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Happy 20 Years of Potter!

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In which we get nostalgic for the Boy who Lived by talking about the way he changed my life. 

I got married in April. That’s not the important part. Due to my husband’s job, we couldn’t get the time for a formal honeymoon. Instead, we only had a weekend. We spent that at the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studios London because we’re just amazing like that.

We did things like chilling in the great hall and riding the Hogwarts Express and flying on broomsticks, and heading into the forbidden forest, and bowing to Buckbeak, and drinking butterbeer and flying in a Ford Anglia and strutting down Diagon Ally and buying wands, and walking the Great Hall, and finding the sorting hat in Dumbledor’s office and a whole bunch of other ridiculously awesome stuff*.

On the way back, once we had taken as much magic as we could with our narrow time slot, we were discussing Harry Potter. It played such a significant part of both our childhood’s. We grew in a generation founded on the magic of Harry Potter – a book series which arguably redefined the reading world and made reading ‘cool’ again. Now it was even a significant part of our wedding by being our surrogate honeymoon.

Husband was like many avid fans who basically started the series when it arrived on the scene in 1997. Most of my avid HP fan friends are the same; they were reading the series from the publication of book one. I, sadly, was a little late to the show.

Actually, I was late to reading in general, because my brain-hole liked to confuse me. Anyone with dyslexia** can attest to how frustrating reading as an activity can be when words jump about and letters reorganise themselves. I remember years of Primary school feeling inadequate because I just couldn’t work around the way words danced and changed all the time.  It wasn’t until Secondary School that it was even discovered I had an issue, and one kind teacher*** helped me to navigate the condition enough to at least be able to read accurately^.

In any case, one of the first books I managed to get through was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire^^. I had read a few much shorter books before hand, but nothing in the fantasy genre. Actually, the only reason I ventured into HP was that my sister had it on a plane ride back from Cyprus, and my Gameboy Colour died en route. So, we shared the book, each reading a chapter. When we landed, my siblings lost interest, and I spent the next three days locked away finishing it.

I devoured it. The moment I got back to school, I found Philosopher’s Stone in the school library and spent every spare moment in there reading it. They also had Prisoner of Azkaban so I read that next. I came down with mumps and swindled my parents into cheering me up with Chamber of Secrets. 

It’s funny. I know where I was and how each book came into my life, I think because Harry Potter was such a revolutionary, eye-opening story for me. After HP, I hunted down anything remotely related to magic and fantasy, and it started me on a path of reading which has never diminished, only grown. It made me create my own stories, inspiring a love of writing which became the foundation of my degree and the means by which I made my living.

I have established life-long friendships because of Harry Potter fandom.

On my second date with (now) Husband, we spoke avidly about his dislike for the Harry Potter films in comparison to the books. We spoke about our respective houses^^^ and the fact he once wrote self-insert fanfiction around the wizarding world. I can’t help but feel a significant part of our initial bonding was based on a mutual love of the Harry Potter books. And I know many other couples out there with the same story. Heck, people have Harry Potter themed weddings nowadays.

How many friendships and marriages owe thanks even just in part to this phenomenon?How many ‘reluctant readers’*^, would never have developed a love of reading if this series had never come to light? How many creative pursuits would never have been realised? It’s incalculable.

Yet, even now the world continues, in new movies and plays and even theme parks. The story of one boy’s quest to rid the world of an evil dictator continues to inspire children 20-years since it’s first publication on this day in 1997.

And all because of one woman; a woman who, at the time, was struggling with the weight of everyday life, living in relative poverty, trying to support a young child. One brave woman who had an idea about a boy with a lightning scar. It must have been impossible to even imagine the incredible journey that single boy would take to become the household name he is today. It makes me so proud when I think of her, and so grateful for her giving the world a story so powerful it revolutionised reading and helped define a generation.

Who knew that one day, there wouldn’t be a child in our world who wouldn’t know his name.

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Footnotes of Fun

*The feature image is me heading into Platform 9 and 3/4 with a bit of zingity pow in my step. Husband would not jump in his photo…. Husband is the lllaaammmmeeee.

