All posts by Jonathan

About Jonathan

Jonathan is fourteen years old and in Year 10 at Glenunga International High School. He has been with the 10-14 year old Young Writers Group since its inception. He enjoys attending the meetings and taking part in the discussions about writing, as well as reading a wide range of young adult and teenage fiction books by a number of different authors. He is currently working his way through Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. When he is not reading, writing, or blogging, Jonathan plays the trumpet and is a part of the 2nd Adelaide Scout Group. He happily goes to Mitcham Square with his mum but only if he gets to look in Mostly Books while she is grocery shopping.

On ‘liking’ and ‘appreciation’

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Is there a difference between ‘liking’ something and ‘appreciating’ it?

If you’ve read my review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you’ll know that I enjoyed reading it but thought it lacked substance (especially given how long it is).

This brought me to thinking about something that has been in my head for a while now: the idea of ‘liking’ versus that of ‘appreciation’. What I mean by this is that there can be a difference between liking something and appreciating its literary merits. Studying texts in a school environment for the past few years has made me more aware of this and now I think that I can form and articulate some cohesive thoughts on the subject.

What is ‘liking’ and what is ‘appreciation’?

In my mind, these two terms have distinct meanings and ideas associated with them.

‘Liking’ is when I enjoy something, regardless of whether it has (in my opinion or in anyone else’s) literary merit.

‘Appreciation’ is when I can understand why something is respected or liked by other people, regardless of whether or not I enjoyed reading it.

And on the topic of definitions, I used the term ‘literary merit’ above. To me, this means that a text has inherent value that can be seen by reading critically

Is there a difference between ‘liking’ and ‘appreciation’?

In terms of dictionary definitions, there most certainly is a difference between ‘liking’ and ‘appreciating’ something, but dictionary definitions aren’t the point of me thinking about this question. I am more interested in asking whether a distinction can be made, and, perhaps more importantly, if one needs to be made between these two terms. The latter question is very much subjective, but I think one that is still useful to ask.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

 

fangirl by rainbow rowellFangirl by Rainbow Rowell follows Cath, a socially awkward and introverted writer of fan fiction, as she begins her first year of college. When they were in high school, Cath and her twin sister Wren were inseparable, but recently they’ve grown apart; Wren has decided she wants to experience more of the world, whereas Cath would still rather avoid people and live in her fan fiction (which she does try and do throughout the novel).

But then then she meets a boy.

Anyone who reads and/or writes fan fiction (and really anyone who writes anything) will probably find this book enjoyable because they would relate to Cath. She is also the reason why people keep reading – because they are invested in Cath and her story.

This brings me nicely to my opinion on the plot. Or, rather, the lack thereof. While I really enjoyed reading this book, its plot has almost no substance.  Fangirl is just over 460 pages long. It could have been a third of that length, given how little actually happens. This is a coming-of-age-cross-romance novel, and those five words describe everything that happens: the protagonist (Cath) develops as a character and part of that may or may not involve falling in love. (The lack of specificity is due to me not wanting to spoil the ending.) Add to this the ending being very obvious from page 220 (and the fact that I predicted it from page 103), and you have one enjoyable but, ultimately, very shallow book.

Something that surprised me was that this book is written in the 3rd person. While I haven’t read a plethora of young adult contemporary/romance novels, The Fault in Our Stars isn’t written in 3rd person. And neither are most young adult books, in general. The reason I think that I didn’t find this irritating is because the excerpts of fan fiction that Cath writes (as well as the novels it is based on) is also written in 3rd person limited.

Despite my complaints, I would still recommend this book to people who are:

  • above 13 (I hate age restrictions/guides on books, but this one is my way of saying this is, at its core, a romance novel about people who are in college. There is also quite a bit of swearing, most of which is unnecessary)
  • interested/invested in fan fiction, reading or writing.

4/5 stars for enjoyment but my final rating for this book is 2.5/5 stars.

Elementary, My Dear Watts

Every Breath is the first in a series of young adult crime novels by Australian author Ellie Marney. Niav wrote a post on this book back in January of 2014, but I read the book myself and have a few things to say about it.

