Review: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

I always love to watch the reactions of people when I tell them what book I’m reviewing each month. For me, Birdsong was telling. Each time I’d tell someone, I’d instantly get responses like “great choice”, “excellent book”. But when I’d then follow up with “have you read it?” the answer was invariable “no. I’ve always meant to but never got around to it.”

And that is exactly why I chose to take it on this month. This is one of my bucket list books. It pops up all the time on those “100 books to read before you die” lists. It’s regularly hailed as Faulks’ best work. And everyone seems to have heard of it. And yet so few of us have read it.

This book was not what I expected. If I’m truly honest, I don’t know what I was expecting but not that. One of the things people tell you is it’s a “story about the war” so I kinda expected it to, you know, be set in the war. And it is. Eventually. But the main story is bookended on both ends by love stories. You actually start some years earlier in a French village with an English man named Stephen Wraysford who is visiting a family there. The first sixty pages this book felt heavy. Very heavy. The kind of heavy that makes you consider putting it down from the effort. Take my advice.

Don’t.

It might be a slow starter (honestly, the stuff about the factory and the strikes and the banal events of a cliché perfect-on-the-outside, troubled-behind-closed-doors family held little interest for me – the character building for both Isabelle and Stephen was so slow and while it does set you up with the secondary characters, most of them prove insignificant for the remainder of the novel aside from a thrown in line to warn you of their fate) but keep going. At about page 60, this book lights up like a firecracker on the 4th of July.

Another suggestion, don’t read this book at work. There I was, casually reading away my modern doorwedge of a faux classic when all of a sudden things were happening and I was suddenly very aware I was in company. Suffice to say, this book is not a PG rating. But from that point onwards, it takes off. And then Faulks throws in another curve ball (rolling with the America themed similes and metaphors today apparently)

In essence, this story is the story of Stephen’s journey through the war. Ish. With side plots. And random characters. And the odd divergence here and there. But he is the common thread that runs through it all. If you don’t care what happens to him, then you won’t get to the end (though I would challenge anyone not to). Because this book likes to time travel. Just as I was really getting into Isabelle and Stephen’s journey I suddenly found myself 6 years down the road and with a completely different character (Jack).

This is where the war stuff really comes in. You follow a whole battalion of characters as they struggle their way through the coming days, including the first day of the Somme (if you have a weak stomach, maybe skip this one – it’s gritty, real and doesn’t soften the horrors that happened there at all). And just as all this is kicking of…

We get stuck with Elizabeth.

I feel sorry for her as a character. She’s well written and in any other book her story line would seem engaging but against the brutalities of Stephen’s story line she just comes off (for me anyway) as a moaning girl with boyfriend troubles. Her sections are interspersed from here to the end with the tellings of Stephen’s struggles.

But Elizabeth does provide something else in this book. Guilt. On the cover of the version I read there is a quote from a reviewer “deeply moving”. I tend to find this means one of two things. Either a) you are going to come out of this novel with a renewed love for humanity and faith therein or b) you are going to be depressed as hell. This one is mostly the latter. It covers so many themes from the pointless waste of lives in the war, to the sheer bravery of the men that fought. It touches on how ill we treated these men after they returned and also on the emotional hell they were put through. There were parts of it that made me feel positively nauseous at the things these men went through “for King and Country”. And through Elizabeth, it points out our ignorance. November 11th every year we wear our poppies and say our thanks but most of us have next to no real idea what happened out on the fields of France. What exactly we are thanking these men for. For example, I had no idea they had miners out on the front lines. Men stuck underground for hours at a time in appalling conditions and although I did know about the massacre of the Somme, to read it through the eyes of those on the ground made it gutwrenchingly real.

Character wise, men do somewhat better than women. I don’t think you are supposed to “like” persay any particular character. But you do know them. They feel so real. So dynamic off the page. Their voices are so… human, it is what makes this book at the same time both compulsive reading but also repulsive reading in a way. Faulks is almost cruel. By treating the characters with such indifference, he makes the reader really care. You feel the deaths. There will be moments you’ll just have to stop reading for a moment and recover/grieve. You will find yourself begging them to just keep breathing as you rush through the pages dreading what you’ll find. He writes characters that have become immune to even their own death and so you as the reader take over the obligation of care. In a world full of fictional works that desensitise us to death, this one makes it brutally real. And if for that reason, and no other, it should be on everyone’s reading list.

Female characters are a little more two-dimensional. I wasn’t fond of Isabelle or Jeanne or Lisette and as I’ve already discussed, Elizabeth, while a useful vessel for conveying ideas, was in herself dull and man obsessed.

I suppose all that said, it was inevitable that I was never going to be satisfied with the ending. In many ways for me it felt too clean after such a messy journey. Elizabeth’s ending made me roll my eyes openly (and felt rushed, as though it was squeezed in at the last minute). And I wish he had spent a little longer in the final moments of Stephen’s – there was so much opportunity there – the amount of conflict and confusion after everything that had happened – that mix of characters I felt was under used. A mere chapter or two felt too little to me.

But all is forgiven for the writing. This book is a master-class. Faulks brings history to life with such a subtle hand that you barely realise you are reading words. You are seeing pictures. I’ve not seen any of the TV adaptations but I can’t imagine any living up to his prose. The detail, the definition, the care with which he tells his story is breathtaking.

This book will mentally destroy you as you read it. But don’t let that put you off. It is equally one of the hardest and one of the easiest 500 pages I’ve ever read. But definitely one of the most worthwhile. And for this reason, it’s in my “magical 1%” category. Those books that live with you. That change you in imperceivable ways. That become way more than just a story in a book. Books that stay with you forever. The war sections of this book will hurt. From the simple action of reading the letters in the trenches to the pain of characters like Brennan and Weir. This book is a war story, a love story and a survival story. But most of all, and the reason no matter if you even hate all of the afore listed types of stories that you will finish it, this book is about the human spirit and its incredible ability to endure the unendurable even when that spirit is irrevocably broken.

Rating: 10-10 – this isn’t a should read, its a must read

Favourite Quotes (7): “What was held to be a place of natural beauty was stagnation of living tissue which could not be saved from decay.”

“The harder he worked, the easier it seemed”

“I think children need to believe in powers outside themselves. That’s why they read books about witches and wizards and God knows what. There is a human need for that which childhood normally exhausts. But if a child’s world is broken up by too much reality, that need goes underground.”

“She had taken a job because she needed to live; she had found an interesting one in preference to a dull one; she had tried to do well rather than badly. She could not see how any of these three logical steps implied a violent rejection of men or children.”

“You can believe in something without compromising the burden of your own existence.”