**Shout out to my fellow awesome peeps who battled their own brains to be able to read – we may be slower than most, but studies prove slow readers actually take in and remember stories better than their speedy reading counterparts. *is dancing*.

***Dear Mrs Kramer, I shall forever hold your memory with unwavering gratitude for a) understanding my problem b) taking the extra time and energy to help me understand the problem c) for instilling in me the ability to enjoy reading. Wherever you are Mrs K, I love you (yes love, no shame) and you are the reason this blog exists today. Without you, books and writing would never have become such a core part of who I am. Best. Teacher. Ever.

^Ma spellding is still the suxxx.

^^Fun fact: the first time I read Harry Potter, I did so completely out of order, because I wasn’t aware series were a thing. I read 4,1,3,2 respectively. Before book 7 arrived on the scene I did read 1-6 again in order. I recommend that. Everything makes much more sense and book three isn’t super spoiled because you know Siris is a good guy because you’ve already read 4.

^^^Ravenclaw (*avid cheering*) and Griffindor. Our children will be wise and brave.

*^No shame. I was one for most of my young childhood.

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Here I Sit Before The Library Moves

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Plymouth Central Library is relocating. Today will be the last day it opens those particular doors to the public. And as I sit here in the old stacks one last time*, I am filled with deep nostalgic sadness.

We go back, this old building and I. Practically back to my first few months in Plymouth when I was naught more than a disillusioned teenager trying to find my feet in my newly independent world**. Initially, I went with an associate in my University course*** trying to find a reference book for an essay, all copies of which had been checked out of the Uni library for weeks, and thus had a waiting list you could march a parade on. Rumour had it, the public library had a few non-lending editions on their stacks. So, we hopped in her car, and went searching.

I didn’t really start using the Library until my final year of Uni, when I lived almost opposite in my studio flat. During the days of not being able to afford the heating, it became a sanctuary of warmth and study, with a quiet room which saw the creation of a significant portion of my dissertation. After Uni, when I lived in my basement room at the noisy centre of the basement, it then saw the crafting of several creative experiments and ghostwriting projects. There is not a corner of the stacks I haven’t hunkered down in at some point, either hunched over a table scribbling or with my nose in fiction. Over my penniless days, I participated in free film screenings^ and book sales, just grateful these things are open and available for impoverished writers with dreams of greatness^^.

There are many memories of my youthful days locked away among the stacks in that building, and while I know the Library is moving not closing, I feel like I am saying goodbye to an old reliable grandmother.

I understand the relocation. If libraries are to thrive in the modern world, they need to adapt to modern standards. The new building is more central, and completely open-plan, leaving behind the rustic, academic atmosphere which, I suppose, can be intimidating to non-academics who just want a place to read and relax^*. Concerns I had about the move have been waylaid by researching what is to become of the now shell in which the library was housed. The plan is to convert the space into part of the History Centre with support from the Museum next door, with ideas of introducing better heritage resources for the community. And the new library appears to have everything its predecessor had, except in a more open and colourful environment.

The only fear I haven’t managed to quell through understanding is what might happen to the stain-glass window. The window on the main stairwell of the library entryway depicts an array of literary figures in the style similar to what you might find in a cathedral, and I have coveted it and been awed by it since I first laid eyes on it.Unfortunately, I’m not sure if they’ll somehow transport the glass over to the new building, maybe incorporate it into the internal decor, but I hope so, and if not, I shall miss it.

Tonight the lights of the library will go off for the last time. The books will be boxed up and moved, and the stacks will be empty, and the quiet room will suddenly be silent in a way that was never intended. For now, here I sit*^, sadder than I thought I would be, staring round at the old familiar rooms, like sitting in a spot of endless time, where all the past and present mes^^* are together feeling and growing in this place in a single moment.

I walked around one last time, remembering. I sat at the last table in the reference room, where I perched many times poised at the keyboard, and I touched the old wood of the shelves, I took out some books and returned some others, just like all those times all those days ago.

