Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Image credit: goodreads.com

Image credit: goodreads.com

Maybe I’m turning into a curmudgeon. Maybe it’s my winter blues. Maybe my expectations were way too high and I expected far too much. Whatever the reason, I just could not stay excited about this book. It seemed to me that everyone was raving about this nostalgic and brilliant literary triumph. I couldn’t believe it managed to fly under my radar and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. What I actually found was a flat, predictable story that consisted of one deux ex machina after the other.

Brief Synopsis: It’s 2044 and the world is in social, environmental and financial shambles. Most of humanity spends its time inside OASIS–a virtual reality simulator that allows each user to be anyone and go anywhere in cyberspace. Before his death, the creator of OASIS, James Halliday (think Steve Jobs type figure), hid an egg somewhere inside the OASIS universe that would reward his fortune and company upon the user who found it first. Wade Watts, aka Parzival, and his fellow gunters (egg hunters) devote their lives to finding the egg. They immerse themselves in the ’80s pop culture and geek trivia that Halliday loved in life, hoping to find clues to aid their search. When Wade becomes the first person to stumble across the first key after years of searching, he enters into a fight to the finish and a fight for his life.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Overall impression: By all accounts I should have loved this book. Dystopia? Check. Geek Culture? Check. Child of the ’80s? Check. It was just so painful to read. My two stars are a nod to a concept that I think is brilliant. It had so much potential but fell horribly flat. I wanted to love it, but the writer in me cringed on almost every page. When I read the premise for this story, I thought the ’80s nostalgia would be woven masterfully throughout like a golden thread holding everything together. Turns out the nostalgia is crudely dumped anywhere it will fit just for the hell of it.

WARNING: There is a high potential for spoilers beyond this point. This part of the review is generally for people who have already read the book and are looking for someone who agreed or disagreed with their own opinion. 

My biggest issues: 

  • The characters are as flat and bland as cardboard. We’re inside Wade’s head and yet I get no sense of him as a person. His aunt is murdered and he keeps it moving. Yeah, it wasn’t the best relationship, but he feels/thinks nothing about it? He’s in love with Art3mis and we only know it because he tells us over and over and over and over and over.
  • Speaking of “over and over,” there’s far too much telling, not enough showing. The story jumps from one info dump to the next with zero regard for character or plot development. At one point, there are at least 3 pages dedicated to Wade’s morning routine. And another 3 pages dedicated to how he uses his computer… right down to adjusting the brightness and contrast of the screen. Not joking.
  • As mentioned above, name dropping for the sake of name dropping. A Lord of the Rings reference here. Some Star Trek there. Sprinkle it with some Cyndi Lauper. Publish.
  • My new favorite word: deux ex machina. I knew a word had to exist for this phenomenon and I’m so glad I found it. Deux ex machina: whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Of everything I took issue with in the story, this is the one that drove me up a wall. Did I mention that Wade is a 007 level secret agent who also happens to be a master hacker? That’s because HE’S NOT. He’s a high school kid who has lived almost his entire life in a trailer, never leaving his hometown. Yet SOMEHOW, he’s able to hack government files, create new identities for himself, infiltrate the enemy, hack the enemy’s internal files, steal what he needs to win the game, and make it back out again without EVER GETTING CAUGHT. He and his three “best friends” are in grave danger of getting murdered in real life by the enemy? NO PROBLEM! The OASIS co-founder just so happens to regularly hang out INVISIBLY in their PRIVATE chatroom. You kids have gumption. I’m sending my private jets to pick all of you up right now. You’ll be safe at my mansion. There are many many more instances like this, but I’m going to leave it at that.

 

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A tale of three novellas

Dunk and Egg

Dunk and Egg artwork by Marc Simonetti

I feel like I’ve been all Game of Thrones all the time around here lately. But, since my Dance with Dragons hangover hasn’t fully subsided yet and the next season is so close , I suppose that’s to be expected.

To fill the dragon shaped hole in my life, I dove into the Tales of Dunk and Egg. They are the first three in a series of novellas that take place in the ASOIAF universe approximately 90 years before the events of Game of Thrones. The stories follow the adventures of Sir Duncan the Tall, aka Dunk, and his squire, Aegon V Targaryen, aka Egg.

