Top 5 Books I Read In 2015

10 08 2016

The Ask And The Answer (Patrick Ness - 2009)

2014 was a good year for reading, at least for me, and in total I read 25 books. In 2015 I did not read as many, but it was not a bad year for reading neither. Yes there were some books that I read and just did not get, while many others I consider amongst some of the best books I have read in my reading life. I know it’s a bit late in the year to be doing Top 5 of the previous year posts, but I really have been meaning to get round to this one. Yes, much like I did last year, this is the time for the books I read last year to shine. I did read quite a few books as it happened, but quite a few I thought were not so good and really did put a downer on my reading time, the one standing out more than most being The Young Elites by Marie Lu. It was a good idea and a really well devised, interesting and enjoyable setting, but for the most part I simply did not understand it all that well, nor enjoy it all that much.

The Young Elites (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers - 2014)

Unlike last year, this year’s selection of books are not entirely dominated by two people called Michael, although one of them does return to this year’s list (see number 4). This year however one author dominates with two entries: as for a good period of time last year I read 4 Patrick Ness novels of which my favourite 2 are in this list. The main part of that reading was in the form of his Chaos Walking Trilogy. While I did enjoy all the books in that series, only one gets a part here, this is because I felt that I had read a few things better than The Ask and the Answer, and that while I really did enjoy The Knife of Never Letting Go, as I had read a good part of the beginning in late 2014, I thought I would allow another book the place of Number 5 in this list. All things considered though, I had a really good reading year last year, and am enjoying another fun-filled one this year having already read some other books which right now I am certain will get featured in next year’s list too, hopefully though that one won’t be so late in the year. Anyway, hope you enjoy this retrospective look at the Top 5 Books I read in 2015.

Darkmouth (Harper Collins - 2015)

5. Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty – This one I just found staring at me in 2 branches of Waterstones. In the end I did buy it along with The Enemy (see number 3). Funny thing is, is that apparently when my Dad was in town that same day; he almost bought a copy of it too. Darkmouth as a book is quite an interesting idea, as it revolves around a town called Darkmouth, where every now and then a portal opens up releasing a legendary creature into the town to cause havoc. Keeping these ‘Legends’ in check is a young boy in training to become a legend hunter from his dad who is something of a legendary legend hunter. In the meantime the boy has got other worries; he actually wants to be a vet not a Legend Hunter, he still has homework to do, and there is this mysterious new girl in town that is strangely attracted to him. It’s a very nice well thought out book that is also very lengthy, but also very easy. It does not keep you held down with difficult mumbo-jumbo nor does it bore you with the details, there is actually something always happening from one chapter to the next and it does well to keep you involved. It’s also very fun and has its own style of humour which goes from laugh out loud moments to a quirky giggle; fun from start to finish, but also very tense at times.

Eve & Adam (Egmont - 2012)

4. Eve & Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate – Yes, Michael Grant is back, however I can’t help but feel that this book is more Applegate than Grant. A young girl has got herself into a real horrid accident, and is taken to the private hospital run by her multi-millionaire Mum, who runs a giant corporation in the same building. While she is recuperating, the girl tries out a brand new piece of software, one that will allow her to create her ultimate boyfriend, but it’s all just a game…right? Eve and Adam is a nice punchy but easy read that is also laced with ideas including romance, love to the misuse of genetics and creation. Each chapter centres around a certain character, of which there are mainly two, but every now and then another is introduced. It has a strange pace as it goes from an accident, to recovery, to the software, to an ex-boyfriend, to a new being, to a giant conspiracy to the big finale. It’s relatively a simpler read in comparison to the Gone books and is a nice thing to read when you have a spare minute; for instance I read it after getting my new bed. I really enjoyed it, it was just really interesting and was less about action, more an intelligent read to get you thinking and really see where things can lead, especially when several spanners are thrown into the mix, I also thought it was very similar in ideas to Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

The Enemy (Penguin - 2009)

3. The Enemy by Charlie Higson – Since reading the Gone books; I have found it progressively difficult to find a book that just grabbed me from the first page and one that I did not want to stop reading. Then I read The Enemy, and I was hooked from start to finish. Set in London, a group of kids survive on the edge inside a branch of Waitrose, while the world’s adults have all turned into Zombies. It’s a very simple premise, but the level of detail is excellent, because as soon as it begins, kids start dying, and they don’t stop. The level of violence is unprecedented, and the rivalry between the kid gangs of London and those whose stories are also explored tell a tale of a once great city crumbling in on itself, as Kids have to grow up, while the grownups go one a killing spree in their search for food. It’s very well detailed and goes into locations all over the Capital, but most of all, it tells a genuinely realistic story of the fight for survival, and how resourceful kids can be when given the chance to prove it, but also show what lengths they will have to go to in order to survive, even if it means killing those that they once loved.