I said goodbye to an old friend.

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*I really did pen this upstairs in the study room, but I did so the previous Friday to the date of publication. For the sake of drama you can pretend I’m there on the final day of opening, maybe the last to leave those huge studded front doors, a tear wistfully rolling down my cheek, a bittersweet song of memory playing in the background.

**I was not a pretty picture back then by any means.

***Not Creative Writing at the time. This was the year I was trying to make my parents proud by choosing a career path which wouldn’t land me in a box in a dark alley warming myself over a burning kerosene barrel. My mother was genuinely concerned writing would lead to harder drugs, like following my whimsy or joining a circus. Of course, she meant well, and she is actually pretty proud of me now I think.

^Including The Hobbit and Les Miserables, two films based on books which I have read, both of which I borrowed from that library, and both I was pleased I didn’t spend a ton of money attempting to see at the cinema.

^^That was a very youthful ideal; to be honest I think I would’ve been happy with just getting off the ground.

^*And that is the point of the library. Much as the old timey academic ambiance suits serious study, it goes over a lot better if the environment is welcoming to everyone, especially children, and conducive to finding joy in reading and books.

*^ Again, days before. This is beginning to feel like I might have strange time-travelling abilities, but I suppose if I did this wouldn’t be an issue. If anyone out there knows Dr Who, please feel free to point him to this blog. Tell him to come now. I’ll wait….. No, huh? Worth a shot.

^^* Does ‘me’ have a plural? It was either ‘mes’ or ‘mesai’ and the second sounded too Japanese to be right.

The Curious Journeys of Library Books

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My reading year has begun in earnest, which is the best start to any year if you ask me. Things didn’t kick off so well at the start of 2015, when I didn’t get through a single volume of anything throughout January, and ended up reading a string of disappointing YA books in February, which descended me into a slump until July. This year we’re a week in and I’m already a ways into my third book. I’m pleased.

I picked up the second book from the library. As usual I went in to drop a few rentals off without much intention of taking anything else out, but caught sight of what appeared to be a fun little book (and was) hanging out in the non-fiction section. I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction kick, and even though I have plenty at home, I couldn’t pass it up. So, I swiped my card, took my ticket and set off home.

The book itself had an intriguing tag-line, which is why I was compelled to lift it from the shelving.

How a Small Piece of Stationery Turned into a Great Big Adventure’ 

I like these quirky adventure books, much akin to the Dave Gorman comedy books, in which ordinary people take on unique  self-designated adventures. It’s amazing how such simple ideas translate into fascinating stories which connect people.

And that got me thinking about books as adventure tools. I don’t mean in the you-can-go-anywhere-in-your-imagination way, which is true but not an unexplored concept. My thoughts took me somewhere a little more literal.

Last September I took a rather unexpected trip to Dubai. I ordered a travel book from the library, and though I read it, I decided it was a safe idea to take the tome with me for future reference. So, I renewed it a few days before travel and packed it with luggage. It landed with me at DXB, along with one copy of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier , also taken from the library, and the third volume of a fantasy trilogy which I owned. Three books had taken a 3396.08 mile trip with me to this new exotic land, one of which was actually a guide about that exotic land.

While abroad I actually contemplated this; I wondered if this was the first time the book had made this journey from London to Dubai, or whether perhaps someone else had used it as a personal tour guide the way I intended. Of course, lacking the ability to gain that information, speculate was all I could really do. Though, it was fascinating to think about. For the benefit of anyone else in the same position, I actually wrote an attachment on the date sticker in the front alerting future borrowers to the epic transcontinental flight this particular copy had taken.

Then I kind of forgot. After the holiday, I unpacked the book, returned it to the library and went about returning to normal life. I borrowed books and returned them, but mostly I left the travel section alone, Dubai became a fond memory as did the tomes I had taken with me.

Until this month when I saw that tag-line, and I started thinking about how small items in our possession can become significant parts of our stories. I tend to take a book wherever I go, and I have a great memory for keeping track of what I was reading where and when, particularly at interesting and significant moments of my life.

