Review: Wolf Brother

Review: Wolf BrotherWolf Brother (Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, #1) by Michelle Paver
Published by Orion Children's Books on May 27th 2005
Genres: Action & Adventure, Family, Hard Science Fiction
Length: 6 hours 25 minutes
Format: audio
Source: Purchased

Thousands of years ago the land is one dark forest. Its people are hunter-gatherers. They know every tree and herb and they know how to survive in a time of enchantment and powerful magic. Until an ambitious and malevolent force conjures a demon: a demon so evil that it can be contained only in the body of a ferocious bear that will slay everything it sees, a demon determined to destroy the world.
Only one boy can stop it—12 year old Torak, who has seen his father murdered by the bear. With his dying breath, Torak’s father tells his son of the burden that is his. He must lead the bear to the mountain of the World Spirit and beg that spirit’s help to overcome it.
Torak is an unwilling hero. He is scared and trusts no one. His only companion is a wolf cub only three moons old, whom he seems to understand better than any human.
Theirs is a terrifying quest in a world of wolves, tree spirits and Hidden People, a world in which trusting a friend means risking your life.

Wolf Brother is one of those books that’s been on my radar for as long as I can remember, but only in the vaguest sense: I could picture the cover, I could tell you it was a children’s book, and that’s pretty much it.  Recently, having finished The Dresden Files audiobooks, I wasn’t sure what to spend my next audible credit on, but somehow ended up on the page for Wolf Brother.  The plot sounded intriguing enough – historical fiction, fantasy elements, a wolf! – but what really sold me was the fact that Sir Ian McKellen narrated it. I mean, let’s be honest, he has a voice just made for storytelling and I assume he must have been asked to read a lot of audiobooks by now, but for some reason this is the one he decided to go ahead with.  It’s quite short by audiobook standards – only 6.5 hours – which is good because it means you get through it quickly, but slightly less good in terms of value per credit 😉

Torak is likeable, Renn is pretty great, but the character who makes the book is of course, Wolf. The way he thinks – calling the humans ‘tailless’es, and an arrow the Long-Claw-That-Flies – is great, and he’s certainly the character I got most attached to.  As expected, McKellen’s narration is great, and the plot moves on quickly throughout the story; what could easily have been multiple books is instead just under 300 action-packed pages.  The downside to the quick pacing is that everything is pretty quick: relationships, plot development, character growth, are all pretty instantaneous.  I felt Torak found everything just a little bit too easy; he doesn’t have much in the way of strategy, or a plan, or if I’m totally honest, much of anything that particularly suggests he should be the hero of the story, apart from his ability to talk to Wolf.  The writing style is also pretty simple, and while it touches on a few darker themes, there’s no forgetting it’s a kids book.  Obviously kids are the target audience, but I think it’s a little disappointing that the pacing and writing could put off adults for whom the setting and storyline had crossover appeal.

Despite my issues with the book, I loved the setting, the survival skills elements were really cool, and the obvious research Paver has done really shines through.  I’m probably intrigued enough to get around to the rest on audio, if only because McKellen’s narration was so great.  Sadly though, I definitely think I’d have enjoyed this alot more if I’d discovered it as a kid.

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

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

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Review: Parasite (Mira Grant)

Review: Parasite (Mira Grant)Parasite by Mira Grant
Series: Parasitology #1
Published by Orbit on 29-10-2013
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, Hard Science Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction
Pages: 512
Format: eARC

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives...and will do anything to get them.

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

After a car accident that leaves her legally brain-dead, Sally Mitchell becomes the first person ever to be saved by a SymboGen implant. The SymboGen implant (known as the Intestinal Bodyguard) is a modified tapeworm which pulls toxins from the bloodstream, fights off infections and generally keeps everyone healthy without any effort on the part of the human who’s had one implanted. With no memory of the girl she was before her accident, Sal has had to relearn everything – how to walk, talk, and most of all, who she is. Six years later, she’s still guarded by overprotective parents, and occasionally has to submit for testing at SymboGen, but generally life is good.

Then the ‘sleepwalking’ starts – perfectly normal people seem to hollow out, becoming mindless shells of their former selves. With no explanation as to why the disease occurred, how it’s spreading, or who will be next, life just became scary and confusing.

I really enjoyed the format and writing style of Parasite. Each chapter begins with a quote or an excerpt from a book or interview about SymboGen. This is a great touch, as it makes the whole world feel more believable, whilst also helping you form opinions of characters who begin to feel three-dimensional even before you meet them.

One of my favourite things about Parasite is that there was some actual science behind the plot. I’m by no means an expert on tapeworms, but we had to study them as part of my degree, and I’m really glad Mira Grant seemed to have done her research! There was just enough science to keep my brain ticking over, and to make the plot seem believable, without feeling either patronising or dry.

Sal is an interesting character. There were times when she was frustrating, but most of the time I liked her. Curious and intelligent, Sal slowly becomes more feisty throughout the novel, and she’s both protective and loyal to those important to her. She already has a boyfriend, so there isn’t a huge romance in this (or a love triangle!), which is refreshing. I also loved the supporting cast, including Sal’s boyfriend Nathan, a truly loveable dog named Beverly, and the unhinged seeming Tansy.

The plot is gripping and full of twists. There was one twist that I personally thought was quite predictable, but there were plenty of other ups and downs to keep me hooked. I’ve recommended Parasite a lot since finishing it, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. This was my first Mira Grant book, and it led to a binging of her other books!

Buy it? I definitely think this is one worth buying and adding to your shelves.
In a nutshell: A fantastically gripping, wonderfully written novel.

Other Reviews of Parasite: Caffeinated Book Reviewer | Nyx Book Reviews | King of the Nerds

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