Monsters Of Men (Patrick Ness - 2010)

2. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness – The Chaos Walking trilogy began with a young boy living in a world where everyone could hear each other’s thoughts, who then stumbles upon a spot where he can’t hear anything. As the first two books developed, they told the story of a world that lied to the boy, and who has to conform to a new world order in order to survive. As Monsters of Men starts though, the young boy named Todd is standing in the middle of a town on the brink of war from not one but 3 sides, as an old native species to the planet has returned from extinction. Monsters of Men is a power house of a read, it goes into great lengths the horrors of war, what people will do to achieve victory and the importance of attaining Peace sooner rather than later. It is a pretty big book, but in comparison to the previous two instalments (which were both un-put-down-able), this one is one you just can’t stop reading, other than to do the things you need to do to stay alive so you can finish it. It comes with twists and turns and a whole load of action, while also following on from lessons learned, and from the point of views from not one but 3 people inside the conflict. There are also a lot of surprises and returns, ones that will grip you and began from the first book. Overall though the book goes into a real truth: a great horror not just set in a fictional world, but one existent in ours; and this is just a taster of that.

A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd - 2011)

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Jim Kay and Siobhan Dowd – I spotted this one in Waterstones when reading Chaos Walking but did not take much notice; until I realised that a film (due for release in October) was being made of it, so I gave it another look, and asked for the book for Christmas. I read it quite quickly, because for one it was quite a short read, and two, because I couldn’t get enough of it. From day one, I read a few chapters but then needed to go to bed, the same for day 2, and day 3 when I finished it, after which I had a good long and emotional cry. The story revolves around young boy Connor whose Mum gets Cancer. At school, Connor is treated as like he was invisible, because everybody knows and does not understand, but he is made the target of a group of bullies. While all this is going on however, Connor is visited by a tree monster who tells him stories, and in return, the Monster wants The Truth. It is a very chilling book with lots of fiendishly chilling artwork on every page; however the books key characteristic is how real it is: Connor not having much of a father because he left and the grandma who does not get on well with him. But the real battlefield is the playground, as day-to-day it’s a matter of walking through school invisible to everyone, keeping secretive from supposed friends and having to keep his head low from the bullies. In the meantime, The Monster tells some really chilling stories which in turn bring out the worst in Connor, who himself is holding in a dark secret, one that he fears more than anything else. The book is also very emotional and really strikes a chord with your emotional strings, one that is so powerful, that from simply reading this book I felt like I was there, and was experiencing the emotional turmoil that Connor goes through, especially the anger at old friends and the emotion of the key plot line. In turn this book had another effect on me, as this was the first time a book has ever made me physically cry, to which I did nearly before the book ended, to at least half an hour afterwards. It’s not just a brilliant read, but also a very powerful book, one whose experience will remain with you forever.

GENEPOOL





What Book To Read Next?

22 04 2015

The Young Elites (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers - 2014)

When you are reading a book and begin to see the end in sight (which mainly involves counting how many pages there are left) one question instantly pops into your head that requires an answer, and soon. What book am I going to read next? It’s a big question for a big reader and unless you get a new book soon, you could find yourself in a spot where you may end up not reading at all. Now if it’s the case that you are reading a book in a series, and that you are enjoying it well enough to keep reading it, then you are pretty much sorted, until the series ends and have to go out and find either a new book or a new series to read. What book to read next is a question that has been plaguing me recently, as it’s the case that I have nearly finished a book, and need a new one to begin reading, and soon. Recently I have been getting back into reading at bed time again thanks to the recent acquisition of a new bed. Reading at bed time is actually quite enjoyable and something I have enjoyed in the past, such as when I read The Hunger Games. More recently though I have been reading Eve & Adam by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant.