For instance, the day I met my current partner, I was reading a The Shock of the Fall, and I remember because I actually thought how much of a contrast it was to be reading about the challenges of mental health problems when I met what turned out to be the love of my life. In the Summer of 2013 when a break-up left me a little off kilter, I recall wanting to read dark things. I was visiting my sister, who offered me Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror upon my departure, and I read it all on the train journey back home.

Some people see book shelves as a display case, mine is a treasure trove of life events, and wonderful little memories, as I’m sure it is for most bibliophiles. My books have become an irreplaceable part of my story as much as their content have become part of my mind. However, the majority of my books were bought new, and their journey began with me; library books hold a completely different history. They shuffle in and out of my life with the whims of my reading habits, and, depending on their popularity, the lives of many other readers as well.

The book I took out last week, for example, had six previous date stamps ranging between 2007-2009. I suppose it’s possible more people have taken it out since then, but given the now exclusive electronic lending system, simply haven’t stamped the date. Without access to the library database I can only know when someone borrowed the book, not who, and without meeting the borrower in question I can’t know why. But wouldn’t that be awesome? Wouldn’t that be such a fantastic way of connecting with people? Did they read the book, or did it sit on the coffee table for three weeks? Did they like it? Did they go to the library for the express reason of taking that book out, or was it an unexpected find?

I have had clues as to previous borrowers before, through items left between the pages. Everything from forgotten bookmarks to postcards, obviously used as a substitute. I’ve kept many of these items, in the same way Ariel collected human objects in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Without conclusive context I can’t really know why people wrote these cards and their relationships to the recipients. I can only guess based on what is written and how. I can’t know if the letters were forgotten by mistake, or through neglect and lack of care. Sometimes, I wish books could actually talk, because I have a feeling they would have a more rounded knowledge base for such matters.

I remember reading The Passage back when I was entertaining the notion of reviewing books. In my review for that book I talked about the reader being like an item shifting through the character’s pockets, a really gripping idea which held the story together through several sub-plots and time zones. Library books do much the same thing. They pass between many world’s and many timelines, being a fly on the wall to snippets of many varied lives.

Is it possible to be reincarnated as a library book? Because I could see that being a perfectly fascinating way of experiencing existence for a while.

When I returned from Dubai, in the midst of contemplating the idea that it had actually traveled to its namesake country, I wrote a note in the book explaining so. Just right of my written return date, I wrote ‘This book actually traveled to Dubai’ and then the relevant dates of travel.

I did this under the impression that I couldn’t be the only person to have wondered about these things. So, at least someone taking the book to Dubai would know it had been before, and they would ponder under what circumstances it was taken and by who. It’s not much, but it’s something to perk an interest.

I wanted someone to know it had been a part of my life for an exciting snippet, and it would be so for them now as well.

Oh how a small item of interest can be part of your great adventure.

Old Books

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Books are great. And like fine wine or some overwhelmingly repugnant smelling cheeses, they only get better with time. The only thing better than browsing new books, is browsing old ones. Especially in quirky little stores in the middle of remote, alternative towns, which don’t so much as have a Tesco. In these nooks, you often find tiny pieces of history, pages turned and turned again, and turned brown and spotty, with worn spines and loving dedications. Take that Waterstones (not really, Waterstones, you know my love for your modern lined shelves in unending), and W.H.Smith! You’ll never find an 1976 Sherlock Holmes anthology in either of those stores, but wonder into a charity shop specialising in book sales and the shelves are rife with decades old dusty volumes at just £1.99. Last year, during an ill-begotten, ill-ending visit to London, I found myself inside a dozen small antic book shops, which always boasted a selection of insanely priced antique tomes, pretentiously perched high up on display stilts, and an otherwise uninspiring collection of fairly modern texts in poorly designed jackets. I wish I were making that up.

