Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishers on 05-04-2012
Genres: Fiction, General, Hard Science Fiction, Science Fiction
Length: 15 hours, 40 minutes
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

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?

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★★

Strange but true: for some reason I was convinced Ready Player One was an old book, a sci-fi classic like Ender’s Game or Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Reality: Ready Player One was published in 2011.  Don’t ask me why I was convinced it was published in the 80s (especially since that doesn’t even really make sense given the 80s references in the book).

Also true: I was convinced I would dislike Ready Player One.  The concept interested me, but as a 90s child with no 80s knowledge, I expected it to be like listening to a relative go on about people they loved as a kid but that you’ve never heard of.

So by now, you’re almost certainly wondering why I bothered picking up Ready Player One, but I was looking for audiobooks for my commute and I heard so many great things about Wil Wheaton’s narration I decided it was worth a go!

The story

19 year old Wade Watts is our primary character.  Like pretty much everyone else, Wade spends almost all his time in the OASIS (The Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). The OASIS is a virtual world, through which people go to school, hang out with friends, meet new people and even work.   When James Halliday, the creator of The OASIS dies, he reveals that he has hidden an easter egg within The OASIS.  The person who finds this easter egg will inherit a ridiculous amount of money and Halliday’s share in the company that created The OASIS.

Like everyone else, Wade dreams of finding the Egg, but so far, the contest has been going on for years, and no one has even managed to find the first of the three keys, yet alone the Egg itself.  But Wade’s life outside The OASIS is miserable – he lives in a trailer park with family he doesn’t like, stacked high up in a pile of trailers constantly at risk of toppling, in a neighbourhood where mugging is a daily occurence.  So he goes to school in The OASIS, and he spends the rest of his time learning about the 80s, because everyone knows how obsessed Halliday was with the 80s, and the journal that Halliday has left makes no sense without an intense knowledge of 80s pop culture.  So he reads, and he watches, and he listens to music, and he racks his brain for what the first clue means and where the first key could be hidden.

When the first key is finally found though, things get very intense, very fast. From the clans that team up to try and find the keys to the professionals who are paid to try and find the keys so that the rival company can take over The OASIS, Wade’s life – and many others – will be permanently changed by the experience of hunting for the egg.

 

final thoughtsAll in all, despite my skepticism before starting, I really enjoyed Ready Player One.  I really loved the plot, the twists and turns and the constant guessing.  I definitely didn’t get all the references, but because they tie in so clearly to the plot, I didn’t really mind, and I loved that jolt when something unexpected pops up that you are familiar with.  My biggest limitation with Ready Player One was the characters – I liked them, but I didn’t adore them, which, as someone who is hugely character driven, I found a little disappointing.

Wil Wheaton’s narration is truly fantastic, and I can honestly say this was probably the perfect introduction to audiobooks for me.  I’ve listened to a few more audiobooks but none of them have been addictive in the way Ready Player One was!

Buy it? This is one that’s definitely worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: This book is like all those quotes that say ‘being a geek is cool’, rolled up into one and then filled with geeky references.  It’s fun, it’s gripping and it’ll make you feel like a rockstar whenever you get a reference.

Other Reviews of Ready Player One: Snuggly Oranges | Let’s Get Galactic | Read Breathe Relax

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The Queen of The Tearling (Erika Johansen)

The Queen of The Tearling (Erika Johansen)The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Series: The Queen of the Tearling #1
Published by Harper Collins on 17-07-2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Fantasy, Fiction, General
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Her throne awaits . . . if she can live long enough to take it.

It was on her nineteenth birthday that the soldiers came for Kelsea Glynn. They’d come to escort her back to the place of her birth – and to ensure she survives long enough to be able to take possession of what is rightfully hers.

But like many nineteen-year-olds, Kelsea is unruly, has high principles and believes she knows better than her elders. Unlike many nineteen-year-olds, she is about to inherit a kingdom that is on its knees – corrupt, debauched and dangerous.

Kelsea will either become the most fearsome ruler the kingdom has ever known . . . or be dead within the week.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★

 

The storyThe Queen of the Tearling is a book I heard absolutely loads about before I actually read it, and I think that did the book a disservice.  The problem is that so many of the reviews I was reading kept calling The Queen of the Tearling a YA Game of Thrones. Which, frankly, it’s not.  That’s absolutely not to say I disliked the book, just that it’s not at all what I was expecting.

