Saturday, 27 July 2013

Review: Tree Talk

Having read a feel good book previously, I thought I would continue the trend. I found Tree Talk by Ana Salote in my library and decided there wouldn't be anything too horrific or depressing about a child and a tree. While I was right to think this, the material in the book is certainly sad in places, but Salote has a knack for juxtaposing the negative content with the more uplifting and hopeful.

I appreciated the new perspective of a tree. I can't recall ever reading something from a tree's point of view without it being very human-esque. From the beginning of the book I found the consciousness of a tree to be convincing. It was a pleasant idea and easy to grasp. The connection between child and tree was a touch of necessary magic which allowed the reader to get into the mind of the tree (or perhaps, it's better described as the tree being in the mind of a human). This book makes references to oil wars and global warming, concepts which most people are familiar with. Salote herself says she wrote this book 'because of human ego-driven planet wrecking. I wanted to give a voice to the innocent bystanders: the plants and animals'. Well, I think she succeeded marvellously.

Salote uses language that a child could understand, apart from a few words that they may need a dictionary or Google to look up the definition for, and this makes the book accessible. With modern society the way it is, it seems increasingly important to encourage younger generations to become aware of the impact their behaviour has on a wider scale. It could be said that younger readers may not be able to really identify with Charlie because of the differences in their lifestyles and hobbies, however there are many similarities in lifestyle and children with a developed imagination will be able to put themselves in his shoes. Charlie is a character who can set an example for them. He is kind to plants and animals, and takes an interesting in protecting life. From an adult perspective Charlie is an endearing little boy.

That certain human 'planet wrecking' isn't explored in great detail means this book can reach another audience - adults who are tired of having environmental messages shoved at them left, right and centre. The animals condemn humans, but there are no hard facts to swallow and no hard guilt trips for the reader accompanied by a list of what you should do. This allows the reader to take stock and research things for themselves.

Salote did a great job at creating the plant world. It was very convincing and enlightening as a reader, despite having studied the science of plants in my GCSE studies. The animal world was also interesting, but bordered more on amusing because of the charge leading hamsters and animal strikes. The ending was also unexpected. The way the ending was delivered seemed abrupt and yet, at the same time, it extended as far as I would hope it would reach time wise.

As an adult reader I would have liked more facts interwoven. I enjoyed how Salote incorporated knowledge such as the origins of Ash and the importance of trees to the human race. As a fan of learning I would happily of had more facts like those (as a opposed to numerical facts that can sound a little preachy and become boring). Furthermore, I felt the disappearance of Charlie's dad just... happened. I would have expected a little more development in that department, but I'm aware family and childhood problems weren't the main focus.

All in all, this story was strangely uplifting. I would recommend it as it doesn't take long to get through and it doesn't feel emotionally heavy. It's child friendly and I would certainly suggest encouraging children to read it with an open mind (and maybe prepared with a bit of background about fossil fuels and global warming). The friendship between child and tree is fascinating and the new tree perspective is something I really enjoyed.
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Friday, 26 July 2013

Review: Build a Man

When I  started reading the book I was sceptical. Drama and romance make up the majority of chick lit and I've never been a great fancy of either unless they're accompanied by fabulous fantasy or a good dose of horror. After a while drama and romance all start to seem the same when you break the components down. There are formulas that work - readers like them - and they stick. I started reading Build a Man by Talli Roland thinking this book would be predictable and a sign that, yes, these aren't really my type of books. Yawn. However, the last 30% of the book had me tapping my screen like crazy (I use the Kindle App so no thumbing pages for me). I spent a good few hours reading without interruption because I want to know what happens. As a realist and part time pessimist I could believe that there was a (slim) chance that there might not be a happy ending. After a while happy endings just become so samey, as though in fiction land everything is always perfect with a happy-ever-after ending and I find that a little depressing because real live doesn't work that way. Nevertheless, this happy ending didn't disappoint me. Serenity made some massive mistakes and in a way she 'paid' for them. But more importantly she learned from her mistakes. Her shallow dreams of being a tabloid writer disappeared when she realised how 'dirty deeds' play an important role. I'll be honest - I wondered why she would have progressed to the second article given the attitude of Leza. But when you fixate on a dream for so long and convince yourself it's harmless, or even beneficial to the parties involved, the character's motivation is understandable.  

This story introduces the reader to Serenity. Her daily life involves being a reception for shallow and snobby women wanting cosmetic surgery. It isn't difficult to find yourself sympathising with her. The customers are rude and seem to have little integrity. Funnily enough, when Serenity's undercover we could say equally bad things about her. She lies, betrays a good man and even panders to a woman with a horrid mantra ('if it bleeds it leads'). Depending on your views of cosmetic surgery you may be like me and find yourself siding with her 'hippie' parents who would look down on Serenity's dream of becoming a tabloid writer. But people have to make their own mistakes to learn from them and this is a story of that. 

Roland does a wonderful job of creating characters which the reader will, no doubt, have strong opinions on. It isn't difficult to dislike Peter in this book. He is boring, unemotional, and just what you might wrongly imagine all doctors are like. It's clear in the beginning of the book that Peter is a poor match for Serenity, though she seems quite blind to it herself originally. I'm honestly not sure I could ever put up with a man like that. Maybe it is because of this that by chapter 6 I felt like I knew the direction of the plot. Jeremy is a much more down to earth sort of the character, and much easier to fall in love with, as reader, than Peter. This is why I felt so sorry for him when bits of his past are revealed. His relationship was ruined by a superficial partner and rather than thinking it's good that they ended, he believes if he looks good then he will attract the right partner. It seems strange that he thinks that by being more physically attractive he will find someone who truly loves him, but isn't this the same mistake many women make? I really like the reversal in this book. It could easily have been about a male doctor and female patient. 

