Monday, 23 June 2014

Say Her Name review

Say Her Name
James Dawson
June 5th 2014
Hot Key Books

Roberta 'Bobbie' Rowe is not the kind of person who believes in ghosts. A Halloween dare at her ridiculously spooky boarding school is no big deal, especially when her best friend Naya and cute local boy Caine agree to join in too. They are ordered to summon the legendary ghost of 'Bloody Mary': say her name five times in front of a candlelit mirror, and she shall appear... But, surprise surprise, nothing happens. Or does it?

Next morning, Bobbie finds a message on her bathroom mirror... five days... but what does it mean? And who left it there? Things get increasingly weird and more terrifying for Bobbie and Naya, until it becomes all too clear that Bloody Mary was indeed called from the afterlife that night, and she is definitely not a friendly ghost. Bobbie, Naya and Caine are now in a race against time before their five days are up and Mary comes for them, as she has come for countless others before... A truly spine-chilling yet witty horror from shortlisted 'Queen of Teen' author James Dawson.

As a rule, I don't believe in ghosts. Unless it's, like, 2 in the morning and I'm trying to get to sleep and creepy noises are happening. In which case I absolutely believe in ghosts because my brain hates me and doesn't want me to get any sleep. But even though I don't believe in ghosts, as you can probably tell, they freak me out so much. That's why I have to not believe in them. Because I do not want them to be real. So, when I first heard that James Dawson was going to write a book about Bloody Mary, my first thought was 'it is going to be so good and I AM GOING TO DIE AND/OR SHIT MY PANTS'. Luckily, neither of those things happened. But it was still pretty scary. And good, obviously.

I could tell from the prologue that I was going to love this book, because it had already creeped me out in, like, the first 3 pages. And, while I usually hate scary things (scary movies are a BIG no-no for me), I love scary books. So I was all over all the creepy stuff happening. And trust me, by day five (there's a whole five day build up after you do the Bloody Mary thing) shit was getting weird. It was awesome. But I think the main point that I am trying to get across here is that it is actually quite scary, which is one of the most important thing about a horror book, really. Usually, I'll read a book which people will say is really scary and it'll just be kind of meh, which is so disappointing, and I was a teensy bit worried that the same thing would happen with this, but it is genuinely creepy. I didn't lose any sleep, but I'm definitely a bit wary and mirrors (and other reflective surfaces) because I am not about that being haunted life. My expectations for creepiness in this book were met, so that's good. But bad if you don't like scary books, I guess. But it's funny, too!

My biggest concern with Say Her Name, as with most horror things, is that I wouldn't like or be able to connect to any of the characters. This mostly comes from my thing with horror movies, seeing as a lot of the time they're based around people who just do stupid things. Like, 'hey let's go stay in that remote cabin where everybody says there's a murderer!' or 'yeah let's go stay overnight in a haunted house there's no way that could end badly' and then they all die. Like a post on Tumblr once said, horror movies must exist in a world where there are no horror movies. I can't sympathise with that. Anyway (there is a point to this rambling, I promise) I didn't need to worry. Yes, all three main characters did do the stupid thing, but really, who hasn't done Bloody Mary at least once? Apart from me obviously, but I am no fun and I refuse to do things that have even the slightest possibility of summoning an evil ghost. I was never much good at sleepovers, as I'm sure you can imagine. What I'm trying to say is that this didn't affect my opinion of the characters in the slightest, and I was genuinely frightened for them, considering they were being hounded by a vengeful spirit and all. And you know what, I like Mary too. Well, I thought she was a really good character. I don't want to be her best friend or anything because that would probably end badly. I think that the plot was really tight, and her story was really well told in such a way that I wasn't sure whether to feel sorry for her or not. I was glad that it wasn't simple.