For one thing, I wouldn’t call The Queen of The Tearling necessarily a YA read – it has a YA feel to it, but it also has some dark elements that would definitely put me off giving it to my teenage sister.  I actually really enjoyed the darker tone, because it’s refreshing and unusual, and stopped the story feeling too young, which would have been a definite possibility otherwise from my point of view.

For another, A Game of Thrones is a straight up fantasy series, while The Queen of The Tearling doesn’t fit so nicely into genre boxes!  The Queen of The Tearling is a complex blend of multiple genres, which is probably the most unusual and intriguing element of the plot and I’m really interested to see where it leads.

The characters

Kelsea, our 19 year old somewhat sheltered protaganist is a great heroine.  She’s definitely not perfect; she can be naive, she’s very concerned with appearance and she’s occasionally annoying, but that makes her all the more relatable.  She’s fiery and feisty and determined, which are all traits I absolutely loved about her.  Above all, Kelsea wants to do what’s best for her kingdom and her people, and although she doesn’t always know the best way to do that, she’s razor sharp, logical and prepared to do whatever she must.  She’s definitely got the potential to be a fantastic ruler.

There’s not a lot in the way of romance which is refreshing, but there’s some thick foundations laid for a love triangle, which isn’t.  I didn’t find either of the love interests for that triangle of particular interest, but I felt Kelsea’s thoughts/feelings/slight mental obsession for one grew too fast, so obviously I’m leaning towards the other interest!

I thought the royal guard needed some serious work; as a group they’re largely incompetent and that’s something that didn’t really work for me.  Having said that, I really liked some of the individual members of the guard, so maybe they can redeem themselves later on in the series.

final thoughtsThe Queen of The Tearling is an interesting genre-bending story of a young girl fighting for her kingdom and ruling as best she can.  There’s a lot of questions left unanswered, and from my point of view I’d have liked to see more of the world building.  Perhaps I’m just a bit of a fantasy snob, but the world building was too vague for me, unable to compare with the rich, complex worlds I associate with fantasy, like those of George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb or Sarah J. Maas. Although I can understand why the first book hasn’t just dumped all of the info on us, I feel largely unattached to the world because I don’t have a clear enough vision of it. An interesting start to the series nonetheless and I’m really intrigued to find out more about the formation of the lands and cultures in the world.

Buy it? This probably isn’t one I’d buy unless I could grab it on a deal.
In a nutshell: An intriguing blend of genres, a feisty heroine and a refreshingly darker tone, but I’d have liked more answers.

Other Reviews of The Queen of The Tearling: Uncorked Thoughts | Bibliodaze | Not Yet Read

One StarOne StarOne Star

Heir of Fire (Sarah J. Maas)

Heir of Fire (Sarah J. Maas)Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #3
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens on 11-09-2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, General, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 576
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Celaena has survived deadly contests and shattering heartbreak—but at an unspeakable cost. Now, she must travel to a new land to confront her darkest truth . . . a truth about her heritage that could change her life—and her future—forever. Meanwhile, brutal and monstrous forces are gathering on the horizon, intent on enslaving her world. Will Celaena find the strength to not only fight her inner demons, but to take on the evil that is about to be unleashed?The bestselling series that has captured readers all over the world reaches new heights in this sequel to the New York Times best-selling Crown of Midnight. Packed with heart-pounding action, fierce new characters, and swoon-worthy romance, this third book will enthrall readers from start to finish.

SPOILER ALERT: As Heir of Fire is book 3 in the series, there will probably be some spoilers for Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

 

The storyFollowing the cliffhanger ending of Crown of Midnight, in Heir of Fire Celaena is alone in Wendlyn, sent there by Chaol for own protection. Chaol is preparing to head home to Anielle with his father – something he never wanted but the price for ensuring Celaena’s safety.

Unlike previously, the characters are spread out in different areas, so in Heir of Fire, for the first time (I think, though it’s been a while since I read the first two), we have shifting points of view.  There are, I would say, three main threads to the story.  We meet Manon Blackbeak, a kick ass Irontooth witch, and we follow her from her isolated hunting down of Crochan witches to the gathering of three clans and all the backstabbing tension that entails.  We see Celaena, alone in the land of magic and myth, as she goes looking for the Fae, and we see Dorian and Chaol still in the Glass Palace.