In a word, these novellas were FUN. I often joke that I know more about Westerosi history than I do American history, but it’s probably true. I study the ASOIAF genealogies, particularly Targaryen, to the point of obsession, so these were kind of like mini history lessons for our favorite dragon wielding family.

Dunk and Egg are both mentioned several times throughout ASOIAF:

  • Remember in Clash of Kings, Maester Aemon explains to Jon Snow that he was offered the throne after his two eldest brothers died–Daeron from the pox and Aerion from drinking dragonfire while in exile. Aemon refused and took the black, leaving Aegon V to rule. That’s Egg! Aegon the Unlikely.
  • In Storm of Swords, Jaime reads the White Book to learn more about Ser Barriston Selmy. We learn the Dunk is listed among the notable Commanders of the Kingsgaurd. Of course he’d be the Lord Commander of his bestie’s Kingsgaurd! We also learn that it was Egg who knighted Ser Barriston.
  • Most recently, in A Dance with Dragons, Ser Barriston explains that Egg married for love and allowed his children to do so as well, leading to much resentment among the the high lords of the realm. We don’t know who Egg married yet… that piece is conveniently missing from the Targaryen family tree… but I have theories about that. A story for another day.

Maybe my geek is showing by nerding out over little details like this, but it’s one of the things that I love so much about Martin’s work. Everything is dynamic. The pieces are all moving and fit together perfectly. Even without looking for the connections, it’s fun to read light and easy stories that take place in the universe we’ve all come to know and love. If you can’t get enough of this story or this universe, I highly recommend these novellas.

The Hedge Knight
In the first novella, we see how Dunk and Egg begin their friendship at the Tourney at Ashford. We meet several Targaryen notables, including Prince Baelor, Prince Maekar, Prince Daeron, and Prince Aerion. Most importantly, we learn why Aerion is sent into exile… and it has everything to do with Dunk.

The Sworn Sword
The second novella gives us a closer look at the Blackfyre Rebellion through the recounting of Ser Eustace Osgrey to whom Dunk is sworn. We get to  understand the conflict from both sides– Ser Eustace’s as a rebel and Egg’s as a Targaryen. Over the course of the story, Dunk and Egg manage to mend the rift between House Osgrey and House Webber. Dunk even gets a little love from the ladies.

The Mystery Knight
Dunk and Egg make their way to a wedding tourney that puts them in the wrong place and the way wrong time. This novella digs further into aftermath of the Blackfyre Rebellion. Most notably, we meet the Hand of the King, Brynden Rivers, aka Bloodraven. This is really exciting if you believe, as I do, that Bloodraven is Bran’s three eyed crow.

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Book Review: The Maze Runner trilogy

Image credit: goodreads.com

Image credit: goodreads.com

In light of The Maze Runner movie coming out later this year, I thought I’d get a jump on the story by reading The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner over the weekend. It was probably the most frustrating reading experience I’ve ever had in my life.

Brief Synopsis: Thomas wakes up alone in a lift with no memories other than his own first name. When the lift opens, he finds that it has delivered him to “The Glade,” an open arena surrounded by giant stone walls that form the maze. He and the 50 other boys (and eventually one girl) who live in the Glade, have to solve the maze, but they don’t know how or why. Throughout the trilogy, we learn that the outside world has been ravaged by sun flares that reached the earth and threw the planet into chaos. In addition, a deadly virus, dubbed “The Flare,” was inadvertently released and is killing the remaining population. Thomas and the other “Gladers” are immune to the virus, so their brains are the key to discovering the cure. Horrible things happen to them inside and eventually outside of the maze, all in the name of science and studying their reactions to said events inside their brains. If the scientists, aka the WICKED organization, can create a blueprint for an immune brain, they feel they can find a cure. But who can actually be trusted? Who is actually the good guy? How far is too far?

Trilogy Rating: Based on my star average for the three separate books, the whole trilogy gets a 3/5. If you’re the type that likes to read books before seeing the movie, then by all means, read The Maze Runner. It was a very enjoyable and unique read. In my opinion, you can skip the final two books and not miss anything. Also, I’m predicting that this will be one of those rare cases in which the movie is better than the book.

