Echo Boy (Matt Haig)

Echo Boy (Matt Haig)Echo Boy by Matt Haig
Published by Random House on 06-02-2014
Pages: 398
Format: eARC
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Audrey's father taught her that to stay human in the modern world, she had to build a moat around herself; a moat of books and music, philosophy and dreams. A moat that makes Audrey different from the echoes: sophisticated, emotionless machines, built to resemble humans and to work for human masters. Daniel is an echo - but he's not like the others. He feels a connection with Audrey; a feeling Daniel knows he was never designed to have, and cannot explain. And when Audrey is placed in terrible danger, he's determined to save her. The Echo Boy is a powerful story about love, loss and what makes us truly human

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

In a world dominated by technology, and changed almost beyond recognition by global warming, echoes have almost become part of the landscape.  Enhanced flesh and bone robots built to look and sound like humans, echoes are used for anything from household chores to manual labour.  Finally, after much coaxing, Audrey’s famously anti-echo father agrees that they can have a household echo of their own, to help with Audrey’s schooling mostly.  Audrey has always been a little creeped out by echoes but she has no idea just how much her world is about to be changed by one.

I really really wanted to love Echo Boy. I raved about Matt Haig’s last novel, The Humans, to anyone who would listen and it was one of my favourite books of last year.  Even without knowing Echo Boy was written by Matt Haig though, it was a blurb I would have been unable to resist.  So, a great blurb and an author whose work I’d previously loved – sounds like a guaranteed winner right?  Well…yes and no.

I loved Daniel – an echo who isn’t quite like the other echoes.  He shouldn’t feel anything, he should just obey orders, pretty much mindlessly.  Despite that, he can’t quite defy his need to protect Audrey, to save her from the danger he knows she is in.  Although the bulk of the story is from Audrey’s point of view, we have a few chapters from Daniel’s which really help you get inside his head.

Audrey is a fifteen year old girl, facing grief and fear, forced to question everything she believes.  She’s been raised by a very publicly anti-echo father who believes that eventually there will be an echo uprising.  She is now faced with her uncle, who profits substantially from echoes and believes they are a great thing.  But for the first time, Audrey is now beginning to question her own feelings about echoes, and I loved reading about her struggle to find her own opinion.  Despite the terrible events throughout the book, Audrey is a pretty normal teenager – she makes mistakes, she takes a while to figure things out, she has mood swings and self-confidence issues.  Those little flaws made her feel three-dimensional and easy to relate to.

Whilst I really liked Audrey and Daniel separately, I wasn’t sold on the romance in Echo Boy.  It felt almost like there was no real relationship and then a sudden tipping point, and although I could believe the bond between the two, I didn’t really feel like there was any chemistry.  The two go through a lot in the book, but the relationship almost felt just like a devoted friendship.

From Rosella to the Neanderthals, from Iago to 15, I loved the supporting characters.  Matt Haig managed to create a diverse background of individuals, with their distinct personalities and flaws, each of whom had their own parts to play, rather than feeling like random extras.

The world-building is fantastic in some areas – the effects of climate change for one thing are wonderfully done.  I could perfectly picture Audrey’s stilt-house, Alex Castle’s home, the Resurrection Zone and the protestors.  Whilst those physical elements were clear, I found it difficult to exactly quantify the echoes, and a lot of my complaints are the same as those in Ellie’s review.  Are the echoes androids or cyborgs or something else altogether? As Ellie pointed out, the echoes seem almost identical to humans, but the abuse of echoes is pretty much just accepted.  I guess I’m just not quite sure why, in a world with such advanced technology, the echoes would have been created. It seems as though advanced androids could have been made to do the same job (or near enough) without causing the protests and moral debates that must have cost echo manufacturers money and generally been a PR disaster.  I’m not sure how the first echo designer would have been given ethical approval, and I would have liked to hear more about how and why the echoes were implemented. I expected more of an ethical/moral dilemma based on the blurb, and felt like this could have been explored more, but perhaps the action was focused on more because Echo Boy is YA.

I did enjoy Echo Boy, but I also think it’s a prime example of how hype can do a book a disservice.  For me it was a solid three-star read, so it wasn’t a bad book by any means, it’s just that, because I so loved The Humans, I had such high expectations that I can’t help feeling a little disappointed.  Sadly, this fell into the same category as Pawn – one of those dystopians with a great premise that just fell slightly flat.  Still well worth a read and if a sequel is announced, you can guarantee I’ll be reading it.

Buy it? This is one I’d either buy on a deal or borrow.
In a nutshell: An intriguing premise and great characters, I liked it but found it slightly disappointing.

Other Reviews of Echo Boy: Being Anne | Mab is Mab | Ashley James

One StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Pawn (Aimee Carter)

Review: Pawn (Aimee Carter) Amazon| Goodreads



Summary (From Goodreads.com)

YOU CAN BE A VII. IF YOU GIVE UP EVERYTHING.

