November 06, 2014

Ghost in the Machine (Review: Echo Boy by Matt Haig)

Echo Boy
Echo Boy
Matt Haig
Random House 2014

Space year 2115 - the future! Travel the globe and beyond in seconds, live forever thanks to insatiable advancements in medical science and, if you like, never leave the safety of your home again whilst living a better virtual life on-line!  I know, what's not to like, right?  Well, murderous robots, that's what.  When Audrey emerges from her on-line school lesson one rainy morning to find her family's Echo standing over the bodies of her parents holding a bloodied knife, the future isn't looking quite so bright.

In a world of constant advancement, Audrey's father resists technology as much as possible.  He is concerned that there will inevitably come a time when the robots so widely accepted in every home will become too intelligent, too dangerous. This is a contentious point of view in 2115, especially when your brother happens to own one of the largest manufacturers of Echos (friendly neighbourhood synthetic humanoids) in the world.  At the very least it makes Christmas dinner really awkward. Audrey's uncle on the other hand is the King of the robotic revolution - where people want help there is money to be made and Alex is more than happy to take it from them.  In a world of grimy and decaying cities, Alex is literally the man in the ivory tower.

And it is during a period of bizarre enforced seclusion at her Uncle's mansion after fleeing the scene of her parents' murder that Audrey meets Daniel, an Echo that, as it turns out, isn't quite what he seems.  Can Daniel help Audrey uncover the truth about her parents' deaths?  And can he really be nothing more than a walking computer programme when he seems to be so much more?

It's sci-fi, it's romance, it's a crime thriller but in all honesty, it was all just a little too much.  I have heard Matt Haig describe Echo Boy as an amalgam of everything he loved as a teenager but sadly, this doesn't seem to gel quite as he would have hoped.  The world building, whilst vivid, seemed clunky and overly elaborate and it just killed the pacing for me.  At points I became so bogged down that I lost enthusiasm to even pick it back up.  But the biggest disappointment for me was the lack of the wonderful black humour that we have come to expect from Matt - It was all a little relentlessly grim.  The characterisation was really lacking for me also - whilst I can forgive Daniel being a little flat (you know, seeing as he's a robot) there was really no excuse for me not to feel any connection with Audrey.  She is really the only constant human character and, for such a lot of page time, there seemed to be very little effort made in getting the reader to engage with her. Latterly I just felt that I was reading a series of events that were happening to these 2 individuals, I had next to no interest in Audrey and Daniel's fate.

Whilst there is no denying that Echo Boy explores some very relevant themes very eloquently; namely morality of advancing technology; it is questionable as to whether it really hits the spot as a work of young adult fiction.  A little dry, a little oddly paced and just a little low-key.  A disappointing outing from Mr Haig for me, fingers crossed for his next apocalyptic adventure.

This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph. Echo Boy is available now. Thank you to Random House, via NetGalley, for sending us this title to review.


October 29, 2014

Full Fathom Five My Father Lies (Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater)

17378508Blue Lily, Lily Blue
Maggie Stievfater
Scholastic 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle. This review therefore may contain mild spoilers for the previous two books (reviews of which you can find here and here).

In the arena of 300 Fox Way, Monmouth Manufacturing, Aglionby and Henrietta the times, they are a’changing.  Blue finds herself with not one but two lost parents, Adam navigates a new and overwhelming reality, Gansey frets, and Ronan dreams.  Persephone guides, Calla watches, and Mr. Grey hears his life in lyrics from the stereo of a white Mitsubishi.  Meanwhile, Colin Greenmantle chases both knowledge and revenge, an old Englishman appears with his ignominious dog and underground sleepers sleep, some to be woken and some never to wake.

While the first two books in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle have focussed primarily on one character (Blue in The Raven Boys and Ronan in The Dream Thieves), Blue Lily, Lily Blue is truly an ensemble affair.  But, as with both previous books, the beating heart of the story is Richard Gansey III.  Previously, Gansey has been both powerfully present and strangely intangible. Here he is vulnerable.  From the very start of the story, Stiefvater takes Gansey and shows him as frightened and fragile.  More than ever, she paints him as a character who walks daily a fine line between life and death.  Not only is he vulnerable, he is worried.  Worried about his friends, about his relationship with Blue and always, always about the quest that he fears may be ending – because what is Gansey without his search for Glendower?  Gansey, always a fascinating character, has never been more compelling than he is with these fears and flaws to the fore.