It follows seventeen-year-olds Rachel Watts, recently uprooted from the country to come live in inner-city Melbourne, and her neighbour, the troubled genius, James Mycroft.

At the beginning of the book, Mycroft and Watts find one of Mycroft’s friends dead. When the police lose interest in the murder of the vagrant, these two teenagers decide to take things into their own hands.

In case you didn’t know, I really like crime novels, so I loved Every Breath. It was refreshing to read a murder mystery with teenage characters directed at young people, as opposed to another young adult dystopian trilogy, or a murder mystery for adults. While the Mycroft and Watts’ relationship was clichéd at times, it was also hilariously awkward and enjoyable to read about.

This book will be very enjoyable for fans of the TV series Sherlock.

5/5

Endgame: The Calling

Please note: this review is based on my own interpretation of the book and my personal opinions of it. The way I feel about this book may not reflect how others will feel.

EndgameI chose to read Endgame: The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton because I thought it would be fun to read a book people are saying will be the next Hunger Games. I was wrong – very, very wrong.

First, the premise. Endgame: The Calling is about twelve thirteen- to twenty-year-olds who are each part of one of twelve specific bloodlines from which every living person is descended. These twelve people are ordinary (apart from the minor detail that they’ve been trained almost their whole lives to be warriors/killers) humans who are fighting to save humanity or to destroy the world.

So that sounds a lot like The Hunger Games . . . only Endgame: The Calling is not The Hunger Games.

I hated Endgame: The Calling. It was not an enjoyable book to read. The only good thing about this book was that it was reasonably fast-paced. If it had not been, I probably wouldn’t have finished it.

The first page alone demonstrates a number of reasons why I disliked it so much. Firstly, the book is written in the third person, but the present tense is used. This may or may not be a problem in and of itself – it could be (and probably is) this book’s writing style more generally which I despise. Secondly, the first character introduced is a pretentious, narcissistic, ostentatious, unrealistic, unrelatable, arrogant, dull brat. (My thoughts on the other characters are very similar.)

Thirdly, is that the writing style of this book is childish. The way Endgame: The Calling is written is monotonous, using simple words to construct short and simple sentences. Despite this, the book is written with a pretentious kind of immediacy, as though the authors are telling you the events as they happen, and it often feels as though the narrative is being forced upon you.

The childish and monotonous writing style is contrasted with the authors’ use of terms like ‘T7’ and ‘C1’ when referring to bones in the human spine. This use of scientific language feels like an ostentatious display of the authors’ knowledge (which may be plentiful regarding our skeletal structure, but seems to be severely lacking when it comes to writing successfully).

Adding to the impression that the authors of Endgame: The Calling are trying to show off is the fact that every time a measurement is used, an age given, a time period mentioned, or anything to do with numbers happens in the book, these numbers are given ludicrously precisely: 12.25 hours, 13024.838 nautical miles, 19.94 years, 3.126 inches, 11 seconds, 9.91 kilograms, and the list goes on. In almost every instance, this kind of precision is unnecessary and unrealistic. (Because you can obviously tell by holding an object that it weighs 9.91 kilograms. Or that something is 3.126 inches long just by looking at it.)

This brings me to my next problem with this book: it is unrealistic throughout. If this is meant to be something that is ‘actually happening’, as all of the marketing surrounding this book aims to convey, then shouldn’t these characters and this book be somewhat more realistic? (Yes, they most certainly should.) Unfortunately, I cannot list the many reasons why this book is absurd, as they contain spoilers.

I mentioned earlier that Endgame: The Calling, whilst sounding like (and being hyped up by people who probably don’t know what they’re talking about) The Hunger Games, it is not. Endgame: The Calling is not developed enough to compete with Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. By this I mean that the whole concept of this book (and its accompanying nine novellas and two sequels) is flawed.

Whilst I would not recommend that you read this atrocious collection of childish, pretentious, monotonous words masquerading as a book – if you must, then do not expect anything like The Hunger Games.