Other good things about Say Her Name: the ending. Without going in to too much detail, I will say that it is definitely the right ending. I was a bit worried as I was reading the final few pages as I think this probably has the lowest body count of any of James's books, and I can be a bit of a bloodthirsty reader, but it did not disappoint. Also, boarding school. I said this before in my review of Murder Most Unladylike and I will say it again - boarding schools are the best settings. Especially for ghost stories. And, as I said before, it is actually funny, too. It is not *all* scary ghost action, and the balance of tone is probably one of the things that make it so good. It's atmospheric and creepy without losing it's sense of humour.

So, yeah! Say Her Name is a great, creepy ghost story that will have you hiding from your mirrors, unless you have nerves of steel. As Keris Stainton (@keris) so concisely put it on Twitter, 'scary stuff happens. It is great'. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Murder Most Unladylike review

Murder Most Unladylike
Robin Stevens 
June 5th 2014
Random House Children's Books

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia's missing tie. Which they don't, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident - but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there's more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?

I'm not entirely sure how good of a review this will be seeing as it's been about a month since I've written a review and longer since I read the book, but I am going to start it as such: Murder Most Unladylike is a book of everything I love. I even like typing the title. I just adored it, and I think it is impossible not to. If you don't adore this, then you are just weird. And you are definitely in the wrong place.

Murder Most Unladylike is a middle grade mystery set in a boarding school in the 1930's. Wells and Wong are like the 1930's 13 year-old female versions of Sherlock and Watson. Once, probably about a year ago, I ranted about how I wanted a book about a pair of crime solving ladies or some such (I can't remember exactly what I said but it was definitely along those lines). Anyway, this is that book. It's like the middle grade Agatha Christie/Sherlock Holmes story you never knew you wanted. Sorry if I sound like I'm coming on a bit strong, but I haven't done this whole review thing for a while and I've forgotten how not to sound crazy about books that I really enjoyed.

I feel kind of bad because it's been about two months since  I read MMU (yes, I know, what a terrible blogger I am) but I'll try and do it justice. I loved both Daisy and Hazel, and I adored their friendship. I love books about friendship, and mysteries, so things like this are really just ideal for me. I'm looking forward to seeing how their friendship develops in the next few books, but I do love their dynamic as is. I also loved the setting. I know that the next few books aren't going to be set at Deepdean School for Girls, which is understandable because there are only so many mysteries you can have at a boarding school before a) people start to catch on the fact that lots of people keep on mysteriously dying there so it gets shut down or b) they go back to looking for Lavinia's missing tie. And I'm looking forward to there being more fun settings (the next book is set in a country house), but I did really love Deepdean. I don't think I'll ever get tired of books being set in boarding schools. They're just perfect for mysteries. And everything. There is just something about boarding schools that make books so fun...

There are so many things about this book that just make it wonderful. The plot is tight and fun and twisty and it took me a bit to guess who the killer is (this is like a significant amount of the fun for me when reading mystery novels. But I think this is just a normal thing and also because there is a significant part of me that wants to be a fictional detective.) I think I'm getting quite repetitive now, because I am really just full of love for this book. So I'll just end this now before it gets too weird with a quote from my mum, who started it this morning, and said 'it's like joy has entered my life again'. In context, it's because she wasn't really enjoying the book she had just finished BUT OH WELL READ THIS BOOK.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Thoughts on Films: The Fault in Our Stars

So! The Fault in Our Stars. That's a thing now. Kind of a big thing, which you know if you are a person who lives on the planet and has access to the internet. I was really lucky in that I got to go and see it about a week early thanks to Penguin (seriously, thank you!) which was kind of a new thing for me. I never get invited to stuff like that so I was very excited, and it was such a fun experience to get to go and see the film with a bunch of people who were all fans of the book, and who had been waiting for ages to see it. Honestly, the sound of other people's tears has never been so comforting or hilarious. And I enjoyed the film a lot, but it isn't a new favourite or anything.

