Lauren & Lu review A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Title: A Wrinkle In Time
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Published: 1962
Genre:
YA, science fiction
Source: Own copy
Plot summary
Fourteen-year old Meg Murry’s father disappeared while doing some experimental research on time travel. No one seems to know how to find him, until Meg’s younger brother, Charles Wallace – a bizarrely intelligent, articulate 5-year old – meets three enchanting, witch-like women known as Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. Mrs Whatsit visits the Murry family one dark and stormy night, and seems to know something about the work Mr Murry was doing when he disappeared. On their way to visit the three strange women the next day, Meg and Charles Wallace meet Calvin O’Keefe, a friendly neighbourhood boy who has also caught the attention of the Mrs W’s. The women know what has happened to Mr Murry and they take Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin on a a rescue journey through space and time, to new worlds both beautiful and evil. But the Mrs W’s can only guide the children – it’s up to them to find the courage to go forth alone, save Mr Murry and return home.


Please note: the following discussion contains multiple spoilers! 

General Impressions
Lauren: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Seriously?! That’s the first line? A snippet from an older first line now considered so cliche there’s an awardnamed after the man who originally wrote it, and it’s given to the people who can think up the most dreadful first lines. It’s a wonderfully amusing competition in crap writing, but sadly this YA novel is quite unintentionally and unamusingly crap. Of course, it was written 50 years ago and I’m guessing (hoping) that the ‘dark and stormy night’ thing is some kind of joke or parody, but I don’t know what it is, so my very first impression was a bad one and nothing in the novel managed to change my mind. The characters are flat, silly or extremely annoying. The plot felt rushed, childish, and was generally boring. I can understand why it’s considered a YA classic, as it has many wonderful themes/messages for tweens and teens, but for me it failed in pretty much every other way. When I read this for my bookclub’s group read I realised I’d already read it as a child, but all I remembered was the description of the character Calvin O’Keefe and that it was about a weird journey. Nothing else was even remotely familiar, and now I’m not surprised that I found it so utterly forgettable.

Lu: What was going on? Is it just me or was it very confusing? Jumping from one thing to another? I guess it’s supposed to be like that. That the author was trying something new or trying to be different. But it didn’t work for me.

Meg was annoying and bratty, although that was understandable since she had to rescue her father while traveling with her little brother who, in my opinion, is a 40-year old. And with Calvin the heartthrob… shoot me now.

Ah yes, then the three witches. Can I call them witches? Who knows – I lost interest in them the moment they arrived. What was wrong with this book? It’s supposed to be a children’s book? Is this a joke? Did I miss it?

I felt the author was forcing details and events into places where they shouldn’t be. I honestly can’t name one thing I liked about this novel. It is easily the most overrated book I have ever read. I wanted to gouge my eyes out by the end.

Oh, where to begin? How about listing the things we didn’t like and go from there?
Lauren: Charles Wallace, implausible character behaviour, aliens who speak English, the religious message, the super-cheesy ending where Meg saves Charles Wallace with love.

Lu: Very confusing and jumbled up – things just happen randomly. Meg irritating, Charles acting like a 40-year-old. How can this be a children’s book? Author forcing details and events. Contrived escapes and solutions every time.

General Plot:
Lu: What did you think of the plot? I thought the author was trying to be smart and pushed theories and scenes down your throat just so she could get to the end result.

Lauren: I liked the theories about time, but I felt that the plot as a whole was random, rushed and full of implausibilities. I think children tend to be more tolerant of flaws like that or just don’t notice them when they’re reading, but as an adult it annoys me. Why was Mr Murry sent on that mission when the first guy disappeared? Why isn’t Mrs. Murry helping to search for him, when she’s also a physicist and was working on the same research? Why is Calvin so comfortable around a family he met a few hours ago under rather strange circumstances? What prompts him to be so overprotective of Meg? What’s the deal with Charles Wallace?

Lu: You ask all the same questions I want to know! There is a sequel right? Maybe that answers some of it, although I highly doubt it.

Lauren: I’m told you learn more about Charles Wallace and Calvin in later books (there are plenty). Not that I’m going to read anymore.

Lu: Yea I think this was the first and last one for me thanks.

Charles Wallace
Lauren: One of the most annoying characters I’ve come across in a while. A 5-year old who is ‘gifted’ with the ability to act just like a pretentious old git.

Lu: I know! The author attempts to mask the fact that he is rude and obnoxious by saying he is “gifted”. A few things these children said to their mother and the witches would be a slap-able offence if they were real!

Lauren: I don’t think I was really that bothered by him being rude, per se, but rather that he’s such an implausible character. Ok fine, he’s gifted, but how is it that he doesn’t really have any of the personality traits of a 5-year-old? I felt that L’Engle should have combined his intelligence and prescience with child-like traits.

Lu: I agree that would have made him more plausible!

Meg
Lu: Meg was the most annoying character for me. She just complained from start to finish! She came across bratty and was met with from groans from my side.

Lauren: I didn’t like her much either, but I have to give the author some credit for writing a character like Meg. She’s described as unattractive and temperamental, prone to getting into fights. She’s very smart, but thanks to the way her father has taught her, her methods are unorthodox and she gets in trouble for not doing things the way her teachers tell her to. All this serves to make her feel like an outsider. What I like about this is that it’s unusual to see this many unfavourable traits in a YA character (at least from what I’ve read) and yet there must be plenty of kids out there who are similar to Meg and feel as much of an outsider as she does. So kudos to L’Engle for writing an unlikeable girl as the protagonist.

Lu: I see what you are saying – she is definitely a fresh YA character for me. But I still couldn’t’ like her.

A Wrinkle in Time as YA
Lauren:  So you don’t think this make a good or appropriate book for children? Why not?

Lu: Hell no! For one the children in this book are anything but exemplary. Also the books makes no sense. There are no lessons, unless you count the ‘love conquerors all’ bit, which is unrealistic.

