Bird Box

birdboxTitle: Bird Box

Author: Josh Malerman

Summary: Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew.

Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing.

And we couldn’t look outside anymore.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I remember reading the synopsis for this book and being fascinated. What on earth could stop people being able to look outside? What happened if they did? I didn’t even speculate on answers to those questions, and jumped into this book without expectations, ready to find out.

The multiple narratives are great. We follow our main character, Malorie, during three stages of her life. In the present day she leaves the safety of her home with two children, blindfolded, to take a boat 20 miles down river. One flashback narrative is told in reverse, how Malorie trained the children to use their hearing, how she struggled being a new mother alone in a post-apocalyptic world, and how she risked her life gathering tools and provisions shortly after giving birth. A second flashback narrative documents the disaster, how Malorie arrived at the house and lived with her new housemates before giving birth. The two flashback narrative converge, completing the story’s history, just as Malorie is reaching the final stage of her journey down the river.

The thing that is stand out for me, is how freaking creepy this book is. For the most part, the characters are locked up inside the house, which creates a claustrophobic atmosphere with tensions often running high; i was just waiting for something to kick off. The worst(/best) parts, though, were when the characters ventured outside. Blindfolded for protection against what they must not lay eyes on, the loss of such a main sense was palpable in the writing. I felt as anxious and on edge as the characters just reading. Most often i read in bed at night before sleep, and most nights i couldn’t read more than two or three chapters, because it would freak me out too much. (I loved it.)

It wasn’t until today, when i started reading during daylight hours, that i could plough through the book and got the second half finished in a matter of hours. Because that’s the other thing about this book: it kept me reading. I needed to know what happened. It’s the nature of the three time lines–i knew certain things of the future, but not how they came to pass, and i was desperate to find out.

The book isn’t perfect. The characters are somewhat lacking in depth; you have the main few who we’re supposed to like, a couple who are obviously supposed to be questionable, and the rest are pretty much filler without much individual personality. The writing is simple, but far from bad; it makes it an easy read, but (as above) still manages to create quite an atmosphere. None of these were so bad as to be off putting, just ways the book could be improved.

There was one question that i couldn’t help but ponder quite early: Where were all the blind people? In a world where seeing things proved deadly, surely there would be a higher proportion of blind folk still around, perfectly fine? Thankfully, this is addressed… but i wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you!

I loved the ending. I thrive on open endings, and this delivers that in the best ways, while simultaneously wrapping the narrative up nicely. If you’re reading to find out exactly why people can’t look outside, don’t expect a definitive answer. I’m still wavering between all the options, because i don’t want to have to settle on one. Aliens? New species? Parallel universe? Mass hysteria? I want them all!

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The Passage

the-passageTitle: The Passage

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He’s wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is.

Unaware of each other’s existence but bound together in ways none of them could have imagined, they are about to embark on a journey. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man’s darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human. And beyond.

Because something is coming. A tidal wave of darkness ready to engulf the world. And Amy is the only person who can stop it.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: It’s sort of a thing, now, that i read an epic apocalyptic distopian over the Christmas and new year period; this one was recommended to me by Claire over at Bitches with Books. The synopsis intrigued me, and though i was wary on the vampire front, i clung to their concept in I Am Legend and bought the damn book. So, going in i had very few expectations of this book. It blew me away.

I was literally sobbing by the end of the first chapter and i though, “Shit, this book is going to ruin me, isn’t it?” It did, and i loved every second of it.

Where to start? The book takes its time settling in. It introduces you to the characters mentioned in the synopsis, as well as a few others, before their paths cross. It doesn’t jump straight to the apocalypse, instead we follow its making as we meet our heroes, villains and those in between. This first part of the story is almost a book in itself. An extended prologue. It sets the groundwork for details and relationships and meaning that last literally all the way to the last page. At this point i was enjoying the book, but i wasn’t loving it.

Once the apocalypse comes, the narrative jumps almost 100 years in time, with a new location, a new cast of characters, and a new focus. I barely paused. I was fascinated by this new world and these new people. It was quite an experience leaving behind all the other characters, but i took the leap wholeheartedly, trusting that that first story i’d read would pay off, that the threads would meet. By halfway through the new story, i’m not sure i’d’ve been bothered if they hadn’t, but i was only more sure that they would.

