Friday, December 30, 2016

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

                The day James Halliday died a video was released to the world media and to every Oasis user. James Halliday had created the OASIS, the globally networked virtual reality that had begun as a massively multiplayer online game. He was worth two hundred forty billion dollars and this video was his last will and testament. Whoever found Halliday’s Easter egg hidden within the OASIS would get not only his fortune but his controlling stake in the company. Wade will never forget where he was when he first heard the video. He became one of the many people known as “gunters” obsessed with finding the three keys that would lead you to the prize. But it wasn’t just the other gunters Wade was worried about. The Innovative Online Industries, IOI, was hunting for the keys too. They planned on changing the OASIS making people pay a monthly fee and plastering advertisements everywhere. It would change everything. But years passed and no one had found a single key. Until Wade found the Copper Key.
                I am pleased. This was a high octane, fun read, full of suspense that had my undivided attention. Halliday dies in 2041 and the situation is dire and many, including Wade, have turned away from the real world and live in the OASIS. Most people are destitute, broke and living on top of one another. And here is the opportunity to amass a huge amount of wealth and power. And we’re off. World development in this story was amazing. Keep in mind that Cline had to create two different worlds: the real world of the 2040’s and the virtual reality that is the OASIS. He did an amazing job with both. Cline was so detailed and he had great references for all of the worlds found inside the OASIS. My imagination took off while picturing the many places/planets/worlds that Wade went to. Wade was well imagined and full of depth. He was intelligent, full of a young man’s angst and bravado but fun and self-aware. I was pleased with his character and that was true of all of Cline’s character. I didn’t have to try and understand or decipher any of them because they all jumped off the pages. If I was basing my opinion off of just character and world development this would already be a hit.
                Judging a book is never that easy though. The plot has to be taken into consideration. Luckily the premise behind this story and the mystery behind Halliday’s Easter Egg made this story amazing. The intensity never wavered, especially once it became obvious that people’s lives were in danger over this game and obtaining the prize. It wasn’t at all predictable which I appreciated. There were plenty of moments where I suspected that something may be happening and I wasn’t right. Plenty of twist and turns to keep readers on their toes. I will say that this book does reference a lot of old school video games. The amount of knowledge Cline drops on these older systems and game is impressive. Having some kind of background knowledge about massively multiplayer online games may help when understanding some of the jargon early on. If you aren’t aware it isn’t a deal breaker. You can get used to the terms pretty quickly.

                I had so much fun reading this book. I will admit that I shunned it for a while thinking it may only be meant for hardcore gamers based on some of the reviews I saw. I was wrong, very very wrong. This book was great. The humor was great. The plot kept moving. The level of intensity never wavered and I really enjoyed reading this book. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. Hat’s off to Cline for something so fun and original. I am a fan.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

Rage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Rage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

It took me a while to get my hands on this book. Stephen King pulled it, written under his pseudonym Richard Bachman, because it was found in the possession of people who had attempted or committed high school shootings. This is the story of Charles Decker, a senior in high school who assaulted his chemistry teacher. The teacher survived and he was forced to see a psychiatrist. Then he walked into his Algebra II classroom, after getting into an argument with the principal and setting his locker on fire, and shot his Algebra teacher in the head. Charles then killed another teacher and held the classroom of over twenty students hostage for hours. 
Rage is a very interesting novel. Not only do you have the aspect of a school shooting but you have really in depth reflections on life by not only our narrator Charles, but some of the other students he has taken hostage. The students’ reaction to the shooting was much calmer than I could ever imagine and the situation that transpired was unlike anything I would ever imagine happening in this situation. I think that’s why I find this novel so different and yet great. King imagined a scenario outside of anything I ever thought would happen in any situation similar and produced a character in Charles Decker that somehow managed to control the situation. Charles is a frightening character because he wasn’t insane yet he was some type of madman. His calm and frank demeanor throughout is extremely unsettling. I had no idea what he would do next. 
After reading this I understand why King felt the need to pull it. Charles’ control of the situation in intoxicating and if the wrong people in any shape, way or control think they can harness that power in use it in a similar situation than things can go south fast. This was a short and very intense novel set in a high pressure situation. So many of King’s books aren’t for the weak and this maybe one of those. I give it 4 out of 5 stars simply for being so damn original. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why the word feminists? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general- but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.

