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Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If Ready Player One were a lasagna, it would be a little bit of meat, a thin layer of noodles, and a lot of cheese. Of course, some people really like cheesy lasagna, and some people haven’t eaten lasagna in a really long time and don’t remember what it’s supposed to be like so they like the first one they try. And that’s okay.
But that doesn’t mean this sci-fi lasagna is “world’s best.”
Anyway, Ready Player One has a clever concept: people in a future in which all the world is enthralled by an immersive alternate reality experience are challenged to complete a virtual-reality 1980’s-themed quest to get a lot of money. One kid with not much going for him discovers the first major clue–and learns about friendship and the meaning of life while tackling the quest.
It sounds kinda like a Lifetime movie. And really, that’s not that far off. Ready Player One’s biggest problem is being in love with references, references to the 1980s (in the U.S.), pop culture, D&D, and most of all, video games. So many references that it sometimes seems like the plot has been redirected just to fit in one more. It’s kinda like that guy from the office who just can’t let the joke alone already–everyone just finds a reason to get lunch somewhere else when he’s around.
I was really excited about this book. It was a sci-fi dystopia! There were video games! It was a best seller! But it turns out it’s mostly a fan-fiction combo of Tron and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There are lots of good ideas, but they’re underdeveloped (in favor of more references–gag), and it seems like we spend most of our time in the virtual reality of Oasis not because that’s where the story leads us but because author Ernest Cline didn’t think through all of what his futuristic world looks like. It’s also frustrating that the audience is left out of solving most of the puzzles because of information that is just never revealed to the reader (I mean, how do we know that there is a museum on a planet called Archaid?) and yet the major plot points might as well be written in neon for how obvious they are and how much they telegraph. Especially frustrating is the quite literal deux ex machina just when the protagonist gets in a tight spot. I mean, come on.
As a fan of science fiction dystopias, I was also frustrated that Cline didn’t quite think through the ramifications of his future. I mean, seriously, when the whole world is spending most of their time, in some form or another, in a virtual reality, why on earth would a guy who does that very thing be derided as a basement-dweller who never left his mom’s house? (Answer: he wouldn’t! That’s projecting current stereotypes into an imaginary 50-years in the future. The culture would have changed!) And why would anything in a virtual reality require as de rigour real-time travel? Spawn points are already a thing in our video games. Ain’t got time for that!
If you know what you’re getting—a whole lot of clever/cutesy references to the 1980s wrapped in a light dusting of futurism—Ready Player One is a fun read. Just make sure you know what kind of cheese you like on your pasta.

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Review: InterWorld

InterWorld (InterWorld, #1)InterWorld by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“What if Neil Gaiman wrote a sequel to A Wrinkle in Time—what would that look like?”

“InterWorld” is the answer. Well, kind of.

InterWorld seems like a modern spiritual cousin of “A Wrinkle in Time,” except it’s less tightly organized and more definitively a young adult book.

InterWorld follows a boy (Joey Harken) as he discovers he has a special power—he can walk between worlds, parallel worlds, that are similar but not exactly the same as the Earth he knows. And that there are people who want to kill him, and all those like him, for their own nefarious purposes. Joey stumbles into a camp full of all the alternates of himself—the people descended from birds, the robotically enhanced humanoids, the girl Joeys (*gasp*!)—and has to be trained to use his powers to fight back against those who would destroy everything.

But this is a half-Gaiman book, so it’s not light on the tragedy. It’s handled in a very appropriate way, but it could be jarring to those who expect a kids’ book to be nothing but happiness and sunshine.

The story is a little jumpy and it’s hard to get attached to any of the characters besides Joey, but InterWorld has a lot of charm. It would be great for an emerging nerd in middle school, someone who could potentially get more into sci-fi later but is still a developing reader. Someone who feels a little bit like a misfit.

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Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book a long, long while ago, and it was time to read it again. But this time, I’ve seen and loved the films, and that has undoubtedly affected my reading.

If anything, it enhanced it. I swear I could hear the theme music playing as I read, could hear that tremble in Gandalf’s voice when he talks about Moria. The movies aren’t an exact copy of the book, so both seem fresh, but the movie is so respectfully done that I found it enhanced my reading of the book.

And this book. This book. Wow. I found myself kind of indifferent to The Hobbit upon a reread, but this one is an international treasure for a reason. The descriptions are powerful and vivid, and I frequently felt I was on the journey with Frodo and the Fellowship as I stepped out each morning for a daily walk. Where The Hobbit fumbles a bit, The Fellowship of the Ring soars. It touches upon something truly magical and makes you want nothing more than to dive down further into it, to meet Tom Bombadil and Goldberry and Legolas and precious Samwise.

Few books can transport you like The Fellowship can. I’m grateful I found it just as enchanting on a reread as it has always been.

