Review Corner: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In a previous post, I mentioned how I was introduced to this book; Barnes and Noble sent an email about an offer on two books that caught my attention. After reading the synopsis of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, along with the first few pages that equated to the prologue, my interest was piqued;not least of which was due the appeal of the virtual reality utopia known as the OASIS, a story detailing an amalgamation of life and video game, and of course, a healthy dose of 80’s era references.
The OASIS, which can be accessed through multiple types of devices of varying price ranging from the basic, free ones our narrator, Wade, receives to attend school (talk about a little envy over here for being able to attend school virtually, the only thing I wouldn’t have been okay with in virtual form would be my books, but that’s another story), all way up to highly expensive rigs and haptic suits that are designed specifically to give the wearer the actual feeling and experience of what is happening to their avatar in the OASIS, including smell and touch.
What’s even more amazing about the OASIS is the free access to libraries, museums, movies, and more. The possibilities for experiences and learning in the OASIS are boundless. The main character even mentions that it is through the OASIS that he learned to read, speak, walk, and more, and he is hardly the only one in this book. Entire lives and relationships are lived out entirely and solely in the OASIS; truly the scope is hard to completely fathom.
The other side of the OASIS, the fun, gaming side, is another entity all its own, and yet is still part of the same universe. All avatars have an avatar name, Wade goes by Parzival (or Z by those closest to him), and it is with this avatar that they go on adventures, accomplish quests from thousands of possible games on the plethora of possible planets in the OASIS. Really, there is no better way to understand than by reading the book and becoming part of it in the story.
I do wish the book went into a little more detail about how certain aspects work in the OASIS. For instance, it took a few chapters to realize that yes, credits were transferable and usable both in the OASIS as well as outside of the OASIS (there was also no mention of conversion, not that it really matters, but I was curious). The other thing that I wish had been made a little clearer was how any possible language barrier was eliminated in the OASIS itself, or how it worked.
The story itself is entertaining and the lengths the villains of the story, the Sixers, headed by a man named Sorrento and hired by the IOI company,  are willing to go to eliminate the competition are even frightening and will definitely keep you turning pages. As the tale evolves, the evil corporation, IOI, is interested in the ownership of the OASIS for what all corporations want, revenue makers, and the currently (mostly) free OASIS is ripe in such greedy eyes to be taken over and monopolized. Sorrento and his team of highly equipped avatars face off with Parzival, Art3mis, Aech, and every other Gunter (or Egg hunter) in the OASIS before the end. The deeper you delve in realizing just how far the company will go to obtain its goal is truly sickening and yet sadly unsurprising.
The lines between video game and real life are blurred beyond proper separation from the two; entire relationships can begin and end existing only in the OASIS, including marriages. Trusting people has another level because everyone in the OASIS is completely anonymous (unless you have the technology, bribery and skills to hack/steal your way into information on someone’s true identity as Sorrento and his team do) but generally, you’re safe in the OASIS as long as you’re careful with what you put out there.
Wade, as his avatar, Z, hunts for the Egg alone, competing not only with the Sixers, but also his friends. Aech (pronounced like the letter H) he has known for years, and the two guys hangout in a chatroom Aech hosts called the Basement, where they practice their Halliday knowledge and challenge each other in video games, in between going to school. Then, there is Art3mis, who Z meets after obtaining the Copper Key. After having a long time crush on her from her blog posts and comments, he meets her avatar “in person” inthe OASIS and the interaction seals Parzival’s heart.
The relationships aspects explored in the book involving the online versus real life interaction was done in a truly interesting way and I applaud Mr. Cline for his ability to simulate the closeness that only those who have made close online friends understand. The need for caution when dealing with your real identity is, however, still outlined as a necessity; it just leaves open the option to form close and lasting relationships as well. In this  are a series of pictures that aptly describe what those who have found online friendship understand and what the close relationships in Ready Player One project to the reader.
The final reveal of the real identities and actual appearances of the people behind the avatars is certainly an interesting scene and I’m quite happy with some of the choices Cline made; this is particularly true of Aech’s story. I found the moment Z and Aech meet especially touching. Then of course, there are the hearts of Wade and identity behind the avatar Art3mis, which I will just say is worth the read.