0.5/5

 

Some extra information:

You might be interested in knowing that there the movie rights to this book have already been sold. Also, this is only the first book in a new dystopian trilogy, with one book being released each year. Nine novellas will also be released between books.

Endgame: The Calling is going to have a puzzle built into it, with a grand prize of 1 million dollars on offer for the person who can solve it.

Clariel

clariel cover thingClariel is the prequel to the Old Kingdom trilogy, a young adult fantasy series written more than a decade ago by well-known Australian author Garth Nix. The original three books, in chronological order, are SabrielLirael and Abhorsen. The events of Clariel take place approximately six hundred years before  the beginning of Sabriel.

The book, which takes place in some sort of medieval period, follows almost-eighteen-year-old Clariel, who has just been uprooted from her quiet forest-bordering home and taken to the capital city of the Old Kingdom because her work-obsessed goldsmith mother has been invited to become a part of the city’s goldsmith guild.

Besides being related to a member of one of the highest guilds in Belisaere (the city), Clariel is also related to the King of the realm and the all-powerful, almighty line of sorcerers called the Abhorsens. Clariel doesn’t want to become involved with the politics at play in this city and does not want anything to do with the mess her parents have put her in, but when she discovers that the fate of Belisaere, and to an extent, the whole land, is at stake, she doesn’t have a choice.

If I told you anything more about the plot, I would spoil the book, so here ends my synopsis.

As for my thoughts on the book – I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as good as the other three books in the series. Specifically, the first third of the book was slow, the middle third was only slightly faster, and the final third felt too rushed for the rest of the book. Also, I didn’t like the epilogue. The whole thing felt tacked-on and the last line or two contradicted the rest of the epilogue and felt like it had been put there so the book would have a ‘deep and meaningful’ last line.

Although not a bad book, for me, it just did not meet the standard set by the original three books. Clariel is about a 3/5 star book.

Sabriel, and this series of books in general, are international bestsellers, and very highly regarded in the young adult fantasy genre.

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves

matthew reilly and the army of thieves cover pictureFor about five months now, I have been reading books by Matthew Reilly. The fourth book in his popular Scarecrow series is Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves. I chose to read this book for English this term. To complete the work, I had to write a series of blog posts on this book. Below are the posts. I wrote first when I was about halfway through the book, and the second post was a review and written after I had finished it.

 

[WHILE READING – p254/464]

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly is an adult novel. This becomes obvious as the story progresses and the pace and intensity increase. Whilst I don’t mind reading some of the gorier scenes, they are not for everyone. In one particular scene, a grenade goes of and sprays silver acid over a polar bear. This acid begins to melt the bear’s pelt off of its skin, before dripping down to the polar bear’s stomach and melting through it, allowing the bear’s intestines to drip out onto the ground. The bear, who happens to be genetically altered to be crazy, is agitated by its intestines falling out, and claws at its own face. The bear’s face then comes off.

But the blood, guts and gore do not detract from the story. Matthew Reilly is an action writer, and Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is an action novel. The writing style is fast, as is the pace of the book.

I have as yet said nothing regarding my thoughts on the novel’s plot and its characters. This is because the plot seems to be coming to an end halfway through the novel, although I expect that things are not as they currently seem. As this is the fourth book in a series, I can’t go into the characters and their development and what happens with them in this book because it will spoil the series.

 

[AFTER READING]

WARNING: This book contains graphic descriptions of violence, death and torture. It also has strong themes. This review also outlines this content.

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is the most intense of the five Matthew Reilly books I have read so far. I think that ‘intense’ perfectly describes this book, actually.

The fourth book in the appropriately named Scarecrow series, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is an adult action novel that follows US Marine Shane Schofield, call-sign: SCARECROW. In this instalment, Schofield and small team of civilians and Marines have been sent up to the Arctic to test weaponry and equipment that the US Army is considering adding to their arsenal.

Then Schofield discovers that his small group is the only US force close enough to a place that is about to set the atmosphere on fire. Yes, set the atmosphere on fire!

