Book Reviews

Ready Player One Review- Ernest Cline

“A cross between matrix and Time Bandits that makes Ernest Cline’s sci-fi debut a provocative read.”

Ready-Player-One-cover-by-Ernest-Cline

Some argue that today we live on little more than borrowed time, as day by day we use up more of earth’s dwindling natural resources. Such a view brings with it a view of future years being ridden with poverty, pollution and social depression. It seems that in Ernest Clines novel “Ready Player One” that view is now a reality.

The novel is technically set in two places. The first is in a dystopian future not too far from our present day. Poverty and pollution is a rife on the planet, and those who manage to survive amongst the starvation and filth usually end up killed in one of the many wars or terrorist attacks. The second is a sprawling alternate virtual reality named “OASIS.” Accessed through the use of virtual headsets and computers, the OASIS is a magnificent utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live, play and fall in love on any of the tens of thousand planets. It comes as no surprise that most of humanity uses the OASIS as a means of solace from the dismal reality around them.

Amongst these two settings lies the novel’s main protagonist Wade Watts, a rather nerdy teenager living in the squalor amongst the slums of America. Everyday he jacks into the world of OASIS under the name “Parzival” and looses himself in the virtual adventure from dawn till dusk.

The opening of the book doesn’t dither in pleasantries, immediately opening with the death of the billionaire inventor of OASIS James Halliday. With no heir to inherit the massive billion-dollar empire, Halliday prior to his death, decided to conceal within the vast labyrinth of the OASIS an Easter egg. Soon after the televised announcement of his death, riddles created by Halliday were released to give players clues as to where the egg may be hidden. The first player to find the egg wins not only complete control of the OASIS, but also the entire of Halliday’s 240 billion dollar fortune. For years people have obsessively searched the OASIS, including Wade.

Not too far into the book, Wade deciphers the first riddle and discovers the first key needed to find the egg. This inadvertently makes him a worldwide sensation and suddenly he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors and corporations. They not only pose a threat to Wade in the OASIS, but also in the real world as they try to kill him before he discovers Halliday’s egg. The continuous transition between reality and fiction works well throughout the novel. It keeps you engaged by the fact that for Wade, the billion dollar contest presents a clear and present danger for him in real life as he gets ever closer to finding the egg.

As each riddle is deciphered it soon becomes apparent that Halliday’s love of the 80s has been the basis for each challenge in the contest. Any fan of classic video games, the 80s, and Monty Python flicks can’t help but smile at this point. As Wade approaches each challenge, the obstacles are littered with 80s references, brandishing its styles, music and great films of the era (such a the famous War Games film starring Matthew Broderick.) Targeting such an era plays to both the novels strengths and its weakness. If you are a fan of classic video games, and the 80s era, then this novel will serve as a superb blast from the past. However if you’re more of a reader that prefers to live in the new and now, then it is likely that you will struggle to connect with the story and its abundance of 80s references.

Along the way numerous characters are introduced in the OASIS such as Wade’s best friend “Aeich” who (like Wade) has become an obsessive hunter for Halliday’s egg. The book even goes as far as to give Wade a sci-fi VR love interest named “Art3mis.” Whether it be the brash banter between Aeich and Wade or virtual femme fetale of Art3mis, they add depth to the novel and serve as a soundboard for vital information pertaining to Halliday’s contest. Along with the friends accompanying Wade through the story, a villainous organisation known as IOI serve as the main antagonist. They systematically kill anyone who comes close to finding the egg. It isn’t before long that they turn their attention to Wade and his friends.

On the whole the novel is clearly written, well structured and builds to great intensity as you read your way to the concluding climax of the book. Along the way it poses interesting questions as to whether technology is really benefitting humanity, as well as presenting thought provoking ethical dilemmas throughout. However, given the interesting and complex nature of the story the actual style of writing is simple, perhaps too simple. Its style most certainly isn’t as abstract and complex as a Palahniuk novel. At times Cline leans a little too much into telling instead of showing. This issue is particularly prevalent when the novel delves into the real world away from the OASIS. It takes a very linear structure of “I did this, then I did this and then I did that.” This almost wordy listing of actions can in areas become exhaustive and dull when in reality it should be fast paced and engaging.

Verdict

The book has some issues of show and tell and being a bit specialist with its 80s interest in places, however the originality and fantastic Matrix-esque sci-fi story makes it an entertaining novel for any budding geek or gamer.

Luke H

 

‘Grave Witch’ by Kalayna Price, Review

Grave Witch by Kalayna Price

“Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say.

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around…

To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life…and her soul.”

Now, computer troubles put me down for the count last Monday, so let me make it up by throwing a doozy of a book at you guys.  Grave Witch has quickly become one of my favourite books, and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a series new to me and fell head over tail in love. Maybe four or five years ago? Yikes.

