Meat Loaf, but unfortunately found it to be no exception to the rule.

The book is easy to read, and the writing is nothing miraculous. The chapters are nice and bite-sized, and can stand alone as small tales on their own. The trouble was, I was never sure where we were in time; most of them were entirely devoted (understandably) to the ins and outs of Meat Loaf's experiences in the music business, but this isn't something I have an interest in. The names dropped here were insane, and most of the stories added nothing apart from the fact Meat had met these people.

I suppose I was looking for sex, drugs, stage-diving, fights and nonsense like that, but it seems Mr Loaf has left a lot of these scenarios out of the book for dignity purposes. There was a feeling of something missing, a secret being kept, and it was rubbish.

This would probably be more amusing for a die-hard Meat Loaf fan, or someone interested in the music business. Apart from the episode with his dad trying to kill him with a knife (which, unsurprising, is what made me buy the book), there isn't anything too meaty (I am hilarious) for anyone else to sink their teeth into.

Note to self: no more autobiographies for a while.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Book #17

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annexe" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.
I feel strange reviewing this. Although Anne makes it clear that she'd like her diary published, and does her best to make it a work of fiction by changing names, this is still a diary. This is Anne's personal account of her struggles, and the struggles of the seven other people living in the Secret Annexe. This is a collection of memories. Every page is full of her personal opinions on the others, her views on their behaviours and quirks, and every page is filled with an air of secrecy. These words are poured from the heart of a fourteen year old girl in hiding from the Nazis. For these reasons, this is not a book review.

Anne's entries are surprising in various ways. To begin with, the general reader will think the diary to be a depressing read, and of course it is. But what surprised me was Anne's humourous anecdotes, her records of jokes told in the annexe, amusing things that happened, and beautiful relationships forming. The essence of family, and humanity, really shine through the pages, and although Anne often complains about her housemates, you really can read between the lines and see them pulling each other through this horrible time. I was particularly touched when Anne documented birthdays; the presents, the meals, the conversations. The presents get more frugal as time goes on, but the boarders always do their best for each other, despite the arguments they frequently have.

What struck me most as Anne's diary progressed was her maturity, intelligence, and sheer wisdom; indescribable for a fourteen year old. Her views and opinions on the world were so clever and respectable, and I couldn't help but feel we have lost someone very very special; a great mind.

This diary holds a lot of truth, and it belongs perfectly in that group of books everyone should have read at least once. It's important people continue to read this diary. We are so lucky that this special girl decided to take pen to paper and tell us about her time in hiding; no one else could have captivated us in this way. Without Anne, we wouldn't know how it felt to hide behind a bookcase, to live on mean food rations, and to dream of being out in the open air again. 

Anne passed away in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, but she hasn't died yet.

"To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time." - Elie Wiesel