But that’s only the beginning, because there’s a lot more going on up in the arctic than Schofield, or anyone, really, suspects.

And to find out any more, you’ll have to read the book.

This was, as I predicted, fast-paced, action-packed, nail-biting, jaw-dropping and actually quicker than I thought it would be: I read half the book in a day.

Another thing I want to talk about is this book, and this series, being ‘adult’. I can understand why these books are marketed at adults; they are gruesome, violent and intense, with high levels of blood and gore and very strong themes.

Whilst I do not think that these things should stop people my age reading these books, I do think that people should be educated on the content of the books. I gave an example of the blood and gore in my mid-way blog post. That was a brief description of what happened to one unfortunate polar bear. But this brutality and grotesquery is not restricted to animals – plenty of characters, including characters of some importance, have similar things happen to them.

I was struck by the casualness of one phrase that I came across. In this scene, people are dying, but one person in particular is sacrificed to protect the main characters. The killer puts a gun in the victim’s mouth and pulls the trigger. The victim’s head explodes and their brains go everywhere.

Incidents like this are commonplace. One of the more severe scenes involves torture. Someone (I will not say whom – I don’t want to spoil anything) has a box put over a person’s head. One or two rats are then dropped into the box. The rats eat off the person’s face. When the box is taken off, the bloody and headless body is described graphically, as is the method in which the rats would have killed this person.

But these things do not make Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves a bad book. The graphic content is not constant; the book could not be reasonably retitled How to Kill Someone With Rats. It does not promote the murder of human beings with rats as a good thing to do. It simply has these things in the story.

I like this book, despite this content, and I like Matthew Reilly as an author, proof of which is that I continue to buy and read new books in his series because I want to, not because I feel obliged to finish what I have started.

These are good books, and this is a good series – 4/5 or 4.5/5 for every book. I recommend that you read Ice Station, the first book in this series. It is not nearly as graphic, but it isn’t as fast-paced either. However that doesn’t mean that it isn’t absolutely crazy, and that every character who lived through the book could easily have died a dozen times. These books are thrillers, and they certainly do thrill!

Upcoming Releases

This year, there are three books in particular whose releases I am eagerly awaiting. Two of these books I have mentioned in previous posts, and all I have seen before, but I have not until now seen confirmed titles, covers and release dates. The aforementioned books:

  • The Silkworm – J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith – estimated release date: 19 June 2014
  • Mr Mercedes – Stephen King – estimated release date: 3 June 2014
  • Armada – Ernest Cline – estimated release date: 7 October 2014

 

The Silkworm:

This book is the sequel to J.K. Rowling’s first crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, which I read, reviewed and raved about last year. I am glad for the prompt release of this sequel, as reading these books I would say is like watching an episode of a TV show. The Cuckoo’s Calling features detective Cormoran Strike, and his secretary/personal assistant/companion/cook, Robin Ellacott. In their first adventure, Cormoran and Robin solved the mystery of the famous supermodel Lula Landry’s supposed suicide, and in this book, they return to investigate the disappearance and subsequent murder of novelist Owen Quine.

Booktopia Blog post about The Silkworm: http://blog.booktopia.com.au/tag/the-silkworm/

Mr Mercedes:

Mr Mercedes is the next novel that Stephen King is set to release, and the first of two he will release this year. Mr Mercedes is a mystery/thriller novel which, to quote an article I found by The Guardian, ‘…is about a retired policeman being taunted by a murderer…’ As you may have noticed, I really like crime and mystery novels, which is the first of two reasons why I want to read this book. The second is that it is written by Stephen King, the extremely successful author of more than fifty bestselling novels, many of which have been adapted into equally successful movies and television shows.

Booktopia Blog post about Mr Mercedes: http://blog.booktopia.com.au/tag/mr-mercedes/

The Guardian article: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/13/stephen-king-publish-second-novel-2014-revival

Armada:

First, I need to say that it does not matter what this novel is about, who the characters are or where it is set – it is written by Ernest Cline (the author of Ready Player One) and hence it is going to be brilliant no matter what the subject matter is.