“It made little difference that this was, by comparison, a small attack: there were no degrees of death.”

”He wanted it louder and louder; he wanted them to drown out the war with their laughter. If they could shout loud enough, they might bring the world back to its senses; they might laugh loud enough to raise the dead.”

Favourite Character: Jack

Least Favourite Character: Elizabeth

You know you love me: xoxo GG – Gossip Girl vs Great Gatsby

So…. In the last few months I have finally surrendered to the time-sucking vortex that is Netflix. I grew tired of listening to my friends talking about these amazing shows and endlessly watching movies and so, I joined the club. I have found myself binge watching shows that were cool ten years ago that I never watched but wanted to see what the fuss was all about. One of those shows was Gossip Girl.

Don’t stop reading.

Yes. I know. It’s not the most sophisticated of shows (but is delightfully sultry and addictive). But I’m going somewhere with this. I promise.

So, after a couple of months of compulsive watching and Chair shipping (Ed Westwick *sigh*)

I found myself at the end of my journey until someone enlightened me that it had been inspired by a book. A series actually. By Cecily von Ziegesar. Obviously, I got curious and my local library stocks the whole series (Never heard of Asimov or Tolstroy but Gossip Girl, oh yes) and thought I’d try book one.

As it happens, I also have another book open on my Kindle at the moment. The seminal-now-it’s-a-classic The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald and I found myself hopping between the two and I noticed something.

They are actually kinda similar. Different ultimate story-lines but the “social commentary” element is pretty like-for-like.

I’ve been having a long standing debate with a fellow writer about changes in modern literature and how different books and writing are viewed now to how it was back when authors like Fitzgerald were writing so I thought it would be fun to compare two such different tellings of such similar worlds. The classic vs the modern. So here goes…

(Oh and spoiler alert. I’m going to have to reveal who Gossip Girl is so if you don’t want to know, look away now)

Plots:

Gatsby: “Nick becomes drawn into the captivating world of the wealthy and — as he bears witness to their illusions and deceits — pens a tale of impossible love, dreams, and tragedy.” (Quoted from IMDB).

Kinda similar right? A nobody telling the stories of the crazy and wild world of the extraordinary elite.

Winner: Draw. Who tells it better? Neither and both. Gatsby is a world of jazz and champagne. Gossip Girl is more Beyonce and yoghurt on the Met steps. Each draws you into the world it is exploring. Gatsby is more artistic and so wins on drawing the world around you but Gossip Girl is more immediate, putting your feet on the ground right in the middle of the world, shooting for vibe rather than visuals.

Social Commentary:

Both offer a scathing and yet almost lustful commentary on the (often) ridiculous and scandalous lives of the rich and endowed. Neither book is outright scathing. Instead, they use exaggeration and (often) ridiculous characters to throw a spotlight on these worlds and moreover the people in them. In this respect, both screen adaptations are somewhat less concerned with the commentary element so are discounted for this round.

Winner: Gatsby by a mile. Gatsby has some beautiful quotes and observations about the world while Gossip Girl is a somewhat shallower novel. While Gatsby will make you sit back and ponder, Gossip Girl will just make you wonder why anyone would ever want to know any of these brats.

The Parties:

What is the world of the rich and pompous without a few parties…

Did I say “few”?

Oh and that’s just season one.

Winner: Gossip Girl. Gatsby has some stunning parties but they are all very same-y. Gossip Girl offers everything from débutante balls to burlesque clubs, saints and sinners to pool parties.

Tv/Movie vs Book:

(I know a LOT of you will disagree with me on this but) These two books are rare exceptions where I actually prefer the screen adaptations to the written ones.

Characters:

Welcome to two books where just about every character is 100% dislikable. Technically the point. We are supposed to be judging these people and their indulgent lifestyles but if you ask me, both works take it a little far.

Jay Gatsby/Serena Van De Woodsen

The unknown. The intrigued. The ‘it’ character. The one with the mysterious past. The one everyone wants to know and is at all those wild parties (often hosting them), is always at the centre of the of all the love triangles and the one everyone is always gossiping about. They are also both effortlessly beautiful and catch eyes in any room they enter.

And trust me when I say, the rumours around Serena (particularly in the book) are just as wild and varying. To quote: “You got kicked out of boarding school because you are a perverted slut who made marks on the wall above the bed in your dorm room for every boy you did. You have STDs. You were addicted to all kinds of drugs and busted out of rehab and now you’re dealing your own stuff. You were a member of some cult that killed chickens. You have a F!?! baby in France.” As Serena smoothly replies “Wow I’ve been busy.”

Winner: Gatsby. In the movies, its a close race. Both actors are stunning, and the characters are pitched well drawing the audience in, and a lot of the ridiculous elements of the gossip girl rumours are tamed down. However, book vs book, Gatsby is definitely the more intriguing character. Serena just comes off as shallow, dull and spoilt to the point I am actually fairly indifferent to ever find out what she actually did “last summer”.

Nate Archibald/Daisy Buchanan

Continuing on my gender-bender theme. Meet the love interest for above. Five key features. 1. Blonde. I don’t know why but this type of character always turns out to be a blonde. 2. Taken. Nate is Blair’s guy and Daisy is Tom’s wife. Cue love triangle. 3. Rich. Well obviously. 4. They are inherently “good” characters. They have the sweet, innocent façade thing going on that hides a wilder devil just waiting to burst free. In love too young and now looking to explore something more akin to passionate.

Oh and 5. Dislikable. Again, I much prefer the movie versions to the books versions. Actually in fairness, Daisy isn’t dislikable (in my opinion) so much as bland. Even in the hands of Carey Mulligan she came out very wishy-washy and that classic soft-spoken, annoyingly giggly, “oh I love him so” character. Nate is just dislikable. In the show, Chace Crawford does his best to inject some life into the character to make him more than “the hot guy” but in the book, he’s as weedy as the smokes he’s constantly dragging on.

Winner: Euck. Neither.

 Gossip Girl: aka (spoilers) Dan Humphrey/Nick Carraway.

Struggling writers. Broke. Drawn into this world they are naive to and somewhat sceptical to. The outsider commentator. Funnily enough, in the book Dan is somewhat different. She describes him as a skinny, vampish, sour and somewhat snipy teen with some serious attitude issues and an addiction to Serena that borders on stalkerism. He is only redeemed in his devotion to his little sister. In the book, he and Serena deserve each other. Honestly. The self-obsessed floozie and the sour stalker. And (at least in book one) while he is into obscure arty things, no real mention of being a writer. However, TV show Dan and Nick could be twins (Penn wins, sorry Tobey).

Winner: Nick. On the book anyway. Dan if we are considering the movie/tv show.

