Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Pages: 374

Goodreads link

My rating: star5

This was one of those times when I wanted to read the book before I saw the film, and since Ernest Cline is a self-confessed uber-geek, I felt like I was in safe hands with this one. Even from the first page, I knew I had found a book nestled very deeply within my comfort zone. Within these pages, I was among friends.

And, boy, do I know feel like a total geek wannabe. I love books, games and films, but I now realise I am several hundred levels away from being able to call myself a true geek. I’m not going to tell you what year I was born, but I don’t remember the eighties. Yet since reading Ready Player One, I feel like I was there, in the infancy of true consumer gaming. The whole book is a neon tapestry of geeky knowledge woven with extra geeky knowledge, with an extra sprinkling of geeky knowledge for good measure. And the best part is that Cline’s encyclopaedia of eighties geek culture is delivered in an unnervingly prophetic dystopian – only one of my favourite genres. I keep going on at people that virtual reality is the future of our society, in a world that is overcrowded and drained of resources. Cline’s bleak near future satisfies my predictions and provides a jolly good story to boot.

There’s plenty of world-building, which I can rarely get enough of, but it’s done in such a thorough way that it’s hard to poke holes in it. This is why geeks should write books. They are very hole-aware because a robust world is the only satisfying one. To be honest, as I was reading Ready Player One, I really struggled to like the POV character, Wade. At times, he gets a bit bogged down in self-pity and has a whiff of the cowardy custard about him, but he does improve, and now that I think about it, he’s just exhibiting the same insecurities that a lot of us loner-geek types can’t shake (I am definitely included in that category). So really, he’s an archetype geek, and I can’t criticise that. Who wants a perfect hero after all? There’s nowhere to go with that.

I have to say, I was totally gripped by this book. It was the kind of book that I made time for during my day. It’s a real escape-and-immerse novel that’s as robust as any decent massive open-world game. It’s a pure, unashamed geek-fest, written for geeks, by a geek. If you’re a geek, you’ll love it. If you’re not (or you’re a wannabe like me), you’ll be really impressed by it. And I think that’s probably my key descriptor for Ready Player One: it’s impressive. I am impressed.

Now, have I said ‘geek’ too many times?

Legal Deposit Libraries

Here’s something you need to consider if you are self-publishing your book in the UK. If you are publishing a paperback version, you will at some point receive a request from the legal deposit libraries for one copy of your book for each of the UK’s designated deposit libraries. There are six of these libraries in total:

  • Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford
  • Cambridge University Library
  • The National Library of Scotland
  • The Library of Trinity College, Dublin
  • The National Library of Wales
  • The British Library.

The deposits for the first five in this list are handled by the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries, which has its office in Edinburgh. The British Library will send their request separately.

Publishers (and if you are self-publishing, that means you) in the UK are legally required to deposit one copy of every paperback they produce to these six libraries, under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act, 2003. And yes, this does also mean POD books, such as those you can make on Amazon KDP. I’m not sure you’d go to jail if you didn’t comply, but it’s probably considered very bad form if you do not. In fact, I had to delay sending copies of my books off to begin with, as they weren’t up to the standard I wanted them to be at for permanent posterity in the six biggest libraries in the UK. During that delay, I got a second email from the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries to tell me I still hadn’t delivered the books to them, so I guess their tactic is just to continuously email you until you comply. And if you’re a good little citizen, like me, you’ll do as you’re told.

Before I got the requests from the LDLs, I was aware of such libraries and such legal requirements, both having been to Cambridge University and having worked in publishing. But I wasn’t aware that this applied to self-published authors. Where on earth, I thought to myself, would they keep all these gazillions of self-published books? Surely, it must just be publishing companies that fall under this requirement. But, no. I assumed incorrectly. And to be honest, I actually found it quite the financial burden to bear. I publish my book through Amazon, so I had to buy six copies of my own books, pay for shipping on Amazon, and then pay for shipping to the LDLs. Fortunately, five of the books go to the same place (the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries), so this saves a little bit on postage costs, but it’s not an insignificant amount. So please be aware of this as an additional expense if you are self-publishing.

