Thursday, November 3, 2011

REVIEW - The Omen Machine, Terry Goodkind

The Omen Machine is book number thirteen in Terry Goodkind's internationally best-selling series, The Sword of Truth. It is also the beginning of a brand new trilogy arch - that is, if Goodkind's three book deal from TOR has anything to say about it.  If you're in the process of reading this series, perilous waters full of spoilers lie ahead. So I strongly suggest that you turn back now. Otherwise, if curiosity to see if Goodkind delivers has gotten the better of you... well....

Blurb -
An accident leads to the discovery of a mysterious machine that has rested hidden deep underground for countless millennia. The machine awakens to begin issuing a series of increasingly alarming, if minor, omens. The omens turn out to be astonishingly accurate, and ever more ominous. 


As Zedd tries to figure out how to destroy the sinister device, the machine issues a cataclysmic omen involving Richard and Kahaln, foretelling an impending even beyond anyone's ability to stop. As catastrophe approaches, the machine then reveals that it is within its power to withdraw the omen... In exchange for an impossible demand. 


Plot -
I'll be the first to admit that Goodkind's last trilogy - Phantom, Chainfire and Confessor - were painful to read. To a degree. The Omen Machine is different. Goodkind can still be a tad preachy, but he tries not to overdo it this time. The story is rather interesting and I loved returning to the world and characters. New elements of magic is introduced this time around and the plot travels at a much faster pace than previous instalments. That said, this book is only half the size of a regular Goodkind novel. However, I felt very satisfied with the amount of time I spend reading this novel.

World - 
There isn't a lot to say about Goodkind's world, other than it is brilliant. If you've read Goodkind up to book thirteen, I am sure you'd agree. Goodkind sticks with the familiar, but also throws a lot of new elements into his safe-zones. I'm sorry to say that this book relies heavily on prophecy, which is in my own opinion, is a convenient scape-goat for any weak story (blame it on prophecy!). But Goodkind uses prophecy differently in this story. It is refreshing and unique, and I soon found myself eating my own opinion. Prophecy can be pulled off... if done well.

Characters -
Ah, the characters. This is the most contentious topic with the release of The Omen Machine. People have criticised Goodkind for delivering mere 'shadows' of the characters everyone has come to love or loath. It's true that Goodkind offers little on the background of the characters, but I don't think it detracts from the story. After all, the story is more about plot than character development - the story is more Stone of Tears than Faith of the Fallen. If I was being honest, I would say that, yes, the characters are not as fulfilling this time around. But I know these characters and I know their history. It's not so bad for something like this to happen in book thirteen.

- - -

Goodkind remains one of my favourite authors. I cannot fault the man too much. If you're not a fan of Confessor, then give this one a try. If you haven't been a fan since Faith of the Fallen, this is not the redeeming title you've been waiting for.

7/10

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

IN THE SHADOWS - Madeleine Cleary

Guest Reviewer - Madeleine Cleary

Vampire Academy
By Richelle Mead

If you are looking for something light, fresh and amusing, pick up The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. The series comprises of six books following the exploits of the protagonist, Rose Hathaway and her best friend, Lissa Dragomir. The novel is set in the mysterious Vladmir’s Academy, a school for vampires (Moroi) and half-human and half-vampires (dhampirs). I know what you’re thinking, not another boring vampire Twilight-esque series that capitalizes on the hearts and minds of na├»ve fifteen-year-old girls! While The Vampire Academy series does in fact follow the complicated “love triangle” plot line reminiscent of Twilight, it defines itself through its quirky and often dark humour and its unique character profiles.

Mead’s female roles are refreshingly strong and powerful, quite a few steps away from the pitiful and weak Bella who drove us all nuts with her wailing and pining. Rose in particular is a captivating protagonist who drives the story with her determination and spirit. Also, watch out for the character of Sydney Sage. Sydney is an Alchemist whose secretive human organization works to prevent vampire exposure to their race. Mead has designed a follow-on series titled Bloodlines (first book released August 2011) which sees Sydney taking on the role of protagonist and continuing on with some other major characters.