Which brings me neatly to the most important category:

Writing:

Gossip Girl sucks. There. I said it. It ranks down there with some of the worst written books I have ever read. It absolutely stuns me that a publisher put it out in the state its in. It reads like a twelve year old wrote it (albeit a sex-obsessed twelve year old). There is no finesse, no artisty. It jumps about as it feels like it with no real flow. It honestly reads like a bad diary. It is the epitome of everything I hate about modern commercial fiction. There is no sign of any poetry. No descriptions (beyond listing the designer names on the labels which FYI doesn’t count). The dialogue is un-inventive and constant. It is just sex, scandal and go-go-go.

Gatsby on the other hand, is beautiful. It famously has some stunning quotes from it but all in, it is a breath-taking piece of art. THAT is what true writing. Even if like me, you find the story neither engaging nor dull but just somewhere forgettable in between, you must read this book to enjoy Fitzgerald at his best. If you ask me, this is one book where the writing is 100% let down by the story.

Winner: You kidding right? (Gatsby)

So who wins? Classic or Modern…

An overwhelming 4:1 to Gatsby in the book department. Chalk up a win for the classics.

Let the debate begin…

You know you love me… xoxo Maxi

Review: Storm Front: Richard Castle

So, anyone who read my Heat Wave review might be a bit surprised to see me reading this. Last time Richard Castle and I met on a bookshelf it did not end well. However, I believe in equal to all so I thought, having given Nikki Heat a chance, it was only fair I give Derrick Storm his chance to impress me.

And impress me he did.

If I didn’t know better – and frankly with ghost written stuff no one really does – I’d say the two were written by two completely different people. Everything Heat Wave lacked, this book gives in spades.

Firstly, the story. Whereas Heat Wave was an utter rip off of several Castle episodes, this was a new story. It was clever, it was unpredictable, it had just enough quirkiness to it to suit Castle and it kept me reading. Sure some of the financial stuff went over my head and it is full of the melodrama we have come to love and enjoy in Castle double episodes (Richard Castle is obviously the only  person in New York who can save them all from an atomic bomb…), but I forgave it. Never at any point did I put the book down and have half a mind to never pick it up again (like with Heat Wave), rather the inverse. I read this book quickly and eagerly and was (mostly) not disappointed.

The second ace it pulls is the characters. I happen to love Storm. Many wouldn’t. Maybe I can blame my dad and the diet of Dirk Pitt and James Bond books I grew up on but he honestly feels like an early Clive Cussler character. He’s funny and smart. He’s entertaining and mostly stays away from the usual stupid things spies do. In the series, Castle admits to Bond being his favourite book and you can feel it in this. It is almost an homage and again, it made me smile. This book was just serious enough to keep me hooked but took itself lightly enough for me to forgive it the little moments of frivolity. I love Jones (the little we see of him) and both female characters (Strike and Xi Bang) are strong and interesting balances to Storm, offering strong female counterparts like the later Bonds (think Vespa, think the Daniel Craig era Moneypenny) instead of the damsels in distress of the earlier instalments. I like the idea of enemy agents working together, it adds an interesting and unusual facet to the relationship. The supporting cast are strong and dynamic. From our evil villain of the week, Volkov (Russian, of course, this is a Bond imitation after all…) to the various financiers, the geeks and the Sister (who personally I fell in love with), they are engaging, original and three-dimensional, a far cry from the flat, cardboard cutouts that Heat works with. Talking of, the insert of Heat and Rook was a little kitsch but I was enjoying myself so felt inclined to forgive it. Besides, who doesn’t want two Nathan Fillion’s in one room?? Even so, Heat managed in her handful of lines to remind us just how unlikable a character she is. Also, I thought the homage to Montgomery was quiet but touching and perfectly fitting with the way I think Castle would have memorialised the character.

However, the thing I loved the most about this book was that it was written by Richard Castle. I could hear him in this book. From the opening (and recurring) reference to “ruggedly handsome” to the banter between the characters and the compulsive name dropping that is so Castle you can’t help but smile, you could feel the enjoyment the author had putting the story together. And that enjoyment was translated into me as a reader. This book felt like it was written by someone who truly loved those he was trying to emulate, who was having fun and wasn’t afraid of having a little silly from time to time. In the series, we see how much he loves spy fiction, in this book you can feel it. From the little references to Bond to the tongue-in-cheek humour that is dotted throughout the prose, even at its most serious, this book can make you smile. It is a love letter from Castle. Storm is just the kind of character you could imagine him writing. Even down to his father, Castle has written his own fantasy. The boy who dreams he’s a spy and his dad is this big ole spy hero too. The “ruggedly handsome” hero who always gets his guy and walks away with the girl. But unlike the wooden fan fiction that is Heat Wave, this is done with such love and skill that you forgive him and instead indulge him and share his dream for 300 pages or so.

But don’t think this is all laughs. This book has a gravelly gut. The sequence in the tube station. Storm’s guilt (which is refreshing in this style of genre – where a stupid plan actually ends up proving itself stupid). There is definitely a dark, thriller edge which, at the end of the day, is what keeps you reading.

Far from me to say this book is perfect, I would say this book is good. If you are looking for a fun-but-sensible spy thriller that will get you through a two hour wait in an airport this is the perfect book. It’s easy but with just enough eloquence that it doesn’t become un-atmospheric, and is altogether an engaging read. While it is not exactly great literature it is a fun book. This is the book I was expecting. This book as Richard Castle behind every word. I think any Castle fan will not be disappointed by Storm. Shame Castle killed him off really…

Rating: 7-10 – easy, fun, entertaining. Perfect holiday reading.

Favourite Quotes (0): Better written but still nothing to write home about.

Favourite Character: Storm

Least Favourite Character: Volkov (at the end of the day, he’s a bit of a cliché)

Review: Heat Wave: Richard Castle

As regular readers will know, I’m not a big crime fiction reader. So the above book is not my normal choice when faced with a bookshelf of choices. But then, this is not an ordinary crime fiction novel, and its genre is not the reason I picked it up. I picked it up because of the grinning face on the back cover.

Alright, I agree, not the best reason in the world to read a book but I doubt I am the only one that was intrigued as to how the transition from fake writer on a tv show to real novel would go. I think we can all agree that Nathan Fillion has the midas touch when it comes to TV projects. First comes Firefly. Cancelled after a mere 12 aired episodes. Becomes one of the ultimate cult shows of our generation. And then comes Castle. Stupid concept, it should not work, and yet it does. They break all the rules of cop-show writing. SPOILERS: Too much flirting, getting the couple together, marrying them off… normally those are end of run breakers but Castle keeps going from strength to strength. And so, with all that success, why not try something new? Why not have your completely fictional author (Mr Fillion/Richard Castle) write the books he’s doing research for on the show?

