Tag Archives: Meh…

L: Review of Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”

I love Huey Lewis and the News. It is physically impossible for me to refrain from dancing while listening to “Power of Love.” However, my father used to make fun of “The Heart of Rock & Roll” because he said that it seemed like the purpose of the song was to list as many cities as possible so that everyone hears the shout-out to their city and thereby likes the song. I’ll go ahead and admit that I am more inclined to like a song that fondly mentions Atlanta, or “A-town.” So, by including shout outs to as many cities as possible, Mr. Lewis is ensuring that his song is enjoyed by as many residents of as many cities as possible. Smart move, Huey. Smart move. Having said that, I feel like Ernest Cline was replicating this “mass appeal” idea in his novel Ready Player One.

Let us get the obvious task out of the way:

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

This novel has a cult following, which is why it has been sitting on my TBR list for years. However, I did not love this book, especially not with the ferocity with which others seem to love it. My number one qualm with the novel was the Huey Lewis-esque mass appeal aspect, which was less “city shout-outs” and more “make every 80’s reference possible.” I’d say about 50% of Ready Player One was 80’s pop culture references, 40% was straight up info dump, and 10% was action. While I did love the connection to 80’s culture (he mentioned Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” within the first two pages and that is MY JAM, so I was immediately on board), it struck me as Cline’s attempt at mass appeal, naming as many 80’s pop culture movies, TV shows, songs, video games, etc. as possible so that if readers didn’t get one reference, they might get the next one, or the next one. It didn’t take long for my impression to go from, “he’s just trying to include everyone” to “oh, he’s just using this book to display his vast knowledge of 80’s culture.” It became frustrating; he’d often name some obscure cult classic but not explain how it related to the events in the novel. Cline quickly became that “friend” that everyone has that prides himself on his vast amount of “trivia knowledge,” who finds excuses to pepper the conversation with irrelevant info, just to show everyone that he knows a lot of things about a lot of things. YES, THANKS, WE GET IT!

One of the issues with sci-fi literature is that a good bit of time has to be dedicated to “world building” or setting the scene and updating readers on the backstory of the novel. There is a fluid way of incorporating this info; read The Martian and you’ll see what I mean. Cline did not achieve that. A large portion (40%, by my earlier estimate) of the book is Info Dump City. I’m talking about pages upon pages describing the minutiae of Wade’s world. His neighborhood, his hideout, his avatar, his avatar’s clothes, his video game console, gloves, goggles, chair, etc. are all described in painful, paragraph-consuming detail. I eventually learned to scan paragraphs for irrelevant details, so that I could skip the 4 paragraphs in which Cline describes the front door of Wade’s apartment.

If you can sift through the mounds of “info overkill” and ignore the millions of obscure 80’s references, the events of the book are quite unique and interesting. I like that Cline was able to focus so strongly on “geek” culture that not being nerdy enough became a disadvantage for readers. In this novel, the nerdier you are, the cooler you are. I LOVE that idea. I have always considered myself nerdy (see any of my countless LOTR references for examples), but I was so not nerdy enough to get all the geek culture shout-outs in this book, and I felt left out. It’s about time that the nerds get to be the “in crowd,” so I didn’t mind that most of it went over my head. However, I could tell that I was not the intended audience. I don’t doubt that if I were a teen aged, geeky, socially awkward, video game-loving boy, I would have liked this book far more than I did as my current self.

As it is, I’m giving it 3 stars. It was just okay. I won’t read it again, but I won’t deter anyone from reading it. Another one bites the dust (80’s reference!!).

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L: Review of Paula Hawkins’s “The Girl on the Train”

Someone reassure me: have you ever read a book that you know was good, but wasn’t good for you? I think I’ve mentioned my ongoing issue with reverse projection and that some books and the issues addressed within them just become too personal for me. Well, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train was just such a book. I can tell that it was a good book. The writing was effortless; the plot was unique and mesmerizing; it took all of two days for me to complete. I can see why other people would like it, and yet I cannot say that I liked it. Not at all, actually.