                When I first started reading this essay I was unsure if I would even write a review. Then about a page in I realized that I had a lot to say on the topic of feminism and that everything I could think to say was written in this essay. We Should All Be Feminists is a modified version of a talk Adichie gave in December of 2012. It is amazing. It is amazing because she has spoken on an issue that many people are passionate about: equal rights for men and women. We have come a long way, and Adichie acknowledges that, but we still have a very long way to go. Why? Because some people still don’t believe there is a problem while it is staring other people in the face! The issues that Adichie brings up are all valid. They are easy to spot in society and yet some people refuse to see them. Or they speak down to those that speak out about the issue. The title “feminist” has such a negative connotation now and I am unsure why. I don’t understand why wanting a woman to be treated as the equal to a man is negative. It’s not just about rights. It’s about the way women are treated and regarded in society. Thank you Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for being a voice in the world for women everywhere. Thank you for acknowledging the struggle that many women still experience, that you yourself experience and that I experience. This was well written, well delivered and right to the point. Easily 5 stars. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Stephen King and Philosophy edited by Jacob M. Held (2016)

Stephen King and Philosophy edited by Jacob M. Held

                I read for the pleasure of it. I enjoy being immersed in a great novel or even in the unbelievable facts of a nonfiction book. I’ve been that way all of my life. I fell in love with Stephen King’s writings at a young age and have been addicted to him ever since. There are moments when I’ve been horrified, petrified, amazed, stunned and entranced while reading his books. And there have been plenty of moments when after reading I’ve wondered if there was more. If there was some meaning that I hadn’t pulled from the story itself. I love the conversations that I’ve had with other people about King’s work and that is the reason I wanted to read this collection of essays so badly. What are the hidden meaning behind King’s words? This was the chance to look at the body of Stephen King’s work to see just what gems can be uncovered about not only King’s writing but what he thinks about society.
                There are seventeen essays held between the pages of Stephen King and Philosophy. Many deal with the concept of Roland and his never ending quest to the tower. A few deal with the concept of life and religions and how they can be interpreted. Dystopians, death and ghosts are also discussed. This book of essays is meant for people well versed in Stephen King’s work. If you are not a fan of Stephen King’s work or unfamiliar with a large amount of his writings, especially the Dark Tower series, then I would suggest not reading this book. The essays are full of spoilers because the authors take a very in depth look at the stories in order to convey their point.
                I for the most part really enjoyed this collection of essays but I won’t lie, part of me believes that some of the essays were overdone. While reading some of the essays especially those having to do with time and time travel, they came off as pretentious and nitpicky. In the end, Stephen King has written over fifty fiction novels and I’m not sure if any of what some of the authors have proposed really matters when it comes to enjoying his work. In fact much of it doesn’t. It’s great reading how other people interpret the body of work but in some instances the conclusions seemed really far off. I struggled through a few of these essays for that reason. While other essays I found extremely interesting and they challenged my original interpretation. There is an essay for every Stephen King lover in this book and it is for the Stephen King constant readers that I would recommend this book. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Thanks Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015)