I would love to say that I loved this book. That I couldn’t put it down, but I’d be lying. Heat Wave is not a bad book. But it ain’t New York Times Bestseller material either trust me. I don’t know who ghost writes the books. There are a lot of theories but never confirmed but my guess would be the screenwriters of the show. This book is just a little… dry. It has all the common errors I worked out of my own work years ago. It puts chapter breaks where you’d shout “cut” on set rather than where suits best the momentum of the book. The description reminds me of over-embellished stage directions. You get the point, in fact in places, you can see exactly what the author is getting at but it reads too technical for my taste. And there are also some questionable, high school-style descriptive passages that just make the whole thing feel a little trite.

This book, in many places, reads like a “how-to” for solving crimes. I got the impression that the author was so busy trying to remind us how much awesome research he had done and got all those details right that he lost his own story to them. Several times I caught myself thinking, “I don’t care, just get on with the story already”. It is also a very insecure book. It doesn’t trust its reader. It does a lot of telling, not showing, particularly in reference to Nikki’s relationship with Rook. She tells you how she is feeling rather than letting you feel it with her. And it does a lot of ‘show and then tell for good measure’ – for example the camaraderie after she is attacked, or lack of, but then instead of letting the reader draw his own conclusions that seeing as neither member of Roach seem particularly sadistic, this is their way of being supportive, it has to beat you over the head with it in a long paragraph that reads more like research notes from an essay entitled “Black humour as coping mechanism in the Police Force.”

And on the topic of crime, they weren’t particularly inventive. I saw the conclusion coming from a mile off and wasn’t particularly intrigued to see it through. I could tell you, as I went along, which episodes they had stolen what from and while for some fans that might make it fun, I just found it overly indulgent. And a massive bug bear I have is that a lot of the background is just told to us. We don’t see Rook and Nikki meet for the first time and we get a lot of the background to their relationship told to us in offhand sentences here and there. From a personal point of view, I would have much preferred that it was written as this being their first case together. Without it, the relationship between the two feels forced and fake.

The characters feel like a fan-fiction indulgence. Now I know for some people that’s what they love about the book. Personally, I found it turned them all very two-dimensional. Nikki Heat does not think logically. She thinks in plot conveniences which bothers me. Funnily enough, I actually like Rook. Here we get some of Castle’s charm finally showing through. I think he’s handled well and for the part, even if he does act like a moron for most of the book, jumping from baseless conclusion to baseless conclusion – the point of which I can only guess was to give Nikki yet more of a chance to show how unlikable she could be. Roach are… background. Stupid name aside, they just offer additional dialogue but otherwise I found their character building stuff empty or forced. Actually enjoyed Lauren. Obviously a straight rip off from Lanie but she works and is well translated into the fiction. Likewise the Captain. It was nice to have Montgomery back for a while.

Reading all this, it would easy to conclude that I did not enjoy this book. That isn’t necessarily true. I was just disappointed by this book. I wanted this to be Castle’s book. I wanted to feel him in the narrative. Feel his sense of humour, his turn of phrase. But there is no sense of Castle in the actual prose. Sure, they’ve turned Rook into his identical twin but I didn’t sign up for just another Castle episode. I wanted a Heat episode written by Castle. In the end, anyone could have written this book and that is what disappointed me about it the most. The crime wasn’t quirky or out-there, the characters were just twists on the usual crime fighting pack, the prose was clinical and efficient but lacking personality.

This book, at the end of the day, is the ultimate fan-fiction. Don’t expect anything else from it, and you’ll have a good enough time on the ride. But trust me when I say, New York Times Bestseller Richard Castle is not!! I shall not be reaching for the remainder of the series.

Rating: 3-10 – low standard even for a throwaway read, though my disappointment at the missing Castle adds an extra negative to the score.

Favourite Quotes (0): Sorry, it just isn’t written well enough for me to find some.

Favourite Character: ME Lauren.

Least Favourite Character: Nikki Heat

Celebrating the Emerald City: 75 years of Dorothy

I was stunned to find out recently that this week has seen the 75th birthday of the Wizard of Oz. It’s one of those movies we’ve all watched. It’s hard to believe we first walked down the yellow brick road in 1939 with Dorothy and her friends. Based on the book by Frank Baum, it is one of the most loved movies of the twentieth century. So in recognition of this amazing milestone, here’s a look at the journey this story has made and a few of the Oz-themed spin-offs we’ve seen over the years.

1. The Book

It all started with a book. It always saddens me to discover how few people have actually read the book (or worse, don’t even know it was a book in the first place). Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is definitely a must-read for any book enthusiast.

2. The Movie (The Wizard of Oz)

Of course, the iconic movie in which we saw young Judy (aged 16) and Toto whisked away to the magical land of Oz to embark on a musical journey to the Emerald City to meet the mystical wizard. From it we gained some of the most well known melodies in musical cinema, as well as some memorable lines.

“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

[youtube http://youtu.be/vQLNS3HWfCM]

3. The Music

One of the best loved songs from the movie, Somewhere Over The Rainbow has become iconic in itself. Almost cut from the movie due to long running times, it went on to win the Best Song Oscar and became the Judy Garland song. It has since been covered by many artists, including Katherine McPhee, Pink and Jane Monheit (below). Other songs we’ve since seen redone include If I Only Had a Brain (most recently by Robbie Williams).

[youtube http://youtu.be/PSZxmZmBfnU]

[youtube http://youtu.be/-cawSHMzoU8]

[youtube http://youtu.be/EP_5veYs1vE]

[youtube http://youtu.be/0GpyBU2DVkE]

3. Wicked (the book)

Having read this book, in some ways it doesn’t fit into this list and in others it does. Maguire does write in the Oz world created by Baum and he tells the story of Elphaba, the misunderstood green witch. It is not an easy book to read. Anyone expecting to read the same light hearted fun story from the stage show will be sadly disappointed. That is not to say it isn’t a brilliant book. But it is a statement book. It is a political, social and ethical commentary that is very definitely not for children. Interesting fact, Maguire fashioned the name Elphaba from Baum’s initials L-F-B. Still, it is the platform from which much of the modern adaptations have sprung.

4. The Stage Show – The Wiz

The Wizard of Oz has walked the boards many times, most recently in a surprisingly short musical version by Webber and Rice, treading the boards in 2011 and then closing again a year later. It used much of the music from the film plus new tracks from the amazing Webber and Rice,so its short run came as a little bit of a shock.