Lauren: Hehe, I can’t believe I’m the one who is going to defend a YA novel against your criticism but… I felt that the novel’s only redeeming factor was that it had some great messages/themes for children. Firstly, there’s Meg. As I mentioned she’s unlikeable and feels like an outsider, but her parents and the Mrs W’s encourage her to accept the fact that she’s different and play to her strengths instead of just assimilating, as most children would probably be pressurised to do.

Lu: You say this, but would children understand? You would have to explain the deeper themes to children as you read the book to them.

Lauren: Well this is YA rather than children’s fiction, so kids would be reading it on their own and are old enough to get it. Also, I don’t think the themes necessarily have to be explained. For example, kids would just see this character who they’re told is very different from others and seen as unattractive, and yet she’s the heroine of the story and no one’s trying to make her prettier or more obedient. The message is in the example.

You said that none of the children are exemplary, but even though I found Meg and Charles Wallace irritating, while Calvin is kind of weird, it’s good that they’re flawed and get whiny and scared, as real children (and adults) do.

Lu: Children act and do things from example, and I don’t think these children’s actions and words should be read by other children. As prim and proper as that may sound.

Lauren: Hahaha, you make it sound as if they’re shooting heroin! What’s so bad about the way they act, other than being whiny?

I don’t think any child could really imitate Charles Wallace, and 5-year-olds aren’t going to be reading this anyway. Ok, so Meg is whiny, but she does what she has to.

Calvin’s actually a little creepy sometimes – he makes comments that seem inappropriate when he’s only known the Murry kids for a few hours, and he’s strangely overprotective of Meg. But at least he’s caring and willing to go on this journey to help save Mr Murry. It seems implausible, but Calvin himself is a good kid. He’s popular, but not full of himself.

Lu: I just can’t help it. This book just rubbed me the wrong way. I cringed at almost every word. But maybe listening to the audio book in the author’s own voice made it worse, because she knows how she wanted things said and said them in certain tones etc. Mrs Which’s disembodied voice nearly had me drive off the road in frustration!

Lauren: Although I was really, really annoyed that the plot features aliens who speak English, its portrayal of alien lifeforms – particularly Aunt Beast – is all about seeing the world from different perspectives, especially when it comes to those who are very different from you. A great example in the book is when the characters try to explain ‘sight’ to Aunt Beast, an alien who does not have or need this form of perception.

Lu: Here I agree with you. A nice lesson can be taught about blind/deaf etc. kids and how you should be tolerant and understand what they are going through.

Lauren: One of the best YA themes came up when Meg finally finds her father. She’s rather disillusioned – he’s not the perfect man she always imagined him to be. He’s just a regular, flawed human being. Meg was convinced he would know exactly what to do and would take the reins as soon as he’d been freed, but instead he’s almost clueless. Meg, like every child, has to come to terms with the fact that her parent is not perfect and can’t do everything for her. Instead, she has to be the one who acts and saves Charles Wallace.

Lu: True Meg learns something here, but regardless of the ‘lesson’, she had to fight “IT” with love. Really? Kill. me. now

Lauren: Bleh, yeah, I hate how cheesy that is. Although I’d say it’s a lesson in itself. Part of the Christian message?

In addition to this, it’s also a book where children have to save the day. The Mrs W’s guide them, but ultimately the children have to act. The adults tend to be absent, incompetent, or even evil. When I was a kid I loved books like the Famous Five or Secret Seven series where the children were the heroes, where they were brave and smart enough to act on their own initiative.

Lu: I still see this book as having a forced ending. No matter what, love would have saved the day. Whether it was the children, Meg’s father or the W’s it would have ended the same way. So personally I didn’t feel like it was the children, they were just the means to an end for an author who was pushing a point.

Lauren: I see your point, and I agree that it’s a forced ending. However, I’d still say that the book as a whole is about kids who have to act on their own, without relying on adults, even if it’s badly done.

Christian parents might also appreciate the novel’s religious message. I don’t know how parents of other faiths would feel about it and if I had kids I’d be a bit iffy about any religious message, but at least it’s a very liberal Christianity that embraces a things like time travel and intelligent alien life. Oddly enough, according to the Wikipedia article on L’Engle, she gets criticised by religious groups for being too liberal, while some secular critics complain that she’s too religious.

Lu: Wow that’s interesting! Yeah I would be interested to hear what parents of different religions/faiths would think of this.

Lauren: Anyway, on the whole, I think that in terms of themes, this is a great book for children. The downside is that I still found it kind of random and boring, and yeah, that ‘love conquers all’ crap is really lame.

Lu: I don’t think every child would understand this book; hell I don’t understand it. I think it was just a way to push a point and try and be clever and confusing on the way there.

Lauren: I’m no judge of what kids are capable of understanding, but I think the fact that this is a beloved childhood classic speaks for itself – obviously lots of kids both understood and enjoyed it.

Lu: Well I’m just happy it’s over to be honest. Never again.


Buy a copy of A Wrinkle in Time at The Book Depository

Lauren and Lu’s Reviews

Lu (from A Muggle’s Magical Book Blog) and I are very different readers. She’s easygoing, I’m demanding. She loves YA and paranormal romance, I don’t. I love sci fi and dark fantasy, she just dabbles. I want good writing and interesting ideas, while Lu is happy with a great story, interesting characters and a few twists. Together we’ll argue our conflicting points of view in joint reviews and you get the benefit of two perspectives instead of just one.

Lauren & Lu review Spiral X by J.J. Westendarp

Title: Spiral X
Author: J.J. Westendarp
Published: 2010
Genre: Urban fantasy, crime, vampire fiction
Source: Pdf received from author for review

Plot summary
Cheryl Erickson is a sexy, wealthy 22-year old vampire hunter. She’s been staking vamps since they killed her father when she was 16 and now she’s part of an underground vampire-hunting force in Dallas with the help of her gay best-friend Virgil, who handles all the electronics. There’s a dangerous new drug on the streets called Plast, which awakens addicts’ most predatory traits, turning them into violent psychopaths. For some reason vampires are dealing Plast to humans, but no one has been able to find out why. Cheryl is determined to crack the case, but her investigation forces her to question and sometimes violate her own code of ethics.

