Wednesday, 28 August 2013

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Hardcover, 342 pages
Published September 12th 2006 by Crown (first published 2006)
ISBN 0307346609 (ISBN13: 9780307346605)

A really long blurb:
"The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

Note: Some of the numerical and factual material contained in this edition was previously published under the auspices of the United Nations Postwar Commission."

This is a brilliant book, whether or not you are interested in zombie stories. It was really interesting to read it as a social, political and economic assessment of what could happen if there was another world war, particularly when there was an interview with a character about North Korea's reaction to the war. It really made me think about what would happen to the world if suddenly society as we know it broke down and we were forced to survive by ourselves again. In particular, there is a section about America having to retrain the majority of its population as so many people are in service focused jobs which are useless in terms of living off the land.

The stories were sad, engaging, sometimes tense and often thought-provoking. Occasionally I'd find myself tapping my feet, willing them to run faster! However, often I wanted to know more about what happened during the rest of their fight against the zombies as the characters stories would focus on specific incidents but left me wanting more at times.

I really enjoyed this book but often wanted to know more about the characters and sometimes found it hard to keep track of where the character was and remember their back-story. Especially as at the end some of the characters were revisited but a couple I didn't remember at all until I searched back through the book. Thanks to Josh for lending it to me :)

8 out of 10

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Paperback, 387 pages
Published January 5th 2012 by Puffin (first published January 3rd 2012)
ISBN 0141340134 (ISBN13: 9780141340135)
I received a proof copy of this while interning at Penguin.

Blurb: "Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future."

This is a great new take on the classic fairytale of Cinderella. I was looking forward to reading this for ages after seeing all the great reviews on goodreads. Now I can't wait to read the next book in the series, Scarlet!

In this version of the tale, Cinder is a lowly mechanic who has been forced even lower on the rungs of society by a mysterious accident which meant that she was made into a cyborg in order to survive. In particular, she has an entirely metal leg which requires a new foot - cue Cinderella link. I felt that this could partly be a critique on how disability is treated by society as the cyborgs are mistreated and are not really viewed as real people but as property which must be owned by their families.

A key component of the story, is a deadly disease which is attacking the human population causing scientists to search ever more desperately for the cure. Even experimenting on people, especially cyborgs, even though they know it will almost certainly result in death for the person. When the ruler of the New Beijing contracts it the search becomes even more frantic, especially due to the growing threat from the Lunar ruler who wants to rule Earth too and subject it to her tyranny.

There are a lot of sub-plots going on in this novel which I don't want to give away, but I felt that some of them needed more development, particularly with regards to the Lunar people.

However, I really liked the characters who were well-developed and even if you did not like their decisions I found that I could empathise with them... although it was hard to empathise with the step-mother and Lunar Queen. Linh Cinder was a really interesting character and I liked her robot Iko. Her step-sisters were complete contrasts to each other which created an interesting dynamic in their household. Prince Kai was also well developed in terms of his personality and his reaction to his obligations and the conflict he feels over his developing feelings.

This novel was inventive, fresh and exciting and I can't wait to find out what happens next!

9 out of 10

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Paperback, Movie Tie-In Edition, 1232 pages
Published December 4th 2012 by Penguin Books (first published 1862)
ISBN 0143123599 (ISBN13: 9780143123590)
I received a free copy while interning at Penguin.

Blurb: "Now a major motion picure, adapted from the acclaimed Broadway musical, starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, and Sacha Baron Cohen

Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.

This striking edition features the widely celebrated and eminently readable translation by Norman Denny."

Victor Hugo was an extremely dedicated writer I have to say as this novel is immense in its epic-ness. This is a brilliant novel but I wish Hugo had been more keen on editing and being succinct! The first 75 pages or so tell you about the life of the bishop who rescues Jean Valjean and by the end of that section I had an idea of how the novel would continue. Hugo was eager to describe every aspect of the story he had conceived in his head based around the revolutions in Paris in the early nineteenth century, even if it wasn't necessary to the main story. I will admit that this resulted in me skim reading a couple of sections of the novel as it just wasn't relevant to the events taking place in the story. The translator even recommends in his introduction for readers to skip most of the section on Waterloo unless they have a particular interest in it as it isn't important. I would also recommend skimming the description of the convent and the nuns' practices and the history of Paris' sewers and they just are not necessary to the story. Hugo's talent for description is amazing though, even if he did get carried away at times. However, it is really interesting to give insight into life at this time, even if Hugo did not actually live during the period.