The only thing I found disturbing is the major male lead and Rose’s love interest, Dimitri Belikov (who is 24 years old while Rose is 17). Plus he is her teacher. Isn’t that just a little creepy? Rose’s other love interest on the other hand, Adrian Ivashkov... now he is something special! Lucky for me (and other smitten girls and boys out there) he will be featuring in the upcoming Bloodlines series.

All in all: not Twilight. Murder, mystery, intrigue, love, romance and plenty of action and adventure. I had fun!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

FANTASY REWIND 3: The Sword of Truth Series, Terry Goodkind

Let's be honest, Terry Goodkind is brilliant. Needless to say that his books are brilliant too. Goodkind is a master storyteller, sculpting a sophisticated world entwined in intrigue, love, loss and above all else, magic. Oh yeah, and I shouldn't forget to mention prophecy either.


The Sword of Truth series follows the adventures of a lowly woodland guide named Richard. His days are spent exploring the forest and in his spare time, crafting items out of wood (I should mention that before becoming an author, Goodkind was a wood sculpture ((oh, and he is also dyslexic))). After Richard pricks his hand on a mysterious vine, the world around him changes and he becomes caught up in the politics of an ancient war. The first book, Wizard's First Rule is long and satisfying story. Read the blurb for yourself:  




Richard Cypher's decision to help a woman in the Upper Ven near the Boundary between the Midlands and Westland creates more trouble than first appears. The woman, Kahlan Amnell, seeks the help of a wizard in the Westland, and she brings with her dark news from the other side of the Boundary: Darken Rahl, Ruler of D'Hara, has brought down the Boundary between D'Hara and the Midlands. This menacing ruler continues his dead father's quest for control by pressing war on the now vulnerable Midlands. Kahlan is attempting to find the great wizard who had left the Midlands for the Magic free Westlands due to the corruption of the government in his eyes, so as to have him Name a Seeker of Truth. The great wizard turns out to be Zeddicus Zu'l Zorrander, Richard's longtime friend, who then proceeds to name Richard the Seeker.


Wizard's First Rule is the very first adult fantasy novel I ever read. I was thirteen years old and though I didn't understand every second word in the story - vocabulary is a killer - I managed to read the book cover to cover. Goodkind was still publishing a book every couple of years, so I grew up reading and constantly waiting for the next instalment. As I matured, so did my vocabulary and reading skills. I can attribute a lot of my love for fantasy because of Goodkind. He really did change my world. 


But now more about the story:


The characters are brilliant and unforgettable. I loved picking up a new novel and embarking on a new journey with Richard and Kahlan. In my own opinion, each novel was a good as the last - at least until the final 'wrap-up' trilogy. The world is as equally unforgettable, unique in its design and mind-blowing in its complexity. Goodkind's world is a believable place where I felt must exist somewhere... somehow.


Every emotion is genuine, every feeling believable. Goodkind's novels were 2am page turners in a desperate attempt to discover what happens next. But as Goodkind wrote more novels, I did become disappointed in how he was portraying his characters: it became a classic case of an author falling in love with his creations. He is definitely no Martin when it comes to eliminating characters.


However, this is only a small irk in my love for these stories. I have thoroughly enjoyed every Goodkind novel. I thought I'd do a FANTASY REWIND on Goodkind since I'm about half-way through newest novel, The Omen Machine. So stayed tuned, fantasy friends. Another review is on its way shortly. 


If you want to know anything about these stories, please feel free to leave comments and questions!