Since I read the book two and a half years ago, I feel like my opinion about has changed a bit. I still think that it's a good book, obviously, but it doesn't stand out to me in my memory. I feel like the only reason I give it special consideration in my mind is because it's a John Green book and I feel like I need to give John Green special consideration for some reason. I still like the book and the story, but it isn't one of my favourite books. It never truly resonated with me, I don't think, in that inexplicable and sometimes explainable way that favourite books do. But I know that it's a very important book to lots of people and it fills them with the 'evangelical zeal' that John writes about. What I'm trying to say here is that I watched the film as a person who is not obsessed with the book, but who likes it, and I feel like your opinion of the book (if you have read the book) will be similar to your opinion of the film, because the film is basically the book but with some stuff missing.

The film is funny and nice and sad, all the things that the book is and all the things that an indie romance type film usually is. Really, if you weren't expecting it to be those things, then you're a bit of an odd duck. I cried a lot, but I cry at everything. I cried at the Muppets. Honestly, I have absolutely zero control over my tear ducts. Anyway, I cried a lot, and I thought it was sad, but it didn't upset me. I didn't leave the cinema feeling sad still. I didn't go home with the weight of the things that happened at the end. I don't cry when I think back to it, you know? And I was kind of expecting that, but really this is kind of a good thing because I don't like emotional hangovers. I mean it's a tragic story, but I don't feel that bad about it. Honestly, I feel like the true tragedy of this film is that Mike Birbiglia's Patrick, of the cancer support group leadership fame, was not in it nearly enough. He was hilarious, for the two minutes of screentime that he got.

There were lots of things about the film that I like a lot, actually, apart from Patrick. Shailene Woodley is pretty much perfect as Hazel. She is a very good actress, and she brought it in this. Ansel was also good as Gus, but Gus kind of annoys me. So the fact that he also annoyed me as Gus is probably a sign that he was a good Gus, I guess (try saying that 10 times fast). The soundtrack is perfect, and I listen to it a lot, and it fitted in really well with the film. I also loved all the scene with Hazel and her parents. When it comes to films like this, I always tend to find the scenes with family members more emotional than with the love interest (which is not to say that it's not just as important but you know how I feel about familial and platonic love, guys.) One of the standout moments was when Hazel's mum told her about how she wanted to help other families with similar situations once Hazel was gone. Everything about the Anne Frank house was excellent apart from the kiss (it was fine, but it annoys me and I think that it's pretty disrespectful and who even applauds when young people PDA like seriously.) Other favourite parts: the egg throwing. It's the last truly funny moment in the film. Um, Gus's pre-funeral was also very touching. Plus, Van Houten. Terrible person, amazing character. Overall, I really liked the film, and I think it was a very good adaptation of the book.

But I do have gripes. When do I not have gripes, really? My main thing, which I guess stands for the book too, as most of these will as a result of it being such a close adaptation, is that I don't get what makes it stand out so much from other 'realistic' books/films. If I had written the tagline, it would go something like this: Your Average Teen Indie Romance, Now With Extra Added Cancer! because that's how it feels to me. And it is a good teen romance, and a good cancer story, for lack of a better term, but to me it's no better than all the other good teen romances or cancer books/films out there. Is it because someone dies? Does that make it more profound or something, somehow? Maybe it's like how I said before, that it just means a lot to a lot of people, and it just doesn't mean a lot to me. Also: Gus. Yes, I know, he's meant to be pretentious, but that doesn't change the fact that he is pretentious to the point of annoyance. The fact that it is intentional changes nothing. I think that there is a nice balance between pretentious Gus, and non-annoying Gus who appears more later on in the film in his moments of vulnerability, but oh my god the cigarettes. Generally, I do think that it is a thing for teenagers to be pretentious and annoying. Like, that's what we do. It is the age at which we want to matter most in the world, and I can see where he's coming from with that, but oh my fucking god the cigarettes. What levels of pretentious bullshittery do you have to be on to be A CANCER SURVIVOR and then go out and BUY a packet of CIGARETTES and GIVE MONEY TO PEOPLE WHO MAKE CIGARETTES which CAUSE CANCER AND OTHER SERIOUS MEDICAL PROBLEMS for A STUPID FUCKING METAPHOR. You wouldn't walk around with a gun in your mouth saying 'it's a metaphor' would you because THAT WOULD BE IDIOTIC. I know this seems disproportionate, but this has always made me angry. And I don't give a shit if it's like his comfort blanket because a) he is not a real person and b) IT'S SO STUPID. Every time he came up on the screen looking cocky with one of his stupid cigarettes hanging out of his mouth I wanted to just punch him. Which probably paints me in a bad light, but I don't care. And it makes me frustrated that after seeing this film, which I liked, that is the image that lingers in my brain.