General Impressions

Lauren: Spiral X  has all the right ingredients for an entertaining read – a feisty heroine, blood-sucking monsters, loads of action, and a rapid pace. But unfortunately it failed to interest me. Cheryl was hypocritical and far too cocky for me to like her or empathise with her, and all the action just didn’t do it for me. Clumsy writing dragged me down, and although it’s a short book I had to push myself to finish it. Read my full review here.

Lu: Never has a book deserved the words “action-packed” more! What a roller-coaster of events! What I enjoyed about this novel was the fact that it played in my head like a movie. The characters were believable, mythology understandable and there were twists and turns around every corner.

The author being male only helped this novel. He made fight scenes and car chases believable and understandable. How many times have you read a fight scene where you were unsure of what was happening and just got through it to see the end result? I’ve read too many to mention,  but not here!

Definitely a must-read if you are tired of paranormal romance and love triangles of which this book has none. Thank the heavens!

It has a kick-ass heroine that has lost some motivation along the way, which only makes her human. She makes mistakes, which is always a welcome change from the “I am the perfect heroine” scenario. Each character has depth and they are all fascinating! I can’t wait to find out what happens to Cheryl and I hope we get to see more of Rev.

Lauren: Hmm, are you saying only men can write good action scenes?

Lu: Lol I’m saying that so far these were the best action scenes other than Game of Thrones and Pillars of the Earth, which were also written by men. So maybe in my case it has just been a coincidence. Or maybe a lot of women who write young adult and paranormal fiction just don’t do action scenes well for me. But as I write this I thought of J.R. Ward. So maybe I have just broken my own stereotype 🙂

But what I do want to say is that J.J. Westendarp really writes kick-ass action scenes!

 

Cheryl

Lu: For once the main character wasn’t my favorite. I really liked all the supporting characters! Cheryl was kick-ass and all, but she was a bit inconsistent at times.

Lauren: Yes, I thought Cheryl was a hypocrite when she dumped her boyfriend for deceiving her in the same way that she deceives (and continues to deceive) him. I also disliked the way she implied that all women were weak and silly, but she’s like a guy and that’s why she can kick vampire ass instead of sitting at home like all the other “weepy little tarts” wondering why some guy isn’t calling her.

Lu: Hahah I didn’t pick up on this. You feminist you 😛

But I do agree that Cheryl is a hypocrite and a bit hasty with some of her decisions. I think Thom was just a arb character that didn’t really need to be in the book.

 

Writing

Lauren: Westendarp almost always opts for telling rather than showing. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s terrible here. Every time a new character shows up, or Cheryl goes to a new location, we get an infodump about it. I found it extremely irritating and disruptive. It’s like watching a movie and having to pause and read a character history every time a new person walks on-screen. Why not weave some of that information into the narrative? For example, Cheryl explains how much she loves hot sauce; instead she could be described eating a meal and putting lots of hot sauce on it. Cheryl explains that she and Tank have a casual sexual relationship, but it would be so much more interesting if we could feel some of the sexual tension between them through body language and dialogue. Characters feel so much more real if we get to know them through their speech and behaviour. Here it feels like I’m referring to a profile in the footnotes.

Lu: Strange I didn’t even notice this. I like knowing little tidbits about characters. I would rather know details than try and guess.

Lauren: I like knowing the details too; that’s what makes a character interesting. And sometimes long explanatory pieces can be absorbing, because you’re curious about the information. But here it’s badly done and clogs up the narrative, distancing you from the story. It’s like you have to stop, pull back, and access an information file.

I dislike other aspects of his writing too – repeating phrases within a short space, and misusing the term “begs the question” multiple times. He also introduces surprising bits of information that should have been mentioned earlier. For example, you don’t even know that Cheryl has a boyfriend until she sees him. At one point, Cheryl states that her relationship with fellow vampire-hunter Tank is “strained to the breaking point”, but that was the first I’d heard of it. Almost halfway through the novel, Cheryl mentions (in an infodump) that she has psychic powers that allow her to detect vampires. You think this would have come up ages ago, but instead it sounds like Westendarp made it up on the spot and didn’t bother working it in.

Lu: Ah, I see what you mean. As if he thought of it at that point but didn’t bother going back to mention or hint at it. Maybe it’s meant to be a mystery, that at the point that you find out this information you also get the backstory. It’s a bit like real life in that way. You find out someone is allergic to milk after you have fed them milk tarts with their eyes closed. Then you find out the backstory about how it started when they were 5 etc.

I have read a few books like this where you are thrown into a story and only get info “dumps” when something happens. I don’t mind it at all, but I can see how it can be a pain.

Lauren: I can forgive Cheryl not mentioning her boyfriend, because it’s not essential at that point and you could say that it’s realistic for this to happen. But it’s unrealistic for there not to be much tension between Cheryl and Tank, just before she says that their relationship is under a lot of strain, and it’s even more unlikely that she wouldn’t mention her psychic powers in the earlier encounters with vampires.

Lu: Maybe the psychic powers were an afterthought. We’ll never know unfortunately.

 

Vampires

Lauren: Westendarp has created his own vampire mythos. Vampires are not undead humans; instead, demons from hell break through the fabric between worlds and possess the bodies of humans who have died from vampire bites. I want to talk about that in a moment, but first, how do feel about authors reinventing the vampire mythos? So many seem to do it.

Lu: I enjoy new takes on mythos. This one was particularly interesting! To be honest I don’t mind what an author changes or adds to a myth, as long as it is clearly stated and makes sense in the realm of the novel.

Lauren: I don’t mind either, as long as it’s not something totally stupid like sparkling. In Spiral X it has an important impact for the plot and Cheryl’s morals (a theme that comes up now and then). These vampires are completely inhuman, so Cheryl can draw a clear line between vampires and humans. Vampires are evil demons and that’s that, so Cheryl doesn’t have any qualms about killing them.