A quick note: a new fantasy rewind poll is up! Please vote as I always look forward to writing about my favourite authors.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review - Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence

Let's be honest. I'm not a fan of the inherently bad protagonist. My belief is that ambitions inspire motives and those motives inspire deeds; what is good or evil is but a matter of perspective. Yet something inside willed me to buy this book. Perhaps it was the want for a traditional fantasy novel or perhaps I was curious to see if the inherently bad could be pulled off. Whatever the reason, Prince of Thorns arrived on my doorstep in beautiful hardcover, begging me - or more appropriately, threatening me - to read the pages within.

---

Plot -
Prince of Thorns has a satisfying balance between pace and plot. The story is easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable as you enter the thick of the tale. There are a few big moments that took me by surprise and the story remained relatively solid throughout. The relationship between the prince (the protagonist) and his father (the king) is epic. However, this is a story where readers should take note of the figures who lurk in the shadows. In essence, the tale is about the game of thrones, the ambitions of a kingdom and the fractured relationship between father and son.


World -
Prince of Thorns is set in your traditional fantasy world. Or so you think. Without spoiling anything, be on the lookout for a very surprising twist concerning the structure of the world. Whereas other fantasy novels exist with elements assumed and accepted as 'the norm', Prince of Thorns sets out to give a logical and clever explanation of why things are the way they are. This is a breath of fresh air, with some fantasy titles relying on readers to accept everything their world offers, just because they should. But do not fret, the world is everything you love about fantasy and more, but also expect the unexpected (to quote a cliched saying).

Characters -
The prince is inherently bad. But that's not the whole story. Lawrence provides you with reasons about why the prince does what he does, and not once did I feel that the prince was an immortal character doing bad things just because he can. There are many other memorable characters too and unlike some authors, Lawrence is not married to them. They can die just as easily as a nameless goon - and Lawrence does not linger on the details. I love this about fantasy novels.

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Prince of Thorns is the first fantasy title that I have enjoyed in a long while. I'm looking forward to reading the next two subsequent titles. If you love Robin Hobb, Joe Abercrombie or David Gemmell, you'll like Prince of Thorns. If you're looking for a fun read, light and enjoyable, Prince of Thorns is for you.

8/10

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review - Feed, Mira Grant.

Feed is a unique zombie novel down to its very foundations. Its an understatement to say that story that took me by surprise. Firstly, examine the cover: you see a cracked concrete background with the word 'Feed' smudged across the wall in blood. Above the word is a similarly stylised RSS logo (or RSS feed). What astounds me is how exact these images resonant with Mira Grant's story. It is approximately 30 years since the first zombie rose from the dead, and the world is a very different place.

If you're looking for a jam-packed story with relentless action, suspense and violence... you're reading the wrong novel. As expected, the story revolves around zombies but not as an in-your-face issue. Rather, the story is about the effects, fears and political agendas in a post-uprising world. The story is very slow - don't expect to be hooked until at least 400 pages into the story. But the final 200 pages justify this lack of excitement.

I have never read a zombie novel with so much meticulous detail. This isn't a story that merely says 'once upon a time everything was fine and then there were zombies.' Feed provides readers with a very realistic and well-reserached explanation of why the dead rise. The crux of the explanation is that everyone has the zombie gene: it is only with death that the gene is activated. I said before that the world is a very different place: since the uprising, people have become fearful of venturing outdoors. Thus, the rise of the bloggers have come about. This may sound stupid, but trust me, read this novel and it makes perfect sense.

My main disappointment is how slow the plot moved - it is literally a story about a news company following a presidential election... with zombies. However, I believe the end justifies the means. There is a slow reveal of something much larger than anything you could ever imagine - and confronts the reader with one of the biggest twists I have ever experienced in a novel. The characters are well-established, easy to like and if not a tad stereotypical, at least fun to read about.

Feed is well worth the trudge through the first 400 pages of exposition. I pulled a 2am-er just finishing the novel. It's that good!

4 out of 5

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Review - King Rat, China Mieville

China Mieville is an author I've been willing myself to pick up and try. I was forever approached by people and lectured about how gritty and graphic, weird and wonderful Mieville's stories are. Having now completed King Rat, I can tell you that these descriptions are indeed true... with exceptions.

