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: Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories by Konrad H. Jarausch and Michael Geyer

Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories
Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories by Konrad H. Jarausch &amp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thought-provoking, clever and at times harrowing, this book is no light-hearted read but it tackles essential issues that anyone trying to understand German history will undoubtedly encounter.

Though the focus of the book is more about German identity and Germany’s place in historiography, its ideas are pretty accessible to anyone with a keen interest in knowing more about the 20th century and Germany’s place within it. It approaches many difficult subjects with a painful honesty that puts trauma under the microscope and investigates its causes and consequences.

While certain chapters of the book would be more useful if you’re studying a specific theme or period of German history, it’s really in the book’s completeness that it gives you a well-rounded perspective of the issues with looking at complex histories and identities which is an invaluable tool for any student looking to expand their critical thinking.

Shattered Past also has a goldmine of research to draw from which, when approaching the daunting swath of literature about 20th century Germany, is a vital yellow brick road through which to learn more about particular issues. What’s more, the book evaluates a broad range of literature and assesses their usefulness in turn which can save a student many hours of being slogged over articles only to find them of poor reputation.

After reading the book from cover to cover over a period of six months, my heavily annotated and underlined copy will have a secure home on my bookcase for a long time as it’s one of the most thought-provoking academic books I’ve read so far.

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Review: Death Masks (Dresden Files #5) by Jim Butcher

Death Masks
Death Masks by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Satisfyingly Different.

Although this book loosely follows the formula of the preceding Dresden Files stories, this instalment packs a political punch and is a worthy follow-up to the drama of Summer Knight. This time, we’re introduced to a darker side of magic that makes the sidhe we encountered previously look like childsplay.

Fortunately, we’re also introduced to a host of new characters and its the relationship Dresden builds with these (and the old favourites, naturally!) that really makes this book work. This gives Dresden’s personality the time to shine and really brings more to his character other than the self-pitying, misogynistic smart-ass side we’ve seen too many times at this point. Though a lot of that still exists, the well-needed added depth to Dresden is enough to keep the reader hooked as we follow him through his barmy world of wizarding adventures.

Death Masks takes quite a while to really get going thanks to a lengthy intro about the White Council which initially put me off the book despite Dresden’s cringey comic relief comments. Still, the book more than makes up for this with its crazy action scenes that build a prepackaged action movie into your imagination. Although by this point these are cliché to the point of cringeworthy, they’re still a worthwhile guilty pleasure that seamlessly works with the plot.

All in all, the Dresden Files has came along way by this point from the cheesy first three instalments and is now turning out to be a pretty exciting, light-hearted series with enough dollops of suspense and darkness to hold interest.

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Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Subtly Powerful.

The Help seems worryingly cliché at first but a chapter or so in, it transforms into something refreshingly different. We see characters that feel so realistic it’s almost too raw to read about their experiences and though at first the line between the ‘good’ characters and the ‘bad’ is quite clearly drawn, this quickly begins to blur as we learn more about the lives these women (both black and white) lead.
Now, let me first say I’m in no way trying to distract from the race issue that is at the heart of The Help here but for what it’s worth, all the women in this book are trapped in their own cycle of frustration. It makes for hard-reading when you see them express this by taking it out on each other when it seems so obvious to the reader that everyone is hurting in their own way.

“She looks as her fancy kitchen like it’s something that tastes bad.
‘I never dreamed I’d have this much.’
‘Well, ain’t you lucky.’
‘I’ve never been happier in my whole life.’
I leave it at that. Underneath all that happy, she sure doesn’t look happy.”
– Page 44

It’s easy to see why many readers have felt this book has failed to live up to the hype, its build-up is subtle and slowly paced which could quickly become irritating if you opened the cover expecting fireworks. However, if you put the hype aside, you can appreciate how the subtlety of the book is exactly what makes it such a powerful, vivid read. Unlike many other fiction books that tackle the issue of race in 60s America, The Help doesn’t try to shock you into feeling. Instead, it gently coaxes it out of you, one observation at a time leaving your thoughts to join the dots long after you’ve put the book down.

Go into this book open-minded (preferably without reading many reviews) and read at least 20 pages before you start judging it pre-maturely. It’s well-worth the risk.