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Review: Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1)Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is shocking that an author has not previously written about the critical importance and value of books and libraries and made it the turning point of a novel. Thank goodness Rachel Caine did–this book is a joy!
It occupies an alternate history where the Library of Alexandria never burned but instead became the most powerful organization in the world, a storehouse of all knowledge. Even the printing press is not invented, replaced instead by the steampunkish magic of the Oculists, which allows the library total control of ALL reading material. Knowledge is power, literally, and those who hold the power of the library will go to great lengths to keep it.
I literally couldn’t put this book down. It reminds me, for a bit, of the spellbinding adrenaline I got from the Harry Potter series. But it’s also a completely different book, more brutal with readers’ feelings from the get-go. There are so many twists here and you’ll never see them coming.
Caine should be particularly proud of herself for writing a fiction novel that embraces diversity. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muslim character in a novel before; it was refreshing and interesting. Because of the conceit that the Library is everywhere, the characters could also be from everywhere, and Caine gave them a richness comparable to attending a world market.
This book was so much fun that I’m sad I’m done with it. I put off this review because I wanted to stay in that world longer, even just in my head! But now it’s time to buy the sequel…

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Review: Nemesis Games

Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I need you to read this book, because I need more people to talk to about this book.
While the last one in The Expanse series, Cibola Burn, just didn’t quite work for me, I’m 100% on board with Nemesis Games, because hot damn.
It’s a book that wouldn’t have worked early in the series, because it’s largely about adopted family and what it’s like when they’re separated, how the relationship between people who are bonded brothers (crew of a ship) affect each other, think of each other, and change, both with and without their crewmates. So it’s a book that had to come after the reader was already deeply familiar with the characters, their relationships, and what makes them tick.
Oh, and it’s also about an intra-galactic war. And terrorism. And mysteries.
Once again, the duo making up James S.A. Corey did a masterful job weaving disparate stories together to create one beautiful, incredible, unpredictable story arc. This book had me staying up late (thank goodness for holidays!) to read just one more chapter, which became just four more chapters. I kept needing to find out what happened, only to find out maybe they made it out of that scrape but holy hell have things gotten worse!
I also really loved the way this book reveals the backstories of each character without more than a smattering of flashbacks. It’s them, dealing with the present created by their pasts. Plus it is just loaded with such on-point and hilarious one-liners from just about everyone on the crew.
I can’t say enough nice things about this book. Please read it so I can talk about it without spoiling it for you too much!

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Review: The President’s Shadow

The President's Shadow (Culper Ring, #3)The President’s Shadow by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before the rest of this review, let me say that I deeply enjoy Meltzer’s premise with this series. It’s basically, “wow, presidential history is really neat, let me make it into a mystery novel about a nerdy archivist!”

I totally love that.

This book? I only kinda liked. It just didn’t grab me like some of the others have, and I found one character flat-out annoying, another hard to relate to, and a third predictably mustache-twirling. I’d still really like to have dinner with the protagonist, but the rest of the book was just…meh. Maybe it’s always been that way and I just now noticed it, but the chapters in this book were remarkably short and jumpy, and it kept me from feeling like I could really get into the story when I knew I’d just be jumping heads in about 2 pages. I feel like Meltzer was reaching for something more ominous for this one, but it just fell flat for me. Maybe I can jump back on the bandwagon with the next book.

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Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1)The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve found your next read, that is, if you like captivating, unique, funny, and intense stories, and also talking cats. And if you don’t like those things, I recommend “Hop on Pop” as an alternative, because seriously, who doesn’t like talking cats?

Seriously, this book might be the best fantasy/steampunk/pirate story since Firefly went off the air. And it’s definitely better than sliced bread.

Let me back up: what’s it about? The Aeronaut’s Windlass takes place in a world in which all of humanity lives in giant, heaven-scraping Spires, and where the earth below is dangerous and possibly toxic (sort of an inverse of the Wool Omnibus). As such, commerce takes place in the sky, via huge airships. Our story follows Captain Grimm, of the slightly piratanical Predator, as well as the aristocratic Gwen, the “warriorborn” Benedict, the addled and mystical Folly and Master Ferus, and the hardy Bridget and her prince-of-cats companion Rowl. Basically, this odd collection of characters is pressed into service to protect the Spire from an unknown Enemy and try to prevent all-out war.

Because Captain Grimm is the one on the cover, most people may want to see this as his story–and believe me, he is wonderful, even if nearly a straight-up transference of Firefly‘s Captain Mal–but each character truly has an arc of their own, and no one is much of a supporting character. Yes, even the cat, who is both different from every literary depiction of a cat I’ve ever read and exactly like my own beasties.

Author Jim Butcher is already known for his writing skill and his vibrant characters, but I don’t know that he’s ever had so much fun. You can feel his grin through the book, and I occasionally wanted to nudge him in the ribs–“I see what you did there!” He’s just having a blast, and it’s infectious.

But that’s not to say the book is all happiness. Though I often had to stop to read a line aloud to my husband to share the laugh, I also told him that if a certain character died–or if all of them died–I wasn’t going to forgive him. It’s that intense and the stakes are that impossibly high.

What I really liked, though, was that no one was unnecessary. Even characters lacking in obviously beneficial skills discovered in themselves the ability to do something that proved critical to the mission as a whole. And I just wanted to give each of them a hug afterward.

I can’t wait for more of this series, and odds are pretty solid that I’ll reread it again soon just to get back into this fantastic fantastical world.

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