Book #1: The Maze Runner 
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Overall Impression: Without a doubt, this book is the strongest of the trilogy. The concept of the story is pretty unique and has so much potential to be something very cool. I liked the characters. It asked and answered questions at a good pace. I teetered between 3 stars and 4 stars because I felt the writing was a little juvenile and repetitive, but ultimately, I decided the book is intended for a much younger audience than me so I went with four. (Not everything can be The Hunger Games, right?)

Book #2: The Scorch Trials 
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Overall Impression: Honestly, not much stands out for me in this book because it felt like pure filler. The Gladers set out to complete Phase 2. They’ve left the maze and are now trying to navigate the Scorch, the completely destroyed and barren desert remains of the areas around the Earth’s equator. More horrible things happen, but we aren’t given any answers in terms of why or how they are happening. Also, there is zero character development. I didn’t enjoy this read very much. It’s a hopeful 2 stars, in that I’m hoping it’ll pick up after to the dreaded Second Book Slump.

Book #3: The Death Cure
Rating: 1/5
Overall Impression: So mind numbingly FRUSTRATING. I’ll discuss specifics below, but overall, I kind of hated every second of this book. I saw another review that referred to this last book as the “written version of a Michael Bay movie” and that assessment is so spot on. We jump from one fight to the next, one explosion to the next, one problem to the next, all the while having no character development whatsoever. The third book in a nutshell: Problem arises. Make a plan. Plan fails. Succeed anyway. Repeat. Over and over and over again. It’s overkill. And I won’t even touch the completely out of left field, cop out of an ending. Just ugh.

Spoilery Rant WARNING:
So, right in the beginning of book 3, Thomas has the opportunity to have his memory restored. Finally. FINALLY! All that the readers need for all of our questions to be answered is for Thomas to get his memory back. AND HE REFUSES. Other characters get their memories back, but we aren’t in their heads so that’s useless. Thomas gets the same opportunity mid-story and refuses AGAIN. Seriously, WTF? You set up all of these questions and scenarios but readers are supposed to accept “variables” as the answer to everything? I’m sorry, I don’t care that I’m not  the intended demographic for this story, that’s lame no matter what age you are.

Frankly, it makes me think that the author had no idea where to take the story once the Gladers left the maze. He didn’t know how to answer the questions and instead of coming up with satisfying answers, he tried to hide them with explosions and and hand-to-hand combat. I like a good fight scene as much as the next person, but when there’s a blow out confrontation in every chapter, it gets boring.

The lack of character development in the last two books also made it very hard to care about important deaths, including the death of my favorite character from book 1. I wanted to care, but all the characters devolved into bland, boring and predictable shells of themselves.

All in all, if you like answered questions and closure with your reading experiences, avoid this series at all cost. You will get neither here.

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Book Review: Memoirs of a Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Image credit: goodreads.com

Image credit: goodreads.com

I used to have an imaginary friend. His name was Duckie. He was a tiny yellow duckling that lived in my bathroom. Having read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks, I’m sad that he’s gone.

Brief Synopsis: Budo is very lucky. He’s been alive for five years, which is ancient for an imaginary friend. Max is Budo’s “imaginer.” Having Asperger’s, Max has kept Budo longer than most children keep their imaginary friends. Budo is Max’s best friend and confidant. When something unthinkable happens, it is up to Budo and a team of imaginary friends to save Max or help him save himself, even if doing so threatens Budo’s own existence.

Rating : 5/5 Stars

Overall impression: This book took me completely by surprise. It wasn’t on my list, but thanks to Google magic, an ad for it started following me around the internet. I caved and I am so glad I did. I absolutely loved this book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. A story told from the perspective of an imaginary friend? It sounds like something that could very easily veer into the realm of cheese, but it doesn’t. It’s uplifting, funny and at times heartbreaking. There were times I laughed out loud and—I’m not going to lie—it made me ugly cry. I cried so hard my right nostril was stuffed for hours after finishing.

Does it have flaws? Of course it does, but I can forgive any number of flaws when a book can make me feel as strongly as this one did. Add it to your list. It’s a quick and easy read that I doubt you’ll regret.