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

                The seas around Britain were a war zone. The German U-boats had sunk more than one ship in the last few months in an attempt to disrupt trade in Britain and stop them from receiving any goods that would help them in the war. The captain of the Lusitania, William Turner, was well aware of the risk but he was navigating the fastest liner being used at that time. He could achieve 25 knots with all four boiler rooms running, which could easily outstrip any U-Boat. The Lusitania set sail on May 1st from New York to Britain hoping to make the transatlantic ship without any issues. Walter Schweiger, the captain of the submarine U-20, was on the other side of the ocean. He and his crew were in the water on their own, free to make decisions of what ship to torpedo and eventually he would set his sights on the Lusitania.
                Intense, well researched, well written and emotional, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, is a story that was waiting to be told. Larson reveals the many instances leading up to the Lusitania disaster: the secrets being kept in British Intelligence, the orders to have only three boilers running on the Lusitania along with its late departure, and the ability of German Captains to determine their targets without risk of punishment for attacking civilian vessels. Over 1,000 passengers died, including over 100 Americans, many of which were women and children. Larson begins this nonfiction novel detailing the struggles over Britain’s water with the continued used of U-Boats by Germany. He then chronologically details the factors leading up to the disaster, with the narrative changing between the activities on the U-20, Lusitania¸ the United States, and Great Britain.

                I am a huge fan of Larson because he never disappoints. His nonfiction novels are so easy to fall into with his descriptive language, and the ease in which he relays history brings the story to life. My heart ached throughout most of the book because I was so painfully aware of the fate of many of those on board. But even with this knowledge, I would never have imagined the last few minutes of so many. The history Larson provided throughout this book was a great introduction to the political climate and the tension that was palpable during that time. I give this novel 4.5 out of 5 stars. Extremely well done by Larson recreating so vividly the crossing of the Lusitania and the state of the war during that time. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (2014)

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

                The Singer was planning a peace concert in the middle of Jamaica’s current political turmoil. The gangs in Jamaica weren’t sure how to feel about the peace concert, especially when the Singer was conversing with the two opposing parties. On December 3, 1976 someone tried to kill the Singer. He was struck in the chest, in a shot that just missed his heart. The peace concert would have to be postponed and the Singer would leave Jamaica, not returning for a few years. A Brief History of Seven Killings is not the Singer’s story. It is the story of those affected by the attempted assassination of the Singer, and the lives taken, changed and ruined after that day.
                If you are looking for a quick easy read about Bob Marley, then keep looking because this is not that book. I was actually surprised by how little of this book actually involved Bob Marley. He was the tertiary character that this story talked about but he was never in the forefront of the story. Those characters were the drug dealers, the writer, the woman and the CIA agent whose characters we meet and see throughout the novel. The first part of this book was a trying experience. I love a richly narrated character driven plot and I have no problem with changing point of view characters, but I would not have survived if James had not added his “cast of characters” that stated who the characters were. Without that introduction I would have been blindly going into each character, because once a character’s narrative began there was very few clues provided on their given situation. If you read beyond part one of this novel, then I would recommend going forever because all of James’s characters are really well developed and have a strong voice and presence.

                I’m giving this book 4 out of 5 stars. I found this novel to be really well written but extremely dense. At well over 600 pages this story seemed to go and on and on. I had no idea how James’s planned on pulling it together and the ending still has a lot of loose ends. But this novel was really interesting, with original characters, a complicated plot and really great world building. A Brief History of Seven Killings probed into the topics of drugs, gangs, rivalries, Jamaican politics, government conspiracies and murder. After adjusting to his writing style, I began to really enjoy the story but there were moments throughout this novel where my interest waned. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

                This book is an experience and for that reason I am having a really hard time trying to summarize what I just read. The plot revolves around Ifemulu, a Nigerian woman returning to Nigeria after living in the United States for over a decade, and Obinze, the man she loved when she first made the move to the United States. The narrative changes from the present to the past, from Obinze to Ifemulu. But this novel is about the experience of living in both Nigeria and the U.S. It’s about the struggle to form bonds with people in a new world, the struggle to keep love alive across an ocean and the issue of race in America and how people are perceived because of their race.
                There was only thing that I didn’t care for in this novel and that was the constant change in narrative between the past and the present. In my opinion it impacted the pacing of the plot and interrupted the rhythm of the story. That is literally my only complaint about this novel. Beyond that I really enjoyed this novel. Adichie’s character were beautifully sculptured and her world was incredibly detailed. The love story of Ifemulu and Obinze, their parting and the continuation of their lives was plausible and heartbreaking at times. There was so much emotion and so many painful choices.