Grave Witch is full to the brim with everything I love in an Urban Fantasy novel. Magic, mayhem, mystery, miscellaneous beasties of assorted size and teeth-number… it’s got it all. But it’s also wonderfully different and fresh, an awesome new take on a lot of familiar old concepts in the genre, including witches, branches of magical ability, Faerie courts and even folded spaces, which you don’t hear much of in stories but may be one of my favourite concepts – a space of any size that has always existed but just hasn’t been detectable or even spatially present until a catalyst makes it ‘unfold’. Nekros City, the setting of the novel, is one such space and is the hub of weird things in America. Magic is absolutely everywhere in this world – even the most mundane of mundanes use hair straightening tricks, and quick cleaning spells, and complexion charms. The Fae own a bar, witches set up market in the centre of the city, a kelpie lives in the river… it’s fantastic. Well, not the kelpie. She’ll eat you dead. But still! And don’t forget that vaguely prophetic gargoyle living in the garden, who you never see move, but definitely changes location and whose name is Fred.

Urban Fantasy is really brought to the extreme here, with magic more believably integrated into ‘our’ world than I would have thought possible. The descriptions of the riots and violence after the Fae made themselves known and witches came out of the broom closet gave me chills, and there are even powerful political parties within the world against ‘non-humans’. Some of the bigotry demonstrated harkens back to real life in a way that definitely drives the point home.

The Fae and witches and their dynamics in this novel’s world are just great. Their different uses of magic are fascinating, and I loved hearing about all the specific abilities witches alone can have (these witches being ‘wyrd witches’, often powerful in their ability, but paying a steep price in using them – and if they don’t use their magic, it seeps out of them in dangerous ways!). With folks such as grave witches around, those very rare magic users who can raise shades from corpses, see ghosts and even peer into the terrifying, decaying land of the dead, we see into a deeper world. Though it’s really only hinted at, the things that live in the wastes of the land of the dead sound way scary. Definitely not somewhere you want to be trapped if you’re a ghost reluctant to move on to whatever’s next.

Which brings me to the soul collectors. Damn, these guys are awesome. The collectors are this story’s iteration of what we might call ‘grim reapers’ and their job, yep you guessed it, is to take the souls of the dead to wherever the hell they go. Operating through magic all their on, they’re beings utterly shrouded in mystery, invisible and impossible to sense by any other than the dead – and powerful grave witches. And anti-social and governed by rules unknowable to mere mortals as they may be, that doesn’t stop one soul collector from being our heroine’s oldest, closest friend. Hey, if you met the only living person who could touch you and through that make you capable of eating pizza and drinking coffee, you’d hang around too! And it was definitely interesting to find out that Death is a snarky, sassy babe.

Alex Craft is everything I adore in UF heroine. She’s tough and weird and funny, never a self-righteous prude, not too judgemental to others for their life choices (as long as people aren’t being disembowelled because of them, of course). Very much not arrogant, but has plenty of self-confidence and she’s damn well going to make sure haters know it. She is far from perfect with her abandonment issues, her quick-decisions, recklessness and often her blindness – both metaphorical and literal, at times. She is her own person, reluctant to lean on anyone, but so very grateful to those who add support anyway. Death, of course (wow, that’s weird to say) supports her where he can, and she even has a new partner in solving-crime-but-also-kind-of-committing-crime-because-why-the-hell-not, Falin Andrews, mysterious detective who may or may not be human and who may definitely be an ass. A useful ass, but the point stands. I have to say, he has yet to win me over completely. I enjoy his scenes, and I don’t dislike him. But I don’t exactly want to swaddle him up in a bundle of blankets and protect him, which is the symbol of truly beloved characters, as we all know.

The prose itself is wonderful. It’s never too pretentious, but beautifully descriptive and rich, as well as great in conveying emotions. It’s the type of writing that just flows off the page and paints a fabulously dynamic picture in your imagination. Grave Witch is just full of engaging writing that kept me glued to the book and left me dying for more.

The book builds itself up with action and development to an intense climax, filled with great revelations.

Although, if I’m honest here, some of these revelations were a little predictable. But it personally didn’t take the fun out of the story, nor out of watching Alex discover things in her own time. I could seriously read everything about this character and her life, she’s that much fun.

The story was generally steady-to-fast paced, but it did slow in a couple of places, and I did catch myself skimming when I hit them, though it didn’t exactly take a heroic measure of patience to keep going – the book drags you in quite well.

4.5/5 Stars, Very few complaints, all in all, and I am excited for an Urban Fantasy series in a way I have so missed!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Goodreads

Kalayna Price

– Meg

Impulse – a review

Impulse(hopkins)Written by Ellen Hopkins in 2007, Impulse is a brilliant work of fiction that follows the inner thoughts and feelings of three teens [Conner, Vanessa, Tony] in a psychiatric ward. Each facing their own demons, the young people suffer through a myriad of hellish disorders, all of which we read about throughout the course of the novel – and with every few chapters being dedicated to one of the three protagonists, every section of the book has an entirely different feel to it depending on which character is speaking.

For example, when we read Conner’s inner thoughts and experiences, we get the feeling that he is very self-aware – he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. In fact, we learn that it is this specific desire to get what he wants that inadvertently causes his admittance to the hospital – without spoiling too much for anyone who has yet to read the book, it is revealed that Conner was engaging in a romantic relationship that was not endorsed by the people around him, and eventually, this unacceptance, paired with the impossibly high standards he is expected to meet by his parents, leads him to attempt suicide. Reading Conner’s thoughts first-hand really sheds light on how it feels to have expectations loaded onto you until you feel like you’re about to snap, and the novel showcases the negative events that can unfold when a child is put under an insurmountable amount of pressure.

