The Martian by Andy Weir – Book Review

Goodreads Blurb

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Grounded in real, present-day science from the first page to the last, yet propelled by a brilliantly ingenious plot that surprises the reader again and again, The Martian is a truly remarkable thriller: an impossible-to-put-down suspense novel that manages to read like a real-life survival tale.

My Review

Rating: 5*

If a book could be Christmas dinner this book would be it. All your favourite foods on one plate, from crispy goose fat roast potatoes to Yorkshire puddings filled with gravy. You have a few tasty extras, like cranberry sauce and stuffing balls, and a few less tasty extras, like Brussel sprouts and bread sauce, but Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the same without them. In other words, this book is a real feast, a treat for the literary glutton.

I’m not going to talk about the plot, I hate to give spoilers. So I’ll talk about everything but the plot. From the opening line I was hooked. From the opening line I was dreading the final page. I didn’t want it to end and yet I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what became of Mark Watney, Space Pirate.

The miracle of this book is that it reads like the telling of a true story. It is dense with science yet understandable to lay people like me. The fact that it contains so much science I believe is vital to the success of the story. I am by no means an expert but the science feels real and accurate, and it really lends itself to the authenticity of the story, the characterisation, and builds trust between the author and the reader.

Now I want to talk about the humour in the book. It’s not a comedy, it’s not a screwball and it’s not slapstick but, boy, is it funny! Not since I read Grant Naylor’s Red Dwarf twenty-five years ago have I burst out laughing because the funnies were so — well, funny. The humour feels so natural, so effortless, that it adds yet another layer to the already familiar and likeable character of  Mark Watney. It’s the delivery and the timing that creates the much needed humour. The balance that Weir finds between fact, science, fiction and comedy is perfect. He pitches it just right, adding the perfect amount of seasoning to my Christmas dinner.

I’m rather fascinated with space and astronomy, though I have no desire to experience it first hand, being partial to things such as air and gravity. But watching other people explore it and discover it’s hidden secrets is awe inspiring to me. Many a night has passed with my eye pressed up against my too heavy binoculars looking at the moon and thinking of when man walked on it’s very surface. I wasn’t born at the time of the moon landing and have often felt the disappointment of not having been a part of it, even merely as a viewer. Now, though, I feel as though I’ve had my very own voyeuristic space adventure courtesy of Andy Weir and, of course, the indomitable Mark Watney.

And, my, what an adventure it was.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Book Review

 

Goodreads Blurb

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? 

My Review

Rating: 5*

I love books like this. Why? Because the writing is outstanding? No. Because the characters are so three dimensional that they feel real? No. Because it’s educational? No. I’m not saying that any, or all, of those things aren’t true about “Ready Player One,” but that’s not why I love it so.

I love it so because Ernest Cline made me want to be in it, in the story. I wanted to be a “Gunter” with Parzival and Artemis. I wanted to hang out in the basement with Aech playing Pac-Man. It made me want to go back to my youth, a child of the ’80’s, and watch all of those movies and play all of those games through Wade’s eyes. I wanted to find the pot of gold at the end of Halliday’s rainbow.

In simple, I love books like this because they’re so much fun! I never wanted it to end. And the fact that, not only did I enjoy it, but so did my 17 year old son and my 67 year old dad, well, if that’s not recommendation enough for you to strap on your visor, pull on your haptic gloves and dive head first into the OASIS I don’t know what is.

Happy hunting!

Sometimes Life Just Get’s In The Way!

Hi Guys! Here’s hoping you’ve all had a good summer. I really don’t know where the time has gone. All my good intentions to write every day seem to have been way-laid and side-tracked by the vagaries of real life. My son passed his GCSE’s and has now started an Electrical Engineering course at college (how in the heck did I get to be old enough to have a son in college!), we went on holiday, my internet decided to misbehave (still not completely fixed), my cat got sick, and I had a new experience (tilt-table test. UGH!!!). So all in all, a fun time was had by all 😉

Rest assured, I’ve still been working on the book, though I’ve not written as much as I would have liked over the summer. I’m getting all my ducks in a row so that when I start writing regularly again I can focus without being distracted. Can’t wait! 