King Rat is probably the weirdest story I have read. It spins a tale about a man who discovers that he is half-human, half-rat. This entitles him to all the powers of a rat (whatever they are). In essence, the story follows the urbanised, shunned superhero: Ratman. The book is around 400 pages and could probably be knocked over in about a week of on-again-off-again reading. The language is descriptive, if not a tad strange, describing things in a way that I have never even considered, let alone read in a novel. However, there were moments in the story when I did question Mievillie's word usage. More often than not, it felt like Mieville was going to a Thesaurus and choosing words just because they looked sophisticated. Perhaps a read of Orwell's Politics and the English Language could have benefited Mieville here?

My biggest disappointment about this novel is how easily I guessed the plot and the ending (to an extent). Once I had guessed the major plot points, the reading of the novel was a little less enjoyable. There were some very interesting characters in this book and Mieville took them in directions I found fascinating. It was a certainly a change of pace from the traditional, classical fantasy that usually finds its way into my hands. But in saying this, they were characters I couldn't really associate with.

I still don't know what to think about this novel. I think I enjoyed it, but I feel like I didn't. I think it would definitely appeal to someone who is more into the gritty, punk-like way of life. For me, it's just not my thing. But would I read more China Mieville?

Probably. 

3 OUT OF 5

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fantasy Rewind 2: The First Law Trilogy, Joe Abercrombie

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is a set of three novels adhered together to create a single, epic tale. Just like every other fantasy trilogy, I hear you shout from the sidelines. No, it is not just like every other fantasy trilogy. The novels act as progression points in developing a violent, sophisticated and politicalised world - yes, politics!

The Blade Itself is the first novel, followed by Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings. Don't be deceived: you cannot judge these books by their covers. I quickly discovered the titles have nothing to do with the story. Though if you look carefully, you'll be able to discover the roots of these quotes and garner an appreciation of just how well-constructed these novels are. Each novel is broken into three parts, each with a quote attached as an introduction. I found that I was looking forward to the next section of the novel for both a new quote and the next stage of the tale.

In my own opinion, the First Law Trilogy is the most well-rounded and satisfying series of novels I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Each character is interesting and believable, likeable and dislikable. The political world is intertwined with murder, violence and torture: themes that have come to define Joe Abercrombie as a serious, fantasy author. The story is not particularly exciting and jam-packed with action, but it pans out as an interesting tale that draws you in with each page turn.

I cannot relate Joe Abercrombie to any other author I have read, or rather any other author that pulls off unjustifiable violence so well. The First Law Trilogy is a series that surprised me more often than not. I finished Last Argument of Kings with a deep sigh of satisfaction. Not surprisingly, Joe Abercrombie went on to write two more novels, Best Served Cold and The Heroes, both of which surpassed all my expectations. Abercrombie has also been commissioned to write another stand-alone novel and trilogy, set in the same world.

The story follows three main characters and three semi-main characters. Abercrombie does well in always keeping your attention and not dawdling on one character for too long. You come to care about each character's ambitions and fears, a rare experience in a literary world competing for their reader's attention. Fantasy sells from a fan-base and Abercrombie does well in generating one.

If you're in for a good tale of intrigue, betrayal and violence, Abercrombie is a sure bet. Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Short Story - Abomination, R. J. Creaney.

Abomination is the first tantalising tale from our newest Australian author, R. J. Creaney. Never heard of him? Shame on you. Unfortunately, being a short story, it is only available in the Kindle edition. But for those of you with a Mac, the Kindle application is easily downloadable. At the very least convince a friend to download it. It's also available on the PC, if you're interested.

