Thursday, May 31, 2012

Deidre Haverlock Guest Post!

Author Deidre Haverlock has stopped by my blog today with a guest post for her blog tour. Check it out!
What is your favorite genre…and why?

Gothic, of course. My first gothic book was titled, The Bloody Dagger. (I wrote that in grade three, for my mom.) It was a story about a man who hides in the shadows, killing unsuspecting people. A kid finally hunts him down and rats him out. I’m sure my gloomy story impressed my mom. I know it impressed my teacher, Mrs. Whalen, who asked, “Don’t you have any happy thoughts?” I have a lot of happy thoughts…the guy got caught, didn’t he?

Actually, I haven’t met too many people who don’t love a good gothic book. I even heard that The Monk is being released fairly soon as a movie. (I can’t wait. In fact, I wanted to write a screenplay for that book…drat, I’m too late!) It seems gothic has definitely risen to the top of some people’s A-lists. Which is somewhat weird, gothic is after all dark and depressing. But I think the genre has gotten a bad reputation due to a horrendous misunderstanding.

Feminists tend to dislike the female gothic tradition because it portrays women as weak and needy (think The Mysteries of Udolpho). FYI, in the female gothic tradition, a girl struggles to survive under the burden of a patriarchal society (think The Handmaid’s Tale), and most often she waits to be saved, usually by a man (think Saving Mary: The Possession). This pathetic desire to be saved (without lifting a finger to save herself) certainly would put feminists on edge. After all, it’s true—women don’t always need to be saved. But a totally intolerant stance against the female gothic tradition misses the beauty of it.

If anyone is a fan of gothic they should read Art of Darkness by Anne Williams, where the male and female gothic traditions are discussed. Like this author, I don’t see the female gothic tradition (which includes the need to “be saved”) as intrinsically weak and pathetic. I see it as reflecting a talent within all of us…it just shows up best in the weak. It’s the ability to ask for help and accept help. And whether we like it or not, there are instances in life where we are simply incapable of saving ourselves (read my book and you’ll see); and, therefore, faith in the mysterious other (to save us) kicks in.

Both traditions (including the male gothic model—which includes the need for punishment) are core issues inside all of us. FYI, in the male tradition the protagonist usually has to die or at the very least suffer for his/her vile and sinful life (think Anne Rice’s books or The Monk or The Picture of Dorian Gray). Typically, the male gothic model is condemned by Christians (as opposed to feminists) because of the model’s focus on sin and punishment. (In male gothic there is no salvation for the character, only hopelessness.) But again, dislike for this model can be caused by a misunderstanding for the genre. Christians, after all, should understand the concept of eternal damnation more than anyone.

In these contexts, gothic isn’t about horror. It’s about life: oppression and sin, salvation and damnation. Either way you look at gothic, if someone gets saved or someone gets a final punishment—it means the darkness has passed. And that’s why I love it.

We all live in a gothic world, and we have to learn how best to survive it.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Tears of the Salamander - Peter Dickinson

Title: The Tears of the Salamander

Author: Peter Dickinson

Publication information: Macmillan Publishers Limited (2004)

The Tears of a Salamander by Peter Dickinson follows the story of Alfredo, a young choir boy, and his encounters with his mysterious uncle. This is a mysterious story full of magic and depth which is marketed as a children's book but I think that YA readers may also enjoy it.

Overall the plot was quite good. I liked the mystery element and the depth to the history of Alfredo's ancestry and of the powers that his relatives have. I also like the way that the end of the plot is hinted at throughout but is not entirely clear until the very end.

In my opinion, the characters let this book down quite a lot. Although I really liked the amount of development in all of the side characters, I did not feel that I could connect with Alfredo as much as a reader should be able to connect with a protagonist. I found that, maybe due to his age, I always felt distant from him and although most of his thoughts were written, his emotions did not show well enough throughout certain plot points. This distance made this a difficult read for me as parts of it seemed to drag and I found myself getting frustrated with some of the characters.

Also, the writing made me feel distant from the characters. It was not very descriptive in the way it told the reader about the area or how the protagonist was feeling, leaving a lot of questions unanswered. Due to this being a children's book, the vocabulary was quite simple and did not really engage me that much with the plot.

Overall, I would give The Tears of the Salamander 3 out of 5 stars as I did not feel like the book itself lived up to the intriguing premise. I think that younger readers may enjoy this book because of the plot and the simplicity of the writing but unfortunately this was not for me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Pirates! in an Adventure with Communists - Gideon Defoe

Title: The Pirates! in an Adventure with Communists

Author:Gideon Defoe

Publication information: Weidenfield & Nicolson (2006)

This is the third installment in the Pirates! series and although I really enjoyed the first and second, I can't really say the same for this one. The plot takes place in the year 1840 and follows the usual group of pirates on their adventures. In this one they meet Karl Marx and are on a mission to discover why everyone is against the Communist movement. 

