Armada

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Review #29: Fiction

Blogging for Books #10

Armada by Ernest Cline

armada.jpg

I am a HUGE fan of Ready Player One and could not wait to get my hands on a copy of Armada when it came out. Now, Ready Player One is much more focused on ‘80s pop culture as a whole: the music, the movies, the games, the style, etc — which is why I dug it so much. I was born right at the end of the era and sometimes feel I was born a little too late. ‘80s pop culture runs through my veins. I knew Armada is set in the current day, and that it is much heavier on video game knowledge and interest rather than strictly ‘80s culture, but nonetheless, it did not disappoint.

The story revolves around Zack Lightman and his friends who are high school-aged kids that are obsessed with two online multiplayer games; ARMADA and TERRA FIRMA. Both games focus on the human race defending itself against an alien invasion — ARMADA focuses on air defense and TERRA FIRMA on ground defense. Players remote-pilot unmanned drones in ARMADA and unmanned ATHIDS in TERRA FIRMA. Because I’m not a heavy gamer, there are definitely some aspects of Armada that went over my head a little. Some of the gamer language and slang was unfamiliar to me, and some of the descriptions of the games themselves as well as technology and materials used in the games were harder for me to visualize. However, Cline does a pretty good job of making this world and the concept accessible to everyone, and definitely to those who are already gaming nerds.

At the beginning of the book, Lightman notices a spaceship that looks a lot like the alien crafts in ARMADA flying over his school. Chalking this up to too much playing time, as well as some inherited insanity (his father was convinced of a video game/government training program to defeat real alien invasion using civilians — a lot like the idea behind Ender’s Game which Cline touches on several times throughout the book). Zack’s father was killed on the job when Zack was only an infant.

Eventually things happen that Lightman cannot easily explain away, and he and his friends (some of the best ARMADA and TERRA FIRMA players in the world) have to come together to figure out if Zack’s father’s theory holds any water…and if it does, what that means for them and the survival of the planet. If aliens were attacking, would a world full of gamers be enough to stop them? Would civilians trained to fight with nothing more than video games step up to the challenge? And if a government cover up were true, what actually happened to Zack’s father all those years ago?

There are a ton of ‘80s (and ‘90s) references thrown into this book, from old-school video games, to movies and music, and books. Cline once again uses this pop culture to drive his plot, giving us glimpses into his inspiration for the book, his characters, and also just throwing us a big nostalgia party. He references great hair metal bands; movies and TV shows like The Karate Kid, Star Trek,  E.T., Star Wars, and The X-Files (and on and on); and movies like Men in Black, Contact, and The Last Starfighter. This book brings back some great decades of pop culture and ties it to current-day gaming and the continued idea (and question) of whether or not the truth is out there…

Armada is action packed, fun from beginning to end, and a true first-person like book that turns the reader into Zack Lightman. Cline makes you feel like not only are you along for the ride, but you just might be the one driving the ship.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

J: A Novel

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Review #28: Fiction

Blogging for Books #9

J: A Novel by Howard Jacobson

J A Novel

Jacobson’s novel, set in a possible future, revolves around the lives of those after WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. Though we are never actually told WHAT HAPPENED, it seems to be some sort of genocide, based on religious beliefs or genetics — it was pretty vague with no real facts of any kind to grasp on to to anchor yourself as a reader.

No one (or supposedly no one) in this future knows WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, their real history/pasts; they don’t talk about it, there’s no nostalgia for things, people, or times — no keepsakes or heirlooms. Everyone is very sheltered.

Ailinn and Kevern meet (by accident, we think, but learn otherwise), they become lovers and begin a relationship. Kevern’s teacher and Ailinn’s guardian seem to be hiding something from the both of them. Kevern is highly suspicious of everything and everyone; he thinks he’s being watched. Ailinn has been running from an imaginary foe (her fear) forever. They make a very neurotic and dysfunctional pair.

When a woman in town, her lover, and her husband are all murdered, Kevern becomes a suspect because he once kissed the woman. The detective does not actually suspect Kevern, but uses this investigation as an excuse to keep tabs on him, to learn more about him, to search his home. This investigator is a conspiracy theorist about WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, and thinks Kevern and Ailinn are pieces to the puzzle he’s working on.