I hope all of your projects are coming along nicely, I’ve done my best to keep up with your blogs as much as my erratic internet has allowed, and I’m looking forward to catching up with you all and what you’ve been up to over the summer.

However, I did write a short poem that I’d like to share with you in the meantime. Please don’t judge me too harshly, I’m not much of a poetry writer, at least, not since I was a teenager. But it made me chuckle even as I was writing it, and I hope it does you too. 

Here goes!

 

Body Clock

 

My ever expanding waistline

Is a marking of the passing of time.

A result of all the pick, pick, pick.

The clock is moving, tick, tick, tick.

 

When I was a youngling my clock read nought,

But time kept passing as I nibbled and I bought.

But I liked the nibble and I liked the buy.

Still the clock kept ticking; how the clock would fly.

 

Now the clock is barely ticking,

And the clock wants not to fly.

So I think I’ll change the batteries

While I nibble my last pie.

 

That’s all for now, folks. I have a couple more weeks of familial mayhem and madness, otherwise known as life, to deal with and then I hope to back with you all again on a much more regular basis.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coincidence or Serendipity?

Hi guys! Sorry for my recent absence. I’ve had a bit of a bumpy time with my EDS, including several day trips courtesy of the NHS, culminating most recently in a partially dislocated wrist, so writing has been pretty much impossible for me of late. I’ve missed you all but I’m well on the mend,  very ready for my holiday to Tenerife, and then back to my writing.

While indisposed, I spent some time learning new stuff. Something I’ve been meaning to do for the longest time is to familiarise myself more with the classics. At the top of  my list was the Iliad by Homer. I’ve always had a secret soft spot for Greek mythology. No, I haven’t read it all, but I finally made a start. And I made an interesting (to me) discovery that I will try to share with you.

As I was reading the beginnings of the Iliad I was also googling information on the main players in an attempt to get it straight in my mind. Well, you all know how the research thing goes, one thing led to another, and before I knew it I was totally absorbed in the story of Cupid and Psyche. It makes up part of the Metamorphoses/The Golden Ass by Apuleius. Lucius, the protagonist, gets turned into a donkey by magic gone wrong and in order to get turned back into a human he has to undergo various trials and adventures. It is a story of curiosity and magic.

What’s interesting to me, other than the story of Cupid and Psyche itself, is the fact that Psyche’s story mirrors the main story of Lucius. More curiosity and magic, trials and adventures.  I won’t attempt to recount the story because I won’t do it justice, but it’s well worth reading.

Now to the bit that fascinates me and gives me goose bumps.

In reading about Cupid and Psyche I stumbled across the term mise en abyme. It means, and I quote:  

“Mise-en-abîme occurs within a text when there is a reduplication of images or concepts referring to the textual whole.”   — Wikipedia

In simple terms, in a literary context it means a story within a story, which very much describes how the story of Cupid and Psyche fits into the Metamorphoses as a whole. Well, guess what? Unbeknownst to me until I stumbled across this story, the book I’m writing now is a mise en abyme! And just to add the cherry on top, Psyche was the Greek goddess of the soul, and my book is heavily focused on the soul!

So I ask again: coincidence or serendipity?

Happy writing, peeps.

Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth, Book Review

 

Goodreads Blurb

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The explosive conclusion to Veronica Roth’s #1 New York Times best-selling Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

 

My Review

My rating: 2.5*

Imagine you’re a child. You’re just about old enough to understand what Christmas is because you’ve just had it, and you’re already looking forward to the next one. Unwrapping presents is so much fun! It’s exciting, mysterious. What will be inside?

But it’s January and you have a whole year to wait. You wish the time away, wish it to speed up, go faster, because you can’t wait for Christmas to come, yet no amount of wishing makes it come any sooner. You have to be patient. Wait. 

Days pass.

Weeks.

