Monday, 3 November 2014

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Published: Penguin Books, 2014
Genre: Sci-Fi
My rating: 2.5/5

The Circle runs everything - all your internet activity in one easy, safe and visible place. No wonder it is now the world's most powerful and influential company. So when Mae Holland lands a job at it's glittering California campus, she knows she's made it. But the more her ideals and ambitions become aligned with those of the Circle the closer she comes to discovering a sinister truth at the heart of an organisation seeking to remake the world in its image...


Many of the reviews emblazoned on and inside the book remark on how unputdownable this book was. Unfortunately, I can't help but think that this was partly down the the fact the there were NO CHAPTERS making it difficult to find a place to stop. I've never found chapters to be such a pivotal part of a book before but I found the pace of this book a little hard to get along with without the break up.
Instead of chapters Eggers has divided the book into 3 (though there are no hints that this will happen until you hit book 2 over halfway though and book 3 with about 10 pages to go) and I think it's best if I tackle this review book by book.

Book I
This book started strongly. Mae, our protagonist, and her life are just about lacking enough to be believable and relatable and she becomes a rather interesting character. You explore the Circle with her and discover as she does. Francis at this point is an intriguing possibility, not at all the kind of guy you expect your protagonist to end up with but good enough for now. Then, as if just on cue, in walks Kalden; a man suitably mysterious and exciting. The book as a whole is praised for it's chilling plausibility and Book I makes this praise seem rather suitable. Companies like Google and PayPal are now seemingly inescapable when it comes to internet activity so an overarching, far-reaching company that owns and oversees all internet activity is a very strong premise for a book and there were so many more routes that Eggers could have gone down to keep his book plausible and gripping.

Book II
When Mae goes "transparent" things, I feel, start to go downhill. We take leaps and bounds toward implausibility and Eggers loses the strongest thing he had going for him and his book. Mae becomes rather a dislikable human being in her over-eagerness to accept the Circle into every aspect of her life. She becomes almost entirely incapable of individual thought and her character becomes depressingly one-dimensional. I became almost entirely uninterested in Mae's story and I found I only carried on reading in the hope that maybe things might turn around.

Book III
There's little to say about book III as it is rather short. Book II ends and you are hopeful that Mae has found a tiny scrap of integrity within herself but unfortunately all faith is lost in Mae and with it all the progress and headway Eggers made in Book I.

My greatest issue with this book is the fact that it relies far to much on people's ability to lose their cynicism and, as a cynic myself, I find this very difficult to find plausible. While it has been shown that there are people who will latch on to any new craze I wonder if as few people would question this kind of organisation encroaching on every single aspect of their lives, implanting chips into their children and peeking in on every moment of their day.

This book is nothing if not thought-provoking I will give Eggers that. It is a very interesting premise and while I feel he failed to exploit it as well as was possible I do believe that the route he took could spark some very interesting debate about privacy and the right to anonymity. Despite the negative tone of this review, on the whole I would recommend this book to anyone after something different and thought-provoking as it really is a great idea for a book but it is definitely not one I will be revisiting myself.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment :)
Naomi Joy xx

Just a quick apology

So I've been very quiet of late for no real reason really but that's all set to change *fingers crossed*. I'll do my best to post at least once a month.
I'm going to upload a few reviews of books that I read over the summer and then hopefully over the next few months I'll do a bit better at posting on a relatively regular basis.
Sorry again,
Naomi Joy :) x

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Book: The Fault in our Stars
Author: John Green
Published: Penguin, January 2013
Genre: YA fiction
Rating: 4/5

"I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once."
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.


This is one of three books that has ever made me cry, the other two being Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper and Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. I was up at 3am reading under the covers (because I still do that aged twenty) balling my eyes out - I'm just glad I didn't leave it to finish at the hairdressers the next day!

This book really is unputdownable but at the same time there were several points at which I felt I really needed to put it down for the sake of my mental state. It's such a beautifully written book and it feels so honest as if Green were writing at a very personal level which made it special, uplifting and harrowing in equal measure. It's not a happily ever after book so don't read it if that's what you're after but honestly if it had been, the book would have felt like a bit of a waste of time. Green has a knack for drawing in a reader with his beautifully written characters and their heartbreakingly realistic stories. It was written as though you were peeking into someone's diary or watching their lives play out in front of you and this is the feeling that I believe most authors should strive for with their readers.

The way Green describes Gus and Hazel's feelings about An Imperial Affliction is how I felt about this book. An Imperial Affliction (AIA) frustratingly ends in the middle of a sentence and Gus and Hazel's quest to find some closure make up a lot of the book. The more Green mentioned this flaw in AIA the more I worried that he would follow suit and leave me hanging. But, thank goodness, he didn't. He took us right through to an ending that, fortunately, didn't end in death and leave you on a downer. It ended the only way it could, bittersweet and beautiful and painstakingly realistic.

