Friday, 11 July 2014

The Telling Error by Sophie Hannah

Age Group: Adult
20747666Genre: Psychological Thriller/ Crime
Pub Date: April 2014
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

The first few pages of The Telling Error described a grisly murder. A man has been killed, with a knife taped to him, except there he wasn’t killed by the knife. Bang in some mysterious writing on the wall, a few bizarre photographs on the computer, and the victim being a celebrity, and we’ve got ourselves an unusual case. What makes it more unusual is the murder has been described as an ad on a dating website seeking the murderer. So a puzzle within a puzzle for the reader.

This is a proper psychological “who-dunnit” thriller. Lots of twisted characters, blurred lines, and suspense. The plot was great; each character was properly fleshed out with interesting motives and lots of twists. Just when I thought I knew who did it, I was immediately proved wrong.

Before we go any further, I would like to point out I had no idea that this was the 9th book in the series. I had never read or heard of the series before, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have requested this from NetGalley. Only now discovering the series, I’m pleased to find that I followed the book pretty well, and it does account for my slight gripes with it.

I found it hard to follow the detectives, but on reflection, this is because I didn’t know their previous stories, and the author probably took it for granted that I did. To be fair, if I was on my ninth book, I probably would have expected a reader to have read a couple of the others. I found their relationships confusing, and some points lost track of which one was which, but that didn’t detract from the overall brilliance of the book.

This book was primarily about Nikki though, a woman who has been having a string of emotional online affairs for kicks. Nikki was a brilliant and complex character, a woman who has been betrayed by her family, and is overly protective of hers, despite betraying them with her affair. She gets entangled in the murder investigation, due to one of her online dalliances implicating her. Nikki was easy to like and dislike at the same time, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, yet be annoyed at her actions. Her family and past was another thread to unravel, making Nikki become more and more complex as the story continued.

The Telling Error was surprisingly easy to read as a stand-alone, but I found myself being more interested in the side characters than the main detective, Simon. If you like a good psychological thriller, I definitely recommend this; however you may want to start with something earlier in the series, unlike me!

Rating: 8/10
I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

IBW Bookshop Crawl


The past week has been Independent Bookseller’s Week, and to celebrate it, I went on a bookshop crawl across London, with my friend Ayomide from ElliesAndPankcakes. So here is my guide to some of the finest London independent bookshops. But quickly, let’s talk about independents.

What is Independent Booksellers Week?
The week was part of the Books Are My Bag campaign, and is to celebrate independent booksellers.

Why are Independent Booksellers important?
I could go into a boring essay about economics and the free market, but nobody wants to read about that. There is more to it than Amazon killing bookstores. One thing I learnt from the crawl is how different the atmosphere and feel of an independent is compared to a commercial retailer. Every space crammed with old and new books, an independent radiates the love of a good story. I could have easily spent hours there browsing new treasures. If book buying wants to remain an experience, then independents need to stick around.

The Crawl


Any Amount of Books
“Any Amount of Books” was our first stop, and was almost overwhelming in the sheer amount of books that was present. As far as the eye could see, there were books. This was a bookshop I could imagine discovering an unexpected find, or a really nice edition of a beloved book.

Good for: Cheap and Rare books (their range is from £1 to thousands of pounds), Leather Bound and Decorative Books, Literary Fiction, Non-Fiction
Bad for: Mainstream and Young Adult fiction
Tube station: Leicester Square/ Tottenham Court Road

Henry Pordes Books
We were greeted by a friendly manager when we asked about IBW. Like “Any Amount of Books”, they sold all sorts of books, once again lined to the ceiling. I can imagine this shop would be useful if you wanted to do specific research on a topic, as they had an impressive non-fiction selection.

Good for: Non-fiction, Literary Fiction, Rare books
Bad for: Mainstream and Young Adult fiction
Tube station: Leicester Square/ Tottenham Court Road

Foyles
The mother of London independents, Foyles has long been one of my favourite bookshop in London. However, this was my first visit since their move and refurbishment, so I was excited to see the new store. Foyles lacks the cosy feel of other independents (the new regeneration looks like a bookstore from the future) but makes up with sheer range and variety of books. It’s easy to spend hours there.