For all of the wonder of the OASIS, Cline is sure to point out the dangers of living solely in the digital world and all that you might miss by not bothering to experience the real world around you. Ready Player One is a must read for gamer lovers and 80’s fans (especially where those two overlap). The style is easy to read and to pick up, the characters are easy to empathize and connect with; all around, this was an enjoyable read and I recommend it to anyone who is in the  mood for something a little different and wants to read about a videogame/Willy Wonka-esque story.
Apparently there is now going to be a movie of this book…*sigh* ah, the love/hate relationships that is the movie based on a good book. We shall see….

Review Corner: Hostile Takeover by Shane Kuhn

I was fortunate to receive a free copy of the book Hostile Takeover by Shane Kuhn from the publishers Simon & Schuster for a review. I had never heard of it before but it sounded like it could be interesting, it looked like style I hadn’t really read before, and like it could possibly funny; it involved the repercussions of a hit man disguised as an intern taking down and taking over the organization he once worked for.
My first thought as I was introduced to the narrator and subject of the story, John Lago, was…what an arrogant ass… The next thing I learned was that Hostile Takeover was actually the sequel to a book called The Intern’s Handbook which apparently is the story of how and why he wrote the book and which outlines the actual attack on HR, the company he worked for as a hit man, and detailing the death of his former boss. Then, there’s Alice, John’s wife/ex-wife/attempted murderer/ attempted hit. Oh yes, it gets complicated and then some; it’s like watching a high school relationship play out in between high powered guns and with a lot more “fucks” thrown in (the characters seem to have as much range and depth as your typical tuned out teenager).
From the start, you can hear the swagger between the pauses of John’s spoken and unspoken thoughts. You can practically see the quirked grin that opens to spew out little more than profanity and bravado to the point you aren’t sure whether to laugh or finally shove your fist down his throat.  The story starts with John speaking with an agent named Fletcher that John contemptuously refers to as “Fletch”, and relays the events of the takeover of HR by John and Alice up to the present, where John resides in FBI custody in the interrogation room after having been arrested.
It’s hard to know how much of this book to take seriously as a story. Admittedly the chapters are short and easy to get through and with the style simple to read it is easy to glide through this book. Often times, I found myself having to put it down and laughing to myself off to the side because something the narrator said was so ludicrous or absolutely improbable, even with suspension of disbelief.
For instance, John, having to be the biggest boy on the playground learns the Chinese art of “Iron Palm” which, according to Wikipedia, is the martial art of conditioning the hands to deliver powerful blows without injury to their hands.
It is not his learning this technique that I question, no, it is that a random, powerful, paranoid, Chinese businessman and all of his security guards, just happen to recognize John as a student of Iron Palm, and essentially are *all* incredibly impressed by his mastering it…..
Seriously? I found myself asking that repeatedly throughout this book. At some point I just found every new dramatic inevitability laughable. Whether it was snatches of dialogue, a new absurd situation, or the complete suspension of disbelief involving how much of a “badass” John Lago is. Considering how many gun battles, fist fights, knives, and things that go boom that this guy gets into, he doesn’t seem to get hit much, or at least it doesn’t seem to have much effect upon him, and I’m including pre-Iron Palm powers too…
Then, again, there’s Alice. Essentially the only woman in the book, she is referred to as “crazy” and paranoid multiple times as personality traits, in addition to her mood swinging behavior and radical decision making: one minute in love with Lago, the next trying to kill him. John and Alice’s supposed loyalty to each other is hard to take seriously and difficult not to view as at least semi-sarcastic.
My only other issue involves the lack of women, and how the very few in the book are portrayed or used in the story. One line in particular still stands out, while in a strip club (of course), our delightful narrator mentions, referring to the dancers, that he “speaks their primitive lipstick language”…I’m still not sure how to process that, and so I tell myself to let it go…but it irks me a bit, oh well. Also, the fact that the only “strong” female character is portrayed as an unlikable, bipolar, paranoid, power hungry, woman with a gun and the desire to shoot, not my favorite aspect, I’ll say.