Apparently, this legal requirement does apply to ebooks (and seemingly every other digital publication, such as webpages, which they seem to harvest themselves), so if you only publish your books as ebooks, you’re technically still obliged to deposit a copy. However, I never got a request email for all the time that my ebook was published. It was only when I did a paperback version that the system kicked in. Perhaps it’s just the case that they do not enforce their right to digital content. But if you have your book in print and digital, they want the print version. They won’t accept digital if you have it in print. I guess this is one of those situations where large institutions are twenty years behind the rest of us. It’s a bit crazy, if you ask me, because if you could just deposit electronic copies, they wouldn’t need so much real estate to store physical copies and we penniless writers wouldn’t need to spend so much cash getting the books to them, but there you go. What do I know?

If you want to know more, here are the relevant websites:

The Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries

The British Library

 

Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Title: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Pages: 304

Goodreads link

My rating: star5

I’m a huge fan of old stories from bygone civilisations. There’s a lot of information to be gathered about old peoples from artefacts, architecture and old bones, but I think that stories really give an deep insight into the psyche of those who came before. When you read something like Beowulf or The Metamorphoses or The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you’re really investigating the human condition and psychology of the time these works come from. I’m not much of a history buff, but I am a psychology buff and a student of human thought and behaviour, so these stories have great appeal for me.

I’d had Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology on my reading list for quite some time, but somehow couldn’t get around to actually obtaining a copy. But then two fortuitous events collided: my birthday and the release of the new God of War game. I wanted to brush up on my norse mythology before playing the game, and it just so happened that my mum bought me this book for my birthday. So I got straight on it!

Neil Gaiman is, of course, a very accomplished writer, but what really impressed me about this book was the careful research and curation that has gone into it. Gaiman has done all the hard work, poring through the various sources of Norse history and mythology to extract and stitch together a string of tales that are both fascinating and amusing, just as a fireside story should be. If you’ve ever read the Poetic Edda or the Prose Edda, you’ll know it can be a bit treacly to read, perhaps something to do with the translations, but this is a book that caters to the modern reader. It reads easily and flows nicely like a book of collected stories, only the stories all relate to each other. The order of the tales is such that it takes you on a mythological journey from the Norse version of the creation, and the birth of the gods, all the way to Ragnarok, and the death of the gods (I just love that the Norse predicted the downfall of their own gods!). So although it’s a collection of individual stories, they all blend together into an overarching narrative, which makes it a satisfying experience as a book.

Oh, and forget what you think you know about Thor and Odin from the MCU, these guys were proper jerks! In fact, almost all the gods that feature have some serious personality flaws, particularly anger management issues. But I think herein lies the insight into Norse life. The gods were harsh and indiscriminate in their wrath because the Norse people’s environment was harsh and indiscriminate. It was a dangerous place to live and a dangerous time to live in, and death was meted out just as indiscriminately as the gods meted it out. The gods dealt in treachery and war and deceit and greed, all of which were a reality to the people who created them.

I think it’s also interesting to note that the Norse version of hell, Helheim, is a frozen wasteland, which of course, was a very real and dangerous environment for the Norse. Meanwhile, the vision of hell that was created in the Middle East and Mediterranean is a fiery furnace, and of course, extreme heat and drought was a serious concern for those peoples. Each hell represents the extremes of climate, and the dangers and fears associated with them, relative to each group of people. This is purely my own speculation, of course, but I think it’s rather neat all the same, and again, it lends a certain insight into the minds of those we cannot question.

Personal ponderings aside, Norse Mythology is an excellent example of engaging writing nested in considerate curation. It’s got all the characters you’ve heard of, and then plenty more besides. There are lessons to be learnt (although I’d advise against Thor’s philosophy of just bashing everyone’s head in to solve all your problems!) and great insight to be had. I’d be surprised if anyone was disappointed by this book.

Review: God of War

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Title: God of War

Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio

Genre: Action-adventure

My playtime: 50 hours

My rating: 9/10

I should start this review with a disclaimer: this is, in fact, the first and only God of War game I have played. To be honest, the previous episodes completely passed me by. I must have been too busy playing Assassin’s Creed! But the first thing that drew me to this 2018 game was some beautiful artwork and a huge feature article in my gaming magazine back in Autumn 2017. For me, the world and how it’s rendered is one of the most important features of a game, so I was immediately attracted to these stunning blue- and green-toned visuals. And it turns out that the concept art was telling the truth about what awaits in the game itself.