Eve & Adam (Egmont - 2012)

Eve & Adam has been a lot of fun to read and I consider it one of the best books I have read this year so far (along with A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness). But with just a few chapters left to read, I needed to start thinking about which book I was going to try next. Now while I am currently reading Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men, that has still some time to go until I have completed that, so I don’t need to worry about what after that just yet. Luckily though, I do visit Waterstones a lot and keep an eye out for books. Also, any books I have spotted either online, personal research or seen in Waterstone’s  I catalogue onto my wish list on Goodreads and put them in some sort of order as to which I most want to read next. This I find useful more as a guide though of things to look out for, especially as I know some of the titles in the list off by heart, usually the ones quite near the top. This however presents the issue of having to actually choose which one to read. My excitement for one book at a time (such as Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson) might not much be the case later on and I really need find a real way to choose one.

Steelheart (Orion Books - 2013)

Sometimes though it can be the case that my choosing of a book may depend on the books word formatting. I can find it a real struggle sometimes to read a book that has short words and not a lot of spacing, which can lead to my eyes hurting/straining. A lot of the books I read I do find give me plenty of this, and when I buy a book I do like to have a look at it to see how the words are spaced out. Sometimes I am able to read shorter text but as a result can find it harder to really get into it. This is one of the reasons that Michael Crichton’s Micro really appealed to me when I saw it on shelves in Waterstone’s. Another thing on my mind when choosing which book to read next includes considering my collection of as yet unread books. The collection is mostly made up of books I really wanted to read but did not get round to reading them as planned. The Spook’s Secret by Joseph Delaney was a case of me buying it at the same time as The Spook’s Curse, but having had Michael Grant’s GONE on my shelf for many months, I decided to give it a go, and then did not get round to reading Secret. Other books like Battle Royale by Koushun Takami are ones that I have yet to get round to reading, although I am considering reading Battle Royale after I have read Monsters of Men.

Battle Royale (VIZ Media, LLC - 2009)

As to what to the decision of choosing what my next bed time read would be however, I have had my eyes on a few things and have chosen what to read next. Roughly this time last week I was chasing up a book by Jeremy Robinson called Project Nemesis. A book which involves Giant Monsters or Kaiju trashing a city, the sort of thing I like, especially with my high interest in Godzilla films. I had once heard about the book many months ago but did not think much about it. I decide to chase it up and after having a glance at it and the other books in the series, I really wanted to read them, so when I was in Waterstone’s yesterday I asked if they had a copy of it in. They didn’t. It turned out that the book may not have been released in the UK (either yet or at all) and while I could order one, due to it not being released in the UK, it would be pricey. So with my hopes of reading it so far dashed, I had to have a think.

Project Nemesis (Smashwords Edition - 2012)

Another book I considered reading recently is a book called The Deadly 7 by Garth Jennings, a story about a group of monsters, each one representing one of the Seven Deadly Sins make friends with a boy. From the books cover it looks rather fun, however, it is not the book I asked about in Waterstone’s.

The Deadly 7 (Macmillan Children's Books - 2015)

The book I asked about was one I voted for in the Goodreads awards; The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Yes, I have not read it, but have voted for it, the reason was due to  both its cover and premise. It came to mind just as I stepped into the shop, and as it was a passing thought, I decided to ask about it. I checked the book cover and it was the one, and so it is now on order for me. So The Young Elites is to be my next bed time reading and I am really excited to read it. It’s also the first in a series, so that might cover me for a while, even though the third one may be a year or so before it is released, however, this could lead to other things. Because I did not remember the author’s name when I asked about The Young Elites, I did not realise that she had also written another book (Prodigy) in my goodreads wish list, one that’s been there for about year now (I think). More strangely though; it’s the second book in a series: The Legend series, of which I don’t know much about.