Hostile Takeoverwas definitely not quite like anything else I’ve read before. You could easily read this one without having read the first because the events are explained and referred to quickly. I’m just not sure it’s the kind of book that’s for me or one I would recommend to anyone to instantly go read. If you see it in a library, it might give you a laugh, or you might thoroughly enjoy it more than I did, who is to say? I just prefer something with a little more substance than is in this book and the characters in it, which honestly remind me more of teenagers trying to act big and tough while playing with a bunch of money and weaponry, oh and drugs, plenty of drugs being had.
To each their own. Some people are definitely going to love it, and if the synopsis on the cover sounds like your kind of book, go for it. It’s one hell of a ride.

Review Corner: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

It was an email from Barnes & Noble (great marketing job by the way), that first led me to the book “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik. It was a special offer to purchase two e-reader versions of two bestselling books for half price. I do not own an e-reader nor am I particularly interested in virtual versions of books, I much prefer the real thing, but I was curious once I saw them.
The cover art caught my eye, obviously, which led me to click and took me to the webpage listing on the B&N website for the book. After reading the synopsis, I was not enthralled but I was a little more curious, so I clicked the button allowing me to preview part of the book.
I generally despise sneak peaks and previews of books. I couldn’t honestly even tell you why except that I prefer for the story and my thoughts on it to unfold as they are meant to, as I read them from start to finish…in this case, I decided to take a chance since the preview started at the beginning, the first page of chapter one, so I began.
I read the first two or three pages when it became apparent to me that I would continue reading. Needless to say, I acquired it. I found a hardback version of the book for sale because, well, as I said, bibliophile, I love the real thing over e-reader versions.
After waiting a couple of weeks to finally get my hands on it, I began the story of Nieshka, the Dragon, and the Wood.
Looking at the book as a whole, I would have to say that I enjoyed the journey I took while reading it. I was intrigued with the premise and most of all, painfully curious about what would happen next.
The writing was easy to read, generally simple in style and usage, apart from the tongue stumbling spells and incantations repeated and used throughout the book by the various magic casting characters.
Nieshka has quite a lot on her plate after surprisingly being chosen by the Dragon to essentially become his serving maid, only to find that she is not as ordinary as she had always believed, nor as the Dragon expected. Soon into the story, the reader finds that Nieshka is a witch and has a unique and special gift all her own that not even the Dragon knows or fully understands.
They both stumble and struggle through finding a way that the Dragon’s precise form of magic can be taught to or used by Nieshka’s unorthodox style of magic which generally involves ineffable feelings she has about what is good or bad, right or wrong.
It’s not long before Nieshka answers a cry for help from her own village while the Dragon is otherwise detained. Racing off at break neck pace to aid in any way that she can without knowing much herself, Nieshka truly begins the long, twisting adventure she finds herself in, involving the Wood, the kingdom of Polnya that she lives in, and the village she loves and never imagined leaving.
If you love a story that involves magic, you will probably enjoy the tale told here. The descriptions of magic were often beautiful and the intimacy described when the Dragon and Nieshka combine their magic is believable in its sensual qualities and is imparted to the reader in unique fashion.
However, there are a few things about “Uprooted” that I believe could have made it stronger. To avoid giving away too much information or any possible spoilers, I’ve put my more pointed thoughts below here. So if you’d like to skip particulars, please feel free to skip to the end, and consider it safe after the picture of the kitten under flannel asking if it’s safe to come out.
I feel like the characters were a bit flat, they didn’t seem to grow much or have much explanation for any of their doings and workings beyond a surface level examination of them. Even the title character, Nieshka, has a lack of depth that is surprising given how much ends up happening in the book and how many people she cares about and goes to lengths to protect or save. It’s perhaps also this lack of depth that makes the strange “romance” between Sarkan (the Dragon), and Nieshka seem unnecessary, or like an add-in for affect and attempt at giving the characters feelings and more depth.
