Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Book #51

HOPE Engine by Andrew Lynch

A world on the brink of war, absent parents, and no friends sounds like a disaster unless all you ever wanted was to live inside your virtual reality pod. 
Meet Severo, a fresh-eyed graduate, as he joins the ranks of new players in the HOPE engine, but quickly finds out that everything isn’t as advertised. An unnatural enemy is rising, more glitch than feature, that not even the highest level players can stop. A noob like Severo doesn’t stand a chance! Right?But with his starter village in the enemy’s warpath, he better figure something out! Before that, he needs to learn that NPCs are sentient, friends are needed, and food in fantasy games sucks! Oh yeah, and pick a class! 
As if all that wasn’t enough to worry about, outside of the VR pod, real life is starting to have its own technical difficulties.

Deep in a strange dystopian future, wars have been won with video games. People climb into virtual reality pods and lose themselves in a digital fantasy world. Be who you wanna be, kill who you wanna kill, meet other players from all over the globe - hey, the game translates language - and level up to become the greatest of your class.

Lynch builds an excellent world here, one which will be entirely familiar to gamers. He minutely describes the mechanics of the game; stats, loot, levelling, melee, minions, village crafting, NPCs - the lot. Lynch knows his stuff here, and immerses us flawlessly into the fantasy gameplay.

I found the plot itself to be slightly confusing and jarring. There were lots of interesting elements introduced and only partially explored, with Lynch seeming to prefer paying attention to the intricacies of battle and the mechanics of the game. This meant there was a lack of care in developing characters and relationships, and I felt I needed a little more guidance through the plot.

The twist in the tale was incredibly clever, but explored fairly loosely. It could be that Lynch is saving his explanations for the sequel, but there definitely could have been some more detail and foreshadowing around this, as it felt a bit shoehorned.

With that being said, I enjoyed the read, and was intrigued by Lynch’s originality. An excellent read for gamers. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Book #50

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

In the first book of this brilliant series, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake.

What a struggle.

Too vague in places, too patronising in others, I am at a loss to understand the manic hysteria over this book. King’s writing is as dry as his desert setting; nothing is given to incentivise reading on, engagement is brittle, and his characters woeful - each woman a fuckable object, each man an enemy. Please.

I am gobsmacked at how poor this was. People were messaging me to talk about it, so excited to see I was reading it for the first time. There was nothing here to hold on to, it was awful.

A few people have told me they slogged their way through this one only to be rewarded with a wonderful tale in further instalments. Not fucking happening; I’ve had enough of cigarette rolling, pontificating, shoot-em-up cowboys.

The gunslinger, indeed.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Book #49

Nonsense by Edward Lear

Exuberant and ingenious, Lear's best-loved poems tell of jumblies, quangle wangles and luminous noses.

Finally, a Little Black Classics poetry collection I can say I love. No intellectual stimulation, no interpretation, no smoke and mirrors. Just some simple, joyful, smile inducing nonsense poems.

I spent a lovely half hour reading these, and couldn’t help the grin spreading across my face. Lear’s ridiculous words have a strange kind of magic attached to them - I truly believe he could warm a cold, dead heart.

“The Scroobius Pip looked vaguely round
And sang these words with a rumbling sound -
‘Chippetty Flip - Flippetty Chip -
My only name is the Scroobius Pip.”

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Book #48

The Ghost Files by Apryl Baker

Sixteen year old Mattie Hathaway has been able to see ghosts since she was five years old. No way does she want anyone to know she can talk to spooks. 
Normally, she just ignores the ghosts and they go away. That is until she see’s the ghost of her foster sister, Sally. 
Everyone thinks Sally’s just another runaway, but Mattie knows the truth—she’s dead. Murdered. Mattie feels like she has to help Sally, but she can’t do it alone. Against her better judgment, she teams up with a young policeman, Officer Dan, and together they set out to discover the real truth behind Sally’s disappearance. 
Only to find out she’s dealing with a much bigger problem, a serial killer, and she may be the next victim.
Will Mattie be able to find out the truth before the killer finds her?

This is probably the most young adult of young adult novels I’ve read in a long time.

Mattie is sixteen and sees dead people. Her main response to this is to simply ignore them until they go away, before circumstances dictate interaction and she’s propelled into new spooky calamities.

The plot ticks along well, but I felt, considering Mattie’s circumstances, that there seemed to be a lack of tension and intrigue. She knows there are people who need saved from imminent death, but instead spends a lot of time hanging out at the diner and pontificating over the variety of boys she has a crush on. Her motivations were strange, and wrong.

I understood I was being given a teenage female protagonist, but she felt like a caricature of herself for the most part. Both her inner and outer dialogue were peppered with insipid turns of phrase, ones which would probably come up if you surveyed a bunch of middle-aged white dudes and asked them how they thought teenage girls spoke. She also told me frequently about the walls she put up, how strong she was, and how foster kids were a different breed from others. She told me these things, but rarely showed me. It was poor characterisation, and it really affected my ability to engage and sympathise with Mattie. 

For a horror, there was a real lack of suspense, no notable twists, and things began to take some very convenient turns in order to tie the story up to its ending.

I sound like I hated this book; I didn’t. But I have noted down the main things which spring to mind on reflection, so I’ll leave them as they are. More nuanced characters, a plot with some more complexity, and less use of the word fudgepops would have been all that was needed to make this excellent.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Book #47

The Corset by Laura Purcell

Dorothea and Ruth. Prison visitor and prisoner. Powerful and powerless. Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea's charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person's skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.
The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea's belief in rationality and the power of redemption.
Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

This story has overwhelmed and enthralled me so much that I’m struggle to rattle out words which will in any way do it justice. 

Purcell writes of two women from very separate social classes - Ruth, imprisoned for murder awaiting trial, and Dorothea, an heiress with a penchant for phrenology and criminology. Convinced she is being charitable, Dorothea visits Ruth in prison and learns her story. The contrast in them both is exquisite, but no more so than the stunning comparisons each of their lives hold. Purcell writes them distinctly and expertly using multiple voice, both equal parts victim and heroine. I loved both of them deeply.

The prose here is dark and utterly enchanting. The Victorian era is a grim one, and Purcell doesn’t shy away from showing us its poverty and flaws alongside its charms. Her settings were gloriously descriptive; one moment a blooming botanical garden with Dorothea, the next a squalid, lice-ridden doss house with Ruth. The juxtaposition and contrast was breathtaking.

Purcell had me dangling from her hook completely. The plot is rapid in its movement, and throws a thousand situations at us like arrows. The multiple voice works well in creating tension, and every single character has their own flaws and nuances. It was truly wonderful.

There, I knew it. My words above don’t quite manage to convey the true pleasure I felt in reading this novel. Although bleak and heartbreaking, it’s utterly engaging, captivating, and original. This will be one I earnestly press into the hands of friends, urging them to read it, whilst I go off in search of more of Purcell’s work.

A true masterpiece.

“But then I have noted that murderous thoughts seldom trouble the pretty and the fashionable.”