Prodigy (Putnam Juvenile - 2013)

GENEPOOL





The Ronin, The Shogun And The Outcast – 47 Ronin

8 01 2014

47 Ronin (2013 - Universal Pictures)

I love Japanese culture as you can probably tell from my extensive knowledge particularly in their film industry as well as Video Games. I love the setting of it all, the beauty in their gardens as well as the historical culture particularly that of the Samurai. But for all this interest, the tale of the 47 Ronin is one I don’t know that much about. The tale of the Forty-Seven Ronin is one of the most famous in the country’s history:

“Described by Japanese historians as a ‘National Legend’, the revenge of the 47 Ronin took place in Japan and is the ultimate expression of the samurai code of honour, Bushido. The story began on April 21st 1701, when Lord Asano Naganori, the Daimyo of the Ako Domain was forced to commit ritual suicide for attacking Kira Yoshinaka in Edo Castle, a rude and arrogant Master of Ceremony under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The loyal 47 Ronin took over a year to planned their raid on Kira’s mansion. On a snowy December night, they strike on Kira’s home, taking everyone by surprise.  After killing Kira, they went to their Master’s Grave, and turned themselves in to the authorities. For committing such a vendetta, the 47 Ronin were requested by the Shogun to commit seppuku, ritual self-disembowelment. During the Meiji era, the rapid modernization of Japan forces people to return to their cultural roots and values, giving tremendous popularity of the 47 Ronin’s tale.” – 47 Ronins.com

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While waiting for the film to come out though, I have heard almost nothing but bad press about it. While there was initial excitement about another film on such a famous and popular story, after other people looked into the new film, their initial thoughts were that of disappointment. I of course did not understand as I had not any full understanding of the original legend.

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The film opens with a small tale of a child being discovered with marks upon his head. A local lord takes pity on him while everyone else in his clan believe him to be a demon. The boy strikes a friendship with the local lord’s daughter Mika (Kō Shibasaki) and waits for the day that he can repay them both. Many years later, after being trained in samurai culture but still living as an outcast, the Halfling (as he is called) boy named Kai (Keanu Reeves) saves the life of one of the villagers by taking down a giant beast that was being hunted. Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) uses the creature as an offering for the Shogun who makes a visit later that evening. When the Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) arrives, Kai spots a woman in the crowd he believes to be a witch. He goes to Lord Asano’s head samurai Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) to tell him this, but Oishi does not take interest believing that Kai must be a demon if he can spot a witch.

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The following day a tournament is held in the honour of the shogun. The Shogun’s master of ceremonies, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) is in attendance and presents his fighter, a giant man all clad in steel to fight Lord Asano’s fighter, who has been bewitched. Kai secretly takes the fighters place until he is discovered. He is forced into taking a beating. That night Lord Kira tells his witch servant Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi) to possess Lord Asano, this works and Lord Asano, blind to his daughter’s distress attacks a defenceless Lord Kira. Kira survives but is forced by the Shogun to commit Seppuku. His now Master less Samurai become Ronin and are forced to depart from the land and Kai is sold into Slavery. Kira is made head of the land and Mika is forced to marry him in one years’ time. Oishi meanwhile is forced into a pit by Kira.

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One year passes and Oishi is finally released from the pit. He heads home and makes plans to get his revenge on Kira. He tells his son Chikara (Jin Akanishi) to go and amass his former warriors and meet him by a river in a few days’ time. Oishi meanwhile travels to a Dutch port to get Kai back. Kai shows great skill in fighting many strange beasts at the pirate port. Oishi enters a fight with him and tells him of what is about to happen. Oishi and Kai manage to escape the port and meet up with the other Ronin. The group split up, Chikara goes to find information from the drunken guards near Kira’s palace. A few others head off to find more men while Oishi and Kai go to get more swords. Their search leads them to going to find the Tengu, a mystical group who hides in the forest, the ones who trained Kai and raised him. Kai and Oishi go in the temple and Oishi’s will is tested as Kai confronts the head of the order and takes his sword. As a reward, his men get the swords they need.

