Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Finisher by David Baldacci

Date finished: 30 August 2014

Rating: 2*

I have extremely strong feelings about this book – not all of them good ones – so forgive me if this turns into a rant.

The golden inscription set under Baldacci’s name proclaiming him the Sunday Times Number One Bestseller gave me high hopes for this novel, as did the first page, printed on bright red paper with the following attributes to Baldacci:

“David Baldacci is the author of twenty-seven books for adults, each of which has become both a national and international bestseller. His astonishing career started with ‘Absolute Power’, which was adapted into a major motion picture starring Clint Eastwood. David’s books have sold more than 110 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than forty-five languages. Together with his wife, Michelle, David established the Wish You Well Foundation to promote family literacy. David and his family live in Virginia, USA.”

Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but under normal circumstances I would take these achievements as a warning that the novel should be the most incredibly badass, phenomenally written piece of perfection on the planet. Combined with the blurb on the back, which reads, “Enter a village imprisoned by its fear of the unknown. Where curiosity is discouraged, and no one has ever left – or wanted to. Until now,” I expected something as good as ‘The Hunger Games’, or even better. Not to mention that my parents read Baldacci’s novels almost religiously, so when they saw he’d written a teen fiction, they practically threw the book at me and told me I had to read it.

Given that I’ve rewarded ‘The Finisher’ with two stars rather than five, I’m sure you’ve guessed that it did not measure up to my high expectations.

If anything, the single red page of achievements should not have been viewed as a warning, or even an indication of how good the novel should have been, but rather as an excuse. “Yeah, this book may be the biggest failure on the planet… BUT LOOK AT ALL THESE OTHER PRETTY THINGS I’VE WON SO I MUST BE A GOOD AUTHOR AND YOU’RE WRONG IF YOU CRITICIZE ME.”

If the intention of the bright red page was to make me doubt my – now extremely low – opinion of the book, it failed.

I’ll start off with the things I found right with ‘The Finisher’. There are only two, really – one for each star I awarded the book. The first is that I cannot deny that Baldacci writes action-filled fight scenes very well. The action in ‘The Finisher’ might just be enough for Hollywood to churn out yet another movie with Baldacci’s name flashing for a second or two at the end, though perhaps this time there will be no Clint Eastwood to draw in a semblance of an audience. The second good thing I could find in the story was Baldacci’s decision to have a female protagonist, who single-handedly defeated just about every single male antagonist that she came into contact with. Although, now that I think of it, his feminist approach to the story might just have been a way to gain respect from female teen readers.

This brings me onto my next point. I hated the way that ‘The Finisher’ was written. The protagonist, Vega Jane, was a girl with whom I was totally unable to relate. As I have said over and over again in many of my other reviews, this can absolutely destroy a story’s chance at success. All realistic and likeable characters have something to which the reader can relate. Furthermore, the storyline itself was disjointed and random. The perfect comparison for the storyline is of a feverish dream, where everything may make sense to the person dreaming it (in this case Baldacci) but when he wakes up and tells it to others (perhaps the readers), they realize that the dream made no sense at all, and the images that may have seemed bright and exciting in the dream-world were actually just the jumbled confusion of a crazed mind.

To conclude, I was disappointed with Baldacci’s work. ‘The Finisher’ had so, so much potential to be a phenomenal read, but it was sloppy and annoying. Perhaps it is better suited to younger readers who are not so consumed by the necessity of beautiful writing, and desire action over quality.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres

Date Finished: 24 August 2014

Rating: 5*

Beautifully insightful, inspiring and deeply moving, ‘Birds Without Wings’ could very easily have been one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Although I’ve only read one other of Louis de Bernieres’s books –‘Notwithstanding’, which I thoroughly enjoyed at age thirteen, but on hindsight might have to reread it in order to fully understand its depth – I think that after reading ‘Birds Without Wings’, he’s quickly jumped to the top of my list of favourite authors. His writing is stunning, and I can’t seem to get nearly enough of it. He makes it seem so effortless to write a six hundred-page novel about the supposedly ordinary lives of insignificant people in an almost forgotten community.

De Bernieres weaves the lives of his characters expertly, inspiring in the reader a deep empathy for a community so incredibly lost in stupendous ignorance of the outside world that Greeks and Turks are able to live together peacefully, despite their religious and cultural differences. The careful crafting of the story and witty humour interspersed with gasp-worthy moments of scandal and excitement creates a flow of events that makes the novel unbearable to be put down. I have a feeling that the characters and their separate narratives will haunt my dreams for months, but I can’t find it in myself to shudder at the thought of this.