However, she does profess to have strict rules about not killing humans and trying not to hurt them. Her stance is a bit shaky though – as you said earlier, she’s an inconsistent character. In the opening scene she’s trying to get information by threatening a man with a knife. He realises she won’t cut him and refuses to talk, so she decides that her ethics are of less importance than information and shoots him in the kneecap. A bit much, wouldn’t you say? But then later, she’s explaining why she won’t tolerate any violence against the drug dealers supplying Plast:

These guys probably don’t know they’re supplying vampires with the drug, if they even know the vamps exist. For them it’s business. A dirty, filthy business that hurts people, but business all the same. That doesn’t warrant violence, not from us.

Why is it ok to shoot some random guy in the kneecap just for information, but it’s not ok to use violence against drug dealers and murderers?

Lu: Hahaha sparkling.

I think we start where Cheryl has come to a point and sort of loses it and shoots the guy in the kneecap. Then she sees how upset Tank is and her morals change/strengthen. She sort of pulls herself right. We all do it, lets say you steal a salt and pepper shaker at a restaurant. Someone tells you that you shouldn’t do it, so you feel bad and sort of go in the opposite direction. From then on if you see someone eyeing the salt and pepper shakers you get defensive and preachy about how it’s bad to steal. If that makes any sense 🙂

Sjoe I’m full of random examples today!

Lauren: Lol, where are you getting these examples from?

My problem is that she doesn’t only adopt the moral stance about not hurting humans after Tank gets upset with her. She’s got that rule from the start, which is why she wouldn’t cut that guy in the first place. It just seems so ridiculous that she’d go from not wanting to cut him to shooting him in the kneecap. Why not just cut him a little as she was actually threatening to do? Her character just baffles me sometimes.

Lu: Probably because shooting him looks cooler? Than some random cutting…

Lauren: Haha, that or shock value, but neither is a good excuse.

 

Christian Theme

Lauren: This got me a little worried as it became more pronounced. I thought it might turn into Christian fiction. The feeling of gratitude that washes over Cheryl whenever she sends a vampire back to hell was a bit silly too. How did you feel about it?

Lu: That’s the one gripe I have. I only noticed it now when you pointed it out. It was weird and unexplainable. I must add that the Christian theme didn’t bother me. Reverend and Father Harold were some of my favorite characters.

Lauren: Yeah, Rev and Father Harold were ok; there’s nothing wrong with religious characters. I just didn’t like the sense that it was becoming an overarching theme – the vampires being part of an eternal war between God and the devil, good and evil. It’s too simplistic; it lacks the moral ambiguity that made the movie Constantine so interesting.

Lu: I can only hope that the author is working towards another plot that isn’t so obvious.

 

Would you continue reading the series?

Lauren: No. This novel was self-contained, so there were no loose ends I want to see tied up. Cheryl is not a character I want to follow either.

Lu: Yes. Particularly because the next book is about a hunter named Erika and it’s set in New York. It’s set after the whole Cheryl saga. So this could be interesting. Maybe the characters eventually meet up!

 

Buy Spiral X

Smashwords
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk

 

Lauren and Lu’s Reviews

Lu (from A Muggle’s Magical Book Blog) and I are very different readers. She’s easygoing, I’m demanding. She loves YA and paranormal romance, I don’t. I love sci fi and dark fantasy, she just dabbles. I want good writing and interesting ideas, while Lu is happy with a great story, interesting characters and a few twists. Together we’ll argue our conflicting points of view in joint reviews and you get the benefit of two perspectives instead of just one.

Lauren and Lu review Deadlands by Lily Herne

Title: Deadlands
Author: Lily Herne
Published: March 2011, by Penguin SA 
Genre: Dystopia, Young Adult, Zombies
Source: Purchased copy for review
Plot Summary
It’s been a decade since the zombie apocalypse destroyed Cape Town in the middle of the World Cup. The survivors live in heavily walled enclaves, while outside, in the Deadlands, the zombies still lurch. No one is trying to wipe them out or find a cure, because the zombies are worshipped in a disturbing new religion. Every year a Lottery is held and a few teenagers are chosen as offerings to the mysterious Guardians, cloaked figures who live in the Deadlands and have power over the zombies. Lele de la Fontein is a feisty 17-year old who sees through all this crap. Her grandmother has just died, and she and her brother leave the rural part of the enclaves to live with their father and stepmother in the urban section. Lele hates her stepmother, her new school, the religion, and the increasingly dictatorial politics of her new home. But she gets given an escape route she doesn’t want to take, when she’s chosen for the Lottery and sent out into the Deadlands with the Guardians.
Please note that the following review contains minor spoilers
General Impressions
Lauren: This is one of those books where my rating was a toss-up between things I really loved, and things I absolutely hated. What I loved – the political and religious satire, and the fact that it’s set in Cape Town, where I lived for most of my life. What I hated – the writing, and the fact that the book more or less abandons some of its most interesting content (politics, religion, the mystery surrounding the Guardians) for random action scenes and raiding the mall. Not that I don’t like action and wouldn’t want the chance to raid a mall, but the book could have integrated all these things. For example, the action scenes could have been part of their attempt to find out who the Guardians really are, but the characters practically forget about this until they stumble across part of the truth at the end. So it’s not like the book didn’t interest me; rather it got me really interested in some things, and then wandered off in a different direction, with me going “hey, but what about the…”.
Lu: At first I thought that I might not like this book as zombies sound like a terrifying subject, but the author made it work! With just the right amount of horror, mystery and post-apocalyptic feel, you get drawn straight into the story and you will be delighted by the twists and turns.

You can easily visualize everything in this book and I think that it would make a terrific movie or TV series. I must say I liked all the references to movies, books etc. (the main character even donning a Team Jacob t-shirt at one stage). It made the world seem more real and some of the characters sound like someone you would know.

The ending leaves some unanswered questions and I really hope there won’t be a love-triangle in the future! I think any South African would appreciate its grittiness as well as the South African slang and references. The novel is exciting, fast paced and makes you think about what you would do in a similar situation. The only complaint I have is that I felt like I have heard aspects of the story before.

