Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unoriginal but so fun to read that I barely cared!

Pros:
– This book was so fun! Honestly, I had a great time reading it and I even found myself making excuses to re-read passages just so I could stave off the ending for a little longer. It’s a quest adventure with enough intrigue, danger and excitement to keep you page-turning.
– This was one of the most authentic representations of what it’s like to grow up poor that I’ve read. It wasn’t so over the top that it ambushed the story but it showed how different ‘normal’ looks from the perspective of someone who doesn’t grow up with a great deal of money.

Cons:
– Okay, I love that this was 80s heavy because it gave me a whole new appreciation for the decade but it does blur the audience of the book a little – a YA novel with an abundance of eighties references? I can see how that easily would put off a lot of readers. However, the author does a great job of making the references quite clear and well-explained without making the reader feel as though they’re being lectured which, with a bit of perseverance, should help most readers unfamiliar with the eighties.
– A lot of the time this didn’t feel like an original book at all. It just had so many tropes and predictable bits that it felt like a mash-up of most of the things I enjoy from other films and books in this genre. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad mash-up but it is something to be heavily acknowledged and if this book hadn’t have given me so much joy to read it would have definitely knocked a star or two away from it.

If you’re looking for a serious read with hearty, emotional take-home messages throughout then this isn’t the book for you. I’m surprised how much I’ve thought about it after reading as I did expect to forget about it a week later with it being such a fast-paced, action, light-hearted read but the adventure stayed with me.

It works great as a standalone but I’m so intrigued by the universe Cline has created that I hope we see more of it – perhaps as an adult or more serious book.

All in all, a fab summer read.

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Review: Troublemakers by Catherine Barter

TroublemakersTroublemakers by Catherine Barter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A book with more diversity than action which ultimately makes it a slow and quiet read a far cry from what the blurb seems to promise.

Pros:
– The diversity and liberal thinking in Troublemakers was wonderful to read and it kept my interest up throughout as I was curious about how Barter was going to continue to present these characters in a complex way without going to stereotypes; she did it brilliantly! This makes Troublemakers easily one of my favourite books for how it displayed a variety of lifestyles in a normalised way without shouting about them
– In a climate where there’s a desperate push to engage young people in politics, I enjoyed the maturity of the protagonist’s political dilemmas, although, that same maturity didn’t make her feel like a very realistic teenager. Her depth of thought about politics clashes with her naivete about relationships and I feel that being very perceptive in one area would imply you are in the other. She didn’t feel realistic or all that interesting.

Cons:
– I wanted this book to be written by Danny. Danny was the most interesting character and I was bored by a fairly easy-going coming-of-age story when we could have been given something with so much more depth from Danny’s viewpoint. If that was made into a prequel I’d buy it in a heartbeat!
– There were a few scenes in this that completely took me out of the book and ruined it for me; they were entirely unrealistic and took away from the story
– The entire book felt as though it was building to something that doesn’t happen, the climax is ultimately anti-climatic and it all gets solved very neatly and they live happily ever after. The blurb had me expecting a novel with a bit more of a punch, I would’ve been far happier with the book had it been marketed differently to suit its style

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Review: The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A highly immersive fantasy read that gives a hopeful strong start to the daunting (in terms of how much of my life will be spent reading it!) yet exciting series ahead.

This series was recommended to me by my boyfriend and on agreeing to give it a go, I was nervous for four reasons:
1) We enjoy very different books and rarely think too much about each other’s reading choices so our recommendations to each other are fairly few and far between but he loves the series so much I was convinced I had to give it a go.
2) Jack’s now on his second reading of the series within the space of a year so I already feel as though my head has been battered with the peripheral information I’ve picked up about the WoT universe and a lot of that information sounds bizarre out of context.
3) This series is huge! Weighing in at a mammoth 11,000 odd pages, it’s a daunting undertaking to say the least.
4) I’m not a great lover of fantasy fiction. Most of the time I find it too dry and overly full of complex lore and history that I just don’t want to understand. Hear me out here before you judge me! I’m a history student. Reading fantasy fiction feels too much like work and I get irritated that its work that I can’t actually do much with except grapple to understand it while thinking I should be spending that time learning actual history instead. So I’m not charmed by any fantasy other than LOTR and even that feels like a lyrical textbook I want to study rather than get absorbed in.

