Review

Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I was immediately drawn to this book on Netgalley due to its title. As a Museum Studies graduate, and a museum worker, it intrigued me. However, it was a while before I finally got round to reading it, at a time when I needed to escape from the science fiction and fantasy genres (that doesn’t happen often!) and branch out a bit.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is definitely a unique novel. Set in a period of history I don’t often read about, yet in a city I have read plenty about, it felt refreshing and different. The unusual topic – the ‘museums’, or rather halls of curiosities, that were popular at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, only added to this. Within the first 5% of the book, I was struck by the beauty of Alice Hoffman’s writing. I’ve not read any of her work before this, but after reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things I would definitely give some of her other books a try.

Yet whilst I enjoyed the writing style, the pacing was far too slow for me. It felt as though not much really happened during the course of the book, and at some points it dragged a little. Despite being labelled or portrayed as a romance, or at least as having romantic elements, I wasn’t really feeling it. The relationship was too sudden and made little sense – and additionally, I didn’t feel an attachment to any character.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is unique and beautifully written, but was ultimately too slow for my liking, as well as lacking any real feeling.

Review

Review: Behemoth (Leviathan #2) by Scott Westerfeld

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I read and reviewed Leviathan, the first book in this series, last year as part of Sci-Fi Month. The book had been sat on my shelf for some time, and I almost returned it to the library – but luckily I didn’t, because after reading Behemoth I’m pretty sure the Leviathan series is going to end up being a new favourite.

Unlike the first book in the series, much of the action in Behemoth takes place on the ground. This also allows the reader to catch more of a glimpse of the ‘Clanker’ side of life: we see walkers used to guard the ghetto, scarab beetle taxis, elephantine transport and a giant mechanical ‘sultan’ puppet. Each new reveal of technology fascinated me, and accompanied by the gorgeous illustrations (once again provided by Keith Thompson), Alek and Deryn’s world really began to come together.

The majority of the story was set in Constantinople/Istanbul, which opened up the opportunity to introduce some new characters. Alek and Deryn meet a group of people taking part in a revolution, most notably Zevan and his daughter, Lilit. Lilit is seen as ‘unusual’ by Alek, a girl who is trained to fight and do typically ‘unladylike’ things, which only makes Deryn more confused and unsure about revealing her true identity. Yet her feelings for Alek are becoming more and more clear, making things difficult – especially when he teases Deryn about Lilit’s feelings for her. And whilst Alek is convinced that Lilit has a crush on ‘Dylan’ (Deryn’s male identity), something Lilit says later on makes it quite clear that she knows Deryn’s secret – and that makes no difference to her attraction towards Deryn.

One of my favourite parts of the book was the introduction of the perspicacious loris, a fabricated beastie hatched by Dr. Barlow, who latches on to Alek. This adorable creature learns as it observes, often repeating snatches of conversation or useful words. In fact, the loris even catches on to Deryn’s secret, frequently saying”Mr. Sharp!” and then giggling. We also get to see that Deryn isn’t just street smart, but smart smart. After spending some time around Alek and his companions, she starts to pick up German (or ‘Clanker’) at great speed, and by the end of the book is able to have fairly complex conversations.

I loved Behemoth just as much as I loved Leviathan, and do not for a moment regret picking up this series. A wonderfully imagined alternate history with some fantastically developed characters await you in this book – along with some truly gorgeous illustrations.

This particular illustration reminded me of Bioshock Infinite.
This particular illustration reminded me of Bioshock Infinite.
Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Review of Leviathan (Leviathan #1) by Scott Westerfeld

Today’s Sci-Fi Month post is a review of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, an alternate steampunk history of World War I. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

I picked this book up from the library back in August, and it sat unread on my shelf for almost two months – I had to renew it about four times, and actually almost returned it unread because of the pile of books I had to read and review for October and November. I am so, so glad that I made time for it, because it was an absolutely fantastic and completely fun read.

Set in an alternate past, during World War I, the tactics and machinery used are rather different from what we know. There are the Clankers, the German Central Powers, who prefer man-made weapons, and use steam driven machines and ammunition for their fights. The Darwinists, on the other hand (the British Entente Powers), have played around with biology, and bred special animals to help in their battles. For example, at one point Deryn rides up into the sky hanging from a Huxley, a sort of jellyfish creature filled with hydrogen. And the eponymous Leviathan – well it’s an airship made of a giant whale and many other creatures. The whole concept of the Clankers and Darwinists was absolutely brilliant, such an original idea and completely enchanting.

Deryn was a wonderful character, going completely against everything expected of a young girl in the early twentieth century. She is intelligent and quick-witted, foul-mouthed at times and very, very brave. She made me laugh many a time, with her quirky curse words. Aleksander is somewhat more serious and mopey, but not at all in an annoying way. In fact it was nice to have the roles that way, the opposite of what often seems to be the norm in YA books.

Another fantastic thing was the use of real historical figures, or references to them. There is even a little appendix separating the real events from the fictional, and talking about the people in the book who actually existed. Not to mention the artwork, illustrated by Keith Thompson, it was a lovely addition to the story and the style was perfect. You can view some samples of it on Scott’s website, if you scroll to the bottom of the page.

