Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (pub date 8/16/11)
I simply cannot say enough about how awesome this book is. This is the most fun story I’ve read since I started this blog. And surprisingly enough it was quite touching at times. Part adventure, part romance, all one big nerdgasm.
Ready Player One is set a few decades in the future in a society that has completely gone to hell. Its only saving grace is the OASIS, a worldwide virtual reality system created by the reclusive game programmer James Halliday. People do everything through the OASIS: do business, go to school, play games, shop, and anything in between. At the beginning of the novel, James Halliday has died, leaving behind an ‘Easter egg’ somewhere in the OASIS and a series of clues with which to find it. Whoever finds the egg will inherit Halliday’s entire fortune. Enter Wade Watts, a lonely teenager and one of the millions of people who dream of finding Halliday’s egg. The hunt is on!
This book was a blast to read. It has an original concept, a ‘good v. evil’ storyline, great characters, and a sense of humor. Wade is the perfect ‘everyman,’ an intelligent, courageous and sensitive kid who you’ll root for the whole way through. What also makes this book so awesome is how unabashedly nerdy it is. All of the clues to finding the egg are based on 1980s pop culture trivia. DeLoreans, Atari, John Hughes movies, it’s all in there. Even references to more obscure movies like Ladyhawke (which I love, by the way). It’s impossible not to like this book!
Ernest Cline also wrote the screenplay for Fanboys, which I actually rented a few weeks before I read this book, not even realizing they were related. I thought Fanboys was a good movie, so if you liked Ready Player One, definitely check it out. Cline has a great way of combining humor and tenderness, something that is not easy to achieve. I hope to see more books from him in the future!
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (pub date 8/30/11)
“Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”
This is one of the most heartbreaking books I have read in a long time. Powerful, raw, real, but still uplifting. It’s the story of an impoverished family living in rural Mississippi just twelve days before Hurricane Katrina hit. 14-year-old Esch lives with her hard-drinking father and three brothers. Her mother died in childbirth, leaving no one to teach her about becoming a woman. And Esch really needs a woman’s guidance, because she is pregnant. The only model of motherhood she has is her brother’s pit bull China, who just gave birth to a litter of puppies. Esch spends her days taking care of her younger brother Junior, helping her older brother Skeetah with the new puppies, reading alone in her room, and wondering if her baby’s father will take care of her. As Hurricane Katrina inches closer, the family must come together to brave the impending storm.
This is an incredibly moving story with an amazing cast of characters. It’s a story about a family that has very little in this world except love. Esch is a remarkable girl: intelligent and mature beyond her years. The tragedy is that at age 14 she has to endure emotional pain that no woman should have to endure at any age. While reading the book I found myself wishing she was real so I could give her a hug. But despite the hardships that Esch and her family go through, there is a feeling of community and love that radiates through the book.
Salvage the Bones will be an important book to read. It’s short but intense all the way through. For anyone who enjoys a good story of human drama, this book will leave you speechless.
The Postmortal by Drew Magary (pub date 8/30/11)
“It’s not that people don’t want to die. It’s that they don’t want to grow old.”
Prepare to have your mind blown. The Postmortal has everything that’s great about dystopian stories. It’s the “Soylent Green” for a new generation.
Set about ten years in the future, scientists have accidentally discovered a form of gene therapy that stops the aging process in humans, a so-called “cure for aging.” That’s not to say this is a cure for death; anyone who receives the cure can still get sick and can still die in a car accident or any other way a normal person can. But taking the cure means never growing any older, and in theory it means having the potential to live for hundreds of years. Soon after its discovery the cure is banned in the United States, leaving those who want it to seek it on the black market.
The novel opens with the protagonist, John, going to get the cure despite its illegal status. As we follow John’s story we also follow what happens to our society since the cure’s discovery. The book contains insightful and often scary commentary and speculation on how this cure would affect the world politically, financially, and socially. For example John realizes that he will never be able to retire since his extended lifespan means he’ll always need money. Unfortunately this is the least of the problems and horrors that arise as a result of the cure.
The story takes a different turn about halfway through the book, and personally I enjoyed the first half of the book slightly more than the second. But this is still a fascinating story, and absolutely worth reading. In an age where medical discoveries are making huge strides every year, this is a cautionary tale that needs to be told. In my opinion it’s destined to be a best-seller. I’d recommend The Postmortal to anyone who enjoys science fiction or dystopian stories, or anyone looking for an intelligent and imaginative novel.
The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson (pub date 8/9/11)
The Lantern is a modern-day retelling of the classic novel Rebecca. It isn’t shy about telling us this, either, since at one point in the story the female protagonist Eve describes how she just happens to be reading Rebecca and is surprised to see how much it resembles her own life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to an homage or a retelling of a classic story. But a note to the author: we get it. We don’t need the not-so-subtle hint that this story is based on Rebecca. That’s like in the Twilight series when Bella spends an entire freaking chapter reading “Romeo and Juliet” and commenting on how she and Edward come from different worlds. Stephanie Meyer may feel the need to beat her readers over the head with literary references, but Deborah Lawrenson is a better writer than that.
