Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CR Review #31: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I have a thing for pop culture and trivia. I love having useless bits of information stored away in my brain, ready to be suddenly useful at a moment's notice. I even used my knowledge to get on Jeopardy (and *humblebrag* win a few times). But then I had three kids, and didn't find my ability to instantly name all 8 Bradford kids on Eight is Enough quite so useful. But it did help me to keep up when watching shows with clever dialogue like Veronica Mars or The Gilmore Girls (watched all 7 seasons in a row on dvd in the middle of the night when kid #3 was a newborn), or reading books like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and getting more references than anyone else in my book club (actually, not much of an accomplishment). So it was with great joy that I stumbled upon Ready Player One at the library recently, and am here to tell all of you pop culture children of the 80s, that this is a book you must run out and read RIGHT NOW.

Ready Player One is the story of Wade (avatar name Parzival), an overweight, nerdy teen living in the Oklahoma of the near future. The world now exists in two realms: the regular day-to-day world, and the online, virtual world of OASIS. OASIS is a game/online world that has taken the actual world by storm. Kids go to school in OASIS. People have jobs in OASIS. You can fall in love and get married in OASIS -- without ever actually meeting your spouse in real life. The creator of OASiS, a very Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-ian character named James Halliday, who died several years before the story takes place, created a contest, wherein users of OASIS could follow clues to recover three "keys", meet several challenges, and then become the new leader of OASIS and inherit Halliday's immense fortune.

Wade and a few of his online friends attempt to do just that, while outsmarting the government, virtual hackers, and millions of other gamers. Oh, and I didn't mention that Halliday was obsessed with the 1980s, so almost everything related to the contest refers to the tv, movies, music, and video games popular during that decade, as well as other popular Sci-Fi favorites like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and all things Joss Whedon. While I didn't play a whole lot of video games in the 80s or listen to the same kind of music as detailed in the book, I still got a laugh out of most of the references

Ernest Cline writes with an enjoyable, breezy, conversational style that immediately hooked me and and pulled me into his world. I'm pretty sure this is his first book, and I look forward to reading anything he may write in the future.

Friday, September 16, 2011

CR Review #30: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Kate Morton. And then I read a few engrossing reviews of The Distant Hours by various other Cannonballers, and now I can't imagine not reading everything that Kate Morton has ever written.

The Distant Hours is the story of Edie, who lives in 1990s London. She works in publishing, has just broken up with her live-in boyfriend, and needs someplace to live that fits her budget. One day, while Edie is visiting her parents, her mother receives a letter in the mail that was written in the 1940s but was in a lost bag of mail, recently recovered. The letter sends Edie's mother into hysterics, and sends her crying up to her bedroom. Over the coming weeks, Edie gets bits and pieces of information from her mother (who she is not particularly close to) about the letter and about her secretive past, including the amazing fact that during WWII, her mother (Meredith) was sent to live in a castle in the countryside with three mysterious sisters. It turns out that the castle in question was where Edie's favorite book was written, "The True History of the Mud Man".

Edie visits the castle and meets the sisters and becomes obsessed with finding out more about her mother's time there in the 1940s. Meanwhile, she moves back in with her parents and gets to know more about her mother and her past.

The book jumps from the 40s to the 90s with ease and we find out more about the castle, the sisters, and a mystery that binds them together with young Meredith (and how the mystery relates to the letter that Meredith receives in the 90s). The book is pretty long -- over 500 pages -- and honestly, I had no idea how the mystery was going to wrap up and was pleasantly surprised that it was something I hadn't even considered.

I loved Morton's writing style -- beautiful and gothic, with an extraordinary attention to the detail of the war era. I have already recommended this book to several of my "anglophile" friends, and just picked up another of Morton's books at the library.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

CR Review #29: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

A few weeks back, just when I was finishing up my original "half-cannonball", I put off writing a review for a book that I didn't like, in lieu of one that I enjoyed (thank you, Major Pettigrew!). I can't put it off any longer. I need to tell you about my dislike for The Unnamed.

The Unnamed is the story of a man named Tim, a busy lawyer in NYC with a big house in the suburbs and a doting wife named Jane. Tim suffers from a mysterious disease (so mysterious, it is indeed unnamed) that causes him to stop whatever he is doing and immediately start walking. It doesn't matter if he's in the middle of a trial, or asleep in his warm bed, or fighting with his wife or daughter. He just has to get up and walk until he falls down from exhaustion.

Tim and Jane try all kinds of doctors and treatments, but nothing works. After a few months, Tim usually stops walking and goes back to the remnants of his life. Jane tries to keep a backpack at the ready for him, so that whatever the elements Tim finds himself in, he'll survive (including a cell phone, so she can pick him up when he falls down tired).

After a few battles with his disease, things get worse for Tim and he simply takes off, leaving Jane and their daughter alone, thinking they are better off without him and his strange problems. And then Tim walks. And walks and walks and walks. And along the way, he loses his mind, some of his toes and fingers, and most of his previous identity.

The story of The Unnamed could have been a riveting one. But I just couldn't stand Joshua Ferris' writing style. He uses 20 words when 2 or 3 would do, not to be eloquent, but just to be clever. So annoying. A few years back, I had tried to read his debut novel, "And Then We Came to the End," about jobs in the crazy dot.com years (I had worked and been laid off from lots of those jobs, so I expected to enjoy this one), and couldn't even make it halfway through the book. His writing ruined the story for me -- his pretentiousness really was a turn off for me.

The one good thing about this book was that it was the first library book that I read on my kindle. So, yay for that.

First Day of School

Can't believe first day of school already came and went. Sent B off to second grade (loves her English teacher, can't remember her French immersion teacher's name, but I'm sure we'll get that sorted out!), and C off to Kindergarten. He was so fired up about taking the bus!

At the end of the day we had two tired, but happy kids, and were short one lunch box, but otherwise I'd say the day was a success.