Sunday, 24 April 2011

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

My edition: Paperback, published in 2011 by HarperCollins, 487 pages

Description: One choice decides your friends, defines your beliefs and determines your loyalties... forever.

One choice can transform you.

In Veronica Roth's debut novel, Divergent, a perfect society unfolds into a dystopian world of electrifying decisions, stunning consequences, heartbreaking bertrayals and unexpected romance.

Review:

The city previously known as Chicago, and assumingly the entire world though we have yet to glimpse behind the gates surrounding the city, is divided in five factions. These factions represent the virtues that the people within these parts hold most important. Abnegations treasure selflessness, the people in Candor pride themselves in being honest, those in Amity value peace, the Erudite seek knowledge and the people in Dauntless are daredevils that put bravery above all else. Those that do not belong to any of these are the factionless and they wander the streets in between the factions; homeless and begging for a scrap of food.

At the age of 16 the children of this world undergo testing which will define which one of the five factions would be most suitable for them to spend the rest of their lives in. Though the results are a a mere advise as it's up to the children themselves to decide if they will stay in the faction they grew up in or change to one of the four others. Choosing factions means having to go through an initiation process (which upon failure can, depending on which faction you want to join, lead to death or becoming factionless) and when changing factions you have to leave your former friends and family members behind. "Faction above blood", is the motto after all.

And this is where we meet our main character Beatrice, an Abnegation struggling with the decision as to which faction to pick. She hopes that the test results will make the choice easier but unfortunately the exact opposite is the case when she's classified as the rare sixth option: Divergent. For reasons yet to be clarified at this stage this result is extremely dangerous for her so the test is deleted from the computer system and instead put in manually by her instructor - leaving Beatrice to make the choice all on her own and with an extra, possibly lethal, secret to keep.

I do not mind the fact that the dystopian genre seems to have exploded in the past few years and everyone and their gold fish is trying to cash in on the hype by writing their own little versions when as a result of such every now and again a wonderful novel like Divergent comes around. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the book is perfect or OMG THE BEST BOOK EVER!!1! but the world it's set in is endlessly fascinating and had me hooked from the start. Even though I do not understand the reasoning from main character Tris for the faction she eventually decides on - quite possibly because it would be the one I am least attracted to myself - that is not a problem as each of the different factions have something special and intriguing about them that can lure the reader in. The history of how the factions came to be, their differences and the inevitable doom hanging over everyone's head (because the seemingly perfect worlds within this genre are always nothing but a mirage for the trouble brewing underneath) makes for an amazingly complex and interesting story, one I can not wait to uncover a little bit more in the next book.

10/10

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Review: Bite Club by Rachel Caine

My edition: Paperback, published in 2011 by Allison & Busby, 442 pages 

Description: After discovering that vampires populate her town, college student Claire Danvers knows that the undead just want to live their lives. But someone else wants them to get ready to rumble.

There's a new extreme sport getting picked up on the Internet: bare- knuckle fights pitting captured vampires against each other-or humans. Tracking the remote signal leads Claire- accompanied by her friends and frenemies-to discover that what started as an online brawl will soon threaten everyone in Morganville...

Review:

I have been a big fan of The Morganville Vampires books for a long time now and I was absolutely stoked to get my eager hands on a gorgeous review copy weeks before the official release in the UK. The British cover looks very appealing and the bright red title and details are really eye-catching and suitable for a book where the fanged ones are very central to the story.

Even though I have been avidly reading the Morganville books for years and have grown to love the characters I have to say that the last few titles left a lot to be desired and I feared that Bite Club would sadly go the same forgettable route. However, while the book felt like a very quick read the story itself was highly entertaining throughout and definitely captured my attention until the final page. And I have to say I really enjoyed reading it not only from Claire’s point of view but also Shane's. This was a clever move as without giving him a voice the choices the character made this time around would've made Shane very unlikeable very fast.

Most importantly: the main characters went back to their roots after feeling a bit ooc in the previous book Ghost Town, the inevitable show downs were finally dealt with, lose ends tied up and a new path paved for future storyline developments. Overall a great continuation of the Morganville stories and certainly a treat for fans of the books.