Moving along to what this book is actually about. Zack Lightman is just another bored teenager daydreaming through just another boring maths lesson when a high-tech ship lands in his school’s courtyard and men in dark suits and dark glasses start calling his name because the government needs him and his video-gaming skills to stop earth being invaded by aliens.

Not only is that a very interesting premise, but this book is going to be just that bit more brilliant because it blasts into oblivion the cliché that no-one who is forced to stop an alien invasion has ever seen any movies or read any books and will not have the slightest shred of knowledge about how to deal with an alien invasion – because Zack Lightman has.

Notes:
Estimated release dates are from the Goodreads pages of each of these books, the links to which are above. The links provided are where I found all of the information for this post.

Afterworld

It was the premise of Lynette Lounsbury’s book Afterworld by  that made me want to pick it up, and it is after much contemplation of that same premise that I am writing this review.

Afterworld

Afterworld is a young adult fantasy novel, published this month, about a fifteen-year-old boy named Dominic Mathers who dies in a car crash in India. Then he begins his journey through the afterlife, which in this book is a duller, queerer version of our planet earth, full of really old, dead people.

Afterworld is an unusual book; not only does it take concepts and themes from many religions regarding the afterlife, incorporate different beliefs about early history and involve multiple races of people living inharmoniously who all converge and destroy everything, it has all of that come back to one boy:

Dominic Mathers.

Now, to say more on the plot would be giving away too much, so now I will mention my personal thoughts on the novel.

Looking over the notes I took from when I had just finished the book, and also reflecting back on my experiences whilst reading it, I think that Afterworld, whilst good, wasn’t the best novel I’ve ever read. But before I explain why I didn’t love it as opposed to merely enjoying it, I want to mention what was good about Lynnette Lounsbury’s novel. I found it entertaining and reasonably fast-paced, and it wasn’t all doom, gloom and depressing things. Afterworld was also refreshing to read; it seems that every new book being released at the moment is book three in a dystopian trilogy, so a standalone young adult fantasy novel was a pleasant change.

But I do have to mention some other things about Lynnette Lounsbury’s novel.

I found that some of the secondary characters seemed to blend in with each other, and weren’t interesting to read about. The book also has a lot to explain, and I mean that in two ways. First, it explains a lot of things, and not always in the clearest or the best way. Second, it is rather vague on some details, about the world of the book in particular.

Afterworld contains a lot of complex ideas (which is good), and each of those complex ideas has their own set of complex terms and other points to remember (which is fine). But while there’s nothing wrong with complexity per se, it needs to be done well, which is something I think Lynette Lounsbury has not been able to consistently do. At certain points, the book became very confusing.

All in all, I felt that despite its flaws, Afterworld was an enjoyable book. I would give it 6.5/10. While it was definitely worth my time, and I would certainly recommend it as a standalone young adult fantasy novel, there are other books I would reread first.

Ready Player One

This is a spoiler-free review of Ernest Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One.

Ready Player One is a novel that I definitely think deserves more recognition that it has received. It was the best novel that I read in 2013.

It is a dystopian novel set in the 2040s. The world’s economy is collapsing, and natural resources are scarce.Ready_Player_One_cover Ready_Player_One_cover2

That is the real world, and whilst it is all doom and gloom and heading speedily downwards, the evolution of the internet and online games into a virtual utopia called the OASIS has changed things for the people who live in this world, even more so than the disasters that are destroying their planet.

The OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) is a massively multiplayer online simulation game created by James Halliday and Odgen Morrow of Gregarious Simulation Systems.

And then James Halliday dies. With no heirs or living family, I might add.

He leaves behind a video in place of a will, which is circulated to all users of the OASIS the morning after his death. This video explains that Halliday, whilst programming the OASIS, hid three keys (first the Copper Key, then the Jade Key, and finally the Crystal Key) and three matching gates for any user of the OASIS to find.

