Friday, 28 December 2012


Title: Feed
Series: Newsflesh #1
Author: Mira Grant
Pages: 571 (paperback)
Published: May 1st 2010
Published by: Orbit

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.

Zombies came and there was chaos. Then people got over it and began trying to live their lives again. It was bloggers that spread the word of the original uprising, and this medium has taken over much of the media. Georgia and Shaun Mason are two such bloggers who, along with Georgette "Buffy" Meissonier, win a place on the campaign trail of Peter Ryman. They thinks it's going to be the launching pad their career needed, but there's so much more going on than they know...and there are still all those zombies out there too!

This book is a light, humorous look at America trying to carry on with a normal life 20 years after two miracle cures - for the common cold and cancer - join forces, mutate and cause the Rising: zombies. For obvious reasons, the story and humour both were sometimes a little dark, but it was a nice twist on the normal zombie story.

The story focuses on bloggers - who've taken the place of televised journalists - Georgia and Shaun Mason and Buffy Meissonier as they go on the campaign trail. The characters are likeable and most have their moments of brilliance, though it gets a little annoying that we are constantly reminded that Shaun likes to 'poke dead things with a stick' and that Georgia has retinal KA. In the case of the latter I understand that it is a significant, and annoying, part of her life but it seems like we can't go two pages without being reminded of this fact.

George does make a good narrator, if she does over explain things at times; this may be cleverly done and be based in her journalistic roots, but there is an awful lot of showing rather than telling which makes me think it's more the author coming through than George herself. The little snippets taken from other characters' blogs were good, and each did have their own distinctive voice.

The story as a whole was intriguing and very few clues were given as to what was actually going on, keeping you guessing until the characters themselves find out. This was nice in that I was saved being exasperated at the sheer stupidity of characters not realising what was going on when it has been made clear enough for to the reader to work it out, but a little frustrating in that I didn't think there weren't really enough clues to tell you that something was going on until it was revealed. You think it's just going to be about zombies and stuff, and then it's all like *BOOM* now there's this going on too! I would have liked a bit more of a precursor.

This book was a pretty solid 3 stars for most of it. This is, until we reach the end.

The ending made this book for me. There were a couple of twists in the story prior to this point, but the peak of this story was brilliant for it's emotion rather than for its cleverness or inventiveness. A good story was made better by the sheer emotiveness of the writing and, for that reason, I've had to bump it up to 4 stars.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Ready Player One

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Pages: 374 (paperback)
Published: August 18th 2011
Published by: Crown Publishers.

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. 

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them. 
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig. 
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle. 
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to" win." But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape. 
A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

Wade lives in a digital world, spending the huge majority of his time escaping into the virtual reality of Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game OASIS. He goes to school there, and he spends almost all his spare time looking for the answer to the first clue to a treasure hunt left by the creator of OASIS. The one which will means whoever reaches the end inherits his fortune.

I was very much looking forward to this book. The premise is different, and it intrigued me for this reason. Humanity spends much of its time jacked into OASIS - a MMORPG of massive, world-wide proportions. People have more a life in the digital world than they do in reality. And who can blame them?

You can be whoever you want to be, and travel to any fantasy world that has been built. Upon reading that this included Middle Earth and Discworld among others I instantly found myself fervently wishing that it was actually possible because that would be beyond cool. I loved all the geeky references throughout the book, though I'm not really into video games so a lot of those passed me by. Still, I loved when I recognised a reference. But most of the television and music references were based in the 80s and while I was born in the 80s, I didn't grow up in them so almost all of that passed me by. I think I would have enjoyed this book so much more if it was taking me back to my youth in a way it probably does for slightly older readers.

The characters were all nice enough, but I never really got attached to them. This may be because I never felt they were ever really in any danger because most of the action takes places with their OASIS avatars rather than the people themselves. The central character in particular - Wade/Parzival - never really clicked with me and often I ended up liking the people he interacted with more than I liked him. Something just fell a bit flat, possibly because his whole life was OASIS and this isn't something I can relate to. While this is true for the other characters too, them not being POV characters lessens the effect somewhat I think: you don't see the way this (what basically amounts to) addiction does to them in the same way as you do him.

I loved the first section of the book, with it zipping along at a nice enough pace to keep you reading. However, in the second and third the pace slows a little to build the story somewhat. It was still an easy read, and I was interested enough to want to know what was going to happen, but something not quite tangible just wasn't present for me. The ending was very well done, though there was never really much tension for me - it always seemed like a foregone conclusion so I was never really worried about what was going to happen to any of the characters or what the ending was going to be. Regardless of this fact, I wanted to know how the ending was reached and enjoyed the ride getting there.

A fun read which I'm sure will be incredibly nostalgia-inducing for many people.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Ask and the Answer

Title: The Ask and the Answer
Series: Chaos Walking #2
Author: Patrick Ness
Pages: 517 (paperback)
Published: 2011
Published by: Walker Books

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. 
Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order. 
But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? 
And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode...
This second thrilling volume in the Chaos Walking trilogy is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel about resistance under the most extreme pressure.

