Monthly Archives: February 2012

#5: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This book has a very specific audience in mind, and happily, I’m it!  Reading this was a treat.

The book takes place in 2044 and virtual reality has become the only reality.  You need to pop off from time to time to eat, but everything else in done online in OASIS.  School, work, gaming, love… it’s all on the other side of your headset.  Sure, the world outside could crumble at any minute, but as long as you manage not to get stabbed, you’re doing OK.

Wade wants more than access to OASIS.  He wants out of the shithole he lives in.  He wants money and power and fame and awesome in-game equipment.  And out-of-game equipment.  And maybe a girlfriend.

And like everyone else, he wants to solve the great OASIS puzzle and win the internet.

James Halliday co-created OASIS and when he died he posthumously announced to the world that he had hidden the ultimate Easter Egg inside the virtual world.  The first person to find it wins the controlling rights to OASIS, Halliday’s entire fortune and all the power that comes with it.  You will become the most powerful person alive. 

The world frantically studies every moment of Halliday’s life to search for clues.  Huge databases are compiled to keep track of his favorites movies and bands in order to try and guess where the first clue is hidden. 

A huge, evil cooperation is formed to find the Egg so that they can begin charging for OASIS and become the richest and most powerful group on the planet.  The regular guys are up against this giant, but no one trusts anyone enough to share all their information.  Only one person can win.

Years go by.  Nothing happens.

And then Wade solves the first puzzle.  And then the evil corporate Sixers try to kill him.

In addition to the awesome gamer plot line, the entire book is a worship of 80’s culture.  While OASIS can be modded by anyone, Halliday created his own world to mirror his 80’s upbringing.  His video will takes place in a John Hughes movie.  Everyone hunting for the Egg is obsessed with the 80’s and Cline covers the book with references to games, music, movies, videos, styles and more.

People have complained that this book doesn’t work because it’s too much of a gamer book or there’s too much 80’s culture and nothing more, but they don’t get it.  Of course the book is too much of a gamer book!  It’s a GAMER BOOK!  That would be like saying  A Tale of Two Cities has too much to do with the French Revolution.  THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT!  And yes, the 80’s love is thick, but again, Cline created a character that created a world based on his love of the 80’s, so of course everyone is going to hunt there for clues.  Halliday created what he knew, and the world studies it to try to solve the great puzzle.

I loved everything about this book.  I thought the characters were great, the plot was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the references.  I was happy to see a They Might Be Giants lyric used as a password, and I was even happier to know that there were other references I wasn’t catching, but another reader was.  If you’re in the target audience for this book, you’re going to find shout outs throughout. 

Would a non-gamer like this book?  I doubt it.  Cline isn’t going to over-explain many things, so I can see a reader getting confused and frustrated and not getting it.  I did wonder what young whippersnappers who know little about the 80’s would think about the references, but I think they’d get pulled in.  Wade is a teenager and he identifies with Halliday.  It works.

The first half of the book is a bit slow, which makes sense.  Years have gone by with nothing happening, so it makes sense that things seem almost dull.  But once Wade solves that first puzzle, it is madness and the pacing takes off.  There are a few moments where you get to stop and catch your breath, but when the characters are frantic, you are frantic.  I was happy with the ending.  I knew it could only end with one person standing, but I couldn’t figure out how that one person was going to get there.  But then things happen and maybe it’s not going to be only one person.  But then other things happen and people are dead.  What in the hell is happening?

This book gets solid love from me.  If I was forced to put together an All Time Favorite Books EVER list, this would be on it.  Now I need to get the audio version so Wil Wheaton can read it to me.

#4: Wake by Lisa McMann

Ugh.  Poorly written YA is such a downer.

Janie is 17 and when people dream near her, she gets pulled in.  She has to watch as they wander around naked, panic and fall, or live out their sexy thoughts.

It’s exhausting.

Of course she’s not going to tell anyone.  She’s learned to physically move away from dreamers or kick them awake, but sometimes she gets pulled in too deep and gets trapped.

And then things get scary.  She is pulled into a terrifying dream and suddenly isn’t just watching but is actually part of it.  She doesn’t know who is dreaming it, she doesn’t know what it means, and she has no clue what she’s supposed to do.

And of course she has normal high school girl drama on top of everything.  The popular kids hate her, her mom is an alcoholic, and her best friend is spending more and more time with her boyfriend.  Janie just wants to get the hell out of town and figure out how to be in college without having a roommate wrecking her sleep.

Cool premise, sucky writing.

McMann sets up some amazing problems, and then solves them in the next paragraph.  Maybe the next page.  I hate that.  Let the problems develop, let the characters react, let things happen!  Janie doesn’t seem to react to anything.  How can she not use peoples’ dreams against them?  Even if she’d never in a million years let herself do it, why were there no descriptive moments of the things she’d do and say to the girl who hates her?  Janie knows things about her!  At least think about it!

McMann doesn’t develop her plot points at all.  There were two major moments between Janie and her mom that were set up and then dropped.  She writes a bad sentence about how if Janie had paid attention she might realize something about her mom, but then never comes back to it.  I thought it would eventually show up later, but nope.  In another moment McMann tells us (she doesn’t do a lot of showing) that Janie should have paid attention to something her mom did, but again, she doesn’t come back to it.  What was the point? 

Toward the end there is a huge reveal about another character that could change everything about Janie’s life.  It’s gigantic!  Major turning point!  And it’s one sentence long and Janie doesn’t respond to it even a little bit.  There’s no excuse for this type of writing.

The ending and final resolution are obvious and far-fetched.  Everything is sunshine and roses, even though this will be a series.

I was so disappointed.

The potential is here for this to be a solid book, but I don’t know what McMann’s intent was.  Did she feel she had to dumb it down for a YA audience?  Does she not have the skills to write a better book?  What happened?  And who was giving her feedback and let these major plot fouls happen?