Lauren: I think the reason it would make a good movie and that it often feels like you’ve heard this before, is that it was written with the movies it references in mind. When reading I thought that it played out like a YA action-adventure-horror movie that happens to be a novel. It was co-written by a teenager though, so that kind of makes sense.

Lu: So it’s true that the novel was written by a mother/daughter combo?

Lauren: Yes – it was written by Sarah Lotz and her daughter Savannah.

Lu: Very Interesting!

Writing
Lauren: In the opening chapter, a strange funeral is being held for Lele’s grandmother and Lele is both very sad and angry about this. The chapter ends with the line “I was trying not to think that somewhere, out in the Deadlands, Gran was getting up” (7). When I read that I was so impressed. I thought wow, that actually feels really creepy, while at the same time it gripped me emotionally because of the funeral that preceded it. I thought I was in for a really awesome read. But after that chapter the writing just disappointed and often irritated me. Practically every chapter ends with some lame, cliched line about what’s going to happen next. For example:
“But, as I was about to find out, that was way easier said than done.” (15)
“I couldn’t have been more wrong.” (28)
“But by then it was too late.” (106)

It reached a point where I just wanted to scream at the book every time a chapter came to an end. The chapters are also all extremely short (often just 2 or 3 pages), so you read one of those lines every few minutes and it was infuriating. I didn’t like the short chapters either; it made the narrative feel very jumpy and disconnected.

Lu: I love short chapters! It makes for easy reading for me. I didn’t have a problem with the writing, but I wondered how some authentic SA words would go down with overseas readers

Lauren: SA slang might be confusing for overseas readers, but some meanings can just be deduced from context. At any rate, Deadlands is not available outside of South Africa (yet). It really should be though (with a glossary and perhaps a few footnotes) – I think this is the kind of novel that would be very popular (zombies are in right now) and I’ve seen quite a few non-SA readers showing interest in it. Plus, Lauren Beukes’s Arthur C. Clarke win no doubt inspired some international interest in SA speculative fiction.

Lu: I do hope it gets released in other countries!

Political and Religious Satire
Lauren: My favourite thing about this book. What I particularly like is its take on religion. The zombies are seen to have ‘cleansed’ Cape Town of violence and corruption. Believers are called Resurrectionists, the zombies are respectfully known as the Reanimated, and the ‘priests’ are the mysterious cloaked Guardians whose faces no one has ever seen. The afterlife is now a certainty – once you die, you’re given to the zombies and you rise from the dead to become one of them.

To me, this reveals the function behind religion – it’s designed to make sense of people’s lives for them, especially when life seems cruel and senseless, thereby giving them comfort. But it’s absurd too. I mean zombies! They’re so gross, with barely a semblance of humanity or intelligence, but that doesn’t stop Cape Town’s survivors from making them part of their belief system and actually worshipping them. No doubt it takes a lot of propaganda and mental acrobatics for everyone to accept that, but then again, religions can make people accept the most bizarre things.

Deadlands also gets really bold with its politics. Today’s ANC government is there in two different forms. On the one hand it’s followed its current path of corruption and transformed into the Embassy – the pro-zombie, authoritarian government of the enclaves, with a firm hand on the necks of its citizens, and institutions like Malema High feeding propaganda to impressionable young minds. I also have to say that I though the idea of an educational institution with the name Malema was hilarious, but disturbingly plausible. Like the ANC, the Embassy is also full of struggle heroes, but this time they’re from the zombie war.

Then there’s the ANZ – the anti-zombians – a rebel faction that’s more like the ANC of the struggle years, although they’re criticised for their violent methods, which sometimes get innocent people killed. The Embassy is of course trying to shut them down, much like the real ANC’s increasing hostility towards dissent and opposition, as they turn away from their own revolutionary ideals towards the racism and small-mindedness that characterised the oppressors they once fought.

Lu: Well you are not going to get any argument about what you just said. I fully agree and I found it so fascinating! Haha I also loved the name “Malema High”, I thought it was brilliant!

What I also found interesting was how most people pretended to believe (probably even more than we know) for fear of rejection and fear of the Guardians. Which totally defies the point of religion. I think most people know there is something going on with Guardians, they are just too scared to rock the boat. And why should they? The ANZ is doing it for them, even if they use questionable means.

I think this shows just how society really functions. Most of us are happy to sit back and let someone else fight our battles for us. Even if we see corruption and blatant wrong-doing, we would rather say nothing for fear of being criticized.

Lauren: On the contrary, I’d say that fear is a big part of religion – fear of punishment, fear of God, but also religion as a way of dealing with fear of the unknown and the fear that comes from your own lack of power. What’s interesting about the Resurrectionists is that they use the source of fear – zombies and infection – as a means of comfort and structure in the face of fear.

I agree with your point about how society functions. And because the societies in the enclaves lack the gross inequalities of South African society today, it’s much easier to bully people into complacency.

Lele
Lauren: I thought Lele was a bit of a brat. It’s great that she’s feisty but she takes too it too far sometimes, to the extent that she’s simply moody and uncooperative, and I disliked her for it.

Lu: I didn’t dislike Lele, but I also didn’t like her. I didn’t like it that she threw her toys each time something didn’t go her way, such as when she walked away from Ash and Saint just because she was moody. She does all of this to her disadvantage and she makes people’s lives difficult.

But she was ‘real’. I hate it when characters are written to be so pure and ‘can do no wrong’. In real life people act childishly in situations (mostly difficult and unpleasant situations) when being a bit considerate would have gone a long way. Which makes me think that the authors wanted Lele to be realistic.

Lauren: I remember the scene with Ash and Saint because it really irritated me too – she’s out in the bloody Deadlands with zombies wandering around but she buggers off on her own just because she doesn’t want to play nice?

But I agree, it is better that she’s more realistic; you can form some kind of connection with a bratty character, even if you don’t like them, but perfect characters can be inaccessible.

The Love-Triangle!
Lu: I don’t like Thabo, but I thought Ash was pretty cool. But please please for the love of pie I don’t want a love triangle in the sequel.

