The Messenger by Markus Zusak.

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(also titled I am the Messenger)

Paperback, 386 pages

Published January 1st, 2002 by Pan Macmillan Australia

IBSN: 0330363883

Meet Ed Kennedy – a very ordinary young man with a slight whiff of deadbeat about him. Also, become acquainted with his three friends – Audrey, Marv and Ritchie, all of whom also have that aforementioned whiff. Ed lives with his horrible smelling dog, the Doorman, and pretty much splits the rest of his time playing cards and driving a taxi.

His life takes an unexpected turn after he stops a bank robbery – the robber was utterly useless – and soon after receives an ace of diamonds in the mail. Written upon it are three addresses, each with a different time attached to it. This is the first of four cards, all with different places and clues for Ed that lead him to people who need his help in some way.

But who is sending these cards?

Markus Zusak is, in my opinion, an absolute legend. From the very first page this is a funny and touching read. The bank robbery is perfect in it’s hilarity and I fell in love immediately with Ed and his larrikin mates. I want to walk over to his little shack and join in their card game, cursing the Doorman’s incredible stench and mocking Marv’s lemon of a car.

I had one of those involuntary content smiles on my face most of the time, loving all the back of forth between Ed and his friends. Even most of the second tier characters, like Father O’Reilly and Milla, are worthy of instantaneous love.

The Messenger, from the get go, is one of my favourite books of all time. It is very Australian, very funny, it draws you in, it ends well (look at the photo in the back when you finish reading it!) and it is worthy of a second and third and fourth read.

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

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Paperback, 516 pages

First Published August 11, 2009 by Viking

IBSN: 9780452295766

Quinten Coldwater is seventeen, brilliant, and dissatisfied. He is heading to a college interview on a blistery cold day when a strange encounter leads him instead to the sunny grounds of the exclusive Brakebills, a college that teaches magic. Amazingly, after extensive testing, he is admitted.

Throughout his years at college he finds friendship and first love, tastes true terror for the first time, discovers the complicated wizardry game of welters, drinks a lot of alcohol, gets in a punch up, partakes in an amazing journey and, of course, learns a lot of magic.

But after college is over, Quinten’s restlessness rises up again. So it’s just as well that he and his friends make a discovery too awesome to be true – something that he has never dared to hope for before. The odyssey that follows is both horrible and fantastic.

From Brooklyn to Brakebills, to Antarctica and back again, from the real world to the wonderful other, and spanning many years, the Magicians is truly epic.

For whatever reason, I loved this book. It has stark symmetries with Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, but instead of seeming like a blatant rip off it is more like a respectful nod. The fictional Fillory and Further series that exists in this world is very similar to Narnia, especially with all the siblings in wartime and the world between the worlds, but the events that happen within the Fillory books are original and exciting. I really wish that those books existed so that I could read them!

Sometimes the characters in this could be very unlikable. I wanted to give Quinten a good shoulder shake and slap for his behaviour at one point. And I’m not sure if I ever liked Janet – but that could be hindsight talking. I think that the unlikeable thing works as a part of the story – imagine how you would be if you could do magic. A god complex might emerge, or a severe detachment from ‘lesser’ non-magic using humans and their way of life. The boredom of having everything.

The last chunk of this book is particularly excellent. There is lots of action and little twists and moments that make you go, ‘oh!’ But I won’t divulge any more than that, just know that it’s very cool.

What’s also great is that all those little loose ends that show up throughout the book get tied up.

And, this is not a series- oh, wait, scratch that. A little research has proven that there is in fact a second book. I’m not sure how I feel about that, as I was just about to praise the Magicians on it’s standaloneness. Nevertheless, this is the kind of story that some other author may have needlessly dragged across a four part series (several young adult series come to mind).

I’ll think of this book from time to time, and remember parts of it vividly and fondly, as if I’d only just read it. I mean that in a good way.

Expect to see a review of book two sometime in the future . . .

Feed by Mira Grant.

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Paperback, 599 pages

Published May 1st, 2010 by Orbit

IBSN: 0316081051

It’s 2014 and someone has found a cure for cancer. Someone else has discovered a cure for the common cold. Great news, right? Let’s all get cured! Unfortunately, when these two experimental viruses meet each other, they create a single air born germ that reanimates dead people. So now we have zombies everywhere. Millions of people die, but thanks to the vital information gained from classic zombie flicks, mankind continues on – with the zombies for company.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the internet is the boss of media – it’s a bit hard to send paper boys out to the deliver the news when there are zombies roaming the streets, after all. The general population stay inside their houses and rely on bloggers for news and entertainment.

Georgia and Shaun Mason are two such bloggers, they seek out news and go into the thick of it to show everyone the way things are. They are also on the verge of a big break – they have been chosen to cover the presidential campaign of senator Peter Ryman.

But something bigger than just the campaign is going on. Conspiracy! Corruption! Zombie attacks! The more truth they uncover, the more dangerous things get for them – hitting the big time comes with a massive price!

I was introduced to this series through a goodreads group last year. Back then I was pedantic about reading every monthly book, so I felt obligated to read this during it’s month. I was reluctant at first (‘it’s so long’, ‘it’s about zombies and I’m housesitting alone and might get scared’, etc), but once I started I found that I couldn’t stop!

Feed is unlike any other zombie novel that I have read. Instead of the post-zombie world breaking off into chaos and secluded communities, technology has advanced. There are some very nifty virus detector thingys that test your blood and let you know the good or bad news with green and red lights. Also, Feed isn’t all about the zombie attacks – it’s a political thriller sci-fi too. In fact, the balance may shift slightly the other way – it’s a political thriller sci fi with zombies. Another difference is that everyone is infected already – the original germ being air born – but the virus doesn’t take over your body until you die. All mammals over forty pounds have the capacity to zombify after death.

We get a really good look at the blogger situation through the eyes of the main character, Georgia Mason (a ‘newsie’ – your classic journalist), and her adopted brother Shaun (an ‘Irwin’ – he spends a lot of time making videos of himself getting up close and personal with zombies). There is also another type of blogger called a ‘fictional’ – no guesses what their specialty is – their friend Buffy heads up this department.

It’s a long book, but it didn’t feel long as I was reading it. The world building is great – you can tell that Mira Grant has put a lot of thought into the little things. For example, because of the all-mammals-over-forty-pounds-turning-into-zombies-upon-death thing, hardly anyone keeps horses or big dogs anymore. Also, say you eat beef that isn’t completely cooked – even that could tip the scales of the virus within you and send it live. I really appreciate cool little bits and pieces like this in a story.

Others have said that they found this hard to get into, but personally I disagree. I was very into it right from the beginning. However, I would suggest that the second half is more conventionally exciting than the first half (more action, more answers, etc).

Go on, give Feed a go.

Fighting Readersblock.

Lately I have been suffering from a crippling bout of readersblock.¬†Most¬†unusual for me. It’s all these amazing box sets that are to blame. I keep discovering great shows and getting hooked on them, unfortunately leaving less time for books. But no more, I say. No more! I shall nurture my favourite and oldest habit once again.

The mistake that I always make when I have readersblock, is that I pick up small books, thinking that I will read them quickly and suddenly, miraculously, be back into the swing of things. Unfortunately for me, length is no real indication of whether a book will be awesome or boring, and I just end up making my condition worse. I think that there are two possible remedies: a) I happen to happen upon a book that is amazing and re-instills a love of reading within me once again, or b) read an old favourite. Possibly my favourite book of all time is Midnite, by Randolph Stow. And guess what: I have no idea where it is. So I guess I will just have to happen to happen upon a new favourite. Hmm.