Sunday, April 29, 2012

At the House of the Magician - Mary Hooper

Title: At the House of the Magician

Author: Mary Hooper

Publication information: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (2007)

Lucy escapes her poor village and drunk abusive father in search of work and money to provide her mother with a better way of life. This story follows her in seeking employment and then the adventures and events that surround her when her luck turns, and she finds herself employed by the somewhat mysterious Dr Dee.

At the House of the Magician is an historical fiction with some supernatural aspects revolving around Lucy, the protagonist of the novel. I think that most of the historical aspects seemed believable; set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the troubles between the monarch and Mary Queen of Scots is briefly discussed and the grandure of the palace and the queens clothes are described in great detail. At the end of the book, after the end of the story itself, the author provides some background to the history and the setting of the novel and I think that this makes it a lot more believable and helps, in hindsight, to establish the way of life of the inhabitants of Elizabethan England.

To me, the plot was quite slow and not much happened until the end of the novel. Although at first this was quite disappointing, I soon found out that there is also a sequel which may have played a part in the reasoning behind giving this story such an abrupt ending. 

Lucy, the main character, is quite interesting and the reader gets to learn quite a lot about her background and family, as well as her adventurous side which is explored more as the story develops. Some of the side characters were not very well developed and I found that this led to some of them being insignificant to the story but this may change in the sequel, which I plan to read at some point in the future. I really like the character of Mistress Midge because her bad temper and her attitude added some comedic aspects to the book. I also really liked Tomas, the court fool, as I thought there was aspects of romantic tention between him and the protagonist which I hope will be explored in the second installment of the series. 

The writing was very simple and easy to understand. This meant that although, at first, I found the novel difficult to get into, it became a quick read, having only 228 pages. Also, the lettering is quite large on the page which made it a lot quicker. I like that the author included some words that are not used nowadays, but were used when the story is set, as this makes it a lot more believable and I like that a glossary was provided at the back of the book so you could look up the meanings for some of these disused words.

Overall, I was slightly disappointed with this book as I expected a lot more adventure and mystery than there was, but again, this may be addresseed in the sequel. Also, having read the book, I have decided that I do not really liked the cover as I believe that a cover, if it shows a person, should show the protagonist. In this case, Lucy is said to have dark eyes and brown hair, whereas the photograph on the cover is fair-haired and has blue eyes. Considering my opinions of the book overall, I would give this 3 out of 5 stars but am intrigued to see if the second installment of the series develops the storyline better than this one so far.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Trap - John Smelcer

Title:  The Trap

Author: John Smelcer

Publication Information: Anderson (2008)

This novel is about an old man who is on his way home from a hunting trip and accidentally gets his leg caught in one of this own traps. It accounts his struggle to survive and his grandson's journey to rescue his grandfather. This story is set in an Alaskan winter, adding to the threat of the grandfather's life and also the worry of Johnny back at the village.

As far as a survival story goes, this novel wasn't very captivating. Although the level of danger to the grandfather, Arthur, was quite high, I wasn't able to empathise with the character because I think that the style of writing, and some of the things that were mentioned distracted from the main plot.

Overall, in my opinion, the premise of the plot initially seemed very interesting, and reading the synopsis on the back of the book, I was intrigued. However, reading this book all the way through was difficult for me despite how short it is due to the plot going on a lot of tangents, telling the readers stories of the Indians surviving cold winters and older traditional tales that the author put in the narration in very unusual places, breaking up the flow of the main plot.

We, as readers, didn't really get to know any of the characters very well and I feel that they could have been developed a lot more. Johnny is a 17 year old boy and apart from his love of reading and school, you don't really get to know a lot about him as a person. Likewise, the grandparents were not described very much either, although the grandfather, Arthur, was shown the most through his struggle and his attitude, which made him, overall, a strong character.

The writing was something that I absolutely loved in this novel, and was the main reason I kept on reading. Smelcer's beautiful fluid descriptions of the Alaskan landscape and the pain that Arthur is going through adds to the cold atmosphere of the novel and really helps you visualise the environment in which these characters live.

Overall, I would give this book a 3 out of 5 stars because the writing made up for a lot of the negative opinions I have towards the plot and underdeveloped characters.

Smith of Wootton Major - J. R. R. Tolkien

Title: Smith of Wootton Major (Extended Edition)

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Publication Information: Harper Collins Publishers (2005)

This book contains the story of Smith of Wootton Major as well as notes, drafts, transcriptions and essays by J.R.R. Tolkien. The story itself is only about 57 pages long in the edition I borrowed from the library so is a very quick read. It contains medieval style illustrations by Pauline Baynes. This is the first story by Tolkien that I have managed to read; I have tried to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy many times in the past, and have not been able to get into it, but this style seemed completely different to me.