Although not a true open world (which is my preferred setting for my gaming deckchair), it still excels in its epic scope. Around almost every corner, through every canyon and behind every door is wow moment, the kind where you lift your fingers off the controls and leave only your right thumb rotating its joystick just so you can fully take in the scene. In amongst the stream of expletives uttered as I managed to die on a regular basis, the most common exclamation I made was “Oh, wow!” or “Oh my god, look at that!” Apart from the colour and the lighting, I think the real artistry lies in the height and the depth, especially, of each location. There’s a real sense of impressive scope, even in the relatively small areas of the world. You get to feel really small, which is a feeling that I always crave (living, as I do, in such a cramped and flat environment). Each area or realm creates real feeling and atmosphere. The battering winds, disrepair and unending jagged sea ice of Helheim give you a sense of the cold despair. The ethereal beauty and dusky nature of Alfheim give a sense of the endangered enlightenment.

And, yes, as I hinted above, I did die. A LOT. I’m not an amazing gamer; it can take me a while to get used to the feel of a game, and I’m especially slow at combat controls. I tend to take things far too seriously, and my mind and body go into a panic-freeze funk when the enemies approach. I will eventually develop a cool head in a game after a few hours of play, but God of War is not forgiving for gamers like me, even on the “normal” mode. There’s a really tough boss fight almost immediately, and possibly one of the steepest learning curves I’ve experienced in a game. But I would say the weapons you get to wield are fair compensation for the amount and deftness of wielding you have to do. The Leviathan Axe is definitely one of the coolest and most useful weapons in a game ever. And they really do make you utilise the full range of its awesomeness. This is the kind of game where experimenting really pays off in trying to solve puzzles or collect everything. My main tip for this game would be: look up and chuck that axe at everything!

Don’t get me wrong, this is not just an axe-chucking, beasty-slashing hack fest. There is that layer to the game (I mean, you can’t be a god of war and not decapitate a fiend or two), but it’s so much more complex than that. It’s so much more of a story than that. This game is really about a relationship, one between between a father and a son who aren’t particularly comfortable in each other’s company. Kratos is certainly not the most loving or encouraging of fathers. He spends most of the time calling Atreus “BOY!” in that marvellous Christopher Judge voice, and criticising him and generally being huffy and intolerant. But as the game plays out, there’s an evolution to their relationship that you cannot help but become completely invested in. Yeah, yeah, the game is gritty and violent, but it’s also funny and sweet, and every little interaction between the characters really means something. God of War is a very satisfying experience both as a gamer and as a human.

And, I have to add, as a story lover. I frequently went out paddling on the lake just to hear stories from Norse mythology. At first, it feels like these stories are just a bit of audio filler as you travel around the lake, but actually, they are really important to understand the context of the game. And in fact, nothing you do, see or hear in God of War can be classed as “filler”; all these environmental embellishments are critical to gaining the fullest and most rewarding experience of the game. Side quests, for example, are always optional, but here, they are central to Kratos and Atreus’s complex and developing relationship. You won’t get the intricacies and the nuances if you skip anything, or if you fail to notice the little gestures that pass between characters. Even when using the mystic gateways to fast-travel, you’ll hear stories or snippets of speculation that are crucial to understanding what’s going on. Every bit of content is all part of the story, which makes everything unmissable.

Apart from the total immersion of the story, the real standout feature of this game, for me, was the progression, something that has been well mastered here. Like I said, it’s not a huge world, but everywhere in it, they tease you with collectibles and puzzles that you can’t solve just yet because you don’t have the right equipment. Gah! It’s infuriating and excruciating! But it’s also incredibly motivating. And it adds yet another layer to the story-telling because each piece of equipment is acquired as part of the narrative. It also makes good use of a small world because it means you go back to each area a bunch of times with something new to do or discover (and a chance to spot more of those pesky eyes of Odin!). Everything is done at an appropriate time in the narrative, which makes the progression utterly satisfying and the game far less aimless than an open-world affair, where the player has more control over their own progression. It just all feels seamless without being contrived, because you still have control over where you go in the world (unlike something force-fed, like Unchartered, where you don’t get to revisit any location). And levelling up and upgrading gear is the same: you feel like you’re in control, but everything happens at an appropriate time and rate. It’s an extraordinary balance between the gamer owning their game, and the developer curating the gameplay.