5. Wicked the Musical

Perhaps the most famous spin-off in modern times, the amazingly popular stage show tells the story of Glinda and Elphaba through their school days and how they became the characters we know in the 1939 movie. Funny, witty and incredibly catchy, it is an impossible-to-not-love musical that has caught the imaginations of audiences around the globe. The lead parts have been played most famously by Kristin Chenoweth (Glee) and Idina Menzel (Frozen, Glee, Enchanted) but have also seen other famous faces like Kerri Ellis (WWRY, Wicked in Rock) and Meghan Hilty (Smash, 9-5) as well as Joey Grey (Cabaret) as the Wizard in the original cast.

[youtube http://youtu.be/3g4ekwTd6Ig]

6. Once Upon a Time

ABC’s latest juggernaut pays homage to Baum’s work. The TV series, based on the idea of  fairytale characters who have been cursed to live in the real world, takes a visit to Oz in its third season and I’m sure it won’t be the last we see of the Emerald City.

8. Oz: The Great and Powerful

The latest adaptation starring Mila Kunis, James Franco, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz is the most modern version of this old story to make it to the silver screen. This lavish spectacle forms the prequel to the original and tells of the wizards arrival in the world of Oz.

 7. Wicked the Movie

Showing our love for this old tale is far from waning, the next big project is the adaptation of the wickedly (sorry, too tempting) successful stage show into a movie. Details are still sketchy. It is known that neither Chenoweth nor Menzel will be reprising their roles as both have been informed they are ‘above age’ for the roles. It will be interesting to see who will attempt to fit into either of their rather impressive shoes.

Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling: Robert Galbraith (Rowling)

Before I review a book (but after I’ve read it) I like to have a good old read of its reviews. Not the ‘official’ ones in the papers and the like (those tend to always be biased, you never know how much money the publishing houses are playing (wow, apparently cynical me is on a day trip)) but the ones that appear on sites like Amazon and Goodreads written by your average reader. Generally speaking, they normally follow a pretty usual trend with the outliers of those who really liked and those who really didn’t but scores tend to mostly match up.

Galbraith was different. His/her (not sure what the appropriate one is in this case) reviews fall into three categories.

1: I love JKR and she can do no wrong.

After it was ‘accidentally’ (I’m still sceptic) released that she was the brains behind Galbraith, sales of this book went up somewhat (which was no real surprise to anyone). A lot of people idolise Rowling and so there are a lot of reviews that pretty much sing her praises. I sense the book could be written in text language and about the day in the life of a one pound note and these reviews would not change.

2:  I wanted Harry Potter

Rowling gets a bit of a workover here. These range from “Why are there no wizards?” (to which I would answer, why is anyone allowing you to review a book. You clearly don’t understand how this thing works) to more generic comments about losing its charm.

 And; 3: The rest of us.

The people who actually just read the book and reviewed it.

I consider myself in this group because a) while I love HP, I would not profess that Rowling is completely flawless, b) I went in wanting a crime fiction book (and as it is generally a genre I dislike, I was looking for a good one) and c) because I think this book should be allowed to stand alone. I will be utterly honest, the only reason I read this book was because I knew it was Rowling’s work. And so, I suspect, did a lot of others so comparison, I suppose, should only be expected but the magnification on this particular lens is over the top if you ask me.

Story wise, this is your usual crime jaunt. It had all the necessary tick boxes and ticks along at a slow, steady pace. Galbraith takes his/her time on this book. Unlike usual crime novels that are very point, click, written-for-TV style books that bound from action point to action point, this moves a lot slower. There are no cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter, there are no real big action sequences, and it is, in the most part, a story told verbally rather than physically. As it happens, this tends towards my preference of novel. I happened to like her writing style. I do agree in places it feels like she is trying too hard to be ‘adult’ but I love the way she absorbs you into the environment. But then, like I say, I don’t tend to enjoy normal crime dramas. I find her amazingly eloquent with a better grasp of the English vernacular than just about any of the other writers on my bookshelf. I love some of the words she uses and the images she creates. Some people find this heavy and the main cause behind the book’s ‘plodding’ nature. I don’t disagree to the latter, I’m simply saying it didn’t bother me.

She does have some weird quirks. Firstly, she seems to be obsessed with writing characters phonetically. As a general rule, I hate (actually loathe) authors that do this. Still to this day I have no idea what the groundskeepers in Wuthering Heights says. Just tell me he is Scottish/Jamaican/Italian/Cockney/Whatever and let me make the rest us. I have no problem to a few dialect driven words thrown in e.g. Aye for Scottish, Ain’t for Southern/Cockney, Yah for South African and Bella for Italian but the dialogue in this book often had more apostrophes than letters. I can live with cut off ‘g’s’ and to’s and of’s but this was to a level that was almost a foreign tongue. Her spell-check must have been going mental. You end up with these weird situations where the security guard who was supposed to be Jamaican ended up sounding South African in my head because of her choice of phonetics. That for me, made this book hard to read. Bringing me neatly to her second usual quirk…

This book is all dialogue. As a new writer I always get two pieces of fun and contradicting advice.

1. Always write conversation out in full. Don’t use reported speech as this is your best way of exploring character development and;

2. Show, don’t tell.

The characters literally ‘tell’ you this story. Like I say, there is minimal action. So you do end up feeling like you are sat on a jury listening to person after person telling you just slightly different versions of the same events. It gets a bit dull. I started skimming (and probably missing clues) because of it. Rochelle in particular drove me nuts, between the pages of dialogue and her awful phonetic accent, I gave up and hoped he’d summarise for Robin later. She also makes a few odd narrative decisions. Often Robin would go of and actually do some detectiving but instead of taking the narrative with her (the prose switches between third person with Strike and Robin), she just tells Strike about it verbally. And I think the book loses momentum because of it. *SPOILERS* Also, and this proved almost universally true, if Robin went off some place and I didn’t get to hear about it, it almost certainly was because if we went it’d give away the plot so whatever she said was of vital importance. *END SPOILERS*

My final, and massive, bugbear with this book is its editing. As regular readers know, I’ve spent the last year of my life editing my book so I know the pain. Which means now when I read a book that is badly proofed, it makes me angry. Because as far as I am concerned it makes it seem like good formatting and all that stuff is only important on the way up, once up it’s, “nah, don’t bother, they’ll buy it anyway”. The errors in this book are all over the place. From extra spaces before dialogue, to not closing speech marks (which is infuriating as you have to backtrack to work out what is going on), double words, and extra fun in the phonetics, she regularly skips the ‘d’ off the end of ‘and’ and dumps it on the beginning of the next word (which I’m pretty sure is a typo). You’d have thought the great JKR might be able to afford a proofreader or two?

