Tuesday, 31 December 2013

TOP 13 of 2013

So this year hasn't been great in terms of reading. Trying to find 13 books out of the 37 I've read, and a couple of them being re-reads as well? Talk about a tremendous task. Still, I pulled through and figured out which ones I really liked.

Ready for the countdown?

13. Ravengirl - Audrey Niffeneger 

A modern day fairytale of a love story between a raven and a postman, Niffeneger delivers a beautiful picture book filled with a deeper meaning. Read review here.

12. Rosebush - Michele Jaffe 

Combine Crime and a bit of Psychological Thriller and you get Rosebush. At times a little creepy and others painfully captivating, Jaffe's novel was certainly an interesting read. Review here. 

11. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton 

One of the few adult novels I enjoyed this year, Cloudstreet brings back a nostalgic feel that is very much welcomed on a nice breezy day. It's a nice sweet read.

10. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein 

Set in France during the Nazi era, friends Maddie and "Verity" convey the meaning of friendship and loyalty. The bonds that are shared between friends will resonate with readers as well. Review here. 

9. The Visitor - Lee Child

The fourth novel in the Jack Reacher series, The Visitor has a surprising plot that left me captivated until the very end. It's got me on board to read the rest of the series.

8. The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper has romance and crime bundled into one great story. All three characters: Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy stay within your mind with only just one read. Watch review here.

7. The Killer in My Eyes - Giorgio Faletti

Faletti excels in the crime genre, and this is no exception. Beating out Child's novel in my list, Faletti does wonders with the mysteries of a murder. His creative mind is something I really admire. Review here.

6. Deathless - Catherynne M. Valente

Yet another modern day fairytale but this time a full length novel, Valente makes use of a Russian folktale to retell a love story that is bittersweet. A very refreshing change to what I constantly read. Watch review here.

The last five books on this list were absolutely amazing. Click here, to watch the rest of my top 13 books for 2013.

Hope you guys have a great New Years! Happy Holidays!

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Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

Plot: 

October 11th, 1943 a British spy plane encounters danger whilst trying to reach France. They crash land but "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo. Desperate for information, they try to wheedle anything out of her. She's faced with two choices: reveal her mission or be executed.

Review:

I don't think I've ever read such a great war novel like this, and very different as well. Don't let the setting and the countless strategies and airplane names fool you. Code Name Verity is essentially a story of trust, loyalty and friendship. It's full of love and despair that at the end, I was pretty much devastated by what was happening and was not aware of how much I had grown attached to the character "Verity".

In fact, "Verity" is the codename for the protagonist of the first half of the novel. She is tortured into revealing the truth of the British airforce (or something like that) and caves in. What is suppose to be a report turns into a story of her meeting and becoming friends with Maddie - codename Kitty Hawk. Maddie is a predominate character in the novel, very much the main character if not for the two narrators. She continues on from Verity's recount through the second part and Wein attempts to differentiate them according to their style of language. It's easy to tell them apart and I found that I grew attached to both characters.

I really did fall in love with Verity as a character, even more so through the perspective of Maddie. They're both really badass female characters but Verity has a charm and a passion within her that resonates throughout the novel. Wein succeeded in establishing well thought out characters that had dimension and could easily sway a reader. That really added to the enjoyment of my reading.

Plot wise there were some low and high points. It was actually a pretty dense read even though the book looked small. It wasn't a fast pace read, but I could understand why readers had to plod through some moments just to get to the bigger events. When you're stuck in a jail the time is slow and that reflects in Verity's writing. It makes it realistic and I didn't lose interest despite the steady pace. I felt like Maddie's part was a little windy. I had to go back to keep checking if I was reading something right or even just skimming parts because I was getting impatient. Still, the wait was worth it with what the ending brought.

Wein was working towards a brilliant and very captivating ending. It really left me shocked and I had to reread that part over and over again to see if I missed anything. The novel was left open ended but in a very sweet manner, so that whilst Wein didn't push that ending, readers can still gather what is likely to occur.

If you think this is solely a war based novel then think again. It definitely gives a whole new meaning to the war life, and just humanity in general. I feel like we all know the stories of the Nazi period but Code Name Verity provides an aspect no one really cared to think about. It's great that Wein produced two lively female characters who held high positions in the airforce, and she really knew what she was talking about considering she's a pilot herself. There were things to fault on but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I feel like it's a novel I'll constantly remember.

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, 30 December 2013

December Haul

A total of how many books there was. I never know where to stop, seriously.

WATCH HERE!

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Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Bone Season (The Bone Season #1) - Samantha Shannon

Plot:

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

(Source: Goodreads)

Review:

Being the first novel in a seven book series, it gets a bit hard to judge the plot line and characters as a whole. However, the first book for The Bone Season series has certainly left an impression.