I’m honestly finding it hard to articulate my feelings about this book, because it’s simply the entire book. I guess, with that, the key thing is the writing. I was immersed in it. It read as effortless, though i’d bet it was far from it. Nothing was spelled out, but everything was so clear. What some writers take paragraphs to explain, Cronin captures in a sentence or two. So many times i had to stop and marvel at the perfect simplicity in the writing. I even made note of a few my favourites:

“A blast of quiet that felt like noise.”

“An absence of torment so abrupt it was like pleasure.”

“…to his right, an abyss of blackness, a plunge into nothing. Even to look at it was to be swept away…”

“Courage is easy, when the alternative is getting killed. It’s hope that’s hard.”

I was just in awe of the writing, half the time. The other half i was swept up in the story. The story that encompassed so much, but seemed never to become muddled or confuse me. It was simple enough to follow, but interesting enough to keep me constantly thinking. I am a reader who is always looking ahead; i think about what facts and clues and hints i’ve been given, and where they might lead, what twists and turns are up ahead. With this book, though, i didn’t–i didn’t want to. I wanted to be caught up in the story, and i was. I didn’t try to guess what was coming, i just kept reading until i got there.

A big part of the story i keep coming back to is the relationships–all the different kinds. Family, friends, romance, loyalties, responsibilities… this books has all sorts of relationships, and none of them hog the spot light. None of them are forced or over done or saccharine or meaningless. In a lot of ways, they are all quiet. They are all part of the story, rather than being a story in themselves. There weren’t two characters who were ~destined~ to be together from the start. The focus was never on anyone’s–or any one–relationship. They all simply develop over time, when you aren’t quite looking, until the differences in how people interact and what they mean to each other just make a new sense.

I feel like this review is all over the place and that i’m not making any sort of sense; i’m rubbish at explaining why i loved something–it’s not always able to be articulated (case in point: i wanted to use the made up word “articulatable”).

This book just hits all my likes: apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi/horror mix, strong female characters. It’s excellent writing, well constructed and followed through on every point to the final page. I sobbed at the start and i sobbed at the end. The ups and downs in the books were not a punch in the gut of my emotions–they crept up on me, then engulfed me.

I never imagined a book of this length could be this good. The longer a book is, the more chance there is of there being something i don’t like. I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared to love everything about this book. But here i am, ruined and in love. And with the sequel already ordered.

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The Scorch Trials

mrstTitle: The Scorch Trials

Author: James Dashner

Summary: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he would get his life back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to…

Burned and baked, the earth is a wasteland, its people driven mad by an infection known as the Flare.

Instead of freedom, Thomas must face another trial. He must cross the Scorch to once again save himself and his friends.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5

Review: I read The Maze Runner about a year ago, and it left with a lot to say. While i loved the story, setting and mystery of the book, the writing was atrocious. The writing in this sequel did not improve, and unfortunately the story, setting and mystery only went down hill. So much so, i couldn’t bring myself to finish the book.

I gave up a little over halfway through, when i realised there was nothing about the plot that was fascinating enough to keep me reading–to keep me reading a book written this badly. I disliked it so much, i don’t even think i can bring myself to write much about it. I’ll take it one aspect at a time:

The plot: This started well, with the safety the kids think they’ve found turning on them. Things changed quickly and so dramatically it was easy to stay interested, to want to keep reading. This lasted through their time in their limited dorm-type space, through the tunnel of molten head-eating machines and up to their exit into “the Scorch”. After that, things started to go downhill. A few days of the boys slogging through the heat, getting nowhere fast, nothing happening… it was dull, to say the least. When they finally made it to the city, to buildings, to other life forms, i thought things might pick up. But after that, it just seemed like action for the sake of action, rather than anything the was driving the plot. IDGAF about underground tunnels and cranks too far gone–i want to know more about WICKED and what the hell they’re doing to these kids. It was at that point i had to give up.

The characters: Minho was still my favourite. I think because he seems the most real. His emotions seem close to the surface, but he’s also pragmatic and wants to get shit done. Despite there being a smaller number of characters, we still don’t get to know many. In fact Thomas, our (still lack-luster) lead, comments a few times that he can’t even name a lot of them. Way to be a dick, Tommy. I guess that way you don’t have to emotionally develop when they die. Talking of Thomas, i hate him. A large part of that is because we’re experiencing this from his POV, and the writing of that POV is absolutely terrible. Some of that is because he lacks any kind of emotional depth. He doesn’t mention Teresa, the girl he shared such a deep and meaningful connection with who went missing, for several chapters, then suddenly claims she’s all he can think about. He’s sobbing and angry when he finds her but has to run and leave her behind, but as soon as a new girl shows up he’s eyeing her up and getting touchy feeling within minutes. There are a dozen male characters, they can’t get hooked up with the new girl? With each other? You can’t have a female character who isn’t a love interest?

