The Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Help seems worryingly cliché at first but a chapter or so in, it transforms into something refreshingly different. We see characters that feel so realistic it’s almost too raw to read about their experiences and though at first the line between the ‘good’ characters and the ‘bad’ is quite clearly drawn, this quickly begins to blur as we learn more about the lives these women (both black and white) lead.
Now, let me first say I’m in no way trying to distract from the race issue that is at the heart of The Help here but for what it’s worth, all the women in this book are trapped in their own cycle of frustration. It makes for hard-reading when you see them express this by taking it out on each other when it seems so obvious to the reader that everyone is hurting in their own way.
“She looks as her fancy kitchen like it’s something that tastes bad.
‘I never dreamed I’d have this much.’
‘Well, ain’t you lucky.’
‘I’ve never been happier in my whole life.’
I leave it at that. Underneath all that happy, she sure doesn’t look happy.”
– Page 44
It’s easy to see why many readers have felt this book has failed to live up to the hype, its build-up is subtle and slowly paced which could quickly become irritating if you opened the cover expecting fireworks. However, if you put the hype aside, you can appreciate how the subtlety of the book is exactly what makes it such a powerful, vivid read. Unlike many other fiction books that tackle the issue of race in 60s America, The Help doesn’t try to shock you into feeling. Instead, it gently coaxes it out of you, one observation at a time leaving your thoughts to join the dots long after you’ve put the book down.
Go into this book open-minded (preferably without reading many reviews) and read at least 20 pages before you start judging it pre-maturely. It’s well-worth the risk.
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Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Finally an instalment in the Dresden Files series that I can confidently give a 5 star rating to!
Throughout my progress on the series so far I’ve met many reviewers saying ‘it gets good around book 3/4/5/6’ (the number varies massively depending on who you ask), and at long last I’ve found where in the series that moment happens for me and it’s here, right with this book which fortunately for me, is almost unrecognisable from the confusion and incoherence that was Grave Peril.
So why such a big turnaround?
First of all, Harry Dresden gets some long-awaited character development beyond the overly done funny-underdog-saves-the-day-by-a-hair’s-breadth-and-is-at-the-brink-of-death-two-dozen-times (phew!) formula that Jim Butcher keeps on winging out for him. Now we’re treated to only a little of self-pitying instead of being swamped by it and this alone does great things for Dresden’s likeability. We’re also introduced to much stronger and more interesting characters than Butcher has ever given us in the past and seeing Harry’s reactions to these gives a solid plus in his direction. It’s nice as well to see some old faces in the book – their personalities really took on a realistic shape thanks to the intricacy of the plot (more on that later).
Secondly, the humour in the books is either improving greatly or I’ve finally became used to it! It took some time to see it as anything other than cliché and cheesy action-hero lines but in Summer Knight Butcher finally takes the humour a little further and pulls it off to great effect.
Thirdly, the plot! Wow did this book get intricate! A far-cry away from the previously simplistic plots of figuring out the bad guy and taking said bad-guy down via several drawn out action scenes (view spoiler), Summer Knight’s plot takes on a much more ambitious storyline and manages to make it work throughout the entire book. I must admit, I was a little lost-off around 200 pages towards the end but I soon managed to pick up on what was going on thanks to brilliant pacing and plot development.
Last but not least…
How much more incredible does the magical world get in this book? You need to read it to believe it. I didn’t think the series would ever go beyond anything more than ‘whodunit’ with a pinch of magic thrown in for variety but instead, it becomes much much more.
Finally this series is starting to live up to the hype that surrounds it by giving us a glimpse of where Jim Butcher’s world-building talent lies. I can’t wait to move onto to Death Masks and see what more adventures Harry Dresden has in store for us!
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Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Finally we’re starting to see some plot appearing in the Dresden Files series!
Though I preferred the previous book as the story was more interesting and coherent (more on that later!), the characters in Grave Peril help keep the plot interesting and build it up nicely to make the foundations of a more intriguing series.
For me, the best bit of the entire book was the first encounter we have with a ghost in the beginning chapters. After that (which is to say most of the book), the story is really let down because it just doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. It feels like the series has skipped a few books and has just landed us with this to compensate, so much so that I checked several times to make sure I hadn’t picked up the 4th/5th instalment of the series instead. I’m assuming this is done to make the plot a little meatier and add more weight to the characters we encounter but it just doesn’t work well. It feels far too ambitious and it casts a shadow on the best bits of this book: the characters and the development of a much larger, more interesting plot.
A definite boost for the outlook of the series is that Dresden is almost a likeable character now! Yes, he still spends too much page-time brooding in self-pity and moral dilemmas, but now he has back-up from the comedy relief that is Bob and the loyalty of our newly-introduced character Michael, we can see him in a much more forgiving light.