What I liked (no spoilers): The details in this story are so creative and convincing. The cast of imaginary friends in this book are the creations of children and they exist EXACTLY as they are imagined. Children aren’t the most detail oriented of creatures, so if they forget to imagine that their friend has ears, then that friend doesn’t have ears. It is through this element that Dicks sets the rules for the fantastical portion of the story. For instance, Max imagines that Budo can pass through doors even when they are closed. Some children don’t consider this skill when imagining their friends, which means many get locked inside closets or rooms for days. No two friends are alike, making the possibilities endless and meeting new friends so much fun. Some have wings and can fly. Some are puppies. Some look almost human… one is even a spoon.

I also loved Max. It’s really hard not to. I don’t have any experience with Asperger’s in my life (though I watch Parenthood so I’m somewhat familiar with the symptoms), so to get a glimpse inside Max’s head is eye opening. He lives his life on the inside while everyone else lives their lives on the outside. So simple, yet profound, in a way that only children (or their imaginary friends) can be.

Also, I won’t spoil the main plot, but a quick glimpse at what people didn’t like about this book revealed that they thought the “unthinkable” thing that happens to Max is far fetched. I watch A LOT of Law and Order and I say it’s not far fetched at all. I’d say it’s pretty spot on as far as unthinkable acts go.

What I didn’t like (no spoilers): Honestly, not much. If I had one complaint it would be that some chapters felt like pure filler. We are at point A and need to get to point B, but before we do that, let’s check out this thing over here. I was so invested in Max’s situation, I just wanted to unravel it as quickly as possible! Then again, maybe Dicks just wants to force his readers to savor the ride… it’s definitely a good one.

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Book Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Image Credit: goodreads.com

Image Credit: goodreads.com

As this is somehow my first “official” review in my blog’s life, I invite you to take a quick look at my note about reviews entry. I’m not into book reports so much. I’d rather write here as if I were discussing a book with a friend, recommending or warning off the books I’ve read. I won’t be diving into allegory or symbolism… I’m not nearly that literarily sophisticated. I read books and I either like them or I don’t. Boom, Bazooka Joe. 

So! With that said… I just finished reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.

Brief Synopsis: It’s 1987 and fourteen-year-old June is thrown into a journey of self discovery when her Uncle Finn dies of AIDS. Finn, who is also June’s godfather and best friend, is the only person who June felt understood her. All is not lost, however, because she makes an unlikely and surprising friend who misses Finn just as much as she does. At its heart, this book is about the pain of loss and the triumph of love and where we find the strength to carry on.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Overall impression: Beautifully written and perfectly paced. This book has a TON of positive buzz on Goodreads (and beyond) and rightly so. I only rated it a 3 because I took issue with some story elements that are preventing me from launching a full on gush-fest. Overall, I enjoyed the read—couldn’t put it down, actually—and would recommend adding it to your queue, but no need to rush.

WARNING: There is a high potential for spoilers beyond this point. This part of the review is generally for people who have already read the book and are looking for someone who agreed or disagreed with their own opinion. You’ve been warned.

 What I liked:

  • Like I mentioned above, I thought this book was beautifully crafted. There were quite a few times when I had to pause and think, “Damn, that was an excellent turn of phrase.”
  • I found myself thinking about the characters often throughout the day, particularly Finn, Toby and June.
  • I think this book perfectly captures what it’s like to be young, awkward, and trying to figure out how to find your own place in the world.

What I didn’t like:

  • I feel like we lost something in the narrator being a shy, self conscious 14-year-old. While I think it’s commendable and inventive to approach the delicate topics of AIDS, loss, and jealousy from the perspective of an innocent, I feel as though this would have been a more satisfying read if June were more bold and willing to ask the hard questions.
  • Is it Finn that gave Toby AIDS? I feel like this is what we’re supposed to assume, but again, June doesn’t want to ask the direct question, so we don’t get a direct answer.
  • I didn’t buy June’s sister, Greta, AT ALL. I get that sibling relationships can be strained, but Greta just felt evil to me. She was manipulative, deceptive, and mean for seemingly no reason. The reason that is eventually given just wasn’t good enough for me and her redemption felt half hearted. Quite honestly, I was I was waiting for it to be revealed that she was being molested by the director of the school play. There seemed to be a lot of foreshadowing suggesting this but it never materialized.
  • I never could get my mind around June’s supposed “wrong” love for her uncle. Why couldn’t she have just been fond of him? Everyone knows what it’s like to have a favorite family member… adding the infatuation and feeling of being in love with her uncle gave the story a creepy and uncomfortable feeling I never quite got past. 

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