The Crystal Maze Live Experience – Review

If you’re like me, crippling anxiety would have stopped you from playing the real life televised Crystal Maze in the 90s. But you can’t deny that we all REALLY wanted a go.

Fortunately for us, there’s a place in Manchester that provides the experience without the peril of making yourself look like a dick in front of a TV audience.

richard o brien*Harmonica sounds*

The Crystal Maze Live Experience is exactly what it says on the tin: from the theme music following you as you sprint (literally) between the four zones to the iconic “WILL YOU START THE FANS PLEASE” Crystal Dome moment. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s several classic games from the TV show, a video cameo from Richard O’ Brien and a big slide.

A BIG SLIDE. What’s not to love, I ask you.

Biggest non-surprise of the day: for all the time we spent screaming at the TV while watching competitors struggle with seemingly arbitrary tasks, it’s a lot harder than it looks in real life. Particularly when you’ve got a timer running and seven of your friends shouting instructions at you.

Level 14 judgeWe did OK though. Team Level 14 Judge!

My one disappointment was that you’re not guaranteed a commemorative crystal. There’s a Wheel of Fortune style game that gives you a chance to win a free one if you fill in a feedback form (I failed). If you’re feeling particularly flush, you can buy one from the shop on the way out, along with t shirts, jackets and other assorted merch.

At £41 it has a reasonably steep entry fee, but you can live with that and are in Manchester with a bunch of pals, The Crystal Maze Live Experience is ridiculously good fun. Shout out to “Santa”, our hilarious guide for the experience, who I’m pretty sure has never met a bunch of people more chaotic and injury prone than us.

Speaking of which – my one tip is “watch the doors”. They’re quite low and one of my friends took the skin off his head, which resulted in him having a big dorky plaster on for the group photo at the end. Nice one Dan.

crystal mazeVictory!

Book Spotlight | Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning

Fame never comes for free, and Molly’s about to find out what it costs.

Guitar Girl

Guitar Girl is one of my all time favourite YA books. An underrated classic.

Molly is a seventeen year old who, along with her friends Jane and Tara wants nothing more than to be noticed for something. Anything. Even if you’re as anxiety-ridden a teen as I was, that’s relatable. So they start a band, pick up a couple of rude and aloof boys on the way, and boom. Fame, success and Molly is suddenly, and increasingly reluctantly in the shoes of her grrrl rock icon, Ruby X. I was fourteen when this book came out and I’m pretty sure I was given a copy not long after it was released. Everyone knew my aesthetic, even then.

If you like YA and you haven’t read this book, I would thoroughly recommend it. Molly is badass and vulnerable in equal measure and her narrative is spiky and relatable and warm. It’s the dream of learning three chords on the guitar and changing the world, and the nightmare of losing control of everything you stand for. Plus there are mysterious terribly-behaved boys, the dangerous side of fame and excess, and a song about Hello Kitty. Every box ticked.

On that note, if you want a cool girl band singing songs about relatable shit, may I recommend “Hey Siri, Open Tinder” by Childbirth. You’re welcome.

Book Spotlight | I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

iwbft

I love Alice Oseman. Radio Silence and Solitaire are both books I wish I’d had when I was in high school. Instead of trying to look at them from the perspective of the current young adult audience, these books resonate with Younger Me in a big way, and it’s both heartbreaking and pretty therapeutic.

I Was Born For This is both completely different and exactly the same.

It’s the story of how pervasive and consuming pouring your heart and soul into something can be. A band, a TV show, a book…it’s an authentic look at how how important, and how destructive these things can be when they become everything. It’s also a testament to the friends and communities that build up around things can be to someone who’s lonely or struggling. It can save lives.

So why only four stars?

This didn’t resonate with me in the same way the previous two did, which is not a fault of the book. Most of my fandom adventures were solitary, borne of loneliness in school and mental illness, and I didn’t have anywhere near the experiences of Angel and Juliet. If I’d been more heavily involved? Hell yeah, I can see another version of me in this book.