Lauren: I liked them both, but at the end I preferred Ash too. I think it’s largely because Thabo is aligned with the ANZ while Ash is a Mall Rat. The ANZ is a bit shady. The reader’s favour is more likely to lie with the Mall Rats – I mean, they’re basically a group of teen action heroes who live free, raid malls and kill zombies, as opposed to being tied to a hardcore political faction (not exactly romantic) that never actually touches the zombies. Also, Ash has that angsty-mysterious-guy appeal. Initially, Thabo is attractive because of his confidence and rebellious attitude, but he chooses the wrong faction and his character deteriorates, while Ash softens and becomes more empathetic. And of course, Lele is able to spend much more time with Ash, while seeing Thabo can be difficult.

Lu: Agreed, Thabo’s character ends up looking like he’ll do whatever it takes even if it is hurting other people.

Lauren: I thought you’d enjoy a love triangle though…

Lu: I have recently read way to many love triangles. I think for some authors it a cop out because they can’t think of a decent plot.

Pop Culture References
Lu: So you must have been a fan of the “Team Jacob” t-shirt 😛 ? or the Twilight novels being used as weapons?
For some reason it felt like the book was trying to be Ninja Turtle-ish. Or is that just me?

Lauren: Lol, I don’t have much of an answer here. I have no interest in either Jacob or Edward, so the T-shirt was just one reference among many. Ditto the books. I really hate Twilight, but by the time I read this it was out of the limelight and I was tired of talking about it, so the novels being used as weapons wasn’t a big thing for me either.

Ninja Turtles? I didn’t watch much of it when I was a kid (never had M-Net), so I don’t know. However, I can say that at times the book felt like it was trying hard to be like all the action and horror movies it referenced.

Lu: I don’t remember much about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But like the Mall Rats they lived underground and had a master to train them in martial arts and whatnot. But I might just see it like this because Ginger mentioned at points.

Lauren: Oh yeah, that makes sense. I liked all the pop culture references, mostly because I’d seen/read or at least heard of almost all of them. Not sure how good it is for the book in general though; that many references can be alienating if you don’t know what they’re talking about, and some could date very quickly.

Would you read the next book in the series?
Lauren: From some of the tweets I’ve read, Sarah and Savannah are working on book two. And yes, I would read it. The things I liked about the novel make me feel optimistic about the next one, and the things I disliked are not so bad as to dissuade me. Plus, I really do want to know more about those Guardians. I know from reading Exhibit A that Sarah is a great writer. Savannah needs more experience, but that just means she has lots of potential.

Lu: I would definitely read the next book. I can’t wait to see what happens with all of the characters! This is my first time reading a novel by these two authors, but I am excited to read their other works.

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Lauren and Lu’s Reviews

Lu from A Muggle’s Magical Book Blog and I are very different readers. She’s easygoing, I’m demanding. She loves YA and paranormal romance, I don’t. I love sci fi and dark fantasy, she just dabbles. I want good writing and interesting ideas, while Lu is happy with a great story, interesting characters and a few twists. Together we’ll argue our conflicting points of view in joint reviews and you get the benefit of two perspectives instead of just one.

Lauren and Lu review A Game of Thrones

Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R.R. Martin
Published: 1996
Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy

Please note: the following discussion is intended for those who have already read the book and contains numerous SPOILERS

General Impressions

Lauren: This is actually an odd book to start our feature with, because rather than having a major difference of opinion, we both loved it

Lu: So true Lauren, but with out initial discussions it sounds like we have some conflicting character views!

Lauren: As I said in my own review, I tore through this baby in three or four days, despite its length. It’s simply one of the best reads I’ve come across in a long time – entertaining, intriguing, emotionally engaging. It has everything I love in a book – good writing, interesting characters, an amazing world and a riveting story. The only reason it lost one rating point with me is that this medieval England setting is a huge cliche in epic fantasy. Nevertheless, it’s the kind of book I got completely immersed in – it just feels so real, and I cared about the characters, whether I loved them and was worrying about them and cheering for them, or hated them and wanted them to to be eaten by ice zombies.

Lu: I knew this was going to be good because everyone I know who read it raved about it. But I never expected it to be a masterpiece. I have only given one other book a 10 out of 10 – Pillars of the Earth – but this epic novel joins its ranks, if not trumps it.

The characters are so rich, so detailed, and the twists and turns make you gasp!

I could go on and on about how fantastic, amazing, brilliant and satisfying this book was, but you will only understand if you read it yourself.

Favourite Characters

Lauren: Dany. Arya and Tryion.

Arya is my feminist rebel hero. She doesn’t want to practice her sewing, she wants to play outside with the boys, go riding and learn to use a sword. She’s smart and bold, and although her feisty spirit sometimes causes trouble, I understand where she’s coming from and I’m always on her side. She’s also a class hero; while others observe the social boundaries between nobility and servants, Arya will make friends with anyone.

Dany too is a wonderful feminist figure, but unlike Arya she’s incredibly regal. She goes from being this timid young girl who has learnt to live with the loneliness of exile and accepts her brother’s cruelty, to being this otherworldly leader who will one day raise an army and cross the ocean to wage war for her throne.

As  a hideous, crippled dwarf, Tyrion is a complete underdog. However, since he’s not good looking, physically fit and thus not destined to be a great warrior or anything, he’s not the stereotypical underdog (that role goes to Jon Snow). Instead he gets by on his wits, so he won me over by being funny and smart. Unlike the other Lannisters, he’s kind and good, but he’s cunning too. Because of his looks he’s had to endure a lot of torment during his life, (and still does), even from his own family. He’s dealt with it admirably, but he still has some emotional vulnerabilities that serve to soften his character and make him more endearing.

Lu: My favorite was Dany because she showed such heart and courage and is utterly fascinating! I also love how she accepts her fate and then tries to make the best of it.

And at first I was worried that Khal Drogo would abuse her, but he turned out to such a nice character who I think really loved her. I think he would have given her the world if he’d lived.

But I also like Catelyn Stark. She’s ballsy and has real fight in her! She might not like Jon so much, but hey if my husband had a child with someone else I wouldn’t be happy about it either.