However, Conner is not the only character with a storyline that is applicable to many teens in real life – Vanessa’s story is just as real, and just as heart-breaking. Soon into the novel, we discover that young Vanessa grew up with a father who she rarely saw, due to his dedication to the army, and a mother who suffered from severe bipolar disorder until she took her own life. All of this, plus Vanessa’s own psychological demons, pushes her to fall into a vicious cycle of self-harm. Her story is told vividly and accurately, and does not shy away from telling the truth about a mental disorder that can be terrifying and difficult to understand for those who suffer from it.

The third character we meet is Tony – a street-savvy young man, who has spent a lot of time in a juvenile detention centre for someone so young. We soon learn that he was in juvie for the murder of his mother’s boyfriend – but we soon learn that this murder was, for lack of a better word, justified [well, as justified as killing someone can be], for it is revealed that Tony was sexually abused repeatedly when he was a boy, by many men who were in his mother’s life, and she did nothing to stop it. Tony is then pushed further over the edge when the love of his life, Phillip, loses his long-fought battle with illness, and that is when Tony tries to take his own life.

All of these young people are in this hospital because they are in desperate need of help, whether they want to admit it or not – and we soon find out that some are much more stubborn to accept this than others. But, the book is refreshingly realistic – it does not glorify mental illness, and instead focuses on both the negative side of things and the ways in which a person can begin to deal with these kinds of emotions and disorders.

Hopkins channels three very different voices for her characters, and these stand out profusely as you read through each chapter – Vanessa’s voice is gentle, shy, insecure; Conner’s is confident, cocky at times; and Tony is bitter, yet still manages to retain a funny bone amidst all of the wretched things he’s been through.

This novel is definitely something I’d recommend – even if you’re not a big fan of books with heavy themes such as depression and self-harm, I really suggest trying this one. One of the most wonderful things about it, aside from the brilliant writing, is the layout – stepping away from the traditional page layout one might associate with a novel, this book is written in what I think are best described as stanzas – the thoughts are placed on the page in neat little verses, with each one being roughly four lines long, with the words at the end of a chapter sometimes scattered across the page, which adds

fantastic

dramatic

effect.

Essentially, this novel looks at the bonds that can form between people who are broken, and how these bonds can perhaps begin to help mend some of the pain in their hearts. This is a truly exceptional piece of literature and I urge all of you to find a copy and give it a go. I think you’ll find that once you start reading it, you’ll lose yourself to the intoxicating worlds of these people and their plights.

5/5 – Hopkins has said that her “books are not about the things that happen to characters, but rather about how those characters react to those things”, and seeing these reactions unfold is powerful and utterly enthralling.

~Steph.

 

‘Skin Game’ by Jim Butcher, REVIEW

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If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a huge fan of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. It is easily one of my favourite book series’ and is still going strong upon the release of it’s fourteenth book. You’ll be hardpressed to find other long-running series’ holding up so well.

At midnight last night, Skin Game, book fourteen, was released and I’ve already completely devoured it. And it was mind-blowing!

After a very, very goddamn rough few years, in which Harry Dresden has actually died, Harry has had a year break away from magical beasties and bullies trying to literally eat his face, even as a parasite has grown within his head and risks bursting out of his skull any day now. But hey, small victories, right?

I wasn’t too sure what I was expecting from this book, but as the last few have been heavy and extreme and have put Harry through a lot of shit, I think I assumed that it would  be a kind of fast, funny and cool sort-of filler book for introspection on Harry’s life and experiences and a break in the increasing trajectory and pace of the series.

Boy, was I wrong.

Harry’s new boss, good old Queen Mab of the Winter Court of Faerie, needs to settle a debt. And of course, she uses her new Knight to do that. This would turn out horribly for Harry anyway, because it’s Harry and because it’s Mab, but it just so happens that the debt collector is Nicodemus Archleone, host to a Fallen angel, old enemy of Harry’s, and all-around murdering psychopath.

And the job he wants doing?

Yeah, breaking into the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

A lot happened in this book.

It was still hilariously funny, of course, and had me snorting and giggling out loud more than a few times. Of course, it also had me lapsing into tears a few times, though I think I did so more out of happiness than actual pain and sadness for once. Very unusual for a Dresden book, let me tell you. The book as a whole is beyond intense and I genuinely feared for the lives of some characters several times – cue panicked animal noises from myself – because of the very frightening circumstances they found themselves in, in quick succession. The pace never let up and the action and adventure was constant. I was never bored or felt myself skimming words, which I would rarely ever do in a Dresden book in any case, but the intensity of the story kept me utterly enthralled throughout and I’ve successfully bitten my nails to stumps. Despite that, Skin Game is an oddly uplifting book! Upon finishing it, I felt good about Harry’s choices, his losses and his victories. His ‘lost’ talk with Michael brought back a wonderful return of the ‘old’ Harry. He still has his scars and his past to battle through and carry with him, but there was something lighter about him and the return of something he lost through the hell of his recent years. Though I felt frightened,too, for what’s to come, because this is Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden we’re talking about here. I mean, come on.

A few things I very much enjoyed:

We get to see Subconscious Harry! Yay! The visual incarnation of Harry’s inner-self is a total dick, complete with all black outfit and goatee, but I really love that guy and his frank sass. Along with this, we get some serious insight into the parasite that Harry’s been harbouring. Talk about your bundle of joy, eesh! But I am way excited for what’s to come in regards to the ‘parasite’ after the end of Skin Game.

