Fever Crumb (Book 1) by Philip Reeve

As I’ve said before, I come across the books I review in several ways. Either I see it on the shelf, I read about it in an article of some kind, or someone recommends it to me. This week’s book was recommended to me by my library in a “If you like this, maybe you’ll like this…” kind of way.

Fever Crumb is an anomaly. Adopted and raised by Dr. Crumb, she serves as his apprentice in the order of Engineers. She is also the only female as women are considered flighty and are not seen a reasonable creatures. Soon though, Fever finds herself leaving Dr. Crumb to help archaeologist Kit Solvent with his new project. However the more she learns about this project the more she is plagued by odd dreams and memories that are not her own. Solvent seems to have a particular interest in this and Fever quickly realizes he knows more about her and her past than he’s telling.

Fever Crumb is an interesting book. The way the world is set up, at first you think perhaps the story takes place in a kind of alternate universe London. A sort of steampunk kind of world. It is only as the story goes on do you realize that it’s actually set in the future! The little clues sprinkled throughout make the ‘Aha!’ moment when you realize this all the sweeter, in my opinion. Time has caused the names of city areas to change, and having been to London I found it a bit of a fun challenge to try and reconcile the actual names with the new slightly different names in the books.

The characters themselves also bear mention. Raised in the order of Engineers, Fever has a strictly logical mind. It reminds me a good deal of the character Mr. Spock, or any one of the Vulcan race, from the Star Trek series. Logic and the search for knowledge is tantamount and everything else just gets in the way. Watching Fever as she encounters a vibrant feeling world and struggles with it makes her growth that much more satisfying. She does not change completely – that would far too out of character – but she does change, at least a little bit.

With a vibrant world, changing yet still holding on to its past, Fever Crumb is an excellent introduction to Philip Reeve and his writing. Considered by most a sort of prequel to his Hungry Cities/Mortal Engines series, it continues the story by going back to the beginning. Those who enjoy steampunk type books will likely enjoy this, as will nearly any one who likes the ‘coming of age’ tales. A strong female protagonist makes this a good book for the young women readers out there as well.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

In this day and age we are truly a digital society. Everywhere you look people are accessing the world wide web via smartphones, tablets and computers. They are constantly checking social media in an attempt to keep one step ahead of the latest fashions and famous faces. Even this blog itself would not be able to be accessed if it weren’t for digital media.

In Feed by M.T. Anderson, title character Titus is just one of these kinds of people. His abilities to read, write, and even think for himself have all but vanished, decimated by his “feed” – a transmitter directly implanted in his brain that gives him a constant connection to the web at large. Having a feed is crucial for Titus and his friends, those who don’t have one are considered an oddity and are often ridiculed. Feeds are important because how else is one to know the latest fads and fashions? How else is one to know where the best bargains are or the best places to party on the moon? Titus believes himself happy with his circle of friends until he meets Violet. She’s concerned with the world outside of the feed, something Titus and his friends have never considered. When she challenges what they have been told to think and believe, Titus begins to wonder if perhaps it’s time to fight the feed.

Feed has won several awards for young adult literature and reading it, it’s easy to see why. It’s a challenging read, asking the reader to question their own relationship with the digital world just as Titus and Violet do. It practically forces the reader to take an unbiased look at our own society and it’s reliance on social media and to ponder what could possibly happen.

Much as I enjoyed Feed, I also found it difficult for two main reasons.

First is writing style. Told in the first person by Titus, a typical teenage boy, the narrative tends to skip around a lot. Having been told how and what to think for his entire life, he has a very small attention span. He jumps from topic to topic never staying long. Any one who has spoken to a teenager for any length of time will know how this feels. As someone who is twice Titus’ age I found it aggravating. Were I closer to his age I might have been able to follow him a bit better.

Second, and probably more importantly, is how close to home this story can hit for some. Every day we are bombarded with commercials and adverts on the tv, in print media and on the computer. Ads tell us over and over “Buy me! Buy me!”, we are told we’ll be healthier, happier, more popular if we have that one product. Titus and his friends are bombarded with information like this all the time and slowly so are we. It is only a matter of time before we are having the information beamed directly in to our brains.