At first I was unconvinced about the three storylines, particularly with the introduction of new characters, but it really works for the story.  I actually loved Manon’s story the most by the end!  The plot perhaps doesn’t move as far as in Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, so I think for me, without the multiple points of view, it could have run the risk of feeling like a bridge to book 4 only, without enough to keep me gripped.

 

The characters

In Heir of Fire, we see our old favourites – Celaena, Dorian and Chaol – but we also get introduced to a whole bunch of new characters too.  Celaena grows a lot throughout the story, both in terms of her abilities and her self-awareness.  She’s mentored by Rowan Whitethorn, a new character.  Rowan is a fae warrior who takes no crap – he has no issues telling Celaena when she’s being whiny or difficult, and he’s willing to fight her, to push her to her limits and to keep pushing her when she wants to give up but he knows she has more left.  A lot of people LOVED Rowan, but while I really liked him he just couldn’t compare to Manon…

Manon Blackbeak is a new character, and she’s one of our point of view characters.  Manon is bloodthirsty and ruthless and yet somehow still so immensely likeable.  At first I was kind of cautiously curious about her plotline but also skeptical because I already had characters I loved and how could Manon live up to those?! And yet, I ended up loving her as a character!  Her determination, her relationships with her thirteen, her training with the Wyverns… (And all I’m going to say about the wyverns is that they’re awesome and if someone could please get me one for Christmas that would be awesome)

We also meet Aedion Ashryver, who is abvove all, loyal to his cousin Aelin Galathynius.  Aedion didn’t have as much of an impact on me as either Rowan or Manon, and I don’t really want to say too much about where he fits into the storyline, but he’s an interesting, complex character I’m definitely curious to hear more about.

final thoughtsHeir of Fire is definitely a worthy follow up to Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight.  I thought the pacing was definitely a little slower than the first two books, but the new characters/character development easily made up for it for me.  There’s definitely less romance in Heir of Fire too, which is a little disappointing because Maas does romance so well but….well it does have wyverns so I think it can be forgiven! It’s also great to read a story which has such a focus on non-romantic relationships and development that isn’t driven by romance!  Despite being 500+ pages, I devoured this in a couple of days and although I do think it could have been shorter in order to up the pace a little without losing anything, I really enjoyed it.

Buy it? Yes, absolutely!
In a nutshell: A fantastic follow up, with some truly amazing characters.  Definitely remains a favourite series.

Other Reviews of Heir of Fire: Great Imaginations | Behind the Pages | Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Fool’s Assassin (Robin Hobb)

Fool’s Assassin (Robin Hobb)Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Limited on 12-08-2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General
Pages: 640
Format: eARC
Amazon
Goodreads

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz's violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.

SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FARSEER AND TAWNY MAN TRILOGIES STOP READING NOW! (and go read Assassin’s Apprentice instead)

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

The storyFitz is happily ensconced in Withywoods, married to the woman of his dreams, far away from the deceit of Buckeep Court and his old life.  He and Molly are raising Molly’s children, dealing with the normal pleasures and trials of family life, running Withywoods and their marriage – a far cry from his old life.  So when a messenger shows up in the middle of Winterfest, Fitz doesn’t think too much of it – until the messenger disappears without a trace.  Fitz has no idea who sent the messenger or why, and has no idea of the problems racing to catch up with him.

The story is definitely character-driven rather than a fast paced plot, but it’s still engrossing.  There are enough hints to the overarching plot to keep you guessing about where the story is going, but the day to day problems are also beautifully handled and it’s fun to sink into Fitz’s new life as Tom Badgerlock.

Fool’s Assassin is a slower read – I would say it’s more similar in feel to Fool’s Errand than to the original Assassin’s Apprentice – but not in a bad way.  I think everything in the story is needed – it helps you remember all those things you love about Fitz, and also see how he lives now, in his happy but Fool- and Nighteyes-less future. I personally loved the pacing; a slow, gentle ease into Fitz’s world, with a mystery that picks up pace slowly and I love where the story seems to be heading.  Having said that, I’ve always loved character-driven stories, so I can see how this might be something others don’t love.  I also loved the faster paced final section of the book and would have liked a little more of this, because to me it feels like Fool’s Assassin runs the risk of doing a little too much setting up for the rest of the trilogy rather than starting the story.  I would personally have preferred a little more length and a little more action even if it meant we had a book closer in length to Fool’s Fate.