Months.

Until eventually it’s December again and Christmas is coming! Finally, the day arrives. You get up, a year older with a years worth of excitement contained within you. But still you have to wait, because you can’t open your presents till after dinner and, as much as you enjoy the day, you can’t help thinking about unwrapping your presents.

What will be in them? you wonder.

Until, at last! Its time.

Slowly you peel of the pretty wrapping paper. You open the box, a delighted smile waiting to be worn on your face. You open the box, lift the lid, anticipation making your fingers tremble, and inside are…the rotted bones of your favourite pet.

That’s how I feel about this book.

On a technical note, it’s well written, though it lacks the fun element I so enjoyed in Divergent.

That’s all.

Posting Negative Book Reviews

Why do I always feel so guilty when I write a negative book review? Do all of us writers feel that inner conflict when faced with reviewing a book in a less than favourable light?

Perhaps. Perhaps it’s because we understand the labour of love that is creating and writing a story. Our characters become our friends, family. We feel protective over them. I know I certainly do. But here’s the thing: once we tell a story, put it out there, it’s not just ours any more. It belongs, in a sense, to everyone that’s invested the time to read it. I mean, that’s why we write, after all; to inform, to excite, to move, to provoke. 

So I ask myself: why be afraid of expressing a negative emotion or feeling? They can be as emotive and passionate as their positive counterparts; they’re valid, as long as they are delivered in a respectful fashion.

I have always maintained that I will not be disparaging towards other writers. It’s not necessary. But I’ve given myself a talking too today and told myself to be brave with my true feelings when it comes to writing and posting book reviews, otherwise my glowing reviews of the books I love somehow lose their merit, become less credible. 

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to write reviews about the books that provoke me, excite me, affect me in such a way that I feel compelled to express it out loud. Really, that’s a good thing. It means that, negative or positive, the book I’m reviewing has succeeded. It’s made me feel something that I want to share.

 

Requiem (Delirium #3) by Lauren Oliver, Book Review

 

Goodreads Blurb

Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has transformed. The nascent rebellion that was underway in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight. After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven. Pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels.

As Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain of the Wilds, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancée of the young mayor. Requiem is told from both Lena and Hana’s points of view. They live side by side in a world that divides them until, at last, their stories converge.

 

My Review

Rating: 3*

I’ve been all around the houses with the Delirium trilogy. This is a series I wanted to love but, sadly, didn’t.

Why not?

It’s a great concept, a scary concept, where love — amor deliria nervosa — is the enemy, a disease that afflicts and infects humanity and, therefore, must be eradicated. Snippets of the movie Equilibrium kept flashing through my head, and I really enjoyed that movie.

So why not this series?

I can only repeat my issue with book 2 (Pandemonium) — there simply isn’t enough suspense, intrigue, to really get the juices flowing and the heart pounding.

That’s why I don’t love it.

The thing I did enjoy, more than the story, is Lauren Oliver’s writing. Perhaps I didn’t notice it in the first two books, or perhaps her writing has developed, but I found parts of this book to be a joy to read. I found her sentence structure and word selection in places to be a pleasure to read. For example:

“They will want to string the symbol up, and make it bleed meaning, so other’s will learn their lesson.”

Simple yet effective. I like when a collection of words paint a mental picture and also have a sub-context at the same time, and I found much of that in this book. But I think I enjoyed Ms Oliver’s often adept use of words more than the story.

And therein lies the main problem for me with this book. It’s like having a plate full of tasty ‘amuse bouche’ and being told that’s dinner. No matter how tasty and well cooked each of those treats are it’s just not satisfying enough to fill you up. I’m a glutton with books, I like to feel my head is full of the intrigue and anticipation that bubbles away inside you when you are reading a really great story told well. This falls a little short on that front.

I also enjoyed hearing Hana’s story. I just wish there had been more trickery, more surprises, in how the story unfolded. Unfortunately this is a series that will not linger in my mind, but I will be interested to see what Ms Oliver writes next.