Review: “0.4”, by Mike Lancaster

‘My name is Kyle Straker. And I don’t exist anymore.’ 

Hi. My name is Laura and I am a bookaholic. It’s a serious addiction which means I cannot walk past a “Buy One Get One Free” book offer. If I try to resist such offers, I start to twitch. I break out into a cold sweat and my thumbs start to flick through intangible pages. The only cure is indulging my fetish and buying more books. I know. What a terrible condition to suffer from, eh?

So that is how I came across “0.4”. I was in Tesco, buying sugary treats for my writers’ club, when I saw the most beautiful stickers in the world, adorning all the books on the YA shelves. Buy One Get One Free. *Happy sigh*

After browsing for far too long, I chose Divergent, by Veronica Roth (I haven’t read it yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll let you know my review-shaped-thoughts), and 0.4, by Mike Lancaster. I had a whole two hours to kill before starting work so I proceeded to Maccie D’s, bought a coffee and parked up in a quiet spot to enjoy some peace. Within those two hours, I read through the entirety of Lancaster’s book. It’s a quick and easy read, but pretty damned good, nonetheless.

I’ve always been a fan of dystopian fiction, and the book’s Huxley-esque tagline, “It’s a brave new world”, appealed to me. Furthermore, I’m a classic horror fanatic and I love a good yarn about body-snatchers! This book combines these two loves and adds in a few lovely little twists, keeping it fresh.

“My name is Kyle Straker. And I don’t exist anymore.” So begins the story of Kyle Straker. He records his story over old Dire Straits cassettes and the use of this analogue technology is important to the tale. The story takes up four tapes, so it was never going to be an epic tale, but within those for transcribed sides is the story of how humanity changes forever.

It’s hard to say much about this book without giving too much away, and I really don’t want to ruin the twist for you. So I’ll just say a few things.

The book is set out to be a historical document. As such, there are addendums and footnotes from a future civilization of humanity which add to the strangeness of the text. These little notes also emphasise the idea that humanity has forgotten so much of what it once treasured. (The note on the Teletubbies: a “pantheon of gods, exclusively worshiped by children (sic)” was hilarious).

The conflict of the story erupts when Kyle and three of his acquaintances are hypnotised during their village fayre. When they regain consciousness, these four individuals are confronted by the realisation that everyone they have ever known and loved is suddenly not…quite…right.

I expected a tale of “pod people” and “body-snatchers” to ensue, but 0.4 thinks outside that box. It looks at the idea of technological and human advancement in a way which I found intriguing.

I’m going to give away too much if I go on, so I shall wrap things up. I really enjoyed this quick and entertaining read. While it may be short, there is depth to the story which adds to its charm. Furthermore, the devices used by Lancaster are wonderfully and wittily employed. I would particularly recommend this book to any young, male readers you might be struggling to engage in your lives, classes and libraries!

Lx

Review:”The Iron King”, by Julie Kagawa

Since starting this blog, I’ve been keeping an ear to the blogosphere and doing my best to make note of some of the books which come highly recommended by all the veteran YA bloggers out there. Recently, The Iron Fey books have been getting mentioned a lot, and always in glowing ways. So onto Amazon I popped, where I spent the last of my Xmas Amazon vouchers (the BEST present I can possibly be given!) on this popular book.

I was excited to receive the book after all of the 5* reviews it has been getting; all of the shiny praise and tweets.

I was almost immediately disappointed.

The book is about a two-dimensional 16 year old who thinks she’s living a normal, two-dimensional life until, one day, her one-dimensional brother is kidnapped by a less-than-menacing fairy. Meh.

I didn’t mind the basic concept of the story: the idea that Faery is being destroyed as mankind’s dreams turn to technological advancement. Furthermore, some of the writing was colourful and the imagery was interesting and nicely chosen.

I think, for me, the problem was that I just didn’t care about any of the characters. Meghan, the protagonist, was barely fleshed out and there was little connection with her inner thoughts as she encounters the bizarre world of the Fey. Instead, she often just acts, succeeds in her endeavors and then moves on to the next challenge. There is little emotional character development.