Finally, the writing: It is bad. So bad i have to wonder if this was even edited. Did they accidentally print the first draft? Dashner can not write. It’s all tell, no show. Things stated plainly with no feeling or mood. Questions asked blatantly, outright leading the reader rather than enticing them along. Settings described in unnecessary detail, but the emotional states of the characters and evocative atmospheres are consistently absent. His pacing is off, he fails to use language to immerse the reader into the moment, instead dragging them along awkwardly. While i was reading this sequel, my partner attempted to read the first book–operative word: attempted. He didn’t get past the first chapter, and it took him so long because we were sitting together reading out the best examples of the appalling writing. It was fun for 20 minutes or so, but only when you have someone to share the cringe-worthiness with.

I’m throwing in the towel on this series. I officially don’t care how it ends. Call me when someone opens a kickstarter raising funds for a decent author to re-write the entire thing.

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High Rise

highriseTitle: High Rise

Author: J G Ballard

Summary: Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.

In this visionary tale of urban disillusionment society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, create a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I moved this book to the top of my to read pile when i heard about the film, hoping to read the book first and get to see the film at the cinema. There were some delays in getting to the book, but even if the film was still showing, i’m not sure i’d want to bother.

The premise is fascinating. A self-contained society within one multistory block of flats descending into chaos. That’s the kind of story i want to get into the details of, to follow along with as things unravel. Except in this case, that didn’t really happen. The specifics and action surrounding the collapse of the society within the high rise are severely lacking. There are glimpses, but it’s mostly exposition after the fact. The focus is not on the action. Not on what is actually happening or why. The focus is actually one the three main characters. Really, the story is more of a psychological thriller. Instead of detailing the high rise’s decline into dystopia, it follows three men’s descent into varying types of madness.

Spoilers ahead. I can’t talk about how problematic this book is without them, i’m afraid…

There is Royal, the architect of the building, who lives on the top floor and sees himself as above–literally and figuratively–the rest of the residents. This causes him to draw away from his neighbours and isolate himself, instead forming (what he thinks is) a kinship with dogs and birds. There is Wilder, a television producer who lives on the lower floors and is at first keen to make a documentary about the high rise and its self-contained collapse. Over time he becomes obsessed with ascending the building, even abandoning his wife and children to accomplish the feat. There is Laing, a medical professor who lives in the middle of building and mostly just wants to keep to himself. Despite the madness around him, he manages this, pulling his sister in until she’s dependant on him.

The thing is… a story about the fragile egos of three men isn’t fascinating. I didn’t like any of them, honestly. By the end i assumed at least one of them would die, but I wanted all of them to. I just didn’t care about their plights, their mental health, their futures. I just didn’t care.

As male-centric as the bulk of the story is, the end was almost–almost–pretty awesome. While the men have been scrambling about the building, fighting, barricading, protecting… the women have been biding their time, working together and generally getting shit done. BUT, when the focus of the women’s power is centred around caring for children and keeping house i’m left feeling distinctly resentful. Honestly, that’s some pretty dated stereotyping, even for 1975.

Essentially, this was a brilliant idea poorly executed. I had a couple of other Ballard books on my to read list, but i’m seriously going to re-think them. I’m in no rush to read more of his work. I think i will give the film a go, when it comes out on DVD. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually better.

Emperor of Thorns

eotTitle: Emperor of Thorns

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The path to the thrown is broken – only the broken can walk it.

The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end of days. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead.

This is where the wise turn away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. Don’t look to me to save you, Turn if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The third and final book in the Broken Empire series. I’m sad to let Jorg go, but am pleased there are more books by Lawrence set in this fascinating post-apocalyptic universe. I already have the next one on my wishlist.

Emperor holds all the smooth, witty writing of the previous books. So much so I took to this books with a pen like no other yet, stopping every few pages to underline a line or a mark a passage. I cannot express enough how much a love the writing style. It’s subtle, and if you’re not paying attention you might slip past its humour and its poignancy (sometimes in the same line). Above the dystopian post-apocalyptic setting, beyond the characters, it is the writing itself that kept me reading.