Such a disappointment.  And it got nominated for awards!  I’m betting some reluctant readers loved it, so that’s good, but man… let’s get some better writing in here!

#3: The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

It’s time for Chick Lit!

Octavia Frost, bestselling novelist, is submitting a game changing book.  Authors talk about things they wish they’d done with their books and how it’s hard to walk away sometimes, but Octavia has decided to actually do something about it.  In her newest book she is rewriting the final chapters to all her books.  It’s never been done before and her publisher thinks she’s crazy.

But why is she doing it?  Why does she want to change the past for her characters and what is she trying to change for herself?

On the day she is to hand the manuscript over, she finds out her estranged rock star son has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend.  Milo and Octavia haven’t spoken in years but she gets on a plane and goes.  She doesn’t know what will happen when she gets there, but she needs to be close by.

Parkhurst writes several stories in this novel.  While Octavia is trying to heal the wounds with her son, chapters from her books are slipped throughout.  Parkhurst writes Octavia’s original ending and then the  new ending.  These pages within the story give clues to Octavia and Milo’s past.  We know Octavia’s husband and daughter are gone, but why?  Divorce?  Death?  More falling outs?  What happened years ago, and why did Milo shut her out of his life?

I liked the layered mysteries in this.  The foreshadowing is thick, but isn’t too obvious.  Clearly something happened and it wasn’t good, but you don’t know what it was.  When you do find out the first part, you still don’t know why the second break happened.

Parkhurst does a great job writing the tension between mother and son.  Octavia has wanted to be in her son’s life since the day he cut contact.  Now that she’s back, neither one of them knows how to act.  And of course it’s extra confusing because his girlfriend has been murdered and he was the one found covered in her blood.

The ending was good, but what really sold me on the book was the characters and structure.  Parkhurst really spent time developing personalities.  Giving herself the added challenge of writing endings to fictional books and then rewriting them to give clues about Octavia and Milo is clever, original, and it worked.  She had to create the idea of fully formed novels by only writing the endings, and then re-write those endings to slip in clues about Octavia and Milo.  This could have failed spectacularly.

#2: The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman

Certain books need to be heard.  This is one of them.  Sarah Silverman reading her own book makes it so much better.  The funnier parts are funnier because she knows how the sentences are supposed to sound, where to put the beats and the stresses, and how to pitch her voice to structure the horror or glee.  The serious parts are stronger because you’re comparing them to the time she told her nana to shove those brownies up her ass.  How can you NOT want to get the audio version?

Even better, she tailors parts to address the listener.  I love that she goes off script for her own book to acknowledge that you’re listening to it.  Sure, you might miss a few pictures, but you get to hear first hand how she stabbed Al Franken in the skull with a pencil.

She is completely honest about her life and doesn’t gloss over the ugly bits.  She gets very personal and it feels like you’re hanging out with her as she shares a bunch of stories about growing up and then moving to New York and getting into the business.

She doesn’t take herself seriously when it doesn’t matter, but is incredibly on target in the moments where she needs to be.  She came to realize a long time ago that what she has been able to do is a gift and she recognizes it all the time.

The back stories of things that didn’t go so well were really interesting.  I had seen both of her MTV moments where it looked like she was trying to make Paris Hilton and Britney Spears cry.  She came off looking like a total bitch (even though, hey… Paris Hilton) but the reality is that she was sort of set up.  I like when you get the other side of a media story and realize that you totally fed into the machine and were willing to believe what the entertainment news people told you to believe.

I laughed out loud a lot while reading this.  The kind of laughter where you think maybe you should pull over because it can’t be safe to be driving a car while shrieking and crying.

If you like her even a little bit, I recommend this and if you have the choice, get the audio version.  You know you want to hear her actual voice explain the difference between pee and pee-pee.

#1: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin

Jack follows the fairy tale motif and heads to the city to seek his fortune.  He then almost immediately goes crazy because the city is filled with toys.  And not just any toys.  These toys are alive and they’re running the place.

Well, sort of.  The most important members of Toy Town are the humans.  And they aren’t just any humans: these are the humans from the nursery rhymes and fairy tales themselves and they make sure the toys know they’re just toys.  Mother Goose runs a brothel, Little Boy Blue owns a house of couture, and Little Tommy Tucker is the most popular rock star in Town.  He’s also the only rock star in Town, but that’s not the point.

The point is that they’re all getting murdered.

Jack meets up with Eddie the bear.  Eddie is Bill Winkie’s bear.  Bill Winkie is a super popular detective.  He’s so popular that Jack has read all of his books and knows how the story works.

But Bill Winkie is missing and it’s up to Eddie and Jack to solve the crime before more rich and famous get killed.

I like wacky zany writing.  I’m a fan of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Christopher Moore and other authors who write while winking and nudging the reader.  This is not easy to do.  You can’t be too clever and you can’t be too cute.  You can’t try too hard. 

Rankin didn’t do it for me.  There were parts that I thought were amusing and clever, but overall I felt like he was trying too hard and it just wasn’t working.  I loved the idea and the characters, but his writing style didn’t grab me.  Maybe I was comparing him too much to other authors, but I felt like he tried and failed.

I did really like Eddie.  He’s a fantastic character with some great one-liners and the wacky zany reality completely worked for him.  Maybe that’s why the rest of the book didn’t hold up.  It was clear that Rankin could do it for Eddie, but couldn’t do it for everyone and everything else.

I also didn’t like the ending.  It suddenly turned into something else, then whipped around into a different ending.  Maybe it felt too cute or too over the top, but it just didn’t work for me.

I can see why people like this book.  It did have its moments, but for me, it did not live up to the hype.