I was so glad to see the Carpenters made a great comeback, too. I adore that family, and Charity’s attitude to life is everything I hope to gain. What a badass. Molly shows up, too, more awesome than ever and seemingly recovering from her own hellish experiences. However, Harry hasn’t seen her in the year since she gained the mantle of Winter Lady, and there are some… changes. And worries. Molly is my baby and any possible harm to her character makes me want to curl up and cry. So just a warning on that. Still, she was awesome as all heck when we did see her in action, even if she didn’t get much.

Speaking of the Carpenters, Maggie’s appearance was surprising and yet not, because it was so long overdue, but suddenly Harry turned around and was faced with her, just there, and he couldn’t run from his daughter anymore. And I could not be more thrilled about how that turned out. You go, Harry. And you go, Mouse! Mouse, Harry’s Tibetan Mastiff-like magical, mystical Foo dog was as brilliant as ever. I would give so much for my own Mouse, let me tell you.

Weirdly, I enjoyed Nicodemus’s role in this book. He’s as awful and horridly evil as ever, a true villain in every way, but weirdly enjoyable as one. He got no sympathy from me whatsoever, but I can’t wait to see his next appearance in the series. And to see his butt get kicked all over again, hopefully!  Though I have to admit, the Genoskwa terrified me a bit.

The many confrontations Harry found himself in the middle of (or starting, dammit Harry) started to show to what extent he’s beginning to exert control over the Winter in him. He pulled back the violent instincts a lot easier this time around, and seemed prepared for it. And Harry Dresden? Prepared for things? That’s character growth right there.

And if anyone is wondering about an appearance by the Lord of the Underworld himself, seeing as his vault is the target of the heist, then I’ll say yes. We get a little personal time with Hades himself, but I’ll say no more on that. It’s too cool to spoil.

I will say that I missed a few things, namely Thomas. He’s always a great character and I missed his snark and own brand of drama. Similarly, I also wished we’d seen more of Molly and Bob, though what little we did see was a promise of great things to come, I think. I do wonder what will happen with Bob now, what with Butters, his current boss, having this whole new position? Hmm…

The Outsiders and the Nemesis, too, were something I could’ve done with hearing more about, after that huge conflict Harry had with them previously. But a few certain things in Skin Game definitely promised more to do with them, and Mab’s war with them was referenced.

And the questions I was left with about that ‘parasite’! I will not be over that until the next book, which cannot come fast enough. I see many re-reads in the near and far future. Bravo, Mr. Butcher. Bravo!

5 / 5 Stars, easily!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Jim Butcher

– Meg

 

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Damned

Damned_Palahniuk

 

Written by Chuck Palahniuk

 

“Fans of otherworldly demons, Hell and I, Lucifer should definitely have a look at the debauched, dirty world that is Palahniuk’s Damned.”

 

I’ve read some “imaginative” material in my time, but Chuck Palahniuk’s “Damned” is definitely one of those books you have to tell someone about, even if they aren’t into books. This read is definitely unique in its setting, style and downright filth. So much so in fact, that I read it cover to cover in one uninterrupted sitting (excluding the wincing that occurred on page 76.)

 

Damned tells the tale of a 13-year-old whip tongued girl named Madison, who is the daughter to billionaire parents and has an “ample” frame. Whilst her parents leave her behind to gallivant around adopting orphans left right and centre, Madison dies of what she suspects to be a marijuana overdose, and awakens to find herself in hell. Of course you read this and think “Marijuana overdose? Boll*ocks!” I know I did. Not to sound like “a bad ass gangsta” but I have in the past smoked the old Marley Magic in the past. Good stuff too, not that dodgy sort from the inner cities that just makes you feel hungry and leaves you with a due sense of exhaustion and dread. And despite all the hot boxing, hollowed out cider bottles with biro casings sticking out of them, and woman wearing little more than a pair of bunny ears on their heads (it was a chuffing interesting party I assure you,) I never once felt as if the dope was going to make me croak. But before I bound on and rip into what seems to be a major plot hole, I am pleased to say that actually there is more to Madison’s death than meets the eye, and the actual cause of death unfolds as the book transpires.

 

Upon waking up in the sinister domain of hell, Madison finds herself incarcerated in a prison cell with countless others in a mass prison. In the cell next to her she meets the first of her motley crew of young sinners, a vain aloof girl named “Babette” who-even in the fiery pits of hell- talks with Madison about eyeliner. After a quick look around the prison’s other inhabitants, Madison soon meets a nerdy young boy named Leonard who has since had an obsession with the beasts and demons in hell. According to Madison he also has “Dreamy brown eyes.” A punk named Archer who brandishes a big Mohawk, and Patterson who appears to be an American football player.

 

Together the group break out of their cells, and Madison decides that she wants to traverse the infernal landscape of hell in search for Satan. It is here where Palahniuk’s unique style really becomes apparent. When most people think of hell they think of torture, blood, screaming and blazing fire. Chuck however decides to take a different approach. In Palahniuk’s hell, there lies candy on grubby floors, lakes of vomit, mountains made entirely from toenail clipping and (probably the most disgusting of them all) the sea of lost wasted sperm. Archer remarks that since the invention of Internet pornography on mortal Earth, the sea of spunk has been rising at record rates and has become Hell’s very own version of global warming. Along their way in search of the infamous devil, the crews have run-ins with various beasts and dangers. It is here where the book takes an “exotic” turn to say for the least.