Thus rant ends.

However, and this is a big however, despite the above, I enjoyed this book. The story was engaging and less predictable than reviews make out (though that might be my inexperience with this genre showing again). It kept me going from page one to the end. I think both Strike and Robin are interesting characters and nice steps away from clichés. (Though I agree with a fellow reviewer who suggested for the (let’s face it) inevitable film adaptation that Nathan Fillion as Strike and Karen Gillan as Robin would be a match made in heaven). The supporting cast are no Larsson creation but they are fun and quirky. You get all the stereotypes from bimbo supermodels to big black rappers and all in between. Oh and the gay fashion designer. Oh for the day someone writes a straight fashion designer. Just to be different. For once.

This is a story about fame and Rowling’s opinions come out in force. You can feel her anger against the paparazzi palpably through the pages. She makes very pointed statements about fame, phone hacking, Gordon Brown, and the press. Never let it be said that Rowling does not know how to use a stick to make a very deep point. As I happen to agree with her on all points, I enjoyed this indulgence in political ranting. Others may not.

It does strike (no pun intended) me as odd that she time-locks this book so badly. And place too. I don’t know London. Despite what all American’s seem to think, just because I’m British does not mean I live in London so this book felt a little alien to me. Like listening to my parents speak of their childhood home-town that I’ve never seen or visited. She describes it well but it always seems just slightly out of focus for me. As I say, she also time-locks this with cultural references that will mean nothing to anyone not British. You can date this book to the day thanks to Mr Brown and his lousy people skills. This book will age. And fast.

Like I say, I enjoyed this book. I did not feel like I dragged myself from beginning to end. It was easy, well-written fiction that captured at least a portion of my imagination. And I think she will grow into it. I’m yet to read The Silkworm but just like it took Rowling a few books to settle into Potter, I think the same will come true of Strike and Robin too. This book is still trying too hard to be adult. There is too much unnecessary swearing just to remind us ‘this is for adults’. And Robin in particular has moments where she is more teen than adult. There are eye-roll moments (I would love to see anyone pull off Robin’s stunt in a high-end fashion store – pretty sure those girls want their jobs more than the commission) but for the most part, a well handled, enjoyable read.

Rating: 5-10 – neither excellent nor awful but somewhere between. A good old yarn to read on the train home.

Favourite Quotes (4): “He knew more about the death of Lula Landry than he had ever meant or wanted to know; the same would be true of virtually any sentient being in Britain. Bombarded with the story, you grew interested against your will, and before you knew it, you were so well informed, so opinionated about the facts of the case, you would have been unfit to sit on a jury.”

“A hundred years after Emmeline Pankhurst, a generation of pubescent females seeks nothing better than to be reduced to the status of a cut-out paper doll, a flat avatar whose fictionalised adventures mask such disturbance and distress.”

“Sometimes illness turned slowly to nillness […] sometimes nillness rose to meet you out of nowhere.”

“The press in this country are lower than scum.”

Favourite Character: Ciara Porter (I don’t know why, she just sort of became endearing, like a small child or a kitten)

Least Favourite Character: Rochelle

Review: Divergent: Veronica Roth

[NB: This review is full of spoilers. I’ve tried to mark them as best as I can…]

Welcome to a present tense, action packed dystopia YA novel that involves children killing each other. Sound familiar? It should. Divergent is an unashamed rip-off of The Hunger Games. Like I say, same narrative style, similar characters, familiar scenes. I’ll give Roth credit because I do mean unashamed. Some books try to hide their influences. Divergent embraces hers. And for some reason, it makes me want to forgive it. It doesn’t feel like it’s saying it’s as good as THG. Rather this feels like its kid sister, looking up to the older sibling and admiring her so much she wants to imitate her. If you are very fond of THG and feel protective of it, you might want to give this one a skip. You have to just accept that this book tries to do that same thing (and mostly fails).

It is not often that a book completely stumps me but this one does. It made me so angry while I was reading it and yet at the same time, somehow I came out the other end kind of enjoying it in a ‘guilty-pleasure’ sort of way. I’ll try to explain.

The premise is dumb. That is this books biggest problem. And this goes back to the whole THG thing. You can almost see the author sitting down and thinking ‘I wanna write one of those… reason for kids to kill kids… reason for kids to kill kids… oh, I know… a camp that trains you to be murderers and calls it education… yeah, that’ll do.’ I would like to think Roth was aware how daft this book gets but was forced into that corner by her own lack of foresight. There are rumours that she wrote this book in a month. You can tell. The world is just badly thought out.

The idea is that there are now five factions that everyone belongs to: Amity (non-violence/kindness), Abnegation (selflessness), Candor (truth), Erudite (intelligence/education) and Dauntless (bravery). That, I suspect, is how she meant them to come across. This is how they actually come across…

Amity: Oh dear, non-violent people don’t fit in with my whole plan to kill off all the children… hmm… let’s make them… farmers… yeah that works… and not mention them ever again… *SPOILERS* I’ll just kill a couple of them on the train that makes no sense… *SPOILERS END*

Abnegation: A selfless hero? That sound like a good idea. Now how can I undermine this actually interesting idea? I know, let’s have every single Abnegation member you ever meet turn out not to be so Abnegation. *SPOILERS* Let’s have them shoot people, die for absolutely no reason other than mandatory family-dying scene, beat up their kids… oh and let’s make sure our hero is about as selfish as you can get, allowing just about everyone to die for her (and not in a HP tortured guilty conscience sort of a way, in a ‘oh well, better them than me’ sort of a way) and judging everyone on appearance (this is definitely an ‘all evil people are ugly’ sort of a book) *SPOILERS END*

Candor: Truthful people = rude. Actually of all the factions, this is the only one that didn’t really annoy me.