Jacobson creates interest and intrigue from the beginning, drawing us into the mystery of WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, and what Kevern and Ailinn have to do with it. He weaves in a bit of romance with Kevern and Ailinn’s relationship, but that flame fizzles out, as does the mystery of WHAT HAPPENED as the story progresses. I really like the book to begin with, but around the middle to the end, the story lost speed and appeal. Some passages and flashbacks seem disjointed and ultimately unimportant to the novel as a whole and pull readers away from the main story Jacobson is telling.

Throughout, Jacobson uses beautiful language, however, some areas felt over-the-top and forced…like these large words and intricate sentences were unnecessary to get the point across. Different language and different tones would have helped the story flow more smoothly.

The book is described as 1984 meets Brave New World, which is a pretty spot on description. That connection does not disappoint.

Overall, I’m not really sure anything actually happened. The story (of the past) was semi-told through flashbacks of Kevern’s family, Ailinn’s family, and Ez’s (Ailinn’s guardian) family, among others. The events of the current story seemed to be setting up an ending that would have been more definite, more certain. Some plot points were started and never wrapped up, leaving us with the feeling that they weren’t important to the novel at all — why include them if they won’t be material in the end? A future to this future was hinted at but not put into motion enough to feel content with it as an end to this novel.

J: A Novel starts with a lot of potential, but falls a bit flat in the end.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Martian

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Review #27: Fiction

Blogging for Books #8

The Martian – Andy Weir

9781101903582

The Martian is a bestselling novel and a hit blockbuster film…and for good reason. Weir creates a fascinating cast and throws them into a not-so-sci-fi setting. As humans, we’ve always been curious. We’ve explored and traveled and asked questions about everything since the beginning of time. The universe, outerspace, is no exception. Even today we’re exploring the planet of Mars nearly to the degree that Weir imagines in his novel.

On top of an exciting and action packed space thriller, The Martian is both funny and endearing thanks to the group of characters Weir creates. Mark Watney, the astronaut that is stranded on Mars after a dust storm where his crewmates think him dead and must leave to save themselves, is smart, courageous and, at times hilariously human. Everyone can relate to being in a situation where they have no idea what to do, how to start accomplishing the task they must complete, and must dig deep within themselves to succeed. Mark Watney is everyman, which allows any reader to relate to him, and become engrossed in his story of survival.

The only criticism I could possibly find with the text is that it is very science and math heavy. I understand the need to have these details to really create an immersive and realistic story about outerspace and rocketships. A friend of mine described this book as “Math, Math, Science, Explosion, Math, Science, Dad Joke.” She wasn’t too far off. There is a lot of heavy mathematics and science equations and descriptions that at times took me out of the story and felt almost as if I was skimming a text book. However, the overall story, plot, and character development that surrounds these passages more that make up for the glazed over reading I had to do to get through them.

Again, this book is a bestseller, a huge blockbuster film…you don’t need me to tell you to read it. But you should.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Little Paris Bookshop

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Review #26: Fiction

Blogging for Books #7

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

9780553418774

This novel is a love letter, an ode, to the beautiful, magical, healing power of books.

The story follows a man, Monsieur Jean Perdu, who, as a self-proclaimed literary apothecary, uses his wealth of knowledge of books and how they comfort people to help them while suppressing his own pain surrounding the love he lost nearly two decades prior. Monsieur Perdu owns a bookshop boat on the Seine. He refuses to sell books to buyers unless the book is the one he feels they need – he can read their souls and know what they need to read in that moment to find comfort. However, to find comfort himself, he needs to do more than read the right book.

When he reads a letter his former lover left when she disappeared 20 years prior, Perdu finally knows the tragic truth behind her departure, and to truly move on and find peace and new love, he must embark on a journey that takes him across France. On a whim, he packs up and sets sail with his floating bookshop to find closure. With a wonderful cast of characters he meets along the way, Perdu not only reaches the end of his journey, but finds a family, and himself, along the way.