Abomination is set in 9th century France where a warrior sets out to confront the abomination he has been chasing for many a year. It is a dark fantasy story with a twist. If you're a fan of necromancy and the rising dead, you'll love this story. I was strangely reminded of the game Diablo. The mood is dark and the landscape grey and uninviting.  Creaney writes with clarity and chooses his words carefully. However, I regret the points where the story both started and ended. To me, Abomination could have been a much larger tale. The characters are rich in detail and I could sense a whole backstory that never made it on to the page.

If you love your history, Creaney has you covered. He nails the essence of 9th century France, and I felt as if I was reading a piece of mythology from that time. I really have no criticisms. It could have been longer, a bit more fleshed out in terms of character development and exposition, but then I remind myself that I was reading a short story and not a novel. For those interested in sampling what could be the next big author, check out this link. You won't regret it.

Review - City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes in the second book in Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments series. Clare welcomes you back to her world of vampires, werwolves and down-worlders with open arms and a brand new story. But in saying that, City of Ashes certainly reads as unnecessary exposition book two in a planned trilogy.

In this story, Jace and Clary are back to their old antics as they continue their struggle against the infamous crusader, Valentine. Joined by the old gang, Jace and Clary travel from place to place, argue, travel, argue... and that about sums up the story. I'm not saying that City of Ashes was a bad book. In fact, I loved it. I think the premise is intractably constructed and Clare writes with artistic brilliancy. However, the story is really driven (haha) by travel and arguing.

There was also plenty of twists and turns as I have come to expect from Cassandra Clare. The characters are well-developed and believable - though I do question the authenticity of the Inquisitor's motives. The Jace/Clary relationship is slightly disturbing and I felt that it was a bit of a distraction from the overall flow of the story. Other than those small irritants, the story flowed pretty much flawlessly.

In terms of originality, Clare nails it. She does borrow a few of the more overused mythological creatures in popular culture, but it doesn't affect the structure of the story. If you loved book one, then you'll probably love book two. I'll be reading book three, but not any time soon. City of Ashes left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. That's just of my own opinion.

Story: 6/10
Characters: 9/10
World: 8/10
Impression: 6/10
Overall: 7.5/10

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle

Sorry for the lack of updates everyone. There isn't very much fantasy news going around, unless you want to know the latest and greatest facts about the second season of George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Personally, I think we can all live without knowing who has just been cast to play Chip Chip the Mouse.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle arrived on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. I was mean and keen to start reading this book, as Patrick Rothfuss (author of The Name of the Wind) is forever raging about its well-written beauty and lyrical genius. Okay, Patrick... you got me. Haha.

The Last Unicorn is a fantasy tale with no surprises in store. The story is about a lowly unicorn who sets out to discover what has happened to the rest of her kind. Along the way she collects a practicing magician and an elderly cook. Then she marches upon a castle and an evil king - the rest you could probably guess. The Last Unicorn is more of an elaborated upon fairy-tale than an actual story. If you enjoy fairy-tales, you probably won't enjoy this book.

The pace of the story is often confusing. Parts of the tale seem to linger longer in areas that I deemed unnecessary, but sped through scenes that I thought were crucial and important. I couldn't quite get my head about it. The characters were... well, bland. I didn't feel much empathy for any of the characters, really. They were just stoic pieces to be moved around as the story progressed. When something happened to a character, I hardly cared. This may sound dismissive and pompous, but I'm sure everyone has had this experience before.

The world is much like our own with a few more details added. Beagle does well in describing the surroundings, but after a while it just got tiring.

The story is short and in its defence, does well in evoking emotions in its lyrical songs and poems. I can definitely see where Patrick Rothfuss drew inspiration from. The story the legend of someone or something always shadows the reality of the thing itself. It's an interesting concept and those familiar with Rothfuss' work will know where I'm coming from.

I was disappointed in this book. But I attribute that to how much Rothfuss talked it up. Approach the book for what it is: a simple fantasy story with a story message.

Patrick.