I was completely surprised by this book. It is a fast-paced adventure, full of unique ideas, and I can’t emphasise how fun a read it was! I found it very different from Westerfeld’s Uglies series, which I read in my mid teens, and I enjoyed Leviathan a lot more – so if you’ve read Uglies and are unsure about reading this, I urge you to try it anyway! With a clever play on real events, interspersed with completely fictional ones, this book is a definite must read – and a brilliant introduction to steampunk for anyone who has not yet encountered the genre.

Review

Review: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

3 out of 5 stars

I had real trouble deciding on a rating for this book – I’ve been debating over how many stars to award it since I finished it last night, and finally settled on three, which is a solid rating. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed other books that I have awarded four stars, hence the lower rating.

I’d read so many glowing reviews of this book that I think I was expecting great things. And whilst it is a sweet, and in some cases haunting, coming-of-age story, it wasn’t fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed it and read it in a couple of hours spread over a few days – but I just don’t see how it has quite the extent of praise that it has earned.

Before starting the book, I didn’t realise that it was written as a series of letters. And whilst this is a way for us to really see how Charlie is feeling as he pours his heart and soul into writing them, it makes the other characters fall a little flat. Sam especially – Charlie was in love with her, but I didn’t understand why because I felt I barely knew her. Most of what was written about Sam was Charlie commenting on how he felt about her, not what she was like as a person. Patrick was a little more developed in that Charlie wrote about time he spent with Patrick in a way that revealed more sides of his character. So although the letter format has some upsides: it is a very personal account of Charlie’s first year in high school; it also makes character development, apart from Charlie, very difficult.

The book was also very simply written. But I suppose that was just how Charlie is supposed to write – he is only fifteen after all. As for his personality, it was really nice to read a Young Adult book where the main character is so pure. Not pure as in won’t drink, take drugs, have sex etc, but as in a genuinely kind and good-natured person. He spends so little time thinking about himself, and most of it worrying over others. He is unstable and very over-emotional, which is something rarely portrayed in male protagonists.  It is for this reason that I am interested to see how Charlie will be portrayed in the film – I just can’t imagine Charlie, the emotional wreck, on screen. I feel like they will tone it down a bit, which is a shame because it’s such an important part of the book. Many readers will be able to identify with Charlie’s position – not a popular guy, nor a social outcast – and it most likely for this reason the book has gained such a cult following.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary Young Adult novels, or if you like books set in high school. Although many characters fall a bit flat, Charlie is a stand-out protagonist and we definitely need more people like him in the world; people who think more about how others are feeling than themselves. With a bit of a twist at the end, it is a lovely account of high school without feeling the need to portray too many outrageous parties, consumption of drugs and alcohol, and sex.

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Review

Review: Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush #1) by Becca Fitzpatrick

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Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I had read reviews of this book on Goodreads, and as I’m a sucker for YA paranormal romance, I thought I’d give it a try – and the next day, found it in a charity shop for 80p. 

My first thought when looking at this book was Twilight – the cover, the font, the plot. Little list of similarities:

  • Nora and Patch meet in Biology class
  • he wants to kill her AND seduce her
  • she finds him dangerous, yet attractive
  • Patch has to ‘rescue’ her from a trip to the nearest big town/city where she cleverly went off by herself

And there are a lot of other similarities, but also some differences.

For one, Nora isn’t as annoying a character. She’s not a Mary Sue, but it almost feels like the author was trying too hard to make her ‘quirky’ – writes poetry in secret, plays the cello, only listens to baroque music. She is however, plain stupid. And is apparently applying to Stanford, Harvard and Yale. And then of course there’s the token annoying best friend, who is a ‘typical’ teenage girl (although I don’t actually know many teenagers who act like these typical teenage girls…).

Patch was a seriously disturbing character. If you thought Edward Cullen was twisted, wait until you meet this guy. He is manipulative, abusive and just plain nasty. I’m not sure what it is with these paranormal romances, but when did treating someone like that equate to caring for them? There’s looking out for someone, and then there’s… that.

Then there was the situation in Biology class near the beginning, where Nora’s teacher essentially puts her on the spot and asks very personal, humiliating questions, and Patch plays along. I’m not sure what teacher would ever think that sort of thing was okay, but I’m sure if they actually did it, it would result in their dismissal.

I did notice a couple of mistakes. There is one point where Nora is in Patch’s Jeep, and decides to look through his glove compartment for more information on him. She mentions how even just his cell phone number would be good enough – but she already has it. He wrote it on her hand on the first day.

Overall, no the book was not original. It’s a very overused format, but instead of vampires or whatever we have fallen angels. Cookie cutter characters, very simple writing – yet honestly, I just kept reading. I’m not sure if it was because it was simple and therefore a quick read, because I just wanted to get it over and done with, or because I actually enjoyed it despite all the wrong moral messages it sends out, but I finished this book in just a couple of hours.

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