Good for: Everything. You can find everything in Foyles. Mainstream and YA is particularly good here.
Bad for: Lacks the quaintness of other shops.
Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road

Hatchards
Full disclosure here, when I arrived in Hatchards I thought it was an independent. When I picked up the only book I was going to buy, I thought it was an independent. When I went to the till and discussed IBW, I found out it was NOT an independent. Irony at its finest. A quick Wikipedia search revealed that Hatchards was bought by Waterstones in the 90’s. However, it is a lovely bookshop, and if you fancy a look around I highly recommend.

Good for: Everything, like Foyles it has quite a range.
Bad for: Secretly not an independent!
Nearest tube station: Piccadilly/ Green Park

Heywood Hill
I hadn’t heard of this bookshop until I saw someone tweet about it on the day, and it was a great discovery. A world unto itself, minutes away from bustling Piccadilly, and tucked away on a quiet street, Heywood Hill has an enchanting atmosphere. Excellent rooms divided into genres, from the mainstream fiction as you walk in, to rare books, to my favourite room of all, the children’s room. This bookshop is a must-go if you love children’s and YA, the room even has a fireplace and fairy lights!

Good for: I saw a real range of books here. They specifically select new book to put out, so if you don’t have anything specific in mind, you’ll find something good here.
Bad for: If you have a specific book in mind, it may not be here.
Tube station: Green Park

Daunts Books
For some reason, Daunts always reminds me of Harry Potter. Not sure if it’s the wooden décor, or the piles of books, or the dim library, but I always get a sense that I’m in the Hogwarts library. Daunts seems to find the perfect balance between cosy and spacious, there are loads of recommendations and interesting finds, but the shop avoids feeling cramped. Then there is the upstairs, a balcony area around the shop, stacked with non-fiction books. Also makes a great photo-op!

Good For: Everything, great selection, great atmosphere. There’s also an interesting section organised by countries around the world.
Bad for: Struggling to think of anything…
Tube station: Baker Street

What did I buy?
OK, confession, I told myself I wasn’t going to buy anything before I went, because my TBR pile is big enough. That didn’t work out. I bought A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness for two reasons:  one, I love Patrick Ness, and two, A Monster Calls is a book which needs to be read as a physical book. It wasn’t something I could download on my kindle, I had to get in book form.


So there’s my bookshop crawl! Thanks to Ayomide for accompanying me, and check out her channel. I was going to film this, but I feared breaking the atmosphere by talking very loudly to a camera by myself. All my photos are from my Instagram, so for more bookish pictures, give me follow. Did you do a bookshop crawl? What are your favourite independents? Tell me below.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Maleficent (2014)

Director: Robert Stromberg
Producer: Joe Roth
Writer: Linda Woolverton
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning
Rating: PG
                                                                                                             
Angelina Jolie is a force to be reckoned with in Disney’s new spin on its classic tale of Sleeping Beauty. Disney has stuck to its recent theme of that there are no heroes and villains, although with a darker tone than Frozen.

Meet young Maleficent, a fairy who is not as evil as her name suggests. She whizzes around on her awesome wings, and all is fine and dandy in the incredibly CGI’d magical forest. Until she meets Stefan, a young boy who has snuck into the forest. And since this is Disney, they grow up together and fall in love. Stefan grows into ambitious adult Stefan, and due to his greed, he betrays Maleficent in a gut-wrenching scene where he drugs her and cuts off her wings. Soon Stefan is king and about to have a baby, and in a fit of rage Maleficent… Well we all know they story from there.

The visuals were spectacular. Director Stromberg is a well-known special effects artist; his past credits include Alice in Wonderland and Avatar, and he did not let fans down in this respect. The forest glittered and unfurled magically before your eyes; strange creatures whirled and snarled, and even the CGI on Jolie’s face looked bizarrely believable.

This was a one-woman-show at heart, that woman being Jolie, and with piercing cheekbones and glint in her eye; she swept sweet Elle Fanning’s Aurora and tormented Sharlto Copey’s King Stefan away. Maleficent was a women of few words, but that didn’t stop all eyes on Jolie, whose angry roars, heart-wrenching sobs, and knowing smirks says all.

Though the film may have benefited from some more words. Or plot. The obvious comparison to Maleficent is Wicked, the retelling of the story from the villains perspective, where we find out that they are not as evil as they seem. But while Wicked leaves you in awe of the cleverness and richness of the story, Maleficent is severely lacking in this area. Maleficent is betrayed, Maleficent becomes angry, Maleficent regrets her actions. Disney desire to stick rigidly to the 1959 original has caused this retelling to revert to a darker live-action version replica. And considering Linda Woolverton also wrote classics such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, the standard of plot is sub-par.