LOAN/BUY 

- - -

Story: 5/10
Characters: 4/10
World: 4/10
Impression: 4/10
OVERALL: 4/10  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review - The Wise Man's Fear, Patrick Rothfuss

"There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in the storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man."


Indeed, all wise men do fear these things. But they should also fear one more thing: the sheer size of this book. Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear is a 1000-page monstrosity that could have attributed to my chronic back pain and occasional muscle spasms. Lugging this book around, I hardly had room enough for essentials, often choosing to leave university books at home. This book, of course, took preference.

The Wise Man's Fear is the second book in the Kingkiller Chronicle, a sequel to the hugely popular The Name of the Wind. It continues the story of Kvothe, a man of legend in hiding. Kvothe tells his story over three days - the real story and not the legend people have fabricated over the years. This book is day two of his story-telling, and there is no lack of story to be told.

I was very excited about reading this book. However, around 100 pages in, I knew I couldn't experience the story at its full potential, lest I re-read The Name of the Wind. Patrick Rothfuss continues the story with an assumption that his readers know and remember all the finer details from book one. I wasn't too fussed, but I can see how it might be an issue for someone who simply doesn't want to go back and re-read 700 pages. I found that I actually enjoyed going back, once again immersing myself in to the world, the characters, the stories and the plot in general. By the time I had finished book one, I was ready to pick up book two.

The characters are brilliant; the writing is brilliant; the stories are brilliant; the atmosphere... brilliant. The only thing I question is the length of the book and the overall plot. It seemed a little scattered. There was no true direction, and Rothfuss seems to have written about anything that came to mind (within reason). Don't get me wrong, it's all fascinating, but it's a bit jarring at times. However, I nit-pick. The Wise Man's Fear is a wonderful book if you take it for what it is: a good, long story. You'll feel right at home again with the characters and feel genuine emotions toward them. The little stories told throughout the book are funny and exciting.

Put a few months aside if you've yet to read these books, because you'll become absolutely engrossed in the story. The Wise Man's Fear wasn't as near as good as The Name of the Wind, but it was still a very satisfying read.

Characters - 10/10
Plot - 7/10
World - 9/10
Writing - 10/10
Re-Readability - 8/10 


Total Score: 8/10 (4 Stars)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

FANTASY REWIND: Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb

Back in the day when I still had my fantasy section at Borders, I always had at least one Robin Hobb book on the shelf (out of a possible 14 titles). This is because Robin Hobb is brilliant. It is also because people love Robin Hobb's stories. Yet, in my opinion, you cannot call yourself a fan of an author unless you know at least some basic details about them. One thing being THEIR GENDER

So, let's get one thing straight. Robin Hobb is a WOMAN. And her name isn't 'Robin Hood' either, no matter how adamant you are to the contrary. Still don't believe me? Let me prove it, then.




(Click to Feel the Power of the Beard)

Robin Hobb is a pen-name, as is her other name, Megan Lindholm. Her real name is Margaret, but she prefers to be called either Robin or Megan (depending on which fan you are). I picked up Hobb's first novel, Assassin's Apprentice, on a curious impulse. I went against the old sayings and judged the book by its cover. It was beautiful, well-illustrated and there were little images in each corner of the book, promising a possible revelation of secrets if I were to open its pages and start reading.

So that's what I did. I started reading. 

Do not be fooled. This book is not about an assassin. It's a tale about a boy who is born a bastard of a king. He is rightly called Fitz (which literally translates as "a bastard of a king"). It is told in a first person perspective and you are privy to some interesting details, such as Fitz' ability to communicate with animals. The book is full of intrigue and suspense, oftentimes violent and at other times, sweet and harmonic. Assassin's Apprentice isn't a book you can't put down (note the double negative), but it's certainly a book that will capture your attention and leave you appreciating a good fantasy story if you are willing to forgive the minor irritants. 