Talking of characters though, okay, I have things to say. There was no one i hated, which, when almost all the characters are some shade of evil, might be a strange thing to say, but it’s no surprise, either. Excepting Jorg (the book is told in first person from his point of view, you’ve got to like him), my favourite character was Miana. However. I don’t think enough was made of her. She was introduced in the previous book and though her appearance was brief, she made one hell of an impact (quite literally). I finished King entirely enamoured with her, hoping she would be in Emperor. And, while she retained her strength of character she was very much “Jorg’s wife” and never really came into her own.

What other female characters were there to admire? Katherine? She’s nice enough, but a little too good for my tastes; she verges on dull. I don’t understand Jorg’s obsession with her, nor the point Jorg’s obsession plays in the story–it adds nothing but a poor attempt at a non-conventional love plot. And Chella, who is somewhat interesting, particularly as some of the chapters in this book are from her point of view. Seeing more of her back story and motivation was key in actually developing her character. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her, at the very end there, after… Shh, spoilers.

And Jorg’s brothers, well. Nothing much changes there. Makin remains my favourite, painted that perfect shade of grey. Rike comes full circle, and to end on absent-minded plundering and a last minute turn around in character was a pretty perfect conclusion for him. Gorgoth was, for all he is a troll, the most human of them all. There isn’t a single of his road brothers that i don’t love the relationship Jorg has with them.

The plot… it meandered a bit. Stories with a lot of travelling do tend to have that issue. It started strong, with action and intrigue. And some of the flashback narratives kept things interesting. But after a certain point, things petered out and i was left waiting for things to pick up again. Which they didn’t until the climax. And in comparison to the previous book, which was non-stop action–an entire battle told over the course of the book– this book doesn’t hold up, unfortunately.

It didn’t have to keep up the action, though. I did thoroughly enjoy this book, and all of miscreant Jorg’s adventures in death, revenge and power. I’m really looking forward to getting hold of Prince of Fools, finding out even more about this world, these places and meeting new characters–of which there had better be more, and more awesome, females. The glimpse we had of the Red Queen was enough to get me interested…

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Swan Song

ssTitle: Swan Song

Author: Robert McCammon

Summary: Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen—from the President of the United States to the homeless on the streets of New York City—will fight for survival.

In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, earth’s last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity: Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets… Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station… And Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan’s gifts. But the ancient force behind earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: So, i’ve decided it’s a thing. A read an epic apocalyptic dystopian over Christmas and new year thing. It really cheers me up over the festive period. In 2014/15 i read The Stand, in readiness to read Swan Song in 2015/16. I felt i had to read The Stand first, because chronology and all that. And in the end, it’s turned out i did prefer The Stand, but now we’ll never know if that’s because i read it first (but really, it’s not).

I loved the start of this book. It got straight into the action of launching nuclear weapons and we’re introduced to the characters as the bombs fall. I loved the lack of messing about and getting straight into the story. I loved the gruesome, realistic descriptions of the characters’ post-nuclear blast wounds. I loved how nothing was easy, everything was a struggle and how much the tension was set high from the very beginning.

For most of the book, i enjoyed all the main characters. I didn’t necessarily like them (i’m looking at you, Ronald), but i enjoyed their storyline and their representation–they interested me. I don’t think there was anyone i was overly fond of; there was no one i favoured more than the others, and for that, the deaths that occurred throughout the book were sad, but not genuinely upsetting, which felt like a shame. As much as i liked the characters, i felt far enough removed to see the deaths as a device to the story and other characters’ motivations.

My problem with the characters began when the two main groups of ‘good guys’ finally met up. I had been waiting and getting excited for it, but it was quite a let down, and actually left me disliking characters i had previously been fond of. You choose to traipse all over the country for seven years looking for someone you see in a magic glass crown, that’s your choice. Don’t get all righteous and demanding when that person’s trusted friends are protecting them from you because you are pushy, potentially dangerous, strangers. I’m going to side with the sane, rational people looking out for each other, not the bossy self-important ones who think they deserve something. I never fully recovered my fondness, unfortunately.

The, perhaps very strange, thing i liked most about this book, was its ability to make me wince. I’m a fan of horror, i’m used to gross and disturbing things, and it usually takes a lot to get to me. But there was something about the simple, almost blasé way this book described disfigurements, violence and injuries that had me screwing my face up and hissing through my teeth. And i loved that. I loved being physically affected in that way, because i so rarely am.