And, you get to upgrade not only Kratos’s gear but also Atreus’s gear, and for me, the small boy with a bow was butt-savingly amazing in combat when my brain did its panic-freeze thing, so he’s well worth upgrading.

There are two areas of God of War that made me decide on 9/10 instead of the perfect score. Firstly, the game was too dang short! The world is pretty small, even if you do go to all the other realms, so I’d say 50–80 hours is the limit. Although I enjoyed the main story, and it’s probably one of the best main storylines I’ve played, there are only a handful of side quests, and I like to get lost in days’ worth of side quests to stall progressing through the main quests. Really, it was so good, I just wanted more! Secondly, the skill tree is entirely combat-focused, and there are quite a lot of skills to earn for each weapon. This may sound great for a gamer with excellent combat skills, but I just found it totally overwhelming. The number of button combinations you have to learn off by heart to use these skills is staggering, and most of the time, I just couldn’t get it to work because I couldn’t master the intricacies of the timings while in the heat of a battle. And anyway, in the end, I managed to play through the whole game with just the basic moveset and maybe a couple of special moves that I did manage to get the hang of, so these abundant skills for each weapon aren’t even necessary. Good news for me, but it does make earning new skills a bit pointless.

In the grand scheme of things, however, these personal niggles of mine didn’t in any way damage my enjoyment of the game. It is epic and seamless and really artfully woven. This is a real standout for me so far this year, and probably so far in my gaming history. It’s one of those above-and-beyond games where the quality of the experience lies in the details that have been so carefully placed. It’s a game, and it’s a real work of art. And you get to be BFFs with the World Serpent. What’s not to love?

Ravenclaw edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Look what arrived today! I know, I know, she’s gone and gotten YET ANOTHER Harry Potter book. She’s such a sucker for marketing. Well, in the case of Harry Potter, I’m really not that ashamed. And I was even more of a sucker this time because I went and preordered it directly from Bloomsbury, paying through the nose, so that I could get this awesome exclusive bookmark.

This Chamber of Secrets edition is illustrated by Levi Pinfold, just like the house editions of Philosopher’s Stone, but where Philosopher’s Stone was more Ravenclaw centric in the cover design, this one is more Chamber of Secrets centric, with the entwined snakes, Moaning Myrtle and possibly a Cornish pixie. There’s also some new extra content about Ravenclaw characters in the book and more Ravenclaw factoids. The dust cover has a lovely matt feel to it, and it also has copper embossing, which the Philosopher’s Stone edition doesn’t have. However, the page edges have the same blue and yellow striping.

I’m dead chuffed with the Ravenclaw bookmark, which is actually quite good quality. It’s a pretty standard faux leather, reasonably flexible, bookmark, with the words “Ravenclaw” above “Wit * Learning * Wisdom”. I’m slightly vexed that the illustration on it is the cover design of the Chamber of Secrets book. I think it would have been better with the Ravenclaw crest, so it wasn’t book specific. But I’m not going to cry about it. I’m kind of hoping they’ll start selling the house bookmarks separately, as I’d like to catch them all, even though I’m mostly a Ravenclaw. I like to be able to pick and choose based on my current mood!

Now I’m just debating whether to put this in my usable bookmarks stash or in my don’t-use-it-or-you-might-spoil-it bookmark collection. I’m leaning towards actually using it.

Review: Echoes by Laura Tisdall

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Title: Echoes

Author: Laura Tisdall

Pages: 298

Goodreads link

My rating: star5

I picked up Echoes by Laura Tisdall not long after a second play-through of Watch Dogs 2, and I was still in the mood for some hackery-pokery. They were promoting it on Amazon, so when I saw it, I was like, why not? Sounds like my kind of thing. And I’m actually really glad I did because it really did turn out to be my kind of thing.