Overall, not my favourite Alice Oseman book because it didn’t hit my buttons in the specific video-game-puzzle-solving order like the previous two, but still a gr8 book. Alice Oseman is one of the very best YA authors around, and I have absolutely no doubt that pretty much everyone who’s ever used the internet will see themselves in the pages.

Rating: ****

Book Spotlight | Lion by Saroo Brierly

 

lion

I’d read a few really, really bad books and it had left me with whatever the reading equivalent of a hangover is. The last thing I wanted was to read another book – but I have a bit of a thing for reading other peoples’ stories, the more dramatic the better.

Originally published as A Long Way Home, Lion is the story of Saroo – accidentally separated from his family at the age of five, adopted and raised by a Tasmanian family and, with the help of the internet and his friends, he found his way home again.Some of the coincidences that led Saroo from India to Tasmania and back again are so hair-thin that it genuinely chilled my blood. I read it on the train to work and it had me chewing on my fingers, even though I knew how it ended, and that’s how I KNOW that a story has worked its way into my soul.

Hangover cured.

The part that really blew my mind was how Saroo found the home he was ripped from twenty years previously, when he was a boy with memory of little more than the neigbourhood he grew up in and a couple of basic landmarks. We’ve all booted up Google Maps and typed in our own postcode and zoomed right in on top of our house, but using it to traverse the length and breadth of India looking for one single, unrealistically small landmark. I dare you not to get as heavily invested in the search as Saroo was himself.

If you want to have your hairs all stand up and your heart melting into a big gooey puddle at the same time, read this book. But make sure you’ve got the best part of a day free.

Music Spotlight | Genesis – Mama

Can’t you feel my heart?

When I was little, my parents had an CD called “The Best Rock Album in the World…Ever!” It was my favourite. I listened to Crazy Crazy Nights by Kiss over and over. More Than A Feeling was my jam.

There were two songs on this album that gave me the first taste of what music can do, because they were so dark and insidious sounding to my four-year-old brain that they genuinely terrified me. One was Inside by Stiltskin.

The other was Mama.

Originally believed by some people (including the band’s manager) to be from the point of view of a foetus pre-abortion, it’s actually about a young man who has an Oedipal obsession with an older prostitute. It’s been over twenty years since I first heard it and between the sinister drum track, the synth, that laugh and what sounds like Phil Collins having a nervous breakdown halfway through it still makes the back of my neck prickle every time I listen to it.

Here’s the video. C R E E P Y.

Anyway, I know it’s deeply uncool for some reason but I really like Phil Collins. Peace.

Book Spotlight | Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Jandy Nelson meets Friday Night Lights: a sweeping story about love and family from an exceptional new voice in YA. With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.

wing jones

Oh, Wing Jones. For months you sat on my bookshelf, a purchase from the Edinburgh Book Festival, a signed copy I fell upon the same way I did my first bowl of mashed potatoes when I had norovirus.

I can’t believe I had solid gold sitting in my living room since last summer.

I don’t throw the word “perfect” around a lot, but as someone who’s an aspiring YA author, when I eventually manage to string enough words together to constitute a book, god I hope it’s even half as good as Wing Jones. It’s perfect. It’s got everything: romance, drama, an overcoming the odds story, loveable characters from all walks of life. Wing has to overcome adversity on a phenomenal scale, whether it’s the tragedy that strikes her family or her own personal tribulations, and she does it in such a very human very that turns into something else entirely. You feel Wing’s exhilaration in every single line on every page.

It’s a story about finding who you are and what you love and how it can free you, and I wish I’d had it when I was in school. This should find its way into the hands of every young person.

Plus Wing’s grandparents are my favourite and I would windmill slam money down for a book where they go on adventures with each other.

Rating: *****

Book Review | The Gilded Cage by Vic James

In modern-day Britain, magic users control everything: wealth, politics, power – and you. If you’re not one of the ultimate one-percenters – the magical elite – you owe them ten years of service.