 

Fans of otherworldly demons, Hell and I, Lucifer should definitely have a look at the debauched, dirty world that is Palahniuk’s Damned. For in it you witness Madison respond to an attack from a giant female demon, by climbing up her leg and (how do I put this) “pleasure” the demonic being with a living, talking severed head. You also see Madison discover that there are only two methods of employment in Hell. The first is to do live webcam sex shows, and the second is to cold call people on earth and ask them to fill out meaningless surveys, and this is just to start.

 

From the strange happenings in Hell, to the dramas on Earth involving one of Madison’s sinister adopted siblings, the bizarre adventures that occur on Madison’s quest to find the devil are at the very least memorable. It also treats you to a serious twist as the story draws to a close that is sure to leave your jaw by your ankles. It could almost be Keyser Sozeesque in its delivery.

 

However, this book isn’t without fault. One or two of the characters within the book I felt were unnecessary, and didn’t really add anything to the story. The most obvious example is the American footballer “Patterson”, who says very little or virtually nothing for the most part; to the extent you could almost forget he was ever there at all. Another issue is at times Madison’s voice comes across as too eloquent for a sinning 13 year old and can detract that much needed teenage element within a few of the pages.

 

 

Verdict

 

Regardless of a few hiccups with character and voice, if you like the idea of something a little unusual (such as a thirteen year old girl beating up Hitler and nicking his moustache,) or are a fan of dark comedy and the supernatural, then this is a book worth taking a look at.

 

4/5

 

Luke Hall

Mirror Sight, by Kristen Britain, REVIEW

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I’ve reviewed the first book of this series, Green Rider, before, and now I’m skipping right on ahead to the newly released fifth book, Mirror Sight, which I have been desperately waiting for since early 2011 after a horrifying cliffhanger ending from Ms. Britain.

In Blackveil, the previous book, we left Karigan G’Ladheon, seasoned Green Rider, fresh from a confrontation with Mornhavon. She’d denied him literally astronomical power and the fallout left her blasted through the layers of the world, trapped in a sealed stone coffin who knows where, injured, her air supply dwindling and supposedly no help forthcoming. Imagine waiting three and a half years for that to be resolved!

Thankfully, here we are picking right up where we left off. You know, our beloved Karigan about to die horribly and all that. She of course survives – where would we be without the heroine of the story? – and finds herself almost 200 years in the future where magic no longer seems to exist and an empire has all but erased Sacoridia and everything she knows and loves. Though this sounds pretty flaky for a high fantasy series, trust me, trust the writer, and don’t fret; Britain has integrated time travel shenanigans into the series before, and she continues to carry it on marvellously.

The previous few novels have explored the POVs of other various characters, which was fascinating, fun and important, but I have to admit that it was great getting back to Karigan more in this book, with just enough outside POV to spice it up and keep the other plot threads moving along. Despite this, I still rather missed hearing from a few well-loved characters as the book progressed.

As usual, Kristen Britain’s writing was brilliant, a great blend of intensity, drama, action and hilarity come together to make Karigan’s story shine. The description of so many new and amazing, if terrifying, things within her world was something I eagerly ate up, particularly the steampunk-ish elements of the magic-and-otherwise-powered technologies of this awful future in which Karigan has found herself. As a reader, the more you see of this future, the more you whole-heartedly agree with her urgent need to get the hell back to her own time and prevent it from coming to pass.

Although I adored this book, as I always will with anything Britain creates, I was left yearning for more. And not just because of the three year wait between books! Many questions were left unanswered, even un-attended to, from previous books. Though I totaly understand this, seeing as the heroine has been tossed into the far future by a death god who is up to – well, only he knows what. Still, I was hoping to hear more about Alton, Estral’s loss of her magical and evidently extremely important voice, the other Green Riders, their history, about what that awful Grandmother and her crew are up to in Blackveil Forest, about King Zachary, and about Amberhill, especially after his last chapter in the book in which he woke up them.

But, for anyone who has read Blackveil and was as interested in Yolandhe the Sea Witch as myself, boy are you in for a treat towards the end of Mirror Sight. It’s not morally right or pretty, what she does, but new personal idol? Hell, yeah. Talk about girl power.

Overall, I was blown away by this book, and I’m already sitting around pining for the next instalment.

The romantic choices were surprising, but enjoyed (if painfully), the ending was beautifully painful as is becoming the norm for Britain, the foreshadowing throughout the book had me shaking in fear but clueless as to where it would lead up until the moment it happened (‘Mirror sight’ – you’re not bloody kidding!), and the story was a fantastic adventure, even if it started of a teensy bit slow and had the vague feel of a ‘filler’ novel, though I by no means believe it unnecessary to the series as a whole. It is more that it has added a whole new urgency to it.

[4.5 / 5]

Please go read this series!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Kristen Britain

P.S. Look at the breathtaking full image of the US cover art by Donato Giancola and check out his website and gallery!