I was hesitant at first because I am really not a fan of present tense stories. As soon as I read the first present tense verb, “hunches”, everything inside me sagged. I can’t put my finger on what it is with me and present tense narrative, but I just find it jarring. I find it just doesn’t flow in my head so well as past tense narratives. But I pressed on regardless, and I soon lost my gripes over present tense in favour of the POV character, Mallory. She is a fantastic representation of what I like in my POV characters. She’s not just a normal female teenager with faux flaws, she actually has real issues. She’s hypersensitive (like me!), especially to touch, and she doesn’t like anyone she doesn’t completely trust touching her (also like me!). She’s also from a genuinely broken family, the kind where the kids call their parents by their first names. But she’s also an incredible mathematical genius with an extraordinary talent for hacking, which is what she spends her evenings doing. I have to say that Mallory is one of the most engaging and well-developed POVs I’ve ever read. You get to witness all the inner conflicts that the world triggers in her, you really do see through her eyes, and that’s the difference between a main character and a POV character. The voice is strong with this one.

The story itself is also quite engaging. On first thoughts, the pace is perhaps a little slow for this kind of thriller plot, but on seconds thoughts, it makes perfect sense. Because you’re seeing the story through Mallory’s POV, you’ve also got to read through all her overthinking, which I totally get. The world goes much more slowly for me than it does for other people because I have to overthink everything before I do anything. Need to pop to the shop? Okay, I’ll just sit and overthink about that for a couple of hours and then go. Want to visit another country? Okay, I’ll overthink about that for a couple of years to make myself too anxious to actually go. For a highly sensitive overthinker like me and Mallory, life must be paced out to accommodate the workings of our minds, to allow us to manage the anxieties of everyday living. Throw a life-or-death situation into the mix, and the pace of the novel makes total sense. This is an author who genuinely understands her character, and can speak through her mind. It’s subtly and comprehensively immersive.

And who doesn’t like a good anti-hero story? Yes, hacking is bad – don’t do it, children – unless, of course, it’s done for the benefit of humanity. This is about people with extraordinary skills that allow them to do incredibly illegal things, but they use their powers for good. It’s a real endorsement of humanity and a person’s character to present a person with a choice, one option with a selfish benefit, one option with a selfless benefit, and for them to have the intelligence and integrity to understand the greater benefit of the selfless option. That’s what I got from this book. It’s a great story, but it’s a great message too.

So, why didn’t I give it five stars? I’m afraid I just couldn’t push it to five stars because the punctuation is ghastly. There are significantly more than the average face-slapping typos and inconsistencies that really make this feel unprofessionally published. And it’s extraordinary because in her acknowledgements, the author names no less than FOUR proofreaders. FOUR proofreaders, and the text is still riddled with horrors. Even on the same page, you’ve got the same thing spelt two different ways. As a professional copyeditor and proofreader myself, I’m just stunned that FOUR proofreaders couldn’t mop up all these problems between them.

Anyway, if you don’t mind typos and rereading sentences because of poor comma usage, I would definitely recommend Echoes for anyone who likes an anti-hero or an immersive POV and a great story to go along with them.

Merch Review: Harry Potter Bag and Bangles

Can I just say I love the word “bangle”. It’s probably one of my favourite words in English, so I may say it an excessive number of times in this review.

But enough of that! I treated myself to some new merch, as it was my birthday at the end of May. Any excuse! And besides, I needed a new bag for my cousin’s wedding. Again, any excuse! So where does the average girl go to buy a new bag for a black-tie do? One of her favourite merch sites, of course!

I found this frankly fabulous clutch bag on EMP. It is in the style of Harry Potter’s acceptance letter from Hogwarts. On the front is the Hogwarts crest and a faux wax seal. On the back is, of course, Harry’s address while he resided in the cupboard under the stairs. There is then a zip along the top and a small detachable wrist strap. Another addition, which I was quite excited about, is an owl post medallion. It’s solid metal and quite heavy, but once you’ve got all your crap in the bag, it doesn’t feel unbalanced. I love it as a piece of merch in its own right.