The other characters in the book were similarly thin. Meghan’s best friend, Robbie, is about as 2D as … as…something which is 2D. He is meant to have been her best friend for years, but you’d never imagine it given the lack of warmth in their relationship. You find out fairly soon that “Robbie” is actually Puck, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The love interest, Ash, and Meghan’s little sidekick, a quirky Cait Sith, were the only characters who had any flesh to them. Ash was sort of a hottie, and Grimalkin, the Cait Sith, (although very derivative of Carroll’s Cheshire Cat) was good for a giggle.

Worst part of the book? The fact that Puck call’s the alternate world of the fairies, “Faeryland” or (ick) “The Nevernever”. I hurt inside…

It’s a shame that there was so little going on beneath the surface of what really wasn’t such a bad idea for a story. Considering the description of the setting and physical aspects were so nicely done, it was disappointing that there was so little emotional detail.

I don’t know where all the hype for this book came from. If anyone else has read this and completely disagrees with me, please comment. Maybe it’ll help me understand why this book is so popular.

If anyone want’s to give it a try and tell me I’m wrong, then comment or email me and I’ll send it out to you. This is SO not a book that I want to treasure forever!

Lx

Review: “Before I Fall”, by Lauren Oliver

Samantha Kingston seems to have it all. She has the coolest friends, the most desirable boyfriend, a caring family and her choice of the best tables and parking spots in her school. Her life seems charmed. She’s part of the elite crowd at Thomas Jefferson High; the sort of girl who others wish they could wake up and be…if only for one day. 

Friday, February 12th should just be another day for Sam, but it turns out to be her last. She lives her last day not knowing that it’s all nearly over for her. She doesn’t think about her choices or how they affect other people. She saunters through another day at school, reveling in the security which comes with popularity. All is well, until the car crash. 

And then, Sam wakes up on Friday, February 12th. Again. She has been offered a second chance…

Actually, she is offered seven. Seven chances to live her last day over and over again until she gets it right. It’s an interesting idea and Lauren Oliver explores it well. 

I think anyone who has ever watched Groundhog Day has considered the things they may do if they had the chance to live a day over and over until they made it perfect. So it was great to see this idea in a well written YA book. 

What I found particularly interesting about this book was Samantha’s narrative voice, because to begin with she was a truly dislikable character. She is ignorant, self-centered, vapid and somewhat dull in her two-dimensional portrayal. It is only when she is forced to truly think about how she lives her life that she starts to take on some life. The audience begins to see a girl who really isn’t that secure and who, as a result, clings to the things which make her feel a bit better about who she is. 

I think everyone can relate to that, teenager or not. Or at least, anyone who has ever had low self esteem, or felt like they’re faking their way through the day. We all cling to the things which make us feel a bit more secure about our lives. But what would happen if we were forced to take a step back and really think about the things we cling to? Would we realise that they are just dusty trophies? Would the people we call friends be about as deep as a puddle? And what about the people we think we love?! What would we find out about our real feelings for them?

Samantha’s perspective is refreshing because in her seven days which are really just one day, she figures out a whole bunch of things that the rest of us might take years to comprehend. Lauren Oliver fleshes the character out and makes her audience begin to really care about her. I laughed when she cast discretion to the wind when she realised that there would be no consequences. I gritted my teeth when she put up with some of the people in her life. And I shed a tear when she chose to spend one of her seven days simply playing with her baby sister. 

I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it is both uplifting and saddening. This was a book which made me look at the world around me in a slightly different way, and also reminded me that we only live once. I’m often in need of this reminder…

In the real world there aren’t any repeats, so whatever you’re doing today, make sure you put your heart and soul into it. Seize the opportunities you are given, cherish those you love and let no important words go unsaid. You never know, it might be your last chance.

Carpe Diem! 

Lx

Review: Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve.

One of my favourite things about being an English teacher is that I get to host my two writing clubs: Scribblers and Ink. My favourite days are those when I get to spend time with some promising writers of the future!

As is often the case, the youth of today has such discerning taste. When I asked them to recommend to me their favourite YA dystopian books, one of them (a guy who I’m fairly sure is going to take over the world some day… so, needless to say, he cracks me up) suggested that I try out Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series.

Now, my reading list is ridiculously long. I have a bazillion books which I’ve been meaning to read for an age or so. So every time one of my writers asked if I had got around to reading Mortal Engines, I kept having to apologise and promise that I’d do so as soon as possible.

I was very touched when the group decided to buy me the four books in the series as a gift! I know, how lovely!