If you have never read a fantasy novel in your life, Robin Hobb is a very good starting point. Assassin's Apprentice is a book that will grow on you over time, therefore warranting a before and after rating from me. I'm looking forward to re-reading Robin Hobb when the time is right because it's definitely worth my time.


JUST AFTER READING THE BOOK:


NOW:



Sunday, August 7, 2011

"In the Shadows with Madeleine Cleary" - The Help, Kathryn Stockett

Today's blog is written by Madeleine Cleary, who will be appearing as a regular guest, writing reviews of books not normally associated with fantasy.

The Help, the debut novel by Kathryn Stockett, was rejected 45 times by publishers before it skyrocketed to the New York Times best-sellers list. This is a novel that will surely resonate with readers for many years to come.

Mammy in the classic novel, Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell is a loveable and loyal house-slave of the O’Hara family. She accepts her role as a slave very willingly and there is much affection between her and the white O’Hara family. Nobody ever asked Mammy whether she would like to change things. The concept was foreign and the white and black roles in society were accepted and firm. Moving away from the civil war era, Stockett sets her novel in the Deep South in Jackson, Mississippi. Set in the 1960s, just before Martin Luther King and before the civil rights movement, Mississippi was renowned by the rest of the United States as being slightly behind the times. Stockett draws from her own fond childhood memories of being raised by her African American nanny, Demetrie.

The novel follows three perspectives. Arguably the main protagonist is Aibleen; a loyal, polite and dedicated housemaid who has a talent for writing. Her best friend Minny is a fiery and smart-mouthed housemaid with cooking to die for. Last is Miss Skeeter; a single and upper class white woman who begins to question the black and white roles in society. Miss Skeeter, with the help of Aibleen and Minny, begings to construct a novel of interviews of African American housemaids and nannies about their experiences in white households. The divide was so great that African Americans in Jackson at that time were being beaten for using a “white” toilet; hence, the risk was immense.

Stockett wanted to capture the often-complex relationship between a white household and their black housemaid and nanny. Hence there was an emphasis in The Help on stories of love and respect juxtaposed with stories of neglect and abuse. The latter stories highlight the particularly strong racial prejudice and division at the time. There was a particularly poignant scene where Aibleen makes the ironic connection that whilst black women are trusted in raising white children, they are not trusted with the silver service sets. Irony is further teased out by Stockett: while the children love and dote upon their nanny, who generally played more of a presence in their lives than their own mothers, they generally would end up with the same racially divided mindset of their parents. It was a continuous cycle that seemed to never relent.

I was really intrigued by the persistence of the character of Aibleen. She had been ‘rearing white babies for 20 years’ and had watched them all grow into versions of their parents. Aibleen said that as soon as the children stopped being “colour blind” she would pack up and move to another family with a young baby or child. It took Miss Skeeter to ask Aibleen quietly, ‘do you ever wish you could change things’ to spark a flame to tell her story. There should not be any confusion, however, this is not about a white woman who writes a book. It is about the stories of the struggles faced by those dedicated and hard-working women who slaved away over children that were not their own.

This book is not just about sending poignant messages about race relations. It is also utterly hilarious. You will find yourself laughing out loud at the character of Minny who is so outrageous and controversial. However, I must caution, the “Minny’s Pie” incident may make a few readers feel a little queasy in the stomach. There is also some quite amusing toilet humour that will soften even the most serious of readers.

The novel is classified as fiction yet the novel reads like a collective memoir. Stockett used true stories gathered from experiences from others ,as well as her own, to form the characters of Aibleen and Minny. Aibleen’s strong sense of dedication contrasted with Minny’s own unique, flippant character which created an eclectic pair.

There is a strong sense of justice and proving that the voiceless can be heard. Even today there are still racial tensions and prejudices that exist in the United States and around the world. This novel, just like the novel that is written by Miss Skeeter, is controversial in its own right. There may be room for criticism that Stockett, as a white woman, does not have the right to write first-hand as a black housemaid. Stockett employs the black “dialect” in her writing to capture the thoughts of Aibleen and Minny. Some may say that this was not her story to tell.

