Monthly Archives: January 2014

“The Paladin Prophecy” by Mark Frost Review

The Paladin Prophecy

I read Mark Frost’s The Paladin Prophecy in about a day and a half, because, despite being quite a long book at 539 pages, it was so gripping that I needed to know what was going to happen next and I simply didn’t want to put it down. I admit that I was a bit apprehensive upon starting it, as I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not. The blurb of my copy, whilst certainly interesting, was a bit vague as to what the book was about:

“Rules for staying alive: Trust no one.

There is no such thing as a coincidence.

Don’t watch your life like it’s a movie that’s happening to someone else. It’s happening to you.

It’s happening right now.”

Yeah, as interesting as that is, it doesn’t give you much of a clue, does it? Fortunately, amazon provided a more in–depth description, so I knew roughly what I was getting into before I bought it:

“Will West is careful to live life under the radar. At his parents’ insistence, he’s made sure to get mediocre grades and to stay in the middle of the pack on his cross–country team. Then Will slips up, accidentally scoring off the charts on a nationwide exam, and he is recruited by an exclusive and mysterious prep school – the best school no one’s ever heard of, which technology the likes of which no one’s ever seen.

At the same time, coincidentally – nor not so – Will realises he’s being followed by men in dark hats, driving black sedans who pose a terrifying threat to his family. What follows is a series of events and revelations that places Will smack in the middle of a millennia–old struggle between titanic forces…”

To be honest, though, I was still a bit sceptical. It sounded good, but I didn’t know if it was going to be my kind of book – and I didn’t want to waste £8 on a book just to discover I couldn’t face carrying on after the first few chapters. However, the book came highly recommended to me by a friend so I threw caution to the wind and decided to give it a go.

And I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, I wasn’t all that enamoured by the first few pages, but once it got going… Boy, did it get going! Some of it was quite predictable, such as in the 3rd chapter when Will was getting a bit suspicious about his “mother” – I got there waaaay before you, I’m afraid Will. But mild predictability aside, the book was very good. It was well–written, the characters were good, and it had a very interesting premise. However, I do feel that it went quite quickly – apparently the entire book was set over the course of just two weeks!

Will West is the main character of the book, and whilst he’s likeable and a nice person, he’s maybe not quite main character material yet. Throughout the book, things are happening which bring about Will’s “abilities”, like his speed, “pushing” images, and so on, but he never seems to react much to these things. When he first hears a voice in his head, his reaction is: ‘“Okay, how did that voice get in his head? And whose voice was it?”’ Sorry, but most 15 year olds who hear a voice in their head – a voice they’ve NEVER heard before – might react a little differently – more panic perhaps, rather than just pretty much “whatever-ing” it. He does this throughout, be it from discovering his unnatural speed to hearing other voices in his head – Will just doesn’t have an appropriate response, in my opinion. Will also seems to have the uncanny ability to somehow find a solution to just about any problem, even if this problem is the likes of which NOBODY would have seen before. Yet after only a short while, Will suddenly has the perfect answer as to what’s going on – I’m sorry, no, that’s just not plausible. And I’m talking about a book where kids can run at amazing speeds, or have an amazing photographic memory. I can’t remember exactly what had happened at this particular moment (which is shocking, considering I only finished it a few hours ago), but I remember being annoyed and confused about it. But I overlooked it, because it was still a very good book.

At the Centre which Will now attends, there are 4 others in his pod – Brooke, Ajay, Elise, and Nick. Ajay is definitely one of my favourite characters. He’s really smart, and a bit of a geek, but not in that overly geeky way that some characters can be written in. He’s also got a remarkable photographic memory, which, although at first he doesn’t tell anyone other than Will, certainly comes in useful for him and the others. Ajay’s also really funny, and some of the comments he makes are just fantastic – in particular those he makes in response to Nick, my absolute favourite character in this book. Nick, like Ajay, is another really funny character, but in his case it’s mostly because he doesn’t mean to be! There’s some things he comes out with which are just fantastic, such as: ‘“Dude, take a wild guess. It’s the auxiliary locker room,” said Nick, yawning and stretching. “And if I knew what auxiliary meant, I could tell you.”’ That part just made me laugh, and throughout the book Nick has so many other moments like this. I also really love the interaction that Nick and Ajay; moments such as: ‘“Dürfen wir mit Ihnen sprechen, bitte?” said Ajay. “Your dude speaks Russian?” whispered Nick. “I speak German,” said Ajay”’ really make this book. Without Nick, I genuinely don’t think I would have enjoyed this book quite as much – he really adds something to the story.

