Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Published: 16th August 2011 (print) / 5th April 2012 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Crown Publishers / Random House AudioBooks
Pages: 374 / 15 hrs and 40 mins
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Format:
 Paperback/Audio
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 

I loved this story. I loved that Wade was able to geek out about his love of videos games and it was a widely supported thing. I also loved how Cline brilliantly and so creatively managed to combine popular culture and video games with a futuristic dystopian setting while also making it feel so retro at the same time.

It was a good move on Cline’s part to establish that Wade was obsessed with all things 80s. It made sense in terms of Halliday and it helped include as many references as possible without needing to explain it to the readers too much. Knowing Wade is the kind of stickler for details and knowing so much, it also made sense to have so many references about every song that plays or game that’s mentioned. The moments of convenience where Wade knows what something is to tell us, the uninformed reader, doesn’t come across as unbelievable because it has been long proven that Wade knows obscure details and is proud of it.

The world and future Cline has created sounds both amazing, terrifying, and also pretty much believable. The detail he included is astounding because so often it doesn’t mean anything but it expands on the OASIS universe or real society just that little bit more. I loved that when Wade was logged into the OASIS you felt like you too were immersed inside the virtual reality and I could easily imagine every move he made inside the system. Cline’s writing explains the futuristic dystopian world wonderfully and creates a vivid image of that society is like at both ends and across the country and how it connects naturally with the OASIS system.

There is everything to love about this book if you like the 80s, or are a fan of videogames. The 80s references are abundant, and the joy in reliving movies and games from a less technological time is brilliant. It gave me a great appreciation of how far videos games have come, even if a few of them were fabricated the familiar concept was there; creating avatars, inventories and points, not to mention the solving of riddles and treasure hunts. The other retro joy was remembering arcade games and seeing familiar games in the spotlight again.

The 2045 setting allowed Cline to take from both worlds, not so far in the future that a focus and having believable knowledge and access to 20th century media wasn’t possible, but also far enough ahead that based on current technology and gaming trends, it is also highly believable that we could get to that stage with minds like Halliday at the helm.

There are a myriad of surprises in this book, you never know what to expect because you don’t know what kind of world Cline has created and when anything is possible inside virtual reality, anything is possible. What I found interesting was that I actually found this quite believable. I could see that if such a system existed that there would be those who would try and monetise it and make it more exclusive. I could also see that when there is a mass fortune on the line people can get desperate.

Cline’s imagination is astounding. He has created a world and a virtual world that brings together so many vast and obscure references that even though I knew only a few, I still loved that they were there. I had so much trust in him that these games and characters existed I didn’t even question it. This is just one of the reasons I loved this book. It is so clever, and the OASIS is such a fantastic world that the inside jokes and references make it a better experience, and the excitement Wade has as he hunts for the egg is shared by the reader. Well, this reader anyway.

It’s not just the references or the structure, the characters he has put into this world make all the difference as well. The development and understanding of online relationships is wonderful and I found myself wishing that such a system like OASIS existed because it sounds amazing. Wade’s online connections as Parzival with Art3mis, Aech, and all the other online avatars demonstrates a great community and allows Cline to show off more of this amazing OASIS that he has created and allows him to show more sides of its functions, away from just hunting for the egg.

I listened to both the audiobook and read the physical book. The audio was read by Wil Wheaton and he did a great job. It was especially more enjoyable because Wil himself is mentioned in the book as well as multiple Star Trek references.  I like to think that even if you didn’t like or play video games or even if you don’t like or understand a lot of the references you would still enjoy this book. It has mystery and suspense, and there are twists and turns and surprises that make it an engaging read. Like a video game there are battles and side quests, and there are levels that you must go through even if you don’t realise it when you read. An important part too is that Cline keeps the timeline realistic, understanding that with all puzzles there can be short bursts and long waits, and Cline fits his story into this mould perfectly.

I think I could go on about this book forever but I won’t. I urge you to read it if it’s something you think you would like, even if you don’t think you will give it a go. It’s an adventure and a mystery and it’s dystopia all in one.

You can purchase Ready Player One via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

QBD | Fishpond | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Angus & Robertson | Wordery

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Published: 14th March 2006 (print) / 15 June 2012 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Alfred A. Knopf / ABC Audio
Pages: 552 / 14 hours 22 minutes
Narrator: Dennis Olsen
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Historical YA
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

I’m glad I finally got a chance to read this, it has been on my list for a very long time and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. There were some adjustments to make with the audio format, it took a lot of getting used to, but at the heart of it, it’s a beautiful story.

Zusak’s approach to the story is quite unique. I loved the narrator and I loved how the story jumped around in time, always connecting back to things with a seamlessness. I actually kind of liked that some parts were spoiled early on, it made me think that if key spoilers were going to be announced in the first few chapters, whatever secrets that were kept must have been even bigger. Little did I know that Zusak’s plan was to ruin you in a completely different way with words that crush you and emotions that sneak up on you when you thought you were safe.