Really, it’s not just old books I’m looking for; it’s not about age, so much as the withstanding of time. Certain stories have certain connotations. It’s the classics, coated in a red leather wrapping, with spotted pages and that smell only yellowed pages have, which really stoke a fire in the mind. The meaning comes from the fact the the story is so timeless, it has survived to read time and again by thousands of people over hundreds of years. Discovering a wrinkled version, stained and a little bruised, hiding away in a corner gives that timelessness a physical presence, and the older the better. How many hands might have leafed through the same pages I have? How many eyes have dug into those words and sentences, formed ideas, build a character in their minds that I am building now? The notion that a single copy of a story could have been on a journey through many lives to reach a shop window is astounding enough in itself to contemplate, but when you factor in the same counting method for every copy of the story ever produced, the conclusion is astounding. A story told and retold, and retold and retold until it becomes common knowledge, and most bookworms have one version or another displayed on their shelves. Yeah. Old books are great, the stories they keep are priceless.

So, I know have a copy of Moby Dick and Sherlock Holmes: The Long Stories bought from a small charity shop in Totnes. I also ate Victoria sponge cake and took a twenty minute trip on a train. I’m feeling pretty old timey.

Buying the books, got me to thinking about the classics. I went through a period when I was about eleven, when reading first started to become an enjoyable activity for me, of reading the classics. In just over sixth months I had almost exhausted by favourite teacher’s classroom stock of classic books. I read everything from Jane Eyre, Little Women, and Great Expectations to The Snow GooseWuthering Heights, and Emma. After that, Mrs Kramer, by far the best teacher I ever had, suggested I get into Shakespeare. So I did. To this day I have an enduring love of Shakespeare, who I understood pretty well even when I was young. After managing a good dozen of his plays, with frequent eager questions for Mrs Kramer and the help of a large dictionary, I decided to move onto the school library. Then I got addicted to fantasy and the classics fell a little to the wayside.

I still read classics of course. Most recently I am proud to declare I made it through all 1286 pages of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (two years prior to the release of the recent movie staring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathoway). I think these stories are important to our history and to understanding the foundations of most modern fiction. There certainly vital to me; without those books back then I might not be the reader, and certainly not the writer, I am now. Classics are considered so for a multitude of differing reasons. Some project a sense of history, others have themes which still strike cords with who and what we are today, and others present adventure in the everyday. They’ve lasted because they offer the knowledge of what has changed and what hasn’t, and the struggles and beliefs that have kept these things alive or not.

Long live the classics, say I! And thus, I shall help them long live with a new ‘secret’ project I’ve got on the burner. Back in January, on a cold day on a Swiss mountain I pondering a project and told you I’d have to bake it. The oven has recently pinged, signifying the cookies are just about ready. I want to share my love of these old books with anyone who’ll listen, and this is getting to be the perfect place to do that. If you like old stories, maybe watch this space.

 

A Face Like Glass – Frances Hardinge

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This title doesn’t work for me – glass isn’t easily mailable – but I suppose ‘A Face Like Silly-Putty’ has all sorts of ridiculous connotations.

In Caverna, lies are an art – and everyone’s an artist . . .
In the underground city of Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare – wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear – at a price.
Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . .

World-building can be a tough one; creating a sense of environment is key in works like this, and the author of this novel was clearly aware of such. She spends the entirety of the book widening her underground setting chapter-by-chapter. Just, in this case, I wonder if it was too much. Her world is vast and complex, with intricate systems of government; the dark world of luxury has some unique ideas involved (memory influencing wines and sensory cheeses for example), creating a fantastic backdrop for a well-developed plot. It’s just a shame she doesn’t put much emphasis on anything else.

The story starts very strong, following an Alice down the rabbit-hole scenario, bringing our protagonist into that effectively designed backdrop I was talking about. I liked the lead; I found her the correct ratio of adventurous and naïve, much like Alice’s character in the famous wonderland saga. The sub-characters begin with the same charm and intricacies as she does, her guardian in particular was fascinating, and all characters are furthered in interest by the notion of having to actively learn facial expression (an idea which is sadly never used to its full potential). As I said, some of the aspects of the world are fantastic; strange luxuries built with fine crafts, long systems of habitable tunnels, but few are fleshed-out within the storyline.