Elise, whilst not a favourite character of mine, is certainly a good character in the book. At first I was a bit unsure of her and wasn’t a fan – I thought she was going to be one of those characters that hates on the new kid because they’re jealous of them making friends with their own friends (they ALWAYS seem to crop up, those characters…) – but as time went by, she grew on me more and more. Her and Will seemed to get on relatively well, and at first I thought she was going to be his love interest character (I still have my suspicions about that!), but it seems that’s looking to be… Brooke.  At times I thought I didn’t like her, but overall I thought she was quite a good character. She definitely wasn’t a favourite of mine, but I like that she’s unlike the rest of the group in that they’re all keen to find out what’s going on, whereas she’s really timid and apprehensive about breaking the rules in comparison. I think it’s a good thing to have at least one character like that, because if they’re all really strong characters that’re prepared to go out and do battle with creepy monster things, it’s just not as interesting. There has to be someone who feels conflicted over that – it provides balance, which is important. However, there were a few scenes where  I felt her relationship with Will was moving too quickly because it hadn’t been properly developed – it was touched upon, and I guess you knew she was going to be a love interest, but I still feel that moved a little too fast at points. Overall, though, I quite liked Brooke, and I had a great theory about her (which I’m not going to mention because of spoilers), and apparently it may possibly be true!

The plot of the book was well thought out and well–written too. There were some pretty good descriptions and explanations, and more than a few moments that had me sitting going “Wait, what?! No, that can’t happen!” and just sitting in shock at what had happened. My one main gripe with the book is that it did seem really rushed, but otherwise I really enjoyed it, and I definitely recommended it. It’s not exactly light reading, but once you get into I’m pretty sure you’ll fly through! I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the sequel, Alliance, especially to see how my theory plays out!

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“Quarantine: The Loners” by Lex Thomas Review

Quarantine

Another book that I was recommended to read by a friend, Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas (writing duo made up of Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voohries) is up there with Steven dos Santos’ The Culling in competition for my favourite book. From the opening line, Quarantine: The Loners pulled me in and wouldn’t let me stop reading. I admit, I was quite baffled when I read “Someone must have bitten off her nose”, the very first line of the book. And as first lines go, this is definitely captivating and hooking. I had read the summary a few times on Amazon after it was first recommended to me, and although it definitely sounded interesting, I never bought it until last week. The summary is as follows:

“When an explosion rocks David and Will’s suburban high school one morning, a deadly virus is unleashed on the school. The virus only infects teenagers in their peak puberty years, making them lethal to adults and children until they finish adolescence. Within minutes, every faculty member is dead. The military quarantines the building, opening fire on anyone attempting to escape and installing bi-weekly food drops.

 After a year of quarantine, with no adults around, the students have created their own society. All of the social cliques have developed into gangs – The Nerds, The Geeks, The Freaks, The Sluts, The Skaters, The Burnouts, The Pretty Ones, and The Varsity – and each gang provides a service with which they can barter for provisions. Without a gang, it’s almost impossible to secure food, water, territory, or supplies.

David and Will float just under the radar, until one day David sees his brother’s long-time crush, Lucy, about to be attacked by a Varsity jock. Impulsively, he steps in to protect her, and winds up accidentally killing The Varsity member. Suddenly, the whole school is on the lookout for David and Will. How will the brothers survive and what will happen once David no longer carries the virus?”

It had me interested, but I was still a little sceptical – it just seemed a little reminiscent of Michael Grant’s Gone series, and as much as I loved that, I didn’t want to read a carbon copy of it. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about – Gone was good, but Quarantine: The Loners was exceptional.