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– Meg

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, REVIEW

 Whoo, well, here we are, after two weeks of nothing from me. But things pile up and work happens and we sadly have to deal with that. But now, here’s my promised review of Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor!

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It’s the final instalment of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, and boy is it a doozy. What began as a tale of an art student leading a secret second life as an errand girl for monsters has blown up into a realm-crossing war between angels and chimaera, the two inhabitants of the world ‘next door’ to Earth, Eretz. Yes, we know that’s Hebrew for ‘Earth’. The irony was not lost.

In the two previous books we’ve seen love, loss, death, war, betrayal, and back to love, only for the cycle to repeat.

Karou, after a vicious attack from the Wolf, leader of the waning numbers of the chimaera rebellion still left alive, has orchestrated an explosive betrayal and taken control of the rebellion, none of whom but a trusted few are any the wiser of which. Now she has to stop them from carrying on this futile war and inevitably destroying themselves out of a need for revenge that would prove pointless once they’re all dead. Never mind keeping her and Akiva’s respective rebel armies from tearing at each other’s throats, even as they attempt to ally themselves against the greater threat that Jael poses. We’ve heard nothing but how much chimaera and Seraphs loathe each other, and it was nail-biting, to say the least, watching them attempt to survive together.

What I love most about this series, aside from it’s fresh take on angels and fantasy, is the characters, and they do not disappoint in Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Every single character has a very distinct and unique personality that shines through in their actions. No matter how despicable they may be, I still find myself completely engulfed in the passages featuring the villains, because they are just wrote so well. This series definitely has some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen, made all the better when they interact among themselves.

I am always unsure what exact genre the trilogy is, my opinion hovering somewhere between YA paranormal romance and fantasy, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters certainly leaned more towards the latter in the final arc, but whatever it is, it’s done very well. I never quite favour one world over the other, desperate to know how Earth is faring in the wake of the Seraph invasion, even as I long to learn more about Eretz and how the war is progressing. At the same time, I’ve found myself heavily invested in the romances blossoming – and crumbling – throughout the books. Zuzana and Mik are the constants, never doubting one another, together through everything, and willing to sacrifice anything, even their fragile, human, mortal lives, to help Karou and Eretz. They kept me sane through the twists and turns, particularly when it comes to Karou and Akiva. Finally, finally, these two begin to see that they aren’t the monsters they thought themselves to be, and that they may deserve forgiveness, and even each other. But things are never easy for these two and while they’re beginning to reconcile with themselves and each other, there’s much going on behind the scenes, as it were, that may yet tear them apart again and forever.

A vicious queen Seraph and her magi are hunting Akiva after the massive release of power he demonstrated in the previous book, determined to put an end to the threat he poses that could destroy everything these near-mythical angels of the Far Isles have fought for over the millennia. Scarab, the queen in question, is young, but hard and brutal. Even so, she is sympathetic. Though they vowed never to get involved with the Empire’s wars and path of destruction, she actually saves the lives of our rebel armies. She sees the value in warriors fighting against something they could not hope to defeat, yet fighting with hope anyway. It’s time for her and her people to do the same.

It is Scarab’s arrival into the story that truly turns it on its head. Suddenly, much of Karou and Akiva’s troubles of the past seem horrifically insignificant in the larger scheme of things. I’m not going to spoil it and reveal this revelation, but I will tell you to go back in the series, and pay very close attention to Razgut, to the tales of their species origins that Madrigal and Akiva tell one another, and to the title of this particular book. It rocked my world almost as much as it did Karou, Akiva and everyone else’s. Then you’ll realise the full horror of the bruises spreading across the sky, and why the creatures of Eretz should never have crossed onto Earth or any new universe.

I had to put the book down for almost a full day, and nothing can stop me reading when I love something this much.

Unfortunately, I worry that it might just be too big. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the plot twist, and the history behind it. A lot of things suddenly made a lot more sense, and made the rest of the series that much more poignant. But in the end I was left feeling almost as if Daughter of Smoke and Bone had been something of a prequel series. The plotlines that had emerged from book one and grew and twisted in book two were certainly resolved, which is far better than some series’ ever managed, but book three perhaps introduced something far too big and brilliant to just be left unresolved. I mean, read this entire series and tell me; can you believe we were worrying over Karou’s douchey ex-boyfriend in the first book when all along this has been hanging over them?! I mean, jeez.

Though I was left feeling like I had an unfinished series in my hands, I do understand the intention behind it. To paraphrase, “this was not a happy end, but a happy middle,” and it makes sense in that context. They’ve fought past most of their prejudices and bloody history, and now all of Eretz is ready to fight against the new – but very, very old – enemy, finally. Many YA series end in a sort of ‘happily ever after’ state, making me roll my eyes, because they’re still so young, and still have the rest of their lives. Where’s that happy ever after? This series manages to escape that trope, showing readers that their lives and loves are just beginning, even after so much strife.

I’m now just desperate to know what happens next in a trilogy that is over! Here’s hoping for a spin-off, or a sequel series, anything to give the closure so many readers now need. Though I’d rather Karou and Akiva be left alone for a while. They deserve some hard-won peace after their very long-lived, very rocky beginning.

But gods above and below, that was one hell of a beginning.