The main problem with this novel, I find, is the plot and the pacing. Not a lot happens until about half way through and the beginning drags a lot so overall it was a much slower read than the previous two books. The end was exciting and action-packed but I feel that it ended too suddenly.

The characters were consistent with the other two books and were funny as always. I think the character of the Pirate Captain was developed well throughout the book and some of the other pirates were developed further.

Overall, I feel that The Pirates! in an Adventure with Communists was not as good as the previous books in the series but I still enjoyed it. I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Smoke and Mirrors - Neil Gaiman (PART 1)

I've not posted on this blog in a while as I have been concentrating on getting all of my work finished by my deadline tomorrow! I've managed to get everything done so I thought that I'd do a review on the first few short stories in the Smoke and Mirrors collection by Neil Gaiman.
Title: Smoke and Mirrors

Author: Neil Gaiman

Publication information: Review (2005)

I found even the introduction an interesting and important part of this book. The reasoning and origin of all the short stories, provided by Neil Gaiman, gives great insight and background to the stories you are about to read and the story that is included in the introduction has a strong message and, although confusing at points, it has a haunting effect on the reader.

This is the first short story in the book and follows Mrs Whitaker and the strange happenings that occur when she happens across the Holy Grail in a charity shop. This is a very lighthearted and humourous story helped by the character of Mrs Whitaker. She is a typical old lady who likes looking after people and making tea and I think that this made Chivalry an extremely quick and easy read.

The Price
I didn't really enjoy this story. Despite the message in it, I did not find this very engaging at all and to be honest, I forgot the plot almost immediately after reading it.

Troll Bridge
This is definitely my favourite of the three stories I have read so far. I love the main character and of course the intrigue surrounding the troll under the bridge. I think that it is a very interesting story with a sad ending, but definitely worth the read.

I don't know how much more of this book I will get read before I have to return it to the library so I'm unsure if I will be reviewing any more of it, but overall, I would love to read more and would recommend it to anyone that enjoys short stories or Neil Gaiman's writing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Author:  Mark Haddon

Publication Information: Vintage (2011)

This book is about Christopher, a teenager that struggles with Aspergers, accounting his life through family problems and the incident of his neighbours dog being murdered with a garden fork.

Overall I think that the plot was quite interesting, especially at the beginning with the mystery itself because I thought that it was interesting to see the logic behind Christopher's ideas and actions. However, I found the middle of this novel dragged quite a lot and lost it's way a bit, yet the ending got better. I really liked the mystery element at the beginning of this story and the way that the protagonist talks about other people such as Siobhan.

I really liked the character of Christopher as I think it gave the reader a clear insight into how he was thinking and his own rationale to what he was doing at certain points in the plot. Although I don't usually like books that contain swearing, I think that in this novel it could be seen as relevant as it is not overly used and is used at points of high tension in the plot. 

The writing was good; easy to read and well paced, apart from in the middle where, as I said before, it seemed to drag, however I thought that at some points, I got distracted from the plot by Christopher's explanations of science or maths. I think that it was interesting to include this information but it felt like it was breaking up the story too much for me. I liked that it was quite a quick read; the book has 268 and it only took me a few hours to get through as it was very engaging.

All in all, I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars as there were some bits that I disliked and I felt like some of the characters needed to be developed further.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists - Gideon Defoe

Title: The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists

Author: Gideon Defoe

Publication information: Orion Books (2004)

This book is about a pirate crew seeking adventure when they come across Charles Darwin near the Galapagos Islands. The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists is an hilarious novel that deals with the weighty issue of science versus religion whilst also featuring lots of roaring, running people through with cutlasses and other piratey things! I picked this one up in the library on a whim because I felt like I recognised the title and after looking it up online found that I'd seen the trailer for the Nick Park film adaptation! 

This book is a very lighthearted action-adventure story and is hilarious to read. The author has written in hilarious characters and events, and this humour is also present in the presentation of the book itself; on the flap on the inside of the back cover it says that Gideon Defoe wrote this book about pirates "to impress a girl". This seems similar to what some of the characters in the book might do so I found this quite funny.

The plot did not need much detail and intensity as this is a very lighthearted novel. The pacing was great and easy to read, with just enough action to make it a believable pirate adventure.

The characters were my favourite aspect of this book. I liked how none of the pirates had names, and they were just referred to as aspects of their appearance, such as 'the pirate in green' or 'the pirate with the scarf'. Each one was funny in their own right and added to the overall humourous atmosphere of the plot. Even the antagonist would say something occasionally funny. I also liked that these pirates were unlike their usual stereotype in that they had manners and were slightly more educated than is expected.

The writing, as I have previously said, was paced beautifully so there was never a dull moment and the language itself was quite simple which lent itself well to such a quick read.

Overall I would give The Pirates! in and Adventure with Scientists, 5 out of 5 stars as I found it a very enjoyable read and I will definitely be looking to read the rest of this series by Gideon Defoe.