I disliked Arya however, and sort of liked Sansa a bit more than her. Don’t shoot me now 😛

Lauren:  Dany’s adaptation to Dothraki culture is incredible, yet another sign of her strength and endurance. However, I feel that the way she simply accepts what is imposed on her is characteristic of the early, weak Dany; she has to rise above that to become a leader and a potential queen.

I can’t believe you didn’t like Arya! it’s just bizarre! However, since I’m sure you’re one of very few people who will take Sansa’s side over Arya’s, you’ve got an interesting point of view…

Arya Stark

Lu: I found Arya very annoying and opinionated. I also got really mad over the Joffrey situation, where the butcher boy and Lady ended up getting killed.

Lauren: For me, Arya being opinionated is very good, not bad. If she were well-behaved, she’d just be like her sister Sansa, and she wouldn’t be interesting. I was very surprised that you didn’t take Arya’s side in the incident with Joffrey and the butcher’s boy. There are so many things in that scene that make Arya heroic. She’s not like her silly sister, sitting around waiting for a gallant prince to sweep her off her feet like girls are supposed to do. She wants to learn to fight, so she takes the initiative of befriending the butcher’s boy and getting him to help her. Arya steps in to defend her friend when Joffrey threatens him, even though Joffrey’s got a real sword and can hurt her.

Lu: I fully agree with you about her being a boring character if she was like her sister, but she’s still a bit over-the-top for me. As to the incident with Joffrey, these aren’tt modern times; she lives in an age where royalty must be obeyed. I understand she has a mind of her own and doesn’t bow to anybody, but she needs to realise that things might not go the way she wanted. Sure she protected the butcher’s boy, but I think there was a more diplomatic way to do it. And what happens? The butcher’s boy and Lady get killed. About her not being a dreamer and waiting for a prince to sweep her of her feet – I understand where Sansa is coming from here. She was brought up with stories of princes and castles, and there is nothing wrong with wanting that.

Lauren: I actually do think there’s a problem with what Sansa wants, but more on that later. If you are willing to to blame Sansa’s point of view on her upbringing, then you also have to acknowledge the fact that Arya has grown up in the Stark home, where Ned is a kind, just patriarch and Catelyn is a good mother. When the Barantheons come to Winterfell, the Stark children get their first taste of noblity as cruel and irresponsible people. Joffrey’s behaviour isn’t typical of royalty either; he’s a bully, and he’s always been allowed if not encouraged to be a bully. Arya’s outrage is justified.

I think it’s also unfair to ask her to be more diplomatic. Firstly, she’s just a child. Secondly, she’s a better person for acting passionately – if your friend was being attacked it makes sense for you to act boldly out of a sense of loyalty. The injustice of Joffrey’s actions should also evoke anger. And finally, if Arya tried being diplomatic, do you think Joffrey would have paid any attention to her? Sansa begs him to stop, but even though she’s his future wife he ignores her.

Yes, Arya’s actions have terrible consequences, but you can’t blame her for them. Sansa lies to protect Joffrey (in my opinion, one of the worst betrayals in the book, which made me hate Sansa even more than Joffrey), Cersei is especially cruel in demanding blood, and both Robert and Ned are totally spineless. Robert, lazy drunkard, just wants the whole thing to be over. Ned, true to his character, is so focussed on being honourable and diplomatic that he won’t stand up to Robert and Cersei. In fact, based on that I’d say hats off to Arya for doing what was right instead of doing what was diplomatic. It’s more than her father could do, and look where all his honour and diplomacy got him.

Lu: I get what you’re saying, and I understand why she did what she did; I’m just upset about Lady and I don’t think Arya should be surprised at the outcome of her actions. Sure it was unjust, but I think here we can see she is really like Sansa, as she is a dreamer too. She thinks justice will prevail.

Sansa shouldn’t have lied. But I think she was just so mad at her sister. She just wanted Arya to play nice and visit Cersei with her. Sure Arya wants to do what she wants, but I think it’s selfish she didn’t help her sister. And then the Joffrey thing happens. Sansa is trying so hard to hold onto this dream and all she sees is her sister taking it away from her.

I in no way think Sansa is right though. I can just see why she acts like she does. To be honest, I think they are both annoying and I would rather read from someone else’s perspective.

Oh, and I fully agree about it being the parents’ fault. They’re awful role models.

Lauren: Ok, I concede that Arya could have been a little nicer and tried to help Sansa (although it would have been dead-boring), and I also found Lady’s death very upsetting. However, I would say that Arya is still being more realistic – unlike Sansa she can see what horrible people Joffrey and Cersei are. That’s why she runs away, and why she chases Nymeria away – she knows they would harm or kill her direwolf. So she doesn’t expect justice to prevail, but she can’t anticipate that Cersei will be even crueler than expected.

And if Arya should support her sister’s dreams, why shouldn’t Sansa show some support for Arya’s ambitions?

Lu: Well because Arya’s only ambitions seem to bring shame to their house. It is uncharacteristic for the time they are in. Sansa probably thinks Arya is only there to cause trouble, and she can’t see that Arya really wants to break free and be her own person. Its sad because they are sisters and should really support each other.

Lauren: Arya doesn’t bring shame! She’s unusual, but that’s what makes her so wonderful. At least she doesn’t betray Sansa; she would have told the truth about Joffrey, or leapt in to protect Sansa if she were attacked. Meanwhile, in the chaos after Ned’s arrest, Sansa completely forgets about Arya until much later.

Lu: I have at agree with you. How the hell did Sansa forget about her sister after the Ned thing?

Sansa Stark

Lauren: So it seems like we can both understand why Arya and Sansa act the way they do, but you can’t forgive Arya while I can’t forgive Sansa. Yes, her upbringing has made her look at the world in a delusional way, but what I can’t stand about her is that she won’t think for herself and see that the real world is not romantic. Arya turned out differently, and Catelyn is nothing like Sansa.