Whatever it’s final meaning, Feed is a glimpse in to the ‘What if’s?’ and ‘What would happen?’ of our society. It holds a mirror up allowing us to take a harsh look at our reliance on social media and it’s possible eventual outcome. Difficult to read at some points but definitely one that makes you think.

Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan

The last few years have seen a surge in zombie stories – The Walking Dead, World War Z, so forth and so on. What links them all is the fact that the zombies have been humans. This begs the question, what if the zombies were of the four legged variety? This is the question asked and answered in this week’s review.

What begins with a single cow that just would not die quickly becomes an epidemic of massive proportions. Britain’s livestock are transformed in to sneezing, drooling, lust filled, flesh craving four legged zombies. When the disease spreads to all four legged creatures, Britain is put in to total lock down.

With no one entering or leaving the country, this places the fate of the nation (and possibly the world) in the hands of three of the most unlikely individuals. Terry, the slaughterhouse worker who encountered the original cows and lived to tell the tale; Geldof, the unwilling vegan teen with a serious skin problem; and Lesley, an inept reporter who bungles the biggest story of her life. Together, these three have to team up and try to potentially unlock a cure and save the world.

The world is so screwed.

Co-winner of the Terry Pratchett ‘Anywhere But Here, Any When But Now: First Novel Award’, Apocalypse Cow is well deserving of the award. Fast paced and very funny, I honestly had a hard time putting this book down. Logan has a definite knack for description as he uses words to paint pictures that seem to jump off the page. He has a way of twisting the things we know, or think we know, with new and often horrendous results. Much like Terry Pratchett, Logan takes the ideas we are familiar with and forces us to look at them in a new way.

The characters are believable in the way they are written and how they act and react to the situations around them. I would have liked to have known more about Geldof’s father’s backstory and am hoping that in the second novel – and there is a second novel, I checked – we will learn more about him.

While Logan’s flair for wordplay is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, Apocalypse Cow is quite different. Particular scenes are darker and even more graphic than some might be comfortable with. While the original premise does seem rather light hearted and tongue in cheek, the execution of the story isn’t always.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book and will be looking for the sequel at the library. However, this book might not be for everyone, especially younger readers or those who might be squeamish.

Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

The books I choose to review are generally chosen one of two ways; either I see the book on the shelf and the blurb on the cover interests me or the book is by an author I am familiar with. This week’s book however was chosen because of some fanart. One of the many boards I follow on Pinterest had pinned some fanart from one of the later books in this series and I found it interesting. Not wanting to start a series at the end, I tracked down the first book at my library and here we are.

In Cinder, humans and androids crowd together in the streets of New Beijing as a mysterious and deadly plague ravages the population leaving families torn apart. Among those affected is Cinder, a cyborg mechanic, renowned for her brilliance with machinery yet reviled for being not wholly human. When her young step-sister comes down with the disease, Cinder finds herself becoming a volunteer for research in to a cure. Meeting the handsome crown Prince Kai only complicates matters, for as their stories become intertwined, it isn’t only Cinder’s fate in the balance – but the fate of the people on Earth as well.

Cinder is a very interesting re-working of the original Cinderella fairy tale. The main character, Cinder, while having a good deal in common with Cinderella – step-mother not liking her, father passed away, etc. – she has just as many differences. She’s a very smart young woman and works to find her own way out of her situation with her step-mother. She works hard despite the setbacks to achieve her own happy ending.

The city of New Beijing itself plays a decent part of the story. Those familiar with Joss Whedon’s series Firefly will feel right at home in this world that combines new and old, Asian and European. Even the way characters talk is much the same with the occasional Mandarin word or phrase thrown in. This just adds to the realism of the individuals and their world.

I think my only complaint would be that a few characters weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be. I found myself very curious about Cinder’s step-mother and the doctor who later helps her in particular. We only get a basic glimpse of their stories, I would have loved to have been given more. Perhaps we will learn more in later books, but I have my doubts.

Otherwise, this was a very good read. Fans of Firefly and those looking for a new twist on an old tale should definitely give this one a try.