Review: Armada

Review: ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishing on July 14th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 349
Format: audio
Source: Purchased

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.
But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.
No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.
It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

After I adored Ready Player One I went into Armada with pretty high expectations, which unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to.  As with Ready Player One, I decided to listen to the audiobook, and as usual, Wil Wheaton’s narration was fantastic, but for some reason, I still found I just never got truly hooked on Armada like I did Ready Player One.

There’s plenty to like: the plot is fun, the characters are likable, it’s got the same love for geeks vibe as Ready Player One, but Armada just didn’t wow me like I expected it to.  I think actually what killed Armada for me, was one of the things I loved most about Ready Player One – the constant pop-culture references.  They were a fun addition that made me feel awesome whenever I got them in Ready Player One, but even without them, the story was addictive enough, and the characters relatable enough, that I’d have been hooked.  In Armada, I felt like a lot of the humour, and even plot points and emotional depth, were supposed to come through these references, and that meant wherever you didn’t get one, the story just felt a bit flat.

I’d spent my entire life overdosing on uncut escapism, willingly allowing fantasy to become my reality.

I loved the idea – Ender’s Game is a huge favourite of mine and it’s the same principle – and I loved the mystery of the video game that showed up in arcades, drove a few kids insane and then mysteriously vanished again. I loved Zack’s mother and their relationship, and I liked the constant banter between characters.  There’s a plot point which I can’t talk about without spoilers but which I thought was clever, and fun, and that I loved.

Ultimately, maybe I’m just the wrong kind of geek for this one to ever truly click for me, because I felt like there were a lot of game references that went over my head (I really want to love gaming but my skills are still hovering around about Crash Bandicoot and Pokemon so I tend to give up very early on…).  I wonder if I’d picked this up having not read Ready Player One I would have enjoyed it more, but to be honest I’m not sure that’s the case – I think if I hadn’t already trusted Cline because of Ready Player One, I’d have got fed up of the pop-culture references and eventually DNF’d the book.  There were moments very early on in the story when I couldn’t seem to get hooked and the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I’d LOVED Ready Player One and trusting that Cline would do something awesome with this book too.  Overall, Armada was a fun read and I enjoyed it – but I didn’t love it.  I’ll definitely be giving it a re-read later on though, because I think expectations really let this one down, and I think I may well like it a lot more going in with a better idea of what to expect.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Review: The Broken World

Review: The Broken WorldThe Broken World (Ballad of Sir Benfro, #4) by James Oswald
Published by Penguin on September 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 572
Source: Purchased

The book, sir. The Llyfr Draconius.
You'll find what you need in there, if you know how to look.

The war across the Twin Kingdoms rages on.
Queen Beulah has killed one sister and ordered the assassination of another. The Inquisitor Melyn journeys though the north-lands of Llanwennog in a merciless bid to overthrow King Ballah. Now in possession of Brynceri's ring, his power seems indestructible. Nothing can stop the invasion.
Captured by the travelling circus, Sir Benfro cannot shake their control, more powerful than Magog's malign influence. Errol Ramsbottom, left for dead, follows the trail of his friend's captors - only Benfro holds the key to Errol's beloved Martha's whereabouts. But both sides are set on a path of destruction - dragon against dragon, king against queen, man against man.
As the ancient spell that split Gwlad begins to unravel, it may be easier for Benfro and Errol to travel to Gog's world now. But what will happen when the barriers between the two worlds fail entirely? As unlikely alliances form and strategies shift, who will emerge victorious?

A friend of mine adores this series, so I’ve been working my way through them on her recommendation, and while I’ve been enjoying the series so far, I haven’t been hooked on it.  I was a little nervous going into The Broken World (book 4) because of that, and I have to admit it took me quite a while to get into. Once I was engrossed though, I found it more addictive than the previous books – it took me 2 weeks to read the first 48%, and then less than a week to read the remaining 52%.