4/5 Stars. Kept me on my toes constantly!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Laini Taylor

– Meg

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – review

With one of the most unique and compelling storylines I’ve ever read, this book is not like the curious incidentmajority of mystery novels that can be found in bookshops today. Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 2003, and written by Mark Haddon, this novel follows the story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who suffers from a disorder which falls somewhere on the autism spectrum – his actual diagnosis is not stated in the book, although he refers to himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”. The book utilises a first-person narrative as it serves as Christopher’s diary, and opens with the protagonist reporting on his finding of his neighbour’s dog lying dead on the grass outside her house. Right away, we can see that his interactions with situations and people are not like other people’s, as he has a very specific way of seeing the world around him and interpreting what is occurring, and this alone makes the book engaging right from the start because his outlook is so distinctively fascinating and intriguing.

Haddon gives us a lot of insight into the way Christopher’s mind works, not  just through his direct thoughts, but via his reactions to what is happening around him – for example, when a policeman arrives to investigate the death of the dog, he is unaware of Christopher’s aversion to being touched, and so when he motions to move Christopher from his position on the grass, Christopher lashes out and hits him, because his learning disability prevents him from being able to rationalise in certain situations and so he simply reacts without thinking. I find this particularly interesting because it can be rather difficult to see things from the point of view of someone suffering from an affliction like autism unless you are exposed to it often, and so already, this novel is eye-opening and educational, not just for people who may not be well-informed about conditions such as autism, but also people who suffer from it themselves – they can use this novel to see a mirror of themselves, and finding someone to relate to can be very helpful for anyone struggling through a difficult time.

The educational aspect aside, this novel is brilliant for a plethora of other reasons too – the relationship between Christopher and his dad being a key element. We find out quite early on in the novel that Christopher lives alone with his dad, and their dynamic is charming and rather heart-warming. We see how his dad supports Christopher and his needs, in the way that he prepares his special meals sorted into colours [Christopher’s autism causes him to have a severe loathing of certain colours, meaning he can only eat specific foods of a particular colour], and also in the way that he understands and respects Christopher’s boundaries – for example, instead of trying to force Christopher to get over his distaste for physical affection, he devises a way for them to show affection without touching – he holds up his hand with his fingers splayed out to resemble a fan, and when he feels ready, Christopher holds his own hand up and presses his palm against his father’s, to indicate that he’s returning his father’s love. There are quite a few emotive scenes like this throughout the book, and they definitely bring a feeling of warmth to the story as it progresses.

In addition, the novel is flecked with diagrams sketched by Christopher, most of which show his unique way of thinking, as well as his impressive mathematical aptitude and his logical, all of which is captivating to study and work through as the reader.

Essentially, this book is great – not just because it contains a revolutionary protagonist who suffers from high-functioning autism [something I think needs to feature more in the media in order to educate people] – but because it manages to tell the story of a murder-mystery through the eyes of a young boy whilst also focusing on his personal life and his experiences as he tries to solve said mystery.

4/5 – This book has been a favourite of mine for many years now, and I definitely recommend it.

~Steph.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (novel) – review

Up until now, I’ve only been reviewing television shows on here, and while I love writing about the incredible programmes that grace our screens, I think a book review is long overdue. Written by Stephen Chbosky and published in 1999, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a compelling novel about a young boy trying to muddle his way through school, life, and love. I chose to write about this story for my first book review because it holds great meaning for me. While I often find myself becoming emotionally involved with many books that I read, this one really got inside my head in a way that others haven’t – it altered my way of thinking in a very positive way and I found it to be incredibly inspiring and moving, and it has now become one of my most treasured novels.

A definitively outstanding aspect of ‘Perks’ is its composition – it is transcribed in such an excellent way, with Chbosky going for the classic ‘journal’ layout, having the entire book being ‘written’ by the protagonist, Charlie, as a series of letters to an anonymous friend. The first-person narrative provides fascinating insight into Charlie’s teenage mind, thus allowing us to get an exceedingly firm grasp on his feelings and opinions, helping the reader to connect more with the character and empathise with the struggles he goes through. We get a very private, and at times unsettling, view into how Charlie’s experiences have shaped him into the person he is, and, on occasion, the tone of the novel hovers between refreshingly frank and painfully honest as we see Charlie battle the demons inside his head while also trying to deal with the stresses of starting high school and making friends.

In his letters, he vocalises his worries about people disliking him and thinking that he’s ‘weird’ but he admits to keeping quiet about these fears when asked about it by his parents – his aversion to attention then carries over into his interactions at school, thus earning him the title of ‘wallflower’.  However, the book manages to steer clear of sounding pretentious or angsty when delving into sensitive areas such as these, and deals with everything in a way that is tactile and careful, while still retaining the feeling of ‘realness’.

A particularly poignant scene from the movie adaptation of the same name.

A particularly poignant scene from the movie adaptation of the same name.

In terms of the actual writing itself, Chbosky has written the character of Charlie brilliantly, giving him a naïve sort of innocence that the reader can’t help but love; though his attempts at being what he deems ‘normal’ are sometimes misguided and often backfire, we can see that Charlie is simply a conflicted young man who is trying to figure out life just like a lot of people. This makes him likeable and easy to relate to as a main character, which I believe effectively spurs the reader on to cheer for him as the underdog.