So, with no excuses left and an honest desire to make my writers smile, I set about reading the first in the series and what an interesting read! I have been in love with dystopian writing ever since reading Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut, back in school. (This is an awesome short story and you all need to read it. Spectacular!)

Mortal Engines is both an inspiringly unique read, while it also reminded me of one of my favourite PS games: Final Fantasy VII. I suppose, by that, I mean to say that I’ve never seen anything so hugely original within 200ish pages, while games like Final Fantasy VII have 70+ hours to sell their imaginary worlds to your senses. Reeve was brave to endeavour to do the same, and tremendously successful in doing so.

You would think that in order to create this original dystopia, Reeve would have to rely somewhat on clichés and archetypes. But he doesn’t. The book’s protagonist, Tom, is not a hero. Tom’s best friend and the girl he seems (so far – only on book one!) to be falling for, Hester, is described as hideous more than once. She is no damsel in distress, no beautiful maiden in need of rescuing. Even the antagonist, Mr. Valentine, is a character who you can understand and empathise with to a degree. Reeve takes convention, and turns it on its head in Mortal Engines. 

I can’t wait to get on to reading the rest of the books in the series. So far Reeve’s writing has been daring and original. But more than that, I can finally tell my writers what I thought of their recommendation: Utterly fantastic!

Lx


Review: Room, by Emma Donoghue

This book is tremendous. This is one of those books that you pick up and then everything else in your world just has to take a back seat. There is no way that you’re going to put it down when you begin. Donoghue’s story is just so compelling.

The story is told through the voice of five year old Jack whose entire world measures 12 x 12 feet. As far as Jack believes, there is absolutely nothing beyond Room, the universe in which he lives. He has friends in room: old toys, the television (Dora is one of his favourite friends) and his “Ma”. Room has its own host of landmarks which Jack thinks of in haunting, proper-noun terms: Rug, Wardrobe, Bed, Meltedy Spoon (awww…) etc.

At first, when readers enter Room and encounter Jack and his Ma, the world is a quiet, innocent place because it is seen through Jack’s quiet, innocent eyes. He is inexperienced and knows nothing of the possibilities of outside. Ma nurtures his beliefs and, at the same tame, allows herself to cling to her own desperate sanity.

7However, as Jack grows and his mind becomes more curious, the reader is exposed to true horrors which Jack cannot understand. We hear (through the doors of Wardrobe) his mother being raped by the man who has kept her locked in Room for the last seven years; we squirm uncomfortably as the young mother continues to breastfeed her growing boy (he even notes in an offhand fashion which breast is creamiest…eww), but it took me a while to figure out that this was what Jack was talking about.His innocence was transferred even to me! Which made my realisation all the more disturbing.

Jack’s father and captor is a Fritzl-esque character who is truly detestable. It is a shame that we can relate real-life tales to the fictional world of Room. But it is also one of the things which makes the book so horrifically gripping.

TINY SPOILER: Without giving too much away, I’ll let you that Jack and his Ma do eventually taste freedom. However, to a pair who know so little of anything outside Room, freedom is a tough and overwhelming thing to face. Jack longs for his old familiars. He knew and loved his Rug, his Meltedy Spoon, and nothing in the outside world is quite so comfortable. Ma has tough things to face too. Her family has changed without her, the world has moved on, and she’s used to being a mother in Room while in the real world she is still a young woman.

Ma has longed for escape for seven years. Jack’s entire world has been Room for his five years, and he never had the -knowledge to want anything else. On the outside, Jack wants nothing more than to return home. In Room, Ma wants nothing more than to get out, to her idea of home.

At times this book is horrific, sometimes it will make you smile and at points you will want to cry. However, it will have you truly caring about these characters and their differing ideas of the world around them. I truly loved this and just blogging about it has made me want to go and read it again. If anyone wants to borrow this amazing read then let me know. Seriously, you’ll be glad that you did.

Lx

Review: “The Dead”, by Charlie Higson.

Dystopian fiction seems to be the new craze in YA literature, and I couldn’t be happier! I’ve come across some astoundingly good stories in the last few months. This week I’m looking at one of the most brutal: The Dead, by Charlie Higson.

The basic premise of the book is that only children under the age of fourteen survive a disease which turns everyone else into flesh-hungry maniacs who would be best described as Zombies, although they aren’t dead.