There are a lot of plot threads to follow in The Broken World, and a fair few different characters to focus on – we’re still following Errol and Benfro, of course, but we also get to see a lot more of Melyn, the series’ villain, Beulah, the reigning Queen, and a few other characters both old and new.  I love Melyn as a villain (and for once, I don’t mean in a ‘he’s just so damaged and I want to give him a hug’ kind of way), and I enjoyed getting some more insight into Beulah too, although she’s definitely softening which I’m not 100% sure about!

I love multiple character POVs, because even when you’re not hooked on one character’s current plot, there’s still someone else you simply can’t wait to get back to, so it helped keep me hooked and is probably why I found this more addictive than the previous volumes.  On the other hand, with so many plot threads going on, various clues building up to help answer some long unanswered questions, and a lot of world-building depth, this can all add up to make it occasionally difficult to keep everything straight in your head.  I enjoyed this book perhaps more than any of the earlier ones in the series though, and I’m looking forward to reading the fifth and final book this year.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Countdown (Newsflesh #0.5)

Review: Countdown (Newsflesh #0.5)Countdown by Mira Grant
Series: Newsflesh #0.5
Published by Orbit on August 1st 2011
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction, Zombies
Pages: 105
Format: audio
Source: Purchased

The year is 2014, the year everything changed. We cured cancer. We cured the common cold. We died.

This is the story of how we rose.

When will you rise?

Countdown is a novella set in the world of Feed.
Word count: ~19,500

When I read it…

I listened to the audiobook between December 27th and January 1st 2017.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Absolutely nothing! I had an audible voucher with a little credit leftover, and I loved Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series so I picked up this novella about how it all began.

What worked for me:

  • The science: I’ve said before, one of the reasons I so love Mira Grant is that her sci-fi doesn’t shy away from science. Grant’s zombies aren’t based on a vague virus we never find any details about, but a meticulously planned out one, which I love. Countdown is pretty much all about how the virus started, the background to the virus that reanimates the dead and the scientists involved in both it’s formation and the world’s response to it.
  • The narration: Brian Bascle hasn’t overtaken Wil Wheaton, James Marsters or Luke Daniels as a favourite narrator, but I enjoyed his narration, and found him very easy to listen to.
  • The length of the audiobook: I’m not really a short story/novella fan, but actually as an audiobook I have to say this length worked really well – while super-long audiobooks feel like great value, sometimes I get bored listening to the same thing for ages, whereas this was a <1 week read, and it was nice to mix things up.

Countdown is all about the background events leading up to Feed and of course you know going in where the story is going; it’s definitely not a drama-filled plot, but that didn’t really bother me.  While there’s not a huge amount of characterisation, I liked the characters we met, and I certainly wouldn’t have minded a longer novella and the chance to see more of them!  As a novella, Countdown is never going to become an absolute favourite of mine, but equally it did everything I wanted it to do very well and if you’re a Mira Grant fan – or you want to get into her awesome Newsflesh series – I’d definitely recommend it.

Other reviews of Countdown: The Guilded Earlobe | For The Love of Words | Brian’s Book Blog

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: A Court of Mist & Fury

Review: A Court of Mist & FuryA Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Series: A Court of Thorns & Roses #2
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens Books on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 624
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

Feyre is immortal.
After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people - nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.
As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand's dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.
She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.

When I read it…

I read this between May 21st and June 2nd.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Lots and lots of positive things!

What worked for me:

  • Rhysand: Rhysand is… troubled. He’s outwardly hard, inwardly damaged and weighed down by everyone’s negative expectations of him. In other words, he’s everything I love in a character!  On top of that, he’s also strangely charming despite his sarcasm, and definitely seductive.
  • The supporting characters: A LOT of my love for this book was because of the supporting characters.  I loved Mor, Azriel, Cassien, Amren, Nessa & Elain, each in their own way. I loved the relationships between Rhys and his friends, as well as Nessa & Elain’s sisterly bond.
  • The emotional rollercoaster: A Court of Mist & Fury invoked a LOT of feelings.  There were amazing highs, laugh out loud funny moments, and a lot of moments when I wanted more than anything to join Rhys’ gang of friends.  There were soul-crushing moments that made me cry and moments I wanted to hug Feyre and shield her from the world.  I was absolutely drawn into Feyre’s world and strongly invested in the characters which made A Court of Mist & Fury an emotional rollercoaster,
  • The steamy romance: Try not to judge me friends, but I have to admit the romance and the steaminess were definitely something I enjoyed!