Something that bothered me from the very first chapter, continually, right up through to the last chapter, was the choppy–dare i say sloppy–point of view. It switched from person-to-person without warning and in no discernible pattern. No chapter or even paragraph breaks to distinguish and prepare the reader for the change, just -bam- you’re in someone else’s head. It wasn’t hugely difficult to follow, it just interrupted the flow of the reading, particularly when it would flit to one person only for a line or two, then switch back, or switch between a multitude of people in a short space of time. I understand it was to get across more and relevant information to the reader, but honestly it was a sloppy way to do it.

About halfway through the book, time skips ahead. By seven years. I know it’s seven years, because the narrative makes sure to mention that fact several times, very clearly and extremely pointedly. And at this point, i suddenly felt very far away from the characters i’d got to know over the several months the first half of the book spanned. Could not, instead, those first several months have spanned several years? To take the reader, gradually, on the journey with these character over the years and showcase the key points of their growth and spread the plot points out over the years… rather than skipping ahead as if nothing of note had happened in seven years. It rubbed me entirely the wrong way and felt entirely like a quick and easy cheat on the author’s part. “Let me introduce you to all these interesting characters! Aaaaand… skip to the end.”

The major turning point for me and this book was towards the end. When the two teenagers are pushed together in an awfully sexist fairytale way. A kiss to wake sleeping beauty… i strained my eyeballs, i rolled them so hard. I very nearly gave up right there and then, on page 627, with only 229 pages to go. But i persevered, and was rewarded only with more talk of how beautiful Swan was, with how much Robin loved her, even though they’d barely spoken 20 words to each other. Forget all the violence and gore–this made me sick.

Overall, the ending felt rushed and unsatisfying; the threads of stories weren’t so much woven as tangled haphazardly into a knot. It was a case of moving things along too quickly to pack everything in, and in an 856 page book, that’s quite something. Suddenly war and defence! Suddenly prisoners of war! Suddenly weeks later on the road! Suddenly ‘God’ and the end of the world! And still other things weren’t explored or utilised enough. For seven years a magical glass crown is converted, protected and hunted. Its vital role in the story is stressed and pages dedicated to an exaggerated ‘crowning’ scene… only for it to have no relevance to the dramatic conclusion of the book. It becomes a trinket. And i’m left with the overwhelming feeling of, ‘What was the point?’

What was the point? That was the ultimate feeling i was left with when i closed the book. For all it galloped to the big climax, the very end–the ‘they all lived happily ever after’–dragged. At that point, i didn’t care that much. I was just wanting it to be over.

The Maze Runner

mazerunnerTitle: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Summary: When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas can remember is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade, an encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible maze.

Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there, or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything to find out.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: This book found its way onto my to-read list thanks to the film they made out of it and, of course, my desire to read the book first. A couple of year later and i finally got around to reading the book. Billed as “a must for fans of The Hunger Games”, the dystopian science fiction and the draw of the puzzling maze… all these things had me hopeful and excited.

The entirety of the 3.5 stars i am giving this book are based solely on its plot, genre and ideas. They are fascinating, original and left me eager to keep reading. I had so many thoughts and ideas and questions that i had to keep reading to explore and find out more. Where is the Glade? Why are all these teenagers being sent there? Where (if anywhere) does the maze lead? ETC, ETC. However. The 1.5 stars this book did not get, is mostly what i find myself needing to talk about.

Firstly, Thomas. Our lead character. I didn’t hate him, but neither did i like him. I wasn’t rooting for him, because ultimately i couldn’t get a genuine feel for him. He seemed like a non-character. He was wildly inconsistent; he would decide he liked someone, then in the next chapter they would do something he didn’t appreciate and he’d decide he didn’t like them. I specifically noticed this with Chuck, Minho, Newt and Alby–Thomas was constantly liking then disliking then liking them again. He was also a contradiction in himself; one example that sticks in my mind was one minute he wanted to avoid people, then the next he didn’t want to be alone. And the thing that bothered me most about these swift changes in attitude was how sudden and out of the blue they were. There was no plot-driven reason, or even situational reason, it just seemed like he needed to think and feel something, so it was just bunged in without thought.

Leading on from that was the fact that Thomas asked a lot of questions. And i don’t mean to the other Gladers, when he was trying to get information or figure things out, but i mean, in his head. He posed questions straightforwardly, prompting the reader to consider certain things–pushing them in a certain direction. Essentially, it’s a poor writing device. Instead of leading the way with action and description, Dashner decided to point the way with neon road signs.