*takes a deep breath*

Okay, so that got slightly out of hand. 

ANYWAY. I imagine your experience of the film will go in almost exact accordance to your experience of the book, and, as evidenced above, the issues you have with the book will only be highlighted by the film. But it is a very good adaptation and a good film and take tissues blah blah blah. You don't need me to tell you this. Everyone is telling you this. Sorry, I'm still a bit worked up.

Go see The Fault in Our Stars! I hope the cigarettes don't annoy you as much they did me... I mean, it sounds like they really pissed me off and they kind of did, but not at the expense of everything else which was good about the film.

(I don't know what happened I started this wanting to be nice and IT IS A GOOD FILM I just get a bit ranty sometimes you know me)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Rooftoppers review

Katherine Rundell
March 7th 2013
Faber & Faber 

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has - the address of the cello maker. Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers - urchins who live in the sky. Together they scour the city for Sophie's mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.

This book came to my attention because of the fact that it won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize (and whole bunch of other stuff), and being a book blogger I felt like I should make some effort to actually keep up with these sorts of things. Though I may have also been swayed by the beautiful cover and great title. So I (finally) bought it a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. I don't read a lot of books for younger readers, but this is one of those ones that doesn't talk down to their audience and is just a lovely, magical story. Even if it doesn't have any actual literal magic in it.

I thought that it was quite slow at the beginning, and it took me quite a while to get properly into it, but even though I didn't find it gripping at the start I did still love the way it was written. For about the first 100 pages the book is about Sophie growing up with Charles, her guardian, who is brilliant. I found that the book  didn't really grip me until Sophie and Matteo met and they properly started on the search for Sophie's mother, and from that point I think I read it in one sitting. Which surprised me, because it didn't really seem to me like it would be a very gripping book. You know how it is with books that are so wonderfully written that you just want to take time to savour it rather than rush through it. However the book balances pace really well with the writing style, so it ended up being a pretty quick read.

I really loved Sophie and Matteo and their friendship. That was definitely one of the main draws for me when reading it, as well as the actual mystery of finding out who and where Sophie's mother is. They go on this whole adventure (well it really starts with her and Charles, whom I also loved and I feel a bit like he should have got more of a look in in the second half of the book, but that's a minor quibble) really based off the feeling that Sophie has the her mother is still alive. When the authorities threaten to take Sophie away from Charles, they flee to Paris, where they think her mother is, and that's really where it all kicked off. Sophie is kind of boisterous and wild and loves being near the sky, and her climbing on to the rooftops of Paris one night is what leads her to meeting Matteo. Matteo is initially unfriendly, but over the course of the rest of the book they strike up a really lovely friendship.

The ending was also so lovely. Honestly, I think this is the loveliest book I've read all year alongside Flora & Ulysses. It was the perfect conclusion to the book, even if it did feel quite abrupt. It leaves the story quite open ended, but in the right kind of way rather than the frustrating kind of way. I think I cried, but I am quite a weepy person so that doesn't really count for much. But this is genuinely one of the most beautifully written books that I've read for a while, with the loveliest story that I really won't be forgetting any time soon. I don't read a lot of MG, so I don't really have that many points of comparison, but Rooftoppers completely deserves all the success it has had.

Rooftoppers is a brilliant book about friendship and family and music and rooftops and never ignoring a possible, and I would recommend it to adults and children alike.

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