The book is in 3rd person, and though it primarily revolves around the main character, David, and his actions, it’s also interspersed with scenes focussing on Will, Lucy, Sam, and Hilary. For the most part I actually really liked David. In the beginning, you get a bit of background to him and find out about a loss he recently suffered, as well as finding out his girlfriend is cheating on him. When he makes the decision to save Lucy from a Varsity who’s attacking her, he accidentally brings the wrath of Sam, the head of the Varsity group, down on him. Sam already had it in for David, but after this incident, Sam’s looking for blood. David becomes the leader of the Loners (albeit slightly unwillingly at first), a group of “Scraps” who have no affiliation to any of the other gangs, such as the Geeks, the Freaks, The Pretty Ones, Varsity and the Sluts, or those who’ve been kicked out of their own groups, such as Lucy. And to be honest, I think he’s quite a good leader, as he does the best he can in his situation – even though at times he’s hindered by his own brother, as well as some of the other gangs. However, he does make some decisions, and does some things, that really annoy me – I feel that he lets his feelings for Lucy get in the way too much, especially when you consider the circumstances they’ve found themselves in. Yeah, teenagers get like that, but at the same time… They’ve been locked in their school for a year, with some awful fights and other things… Pretty sure sex and girlfriends is going to be the LAST thing on their minds. However, there’s one thing David does that I really liked – something has gone horrifically wrong for him, and he’s decided that he wants to hide in his laundry room until it’s time for his “graduation” but when he thinks his brother’s gone missing, David’s off like a shot to try and find him, regardless of the consequences. To me, that showed quite a bit of courage, especially when you consider what had just happened.

David’s brother, Will, is a character who I was a bit iffy with throughout the whole book. Don’t get me wrong, he was a really good character, I just couldn’t decide if I liked him or not. Throughout the majority of the book, I felt quite suspicious of him because I just couldn’t work out what he was all about – was he really with David (it didn’t often seem like he was), or was he actually going to go off and try and get into one of the other gangs? Also, he’s so selfish! His brother has tried his best to look out for him, but Will is basically all “Woe is me, the girl I like, likes my brother and my brother likes her, I hate him he should die.” Okay, maybe it’s put a bit more eloquently than that, but that’s the vibe I was getting quite a lot from Will. I feel that I would have liked Will a hell of a lot more if we’d got a bit less of this whinging; I get that he’s pissed off with his brother, but I’m sorry, there are far bigger things going on, and David has sacrificed a LOT in order to do his best for Will. He’s just really quite selfish in my opinion, yet for some reason… I still like him. He’s really well–written, despite the complaining (although I guess that adds to his character?), and I’m looking forward to reading more about him in the second book, Quarantine: The Saints.

Lucy was another character I was quite iffy with in the book. I liked her, even though she could never make up her mind between David and Will, but I wish she had been allowed to develop more. It’s like she was JUST there so the guys had someone they felt they needed to protect and they treated her like she was a fragile object which would just shatter if it got too close to any fighting – yet as we see towards the end of the book, she’s the opposite of that. She had even mentioned during the book that she could fight and they didn’t need to protect her, but did Will or David listen? No, of course they didn’t. So although there were times I liked Lucy, I wish she had been developed more and given the chance to be more than just the damsel in distress.

Sam and Hilary, however, were great. Seriously, I loved them so much. They were definitely the “bad guys” of the novel; Sam was the leader of Varsity and Hilary of the Pretty Ones. They were extremely well–written, and actually almost kind of scared me at points with their actions! There’s one scene with Hilary (you’ll know it when you read it) where my jaw just dropped and my eyes were about 3 times the normal size, because I was just so shocked. If I’m honest, when I started the book I had thought that Sam was going to end up being the kind of character who tries to act all tough, but when it comes down to it is just a cowardly kid… I had that totally wrong. The end of chapter 10 was another scene which had me sitting in shock; it was kind of expected but I didn’t expect it to happen in the way it did. So I’m really, really looking forward to reading more about the two of them in the second book, and hopefully they’ll get some further development – even if they don’t, I’ll be perfectly happy, because they were really good in this! I believe that’s the majority of the really main characters covered, but I’d just like to add in one minor character that I also loved – Zachary. The first time I met him, I just fell in love because he was funny, and generally just brilliant. Of course, he then had to go and do something that totally shocked and saddened me, but I still thought he was a great character, and I guess I can understand why he did what he did… The entirety of the Loners group were all characters I liked, but not enough to name them all individually I’m afraid. There were a few other characters I quite liked, but again they didn’t have as much an effect on me as the previous ones did.

The writing of the book was just fantastic. It really managed to hook me in right from the get–go and it succeeded in that for the rest of the novel – no mean feat, I’ll say that now. Often you get books which sound great at the start and you really enjoy them, but then they take a dip in the middle and drag quite a bit; but sometimes (just sometimes) you find those books which, once they’ve got their claws into you, pull you in and don’t let you go until you’ve read the final page. Quarantine: The Loners falls straight into the latter. I’m really hoping the sequel will live up to my expectations (it’s got a lot to live up to though), and I can’t wait for the third book either. Quarantine: The Loners is a book that I highly recommend, and is one I’ll be recommending for quite some time.