There aren't that many characters in this short story, the main ones being Smith, Nokes and Alf. As the story is extremely short, there isn't a lot of character development but I think due to the fairytale style of the book, and the fact that it is such a quick read, this doesn't deduct from the plot at all. Most of the characters and very caricatured; Nokes is the typical disbelieving grumpy old man, Alf the mysterious outsider and Smith is the typical curious protagonist. I think that this adds to the fairytale style and also makes the story a lot easier to read.

This story follows a few of the archetypal features of a traditional fairytale; with the magical object, the ordinary hero, the mysterious stranger and a strange other-world. I think that as this is such a short story, the level of description of Faery wasn't very extensive which left a lot of the details to the reader's imagination.

The plot wasn't very complex at all but this is sometimes vital to such a short story as it lets the reader become interested in the story without needing too much introduction or background. I really like how Tolkien established things like the Great Cake as a tradition in this fictional world in such a way that made the whole thing very believable.

Overall, like I said at the beginning of this review, I found the writing style in this short story a lot easier to read and understand than the writing in some of Tolkien's other publications. The sentence structures were very varied in the most part but a lot of the time the pacing was quite quick, meaning that although the story was pushed along at a comfortable pace, the plot lacked descriptive language and background to the characters.

Overall, I would give this a 4 out of 5 as I found the story interesting and the writing style enjoyable to read, but I found myself wishing that there was just more to it; more descriptive language, more establishment of the traditions and the environment.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

Title: A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness  (from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd)

Publication information: Walker Books LTD (2011)

This book was written by Patrick Ness using the final ideas of Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death, caused by cancer, prevented her from writing it herself. This funny, sad and extraordinary novel captivated me from the beginning and it was the kind of book where you have your own ideas about what should happen, but what happens is actually more satisfying. This is a very quick read; it's only 215 pages; and includes the haunting beautiful illustrations of Jim Kay, which adds to the mystery and intrigue of the book.

Regarding characters, there were two main ones featured; Conor and the monster. Conor, is a young teenager in this novel and I think this is a great interpretation of how a person of that age would deal with these kind of events. Overall he is quite a well-rounded character; he has realistic fears and emotions and it is clear that he hasn't been made too stereotypical in that he is not a brave protagonist that could withstand anything - he's just human, and that's one of the main things I like about this book. The monster, is everything a monster needs to be in this kind of novel. It adds mystery and fear to the novel, helped by the wonderful, dark illustrations. The other characters in the book are really only touched upon slightly but that helps the reader to feel the alienation that Conor is feeling. Reading the book, we don't really know what to expect, and the side characters reflect that, they  are part of the unknown. Although we as readers don't get told much about Conor's grandmother, mother or father, we know enough to understand what's going on. I think that the addition of the school bully was an interesting way to emphasise that Conor is just a normal teenager and as the story unfolds, we realise that this bullying becomes an integral factor in the events that unfold.

A Monster Calls is classed as a fantasy novel, which is true to some extent, but I think that as it is set in modern times, in what seems like this world, the fantasy aspect is only really explored by the addition of the monster and the dreams. This makes the story a lot more believable to the reader and emphasises the idea that even though there is a monster in this story, which is a very important part of the plot, the story that is unfolding before your eyes is real; the boy, his mother and their struggle.

The plot isn't that complex. The overall premise is clear from the beginning and although the ending is not obvious, the messages told throughout the novel give clear indications to what is going to happen. At first, I felt like this might be suitable for a much younger reader than myself, which it probably would be, but again, as the plot unfolds it draws you in and I think that it would be suitable for any young reader and that the reader benefits from the message told through this story.

Overall, I feel that the writing is simple to understand and propells the story along at a comfortable pace. This is a short novel with a deep plot and I think that the pace suits the style of storyline perfectly. One of my favourite things about this book is the way the monster's speech; the way that it almost speaks in riddles adding to the mystery and the way that all of it's speech is printed in italics. This makes it stand out from the rest of the text and makes you wonder whether he is actually speaking at all, or whether it's all in Conor's head. Also, I really enjoyed the way that although it was written from third person perspective, you could see exactly what Conor was thinking and the length of the sentences in parts reflected the urgency that he was expressing.

Overall, I would give this a 5 out of 5 as I found the story captivating and the illustrations made the whole thing a lot more enjoyable to read and added to the atmosphere of the plot.