Monday, 2 March 2015

February Wrap Up

Firstly, a confession. I fell off the reading wagon a little in February in terms of reading actual books. I offer no excuses, save that time kind of ran away with me. That and I sort of lost a week to reading a new fanfiction I stumbled on. I know a lot of people are snippy about fanfic but I've always enjoyed it. As with any sort of archive containing hundreds of thousands of stories, there's going to be some terrible writing out there. But there's also a lot of stuff that's very good - well written, nicely plotted and an excellent way of staying with some of your favourite characters for just a little bit longer. I won't go into too much detail here, as I'm planning on putting together a post about some of my favourite fanfiction at a later date, but needless to say that when you stumble upon a good story for your favourite fandom, it can be as distracting as a conventionally published novel. 

Despite the distraction, I did manage to get four books read during the month of February. One's a bit of a cheat as technically I finished it on March 1st but, as I read the majority of it in February, I'm counting it!

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Kline

When I'm not being a massive book nerd, I can often be found in the company of an Xbox 360 being a massive computer games nerd. I'm also a child of the 1980s and, as such, retain a fondness for the pop culture movies and early video games of the era. As a result, this book could have been written specifically for me. 

The novel follows Wade Watts, a young man living on a ravaged future Earth who, like most of the population, has take refuge within the sprawling cyber-utopia of OASIS. Like most of humanity, Wade is hunting for the fabled easter egg left within OASIS by its creator James Halliday which will grant the finder access to Halliday's immense personal wealth and control over the future of the virtual world he created. When Wade stumbles upon the first of Halliday's clues, he is pitted into a competition against thousands of other players in a desperate race to clam the prize. A race that might end up having very real-world consequences for Wade and his friends. 

This novel is a love letter to early geek culture. Halliday's egg is hidden by a series of puzzles relating to the pop culture of his childhood in (you guessed it!) the 1980s, and it's filled with references to early video games, classic 80s movies and TV shows, manga, anime and music.  What I really liked about the book though was that it didn't just stop there - the story is more than just a dressed-up nerdfest - but has an underlying message about the importance of living in the real world and of caring about the people within it. To say anymore would be to give away a chunk of the plot so I'll leave it at saying I thought Ernest Kline did a fantastic job of portraying the gaming community in a very positive way. I did find that the book dragged a little in the middle but otherwise this was a fun, easy read which I'd urge anyone with a love of computer games, 1980s culture or well-written sci-fi to read.

Image result for the age of innocence book coverThe Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, this was my book group's choice for the month of February and is a classic American novel set in the Golden Age of New York society at the turn of 20th Century. The novel follows young society gentleman Newland Archer as he prepares to marry the beautiful but conventional May Welland. When May's scandalous cousin Countess Olenska returns to New York following a disastrous marriage, Archer finds his conventionally structured world begin to crumble as he is torn between social duty and private passion. 

I confess, I doubt I'd have bothered to finish this if it hadn't been a book group read. As it was, I found the plotting too slow and ponderous to read the physical book and instead listened to a very good audiobook version (linked here), read with charm and pace by Mary Sarah. Whilst I did find the portrayal of the enclosed, suffocating atmosphere of upper-class New York society very interesting - turn of the century America isn't really an era I've read a lot about - for me there just wasn't enough plot to sustain a whole novel. The whole thing was a series of small incidents and polite exchanges without any impulsion or bite. Like reading Jane Austen but without any of the caustic wit and vivaciousness she brings to her characterisation and social observances. I have to say that the rest of my book group disagreed - nearly everyone else really enjoyed the novel and praised it's quiet consideration and gently devastating ending - but this wasn't one for me. If you're a fan of a classic though, or if you like a gentle, observational writing style, this might be one worth checking out.

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E Lockhart

This one's a YA novel that I've heard so many BookTubers, bloggers and podcasters rave over that I just had to read it to see what all the fuss was about. It's a novel about four young members of a distinguished and privileged family who meet each summer on the family's private island. One of them, Cady, cannot remember the summer of her 15th year. Returning to the island aged 17, all she knows is that she was involved in an accident and that, somehow, this has changed everything. To tell you any more would be a MASSIVE spoiler so I'm just going to say that if you like suspenseful, fast-paced YA fiction, you should check this one out. It's a pretty quick read and, whilst I'm not certain it's entirely worthy of all the hype it's received, I did enjoy it and I thought it did a very good job of portraying the emotions and desires of conflicted protagonist Cady. 

Image result for the book thief book coverThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Speaking of hype am I the only person who hadn't already read this book? It's definitely one of those books that I should have read but for some reason I've only just got around to it. And I'm so glad I did - this book is so powerful and moving and beautiful and heartbreakingly sad. 

The novel is set in Nazi Germany and opens in 1939 when we find nine-year-old protagonist Liesel stealing her first book following her little brother's funeral. So begins a love affair filled with books and words. Soon Liesel is stealing books from the pyre at Nazi book-burnings, from the mayor's library and from anywhere else she can find them. But Liesel lives in dangerous times and, when her foster family agree to hide a Jew in their basement, Liesel discovers that words can both open up your world and close it down. 

As you can probably tell from the summary, this isn't the cheeriest read. Did I mention it's narrated by Death? And not a gentle, witty Terry Pratchett-esque version Death but a world-weary, unflinching Death who has a fascination with humans and the good and evil that they do. The narration is actually one of the reasons I really loved the novel - Zusak does such a good job of portraying this omnipotent entity - playing around with the conventions of linear narration and being unafraid to drop the most devastating of spoilers into the middle of otherwise innocuous chapters. To say much more about this book would be to spoil it entirely so I'm simply going to urge you to go read it if you haven't already. I will issue the warning that it's not necessarily an easy read, it's not a particularly fast-paced read and, if you like happy endings, you might need a pick-me-up on hand for when you finish it. That said, I think fiction like this is really important - it says something about humanity and really gets you thinking about one of the most pivotal events of recent history in a completely new way. Read it. Read it now. 

So, that was my February! I know there are some notable omissions from the above list. I spectacularly failed to make any progress with 'The Book Of Strange New Things' before I had to take it back to the library so I've added that to my TBR to pick up when it gets a paperback release. I also failed to continue with His Dark Materials this month but definitely have 'The Subtle Knife' on the TBR for March. And I haven't forgotten 'The Girl on the Train' either so I'm hoping to get around to that this month too. I've also added V E Schwab's new fantasy novel 'A Darker Shade of Magic' to my bedside pile and am eagerly awaiting Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel 'The Buried Giant' which is due to be released this month. All in all, a veritable madness of March reading awaits! As always, I'd love to read your thoughts if you've read any of the books above and always welcome reading suggestions and general bookish thoughts. Until the next time however...

Happy Reading!


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