The world is a lot more complex and very confusing compared to other worlds in fantasy novels. However, Shannon's world building skills aren't very perfect. In fact, she rushes through it by throwing chunks of information in the first 50-100 pages to try and explain Scion London. Still, I persevered and slowly the picture began to form of what she was attempting to paint. Shannon's writing flows a lot better after those moments and she eases into the plot at a nice pace. It's not very slow even though the book is quite thick.

I read it 2 to 3 days though, so it was certainly interesting enough for me. I'm also willing to read the second book and am actually waiting to see what occurs after the massive cliff hanger. I'd say the series has potential.

Watch here for a more thorough review of the novel.

Rating: 3.5/5


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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Film Vs. Novel - Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 10.34.22 pm


Plot:

Both Katniss and Peeta now hold privileges beyond that of a normal civilian, after becoming victors to the 74th Hunger Games. They both tour the country to share their glory but are instead met with sullen districts, threatening to defy the Capitol. President Snow, from fear of a rebellion, threatens Katniss to prove to the people (and him) that she belongs to the Capitol. Desperate to quell the people though, Snow decides to celebrate the 75th Hunger Games with a change in the system, one that will leave Katniss fighting for her life once again.

Review:

Boy was that a movie to watch. If you ever wanted to see a proper book to movie adaption this is the movie to choose. Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, was an incredible watch. The change in directors was a great idea and I loved every minute of it. Of course there were a few moments of errrr but overall it was such an enjoyable movie. I am now onboard to watch  Mockingjay only because the same director will apparently be working on that one as well.

Anyways, watch here for a better discussion.

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The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer - Michelle Hodkin

Plot: 


Mara Dyer wakes up after a coma unaware of what has happened. She's informed that in a freak accident that resulted in the deaths of her friends, she was the only one to survive. Her family decides to move to help her recover from the trauma. Instead, Mara begins to experience moments of hallucinations. It also doesn't help that she meets a boy who apparently knows her quite well.

Mara must now determine if she really is losing her mind, or are all these delusions pointing her in the right direction.

Review:

I actually picked this up because I've heard some pretty good reviews about it, care of the Book Tube community. Also because it's a psychological thriller, which I beg to differ a little but we'll get to that later.

Right from the beginning, Hodkin has created a tone that will drive the entire novel. There's an underlying creepiness that basically stays at the back of your mind. I think what worked well was that I wasn't bombarded with constant "scary" scenes. Instead, there was a build up of suspense and lots and lots of questioning. I found myself experiencing Mara's emotions like I was right beside her. We were both confused and doubtful of her sanity. It felt so real.

I think the visual descriptions were pretty gruesome. It wasn't something to make me violently sick but at the same I did feel a little uneasy. It's what made the novel feel different to the usual thrillers. Still, I wouldn't classify the Mara Dyer series as entirely psychological thriller. True it was scary and haunting, but the novel took a turn and it became a romance in the second half. I didn't mind though, because I grew to love her romantic counterpart - Noah. He was probably really stereotypical. The mysterious, rebellious boy with a beautiful smile and just enough arrogance that it becomes attractive. I still fell for him though. I know it sounds weird, I mean he isn't real. But that's how an author succeeds in writing a character.

It's not like the romance in the novel deters from the central issue though, which was good. I wasn't going to keep reading if it was just the sappy stuff all the way through. It was still mostly about the inner conflict that Mara was experiencing.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer definitely gave me a lot of shocking moments.  It's quite possibly the one of the best novels I've read this year, having enough suspense and great plot development to keep me hooked for the entire time. The momentum rose and fell, keeping me on edge when needed. I read it in a day or so and couldn't believe how quickly I was drawn into it. Hodkin writes well, not above any other author, but certainly enough to catch my attention. Her plot is fast and intense, which I would like to thank her for. The ending finished on a massive plot twist and made me really want to go and buy the second book straight away. I mentally kicked myself as to why I didn't just purchase the entire series when I bought the first book. Still, now I have something to look forward to for next year.

I definitely recommend this - an exceptional read.

Rating: 5/5

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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Film: Better Man (SBS)

Source: The Herald Sun[/caption]

Plot:

Based on a true story, Better Man is a four part mini-series retelling the execution of Van Tuong Nguyen. Van was an Australian born Vietnamese, raised in the South East of Melbourne. He is famously known for being the last Australian to be executed overseas in an attempt to smuggle drugs back into Australia.

Starring Australian actors David Wenham (The Lord of The Rings), Remy Hii (Neighbours) and Jordan Rodrigues (Dance Academy), Better Man portrays the sorrows and dangers of Van's life.

Review:

The story of Van Tuong Nguyen would perhaps not be unfamiliar to most Australians, especially of the older generation. Initially, the mini series was met with opposition from Nguyen's family but SBS still went ahead an aired it.

I would have to admit I didn't know much about him even though it happened late into my primary school years. Still, it really intrigued me to see how Nguyen would be portrayed especially under a Vietnamese director as well. The series opens up to the moments before Nguyen travels to Cambodia and ends with his hanging. During that time viewers are given flashbacks to the moments in his life that lead up to and eventually determine the choice he makes.