Moving on, The Lantern contains all the basic plot elements that Rebecca does: girl meets boy, falls in love, runs away to be with boy, boy can’t get over his missing ex-wife, girl feels overshadowed by ex-wife’s memory and wonders if boy really loves her. Just substitute Les Genevriers for Manderley and Rachel for Rebecca and you have this book. The novel also contains a subplot involving the former owners of the Les Genevriers estate, with each chapter switching back and forth between Eve’s story in the present day and Benedicte’s story decades in the past. While this subplot is interesting to read, it makes it hard to get into the book. The introduction of Benedicte’s story seemed clumsy at first, and it wasn’t until I was several chapters in that I realized what kind of structure the story was trying to take. Also included is an unsatisfying second subplot about missing village girls that need not have been included in the book at all.
Surprisingly enough, I did not think this was a bad book. Despite the structural issues, it actually is well written. Unfortunately it seemed as though it didn’t know what kind of a book it wanted to be. The author likely included the subplot about Benedicte so as not to make this book too similar to Rebecca, but this left me confused as to whether the book was supposed to be mainly about Eve’s relationship with Dom, or about the history of the estate. If it is meant to be more about the estate, the plot descriptions on Amazon and NetGalley are rather misleading. All in all, The Lantern is a decent story with nice imagery, just not thoroughly satisfying.
The Legacy by Katherine Webb (pub date 8/30/11)
Imagine looking into your own family’s history and discovering something terrible and shocking. Such family secrets, no matter how well-hidden, bring forth pain which can be passed on through the generations until the truth is brought to light. In The Legacy, Erica Calcott finds out some terrible truths about her family, and learns of the legacy of hurt and resentment they have caused for almost a hundred years.
Erica and her older sister Beth have recently returned to Calcott Manor, their ancestral home in rural England. Their grandmother has recently died, and the sisters are staying at the manor to see to her affairs and decide whether to sell the property. Being back at Calcott Manor is not an easy thing for Erica and Beth; it was the place where their cousin Henry mysteriously disappeared years before. While pondering the unanswered questions surrounding Henry’s disappearance, Erica searches the manor and finds old items that belonged to her great-grandmother Caroline. Soon Erica pieces together clues relating to Caroline’s secret past, and this inspires her to investigate what really happened to Henry.
The story switches back and forth between Erica and Beth’s story in the present day and Caroline’s story in the early 1900s, where she lived in America before coming to England to become Lady Calcott. There is some nice juxtaposition between Caroline’s tragic life and Erica’s discovery of her family’s hidden past. Unfortunately this book is much too heavy on exposition and the plot doesn’t pick up until about half way through. At 496 pages, it’s quite a tome, and quite a bit of it could have been cut out. The story is interesting and it did keep my interest, but the characters struck me as a little flat. Caroline was a useless ninny even before her life took a turn for the worse, so it was hard to feel sorry for her as she fell into her downward spiral. I also wished for a more dramatic ending, given all the dramatic events that had just occured.
The Legacy is a mixed bag. It’s a good family drama but not as tense and well-written as The Girl in the Garden. It would be a good book to buy for your mom but moves just a little too slowly for most younger readers.
Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich (pub date 7/12/11)
“That this brilliant, enthusiastic, impetuous kid could fall so deeply and fully in love with a girl he’d only known for a month – that he’d be willing to throw it all away.”
Following his success with The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich brings us another “mostly true” book about a controversial figure of the 21st century. And yes, this one has already been optioned for a film adaptation.
Sex on the Moon is the story of Thad Roberts, a NASA intern who stole a 600 lb safe from a secure lab containing millions of dollars worth of moon rocks with the intention to sell them on the black market. His intention was to use the money to start a new life with his girlfriend, his rationalization being that those particular moon rocks had already been used in experiments and were therefore declared “worthless” by NASA.
Mezrich, the self-described “new nonfiction” writer, portrays Roberts in a sympathetic light. The book briefly describes Roberts’ humble origins, from being disowned by his Mormon parents to his marriage at the young age of 19. A lover of science, Roberts dreamed of becoming an astronaut, and after years of study finally earned a spot in the highly coveted intern co-op program at NASA. Overconfident and a risk-taker, Roberts engaged in daring behaviors such as sneaking onto the shuttle simulator to impress his friends. Later the book describes how Roberts came up with the idea for the moon rock heist, how he pulled it off, how he got caught, and what happened to him afterward.
From what I understand, this book is receiving mixed reviews. The New York Times panned it, as did Entertainment Weekly. However I found it to be a very entertaining read. It’s well-written, with attention to detail that comes from Mezrich’s extensive research on NASA and interviews with people who worked there at the time of the heist. Mezrich clearly has sympathy for Roberts, but still leaves the readers to make up their minds. The story leaves a lot open for discussion, which for me is what helps make a really good book.
So while I personally have a less-than-charitable opinion of Thad Roberts and the crime he committed, I enjoyed reading Mezrich’s portrayal of the event. Regardless of what you think of Roberts, it’s a fascinating story. This is one of those instances in which it’s possible to like a book despite not liking its subject. So definitely read it, and then decide for yourself what you think of Roberts and his “crime of the decade.”