It’s hard to not initially be bowled over by Maleficent, whose world it is too easy to be absorbed into. The film taps into truths of real life, from love and betrayal, to friendship and fear. But once the magical dust has settled, and your eyes are exhausted from the visual assault, the sour taste of disappointment remains.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Don't Even Think About It

Don't Even Think About ItAge Group: YA
Genre: Contemporary 
Pub Date: May 2014
Publisher: Orchard Books
                                                                                                          

Don’t Even Think About It has one of the most interesting premises in contemporary YA, but the problem is that it sets your expectations too high. Set in a New York high school, a class of students are given a tainted flu shot and all mysteriously develop telepathy. Now the idea of having twenty students with ESP is a great one. The execution of it wasn’t.

If you don’t go into this book thinking that the teens are going to use their new found powers for good and to save the world, then you’ll be fine. This book was a lot less X-Men, and more The Princess Diaries. Ultimately this is a teen contemporary with a twist.

Unfortunately the twist gave it too many complications to work well as a contemporary.

We have twenty-two kids with ESP. The book is written as a collective, using “we”, but then jumps around to different characters, with their points of views. We follow about 8 characters, which are too many for a book this short. Spreading out the book between so many characters meant none of them were fully developed past their vague stereotype: the cheating popular girl, the girl in love with her best friend, the pervy teenage boy, the smart girl who goes by “Pi”…  Did I mention how clichéd it was? It was easy to get confused between several characters when you were following so many stories at once.

Then we had the ESP itself. Soon this book went from “oooh that’s an interesting thought”, to “I really don’t care about everyone’s every single thought”. It really captured the headache you would get being a teenager with ESP. Don’t get me wrong, teenagers having teenage thoughts is fine, everyone has really mundane thoughts. But I have no desire to hear or read about everyone’s mundane thoughts.

The main problem I had is that I just didn’t care. I couldn’t care about most of the characters because the plot was spread too thinly between all of them. I couldn’t care about the plot because it wasn’t explained well enough, and I didn’t care about any of the drama that was going on. This book read like it was written by someone who thought how teenagers thought, but I give teens a lot more credit to be more intelligent than they are portrayed in this novel.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Gove Away

Michael Gove is the Secretary of Education in the UK, and is one a one-man mission to reform the British education system; his latest idea being to scrap all American Literature from the English Literature GCSE syllabus, including works like To Kill a Mockingbird, and Of Mice of Men. Gove’s reasoning is that he wants British students to study more works by English authors, preferably 19th Century, like Dickens.

Before we get into the main issues, I would like to point out that the furthest qualification I have in English Literature is a GCSE, much unlike Gove’s Oxford degree in the subject. However, as you may tell by this blog, I am an avid reader, and off my own back I have read Shakespeare to Austen to Orwell.

I didn’t study any American Literature during GCSE English GCSE, living out Gove’s dream. I read Romeo and Juliette, An Inspector Calls, Jane Eyre, and Lord of the Flies. I did not enjoy any of them, yet this is the proposed syllabus Gove is insisting upon. Meanwhile, I watched other classes study Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird and discuss how interesting they found the story, which resulted me in picking up the books myself.

To Kill a Mockingbird was an extremely important book for me personally. It was the first book I had read which really tackled race in a real world setting, and although it wasn’t a true story, I knew it reflected the attitudes of the time. I remember having to Google the significance and symbolism of the novel because I knew it had so much more to offer, and I really wish I had an opportunity to study it at school. Most importantly, I can’t think of a single British classic that deals with race in the same way. And that’s why a variety of books is important, as great as British Literature is, not everything is covered in the same way.