‘Birds Without Wings’ is phenomenal, and I highly, highly recommend it, but only to people who are able to set aside several days of doing nothing other than reading, and then a further day or two to recover and shed a couple of tears.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

My Biggest Pet Peeve: Grammatical Errors – PART TWO

I happened to be scrolling through my past blogs a couple of days ago, feeling nostalgic and also slightly embarrassed for whatever reason I cannot fathom (probably the massive fangirl sessions on aliens and vampires and goodness-knows-what-else that I foolishly posted on the internet and that will now haunt me forever and ever amen) when I happened upon my statistics page. No matter what I’m doing, it always seems to end up in me checking my stats. Foolish – I know. Vain… probably. I can’t help it. A small part of me likes to know that people dare to come to this blog when they’re procrastinating, and it makes me feel the slightest twinge of joy.

Okay, maybe it makes me feel a lot of joy.

Anyway, it turns out that after over a year, my Grammatical Errors blog is still going strong. In fact, of all my blogs and reviews, it has the second most page views (after ‘My Night(mare) In Hospital'… evidently my pain is deeply amusing to you people… not that I’m complaining). That’s pretty intense. So I decided to do another one.

Now, it’s fairly well known news that I recently joined Facebook (my personal account – still working on the blog page). Don’t get me wrong; I don’t regret it all the time. Okay, in all honesty, I regret it about 99% of the time. Facebook is only useful in keeping up with old or faraway friends; all it does apart from that is provide me with a cheap, unsatisfactory form of procrastination.

Of course (and I’m sure you saw this coming) it also makes me gag – quite often – at the disgusting misuse of the English language that people dare to put on their timelines. I’m not an English teacher, nor am I a lecturer in the English language, but I am passing eleventh grade English, and I still know more grammar than about forty-percent of people using Facebook. Isn’t that sad? It makes me sad.

I will not be posting pictures of the posts I’ve seen in my own feed that abuse the laws of language, because that would be downright stupid. The entire point of social media is to be able to critique people gently without directly assaulting them, is it not? (I want to laugh at the irony in that statement… I really do.) So I’ll use general pictures that I’ve gathered from the Internet to illustrate my points.

I hope you’ll make use of these rules when next updating your Facebook status. Tag me and I’ll applaud you.

Rule #1: Punctuation is everything

There are these things that everybody learns about in their first year of school… They’re called “sentences”. I know that it’s a difficult concept for some people to grasp, but when you’ve finished making a point, put a full stop. It’s that dot on your keyboard below “L” and next to this thing: “?”. No, it’s not a piece of dirt... or a cookie crumb.

Sometimes you can ramble off a long sentence to create a specific effect (NOT “affect”: effect is the noun, and affect is the verb), but don’t just string a whole lot of random things together and call it a sentence. That’s disgusting. It’s like taking a whole lot of different songs and playing them all at once.

Rule #2: … But never too much punctuation!

Okay… It’s alright, Amy. Breathe, breathe… This is one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen on Facebook, and surprisingly it seems to generate and multiply in the adult world. Come on, people, you’ve passed high school already! But just a refresher:

Ellipses (singular: ellipsis) are those dotty thingies that you use to pause for dramatic effect. You know the ones: “” as in “She threw off the long white cloth to reveal… a wardrobe.” Please – PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE – do not use them in a trail like this: “………………….” No. Just… no. We are not Hansel and Gretel leaving crumbs to find our way back to the previous word. We are connoisseurs of the English language. We do not need petty trails to find our way around sentences.

Exclamation points look like this: “!”. We use them when we get excited about certain things, such as: “Holy meatballs, that man’s stealing my car!” Only under very strict and appropriate circumstances do we use two exclamation points. Even then, it is frowned upon. We do not ever use more than two, unless you are a bestselling author – then you can do what you want.

Hint: when you use a string of ellipses or exclamation points, it immediately triggers this thing that is found in some people’s heads called “intelligence” and they automatically get annoyed, or just ignore what you were saying completely. Either way, your point will never get across in all its glory, no matter how good it was in the first place.

Rule #3: Your and you’re. There, their and they’re.

Well… I guess he tried.

This honestly makes me cry when I’m lying awake at two in the morning thinking of all the ways humanity has disappointed me. It is such a simple rule. Write it on your mirror and repeat it every day until you get it right.

I even went over this in my first Grammatical Errors blog, but let’s recap, shall we?

Your: possessive pronoun. “Your life has been wasted.”
You’re: contraction of “you are”. “You’re annoying.”
There: an adverb showing place. “She is over there.”
Their: possessive pronoun. “Their stupidity is irksome.”
They’re: contraction of “they are”. “They’re failing school.”

Now, let’s put all of it into a sentence! (Remember, that thing we discussed earlier?)

You’re wasting your life on their grammatical errors because there is no hope; they’re doomed to illiteracy.

I hope this was somewhat helpful.

Another tip: If you realize your mistake but a Grammar Nazi has already corrected you, claim that it’s “poetic license”. I promise it works like a charm.

If you don’t realize your mistake and a Grammar Nazi corrects you, please go back to primary school. Scratch that – D.M. me on my blog’s new Twitter account (@Blog_ATA) and I will teach you all that I know. If your problem is too advanced for me, I will direct you to an English teacher, or a Grammar Nazi.