To be honest the idea of the Build a Man column is great. Who wouldn't like to be involved in an interactive designing of the perfect man who is single and looking for love? In this book it's the characters that make it great. The plot is fun, but without such vibrant characters it would feel pretty flat. From the lovable Jeremy, uncaring Peter, detestable Mia and flawed Serenity, Roland includes an interesting range of character. This allowed me to feel more involved with the story. This is certainly a fun read and I would recommend this to anyone who likes the chick lit genre.
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Monday, 22 July 2013

Review: The Zombie Pinocchio

As a young teenager I loved horror. I was indifferent to zombies, but aliens were frequently in my nightmares because they looked so... creepy. A year or two ago, however, I became a zombie fan. Not a fan of the boring shuffle and moan zombies who decay, but a fan of the more predatory living dead and infected. For this reason it's hardly surprising that I picked up a book from the Zombie Fairy Tales series written by Kevin Richey. Strangely  I picked The Zombie Pinocchio. I've never really been a great fan of the Pinocchio tale, but I figured zombies would make the tale much more enjoyable. I was right!

Everyone knows the tale of Pinocchio, right? It's about a child/puppet who is created by a male toymaker who dreams of  being 'a real boy'. In this retelling, the toymaker wants to make the perfect child to fill the lonely void in his heart, but things go horribly wrong (as you probably guess from the title of the book!). The Frankenstein like elements, I think, are what make this book great. It has a setting with dark forbidding streets, the plague, chopped up body bits and even a nosy priest for good measure.

The powerful vocabulary reflects the sinister darkness of the tale. The use of language helps make this story vivid and really 'come alive'. Despite being a reinvention of a well known fairy tale this book succeeds at being gripping. The small doses of well written gore fits this horror perfectly without overdoing it and turning into a gore fest. As a mature reader I would not have minded the book being a bit longer and including more gory descriptions and happenings to really get me scared and repulsed. But, this is a short story so the elements were well portioned for the length of the book.

While it is sad that Geppetto feels such an emotional void, it's also quite disturbing how he goes about collecting the body parts of children and even loving Pinocchio despite the horrific things he does. I certainly get a mad toymaker vibe from this character.

Ultimately, this is a short story, perfect for reading before bed (unless you're prone to nightmares!). Due to how easy it is to read you could probably finish this book in one sitting or even over the course a few commutes. It's a perfect quick read for those who love horror and all things creepy. While I do have a reading list as long as my arm at the moment, I will certainly revisit this series and read them from start to finish. 
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Review: The Disappearing Girl

The Disappearing Girl by Heather Topham Wood is a book which I would like to see presented to girls of around sixteen (and perhaps younger if some of the sexual content was toned down or omitted). Thanks to the media, eating disorders have a higher profile than ever before and they are a stark contrast to the increasing obesity figures. Wood covers the serious issues of eating disorders skilfully which, to me, was more important than the romance aspects of this book. Although, the latter might be the main appeal for younger readers picking up this book. For this reason I see this book as being a good way to raise awareness of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa on an emotional and cognitive level, rather than a dull factual level.

The protagonist, Kayla, begins as a relatively normal and relatable girl. She is shy, a little overweight and down to earth. To put it simply she is likeable  reliable and responsible as a sister, friend and individual. The pressure of her father's death and her mother's unyielding criticism of her weight soon become too much for her to handle any longer. Kayla soon begins to binge and purge, then starts starving herself. Wood details Kayla's downward spiral and the unfortunate symptoms of eating disorders, such as pushing those who want to help away.

I won't spoil the ending for anyone intending to read the book, but I will say that I found this book predictable. I don't mean this in a negative way. However, having studied eating disorders I could already foresee what would happen next and even the ending. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable journey. As I have never had an eating disorder myself, nor do I personally know anyone who has, I do not know how accurately Wood's construction of the cognitions and emotions of someone suffering with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa were. However, Wood seemed careful not to under exaggerate or belittle Kayla in her struggles.

Needless to say, what I liked about this book was just the way that such a sensitive issue was handled and explored. Kayla's normal-ness made it feel much more real, though at times I found the romance and the character of Cameron to be a little... intense and possibly over the top. But girls in love are that way, aren't they? Strangely enough I also liked how Wood's constructed Kayla's mother. Making her out to be the  evil step-mother type character (though she is her biological mother), then linking that to her own pain over her husband's death and upbringing helps remind the reader that more than genes are passed on in a family.

I found the ending to be a rather pleasant tying up of the story. Sometimes it is nice to have some real closure at the end of a story rather than being left on a frustrating cliff hanger where you wished another chapter existed. At the same time, because I had predicted most of the plot, I did consider not reading the last chapter or two because it seemed pretty obvious how things would end.

Ultimately, I found this book to be well written, engrossing and just the right length. The characters were well crafted and the issues at the heart of the book were brilliantly explored throughout the course of the novel. It is certainly worth the price and I would recommend it to anyone who likes reading about life issues or romance. But, it isn't the most cheerful of books, so avoid reading it if you want something as a pick-me-up!
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