Erudite: Now, maybe it’s because I’m an intellectual that this book really annoys me because apparently wanted to know stuff is baaaaaaaaad. Now, I get that there has to be a bad guy in here. Goes with the territory. *SPOILERS* So okay, make it a power-hungry, mentally disturbed genius who is out to destroy the other factions (Remind anyone else of Mockingjay?) But unlike in Mockingjay where the Capitol follow orders because they don’t know any better, so there is one evil figure and his puppets that don’t even realise they are on strings or that are doing it just to live – Divergent asks you to accept that this entire faction is bad. Let me clarify that it is asking you to accept that the faction who are supposed to be intellectually enlightened and smart… blindly follow this mad lady based on some rumours she puts in the newspaper. You’d have to assume otherwise she’d have been removed from office because one of these smart people might have noticed something hinky was going on. I get that she’s a genius but, well, she’s not exactly clandestine about it. It just really gets under my skin that Roth is basically saying that being smart makes you evil. Because she doesn’t frame it in a ‘too much knowledge is dangerous’ sort of way. Which would have been clever. Because there is a problem with information overload in our world and that would have been a very poignant social commentary element. The idea that if only one faction controls the flow of information, rather like Big Brother in 1984, you never know what is truth and what isn’t. But that’s not the story she tells. *SPOILERS END*

And finally, the daftest of all… the…

Dauntless: Otherwise known as… the reckless, the sadistic, the inexplicably violent for no reason what-so-ever and the idiotic. At this point, I am going to quote the book itself, “There is a fine line between bravery and idiocy.” Apparently, Roth decided to prove this point rather eloquently. Let me explain, jumping off and on a moving train isn’t brave, it’s reckless and stupid. Beating the hell out of someone else for no real reason isn’t brave, it’s cowardly and sadistic. Jumping off a hundred storey building isn’t brave, it’s thrill-seeking and (ironically) selfish. The list goes on. I was horrified with this book and its definition of bravery. Now, I know I am going to be told “but it all gets explained in the sequels, the Dauntless have been corrupted but they used to be about proper bravery” but, to me, that’s too little, too late. This is young adult fiction. That means it has a young and impressionable audience. And this book, for at least the first 300 pages teaches all those young minds that beating the hell out of each other is the best way to be brave. And guns are the answer to everything. This book, this book right here, is the best argument I have ever seen for gun control.

Oh and let us not forget the final two factions.

Factionless: AKA: The working class. Apparently being a bus driver is a fate worse than death. Likewise labourers of any kind. Apparently it is akin to be homeless and destitute. I am really not sure what point she is trying  to make here but at best it is distasteful and snobbish. Interesting message to send out in a  YA novel. I wonder if the young readers even realise that she has just insulted the majority of their parents.

Divergent: AKA: PLOT DEVICE. This is the only logical explanation I have for the divergent. Or more, it is the only way I can explain why all of a sudden in a world of free-thinking individuals, only two of them don’t fit neatly into a box. Simple test for this theory. Put yourself in one of the five factions. Only one. So you can be Dauntless but you can’t fight to save others because that would be selfless. You can be Erudite but you can’t then use that information to realise that fighting isn’t the answer. You can be Candor but then apparently have to accept a life of ignorance as a want to learn would make you Erudite. So you see, this is the key flaw in this premise and why it is so dumb. It would have made sense if, let’s say, when they were born every person was injected with a magic serum that made them single-minded and brought out only the most dominant personality trait. And the Divergents were the minds strong enough to overcome this serum. Again, this would have been a clever, logical plot. But no, Roth asks us to accept that in the future 99% of the population are unquestioning sheep that fit so neatly in a box it hurts.

Other things that bother me in this book is the lack of reason for anything. To give credit to Roth, she is kind of ballsy for just saying ‘to hell with it, I want this scene because it’s cool so I’m going to do it’. From a train that doesn’t stop (and is also magical as it manages to be seven storeys up and also at ground level in the same place) to a jump into a hole that was only there to make a plot point, this book is full of things that happen ‘just cos’. *SPOILERS* and then there are the ‘mandatory’ scenes. So… both parents dying for no reason/because their daughter who has been trained to fight and kill sends them out first… the evil roommate who is out to kill everyone just… well… cos… the glass tank that they just happened to have hanging around so they could drown her and give her time to escape rather that just shooting her… the many magical serums… and the least necessary… shooting Will. Before pulling the trigger she points out that it is not his fault that he has been brainwashed AND that he is her friend. And she then takes a deliberate aim and hits him in the head. Not the knee or the shoulder to slow him down and buy him time. She kills him. She shoots Eric in the foot (she hates him, he’s trying to kill off everyone she loves), and Peter in the shoulder (well, he only tried to kill her like half a dozen times) but her friend who has been there for her from the beginning, him she executes. Yup. That makes sense. *SPOILERS END*

So, I think I have succinctly explained why this book made me angry. Now to the enjoying it part.

The characters, while 2D and often just renamed versions of characters from other stories, are mostly engaging. Four (despite his stupid nickname that had me double reading things… sentences like “Four jumped on the train”, now is that four people or the character Four – got really irritating) is interesting enough as a male lead. I enjoyed the sequence through his ‘fear landscape’ and there were a couple of other moments that I really liked with him. I liked Christina and Will and their dynamic. They were often the only source of logic and reason. And Al, like all those before me, was the character I found most interesting.

I won’t say much on Tris. I dislike her. She is no Katniss Everdeen. In fact, I suspect she is what Bella Swan would be like if put in a dystopia world and made to kill people. I think I really started to hate her when she berates Al for crying. That actually took my breath away. That isn’t selfishness, that is just plain cruelty. Katniss kills because she has to. Tris kills, mostly, because she wants to. It is the only explanation for her willingness to kill some while grant mercy to others. I know this is meant to be a story about a weak, shy girl become a kickass hero but to me, it felt like the story of a person becoming a monster. A solider kills because he has to. Because he wants to protect those he loves. Because he is brave. Tris kills because she has absolutely no empathy (unless the guy is hot, then she’s all over that), because she wants to live (even at the expensive of others *SPOILERS* at one point even admitting she’d literally throw her friends under the bus to get a better ranking … nice person this Tris *SPOILERS END*), and because she gets a kick out of it.

Sorry, back to the good parts. Roth is actually a fairly accomplished writer. There were sections, like the fear landscape and the Ferris wheel that were really well written and presented and at no point did her writing become so bad that it took away from the reading. She has some moments of beautiful description and… well… she doesn’t let you take a breath, jumping from action to action and keeping the story moving. It is easy, flowing prose that makes for an easy read.

To enjoy this book you have to turn your brain off. If you can ignore all the stupidity of the concept and just let it sweep you along on its very busy ride, you will enjoy it. It is not a bad book in that the author can write. It’s like if you can ignore how high you are and how far the drop is and how many loop-the-loops are coming up, and just focus on the ride itself, this roller-coaster can be a bit of fun. I will not be reaching for the sequels. I don’t think I could take any more of Tris. But this is also not going in my ‘Never-Again’ category. I hope in time to come, Roth writes something else. Takes a little more time and engages properly with her own concept because I think she has the capability to write books just as good as THG, but first she has to find a way to stand on her own.

Rating: 6-10: Surprisingly high but at the end of the day, I enjoyed it. I think.

Favourite (7) Quotes: “Humans can’t tolerate emptiness for long.”

“Mom used to say that politeness is deception in pretty packaging.”

“There is a fine line between bravery and idiocy.”

“We are supposed to be capable of anything.”

“I believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”

“Ruin them.”