Together, we can make this world a grammatically safer place to live.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Visa Catastrophe

In my GYLC blog, I mentioned an incident that I have dubbed ‘The Visa Catastrophe’ and promised that I would post a full blog on it soon.

The time has come, young ones.

Warning: The following story is an entirely true account of the events of Friday, 20 June 2014. Content may be stress-inducing to those who are about to travel/are currently travelling. Stay safe.

My parents are probably going to hate me even more for posting this, and the people who know us personally may, too, because I swear my mother has told the account in excruciating detail to every single person we know. Multiple times.


The Victim's Account:

It is the morning of Friday, 20 June 2014, and a teeny tiny piece of poo hits the proverbial fan in my house when I wake up in a frenzy, having realized that my American visa should and would still be in my old passport. It is the day before I am scheduled to leave for GYLC, and I have planned everything down to the last band aid I might need if I happen to get mauled by a rabid squirrel (you never know). I have no idea where my old passport is, but this is largely due to the fact that my parents (ironically) insist on keeping all of our passports in case we lose them. Ha. That turned out well.

Fifteen minutes until I have to leave for school, and we still haven’t found it. I am close to tears, the house is a mess, my dad is throwing a fit, and my mom decides to come in with the only piece of calm advice that I foolishly trust and allow to subdue me by a fraction.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. It must be somewhere, because I checked your visa when you asked me to.”

So I am hauled off to school, still slightly freaked out and tearful and ready to climb back into bed. It would be just so fitting that I have an English unprepared speech and a Maths test scheduled for that Friday, and the frame of mind I am in doesn’t exactly help me with mentally preparing for either of those very well.

Fast forward to 10:00. At this point, a slightly larger piece of poo hits the proverbial fan. It’s the end of tea break and I’m about to walk into my Maths test when I see my dad’s car in the parking lot. Not good, for two reasons. Firstly: my dad never comes to our school during the day. Ever. I think it has something to do with him being freaked out by education in general. Secondly: on the odd occasion that my dad did decide to come to my school in the middle of the day, it would probably be because I was in trouble. Of course, the second option is extremely unlikely, seeing as I pretty much have a the reputation of a nun at school, but it still didn’t fail to cross my mind that maybe I’d been expelled for something. I don’t even know what I’d be expelled for. Like I said before: nun status.

Anyway, my dad found me right before I went into my test, and decided that just then was the perfect time to tell me that they’d found my visa, but it had expired four years ago. Four years.

Flashback to that morning: “It must be somewhere, because I checked your visa when you asked me to.”

Flashback to December: “Mom, please check that my visa will still be valid.”

Flashback to January: “Mom, you said my visa’s valid, right?”

Flashback to February: “Amy, for crying out loud, I said I checked your visa! Stop being paranoid!”

Flashback to March: “Amy, I swear if you ask me if I checked your visa one more time I’ll send you to an orphanage.”

Flashback to April: “Amy, I’m going to send your visa through the shredder if you ask me to check it one more time.”

Flashback to May: “Amy, I’m sending you to a psychologist if you don’t stop being so paranoid. I said I checked your visa.”

*sound of a nuclear explosion in my head*

*cue the waterworks*

Turns out that my mom actually just checked her own visa instead of mine, and assumed mine would also be valid until the end of 2015… Not so much.

(I got out of my unprepared speech, for the record, because I was in ‘an unfit state of mind’. Shoutout to my spokesperson. You know who you are.)

Fast forward to 14:30. Elephant poo gets chucked at the proverbial fan continually for about forty-eight hours straight. I get home, climb out the car, and pretty much don’t stop crying until Monday morning.

A Happy Ending:

For the whole of Friday, my parents were on the phone to the American Embassy trying to get me an emergency appointment for an emergency visa. Eventually, my dad got hold of what he assumes was actually the C.I.A. and begged them to get me an appointment. I received one for Monday morning at 7:30.

The appointment was literally fifteen minutes. I walked in at like 7:10, went through a bizarre security check, got my name called at 7:30 and talked to a really nice woman for approximately three minutes. She told me to collect my visa that afternoon. I hopped on a plane that evening, and made it to GYLC by lunchtime on Tuesday.

Lessons I learned from this experience:
  1. 1.     Always check your own visa.
  2. 2.     Paranoia is always a good thing.
  3. 3.     Crying gets you everywhere in life.
  4. 4.     Don’t try and take an mp3 player into the American Embassy. They will assume it’s a bomb.

Plus side to the Visa Catastrophe: If I want to run away, I can go to America first and it will take my parents months to be able to follow me because I am now the only person in my entire family with a valid American Visa until 2024. Also, given my family’s apparent unpreparedness for even the most planned-for situations, it will take them years to be able to catch up with me anyway.

(Note: Please don’t think I hate my parents. We’re on good terms now, especially seeing as they righted everything that went wrong. They’ve also done a lot of sucking up since… Also, I’m now semi-officially the new leader of our house. And they’re paying for my new band merchandise because they feel guilty. It’s been a great life since I got back.)