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • Tamlin/Lucien: I found Tamlin and Lucien frustrating throughout the whole of A Court of Mist & Fury – I didn’t like their attitudes or their actions, and I never quite felt like their changes were believable.  I felt like both Tamlin & Lucien betrayed their characters in this installment, and that did grate a little.
  • The beginning: It took me a while to get really into A Court of Mist & Fury, and for some of that beginning I really couldn’t decide how I was feeling about everything.  Feyre is hurt, and different, and it makes complete sense that the story doesn’t instantly pick up with the same kind of pace – Feyre simply wouldn’t be able to handle it.  But somehow I found myself swinging back and forth between finding it believable and realistic, and finding it frustrating and slow.

The romance was one of the things I wasn’t 100% sold on in A Court of Thorns & Roses, and I’m pleased to say that A Court of Mist & Fury definitely changed my feelings.  My newfound love for the romance, combined with some truly awesome characters and relationships – both romantic and non-romantic – that I felt strongly about meant I enjoyed A Court of Mist & Fury even more than the first book.  Having said that, I mentioned in my review of A Court of Thorns & Roses that I wasn’t quite sold on the villains or their motivation, and sadly that remained true for A Court of Mist & Fury, so for me, it just didn’t quite hit the 5 star mark.

Other reviews of A Court of Mist & Fury: Lunar Rainbows | Happy Indulgence | Dani Reviews Things

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: A Court of Thorns & Roses

Review: A Court of Thorns & RosesA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Series: A Court of Thorns & Roses #1
on May 5th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

A thrilling, seductive new series from New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas, blending Beauty and the Beast with faerie lore.
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it... or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!

When I read it…

I read this between May 12th and 20th 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Quite a lot of good things, but despite that – and despite the fact I love Maas’ Throne of Glass series – the romance and the faeries just didn’t really appeal to me.  After hearing even better things about the second book, I figured it was time to finally give it a chance!

What worked for me:

  • Feyre: Feyre is not an all-knowing, all-powerful, filled-with-magical-abilities kind of girl.  She’s got some skills certainly, but aside from her painting skills which seem innate, her independence and capabilities come from perserverance and desperation.  That makes her easy to like and easy to relate to.
  • The supporting characters: I really loved some of the minor characters in A Court of Thorns and Roses – I especially liked Lucien and Alis, both of whom I clicked with very quickly.
  • The steaminess: A Court of Thorns and Roses was steamy, which I was not at all expecting but totally didn’t mind.  I love the fact that a YA book has sex, including casual sex, and that it wasn’t portrayed as this huge big deal.  That isn’t something I’ve come across in a lot of books, particularly YA, and it made for a refreshing change.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The romance: It might seem like this book – which seems so romance-focused from the blurb – wouldn’t work if you don’t totally adore the romance, but strangely I didn’t find that.  I liked the romance, I thought it was plausible, and I definitely thought there was chemistry… I just didn’t feel like it was the only possible outcome.  For me, someone who so often loves fanon couples over canon couples, this was absolutely not a problem, just means more fun shipping possibilities until later books hopefully help me decide on my ultimate favourite pairing!
  • The villain: Villains are super important to me, and I just wasn’t 100% sold on the villains in A Court of Thorns & Roses.  I didn’t hate them or find them totally unbelievable or anything, so it wasn’t a dealbreaker, just a minor frustration.

I ended up enjoying A Court of Thorns & Roses a lot more than I anticipated. I found it dramatic, gripping, full of steamy romance, unexpected twists and an exciting cast of characters.  The series hasn’t become an instant favourite, but it was certainly addictive enough that I’ll be picking up the second book as soon as possible!

Other reviews of A Court of Thorns & Roses: Lunar Rainbows | YA Midnight Reads | Confessions of a Book Addict

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