Unfortunately, this is still let down somewhat by the female characters – why do they all suck so much? It’s like the author has decided he doesn’t understand women therefore he’ll write them as one dimensional as possible and hope that everyone nods along in agreement. The only female characters that are vaguely interesting barely get any attention in this book and it’s a noticeable gap that frankly, tired me out. It’s a letdown, especially after the male characters were such a huge positive in this book and female characters were finally starting to gain some substance in Fool Moon.
Give this a read if you plan on continuing with the Dresden Files – I get the impression that it’d be hard to make sense of the series if you didn’t have this book as a stepping stone but that’s all it is, a stepping stone and an intriguing, albeit slow and irritating, one at that.
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Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked up this book after being semi-intrigued by the Da Vinci Code hype a few years ago (another meh) and then deciding to tackle Dan Brown again after I read Inferno and absolutely loved the book. So you could say I knew what I was letting myself in for – similar plot, exactly the same structure, cheesy lines, awkward academic in tweed, Langdon wears tweed, there’s Harris Tweed in this book, did you know the art history guy wears tweed? Thank goodness, I would never have finished this book if I wasn’t reminded that he was wearing tweed every ten pages. Tweed, Tweed, Tweed.
You get my point? The repetition in this book is mind-numbing to the point where its almost insulting. It’s as though Dan Brown thinks his readers need to be guided very delicately along the mystery otherwise it’ll confuse their tiny brains. This repetition is the case with almost everything in the book, you have the premise nailed into you from the get-go and the great bulk of the 600 or so pages is just made up from repetition.
So now that’s out of the way, we have to talk about the entire point of the book. Religion vs Science – or is it? Yes, that’s basically what’s going on here and while it is an interesting concept, it’s not executed very well and it pretty much eats its own tail in that respect. It could have been so much better.
The characters do very little to help the book – we have the know-it-all Robert Langdon who stars as the supposed expert who figures most of the good stuff out after it’s already happened and is just painfully awkward.
There is the cliché hot smart girl, did you know she’s Italian? You will do, we hear about it at least 200 times whether it’s her ‘exotic accent’, ‘olive skin’ or her ‘Mediterranean body’. It’s just plain cheesy and at times borderline uncomfortable.
These two are the strongest characters, seriously. Don’t get too excited about the rest.
A positive in the book’s favour is that it’s fast-paced but that is helped a lot by the whole thing taking place over one day so how much of that we can really credit to Dan Brown’s writing is hard to judge. It’s exciting, it’s trashy and it’s entirely brainless but it gets the job done and if that’s what you want from a lazy summer read then this will be a good match.
Of course, you could do yourself a huge favour by leaving this book dusty on the charity shop shelf and pick up the far better option that is Inferno.
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A light-hearted ditty for my mum who is in surgery today ❤
– With a gunshot pop, your Achilles snapped in two,
if it was going to be anyone, of course it’d be you.
A regular on the ward, your smile unbeaten by pain,
who knew you’d be a hospital visitor so quickly again?
But worry not, my dearest mum,
you went down dancing, jiving, having fun.
It’s how you live your life and if there’s one thing you’ve taught me,
pain is no obstacle, only a veiled gift fate has brought me.
So heal well and heal swiftly,
tell Dad to keep your Dr Martens waiting by the front door.
Because on August 1st you’ll be turning fifty,
and I expect to see you hobbling with a smile back to the dancefloor. –
– ‘How can someone hate that many people just because they love differently mama?’ The child said. The newsreader was speaking of the rising death toll as updates flashed across the screen interspersed with angry speeches from activists and stammering politicians.
His mother didn’t reply, she couldn’t. Her hand was grasped tightly over her mouth, shaking with the effort of stemming the flow of tears that threatenend to break through what little composure she had left.
Then another hand touched her own. It was soft, familiar and the love that coursed through her from that simple action gave her strength to face the TV screen once more.
And then hand’s owner spoke, at once putting the world back together into something recognisable and beautiful in an instant.
‘We’ve never understood it ourselves kid but we have love and this person doesn’t. They must not know that there is unity and power in love that hatred can never break through. Your mamas have fought for that our entire lives, some people just don’t know love when they see it because their hate clouds their lives.’ She took the frightened woman’s hand to her lips and kissed it tenderly.
The child looked away from the TV screen for long enough to catch the two women staring deep into each other’s eyes. In that instant they lost in the depths of the love they had fought for.
Meanwhile, lovers across the world wept for those that had fallen and held their partners close, united in grief but most importantly, united in love. –
– One evening they walked further than ever before, chancing a journey down streets beyond the known.
Each night they grew more daring until fear bowed down before them, smiling as they passed on by.
City by city, their curiosity burned brighter, igniting all they met and inspiring a lifetime of tales.
They journeyed on together for the rest of their days and by then, the world spun at their feet. The unknown was a mystery no more. –