So I braced myself to hate the world of WoT and to have to read my golden rule of at least 56% of this first book (which would come to around 450 pages) before casting it as a DNF. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I fell in love with the world and pored over the new discoveries about its history, cultures and wonderfully thoughtful details. I was enchanted by the characters and the brilliant pacing of their developments and relationships with each other and their discovery of the world around them. The female characters are also like a breath of fresh air, I didn’t expect much given that the book was written in the early 90s and of my vaguely misogynistic impressions of the fantasy genre so it came as a huge relief when they weren’t just portrayed as damsel-in-distress love/sex objects but actually carried a huge punch of personality and independence.

The considerable downside was the plot; for me, it was meh. I didn’t care much for how it progressed and there were so many times where I wanted the pacing to be different. Sometimes the actions of the characters felt out of sync with their personalities just so it could move the plot and that bothered me. On top of that, it just felt like the plot was a vehicle to build the world rather than actually serving any other purpose. I didn’t care what happened, I cared about the characters and the world. Perhaps, for so early on in this huge series, that is enough for now.

Above all, I loved the readability of the writing and that is what makes me excited for the books ahead. Unlike a lot of fantasy fiction, all of the immense detail didn’t make the fantasy feel like work; it made it come alive. This could be because of how many ideas Jordan borrows from what I know of medieval and early modern Britain; the world feels familiar enough to make me believe in the fantastical. If this book is any indication of what the series as a whole will be like then I’m looking forward to seeing how the Wheel turns!

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Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting twist on coming-of-age character arcs and on The Breakfast Club story that most (older) readers will be familiar with; One of Us Is Lying adds depths to characters that transforms stereotypes without development feeling shoehorned into a plot.

To address and avoid the spoilers that some people have taken issue with; I’d like to throw in my opinion that McManus handled the sensitive issues brilliantly in the context they were in. Had she written about them in another way (as some people have recommended), they would stick out like a sore thumb in a book that beautifully depicts the trials and tribulations of adolescence. As for the secrets of the characters, they were all developed throughout the story and in keeping with the way the mystery unfolded to keep up the suspense and to show that teenagers, just like anyone, have their secrets. Certain issues were not thrown in there for effect or for plot drama, they were well handled and very relevant to how these issues present themselves in the lives of young adults.

Now that’s over with…
This book was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The author’s skill lies in how she adds depths to all the characters and smashes through the stereotypes that feel exhaustively shitty to begin with. Persevere through the first couple of chapters and be aware that they frame the book, they’re not by any means what the author sticks to. Instead, with great subtlety and care, the author takes us along the individuals’ own paths of self-discovery and it feels as painful, dramatic and emotional as teenagers’ lives often are in reality.

The plot is fairly meh and has its clumsy aspects hence 4 stars instead of 5 but it is interesting enough to keep the reader plotting along – you can tell pretty early on that the advertised plot isn’t the book’s main focus but the glue to piece together the more interesting elements.

I’d definitely read this again to get pointers for character development in my own writing and I’d highly recommend it for teenagers facing issues with identity or who are having difficulty in imagining the complexity in the lives of others. The range of characters means there is a good chance one (or many) will resonate with you and the people you encountered growing up; their different viewpoints bring the story to life.

This book can be summed up neatly in just three words: Individuals Contain Multitudes.

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Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

World War Z is as difficult to forget as it is to read, but by no means does that make it a book to avoid. Its unique structure brings life (haha) to an overdone genre by giving it the credibility it drastically needs without withholding the horror that appeals to so many zombie enthusiasts.

Pros:
– It’s easily the most convincing horror book I’ve read, which, for a zombie apocalypse-esque book, is really saying something.
– The interview structure of World War Z means it isn’t your typical gore-fest but is instead all the more chilling because it feels far too realistic.

Cons:
– It’s a dry book. Since there aren’t any continuing characters, plots, overarching storyline etc. the fictional accounts in the book have to work really hard to keep up the reader’s interest and for me, quite a few of them failed.
– Most of the accounts are far too short. Though this leaves you with nicely creepy question marks hanging over each account, it’s also pretty frustrating as, just when you begin to warm to an interviewee, their story is over. Some of these accounts didn’t even amount to a full page on my e-reader and this itty-bitty nature of the book becomes tiresome.

I went into World War Z knowing as little about the book as I could other than the often-repeated phrase, ‘it’s completely different to the film’. The oral history structure took me by surprise as I’ve never seen it orchestrated as convincingly and as comprehensively as Brooks has managed to in this book. This credibility is the main appeal of the book for me as I get bored of all the gore in the zombie genre which usually comes at the cost of believability so it was something special to find a book this disturbing in its realism.