This is the kind of book that you cannot leave alone. You are engulfed into the worlds of Minny, Aibleen and Miss Skeeter and you cannot wait to dive back on in again. I wanted to savour every last page until the very end and yet, contradictorily, I also needed to finish it.

I would say that this book has one flaw and that is that it ends. I wanted to continue to relish in the faithful and spiritual mind of Aibleen who decided to share to the world her words and her story. Compared with the vibrant and colourful characters of Minny and Aibleen, Margaret Mitchell’s Mammy seems like an empty shell. When Stockett began writing on The Help no one could have predicted the success it has become today. It has sold over 2 million copies in the United States and is now being made into a feature film released in Australia this September. Those 45 publishers must be kicking themselves.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Outpost, Adam Baker


Outpost by Adam Baker is the latest take on the zombie genre, an increasingly popular trend in recent fiction and entertainment publications. This book was published by Hodder & Stoughton, home to several popular crime/thriller authors. However, they’ve really missed the mark with this one. The book is told in a third-person perspective through several character’s viewpoints, and to be quite frank, it’s bad.
“He used to tell a joke. ‘What’s brown and sticky? A stick.’” Did you expect me to laugh aloud? Clap my hands? Baker used the most over-used, humourless joke to progress his character’s development. I think he actually took a step back as I simply stared at the page, dumbfounded at what I had just read. It really sums up what I thought of this novel. A bad joke.
The novel takes place on a refinery in the Arctic, which doesn’t really do anything for the story. It’s cold. The refinery could have been in the desert and achieve the same level of suspense. As mentioned, the story is a zombie… thriller. A very cliche’d, zombie thriller. The only thing that differed from the old paradigms was that some zombies were semi-aware of their existence and metal grew, yes grew, from their bodies. The main character takes an educated guess at nanobots gone wrong, which I suspect is the correct answer, since the author lacks any subtlety. 
The author is a film projectionist (you work in a bloody cinema! A spade’s a spade so don’t sugar-coat it!). Because of this, the book reads more like a movie than a piece of literature. The chapters are separated by chunks of text, often three to four paragraphs long, which jump from scene to scene. If the author has ever heard of exposition, he has obviously chosen to ignore it. The result is a jarring journey where you’re constantly disorientated by plot and character. Think of being in a car where the driver keeps slamming on the breaks. And you’re without a seat belt. To be fair, this book might appeal to new readers who have never picked up a book in their lives. It’s fast-paced and spends minimal time on the unimportant aspects… like character development. For those of us who have read more than Dr. Seuss, it’s apparent that the author has a clear case of ADD when writing scenes that lack a body being thrown across the room or a brain smashed in with a baseball bat.  
What is the author’s message in this book? I’ve read the book and I still don’t know. Ration your food? People are born inherently evil? Each character can be labeled. Bad guy, wise man, crazy lady. The characters are one dimensional and lack any ulterior motives. Y’know, that thing that define all human characteristics. On the subject of characters, it seems Baker was a little confused. In one chapter, a character is defined as the recluse and unwilling to help anyone. In the next chapter, the very same character is taking bullets for the rest of the men on the refinery.
The plot is somewhat underwhelming, the ending left open for a sequel. The twists and turns are unoriginal and I found I just didn’t care. The book wasn’t hard to read, but I wouldn’t recommend spending your time doing so. If you’re looking for a good zombie novel, read Max Brook’s World War Z or The Walking Dead
Outpost was a book I was looking forward to reading. It sounded unique, suspenseful and generally a fun read. It had potential, but the author has simply not read extensively enough into the genre or has relied purely upon the zombie movies he projects as a film projectionist. The writing of the novel is brilliant (grammar, punctuation, etc.), but the core of the story has failed to impress, which in the end is all that really matters. 
Patrick