8/10

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Review: Starting Over One Cake at a Time by Gesine Bullock-Prada

My edition: Hardcover, published in 2011 by Allison & Busby, 270 pages

Description: As head of her celebrity sister's production company, Gesine Bullock-Prado had a closet full of designer clothes and the ear of all the influential studio heads, but she was miserable. The only solace she found was in her secret hobby: baking. With every sugary, buttery confection to emerge from her oven, Gesine took one step away from her glittery, empty existence—and one step closer to her true destiny. Before long, she and her husband left the trappings of their Hollywood lifestyle behind, ending up in Vermont, where they started the gem known as Gesine Confectionary. And they never looked back.

Starting Over One Cake at a Time follows Gesine's journey from sugar-obsessed child to miserable, awkward Hollywood insider to reluctant master baker. Chock-full of eccentric characters, beautifully detailed descriptions of her baking process, ceaselessly funny renditions of Hollywood nonsense, and recipes, the ingredients of her story will appeal to anyone who has ever considered leaving the life they know and completely starting over.

Review:

Author Gesine Bullock-Prado writes in a humorous way about her former Hollywood life and how she eventually finds her true calling in the one occupation she always took solace in when life became too stressful: baking.

To get the big question out of the way first, yes the author is the younger sister of actress Sandra Bullock. But those who start reading the book expecting to find Bullock's dirty little secrets on display will be thoroughly disappointed. Instead "Sandy" is mentioned in regularity as the helpful older sister and at times the reader forgets Bullock-Prado is actually talking about the Hollywood star.

Personally I expected Starting Over One Cake at a Time to be a combination of a chick-lit and Hollywood superficiality but on contrary, it's an honest and often hilarious memoir about Bullock-Prado's childhood in Germany and later on the United States where she does not shy away from recounting her mistakes both as a child and adult. Having German ancestors myself I felt a familiarity in her wonderful descriptions of the towns, customs and delicious baked good that made the book even more real and fascinating to me. And on top of that every chapter ends with a mouth-watering recipe fitting to the story - pure pastry heaven for an amateur baker such as myself.

10/10

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Review: The Garden in the Clouds by Antony Woodward

My edition: Paperback, published in 2011 by HarperPress, 294 pages

Description: What do you do when you fall so in love with a place you can't think about anything else? And what if it happens to be five rocky acres so high up a Welsh mountain it's routinely lost in cloud?

To Antony Woodward it was obvious. You move there with your family and make it a garden - one which, naturally, must get into the hallowed Yellow Book of outstanding gardens.

Moving, through-provoking and brilliantly funny, this memoir of landscape, childhood and wily mountain sheep grapples with that fundamental question: what is gardening really about?

Review:

The Garden in the Clouds is not an encyclopaedia with gardening tips and facts but rather an autobiographical tale of an, as the subtitle indicates, hopeless romantic. It's the story of Antony Woodward and his ideal to make a garden in the clouds. Or high up on the mountains as the case may be. From the move to Wales to all the various parts that make up his unique garden the author uses each chapter to dive into a different aspect of the transformation and manages to not only make the story consistently engaging but also surprisingly humorous. Some of the choices he has made along the line were hardly thought through properly and he knows it. Yet Woodward did not choose to rewrite those parts or ignore them, instead he uses a healthy dose of self-deprecation which makes him much more likeable and relatable and prompts the reader to root for him despite the very unlikely goal of converting the unappealing waste land into something worthy to be included in the Yellow Book of the National Garden Scheme.

There were a few points to the story that the realist in me despite getting lost in the hopelessly romantic musings and actions of the author questioned however. Such as the details of the relocation from London to Wales and how the author managed to get by without a steady job and income. I am assuming at least that both he himself and his wife left their jobs in London and did not instantly start working again in Wales. The story indicates that since the move they spent most if not all of their time on the garden and especially when reading about some of Woodward's more expensive impulse buys it left me wondering how he was still able to support his family (and on that note, his wife must be an absolute saint for putting up with his splurges and his more often than not rather unrealistic ideas such as the sudden urge to obtain a railway carriage to decorate part of their land).

Having said that, the descriptions of the area the story is set in are wonderfully lush and transports the reader to the rugged Welsh country side. And despite all the hiccups author Anthony Woodward encounters during his various antics (from bees invading the house to inventive sheep getting into his vegetable patch) after finishing the book I wanted to do nothing more than to pick apples in an orchard, mow a field with an antique tractor and make my own award winning honey - sticky mess and all.

8/10