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Monday, 16 December 2013

The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 10.03.56 pmPlot: 

1961 - Laurel, at 16, witnesses a crime from her hideout spot in the treehouse.

2011 - Laurel is now a famous actress but the event from her childhood begins to linger in her mind.

So begins her journey from the past to present, as she finds the answers to questions that have lasted for more than most her life. The lives of Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy are slowly opened up in a fascinating recount of their sudden encounter during the 1940s.

Review:

Kate Morton really hits the marks with her novels and The Secret Keeper is no exception. It makes for a great mystery/crime type of novel that isn't loaded with guts and blood, and disturbing killers. Instead, she takes on adult fiction and puts a twist to it. I find that that makes the novel really interesting and whilst the premise of this certainly doesn't sound any unique, the plot is actually a lot more surprising than expected.

It's a pretty thick read but even with the size (500+  pages) I was really immersed in what was happening. Morton has a way of writing, which really draws me in and leaves me in that world. It's probably the way she paints the scenery and the characters of the novel. I've never really seen how London exists, besides photos, especially "back in the days" but from reading I could make out the countryside and the town in which Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy exist in. Morton does get a little "artsy" in the way she writes, using really drawn out ways to explain something but it didn't detract from the story so I didn't mind much.

The plot quickens probably from part 3 onwards, which really helps with the intensity of the mystery. I think I got really hooked from that moment and had to finish the novel. The plot twist that came about really made the wait so much better. It really reminded me why I love reading Morton's novels, because she delivers in the end.

I loved Jimmy and Vivien despite the fact that they aren't major characters in the novel. I found Jimmy sweet and Vivien just wholeheartedly good. Dorothy, on the other hand, I could've done without just because she really got my nerves. There has never been a character that was insanely naive and pretty much delusional. She had ambitions but no solid plan and when it all fell apart, well then. Laurel, I felt, was only a vehicle to drive the stories of the three people in the past. She was the predominant narrator but with her moments, they were gateways to the stories that occurred during the 1940s.

The Secret Keeper has left much for me to think about, which I like. I like that I can still think about the plot and the characters involve and sort of mull over what happened. It's mean I was mentally engaged whilst reading, which is what I think most authors would want. It's not my favourite Kate Morton novel but it's definitely a very enjoyable read. I shall forever be her fan if she continues this streak.

Click here to watch my review as well!

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday, 5 December 2013

Documentary: Change My Race


Source: SBS[/caption]

After watching the documentary Change My Race, I found that it brought up an interesting issue that a lot of people are unaware of or at some points even ignore.

Change My Race touches on the plastic surgery industry in which many Asian women are utilising nowadays to gain more of a western appearance. It may not seem as common in Australia but it really is happening. Myself, as an Australian born Vietnamese, watched this whilst feeling very uneasy. What is it about our own ethnic features that are deemed so unappealing? Do they come off as that unattractive for girls to treat their own bodies as plastic models, readily going under the knife for more of a "white" look. I suppose in a society predominately occupied by caucasian appearances, the norm has come to that of higher nose bridges, bigger noses and pale skin. Yet, even in societies such as Korea (a place the documentary covers) the female population have also turned to westernising their appearance. The trend nowadays is that of a baby face look - the V line as they call it, which consists of big eyes, high nose and pointed chin. In fact the ideal face is displayed almost everywhere in Korea. Billboards, subway stations and the usual ads - the people are being bombarded with an option that seems almost like a compulsory step into being considered beautiful.

That is how beauty is defined according to the documentary, and the girls who undergo plastic surgery. You have to look like an Anglo-Saxon to look beautiful. I find that absolutely absurd. I've always been told to be myself, be confident in who I am and comfortable with my own skin. I'm sure many other girls also have been told that. However, that becomes a major conflict with the standard of beauty this society carries. How can I feel comfortable with who I am when I'm constantly being told by the media and peers around me that have double eyelids is better or a slimmer jaw is what makes me beautiful. Because that's what the plastic surgeon who the host interviewed told her. He actually suggested the host reduce her jawline because then she'll look beautiful. I can tell you now she looked gorgeous already.

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Source: SBS[/caption]

What's becoming increasingly frustrating is that this ideal is being pushed not only by the media but also by those closest to these girls. The documentary covered the story of a 17 year old girl who was made to undergo double eyelid surgery, nose filler and chin surgery. All because her parents think all "chinese and vietnamese" girls should do it. What was sadder was that they couldn't see the beauty in their daughter, "a 5 out of 10" beforehand and afterwards looking much "better". It really infuriated me that they felt that every girl of Asian descent had to undergo that type of surgery, and also push their daughter into it. The girl was clearly confident with her own self and didn't even want it but to please her parents she did it. I mean she is carrying their genes, so they're basically dissing themselves.

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