Do those years when you’re old, and you’ll never get through them.

Do them young, and you’ll never get over them.

This is the darkly decadent world of Gilded Cage. In its glittering milieu move the all-powerful Jardines and the everyday Hadleys. The families have only one thing in common: Each has three children. But their destinies entwine when one family enters the service of the other. They will all discover whether any magic is more powerful than the human spirit.

Have a quick ten years. . . .

gilded cage

Free books are my jam (thanks to Sarah from Sarah Withers Blogs for the heads up that this was the iBooks free book of the week) but I don’t expect very much. Which means I’m pleasantly surprised when I become actively invested in them.

The Gilded Cage reminded me in a lot of ways of the Doctor Who episode Turn Left – a dark, alternate parallel of our own world. For most of the characters I either wanted to put them in my pocket to keep them safe or push them off a cliff, but in a chunky number of cases I’m not sure which. There’s magic and rebellion and some REALLY dark politics – for real,  some of the reviews I’ve seen cite the political aspects of the book as a reason they DNF’d it, but take it from someone who will windmill slam a book closed if it gets political and turgid: it’s not anywhere near that bad. Vic James makes it enough to be interesting without it being a slog.

Solid 4/5 stars, with the missing star purely because at some points I didn’t quite jam with the style of writing and the romantic subplot did absolutely nothing for me – but that’s not really the fault of the book, and I’ll definitely be continuing the series.

Rating: ****

Destiny 2: why “Becoming Legend” is no longer an option.

Oh man. You know when you meet one of your heroes and it turns out they’re an asshole? That’s how I feel in the wake of Destiny 2. I’ve tried to write a post about numerous times since it was released, but I wanted to defend it until I was blue in the face, the same way I did with Destiny.

I’m coming to the conclusion that I can’t.

It made all the right noises at first. Better story and the characters that we loved actually being characters and not just NPC vendors. The same gameplay that made Destiny so much fun. I just wasn’t expecting to find that everything else had gone to shit.

You might think that’s an overreaction, but the soul has been ripped out of this game. It’s hollow. Among other minor disappointments, everything past the main story mission feels flat and doesn’t inspire the sort of time sink required to progress. The gear system is demoralising. There’s no real PvP endgame anymore.The Grimoire lore has been removed from the Bungie website and in game the lore is either watered down or completely non-existent.

You read that correctly. After three years of complaints that the excellent, rich lore of the Destiny universe wasn’t taken advantage of or accessible in-game, they made it worse.

The first expansion, Curse of Osiris, dropped last week, and it was the first time I’d loaded the game up in just over a month. I was looking forward to it, but my expectations weren’t hugely high, mainly because I knew that it was unlikely to magically fix everything.

Even so, this thing nearly flatlined me.

destiny 2 mercury
Salute to the sun.

It’s a subplot that does nothing to expand or advance the overall lore of the game. The almost unbearably cool sounding Infinite Forest, while looking incredible, is a series of running through triangles, opening doors and hopping from block to block until the end. There are mobs to fight along the way, but you can just as easily run past them, with the exception of a handful marked as “Daemons” which must be killed before you can open another door. It’s more like a uninspiring platformer than an open world RPG.

I mean come on, we never find out what the titular Curse is. Osiris himself barely features. The most famous and notorious Guardian in the game’s lore and he’s barely got a cameo in an expansion named after him. Really?

destiny 2 triangle
Destiny 2: Curse of Triangles.

I know I’m biased. I know. I was obsessed with Destiny and it’s probably not fair to expect D2 to be the same game. But Destiny made huge leaps from the vanilla game to get to where it was when the sequel dropped, and Destiny 2 feels like it’s going backwards at a rate of knots. It breaks my heart.

The next expansion is due in Spring and is widely speculated to involve the Battle of Twilight Gap, which is one of my favourite parts of the lore. Bungie have indicated that they’re listening to feedback from the community, so I’m hoping – desperately, furiously hoping – that it’ll be better.

Please, Bungie?