There are so many components that bring this book together: the characters work together with the history, and their environment brings it all together perfectly. Zusak’s blunt in some ways, but can weave a descriptive sentence in other ways as well. In a conflicting situation, I both loved and hate the side notes. I liked that they were like small information snippets or opinions from the narrator that provided more information to the reader and it gave it a nice aspect of being like footnotes while you read. The problem with them though is they didn’t translate to audio very well. Not that they couldn’t have, just that they weren’t done very well in this instance. Olsen does a fine job with the audio, but the sidenotes are told in hushed tones, something that is very hard to hear sometimes. It also made me realise I’m not a fan of accordion music.

Another thing I loved was that Zusak doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. He brings out the strain and the tension of Hitler’s Germany, as well as the pressure to conform and the consequences if you don’t. Zusak manages to explore a wide range of the social and political climates through his characters without it feeling like they are being forced into situations in order to explain things. There was no sense of Forrest Gump where all the important things happen to be connected to the characters, and yet with the structure Zusak has created, there is always a natural way to get all the information across and bring the main characters into the story.

I did think it was a bit long. I get that it is meant to be an ongoing story that builds up gradually over the course of the war, but my halfway I was a bit tired. I still enjoyed the story, but I was surprised that I was only half way. In a way it made sense not to rush it, there is a lot of power in a slow story that sinks its teeth into you and makes even the smallest action weigh heavy by the end of the book, especially over the course of a war. Of course I got my second wind and by the time I got to the end I’d gotten back into the swing of the story and Zusak brings this epic journey to a brilliant end. It’s poignant, heartbreaking, and for all the warning you get through the entire book, Zusak still manages to punch you in the heart.

You can purchase The Book Thief via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository | Wordery

QBD | Dymocks | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

 

 

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Published: October 1st 1998 (print) / 1 May 2017 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Perennial / Bolinda / BBC audio
Pages: 248 / 2 hours 32 minutes
Narrator: Eleanor Bron
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

I had watched the movie years before I even knew it was a book, and was glad enough time had passed that I didn’t remember it so I couldn’t compare the two. I listened to this as an audiobook too which was actually a full-cast dramatization from the BBC. That made it a really great experience, aside from the fact they get a bit too detailed and you have to listen to people talk while they’re eating and drinking which for me was super uncomfortable to listen to. The cast did a great job telling the story. It had great voice casting as well as accompanying soundtrack and sound effects. It was a little something extra than a normal audiobook experience.

One thing I found really interesting about this is that it felt like a short story, even though it was a full novel. The whole book had this duel sense to it, it had a simple premise but it felt full whilst reading it, and it felt substantial even when it wasn’t an overly busy plot.

Tristran is naïve in a way, he is in love which makes him idealistic. He doesn’t pick up on cues from Victoria about her lesser interest in him and he is determined to win her heart. On his quest to find the fallen star we see his good nature shine, and we become involved with his story and worry for his safety because there is no telling where this story might go. The unexpected and the cruel happen much like any fairytale story, but there is still a sense of good shining through.

The thing I love about magic is how the rules can be interpreted and how the regular rules of the universe don’t work. I loved the way Gaiman told this story, I loved how magic is used and how the rules of the magical world play out in the human one in different ways. There are twists and turns and for a simple find and recover story, there are intricate subplots happening that intertwine and connect, even when you don’t realise it. This is where Gaiman is good at his storytelling, creating a story that captivates you and pulls you in, without making it needlessly complicated or grand, yet still providing substance and beauty.

One thing which I both enjoyed and was a bit struck by, was the ending. It is great certainly, but it does end rather abruptly. You get a satisfactory ending for the story that’s told, but I feel like more could have been said just to round off the edges better instead of cutting it so sharply. But that may be the way of the fairy tale Gaiman was trying to tell.

When I finished I did sit down with the intention to rewatch the movie, but from the first instance I saw the differences I turned it off. Even if it was a decent adaptation, one of the things I loved most about the book was changed in the movie and I chose to preserve that memory instead. The way Gaiman uses magic was some of the best parts and when that didn’t translate I chose to not continue, though I’m sure it was a decent movie, it was more a personal choice than that it was a poor adaptation.

You can purchase Stardust via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | QBD

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Fishpond | Wordery | Angus & Robertson

Still Me (#3) by JoJo Moyes

Published: 23rd January 2018 (print)/2nd February 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Michael Joseph / W F Howes
Pages: 480/13 hours 38 minutes
Narrator: Anna Acton
Format: Audio
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life. 

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

Funny, romantic, and poignant, Still Me follows Lou as she navigates how to stay true to herself, while pushing to live boldly in her brave new world. 

The adventures of Louisa Clark continue from the streets of Manhattan. She has crossed the pond and headed to America with a new job lined up as a companion/assistant to a wealthy woman. Familiar faces from the previous novels are there; Nathan and of course Lou’s family make appearances. There are also some nice surprise appearances as well. For those who loved Paramedic Sam he’s still there, Sam and Lou have decided to try a long distance relationship, despite the newness of their own relationship. And of course it wouldn’t be a long distance romance without jealousy and things that could have been solved if people didn’t see what they wanted to see and decided to sulk instead of just talking to one another.