It is most definitely one of the best books I've read all year and Green is an author whose books I will endeavour to continue to explore.

Thanks for reading :)
Naomi Joy xx

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Matched (Matched #1) by Ally Condie

Book: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Published: Penguin, June 2011
Rating: 2/5

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.


I have really gone back and forth about whether or not it's OK to post a bad review but it is nothing against the author, the general concept of the book has a lot of potential but I personally just found this book so hard to get along with and I'll do my best to try to explain why.

Let me set the scene as best I can. It's some time in the future and the Society has decided it's much better if they devoid everyone of any choice and limit the use of technology. Your job, spouse (your Match - hence the title) and even time of death is pre-planned by the Society. According to the Society too much choice is dangerous so they've established the Hundreds Database of the top Hundred Songs, Poems, Stories and Paintings. Enter our protagonist Cassia on the eve of her seventeenth birthday ready to be Matched and from there everything goes wrong.

What I will give author Ally Condie is that the writing is actually quite good and she's obviously actually put a lot of thought into her dystopian world. I'd say it works a lot better in terms of providing the reader with a background than, say, Suzanne Collins' Panem. The issue is the premise of the book and the interminably dull nature of her central characters.

Like many YA dystopian novels that are aimed at girls Matched uses the trusted love triangle formula that worked (ish) for Twilight and The Hunger Games. The issue with Matched is that there is no other plot-line. The fact that the decisions she's making affect the entire structure of the Society, that most are, seemingly, OK with, takes a backseat to the fact that Cassia really must decide which boy she loves. The other issue is that to devoid her characters of choice she effectively makes them incapable of any intense emotion. There's barely any grief at the death of Cassia's grandfather because, you know, the Society had decided it was best for him to go. Xander becomes almost entirely insignificant to the story. Never have I ever felt less for or cared less about the characters of a book than I did with this one. In part due to the storyline (or lack thereof) I found the characters equally lacking. Ky is supposed to be this mysterious unknown but I found I didn't really want to learn more. There is no depth to his character, he's just, for the most part, a bit of an ass. Xander. Poor Xander. Without the attempted mystery Condie put into Ky's character, Xander becomes unfortunately one-dimensional and dull.

Never have I come to the end of a book and felt so indifferent and, I mean, good on Ally Condie for selling the movie rights but I really do wonder if this film will see any of the success that Twilight or The Hunger Games has seen. I'll probably still see it anyway. I'm not interested in reading any future books in the series and I probably wouldn't recommend unfortunately. However I'm well aware that this is a minority opinion for this series.

Thanks for your time and feel free to comment ;)

Naomi Joy x

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie
UK Release Date: 20th March 2014

My rating: 4/5

So I actually saw this before I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 which I have already reviewed but as I had plans to see it again I thought I'd wait to post so it was fresh in the memory.

It's nigh impossible to write this review without any kind of plot spoilers so *****SPOILER ALERT***** just in case.

What I'll say to start off is that I knew the identity of the Winter Soldier long before the film came out. Not to say it ruined the film for me because it didn't but being the keen fan that I am I read all about it months before the film was released. I just thought I'd mention it because I guess it means my viewing was maybe a little skewered? I don't know.

Anyway. As you've probably heard the film is great. It is the ultimate conspiracy theory and has possibly one of Marvel's strongest story-lines. Throughout the film we see Steve Rodgers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) struggle to acclimatise with modern society while sticking to his really rather strong morals. He is now a fully fledged S.H.I.E.L.D. agent but he's struggling with it; questioning whether being a superhero-for-hire is really for him. When he's left only able to trust the morally questionable, killer-for-hire Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) it's no wonder he struggles and when the identity of the Winter Soldier is revealed to him in the midst of it all his world is well and truly rocked. Sam Wilson aka the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is almost a flashback to when Steve Rodgers was just Steve Rodgers, just an ordinary man willing to do anything to make a difference and with the end of the film teasing that he'll be a relatively permanent fixture by the Captain's side I'm interested to see where his character goes (especially as his wings were destroyed and I'm sure he said they were the only ones left). 

There are the witty one-liners that are now a staple feature in the new phase of Marvel films and some not-so-subtle teasers of potential future spin-off films (Dr. Stephen Strange for instance) this gritty storyline really is one for both the comic fans and those who are just looking for a film to watch. It is one of the few superhero movies that is actually set in quite a recognisable reality. The freedom vs. security debate of S.H.I.E.L.D. is relatable to all. Obviously the film delivers on the action front and the Winter Soldier gives Captain America a worthy opponent. Their fight scenes are scrappy and (thankfully) relatively CGI-free! They're honest and gritty fights of evenly matched heroes that no one can really complain about.