The characters are so believable and complete in their personalities, thought-processes and their backgrounds it's incredible. My favourite character is probably Gavroche, the urchin of Paris and unwanted son of the Thénardiers, who roams his city with irrepressible optimism and generosity. I loved when the story focused on him as he is a character that makes you want to be a better person.

Of course, Jean Valjean also has that effect. His self-sacrifice and determination to redeem himself is amazing. I want to say more about him, but I don't have the talent to describe him as Hugo has done.

Javert is also a really interesting character with his unshakeable belief in the justice of the law, regardless of any other circumstances. Fantine's story is heart-breaking as everyone will know if they have seen the musical.

I found Marius to be frustrating at times with his preoccupation with himself. His story varies quite significantly with the portrayal in the musical and film as he is not particularly involved in revolutionary preparations until he joins the barricade. However, the story of his relationship with his grandfather is really moving as it progresses, as a commentary on age and how youth can be eager to move on too soon. Marius' protectiveness of Cosette may be representative of how men viewed ladies at the time but the combination of this and Hugo's portrayal of Cosette as not particularly intelligent was a little frustrating.

The Thénardiers have a bigger family than you realise from the film. In addition to Eponine and Gavroche they have another daughter and two sons who they give away as they are not useful to them. They are just as cunning and malicious as the musical depicts but they do have a certain loyalty to each other and other criminals that in a strange way improves their characters. Eponine's story is also really sad, but her determination and attitude was almost inspiring.

Victor Hugo expertly interweaves the separate characters' storylines to reach the epic conclusion of the revolution and its devastating aftermath. The novel is split into five sections, each with chapters which are subdivided into separate parts which makes it a little easier to break the novel up a bit.

Victor Hugo's title of Les Misérables, or The Wretched, is very apt as very little of a positive nature happens in the novel. Despite this, it is uplifting and really moving and I loved the story. The only aspect which brings the novel down from a perfect 10 are the massive tangents which Hugo wanders down (and carries on and on and on) while telling the story.

9 out of 10

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher

402 pages
Published May 23rd 2013 by Michael Joseph (Penguin UK)
ISBN 139781405909952

Blurb: "Sophie May has a secret.

One that she’s successfully kept for years. It’s meant that she’s had to give up her dreams of going to university and travelling the world to stay in her little village, living with her mum and working in the local teashop.

But then she meets the gorgeous Billy – an actor with ambitions to make it to the top. And when they fall in love, Sophie is whisked away from the comfort of her life into Billy’s glamorous – but ruthless – world.

Their relationship throws Sophie right into the spotlight after years of shying away from attention. Can she handle the constant scrutiny that comes with being with Billy? And most of all, is she ready for her secret heartbreak to be discovered and shared with the nation?"

This is the debut novel by Giovanna Fletcher who recently married Tom from the band McFly. This is probably an example of an author writing about life as they know it, but even if it is all credit should go to Giovanna as it is a really sweet novel about the difficulties of a relationship between a "civilian" with a mysterious secret past and someone who is constantly in the limelight.

I'm a bit divided about what to write about this as I remember really enjoying Billy and Me while I was reading it, but when I came to write this review (admittedly a couple of months later) I couldn't remember what made me so excited about it... or what her big secret was which is a bit of an issue.

However, the characters were really well developed and I was definitely rooting for them and for everything to work out although I felt some of the key points were a little bit rushed. The author built tension well at points where the couple were struggling with their different backgrounds.

An enjoyable novel, I'll look forward to her next offering (and to re-reading this one)!

7 out of 10