There were a few things that felt forced, contrived and unnecessary. The first and most obvious thing was the slang language of the Gladers. Words like ‘klunk’, ‘shank’ and ‘shunk’ which to me had no specific definition and all seemed interchangeable with ‘shit’ and/or ‘fuck’. The other thing that felt unnecessary was, i’m sorry to say, Teresa. The token female, she brings nothing to the book for being a female other than a vague attempt at a romance and a few poor-taste rape jokes. Why not just make the entire group a mix of males and females? From what we learn towards the end of the book, am i to assume penises make a person more intelligent? Because if so, fuck you, James Dashner.

For all its mystery and world building and hooks and set up, at times this book was rather predictable. The large-scale plot and back story is almost impossible to figure out precisely, but the small plot points and the details were simple enough that i saw them coming immediately. And for a group of oh-so-intelligent teenagers, it leaves me highly unimpressed that they missed these things. Who set the fire was obvious before the fire was even mentioned, and WICKED was literally staring them in the face, to give but two examples.

Although i devoured the second half of this book in a couple of hours, it still had its issues. The action-packed climax was not smoothly written; i was never so caught up in what was happening that i forgot i was reading. There were even times when things were unclear and i was confused, which caused me to go back and re-read parts. I want to be immersed in the action, not stopping to figure things out or rearrange things in my head. Action scenes, particularly, need to be edited to hell in order to make them run smoothly and effortlessly for the readers. These ones weren’t.

The last few chapters and the last few reveals were… a little rushed. So much changes, but at the same time, so little is actually revealed, that i felt very unsatisfied by the non-answers to the entire book’s set up. Instead of a satisfying end to this book, i felt like i had read the first few chapters of the next. And that’s bad form, as far as i’m concerned. Screw the sequel, you need to give closure to this book–to this story, before you start writing a big ellipsis and thinking about all the money you’ll make from a sequel.

Saying that, i think i will read the sequel. I’m not overly optimistic about it, but there was enough interesting plot and world in this book that i’m still thinking about it; still, in some ways, want to be reading it. So, i will give Dashner one more chance. I’m pinning my hopes on him having taken a writing class and hired a better editor between writing The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials…

The biggest downfall of this book, 100%, is the writing. At best, it’s mediocre. It’s all tell no show, it’s so basic and straightforward. It lacks passion and atmosphere, it lacks interest and development. Although a few characters were interesting, i got the impression this was an accident, and they were never explored deeply enough. It’s one of those books i can so easily see being so much better, and that disappoints me more than anything–so much wasted potential. As i have read in other reviews, if this book and its premise and ideas had been in the hands of another author, it could have been incredible. Instead, it’s only halfway decent.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: An Asian main character.

King of Thorns

kotTitle: King of Thorns

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: To reach greatness you must step on bodies. I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

A six nation army marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a shining hero determined to unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength, Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I read the first book in the Broken Empire series, Prince of Thorns, a year an a half ago. And i felt that long stretch of time while reading this sequel, because there were so many details i couldn’t remember. Thankfully, as the increased rating will attest, this did not hamper my enjoyment of the book.

I think i enjoyed this book more than the first, but it bothers me that, because i don’t remember the first well enough, i can’t say for certain why. Ultimately, i finished this book with a strong desire to re-read the first! If i had to guess why i liked this book more without the re-read, i would say it was possibly the fact that i already knew the characters. As well as that, we get to know these characters in a little more depth in this book. And really, because the book is told in first person from Jorg’s point of view again, we’re essentially seeing Jorg get to know these characters–and that includes himself.

Makin is still my favourite, i think. He is that perfect balance between a likeable character–a “good” man–and having an edge about him, being loyal to the ruthless, amoral Jorg. Makin is like the angel on one of Jorg’s shoulders, but he is a realist; he doesn’t try to stop Jorg or make him a better person, only watch his back, make Jorg sure of himself and his plans.

Of the other brothers, none stand out–they all add their own flavour to Jorg’s band of characters and i enjoy them all. I do love the banter and hate-hate but smidgen of almost-respect and mutual benefit relationship between Jorg and Rike, though. For such horrible characters, i do find myself far too fond of them all.

The best new character, hands down, was Miana. At 12 she is immediately an intellectual and determined match for Jorg, instantly earning enough of Jorg’s respect to make her worth something to him. And then later, well, she’s more than a match for Jorg in my opinion and i hope like hell she’s in the third book.