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Review: Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4) by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight
Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally an instalment in the Dresden Files series that I can confidently give a 5 star rating to!

Throughout my progress on the series so far I’ve met many reviewers saying ‘it gets good around book 3/4/5/6’ (the number varies massively depending on who you ask), and at long last I’ve found where in the series that moment happens for me and it’s here, right with this book which fortunately for me, is almost unrecognisable from the confusion and incoherence that was Grave Peril.

So why such a big turnaround?

First of all, Harry Dresden gets some long-awaited character development beyond the overly done funny-underdog-saves-the-day-by-a-hair’s-breadth-and-is-at-the-brink-of-death-two-dozen-times (phew!) formula that Jim Butcher keeps on winging out for him. Now we’re treated to only a little of self-pitying instead of being swamped by it and this alone does great things for Dresden’s likeability. We’re also introduced to much stronger and more interesting characters than Butcher has ever given us in the past and seeing Harry’s reactions to these gives a solid plus in his direction. It’s nice as well to see some old faces in the book – their personalities really took on a realistic shape thanks to the intricacy of the plot (more on that later).

Secondly, the humour in the books is either improving greatly or I’ve finally became used to it! It took some time to see it as anything other than cliché and cheesy action-hero lines but in Summer Knight Butcher finally takes the humour a little further and pulls it off to great effect.

Thirdly, the plot! Wow did this book get intricate! A far-cry away from the previously simplistic plots of figuring out the bad guy and taking said bad-guy down via several drawn out action scenes (view spoiler), Summer Knight’s plot takes on a much more ambitious storyline and manages to make it work throughout the entire book. I must admit, I was a little lost-off around 200 pages towards the end but I soon managed to pick up on what was going on thanks to brilliant pacing and plot development.

Last but not least…

How much more incredible does the magical world get in this book? You need to read it to believe it. I didn’t think the series would ever go beyond anything more than ‘whodunit’ with a pinch of magic thrown in for variety but instead, it becomes much much more.

Finally this series is starting to live up to the hype that surrounds it by giving us a glimpse of where Jim Butcher’s world-building talent lies. I can’t wait to move onto to Death Masks and see what more adventures Harry Dresden has in store for us!

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Review: Company of Liars

Company of Liars
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an excellent book and Maitland did a brilliant job of bringing the past to life in a way that was realistic without being overwhelming.

In parts the plot pacing was a little shaky as it could often be quite slow but I think this was more than compensated for by the great attention to detail which kept the reader hooked into the plot by all the eccentricities of medieval life. I absolutely loved all of the superstition and religious elements that were included! They’re the main reason I enjoy studying the medieval period and Maitland did a brilliant job of including them without it becoming overbearing or without it seeming out of line with our modern beliefs on what is and isn’t possible (view spoiler). Furthermore, the mysteries were very deftly done and I spent most of the book trying to second-guess what was behind them all. Though some were a bit of a let down, I do think this was more in part to the amount of suspense leading up to them rather than the plot itself – with that much suspense constantly building up throughout a novel most revelations would feel like a let down!

The entire theme of truth throughout the novel was a pretty unique take on a book like this and I thoroughly enjoyed how it was explored in most situations. It didn’t delve too far into challenging whether lying was necessarily a bad thing in every scenario but it did raise enough questions to make the book linger in the reader’s mind long after they finished a chapter.

A writing device used in the book I particularly liked was the way Maitland had the characters tell stories and, instead of repeating them to us parrot fashion, she voiced their content through the different reactions of the character’s. This really helped keep my interest up in the story as well as move the plot on very nicely while giving us more information about the characters.

The only criticism I would have of the novel, and a small one at that, is that the characters of Osmond, Adela and Rodrigo would’ve been better with more development. This is particularly the case with Adela as the fact that she was ‘tender-hearted’ was both shown and told to the reader repeatedly but there seemed to be very little else to her and this did get a bit irritating towards the end. A much stronger backstory for all three of those characters would have improved the book tremendously, I’m aware there is some extra material to accompany the novel so I hope I find what I’m looking for in there!

All in all this book was a fantastic read and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in either English history and/or myths and legends.

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