She tries so hard to make everything fit the delusion she believes in that she even hurts her family. I love Arya’s intelligence, sense of justice and fighting spirit; Sansa is the opposite – she’s naive, stupid and her sense of morality is distorted. And if it can be said that Arya got Lady and the butcher’s boy killed, then it could also be said that Sansa gets their father killed. She betrays him by telling Cersei his plans because she wants so badly for the Queen to like her, and because in her romantic world, Cersei is the beautiful, kind queen. Then Sansa convinces Ned to falsely confess to treason because, again, she trusts that Cersei and Joffrey will be as noble, but Joffrey has Ned beheaded.

Lu: I agree she is naive and stupid at times. But remember she did try very hard to get Cersei to save her father’s life. It was Joffrey the idiot who just killed him anyway (I hope he dies painfully). Anyway I still feel sorry for her, she is thrust into this untrusting gray world and all she wants is her fairytale ending. I have high hopes for her though, I think she’ll see the light and bring them all down! Just like I think Catelyn will take revenge on them all for killing Ned. I think she is probably my second favorite character.

What did you think of Catelyn?

Lauren: Hmph, it’s Sansa who gets Ned imprisoned in the first place. Arya argued that Lady shouldn’t be killed either. If you can give Sansa credit for trying to save her father, why not the same for Arya and Lady? And everybody wants a fairytale ending but I hate Sansa for thinking it’s actually going to happen and for being so mean to Arya because she’s not a fairytale girl.

I think Sansa will eventually change and I might even come to like her, but by then I think she’s going to be a very damaged person.

Lu: True Arya tried to save Lady, but once again she didn’t do it Arya style. She sort of went too quiet in my opinion. I agree Sansa has some rough times ahead!

Catelyn Stark

Lauren: I agree with you: Catelyn is ballsy, and I admire her courage and practicality. She’s not just a glorified housewife but is adept at politics and not afraid to get her hands dirty. However, I can’t help holding a grudge against her for the way she treats Jon. She has every right to be angry that Ned fathered a bastard, but Jon himself has done nothing wrong. He loves his family very much, and bears his status as a bastard well.

Catelyn can also be extreme. After Bran’s fall she’s hysterical with worry and refuses to leave his side, even though little Rickon needs her. She keeps Bran’s direwolf away not realising how good he is for Bran, and she’s lucky he managed to get into the tower to save them from the assassin. She’s so clingy that it’s destructive. Then, after she recovers from the assassin’s attack, she’s suddenly very business-like again and heads out on a quest without being too concerned about Bran and Rickon. Later, for all her good intentions, she creates trouble when she falsely accuses and kidnaps Tyrion, a character I like very much.

So, while I empathise with and even admire her, I don’t really like her much, and in general she’s not exactly heart-warming.

Lu: Yeah, I agree she should be mad at Ned and not Jon. I think she just hates the fact that he is there to remind her of the betrayal. I think she wants to feel like a strong woman that a man would love to love, but Jon reminds her that she couldn’t be enough for Ned.

Lol, yeah, Catelyn went a bit psycho when Bran fell. I was actually mad at her for letting her crazy sister take over too. I would have taken my prisoner and left.

But despite all of this I still like her a lot!

In closing?

Lauren: The ending was one of the best I’ve read in a long, long time, but even before that there was absolutely no question of going on to the next book in the series A Clash of Kings. I finished that and enjoyed it just as much as A Game of Thrones, even though things are getting rather bleak and there are so many characters I can’t keep track. And now it’s on to the third, A Storm of Swords. I should pace myself though – I don’t want to run out of books and then have to wait for the next one to be published!

Lu: Wow the ending! I was really sad about Khal Drogo and Ned! But I can’t wait to see what Dany does and how she tries to reclaim her throne.

Lauren: I think it would be totally awesome if Dany flew into King’s Landing on the back of a dragon. And hopefully the dragon will burn Joffrey to a crisp.

Lu: Yes that would be brilliant!!!

Lu and I are very different readers. She’s easygoing, I’m demanding. She loves YA and paranormal romance, I don’t. I love sci fi and dark fantasy, she just dabbles. I want good writing and interesting ideas, while Lu is happy with a great story, interesting characters and a few twists. Together we’ll argue our conflicting points of view in joint reviews and you get the benefit of two perspectives instead of just one.

Introducing Lauren and Lu’s Reviews

Books should be talked about, and even if you hate them at least they can give you a good conversation. My opinion of a book often changes a little when I discuss it with someone, because they show me things I didn’t notice before, or a new way of seeing things. So when my friend Lu from A Muggle’s Magical Book Blog asked me to do a guest review I thought of having something more interesting – an argument. Lu and I have very different tastes and expectations, and we’ll bring those together in joint reviews with in-depth discussions about the topics that are most important to us. As a result, I’m very happy to introduce Lauren and Lu’s Reviews.

As a reader, I enjoy most kinds of speculative fiction, and cross-genre fiction always peaks my interest, but mostly I just like books with something unusual about them. However, I don’t read much YA fiction, and I avoid romance and chick lit like the plague.

I can be fairly demanding. Writing is important to me – it’s just as much a part of the book as the plot or characters, with just as much potential to make it better or worse. I will never say that a book was good but the writing was bad, because in my opinion that’s not a good book. However, I’m a sucker for great ideas, so authors can always score a few points for being inventive and insightful.

I read for lots of reasons – entertainment, vicarious experience, curiosity, escape, learning, trying to see what’s behind the awards/hype/status.

Lu on the other hand is more easygoing and enjoys any book with a good plot. She appreciates good writing, but that can only take her so far. Give her great characters and surprising twists and she’s all yours!  Lu prefers mystery, paranormal and young adult fiction, but dabbles in all types of genres. She reads to get away from life and enjoy herself. She wants to be whisked away to Hogwarts and snatched up by vampires, as long as there is a good point to it.

Together Lu and I will review books by comparing our different opinions, and you get the benefit of two perspectives instead of just one. We’re both really excited about our new feature, and can’t wait to get going, so check back tomorrow for a Lauren and Lu Review of A Game of Thrones.