That being said, the realism had the double-edged sword of also making for quite dull reading in some parts. A few times I had to force myself to keep on going because I was bored stiff of a particular account but didn’t want to miss any of the story we’re tasked to piece together from fictional interviews. This is often the case with non-fiction oral history – it’s incredibly difficult to weave different accounts together to build-up a bigger picture without being too selective and distorting the picture altogether. So again, its occasional dullness was bearable and gave greater weight to the book. Just bear in mind that it’s not something you’ll likely want to read for long periods of time without a break, nor is it something you’ll want to read before you sleep (it led to some pretty convincing and disturbing nightmares for me!).

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Review: Marly’s Ghost by David Levithan

Marly's GhostMarly’s Ghost by David Levithan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A generous 3 stars.

I didn’t know this was A Christmas Carol retelling when I picked it up (otherwise I would have quickly put it down – studying ACC for my GCSEs in-depth took away a lot of the joy from the story), I just remembered Levithan having a refreshingly different take on relationships from when I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written by the amazing human that is John Green). This book wasn’t refreshing however, it was cute but the fun ended there. After the ghost of Valentine’s Day ‘present’ the story car crashes into a cheese-fest.

Pros:
– The relationship between Tiny and Tim really warmed my heart and was the best part of the book by miles. There was a beautiful picture of affection in those characters and it was wonderful to imagine. It’s just a shame I can’t figure out how (other than the obvious name reference) they relate to the rest of the book.
– Ben, the protagonist, was a very relatable character and this gave the beginning of the book some much-needed depth.

Cons:
– Victorian dialogue in a book about contemporary teenagers. Oh dear.
I hated having Dickens’ references so crudely forced into present-day culture, it could have been far better if it was done with a bucket load more subtlety. Have you ever heard a teenager say the word ‘beseech’…?
– For a book with serious themes (death, loss, love, hope, depression plus others that I can’t mention without adding spoilers but trust me when I say they’re on the more mature end of YA fiction), this story was written in an incredibly simple, child-like style. I’m pretty confused at who the target audience is. The story is aimed at 14+ years old (by my humble estimation) but the text reads like it’s meant for older children (around 10 years old) rather than teens.
– After the second ghost, the rest of the book is so disjointed and cheesy that it makes for painful reading. It’s a downright shame because the majority of it until that point is building up to an inspiring and heart-warming story. It felt rushed and awkward in the last 40 or so pages and that broke the intention of the whole story (as explained in the author’s note at the end) for me.

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Review: Stranger Child (DCI Tom Douglas, #4) by Rachel Abbott

Stranger Child
Stranger Child by Rachel Abbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For an ambitious plot, this book succeeded in having a brilliantly realistic human feel to it that carried the suspense wonderfully throughout the novel.

Pros:
– I was genuinely moved by how compassionate Emma was and how the author showed how this heightened compassion faced some tough decisions with the arrival of Tasha. My favourite part of the whole book was seeing how this character coped with impossible situations and how real her love for others felt.
– This book is advertised as a gripping thriller and it certainly delivers, the plot keeps you intrigued the whole time and its fast-paced action keeps you on tenterhooks as Abbott pulls no punches in dishing out twists and turns.
– Stranger Child is immensely absorbing – seriously. It should come with a warning that reading it will result in you detaching from everyday life for a few hours as you end up thumbing through the pages.
– The ending truly brought tears to my eyes, it was wonderful.

Cons:
– A small criticism but Tasha herself could have done with being a more developed character. In comparison to how well-written Emma’s characterisation is, most of the other characters paled in my mind when reading.

I picked up this book from Amazon’s new Prime Reading service that allows people with Amazon Prime memberships to ‘borrow’ 10 books from a small selection for free. Because this book was one of the few options to borrow for free, I really wasn’t expecting very much from it at all – I hadn’t heard of the author before and I didn’t even realise the book was meant to be part of a series. I just saw the cover and wanted an easy read to take my mind off real life for a few hours.
Boy, did this book go above and beyond my expectations!

Instead of it being a lazy read to relax with, I found myself fighting off tiredness to finish the whole book in one sitting. The plot is entirely absorbing and the characters, especially Emma, feel so life-like that you’re drawn to them. In fact, Emma is pretty much the whole reason I was in love with the book, she felt incredibly real and her compassion for all the characters around her brought the whole story to life, particularly her love for Ollie, it almost felt too tender to intrude on.

Do yourself a favour – don’t read anything else about this book. Pick it up, clear your schedule and dive right into the story, if you like suspense thrillers, you will love this book!

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