The bag is great quality faux leather, and, perhaps most importantly, the zip is good quality. There’s nothing worse on a bag than an argumentative zip! It’s a nice size to both hold in your hand and contain all your crap, and the medallion adds a nice bit of bling. I think the only thing I would do to improve it is to have the envelope flap as the opening point, so it acts just like an envelope. I have seen similar bags with this feature, but they are either more the size of a handbag or a smaller clutch, and this bag is bang on for size. Big enough to actually hold all the things you need, but small enough to still be a sensible clutch. Definitely a recommended buy!

Whilst I was looking for a new bag on EMP, I happened to stumble across another piece of Harry Potter merch that I instantly fell in love with. These are a set of three silver metal bangles made for a Ravenclaw. The widest bangle is set with dark blue “gems” to represent the house colour, the second widest bangle has the words “Learning; Wit; Wisdom; Learning” etched on it to represent the valued attributes of the house, and the thinnest bangle is etched with the house name, “Ravenclaw”.

They are, of course, available in all the houses. Hufflepuff and Gryffindor come in gold, but I’m glad that Ravenclaw is in silver, as gold hates my skin tone, and I, in turn, am not a fan of it. I’m also lucky that blue is my favourite colour, and works very well with my skin tone, so it’s the ideal house for me, even if my brain doesn’t live up to the ideals all the time!

I should say, however, that these bangles are quite small. Every other joint in my body has always been chunky, but fortunately, I have quite slender wrists, and these are about right for me. They are about 17cm in circumference. Overall, however, they are a nice quality and are quite a subtle and elegant piece of merch that only the keen of eye may notice. I wore these to my cousin’s wedding too, so they make a nice piece of jewellery for formal or informal occasions. Definitely a recommended buy for the slim-wristed.

Hidden Dawn Gets a Copyedit

Well, it’s taken me an age and a half, but I have finally managed to copyedit my book Hidden Dawn. Funnily enough, I have been unable to do it because I’ve been copyediting other people’s books (my day job)!

Of course, I “proofread” my book before I first published it, but clearly did a rubbish job because there were some very obvious and embarrassing errors in there. My excuse is that I was exhausted from writing it back then and just wanted to get it published and over with, but it’s been a year and a half now, so I’m well refreshed! Also, and I really stress this, YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER COPYEDIT OR PROOFREAD YOUR OWN BOOK. NO MATTER HOW BRILLIANT YOU ARE, YOU WILL NOT SEE EVERYTHING. Even if you get a friend who likes reading to read through your book for typos, this is ten times more effective than doing it yourself. As the creator, you are far FAR too close to the writing. You know what’s happening and what’s coming up, so your brain will do the brilliant thing that human brains do, and make the reading process as efficient as possible by drawing on memories and stored knowledge, and thereby allowing itself to skip over the detail in each sentence. The brain, demonstrating another of its brilliant skills, will do this without making you consciously aware of it, so no matter how hard you concentrate, you will always miss something, and probably several things. Just like I did, and I’m a professional copyeditor!

Do as I say and not as I do, of course, but I am an impoverished freelancer who cannot afford someone to copyedit such a long book. If you are in the same position, like I say, at least get a close friend who is good at English to read it, because they will see things your brain simply will not allow you to see. I do this for a living, however, so I know what I’m looking for and I have learnt to be objective when I need to be. I also have an extremely astute eye for detail. I’m the kind of person who can walk into a room and know exactly what object is out of place from my previous visit. So what I’m trying to say is, my book should be totally error-free now.

The latest version of Hidden Dawn is on Amazon, so it should automatically update on your ereader, but if you want to make sure, just delete it from your library and re-download it from Amazon. Easy peasy.

And please do accept my apologies for those clangers you had to sit through in the old version. I promise I have done a far better job this time around!

Birthday Haul 2018

I’m not one for big birthday celebrations, but there is something about my birthday I do get excited about – books and games galore! I’m very lucky to have some very generous donors to my collection, so I thought I’d share my haul with you.