 

The characters

Despite the fact there are 11 years between the publication of Fool’s Fate and Fool’s Assassin, Fitz is perfect.  After such a quiet period of happiness, he’s obviously changed a little but he’s still very clearly the same character.  He hasn’t changed fundamentally, his voice remains the same, and I thought Linette’s review which says it’s like catching up with an old friend is an absolutely perfect description.

There are some new characters in the story, some of whom are hard to talk about without spoilers, but suffice to say that as always, Hobb’s characters draw you in.  The characters in this are so real, so beautifully three-dimensional, you could easily imagine sitting in Fitz’s study listening to them.  Expect to laugh with them, cry with them, feel proud of them and feel furious on their behalf.

Although we return to Fitz, unlike the Farseer trilogy we get to see more points of view than just Fitz’s in Fool’s Asssassin, which works perfectly for the story.  Both points of view are told in first-person, so you still feel immersed as you did in the Farseer trilogy, but having more than one point of view really helps with the world-building and the setting up of new characters.  I did find it a little difficult at first to keep track of whose point of view was whose, as there’s no chapter headings or anything to give this away, but I found that it became more clear as the novel went on.

 

final thoughtsAfter more than 10 years, a return to the world of Fitz has been a long-term dream for many Hobb fans, and for me at least, it did not disappoint at all.  It has beautiful descriptive writing that never feels slow, characters who feel so real you could reach out and touch them, and the hints of a plot related to some of the most intriguing questions ever asked throughout the Realm of the Elderlings’ series.

 

Buy it? This is absolutely one worth buying for me.  Like…right now. Go!
In a nutshell: An emotional, beautifully character-driven start to a new series – I’m already wishing for the next book

 

Other Reviews of Fool’s Assassin: BookishSwint | Super Fast Reader | Avid reviews

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Mini review: The Silver Chain (Primula Bond)

Mini review: The Silver Chain (Primula Bond)The Silver Chain by Primula Bond
Series: Unbreakable Trilogy #1
Published by HarperCollins UK on 04-07-2013
Genres: Erotica, Fiction, General, Love & Romance
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Bound by passion, she was powerless to resist.

One dark evening in London, photographer Serena Folkes is indulging her impulsive side with a night-time shoot. But someone is watching her – mysterious entrepreneur Gustav Levi. Serena doesn’t know it yet, but this handsome stranger will change her life forever…

Serena is fascinated by Gustav, the enigmatic owner of the Levi Gallery, and she soon feels an irresistible pull of attraction. The interest is mutual, and Gustav promises to launch Serena’s photographic career at his gallery, but only if Serena agrees to become his exclusive companion.  To mark their agreement, Gustav gives Serena a bracelet to wear at all times. Attached to it is a silver chain of which he is the keeper. With the chain Gustav controls Serena physically and symbolically – a sign that she is under his power.

As their passionate relationship intensifies, Gustav’s hold on the silver chain grows stronger. But will Gustav’s dark past tear them apart?

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★
Readability: ★

The Silver Chain was unfortunately not a book I could get along with.  I’ve made no secret of the fact that erotic fiction is a bit of a guilty pleasure, and the genre is usually great for a quick, light read.  It can be a little formulaic sometimes, but that in itself isn’t an issue – the characters, their individual romance, the issues they go through etc, are all different, even if the overall themes are similar.

Unfortunately, in The Silver Chain, none of those individual elements redeemed the book for me.  I couldn’t connect with Serena who acted occasionally strange.  Gustav is also quite hard to like, from his insensitivity to his relationship with his ex-wife.  The relationship was not particularly compelling and there were times in this book when I thought Gustav was just too damaged, and Serena would be far better without him! The sex scenes were not exactly sizzling either.

Buy it? This is a library borrow for me – but only if I couldn’t find anything else.
In a nutshell: I’ve read some great reviews for this one, but unfortunately I couldn’t get along with it.

Other Reviews of The Silver Chain: Basically Books | 1 Girl 2 many books | Madness and Folly

One Star