His relationship with Blue is heart-rending to read for of course there can be no relationship.  However, rather than focus on the fact that Blue can never kiss Gansey, Stiefvater chooses to focus on the delicate balance of the group as a whole and how the secret that Blue and Gansey hold might imbalance it.  Very early on, Blue muses on the fascination the characters have for each other, the intense bond that she has forged with her Raven Boys and even as she knows it is perhaps unhealthy she can no more break it than she can stop breathing.  Perhaps the most likely to upset the apple cart is Adam.  A character intricately drawn he is, with Persephone’s help, finding his way in a brave new world and, as he does so, slowly coming to terms with both his past and his present.  In terms of character development, Adam has always been the most interesting character and this continues in Blue Lily, Lily Blue.  He’s a watcher, an observer of both himself and of the others and, in Blue Lily, Lily Blue he watches Ronan.  Ronan still lives with his variety of secrets – they just aren’t all as secret as he might think.

As well as the core group of characters, Stiefvater continues to excel in weaving extremely well written adults into her story.  While the Raven Cycle is clearly aimed at Young Adults, Stiefvater doesn’t pander to this age range when writing adults – instead she has created complex characters who exist in her story world not just as obligatory padding (as often seen in YA) but as an integral part of the plot.  Standing out from the crowd are Persephone, eerie and ephemeral and Colin Greenmantle and his wife Piper, both splendidly and entirely sociopathic.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue takes the Raven Cycle to a far darker place than it has previously ventured and also one that is more frighteningly magical.  The characters literally descend to the depths and impending peril lurks in every shadow.  As with the previous books, Stiefvater uses words to pull readers expertly into a world that is familiar and unique, comforting and distressing.  This is a story that feels ageless yet new – much like Gansey himself.  It will leave readers both gasping for more (because damn you, Stiefvater, with your endings) and frightened to read on.  Mainly, it will leave them with a literary photo reel running through their minds because this is a book filled with striking imagery: a dreamer in his lonely chair; a tragedy between two mirrors; a girl stepping into a dark lake; a shadow raging against the dying of his light; a herd of skeletal impossibilities, alive in an endless cavern and a boy, sitting in a dark kitchen, touching his face for fear that death might be crawling there.  It’s amazing, it’s magical and it is by far some of the best writing I’ve ever come across.  Highly, highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is available now. Thank you to lovely Melissa at The Book Nut for sending me her ARC so that I didn't have to wait. Because waiting was TOO MUCH.


October 17, 2014

Introducing our Youngest Contributor and her First Book Review

We don't really review books for anyone under YA age here on MOI, but that's all about to change because we have a new reviewer: Lady M.  Lady M is six and has been interested in getting in about these here hills for a while. So here is her first book review, originally written out by hand before being faithfully transcribed (under Lady M's eagle eye) by Splendibird:

My Funny Family Gets Bigger
Chris Higgins
Hodder 2013

This book is about a new school term and a baby boy being born at Christmas it is also about making Christmas lists.

The main person is Mattie who is nice and tall and she loves school.  The other characters are mum, she is nice and tall and Dad who is nice and tall and V who is good at reading and is naughty and Stanley who is nice and good at reading and Anika who is nice and good and Dontie who is nice and tall and Jellico who is loud and nice and is the dog.

I liked the bit when the baby is born because I like babies. I didn't like the bit where Mattie says that the year should start in September because my birthday is in January.

I would tell my friends that the book was nice and they should read it for themselves.  I am going to read more books about Mattie.

This review was brought to you by Lady M. My Funny Family Gets Bigger is available now. Lady M plans on writing more reviews but does not plan on learning to type, as she feels it is unnecessary when Splendibird is available. She applies this logic to many things.