The motivations of characters was sorely lacking in explanation, as was much in regards to setting. For instance, upon first learning that she is a witch, Nieshka doesn’t mention at all what this information means to her, her family, or her village. There are no histories, tales, or legends about witches, or even wizards, to shed light on the situation or give the reader any idea whether this is welcome or unwelcome news.  That Nieshka has magical capabilities doesn’t seem to register on any level other than as a vessel for action, was a feeling I never could shake while reading.
Prince Marek and his motivations for his various actions is also an example. He is both despicable enough to attempt to force himself on the main character, and yet is continuously referred to as something out of a song about heroes and knights in shining armor, and whose only true desire is saving his mother from the Wood, where she has been trapped for over 20 years and presumed corrupted or worse. At some points it is hard not to feel like some of the characters are only used to further the story, place holders and action drivers, while not actually having a solid place or purpose in the story, no real emotion or relate able reason to be examined or supposed upon.
At one point in the story, Stashek and Marisha, the two young children of the brutally murdered Crown Prince Sigmund and his wife, Malgorzhata,( also murdered before her children’s eyes), are being smuggled away by Kaisha and Nieshka to save them. All while you want them to succeed, there is no ensnaring your emotions about the futures of Stashek and Marisha and no feeling of loss for their parents other than the shock of their unexpected deaths.
Near the end, a lot happens in quick succession. The small cast of leading characters find themselves in one flight or battle after another, the nemeses only shifting faces and intentions as big and small aspects of the story collide and shift focus from aspects of court to the Wood. Perhaps this feels exacerbated by the seeming lack of profoundness in the characters feelings and desires, but the fast pace near the end almost feels like it may have been too much.
Possible spoilers being over, and criticism aside, the book was worth the read, even if I feel it could be even better. I enjoyed Naomi Novik’s style enough that I’m curious about a series she has been working on that blends dragons and history.
The ending of “Uprooted” was mostly one that I appreciated, though I cannot decide if I actually liked and enjoyed the ending. Nieshka’s life as it is painted after the various battles and revelations concerning the Wood is one that I enjoy picturing and imagining for her. I’m not sure if I’ll read it again or who I would specifically recommend it to, but it’s worth the read.

Review Corner: The Art of Racing in the Rain

A couple of months ago, my mother began telling me about how much she enjoyed a book she had read because it was told from the point of view of a dog. My mother has never been the biggest reader; not many catch and hold her attention enough to begin, let alone to finish. That being said, the fact that she enjoyed the book enough to share it with me piqued my interest. The book was called “The Art of Racing in the Rain”, written by Garth Stein.
I must admit that part of the enchantment of this book came from my mother reading the first thirty or so pages to me while I was in hospital waiting to be taken in for a surgical procedure.  No matter how old you get, there’s something ineffable and special about your mother reading a story to you.
The language was delightful and unique. The voice of Enzo as our faithful narrator tells the story of his life with his human, Denny, and their lives together from Enzo’s perspective. Anyone who is an animal, and particularly a dog lover will probably appreciate this special voice.
Denny, a hopeful race car driver looking for the path that would literally put him in the driver’s seat and where he could show his stuff, is painted into a corner by his in-laws and struggles to fight a bitter custody battle for his daughter, Zoe. Frustrating as certain parts of the book inevitably were, such as Denny’s arrest for a crime he did not commit, all for the sake of discrediting him and severing forever from a full relationship with Zoe.
Enzo enlightens the reader on all that he has learned and continues to learn throughout the book, gives his opinions freely, has his own theories and beliefs, and loves race car driving. Some of the more racing heavy parts of the book were lost on me as far as entertainment value, but certain aspects stuck with me. An often repeated phrase and one of the racing points that Enzo shares with the reader is “where the eyes go, the car goes”. Other tokens like “there is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose” add to the message that Enzo tries to relate the reader throughout the novel.
The chapters are pretty short and easy to get through, and it was very easy to be finished with the book before I knew it. The only time I wasn’t eating up the pages was when things were most frustrating in the story.
In the end though, I rather enjoyed the story of Enzo’s life with Denny. The last couple of chapters are tear jerking, especially for a dog lover; saying good bye is never easy. The very end though is what will capture your heart if a “good feeling” book is what you’re looking for.