First things first:

girlonthetrain

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Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

I’ve been trying to pinpoint the exact reason why I feel icky about this book, and I think I’ve settled on the fact that everything in the book was miserable. I’m talking about every character, every situation, every relationship was unhappy, uncomfortable, and depressing. It was truly 300 pages of depression. There’s infidelity; there’s alcoholism; there are misfortunes aplenty, and I continually had to close the book and remind myself that this was a fictional story. It is not my life. It is not reality, at least for me, and hopefully not for anyone ever, because yikes! What awful people with awful lives! I still can’t get over it.

However, it must speak to the author’s talent if she is able to affect me so strongly with her story. And like I said, the writing, the action, intrigue, plot twists, everything was there and all of it made for an interesting, quick read. MY problem of projecting the problems of characters within books or movies onto myself is no concern of this author, and in that case, she did her job. I was interested the whole time. I imagine that The Girl on the Train technically counts as a “thriller” and definitely counts as a mystery. It maintains the suspense well enough (you’ll figure it out before the book spells it out for you, but then you just get to feel smart for figuring it out) and is relatable and believable throughout, hence my resulting sadness.

My depression from reading this is my own concern, and it always passes. So, while I personally will give this book maybe 2 stars for being just too darn miserable (seriously, 0% happiness or positivity for 323 pages; just varying levels of misfortune), I can’t say that I don’t recommend it to people who like mysteries, or “thrillers.” Give it a try. Whatever. I’m working on recuperating, myself.  Need brain floss, ASAP!

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L: Review of Maggie Stiefvater’s “Shiver”

Maggie Stiefvater LOVES a female protagonist, and that’s just swell; Maggie is herself a female, so it makes sense that she sees things from a female’s perspective, and I must say that the female protagonists in the other two novels I recently read were strong, intelligent, self-controlled women. They were great. Grace Brisbane, however, is the main character of Stiefvater’s novel, Shiver, and Grace is the worst.

Let me be clear that I read these novels in the opposite order in which they were written, so I started with Puck Connoly (a lovely display of teen wit, wisdom, and feminist determination) and ended with Grace Brisbane (a smart girl who turns into a bumbling fool when interacting with her wolf-boy lover). Grace was written first, so maybe Stiefvater learned from her mistake and upped her game in terms of female characters and their ability to not devolve into to imbeciles when talking to their crushes. Anyway, read this and then we’ll discuss more…

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without.

Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

First things first: another dumb cover. Heart leaves? Please. Enough.

Secondly, as a reader who read the blurb before reading the novel, I knew this was a werewolf scenario (like I said in my last post, I’m doing an author study; I’m branching out to new genres and it clearly isn’t working), so I knew that the wolf obsessively mentioned in the beginning was going to end up being her boy-lover. But let’s pretend I didn’t know that, just for a second. The first 60-ish pages were wasted on Grace Brisbane admitting that she was in love with “her” yellow-eyed wolf. Now I’m giving her a lot of credit by saying, “ok, maybe she exaggerated. She’s not in love with a wolf,” but the writing sure did make it difficult for me to give that credit. I mean, seriously? Are we just supposed to let this go, as though humans are all too frequently in love with savage animal beasts? No, she was a pure freak. Bestiality much? Also, can I just say that Grace needs to play the lottery or something, because what are the chances that her wolf friend would just turn out to be an age- and species-appropriate, attractive young man? I’m guessing slim.

Otherwise, it was dumb. Once Sam morphs into a semi-appropriate love interest (let’s not forget that Grace’s new bf still spends half the year pooping in the woods and howling at the moon), they both develop an obsession with one another that is unhealthy on all accounts. I’m not just throwing the word “obsession” around all willy nilly; Grace and Sam readily admit that they are obsessed with one another. Their relationship is inadvisable, at best, and although I noticed that pretty much right away, I’m not confident that young, impressionable students would be able to separate the healthy themes from the unhealthy ones. I’m not entirely sure I’d even have this in my classroom library; it does address issues like peer pressure, friendships, and parental issues, but not to an extent that I think readers would learn anything or benefit from this story. In a nutshell, don’t waste your time or it’ll waste it for you.

GUYS, I have no more assigned readings until January!! I’ve forgotten what it feels like to pick my own book! Suggestions are welcome and stay tuned for NON-YA reviews!

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