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.


Author: Aimee Carter
Length: 346 pages
Series: Yes – #1 in The Blackcoat Rebellion
Source: Review copy from NetGalley

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

My opinion:

At the age of 17, everyone in Aimee Carter’s Pawn undertakes a test – their resulting score will decide their rank, their job, their entire future.  Having had a miserably difficult time with the test, Kitty Doe ends up with a III, and is given a new job in a distant city, far from her beloved boyfriend Benjy.  The future looks bleak for Kitty.

When Kitty attempts to circumvent her fate, she ends up in the hands of the Prime Minister, Daxton Hart.  When he offers her the chance for life as a VII, she says yes, even though she has no idea what she’ll have to do in order to earn that life of luxury.  At this point, anything looks better than life as a III.

Daxton’s niece, Lila Hart, died in mysterious circumstances, a secret which has been carefully kept from the public.  In order to live as a VII, Kitty will be masked – surgically altered to look and sound, just like Lila.  She’ll have to learn everything about Lila in order to impersonate her, whilst trying to stop the rebellion Lila had been secretly fostering.

Pawn had a fantastically gripping plot, full of deceitful characters and unexpected twists.  My biggest disappointment though was the world-building.  I enjoyed reading about the world Kitty lived in, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like we had any clue how it had got to that point.  We know that 71 years ago, the US ran out of food, experienced riots and chaos, and that now they have the test, class system and a dictatorship.  For me, the lack of link between the past and present was really frustrating.  It’s common in many dystopian series to reveal the true explanation for how the society developed later on in the series, but we didn’t even get the propaganda version of history that Kitty would have been led to believe.

I liked Kitty most of the time, though occasionally she felt inconsistent.  When first given her ranking of a III, Kitty decides to work at a brothel until her boyfriend Benjy can take his test.  This felt like a pretty unbelievable decision for me – her plans for how she and Benjy would escape after his test felt flimsy, and her acceptance of the idea of giving her virginity to someone other than Benjy felt a bit too easy.  I could set aside my disbelief, if it weren’t for moments later in the book when she thinks everything through before acting, and the fact she can’t face the idea of marrying Lila’s fiancé.  She also reminds us (very frequently) that she’s dyslexic.  Despite her dyslexia, at one point in the story she’s given a note with a passcode, which seems like a pretty fundamental flaw in the plan, and didn’t feel particularly believable.

Despite her occasional inconsistencies, I really liked Kitty.  She fights back, she snaps at the most powerful people in the country, and she’s just generally quite feisty.  Benjy, her boyfriend, was nice enough, though he didn’t have a huge impact on me.  He says some beautiful romantic things to Kitty, but other than that, he didn’t seem to do an awful lot.

Knox, Lila’s fiancé, flirts with Kitty, and hints at the possibility of a love triangle later in the series, though there wasn’t an instant triangle which was great.  Kitty never really knows if she can trust Knox, and he makes for a greatly entertaining character, as he’s mysterious, witty and charming.   Augusta, the controlling head of the Hart family, will do anything to stop America going back to the way it was when she was a child, and I found her a really interesting character.  All of the characters (apart, perhaps from Benjy), felt three-dimensional, and the whole book, both in terms of plot and character, is tinged with grey, rather than being clear cut black and white.  Daxton was the least developed, most cliché feeling character for me, as we have so far seen very little about why he acts the way he does, though I’m hoping more will be revealed in Captive.

I really enjoyed Aimee Carter’s writing, and I found the plot gripping and unpredictable.  There are plenty of twists, so even if you see a few of them coming, it’s unlikely you’ll see them all! Full of secrets, conspiracies and above all, family politics, Pawn was easy to get engrossed in and difficult to put down!

Buy it? This is one I might buy on a deal or in a sale, but otherwise it’s a library borrow for me.
In a nutshell: Great writing, a gripping plot and intriguing characters, but disappointing world-building.

Other Reviews of Pawn: Beauty and the Bookshelf | Gypsy Reviews |Uncorked Thoughts

[Sci Fi Month] Series Reflection: Matched (Ally Condie)





Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate… until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.


Series stats

Author: Ally Condie
Number of books: 3
Total number of pages: 1281


Opening line:

Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night?


Status on my shelves:

I don’t actually own any of these – I borrowed all three from the library!


Why I picked this series up:

I spotted this in the library and picked it up just because it sounded interesting.  I hadn’t read any reviews for it or anything, literally just saw it in the library and decided to give it a go.


Why I liked it:

In Cassia’s world, science and the Society regulate everything, so that individuals’ lives are seemingly perfect.  Life in the Society is easy, and all very civilized.  Individuals have their whole lives regulated, from their career to their diets to their deaths; everything is moderated to the perfect balance for each individual.