The other characters are also brilliantly written, each with their own individual quirks and traits that become apparent when they each meet Charlie – while he begins the story as a frightened young boy who has been through a lot of hardship in the past, he starts his first year of high school and he soon discovers that life can actually be fun after he befriends Sam and Patrick, two students who are in the year above him, along with their eclectic group of friends. This then leads on to many first experiences for young Charlie – first kiss, first drink, first time having sex – some facets of the hedonistic lifestyle that some teenagers dream about. The character of Sam in particular is key in Charlie’s journey into maturity, as she is essentially his gateway into the world of ‘firsts’ – she is his first love, and seeing his feelings described so openly in his letters gives everything a certain rawness that is both addictive and entirely heart-breaking. Another character that holds a lot of weight throughout the novel is the aforementioned Patrick, who happens to be Sam’s stepbrother. Patrick experiences his own troubles throughout the story, his main concern being that the boy he is in love with is deeply in the closet and doesn’t want anyone to know about their relationship for fear of retaliation. This impacts Charlie because when tension arises between Patrick and his secret lover [Brad], Charlie soon begins to learn that having friends means he cannot hide himself away anymore, especially when his friends may require his help.

But don’t be swayed by the possibly familiar-sounding tropes and themes of this novel – this isn’t simply a typical coming-of-age story about a teenage boy at school. From the moment it begins, ‘Perks’ touches on some very sensitive topics, including abuse, bullying, and social ostracism. Each aspect is written respectfully, and Chbosky ensures that themes of a serious nature, like depression and mental health issues, are in no way glamourised [as is often seen in the media of today] or treated as less important than they are, something which I wholeheartedly appreciate.

Although the book deals with some heavy subjects, it ultimately ends on more of a high than a low note. The ending itself is bittersweet – while Charlie is still struggling to overcome the fear and pain lingering in his mind, he realises that he doesn’t have to do it alone anymore and can see hope on the horizon. I felt this to be an extremely stirring way to end the novel, and I’ve found that it has helped me to persevere whenever I’ve come across an obstacle that I thought I couldn’t overcome. With a well of beautiful and intricate quotes peppered throughout –

We accept the love we think we deserve.

There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.

And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

– ‘Perks’ is a stunning read, and is an inspirational tale with some truly wonderful moments to behold. So, if you’re ever in a book shop and you see it on a shelf, buy it and take it home – snuggle up on the sofa with a hot drink and a blanket, and immerse yourself in the brilliance that is The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

love always

*Side note: The movie adaptation is fantastic too, with a stellar soundtrack featuring the likes of David Bowie, The Smiths, and the classic ‘Come On Eileen’, by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Go check it out!

5/5 – There are not enough words to express my adoration for this novel.

~Steph.

Something You Should All Go Do

This is a day late because I’m trash, but heigh-ho, whatcha gonna do!

This isn’t really a review or rant or anything, more like a fairly Quickpickle-ish post urging you to go read a certain series and why you should.

That series is Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, and has been one of my favourites for a long, long time. It’s about the wizard Harry – no, not that Harry. No, not that Harry either, dammit! – Dresden, a P.I. of sorts in Chicago. Though he goes more by ‘consulting wizard’ than ‘detective’. He’s even in the phonebook! Under ‘Wizard’, of course.

I have to get this out there; Butcher started off as a writing student who wrote a book to be an asshole, so he will always have a special place in my heart. He largely wrote fantasy (and has another series of that kind, Codex Alera, an impressive series on it’s own that sparked from a bet that he couldn’t write a book based on the ‘lame’ ideas presented to him. Those ideas were Pokemon and Lost Roman Legion. God bless this series) but was encouraged to write more like L.K. Hamilton because she was a pretty big deal then. He eventually decided to do it, but with a veritable truckload of salt. He chose to write the book like “some kind of formulaic, genre-writing drone” to prove how shitty that book would be. And he wrote the first book of The Dresden Files, ‘Storm Front’. And it is brilliant.

The series is fourteen books long, at present, with a few short stories and graphic novels thrown in for variety, and so the universe is far too extensive to fully get into in this one post, but wow. What a universe it is.

We’ve got rogue wizards and several flavours of vampire and werewolf, demons, fallen angels, warring Faerie courts, a perverted knowledge spirit living in a skull, Harley-riding lady cops, sassy apprentices, a zombie tyrannosaurus rex…

This world has it all. Name it and it’s been there, or it’s going to be. There’s a pattern to the enemies Dresden faces throughout the series, but still something new every book, a new threat or dirty move from his enemies, someone new to protect, someone trying to kill him.

The magic is awesome, the action is fast-paced and never lets you down, and the character is constantly a sympathetic one, even when he’s making stupid decisions. And he makes some really freaking stupid decisions.

I’m not going to drag this out, as I’ll just blather on for pages and pages about this series (it has a whole, huge RPG built around it, too!), so I’m going to just say read it! Maybe you’ll catch up in time for the newest book, ‘Skin Game’, which is released in May. For now, here’s the synopsis of the first book, maybe just to get you going.

STORM FRONT, JIM BUTCHER

Meet Harry Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard P.I. Turns out the ‘everyday’ world is full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in.

Harry is the best at what he does – and not just because he’s the only one who does it. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal capabilities, they look to him for answers. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get . . . interesting.

Magic – it can get a guy killed.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Jim Butcher

– Meg