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 Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Girl in the Blue CoatGirl in the Blue Coat* by Monica Hesse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girl in the Blue Coat is a story of bravery, the power of unromantic love, and ultimately, how we choose to cope with the consequences of our decisions and what those choices say about our true intentions.

Pros:
– The Girl in the Blue Coat achieves the thing I always chase in fiction and the very reason I believe it is so crucial: – it takes characters and situations we think we already know and adds complexities to them that challenges our worldview. This comes across in waves in Hesse’s characters making this an ideal book to encourage young adult readers to think about people more complexly.
– The setting made me see Amsterdam in a different light and the Dutch culture shone through the writing. It came as a surprise that Hesse isn’t Dutch herself which shows how authentic the book feels. Of course, this is from the perspective of an English reader, I would be interested to see how Dutch readers felt about this.
– It’s impossible to express why I love the characters so much without unveiling major spoilers but my goodness, you have to meet them in the pages for yourselves.

Cons:
– I’m not entirely sure who this book is for. The writing style is simplistic but occasionally quite mature vocabulary and old-fashioned terms throw the prose in a different direction. I think that’s a nod to the historical aspect of the book but it makes the characters’ voices feel far older than they are meant to be which cracks the authenticity somewhat. In the author’s note, Hesse mentions that the characters were originally adults and that shows through in their voices albeit, not necessarily in their actions and thoughts. It still works but a little tweaking would go a long way in improving the realism here.
– The ending felt rushed, especially when you compare it to the relatively slow build-up in the beginning. This was the only major letdown for me as the twist was the backbone of the whole story but the page-time given to it just didn’t do it the justice it so badly needed.

All in all, I loved this book but I can see why it might not necessarily capture the hearts of many younger readers. It’s a slow, delicate story for the most part and it doesn’t shout loudly about its life/death intensity the way many other YA books on the Holocaust do. In that respect, it can be well compared the Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief – it’s a novel to fall in love with but not one to recommend to a reader who wants a fast-paced, action-filled read.
It’s odd in that it is easily readable despite the tone with its simple sentences and its straightforward prose but then, there are odd sections that just knock you for six with how poignant they are. For instance, Hanneke’s expression of grief in the following quote:

“Here is the thing about my grief: it’s like a very messy room in a house where the electricity has gone out. My grief over Bas is the darkness. It’s the thing that’s most immediately wrong in the house. It’s the thing that’s most immediately wrong in the house. It’s the thing that you notice straight off. It covers everything else up. But if you could turn the lights back on, you would see that there are lots of other things still wrong in the room. The dishes are dirty. There is mould in the sink. The rug is askew. Elsbeth is my askew rug. Elsbeth is my messy room. Elsbeth is the grief I would allow myself to feel, if my emotions weren’t so covered in darkness.”

Though this book looks like misleadingly easy read from the prose style, it is perhaps best saved for those who get enjoyment from tackling philosophical issues through a more subtle and intricate lens rather than very young YA readers.

The Girl in the Blue Coat is a truly memorable read that succeeds in adding relatability and complexity to otherwise distant real historical actors who lived in Nazi-occupied territories.

*Note: In England the title is ‘The Girl in the Blue Coat’ whereas in many other editions, it is titled ‘Girl in the Blue Coat’; I read the English edition.

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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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