On the night of her Match ceremony, Cassia sees her best friend Xander on-screen, exactly as she’d hoped.  What she didn’t expect was to also see a flash of another face: Ky Markham, a boy she knows but doesn’t exactly spend her time thinking about.  Told that the appearance of Ky’s face was a glitch (but not a mistake because the Society doesn’t make mistakes), Cassia is strongly encouraged to stay away from Ky.  She knows she should – why should she put her match with Xander at risk? Xander is fun-loving, witty and her best friend.  The Society has matched them because they’re a perfect match for each other, genetically and emotionally.  There is no logical reason to put that at jeopardy, and yet Cassia is curious about Ky.  She can’t resist getting to know him better, slowly developing stronger feelings that put all three of them in an awkward situation.  Legally she has to stick to her match, and to break that match for Ky would put both of them at risk and break Xander’s heart.
Matched, Crossed and Reached all read slightly differently for me.  In Matched, I really enjoyed the world building, and I loved reading about Cassia’s family.  I also grew to love Ky and Xander, but became concerned I may end up hating Cassia.  She sometimes came across as very shallow and inconsistent in her affections, and there were times I got fed up of her.

Crossed was a much slower book than Matched, and I’d say this was the book that showed off Ally Condie’s poetic writing to the greatest extent.  Crossed felt much more character driven than Matched, and I started to feel more like Cassia had genuine feelings for Xander and Ky.

Reached is probably the most dramatic book of the series, with chapters from multiple points of view and various dramatic plot twists I can’t mention!  I enjoyed all three books despite their differences, though  Crossed was my least favourite and felt like a good example of middle book syndrome.

 

The love triangle in Matched is remarkably well done.  Both Ky and Xander felt well-developed, with both good personality traits and some bad ones.  Each had some great moments, and there were times when I felt like one was a great choice and times when I felt like the other was better.  Although Cassia’s dilemma felt very shallow to begin with, as the series went on it became more plausible and believable.  My only criticism really is that the final ending to the triangle felt a bit too manufactured.

One more thing:
Crossed is a very easy dystopian series.  I found it easy to read through quickly, despite Condie’s sometimes flowery writing style.  Crossed felt like it was aimed at a slightly younger audience than some other dystopian series, although I can’t for the life of me pinpoint why! Although the science behind the series isn’t particularly taxing, the storyline isn’t juvenile, and there are still some dark twists (it’s still a dystopian after all)I found that the slightly simpler storyline and more poetic writing were unexpected, but also quite a refreshing change of pace once I got into the flow of it.

[Sci fi month] Review: Life First (R.J. Crayton)

Review: R.J. Crayton Amazon| Goodreads



Summary (From Goodreads.com)

Strong-willed Kelsey Reed must escape tonight or tomorrow her government will take her kidney and give it to someone else.

In this future forged by survivors of pandemics that wiped out 80 percent of the world’s population, life is valued above all else. The mentally ill are sterilized, abortions are illegal and those who refuse to donate an organ when told are sentenced to death.

Determined not to give up her kidney or die, Kelsey enlists the help of her boyfriend Luke and a dodgy doctor to escape. The trio must disable the tracking chip in her arm for her to flee undetected. If they fail, Kelsey will be stripped of everything.

Author: R.J. Crayton
Length: 248 pages
Source: Review copy provided by the author
Series: Yes – #1

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

My opinion:

Following a horrific pandemic which killed 80% of the global population, Life First is set in a world where the government rigidly controls everything related to health.  Everyone is DNA-typed at birth so that when someone needs a new [insert organ here], the best possible match can be found quickly, and the match has to provide the organ.

When Kelsey Reed is informed she needs to donate her kidney, she realises she doesn’t like the idea of being forced into risking her life for a stranger.  Determined not to give up her kidney, Kelsey attempts to escape with her boyfriend Luke, knowing that the likely penalty if caught is to be sent to prison with a sentence of death by organ donation (exactly what it sounds like).

Life First is a great concept, because it’s not so hard to imagine.  Hundreds of thousands of people sit on waiting lists for organ transplants, and it’s becoming more and more common to hear encouragement to register as an organ donor.  A spokesman for the Order of St John told the BBC in September of this year that around 3 people a day die due to a shortage of organs.  As opt-out systems are increasingly discussed, it isn’t too far a stretch to imagine the introduction of mandatory donation.  This is particularly believable in the small remaining population in Life First, where life is valued above all else (even choice). In Life First, people don’t die whilst waiting for an organ because organ donation is mandatory.  However, whilst this means less deaths for those in need of an organ, it also means perfectly healthy individuals are forced to undergo surgery, risking their own health whether or not they want to.

Life First is a very dramatic read, and I couldn’t put it down.  The plot is full of twists and revelations: whilst this makes for a great, gripping read, it’s worth noting this means it isn’t at all light-hearted.  There isn’t really humour to balance out the tension, and so it can sometimes seem quite dark.