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I’m a huge fan of the TimeRiders series by Alex Scarrow. In fact, it’s probably my favourite YA time-travelling series, as there’s a lot of detail in the actual mechanics of the time-travelling. A lot of books just skip over the technicalities and the inherent difficulties and paradoxes, but Scarrow faces up to them, which makes the suspension of disbelief a total breeze. They are also quite gritty and have some challenging issues in them. Here you can see books 6, 7, 8 and 9 to complete my collection.

I came to Andrzej Sapkowski through the game The Witcher 3, which is definitely fighting for top spot on my list of all-time favourite games. Alas, The Witcher 3 picks up on Geralt’s story part way through, with two preceding games. However, I’m massively put off going backwards in a series of games because of crappier graphics and gameplay. I think the only game series I’ve done that for without too much regret is Assassin’s Creed, after starting on Black Flag. So I thought I’d catch up with Geralt’s story by reading the books that the game was based on. No regrets in doing that at all! They’re actually really brilliant books told in a lovely narrative style, so I’ve now completed my collection with these five.

I also got Ready Player One, which I want to read before I watch the film (most important!) and A Court of Frost and Starlight. I’m a big fan of Sarah J. Maas (although recently I’ve not been so wowed by here stories as I was with the earlier titles), but I’ve heard some quite bad reviews of this relatively short instalment. Apparently, it just follows the characters going shopping and eating dinner, but I shall reserve judgement until I’ve read it myself.

I also bagged a couple of gaming presents. I’ve been excited for God of War for a long time now, even though I haven’t played any previous titles in the franchise (again, I don’t look back in gaming). But I absolutely LOVE Norse mythology, and Kratos sounds a lot like me – permanently grumpy! I’m going to read the Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology book first so that I’ve had a refresher course and can understand as many references as possible. My other gaming present is a face mask as modelled by Aiden Pearce in the game Watch Dogs, another big favourite of mine. I know what I’m sporting this winter!

I’m very happy that my mum dug deep into my Amazon wishlist and found this little beauty that I’d added as a “would be nice but probably can never justify buying” item. It’s a beautiful illustrated edition of a complete collection of Winnie-the-Pooh. And it’s flipping gorgeous! I have very distinct memories of being read Winnie-the-Pooh when I was a child, so this has great sentimental value for me too. I shall enjoy this little jaunt down Memory Lane!

Review: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

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Title: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)

Author: Philip Pullman

Pages: 464

Goodreads link

My rating: star5

As a big fan of His Dark Materials, I was so excited when this book came out. It is just wonderful to be back in the world of Dust and daemons, and a weighty tome of it too!

I don’t know what it is about Philip Pullman’s writing, but even though the subject matter can be pretty intense, I actually find it very soothing. I will often read the first couple of pages of Northern Lights as a self-soothing exercise. It’s the mental equivalent of relaxing into a comfy armchair by the fire on a dark rainy night. Perhaps it’s because it’s slightly old-fashioned in tone, but whatever it is, it really works for me.

Having said that, La Belle Sauvage has quite a different tone to His Dark Materials. Pullman doesn’t hold back on the dark stuff, but he steps it up another gear in this story. There’s swearing and rape and paedophilia and self-mutilation. He’s not afraid to challenge his young characters with the horrors of real life.

This story has that familiar Pullman arc of everything starting out making sense, okay the parameters of his world are a little different to ours, but it makes sense. And then suddenly he hits you with this Odyssean surreality; you plummet down a rabbit hole of extraordinary myths, those kinds of myths that try to teach you something about reality that is hard to accept. I spent the first part of this book luxuriating in the details, all the new information about the world that we didn’t get in HDM, and following the characters whose names only made a fleeting appearance in those first books. And then in the second part, it’s a real fire-up-the-brain exercise as stuff gets weird.

And just like HDM, not everything is explained. It’s both infuriating and exhilarating. I think this is the most intriguing quality, not having every question answered clearly. A lot is left up to the reader’s own interpretation. It’s like Pullman lays out before you a world and a set of characters and a scenario, and then he leaves you to decide on your own opinions about it all. He keeps his own opinion to himself and credits the reader with the intelligence to discover any truths. Now, that’s clever writing. And I can’t wait for the next one!