                Adichie is a great writer and she has an amazing eye for small details in human interactions which she expresses in her writing. Her observations force you to be honest in how you view people, race, and relationships. I appreciate that. I really liked the story. I loved that the dynamic focused on discovering race and the difference between being an American Black and a Non-American Black. So many intricacies that people don’t understand and wouldn’t understand unless they had conversations with those who have these experiences or read books like this.  I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden (2012)

Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden

                Money Mississippi has a lot to tell you about what’s gone on in this small town. The story doesn’t begin with the death of Emmitt Till in 1955, nor does it end there. It begins many years before that with a restless spirit taking over the mind and body of a young girl. That young girl was Doll and Doll wreaked havoc wherever she went. It gave her pleasure to do so. When she met her demise the spirit would continue to wreak havoc in the minds and bodies of others. It was a path of destruction and that path eventually led to the unnecessary and untimely death of Emmitt Till. Those who loved him were forced to move on and live with his loss.
                I’m finishing this novel on August 30, 2016. Days have passed since the 61st anniversary of Emmitt Till’s death. It’s disturbing to imagine the murder of a fourteen year old boy whose death was caused by his skin color and an imagined crime. It’s even worse knowing that the murderers would later confess their crime and receive no punishment. But this book isn’t as painful as much as it is filled with sorrow. Gathering of Waters doesn’t focus on Till’s death. It simply narrates the story of a small town, like many small towns in the 1900’s and how racism and bigotry pervaded and allowed for such a crime to occur. McFadden brings beautiful prose and a surrealism that brings the story to life. The world building is done well and the characters are well fleshed out. The plot spreads over a hundred years and is well paced.

                I really enjoyed Gathering of Waters. I loved the spiritual elements of the story and the way it was narrated. McFadden is a great storyteller. Her writing style lends itself well to the more whimsical elements of the plot. I enjoyed the first part of the story more than the second. As the main characters aged the story tended to drag a bit. Overall I found the story really enjoyable. It’s a quick read full of emotion. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz (2011)

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz

                Years before the South seceded from the Union, John Brown attempted to hold Harper’s Ferry in the slave state of Virginia. What did he want from the raid? He wanted to spark a revolution and the war to come. He wanted to arm the slaves in that town, empty the armory and begin making his way down South freeing the slaves. John Brown was an abolitionist who completely believed that slaves should be free and that the institution of slavery should not exist. Brown was willing to take lives and die for the cause as was evident on October 16, 1859 and through the thirty six hours that followed.
                Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War is the story of John Brown. Divided into three parts, Horwitz takes his time dissecting the life of Brown looking at his upbringing and belief system, the raid itself and the aftermath. This book was very well rounded and showed a very in-depth look at a man who had a passion for ending slavery. It is brutal, honest and straightforward with its delivery. Horwitz provides fact along with quotes from not only Brown himself, but those that surrounded him, fought against him, family members and politicians. This was extremely well developed, well executed and powerful.

                I chose this book because I wanted to educate myself on what happened the night of the raid and the days that followed. This offered so much more than just a look at what happened that night. I don’t if anyone can ever truly understand Brown but there was something so amazing about his conviction and his need to free the slaves. He was determined and he committed heinous acts in his quest to end slavery but he was convinced of his calling and he died for it. That’s what made this book so extraordinary. It did a great job in highlighting these aspects of Brown’s life and his need to make a difference. I enjoyed learning about him, and the events that led to that fateful night in October of 1859. Knowing that the events at Harper’s Ferry would make the country ripe for a Civil War made it even more interesting. Horwitz did a great job extending the story. If you are interested in the events that lead up to the Civil War then this is definitely a book I can recommend. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.