Kelsey is a really interesting character.  Is she foolish for running, risking all her organs and death if she gets caught?  Is she selfish to refuse to give up her kidney, when someone else could die without it?  Or is she brave and justified in doing everything she can to make her own choice, rather than going meekly along with a procedure she’s unhappy with?  I’d say at times she manages to come across as a little bit of all of those, but in a believable three-dimensional way.  In real life, things aren’t black and white and the same can be said of the characters in Life First. Even the government isn’t strictly ‘evil’ – although controlling and harsh and very anti-choice, it has good intentions behind that.

Recently, I’ve felt like a lot of the dystopian fiction I’ve been reading has followed a formula: the premise to draw you in + a seemingly average protagonist who later develops an incredible skill/talent/ability + a love triangle.  Whilst I’ve loved a lot of these, Life First was great because it really stood out as not seeming to follow this formula. Kelsey is also an older, more grown-up character, and Life First is definitely more like new adult than young adult.

Buy it? I’d be happy to buy this one.
In a nutshell:A unique, believable, dystopian, recommended for those looking for a more grown up heroine.

Other Reviews of Life First: Long and Short Reviews | Griffin’s Honey Blog | Rabid Readers

[Sci Fi Month] Series Reflection: Divergent (Veronica Roth)





In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.


Series stats

Author: Veronica Roth
Number of books: 3 (5 novellas also available)
Total number of pages (novellas not included): 1538


Opening lines:

There is one mirror in my house.  It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.  Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.


Status on my shelves:

I own books two and three of this series but don’t yet own a copy of Divergent since I borrowed a library copy.  Ironically I think Divergent is my favourite of the trilogy!


Why I picked this series up:

I confess – this is a series I picked up because of the hype! The series kept getting recommended to me by Goodreads and Amazon, and I’d heard lots of good things about it.  I reserved myself a library copy and that was that!


How I felt about it:

Sixteen-year olds in this dystopian world have to attend a Choosing Ceremony, where they choose the faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives.  There are five factions in this world, each dedicated to one trait.  Tris has grown up as part of the Abnegation, the selfless.  The other four factions are the Erudite, who value knowledge, the Candor, who value honesty, the Amity, who strive for peace and the Dauntless, who value bravery.  On her Choosing Day, she must decide whether to stay with her family, in the faction she’s always known, or whether she belongs somewhere else.

Divergent is packed with action and suspense, and Veronica Roth kept the story fast-paced throughout.  The writing and the drama kept my glued to the story, and I flew through the first book in a day!  The initiation into the factions, the training and the fight-scenes were all thrilling and dramatic, and kept me hooked.

The supporting characters, including Tris’ brother Caleb, her instructor Four, and the other initiates were fantastic.  Three-dimensional, believable and likeable, I genuinely cared what happened to each of them.  The characters introduced later on in the series were also really interesting, trying to figure out what made them tick and where their paths would lead next.

Tris is a very complex character.  She’s not perfect and she can at times make decisions for selfish reasons.  I didn’t mind that at all, because it made her seem real and believable – every one of us is guilty of doing the same occasionally.  She grew gradually throughout the series, as did many of the other characters.  Veronica Roth didn’t have any characters undergo sudden changes, and almost all had hidden depths to them.  My only disappointment was that Tris’ selfishness, the trait which made her so believable to begin with, seemed to become less of a part of her as the series went on.  I assume her increasing selflessness was designed to show character growth, but to me it began to feel forced and sometimes unbelievable (particularly that she’d already undergone plenty of character growth!).

I really enjoyed Divergent; learning about the Abnegation, the Choosing Day ceremony, the other factions and the initiation ceremonies.  I gave it a 4/5 overall.  I also really liked Insurgent, which I flew threw because it was thoroughly gripping.  The ending felt a bit predictable but I enjoyed it, and I gave that 4/5 too.  Whilst I really liked those two books, Allegiant for me, was a disappointment.  The ending has been widely shared all over the internet, but I won’t be going into it here!  All I’ll say about it is that I didn’t especially love the ending, but I can see why it ended the way it did.  The ending is not all that disappointed me about the final book in the trilogy. Written from two perspectives, it didn’t feel like these two voices were distinct enough, which was frustrating at times.  The plot and the world-building actually seemed to fall apart a bit in the final book as well.  For me, it felt like too many loose ends had tried to be tied up last minute, as a result of keeping the suspense up throughout the first two books.  This was not only sometimes confusing, but also left me with more questions than answers.

One more thing:

There’s not a love triangle in Divergent, which is wonderful!  There is a romance, but it grows in a believable, organic seeming way.  The relationship goes through ups, downs, is on and then off, and has some serious problems to get through.  But, none of those problems is an unwanted third wheel!