After the first quarter of the novel, the world-building becomes unnecessary. The trouble is the world-building never blends into the plot, but remains too concentrated, over-riding the story events with constant interruption of new-world processes. Part-way through the completely new notion of a slave-ridden underbelly was introduced, interrupting the flow of the plot not only in that instance, but continuously as the storyline desperately tries to accommodate the new aspect of this world, alongside all the other already established concepts. And then more come into play.

I suppose if the other elements of the novel could keep up with the world-building, it wouldn’t be so daunting, but every other aspect plays second-place to world-building. Character development is pretty much lacking all the way through, which is a shame because I was so looking forward to how the protagonist would adapt to her world. I found that without the support of character-growth the constantly shifting plot fell a little flat, and by three-quarters of the way through I just lost passion. Some characters drifted in and out with little to no real depth of feel or establishment. By design though, it was genuinely difficult to garner who could be trusted and who couldn’t, bringing a theme of identity up to boil, which was well done, but the characters get stock-like towards the end.

The story didn’t have to be half as long as it was. There were numerous examples of ‘the long way round’ plot development, with minute, unimportant issues appearing and being quickly and uninterestingly resolved soon after. However, there are some nicely woven details of description, and the scenes that are significant often work very, very well.  The narrative is beautiful, elegant, and stylistically matches the sense of world.

For me, this was a study in world-development; the story is good enough, but sadly loses potential as the unique aspects are glanced over, or left to sit in the background. I could read the first few chapters over and over for their creativity and sense of impending wonder, but the wonder is never truly realised. Fantasy, and other-world buffs will enjoy this one; it’s a nice relaxing read, not demanding too much time and attention, despite its size. If you are in anyway struggling to write or understand how world-building works to the effect of a story, definitely add this to your pile.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

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This book has a game within a game… Gameception?

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut–part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by “Blade Runner,” and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed. 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?

Holy moley is this novel nerdy. The story is nerdy, the characters are nerdy, and the style is nerdy, and the overall experience is rife with nerdy references, and even nerdy themes. Written by long-standing geek, Ernest Cline, the book is aimed at those readers with interests in technology, video-games, literature, and music, and if you’re part of the often shunned cultures whose enjoyments of these pursuits left you mocked and alone, prepare for a treat. Set in a deteriorating future, Ready Player One sees nerds inheriting the earth (more specifically a digital universe, but same principal).

We’ll start with the references; a plethora of tip-offs to books, games, bands, hardware, authors, characters, programmers, and the list goes on. It’s a fun way to hold the style together with the plotline, allowing for the certain satisfaction that comes with affirmation of knowledge. In the majority of instances, the references are an added charm, and in all cases of story significance they’re fully explained, but Cline does overdo it a tad, often overfilling pages with random, throw away citations which can upset the story’s fluidity. I can image that readers less informed on the nerd subject matter, and without an understanding for the niche fandom that goes with it, may be turned off completely not only by the references, but the novel as a whole. Really, the references aren’t the reason I enjoyed this story the way I did, by the end I was actually getting a little tired of them.

One of the great strengths is the world, which, unlike a lot of science-fiction and dystopia, reflects the future of the planet as it is today. The domination of a massive multiplayer online game, and a global community functioning in a digital construct was really interesting and realistically portrayed. Outside of the game, the world-building begins really well, with multiple story trailer-parks, but trails off as the story progresses, and focuses on the online world-building instead, which is kind of a cheat because the game doesn’t have structural limitations. It would have been interesting to see the contrast between the two a little better, but it doesn’t really diminish the sense of world, thanks mostly to the first-person perspective of the protagonist. The story suffers slightly for it though, with convenient devices appearing at just the right moment to facilitate the progression of the story.