The key role of Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow kind of made me feel sorry for Hawkeye who, outside of the Avengers, has only found himself in a cameo role in Thor. I'm sure thats just me and a love for Jeremy Renner but there's only so often I can hear Natasha/Natalia Romanov's I don't know and don't want to know who I am, my past doesn't define me, I'm going clean spiel before I start to stop caring.

There is only really one thing that I came out still questioning and its the character of Batroc. Now Captain America is a super-soldier, we all saw that happen in the first film, so we know that he is super strong and most people tend to go down after the first hit. Batroc however was really quite resilient, springy and remarkably good at avoiding death and I feel we weren't given a reason why or how that was possible. It's a small problem really but if anyone saw something I missed feel free to drop me a comment.

Marvel have a lot of clearing up to do before The Avengers 2 of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Winter Soldier issue and I quite look forward to seeing how they're going to do it.

After a Quicksilver teaser in both the Captain America 2 (for Avengers 2) and the new Spider-man (for X-Men) credits I'm also intrigued to see how Marvel is going to handle this character-off. Personally I'm backing Evan Peters over Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Angus, Thongs. That's all I'll say.)

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment :)
Naomi Joy x

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan
UK Release Date: 16th April 2014

My rating: 4/5

So like the keen comic movie fan I am I went to see the Amazing Spider-Man 2 the day it came out and with the new trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past featuring before the start of the movie I was pumped for what Marvel had to offer this time. I'm going to try to write this review with as few plot spoilers as possible because I would've been heartbroken had I known all the twists before going in.

The film itself. Well. Where do I start? To be quite honest I felt distressed throughout the majority of the film. Several times in the major fight scenes I wanted to punch a couple of the spectators in the face for their stupidity but this I feel is a common feeling when cities get destroyed and superheroes lock horns in films to a rather large and rather entertained audience. 

I want to say something about Jamie Foxx as Electro as it was probably his character that distressed me the most. I think Foxx did a great job. His awkward, social reject Max Dillon character was believable and endearing so his transformation into a very misunderstood, confused and frightened Electro was actually a little heartbreaking. Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn was a wonderful casting choice and his seriously stylish array of sunglasses (honestly, keep an eye out they're great) was delightful. His cockiness as he took over Oscorp displayed some of that typical Marvel humour and possibly made him far more likeable (in a smarmy git kind of way) than he maybe should have been when he later proceeds to become the Green Goblin. The difficulty this series was always going to find is that, having made it so close to the Sam Raimi stab at Spiderman there were going to be comparisons as viewers are probably more likely to have seen this than have read the comics as in my case. This meant that by using the character of the Green Goblin and giving him an entirely different origin story to the one we're used to means things get a bit confusing. I got past that rather quickly so I could get back to enjoying the film though.

As expected (and as was pointed out in every pre-release interview and review) the relationship between Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy was beautiful and heart-wrenching and their chemistry was (unsurprisingly) believable and honest. Parker's struggle early on as he contemplates the promise he made to her father in the previous film to keep her out of trouble weighs on his and the viewers mind throughout the film.

One thing I will say is the film did feel a little rushed. A couple of hours into the 147 minute film and I turn to my friend and say “but don't they still need to introduce the Rhino?” He comes along and within minutes (after a tense moment when a kid wanders out into heavy gunfire) he's dealt with a gone. I understand that Marvel is trying to link in the sequel and the Avengers (so I've heard?) and so on but perhaps it was too much for one film. [I have to be honest, I feel this was very much an afterthought. It's only now that I'm thinking about it that I've come to this conclusion. I definitely didn't think this whilst watching the film]. 

One final note on the soundtrack as this cannot be ignored in a review of the film the same way it's quite impossible to ignore it whilst watching. You can pretty much rely on Hans Zimmer to deliver a stellar soundtrack but team him up with The Magnificent Six and we take it to epic proportions. I've heard the nu-metal nature of it didn't suit everyone but the electric, rocky, dubsteppy soundtrack really worked for me. So much so that I sought it out on Amazon and Spotify as soon as I got home. Some have said the soundtrack detracted from the story and while I agree that it is actually surprisingly noticeable as far as soundtracks go and at one point I stopped and looked at my friend in awe at the way the soundtrack took the film, I loved it. It's different, yes, but it works.

Overall, while I'm aware this film did split opinion, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is just another great film that Marvel have churned out in recent years with some great action scenes, beautiful acting and a witty but serious story line. I would definitely recommend! 


That's all I can say.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment :)

Naomi Joy x