Todd and Viola spent The Knife of Never Letting Go racing to reach Haven, hoping there to find refuge from the men of Prentiss Town, Todd's home, and the army issuing from there. But the end of their journey was just one disaster after another, and nothing turned out the way they were hoping. Now, they're in New Prentiss Town, each trapped by the promise of the other. In the last book we saw their relationship develop, and now we're seeing this being used against them.

This book had a very different feel than the last, and was in fact a lot easier for me to read. The last one was all from Todd's point of view, whereas here we also follow Viola's story as we follow the story of the two predominant groups emerging in New Prentiss town: the Ask, and the Answer. Each is fighting for what they believe in and each believes their is the best way, the only way, the world can work. Attacks are made, people are killed, and lies are told.

Though this is still definitely a kid's book, there are some darker themes than the first in the series with racism (against the Spackle - the native species of the colonised planet) and terrorism both quite heavily prevalent in this book. In fact, it was probably this maturation between the two that made it easier for me to read. Running away from a murderous army looking to take over the world isn't something I can really relate to, but racism and terrorism - unfortunately - are things we see far too much of. On top of this, there isn't as much 'noise' (the people of the planet being infected with a virus which makes them able to hear each others thoughts) featured, just making it easier for me not to get distracted by things go on on the next page or whatever.

Neither Todd nor Viola seemed to particularly change over the course of the book; rather, their presence impacts those around them, be it for better or for worse. Davy Prentiss Jr. is the most notable example of this, Todd's presence significantly impacting his life in a way I did not see coming at all. Because this is the first time we've seen them develop relationships that lasted more than a few hours, given the nature of the last book when they were constantly on the move. It was nice seeing them interact with new people consistently, and there are some relationships I'm intrigued to follow and see where they go.

There were some major events going on at the end of the story, and even more than the last one we're left with a cliff-hanger. I'm looking forward to the resolution of the story, and seeing where Todd and Viola end up.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Riddle

Title: The Riddle
Series: The Chronicles of Pellinor #2
Author: Alison Croggon
Pages: 512 (paperback)
Published: May 2nd 2005
Published by: Walker Books

Maerad is a girl with a tragic and bitter past, but her powers grow stronger by the day. Now she and her mentor Cadvan, pursued by both the Light and the Dark, are seeking the Riddle of the Treesong. This mysterious Riddle holds the key to restoring peace to her ravaged kingdom and defeating the enemies she is fated to battle. But what is the true nature of those enemies, and of the Riddle? And is Maerad herself the greatest riddle of all?

Maerad is a former slave, freed from her life of thraldom by the magic-wielding Bard Cadvan. He is now her mentor, and together they are trying to solve to riddle of the Treesong, hard when no one even really knows what it is or where to find it. In this, the second part of the Chronicles of Pellinor, we see them traverse vast plains, huge mountain ranges and cross the frigid north all in the search for information, following hints and half-clues.

This book pretty much immediately picks up where The Gift leaves off. Maerad and Cadvan are making their way to Thorold, seeking to escape the wrath of Enkir, and most of the first chapter is the typical 'this is what happened in the last book' reminders. It's a bit cumbersome, but the story soon reasserts itself, and it was nice seeing Maerad especially settle into being a School: for one thing, it wasn't just her and Cadvan riding around in the wilderness. While this is where most of the action takes places, I enjoy seeing the different cultures which Croggon has created in this world, and as far as I can work out the Throldians seem to be something akin to Italian. Loud, boisterous, but passionate and utterly dedicated to those they care about.

And is is here that Maerad finally begins to find herself as a person. She grows into who she is, shielded here somewhat from the dangers that have pursued her thus far. She grows in different ways through the rest of the story, but it was nice to see her just being a young girl here. I've got to say I don't really like the way in which this growth is achieved by the author later in the book. A different device was used than often, and while the events following it make sense, I wish that the trigger could have been different because for me it didn't really seem to sit with Maerad's character as I knew her. Though maybe that was the point. Her past plays a huge part in the way things turn out, and her thought process does make logical sense, I just didn't really like it. It is in this book that she finds her strength, and learns to rely on herself and her own abilities.

We get to see more of Barding in this book, but still not huge amounts. The 'magic' side of things isn't really that prevalent in any of the books, but I think this one especially. Yeah, it's important and plays its part, but there are some books where the characters use it left, right and centre and I sometimes would have liked to see a little bit more. You're told Maerad is learning High Magery, but are given only one example and I would have liked to hear more about the things which are accomplishable with The Gift.

Though the story is a little slow to start with, there are still bits and pieces of things going on, whether it's The Nameless One making his presence felt, Maered accidentally causing chaos with her abilities or things nudging them forward in the quest. It does get going properly eventually, but for me it just wasn't as good as the first book.