It is left to the children to survive and try to rebuild as much as they can. The book follows a group of young boys at a school where their teachers have turned on them. It is interesting to follow their struggle and I found myself feeling all of their pent-up, edgy frustrations with their broken world. We journey with them as they escape their school into the nightmarish streets of London, where all hell awaits them.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but I’ll say it’s gripping stuff! What is so spectacular about this book is how very grim it is. Higson pulls no punches with his writing and I love that he respects the YA audience enough to be honestly dark with them

In the book, fathers kill sons, parents eat the flesh of their children, the “Sickos” gnaw at their own flesh in efforts to get to the more tasty treat of young human flesh. Beyond the sickness, we see the fragile line of sanity which the boys walk as they are forced to kill, cheat, confront the seemingly insane ravings of a boy “prophet” and make terrible decisions, all in order to survive.

The story…the sickness… begins with a video posted on youtube. The video of “The Scared Kid”.

 

I thoroughly recommend this book, which is also, by the way, the prequel to The Enemy, another amazing read!

Lx

Review: Personal Demons, by Lisa DesRochers

[I like this cover for the book so much more than the cheesetastic one showing the characters looking moody…]

I’m a BIG fan of the audiobook and, as such, I’m a member of audible.co.uk. Every month I get a credit to use on an audiobook of my choosing. This month, a lovely librarian friend of mine (@asamum on Twitter, or you can see her website at http://www.asamumbooktopia.com – follow her!) recommended I try Personal Demons, by Lisa DesRochers. Being a trusting soul I promptly spent my credit on the title and set about listening. This review will talk both about the text itself and the Audible Productions recording. As I listened to the book, I apologise for any misspellings in the names that might appear.

The book is divided into two distinct narrative voices, those of Luc and Frannie. Michael Nathanson narrated Luc’s narratives and Sara Barnett voiced Frannie’s. At first I thought they had cast too young a voice for Frannie, but Barnett’s  expression and emotional clarity quickly won me over. She made DesRochers’ writing take on an extra dimension. Michael Nathanson’s narration was actually kind of swoon-worthy. I think I could listen to that guy read the phonebook and I’d be quite content. So it was extra swoon-worthy as he had such a vivid character and voice to portray.

Luc is a demon and his job is to tag Frannie’s soul for Hell. He has lived for thousands of years and was born in Hell itself. He is not a good guy. However, when Luc meets Frannie, something about her changes him and eventually he has to choose between being damned to torture in the Lake of Fire for all of eternity, or walking away from Frannie and letting her seek comfort in the arms (not to mention wings) of her angel protector, Gabe.

(As a quick “aside”, The only thing I actually didn’t like about this book was the naming of some of the characters. Lucifer “Luc” Cain is the demon, Gabriel is the angel, and Mary Frances, a.k.a Frannie, is the human whose soul hangs in the balance. I thought the names were just a bit too pointed…Actually, I thought they were about as subtly as being slapped in the face with an anvil!)

So, Luc or Gabe? It seems like an easy choice, right? Both want her, both end up loving her, but whereas Luc needs to damn Frannie to Hell, Gabe can offer her Heaven. It should be easy, but DesRochers works the narrative so that you can’t help but want all the wrong things for Frannie, even though the result of her choosing Luc seems like a damnable mistake.

I found myself completely enthralled in Frannie’s confusion and, as a reader, I didn’t know what  I wanted for her! The two male leads, Gabe and Luc left me feeling off balance and I therefore empathised with our heroine. That’s not to say that she didn’t piss me off royally at times! Okay, she has an angel and demon manipulating her feelings and overwhelming her raging teenage hormones, but still… keep it in your pants, girl! She seemed a little flakey at times and I just wished she’d make a decision and stop basking in the attention. Then again, if I had the likes of Luc and Gabe lusting after me (though I suppose only Luc is capable of lust…it being a sin and all), I’m not sure I’d want to cut either of them loose either.

The sequel to Personal Demons is called Original Sin and it will be out this year. I’m both thrilled and dismayed by this. I’m thrilled because I adored the first book and loved the characters. I’m dismayed because I’m not sure I can take any more bumps in the road for Frannie! I felt so torn reading this book that I now feel I need to read something easier on the soul! Pun intended.

Lx

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