The plot, well, in essence the plot is a simple one: war. Jorg defending his hard-won land. But it’s the twists and turns of how he does it, and the flashback journey he took four years earlier that started it all off, that make the narrative more interesting. And there are plenty of twists and turns. The whole book is a trickle of plot points, small reveals and interest-peaking information. It’s in the last third of the book that the bigger revelations, dramatic action and (hopefully!) set up for the next book happen.

What i loved most about this book, though, was the writing. It is witty and subtle and clever and so, so quotable. The books deals with the heavy topics of murder, rape, war, genocide and more… but manages to keep the tone light, while not making light of the subjects. It’s, well, pretty damn perfect, actually. I think i overlooked that in my reading of the first book, or it slipped by me when i wasn’t looking. But Mark Lawrence can really bloody write.

And still, the most intriguing and interesting thing for me is the post-apocalyptic setting. There are many more glimpses and hints and experiences of it in this book, and seeing them from the point of view of people a thousand years later is fascinating, and something i have never seen before. This mix of 21st century, Middle Ages and fantasy (fantasy with a realistic, science fiction edge, which i love so hard) is something i feel i could nerd about for a long, long time. I will save it, though.

I will certainly not be leaving it a year and a half until reading the third and final book in the series. There are just so many things i enjoy smushed together into these books, and what Mark Lawrence has done with them is damn good.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Second book in a series.

Animal Farm

anifarTitle: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Summary: The animals on a farm drive out their master and take over and administer the farm for themselves. The experiment is entirely successful, except for the fact that someone has to take the deposed farmer’s place. Leadership devolves almost automatically upon the pigs, who are on a higher intellectual level than the rest of the animals. Unhappily their character is not equal to their intelligence, and out of this fact springs the main development of the story. The last chapter brings a dramatic change, which, as soon as it has happened, is seen to have been inevitable from the start.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This was one of those books i always figured i’d get around to reading eventually, but never consciously made the effort to. For whatever reason, one day, i saw it in a charity shop and i bought it. Then, after the monster that was the last book i read, i thought a little 120 page book that i was almost guaranteed to love would be an excellent chaser. It was.

I’m not really sure how to review this book, though. Written as an allegory of the Soviet Union, it can, and does, also provide insight into politics and class and society in general, that is still (and will always be) relevant today. It is written in a very simply language, which makes it hard to misinterpret. I can’t do a better job than Orwell does himself at explaining what this book is about. It’s a bloody masterpiece, really.

The pigs are nasty, selfish, lying sods who abuse the other animals. The other animals are short-sighted, naive, simpletons who don’t even realise they’re being abused. I feel immense pity for the lot of them, really. There was pretty much only one character i really liked. Old Benjamin is truly my spirit animal. Getting on with life, taking it as it comes, seeing it all, but knowing real change is an impossibility. Cynical to the core, Old Benjamin has already made it on to my short list of best characters ever.

It’s so short, you could read this book inside of an hour, if you wanted, and i strongly recommend you do. This is definitely one of those books i would recommend to everyone. Though, it would seem the high majority of people who dislike the book, are those that were forced to read it at school, which is a terrible pity.

For such a simply, short book, it made me think, pull grim faces in acknowledgement of awful truths and nod sagely along with Old Benjamin.

This is the eight book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: A modern classic, a banned book and non-human characters.

The Stand

the-standTitle: The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition

Author: Stephen King

Summary: First came the days of the plague… Then came the dreams…

Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death. his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil. His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I’ve owned this book for many years, but at 1421 pages, i always found it far too intimidating to start reading it. For the last two years one of my aims has been to read fewer, but longer books. So, i finally convinced myself to pick up this beast and get on with it. I feel very accomplished right now.

The book spans just pre-apocalypse, apocalypse and post-apocalypse, which suited my apocalypse-loving reading habits to a tee. I did especially love the first half of the book, with the plague slowly spreading, and the population slowly and then more quickly dying off. I loved the army trying to cover it up and the media being forced to play it down. It happened very much the way i could see it happening for real. Also, i went through both a sinus infection and a chest/throat infection while reading this book. Coughing, having a headache and feeling fatigued while reading about a flu-like pandemic killing off 99% of the population is a little unnerving, but totally added to my reading experience!

We follow several characters’ narratives, and at first it was difficult to keep track of people and plots and, even more, it was difficult to get into the stories. Just as things were getting interesting in one narrative, it would stop and you get thrown into another. After a few chapters of each, and once i had my head around who was who, the switching actually became more exciting, as i would remember where that character had been and was keen to get back and see how things would go. I had my favourites, of course, but my most favourite characters were secondary characters. Those the main characters met on their journeys. Tom and Glen would 100% be my favourites, and i loved them the moment Nick and Stu (respectively) met them.