And whoever does find all three keys and gates and then completes a final challenge will inherit James Halliday’s entire fortune – an estimated 240 billion dollars – and control of his company, including control of the OASIS.

And so begins the hunt for Halliday’s Easter Egg.

Those who search for the egg are called ‘gunters’. These people devote an extraordinary amount of time to studying everything about the 1980s, the era when James Halliday was a teenager and first became a programmer, and the main inspiration for a large portion of the OASIS.

The book opens in 2044, after five years have passed. It follows one gunter in particular. His real-world name is Wade Owen Watts, but it is his OASIS identity of Parzival that is important, because to every other OASIS user, that is who he is.

But things start to get really interesting when–

Actually, I can’t tell you that, so you’re just going to have to read the book.

To summarise: Ready Player One is a brilliant book written by a very knowledgeable author. I think that anyone and everyone who reads adult (or even young adult) dystopian novels should most definitely pick this up. Along with everyone who grew up in the 1980s (apparently there are a lot of references in the books to that era, but I didn’t notice them if there were) or likes video games of that era. You just have to read it.

Ready Player One is an action-packed novel, and will be hard for Ernest Cline to top.

Finally; I cannot wait to see how the movie adaptation pans out. I also look forward to the July release of Cline’s second novel, Armada.

Ernest Cline is my new favourite author, and Ready Player One is my new favourite book.

Now please go read it. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first adult crime novel written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Galbraith_TheCuckoosCalling

The book follows a disabled war veteran named Cormoran Strike. When we first meet him, things aren’t going too well. Going through a break-up, he is forced to live in his office, which isn’t as bad as you would first think, considering business isn’t exactly what you would call booming.

With only one regular client, a series of weekly death threats, debt collectors chasing him for money and an agency sending him temporary secretaries which he can’t really afford and has no need for, the outlook is pretty bleak.

The most recent of these secretaries is twenty-five-year-old, recently-engaged Robin Ellacott. She is smarter than most of the other secretaries Strike has received, and has secretly always been fascinated by the world of private investigators.

But Cormoran Strike isn’t exactly what she had imagined.

Then a new client walks in through the door, claiming that his sister, the famous supermodel Lula Landry, was in fact murdered. He insists that she did not commit suicide as the police concluded months ago.

Reluctantly, Cormoran accepts the case, doubting that what the man says is true, but the client is the brother of a childhood friend, and the possibility of significant monetary gain convinces him, and so he accepts the case, and the adventure begins.

Well, to be fair, it’s not much of an adventure.

Lula’s death occurred three months ago, and the police determined shortly after that it must have been suicide, and that, to the public, was the end of that.

This book is more about piecing together the troubled model’s last day more than anything, and Lula’s final moments are revealed in a series of intriguing interviews conducted by Cormoran.

With each of these interviews, new suspects appear, new information arises, new evidence comes to light and people are exposed for what they really are. And what they really are is quite surprising, which is to say, I most certainly didn’t see the conclusion coming.

But I would not be shocked if others did; there was considerable evidence piling up against all of them, but subtly pointing towards the true culprit. Though that didn’t stop J.K. Rowling from pointing the finger at everybody at some point in time, and by the midpoint I was sure that a dozen people had all somehow killed Lula.

And I know that this review may seem to be pilling up evidence against the story line of the book itself. But the plot is not what makes The Cuckoo’s Calling such a brilliant book, nor what made me fall in love with it after the first few pages.

It was the characters that made me read the novel, and that make it the masterpiece that it is.

All of the people who had even the slightest role in the book have been developed and created so well they could have been centre stage. But the two main characters, Cormoran and Robin, are just a step above that.

You feel like you are looking down on them, peering through the keyholes, putting your ear against the doors, watching them from above as the go about solving the mystery. You feel like you are best friends with them – their long-lost cousin, or something of the like – because they feel so real.

The character development in this novel is brilliant.

As it has been confirmed that this is the first book in a series, I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of the sequel some time in 2014.

All in all, this has to be one of the best books I’ve read this year.