DNF: The Maze Runner

Oh dear. Oh deary dear.

I decided to read The Maze Runner by James Dashner because I got hold of the film while it was on sale, and I hate to watch a film adaptation before reading the book. I want to know whether the adaptation does the original material any justice. So I started reading the book. And then I started forcing myself to swallow small portions of it most nights. And then, after what felt like a month of trying, I had got to about three quarters of the way through, and I just couldn’t force myself any more. And I watched the film instead.

Just see the film.

I can’t even begin to express how much I despise DNFing. I so rarely do it I could probably count the times I have done so on one hand. I like to think I’m a fair judge, and give each book a fair trial by reading the whole thing, even if it’s not really my cup of hot chocolate. But there was just something about The Maze Runner that I just couldn’t push through. It felt like it was a lot longer than it actually is, although that was probably because I was dragging the reading out over so many weeks. I don’t think it was the story that was an issue. In fact, it’s really my kind of story, right up my genre alley. I think it was the writing. I just found it very bland and unexciting. It was a book of beige. I struggled to picture the glade and the maze and the characters. I think it just wasn’t very evocative or engaging. I’m sure it’s to a lot of people’s taste, and judging by the sales, it really must be. But it’s just not to my taste. I like to be sucked in by writing, and there was really no suction there for me at all.

On the plus side, I really enjoyed the film. As with most adaptations, there were a number of significant differences between the book and the film, but in essence, it was there. Which goes to show I really did like the story. I guess the strong visuals in the film made up for those patchy images that my own imagination had managed to cobble together, so it just came together better for me as a film.

I’m sorry. I did try. The film was great, and I’ll be watching all the others. But the book was just that bit too long with that bit too uninteresting writing for me to persevere to the end.

In search of the Best Harry Potter Reading Experience

At the end of October, as the nights were drawing in, a chill could be felt in the air, and the leaves began to turn, I found myself feeling the urge to dive once again into the soothing pages of Harry Potter. I don’t know why I associate HP with this time of year. Perhaps it’s the heavy focus in the books on Halloween and Christmas. Perhaps it’s because I find autumn is the most comfortable season of the year for me, and that’s synonymous with Hogwarts. Whatever the reason, I indulged and cracked open the latest illustrated entry into the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Perhaps the most Halloweeny of the lot, and I think still my favourite of the seven.

Once again Jim Kay has done a fantastic job of adding colour and texture to J.K. Rowling’s world. And just as the mood of the books has turned darker, so too has Kay’s illustrations. Probably my favourite page is the dementor on the Hogwarts Express – a dark, cloaked, faceless figure looming through the doorway with that gnarly hand, and a candlelit reflection of Professor Lupin staring in terror.

I have to say, on the downside, that there were fewer illustrations than my appetite would have liked. I did some reading around, and it seems that Jim Kay was a bit rushed on this job. In his own post, he expresses how good it is to be able to take his time over the next book, The Goblet of Fire, implying he had been rushed on The Prisoner of Azkaban. There are a number of spreads in a row at numerous points where the illustration is just a background wallpaper print for the text. I know the books are getting longer now, and they have to save money on the printing, but it was a bit disappointing to turn the page and find yet another wallpaper spread.

However, what I did find in this book was a fantastic new reading experience, at least for me, that made the book even more enjoyable this time round. I don’t know why, but partway through, I had the idea to listen to Stephen Fry narrate the book while I followed the text and turned the pages. It’s a complete and unabashed return to childhood, sitting in bed and looking at the illustrations and turning the pages while a grown-up reads the words. It was a total indulgence, and I absolutely loved it.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with the Audible audiobook.

I don’t care that I’m somewhere above thirty; this was by far the most enjoyable Harry Potter reading experience I’ve had yet (except, of course, for the first time I ever read the books; nothing can beat that). Stephen Fry is just the perfect person to narrate the books, and does a much better job than my rubbish internal voice, and when you add that to the illustrations, the whole experience levels up. I’m not gonna lie; I hate being an adult. It’s ghastly. So being able to return to childhood for just a short while is a wonderful antidote for the unpleasantness of adulthood. If you’re feeling rubbish, you’ve had a bad day, or the weather is being wonderfully grim, I can’t recommend this experience highly enough. Go on. Indulge.

Tip for Sticky Labels on Book Covers

If there’s one thing that really makes my blood boil when it comes to books, it’s people who try to damage them. Be it cracking and wrenching a spine beyond recognition, dog-earing pages or writing notes in the margins, I am physically pained and sickened by the sight of book abuse. I can feel my heart beating faster even just writing about this.

But there is something else that really ticks me off and that I definitely class as book abuse: sticky labels on book covers! Gah! Curse the marketing goon who ever thought of it! And is it just me, or are they getting stickier? In the old days, you used to be able to easily peel labels off things without leaving a nasty, sticky residue, but these days, the marketeers have really upped their glue game. I suppose now that people buy their books online, the labels have to be robust enough to survive the journey from printer to warehouse to doormat. It would, after all, be a total disaster if their precious money/personal data-grubbing marketing message was lost in transit!

Well, I’ve found a little wrinkle that might come in handy if your book cover has been savaged by glue. I recently purchased a book that came with one of these hideous decals promoting a wine-tasting holiday, or some such impossible-to-win prize draw, in exchange for personal data. Perfectly irrelevant to me because I don’t like the taste of alcohol! Anyway, after I’d carefully peeled this thing off, there was a huge circle of stubborn stickiness that was not amenable to any amount of rubbing. Then I remembered that nail varnish remover is pretty good at removing most things, not just nail varnish. So I whipped out my bottle, applied some to a cotton wool pad, and hey presto! The gluey slime came off without a fight, with absolutely no damage to the book cover. I also had a go at some kind of dirt residue on the same cover, and that came off like a dream too.

So there you have it: my tip for removing sticky nastiness and muck from book covers! I wouldn’t recommend scouring away at it for ages, as, like I said, nail varnish remover is good at removing most things, so I wouldn’t want to be responsible for advice that leads you to rub off any ink or varnish from your covers. But I just dabbed on a little bit, did a few swipes, and there was no damage at all, just a nice, clean book cover.

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.

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.

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!