For Lou her new job is a challenge but has some excitement of its own. The Gopniks are otherworldly in their wealthy bubble of parties, balls, and disconnect from the Every Day Person. Agnes is selfish and needy, clinging to Lou like a security blanket and believing her needs are the most important. She switches between a formidable presence to an insecure young girl and it’s hard to know which one will make you sympathise with her. Will she soften and be changed by the charming Lou from England? In an odd Mary Poppins moment I was half expecting this family to be changed and moved by Lou’s presence and her influence. It didn’t happen as much, she doesn’t come in to change anything, or alter people’s perceptions too much, she just comes and does her job and tries to be a friend and true to herself while embracing new things.

There’s the usual family drama that is the same whether you are rich or, poor, or middle class, disrespectful stepdaughter, oblivious husbands, throw in a moody housekeeper and more money than people know what to do with and you have a story filled with drama and conflict.

It’s not all New York though; we get to see the other side back in England as well. I liked that you got to see how Lou’s family have gone on without her, her mum, grandad, and sister all coping without her and moving on. They have their own lives and achievements which is a nice change of scene. After being absorbed into the high society of New York you get the abrupt switch to everyday life with other peoples’ lives.

I will admit I was apprehensive about this third book, but then again, I was the same with book two. But I was surprised early on and I liked that it didn’t take me where I thought it would. I loved the sudden changes and the twists that I didn’t see coming.  I liked that Moyes suddenly decides she is going in a different direction, no apologies. It is heartfelt but not sappy or too idealistic. There’s a delightful slowness with this story while also keeping a great pace. Moyes explores relationships and establishes her characters with style and with ease. Building up the story and taking us on a great journey through her characters and the New York high society.

The ending was wonderful, a suitable ending to the story that has been told. There’s satisfaction and hope, but also a few things left unsaid and unsolved. If this is the last we see of Louisa Clark, I think this is a fitting conclusion to her story.

You can purchase Still Me via the following

QBD | Booktopia

Book Depository | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Publisher | BookWorld

 

Mr Stink by David Walliams

Published: October 2009
Goodreads badgePublisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Pages: 267
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

“Mr Stink stank. He also stunk. And if it was correct English to say he stinked, then he stinked as well…”

It all starts when Chloe makes friends with Mr Stink, the local tramp. Yes, he smells a bit. But when it looks like he might be driven out of town, Chloe decides to hide him in the garden shed.

Now Chloe’s got to make sure no one finds out her secret. And speaking of secrets, there just might be more to Mr Stink than meets the eye… or the nose.

I think I liked this. I did and then I didn’t then I did again. It had moments of being sweet but then it would go silly again and then weird, then it would circle back to being sweet. At best I think it was a peculiar story, one that certainly left me with a lot of questions. At the core of it Mr Stink is a homeless Mary Poppins. He comes into the lives of the Crumb family and makes it a bit better.

At the start we are introduced to poor Chloe Crumb, living in her sister’s shadow, bullied by her as well as the kids at school, and she is never good enough for her mother. We are also told about Mr Stink, the man who smells so incredibly terrible who sits on a bench all day long with his dog.

I liked the characters Walliams has created. Mrs Crumb has a touch of Hyacinth Bucket in her, while poor suffering Mr Crumb has to put up with her. Chloe’s sister Annabelle is the snobby, bratty little sister who is spoiled and adored by her mother, and seeing her be cruel to Chloe was a bit heartbreaking. There were some jokes around Annabelle I liked; especially the ones about how full Annabelle’s schedule is trying to fit in all her extracurricular activities. I also liked the camaraderie between Chloe and her dad, their small actions of defiance against her mother’s demands.

One character I never fully understood was Mr Stink. Once you get to the core of his story it is quite serious for a children’s book, Walliams goes from silly jokes, to serious moments then back to silly jokes. The seriousness came out of nowhere and I was very surprised. It didn’t feel like it had a place in this light-hearted story, but Walliams throws these moments in there a lot as it goes on, making you think there is going to be a more heartfelt direction, and there is, to his credit, but it never lasts as long and is still surrounded by these obscure and silly jokes.

Another thing that confused me was the changes in Mr Stink’s personality. Sometimes he seems like a normal homeless person, bit eccentric ok, but normal enough. But then other times he seems delusional about what year it is or how money works. It distracted from the story and interrupts your sense of trying to work out who Mr Stink is as a character. He seems to be two people without actually meaning to be, especially after you understand his personal story.

I listened to this as an audio book and Walliams narrated it with the help of Matt Lucus. They both did a great job, the story translated well to audio well and with the pair of them doing a variety of voices it was a fun listen. It had the humour that kids books have with jokes about being dirty and doing gross stuff, but it also had a little bit of heart in it as well. It is sweet but it is weird, and felt like it could have been a bit more than what it was, but that might be asking a bit much of a children’s book that was just meant to be a bit funny with a fun story.

 

You can purchase Mr Stink via the following

Book Depository | QBD

Booktopia | Wordery

Fishpond | A&R Bookworld

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