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Carol Ann Duffy at the Edinburgh Book Festival 2013

Edinburgh Book Festival

 10.08.13

The first thing one would have noticed when going into the tent in which Carol Ann Duffy would be speaking would undoubtedly have been the table set up on-stage, covered in a bizarre array of props – as well as a few chanters, there was a variety of other instruments I had never seen before in my life, but, perhaps most strangely of all, there was a wig, balanced on top of a polyethylene head. Frankly, I was confused. I had been expecting to come along and hear Carol Ann Duffy speak to us, perhaps recite some poems – I was not expecting to be bombarded by the sight of these strange and mysterious instruments.

However, all was soon to be revealed – Duffy was performing that afternoon with musician John Sampson. For the first 10 minutes we were treated to various pieces from Sampson, which annoyed me to begin with – I was there to see Carol Ann Duffy, not John Sampson! – but things quickly picked up when he played his piece “Schizophrenia”, a piece in which he plays two recorders and hums at the same time! After this, it was time to hear from the main event, something I’d been looking forward to for a while. After giving some backstory to the story of King Midas, a story which Duffy was “enthralled and enchanted” by when she was young, she recited to the audience her first poem – Mrs Midas. Already a poem I was familiar with, and had enjoyed, it was interesting to hear it read how it ought to be read, and Duffy’s carefully placed pauses and varying degrees of emphasis made it all the more entertaining.

She then went on to read Mrs Tyresius, Mrs Darwin, and Mrs Faust (Faust being her “favourite of all the old characters and stories”), all of the above poems being from the collection The World’s Wife. As with Mrs Midas, Duffy read them brilliantly (as expected), but it was Mrs Darwin that received the most laughs and the greatest acclaim:

“7 April 1852
                  Went to the Zoo.
                  I said to him –
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.”

She then read more poems from her other collections, some accompanied by Sampson on his cramhorns and cornets, some read only by herself. It was interesting to hear that her poem Miss Schofield’s GCSE came about because another pro-education poem she had written was banned after from the GCSE syllabus after 25 years, due to an invigilator thinking it encouraged knife crime. This retaliation poem was another popular one, especially when she ended with an exclamation of “Cow!”.

Having this opportunity to hear Duffy speak was highly beneficial, particularly as I’m studying her poems in English, so it was fascinating to hear how she felt her poems ought to be read as well as hearing what her inspiration was.

 

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“The Culling” by Steven dos Santos REVIEW

The Culling

The Culling is the 3rd book that I’ve read this year (first being David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, and the second being Mark Frost’s The Paladin Prophecy), but it is far and away the best book I’ve read so far – even out of the books I read last year, this one is ahead of them all. It was another book that I was recommended to read by a friend, and my only complaint is the fact that I never read this earlier. I absolutely loved it, and I devoured (“reading” doesn’t quite describe it) it in only a few hours. I started it pretty late at night, about half 9/10ish and although I was tired, there was no way on earth I was putting my Kindle away before that book was finished – so I had another night of sitting up until 12 o’clock, but I am in no way complaining! Here’s a summary of the book:

“Recruitment Day is here…if you fail, a loved one will die

For Lucian “Lucky” Spark, Recruitment Day means the Establishment, a totalitarian government, will force him to become one of five Recruits competing to join the ruthless Imposer task force. Each Recruit participates in increasingly difficult and violent military training for a chance to advance to the next level. Those who fail must choose an “Incentive”—a family member—to be brutally killed. If Lucky fails, he’ll have to choose death for his only living relative: Cole, his four-year-old brother.

Lucky will do everything he can to keep his brother alive, even if it means sacrificing the lives of other Recruits’ loved ones. What Lucky isn’t prepared for is his undeniable attraction to the handsome, rebellious Digory Tycho. While Lucky and Digory train together, their relationship grows. But daring to care for another Recruit in a world where love is used as the ultimate weapon is extremely dangerous. As Lucky soon learns, the consequences can be deadly…”

It is relatively similar to The Hunger Games – it’s dystopian, they’re forced to take part in this Recruitment Day, and even the beginning of the novel made me think of the opening pages of Suzanne Collins’ book; what with Lucky being worried about the Recruitment Day, his little brother waking from a nightmare, and even the fact that he was sneaking out to be somewhere he shouldn’t be. But that’s where the similarities end. I’m a huge fan of The Hunger Games, but after reading The Culling those books just seem tedious in comparison.