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At Kira’s palace, Mika is being prepared for her marriage but gets repeatedly tested by Mizuki and Kira. Kira heads off to a temple to pray as the Ronin plan their attack on Kira. They travel to Kira’s encampment and launch a surprise attack. It proves to be a trick though as Kira is Mizuki in disguise. Thinking that the Ronin are now dead, Kira goes ahead with his wedding. The Ronin manage to survive the encounter but with some loses. The Ronin decide to use their deaths as a surprise and plan a new attack on Kira’s castle. At the cover on nightfall, the Ronin secretly enter the castle and are mostly successful in taking out the perimeter guards, until one of them manages to get a stray shot off. The palace falls into battle. Oishi’s men are successful in taking out the Kira’s fighter and Oishi engages Kira. Kai rescues Mika and manages to kill Mizuki. Oishi meanwhile beheads Kira. The Ronin travel back to their home and surrender to The Shogun. The shogun says though that because they did what any Samurai would do despite disobeying him that they may die with honour by committing Seppuku. They begin the ritual but the Shogun allows Chikara to live and become the new lord of the region. Kai meanwhile says that he will wait in the afterlife for Mika.

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While the film may not live up to the original legend, it is my understanding from research that I have done that almost no film on the legend lives up to the original story. What is noticeable though is that the film does follow the original story with elements of fantasy included. The film is therefore adding elements to make the story interesting to other audiences. In my opinion, the only chance of making a thorough adaptation true to the original story, the film would have to be made in Japan. Several have, but in order to please the rest of the world, it would need more of an international release. From a western point of view though, the film is made alongside the original tale but with elements that would appeal to those who request more than just reality, and due to the film’s ancient, mythical setting, there is some allowance at least for the western audience for some elements of mythological beasts.

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In terms of the film itself, so not much look upon the legend itself, I find myself comparing it in some respects to films like 13 Assassins and Zulu. Films on an epic scale such as these, it is easy to see the detail that has been put into those films compared to this where it appears to be almost minimal. The characters for instance in traditional Japanese epic’s such as Seven Samurai and 13 Assassins have a great amount of detail into each and every character in the main troupe. Now while of course it would take forever to do the same with the whole company of the 47 Ronin, but as only a few of them appear to have any character at all, it’s a shame we can’t see more of them, not even from the 12 main men in the company. If you were to take a look at this films detail on par with Zulu you can see that Zulu manages to keep large amounts of detail in its characters, though many but allows room for it.

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Though while it is very minimal on its characters, 47 Ronin’s main characters are a nice mix. But I do think that this film could have been improved greatly if it was a Japanese Language speaking film as it would look more authentic than them all speaking English, which I think is a definite weakness. Keanu reeves character holds a pivotal point but I think his character is only there to justify the western nature of the film. He is not the only one though as I think that the tattooed guy in the Dutch port, who appears in all the posters, only appears very briefly and I was expecting him to suddenly turn up, but he didn’t.

Keanu Reeves and Tattoo Man

The main draw in the film’s cast though are in the form of Lord Kira and Oishi. Oishi is a respectable samurai and a respectable samurai who holds up the codes of the samurai as displayed in the film with great authenticity despite not going that much into detail with it. He is very enjoyable throughout the film and you feel a level of safety around him. in many respects, Oishi is the real main focus of the plot, over Keanu Reeves’s Character. Lord Kira though plays the part of a rotter really well. His part is that of a devious and deceitful villain who wants nothing more than power and he is much of a schemer when he does this. This part is excellently played by Tadanobu Asano. Alongside him you also have the brilliant Rinko Kikuchi as the witch Mizuki. As a character she is as rotten as Kira, but this is not a bad thing as that is their part, they are the kind of character whose end you very much look forward too, as is their part.

Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi

The film’s special effects are well done and work well in tandem bringing the creatures in the film to life. Such other effects are used mostly for the creatures but also for the effects that could not be done by real life. It shows great respect to more recent Japanese film makers, particularly Takeshi Miike who only uses CGI if it is humanly impossible, such as can be seen in 13 Assassins.

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While maybe not holding up to the original legend completely, 47 Ronin is actually a very enjoyable film. While the story is scattered and somewhat quick to go from point A to point G, it is a story that does have a level of detail in showing the ancient culture if only a tiny bit. As a fantasy film though, I think it rivals many others but as it is trying to go in tandem to an original legend, it suffers as a result. If it were its own story it could have been very different, but don’t just write it off as a generic fantasy film as this film does more than those. Though in my opinion if you want to see a film that shows more of a foreign culture, I would highly recommend you see 13 Assassins or Seven Samurai instead.

GENEPOOL








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