Michael Gove is out of touch with the current situation that the average student lives in. Not everyone is a privately-educated, Oxford-bound student. The vast majority of students need to be engaged with literature by letting teachers having a variety of choice to make the decision of what is the best book for their class to study. I knew people at school who didn’t even read the books at GCSE, getting grades off a mix of Sparknotes and highlighted quotes. Instead of talking about the 19th century, we need to be engaging teenagers with familiar themes that they can relate to, whether it be the inequality of the Deep South, or the financial turmoil faced in Steinback’s novel. A mad wife in the attic is the least of anyone’s concerns.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

1984 (play)

“Comrade Number” is printed on each ticket. The play runs for 101 minutes. So far, so symbolic.  But anyone who has read 1984 knows that there is more to the book than symbolism and plot. The novel’s intention was to make you question the world we live in, to disturb you far past the conclusion of the book; and in Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation, they have ticked all the boxes to satisfy both fan and newcomer of Orwell’s famous dystopian love story between Winston and Julia.

This co-production between Headlong, the Almeida, and the Nottingham Playhouse has opened its doors to the West End, and you are initially greeted by a shabby stage, with files stacked up the sides and a dimly lit corridor behind it. Then there is the elephant in the room. When I say elephant, I mean the giant screen hanging from above the stage, a reminder of the ever-present voyeuristic government, through which you become the voyeur yourself, gaining glimpses into what goes on behind closed doors. But in true Orwellian fashion, nothing is as it seems, and the extent of Chloe Lamford’s insane set design only becomes apparent at the climatic end. Sound and lighting throw you further into Orwell’s terrifying world, the soundtrack being jarring buzzes and helicopter noises, combined with blinding flashes and blurring smoke, keeping you fully alert and uneasy.

1984 is as shocking and brutal as the book it is based upon. The cleverness in the play lies in the way we are presented the story. Instead of creating a direct word-for-word adaptation, Icke and Macmillan have approached it with the appendixes of the book in mind. We are first shown a group of scholars studying Winston’s account from the future. Was he real? Is he reliable? What can we believe? Initially it was confusing, but after looking at the questions they were asking, it is a perfect example of the themes that run through book. Doublethink, witnessing one thing, but choosing whether to believe it or not. In turn we become one of them, witnessing the play but having to make our own choice whether to believe in its current significance. We live in the age of information, but how much of it can we believe? Has anything been doctored like Winston did to so many articles? Suddenly a play set in an alternate past becomes alarmingly timeless.

Cleverness aside, the play would have not had the same impact without its outstanding cast. Sam Crane made a nervous Winston, full of fear but never wavering in his beliefs. Hara Yannas portrayed a passionate Julia, rebelling in secret through sex, whilst Tim Dutton’s master-of-disguise O’Brien lulls you into a false sense of security.

1984, the novel, was a response to the Stalinist era that Orwell was witnessing, but 1984, the play, reminds us of the continuing relevance of the story. It will shock you, frighten you, and ultimately make you question the world you think you know.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, 5 May 2014

Revamp


So you may have noticed that this blog has been abandoned for a while. Four months to be exact. You may have also noticed that that it’s been given a makeover. Or you may not have noticed either of those things, but just keep with me.

When I first started this blog, over a year ago, it was a bit of a mess. It was a combination of disjointed science articles and book posts, and then evolved into a book and film blog. Don’t get me wrong, I want to keep it like that. To an extent.

The reason this blog has started to decay was because I had a moment of writers block. And I realised why. I love books, I do, and I love talking about them on my YouTube channel. I find it far easier to talk about books than I do with writing about them, not to say I don’t enjoy reading book blogs. I’ve seen a few book bloggers start YouTube channels and make “personal” videos, where they discuss things that matter to them aside from books, and I’m going to do the reverse here.

So this blog is getting a revamp look-wise and content-wise.

I called myself “Rachael Reviews All” for a few reasons. One I read and review all genres of things, that’s something I stand by. But also because I am interested in lots of things. I study science, I’ve studied art, I like to keep up with current affairs. And so I want to review the world we live in. Not literally, I’m not going to be posting a rating system of politicians (although that may be useful).

If you watch my channel, you would see I like to do discussions. So you can expect a lot more of that on here. But what else? Honestly, I don’t know. Science posts, social commentary, fashion, books and arts, anything. Although it does sound like I’m running my own newspaper…

In the sixteenth century there was a group of people called the Renaissance men, a group of individuals who were interested in a variety of subjects, the most famous of them being Leonardo di Vinci, who made advances in everything from science to art. I love the idea of living in a time where people aren’t segregated into categories, you’re either an artist or a mathematician. I want to write about everything that interests me, and I hope you’ll find bits of it interesting too.


I hope you stick around.