Characterisation is brilliant for the entirety of the main cast, with some impressive and often comedic dialogue. I particularly enjoyed Aech, whose armoury of witticism does for some hilarious exchanges. They come with complexities and twists apt to their social environments (or lack thereof in this case). The lesser characters don’t get much look in; in a couple of cases there are one-time appearances, where tell instead of show is used to convey how we should feel about them. The antagonist is a faceless group, which works well in the context of the storyline, and aids with the nerdy feeling of camaraderie towards the protagonist and his associates. Despite only having a tack-on individual as a means of connection, the bad-guys are aptly aimed at the desired readership, and linked in with themes and issues we experience today.

The story is fun, easy to follow, and clever. It’s really charming to follow the protagonist on his journey to the top of the scoreboard, and it’s equally as frustrating when he fails and flounders, and when the antagonists are winning. The only big drawback to the story is the inability to follow the clues alone. It would take the nerdiest of nerds to conclude these mysteries singlehandedly. A lot of information is repeated, and some of the scenes are slow and overly drawn out, while the more tension built chapters are too quick. However, these points can be overlooked for the immersion into the online-realm, the well-constructed themes and meanings. There are slights to SOPA in here, really subtle and cunningly executed.

Overall, this novel offers something special for its intended crowd, but I warn against it if you don’t fall into that category, and you’ll know if you do. Cline really knows how to play with his subject matter in a way that keeps it entertaining, while maintaining serious meanings. Everything has an element of fun attached to it, but it’s all well written and realistic. Indulge your nerd with this one, just keep Google handy.

Ketchup Clouds – Annabel Pitcher

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I don’t know if I’ve told you, but if you click the pictures on my reviews, you get cool surprises 🙂

Secrets, romance, murder and lies: Zoe shares a terrible secret in a letter to a stranger on death row in this second novel from the author of the bestselling debut, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece.

Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret—a dark and terrible secret that she can’t confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder.

Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can—in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich, and begins her tale of love and betrayal.

Letters to a death-row prisoner from a young killer. Interest peeked.

This book isn’t exactly what it says on the tin, but it is something you should experience, if only for the sheer power of the style used to convey the story. There are a few issues, but somehow the letter/diary format glues everything together well, placing the reader in the position of the sympathetic ear, mostly constructed by the protagonist’s needs and expectations. The convict, whose story is dictated only in connection with Zoe’s, adds a degree of tragedy, which in turn illuminates the hopeful elements and themes.

Pitcher tackles a lot of subject matter, from family relationships to young sexuality, in what I would deem a relatively short read. In connection to the characters, especially with regards to the protagonist’s family and their dynamic these work well. Everyone has their own problems and crosses to bare, and yet Pitcher keeps them all and check and gives each adequate time and development. However, later in the story, and in the case of many other issues and themes, there just isn’t enough allotment given to create tension. It would have been nice to see some of the elements dropped entirely to allow some of the more powerful themes better focus. For the same reason, the resolutions to a lot of the problems introduced are too quick, and poorly thought out.

Thanks again to the style, the protagonist has a great authentic voice, which dips at the beginning with slight info dumping, but quickly develops into an easy and well-written form as the story progresses. The only annoying thing are the ticks Zoe has been given. Word repetition, word repetition, word repetition for example. These unnecessary traits also add to the age confusion. The voice of the reader sounds relatively young, but judging by her mature actions she must be at least mid-teens. The contradiction between the two does get off-putting in some areas.

Zoe is surrounded by well written characters; her family, who are beautifully realistic, her friends, who are fun to read, and her love interests, who introduce the first semi-realistic love triangle I’ve ever encountered in a novel. Hazaa! These are boys who actually act and react like teenage boys; one wants a lot of the indulgence of a physical relationship but is not an all-out jerk, the other is arrogant, but sweet, and neither simply falls for, or panders to the will of the female protagonist. It isn’t a perfectly written scenario; it’s predictable and cheesy sometimes, but it still manages to be engaging and self-aware. Kudos Mrs Pitcher.

The book was marketed to be more edgy than it actually is, but there is some great tension and really engaging character dynamics. It’s worth picking up for the unique style alone.