There were two other stand out characters for me, because of how my feelings for them changed through the course of the narrative:

Frannie is the only main female character. She is the only female who we meet pre-apocalypse and whose journey we follow throughout the book. At first, i loved her. She was independent and free thinking. She didn’t follow the typical or easy line that was expected of her, and i admired her for that. But. As she and her companions made their way across the United States and finally settled with other survivors of the plague… she became weaker, meeker, more stereotypically feminine. She cried a lot and was generally extremely emotional and unable to control her emotions, even making decisions on them in committee meetings. She was portrayed as a typically stubborn and selfish woman/wife, who put herself and her family first and insisted her man/husband to the same. By the end she bored me and i massively disliked her, which i disliked.

Larry is another character who took my feelings for and opinions on him for a trip. At first, i disliked him immensely. He was selfish, egotistical and reckless. He was useless; no good for anyone–even his mother said so. Even though his dreams and his journey were taking him east, i thought it was a pretty safe assumption that someone would turn; a character we were made to feel on side for would, for want of a better term, “go evil.” I thought Larry was a prime candidate for this because, although he wasn’t bad, he wasn’t good, either. He struggles with the idea–the knowledge–that he is a selfish person, but i thought he would eventually simply embrace it and head on over to the dark man. Instead, Larry travels not only the United States, but also a wonderful character arc. He becomes the leader of a group of survivors and successfully leads them east, he takes on more responsibility when they reach the new community, and he–well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending. Suffice to say he fights adamantly against his selfish nature and wins, though continually struggles and wonders if he’s winning at all. In many ways i think he was the best of them all.

The second half of the book i had a lot more issues with, generally. There was a point when the whole feel of the narrative seemed to shift. It was as though time had shuffled forward a year or two, instead of only a week or two. All of a sudden the survivors had set up a base and were in touch with large groups who were making their way there. Larry’s group had suddenly gone from four to fourty. Nadine was suddenly in a grey area, being lured by the dark side and i kind of hated her. The shift was sudden and jarring and took a while for me to settle to. I think the missing transition was never made up for, and the second half just didn’t have the build up that the first half had.

By the last leg, i think the editor on this book had given up or fallen asleep. You can say i’m nitpicking, but i wasn’t looking for inconsistencies, they were simply very obvious to anyone who cared enough to pay attention. So, four people are instructed to walk over 700 miles with only the clothes on their backs and to not carry anything. This is adhered to in so much as they scavenge for food and water everyday. But. What about the sleeping bags they curl up in every night? Or the coffee they drink every morning that eventually runs out? They’re making this trek for several chapters, so these things bothered me for a good while.

The biggest disappointment, i think, was the defeat of the dark man and his people. Because, really now, the good guys did nothing. Nothing. I mean, they did stuff. They sent spies, they walked to Las Vegas, they laughed in his face and made some noise. But they did nothing to aid in his destruction. Ultimately, the good guys could have stayed home with their feet up drinking tea and having naps, and the dark man and his people would have killed themselves. I won’t go into mega spoilery details, but if you’ve read the book, stop and think it over. What exactly do the good guys bring to the fight? Nothing. So, really, it all felt kind of pointless to me…

The second biggest disappointment was the superfluous last 60-odd pages. I am not a fan of drawn out here’s-how-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after endings. And okay, this wasn’t exactly the “happy ever after” stuff, but it dragged on after the anti-climatic climax and urgh. I love books that end with a bang, or an ambiguous ellipsis. I hate books that end and then carry on a bit more and slowly, so slooowly just fade to black. My interest fades to black, too.

The one redeeming feature of the ending was the message to take away. Which, summarised, is “Society sucks and humanity will always kill itself.” In a slightly less crass way, as the book itself says:

Postpone organisation as long as possible. It was organisation that always seemed to cause the problem. When the cells began to clump and grow dark. You didn’t have to give the cops guns until the cops couldn’t remember the names… the faces…

And that idea, that theme, is slowly hinted at, revealed and explored throughout the book. And is 110% why Glen Bateman, the sociology professor, was the best character in the entire book; he saw it coming right from the start, but still fought hard as all fuck for humanity.

This is the seventh book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: Made into a TV (mini)series, over 500 pages and features supernatural powers.