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”

Favourite Character: Four

Least Favourite Character: Tris.

Review: Twilight: Stephenie Meyer

[NB: I wrote this years ago. Found it hidden in an old blog I used to have and thought I’d resurrect it. Still stand by my assessment.]

When Twilight first came on the scene, I’ll be honest, I completely ignored it. In fact, it was my sister who bought the first book in the series and, after informing me that she’d given up at chapter three thanks to quote ‘an obvious plot and annoying characters’, I never really gave it much thought.

In England, the phenomenon of Twilight took a lot longer to grow that in the States, so even as the third book was due to come out, it was still fairly obscure, at least compared to its status today. And I remember standing at the shelf, looking at Meyer’s (at that time) three works and, having read all the blurbs, I chose to pick up The Host. And it was only because I really enjoyed that book that I picked up its vampire equivalent.

There are still times I wonder if the same woman really did write both books.

I believe that the characters are the backbone of a book. Bad characters. Bad book. Because on paper, Twilight looks good. Its got a good solid concept. It takes a popular theme and twists it into a unique interpretation. It has room for romance but also for intrigue. I can see why an agent took it on. Its problem can be summed up in one word.

Bella.

God is she irritating. Now I know hardcore fans will say that it was Meyer staying true to her character. Well fine. But then my advice is don’t write a character that is so intolerable. When Bella isn’t moping or moaning, she’s indecisive and such a cliché damsel-in-distress it pains me. I would put spoiler alerts but I doubt there’s a person in the world who doesn’t know the predictable plot. In book one, we are presented with a blurb that tells you in its first sentence what it then proceeds to take Bella half a book to discover – that Edward is a vampire. Now I’m willing to offer a little give and take on this one, I mean, vampire isn’t exactly the first thing you think. But unlike Stoker who leaves subtle hints and clues, Meyer includes so many obvious tells that you are practically screaming at Bella by the time she finally realises. And it is here that Meyer, for me, starts to undo her own plot. Instead of having Bella cautious about this new discovery. Have her doubt him. She just takes the word of her self-confessed vampire stalker and falls head over heels in love with him. She could have played on it so easily. You still keep the meadow scene but afterwards build in a sequence of chapters where doubt starts to creep in. Bella tries to stay away from Edward but her heart and mind are in conflict. Have her doubt her feelings. Is he manipulating her somehow? And indeed, have Edward killing James be the proof that Bella needs to finally let down her walls and trust him and slowly open her heart to him.

But no, she is turned into a female sap who turns to jelly and can’t seem to get through a chapter without at least once mentioning his bloody (no pun intended) gold eyes.

However, despite Bella’s best efforts, I actually enjoyed book one. The plot was clever, and if you could swallow the mills-and-boon style romance, well conceived. I also happen to like Edward as a character. Carlisle is a tad goody-goody but the rest of the vamp clan, particularly Alice are very likeable.

Book two starts badly and just gets progressively worse. There is a large section of book two that I have marked out. The page Edward leaves and the page Edward comes back, and I refuse to ever read again that which falls between. I saw the werewolf thing coming ever since the conversation on the beach in book one, proving once again that Bella is both slow and annoying. I actually don’t mind Jacob. Certainly I prefer his book persona to his movie one. But I just cannot stand Bella’s moping. Never has one taken being dumped quite so badly. Because that is all that has happened. Edward dumped her. Normally people eat chocolate ice cream, call in sick for a week and then get on with their lives. Bella, on the other hand, is comatose for three months. Just to put this in perspective, in PS I Love You (Another excellent book), Holly’s husband DIED and she doesn’t react as severely. I rest my case. The ending is… abrupt and a tad far-fetched in places but it does introduce the Volturi who I do think are a brilliant concept. A concept, which for the most part, Meyer almost completely ignores. They could have become such a powerful villain. I am so glad the movies (their one and only redeeming feature) give more focus on the Volturi.

Book three was actually my favourite of the four. There was an identifiable villain who had, for once, a fairly understandable motive. It had a clever idea, I liked the idea of a newborn army (though again, criminally underused) and we discovered a lot about the Cullens. Rosalie and Jasper in particular have very good back stories. I surprised myself by actually enjoying Eclipse.

Book four is so painfully predictably, redeemed slightly by Jacob’s chapters, destroyed entirely by Bella’s idiocy. And the ending, well, I don’t need to add to the rain forest of critics who have already explored how much of a disappointment that was.

For me, this is the book that could have been. Meyer is, despite what many say, a good writer. The person who wrote The Host knew what she was doing. And she had so much at her disposal. The Volturi could have been the ultimate villain. Edward, for the most part, is a perfect male anti-hero. And she has a secondary cast, any of which could  have had a story all on their own. A friend of mine once described Twilight as ‘amateur teenage porn’ and sadly, it’s not far wrong. The books are enjoyable. I wouldn’t claim otherwise, but that doesn’t make them good. What had all the making of an underground battle between good vampires and bad vampires, with a human girl who knows that if she follows her heart, she will pull everyone she loves into a war that they cannot possibly hope to win, but if she follows her head she will have to give away everything that mattered to her turned into a sappy love story where a seventeen year old virgin falls in love with her stalker who then proceeds to blackmail her into marrying him before knocking her up, with strong overtones of ‘abortion is baaad’.

The saddest part is there is one part of the Twilight family that I genuinely enjoyed and thought showed more promise than all the rest put together. Midnight Sun. Twilight from Edward’s point of view. It actually amazed me how much the story improved just by being told from a different point of view. Even Bella seemed less infuriating from his point of view. But it was the one project Meyer abandoned after it was leaked onto the internet. It is still available, the amount she wrote on her website and I would highly recommend reading it. Indeed, his telling of the car crash in the school yard is both clever and amusing. I was very sad to hear that Meyer didn’t intend to continue this version of the story. I think it could have become a powerful novel.

Twilight is an opportunity that was lost. It’s good meaningless fluff, but it could have been so much more. It could have been a book that utterly deserved its place in literary history, instead it’ll go down as ‘that vampire book that bloke with the weird hair made a film of’. Yes it is successful. Yes it has put Stephanie Meyer on the map. Yes people dare to mention it in the same sentence as Harry Potter *she shivers in disgust*. But none of that makes it good.

Rating (as a series): 4-10 – surprisingly high perhaps but it is, despite its massive downsides, still an enjoyable read. I have no problem with what it is, it is what it could have been that bothers me.

Favourite Quotes (2): “No matter how perfect the day is, it always has to end.”

“That’s the beautiful thing about being human. Things change.”

Favourite Character: Alice Cullen

Least Favourite Character: Bella Swan.