Firstly, there’s so much more at stake than just your own life – if you fail a Trial, you have to pick one of your two Incentives (family members, friends, those you love the most…) to be killed in absolutely horrific ways – having their head lopped off, stung to death by hundreds upon hundreds of bees,  that kind of thing. Those who have been Recruited have to choose who they want to kill. It’s just so horrible. However, it’s also very effective – although the 5 who have been Recruited (Digory, Lucky, Ophelia, Gideon, and Cypress) work together at many points throughout the novel, there’s no doubt during the Trials that it’s every man for himself, so that they don’t have to be the one to send their loved ones to their death. Between Lucky, Digory, even Cyrpuss and to an extent Gideon you can tell that, although none of them want to finished last, they will try and help each other if possible – in particular Lucky and Digory, who end up becoming each other’s second Incentives. Ophelia, on the other hand… a whole different kettle of fish, that girl.

Ophelia genuinely terrifies me. Honestly, I don’t think a fictional character has ever scared me so much. She just seems so calm and innocent at times – when we first introduced to her, I hated her and she really annoyed me – but then in the blink eye, she’s so vicious and savage, before suddenly turning round with the sweetest expression on her face! It’s scary how someone can go from being so nice, but still obviously scared, to being the kind of person who cuts off a girl’s arm so she doesn’t come last in the Trial. It’s just…how does that happen?! And it’s just really eerie how quickly she snaps back into being the stereotypical sweet girl – in fact, that’s another thing I liked. She can be so sickly sweet, but then suddenly she’s honestly one of the scariest characters I’ve ever read? Writing a character like that is one thing, but pulling it off is a whole different matter. Steven dos Santos does that extremely well. Whilst staying on the subjects of the villains in the book, Cassius, whilst not a completely main character, is just amazing. At first, I thought he was being really nice to Lucky and, although I was a bit suspicious of him, I believed him. But then, when the final Recruit is chosen but doesn’t appear, everything that happened after that just had me sitting there, stunned. I mean, although there was definitely a build–up to what happened, happening, I was still so shocked that it had happened in such a way – Lucky was supposed to mean something to Cassius, yet Cassius turns around and does that to Lucky?! Cassius was definitely one of my favourite characters, although he only appeared briefly, but I really hope that he’s developed in the next book!

Cypruss, Gideon, Digory and Lucky were equally well–written and I didn’t get bored hearing about them at all. It was too hard for me to pick a favourite out of them, but I definitely held a soft spot for Cypruss, especially after her sacrifice. Gideon’s a character I was quite iffy with throughout; I liked him at times, but then he would say or do something that just really annoyed me – but then when you found out what happened to him, that changed for me and I started to quite like him. The end for him, though… Broke my heart. Lucky, the main character, is far and away one of my favourite main characters ever – he was great. He wasn’t written in a way that would piss you off eventually because he’s thinking or doing stupid things; instead he’s a character who is concentrating on winning so that he doesn’t have to choose between killing off his only family, his 4 year old brother Cole, or Digory – the very same Digory who was Recruited right alongside him. I’m not going to say anything else on why I like the characters, because I will end up spoiling something, but I absolutely loved all of them, which is a very unusual thing for me.

One of the main things I loved about this book is how, although you know the romance between Digory and Lucky is there, it’s not a really in–your–face one and it’s definitely not a focal point. Yes, it’s relatively important to some aspects of the book, but a huge deal isn’t made out of it – going back to the comparison to The Hunger Games, the “love triangle” is focused on too much (in my opinion) and it really takes away from the point of the books, and frankly just ruins the books for me. I can understand with Peeta and the Capitol – that made some sense – but having to create a whole love triangle was just pointless. Fortunately, Steven dos Santos doesn’t do that and it just improves the whole book so much! It was also nice that the romance between Digory and Lucky didn’t read as an overly stereotypical “gay” romance which some books can be prone to doing, rather this read just like a straight pairing. I just felt that it was nice that a big deal wasn’t made about the characters being gay, and none of the other characters had a problem either.

All in all, I absolutely loved The Culling – it was fast paced, extremely well–written, had fantastic characters, the twists were amazing, and some of it was just utterly brutal. So, everything I look for in a book! I highly recommend this book, and I cannot wait for the sequel!  

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