In The Little Paris Bookshop, we are taken on an expedition of love, loss, and literature through the beautiful French countryside. With the various tales of heartbreak, lovesickness, and hope from the supporting characters, Perdu finally finds his comfort, while any reader surely finds theirs in these pages. The Little Paris Bookshop describes the beauty of a book, the solace one finds in literature, while expertly providing that service itself.

Several passages throughout have stuck with me; it is a book that I found exactly when I needed it, which is precisely the kind of literary happenstance that drives Perdu’s life’s work.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there are little extra surprises at the end of the book – a few recipes for some of the delicious meals that are prepared through Perdu’s trip across France, and also a selection of book recommendations and the people/situations they are best suited for from the Book Doctor himself.

The Little Paris Bookshop is a delightful book, with a beautifully tragic, heartbreaking, hopeful, and heartfelt story. I am sure those who need this story will find it.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Spinster

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Review #25: Non-Fiction

Blogging for Books #6

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

9780385347136

I was pretty excited to read this book; I’d heard some good things about it, friends had highly recommended it, and having recently ended my own engagement, it seemed like a fitting read as far as timing goes.

I didn’t, however, find what I was expecting. I thought it would be funnier, for starters. Though there are definitely tidbits here and there that forced a smile, a giggle, and in one case, an all-out head-thrown-back laugh, it is a mostly very serious book. This doesn’t make it bad, per se, but it did turn me off a little. There are things in life that humor helps ease, and coming to terms with the realities of human relationships and romance is, in my opinion, one of them.

Bolick give us a ton of information about her “awakeners” (the women who inspire or have influenced her “spinster” lifestyle) in this book. She has absolutely done her research and really brings these women to life through her own commentary about them, as well as their own writing and other secondary sources describing them in detail. Part of me loves all these details and inclusions, and part of me feels it was too much. At one point I felt like staying, “Alright already. If I wanted to know this much about this woman, I would read her biography and her life’s work myself.” I was left knowing a lot about Bolick’s “awakeners” but wanting for how they really influenced Bolick –what I was ultimately hoping for from this book.

It also felt extremely dated. Many of the women Bolick writes about span all the way back to the 1800s and the majority of their lives and decisions play out in the early 1900s. Bolick herself is writing about her life mostly in the 1990s and early 2000s. I had never heard of many of the women and other influencers Bolick mentions, and felt their lives and choices really couldn’t be related to the lives of women today. I definitely didn’t feel like I could really relate to Bolick well – in some ways, of course, but the world has changed so drastically from even the 1990s that these anecdotes fell rather flat.

Bolick’s life, arguable much more recent, felt distant from life for women (especially women writers in New York City today.) Many of the opportunities Bolick and others she writes had about just don’t exist in NY today. The publishing industry just isn’t the same, and Bolick’s opportunities and successes in NY offered her greater options in her personal life than many would be offered today. This is wonderful for her, don’t get me wrong (I’m admittedly jealous of what she was able to accomplish and the relationships she was able to experience), but I was unable to really connect to the writing knowing how these experiences probably couldn’t exist today.

Overall, the book started slowly, picked up in the middle but eventually became distant from the reader. Though there are a few grains of wisdom and valuable insight sprinkled throughout, it is by no means a must read.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Modern Romance

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Review #24: Non-Fiction

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Mod Rom

This book is phenomenal. The subject matter and the writing are extremely approachable; it’s filled with Aziz Ansari’s typical humor, as well as being truly engaging and informative.

This is not, however, a comedy book. Ansari partnered with real sociologists, conducted real interviews and studies in cities around the world over the course of a few years to make this book what it is. This is a collection of real information and research about real people and real relationship changes and trends.

Ansari really opens the curtain on the differences in relationships, love, marriage, break-ups, and life between generations and through technological changes over the years. The information age has truly turned romance and personal relationships on their head, and Ansari’s book documents this transformation with intriguing facts, figures, and charts.

In addition to the fascinating data Modern Romance presents, it is brilliantly peppered with Ansari’s signature wit through clever asides, footnotes, anecdotes and laugh-out-loud funny photos.

With the information and the humor of this book, I could not put it down. It is a fast-paced and easy read that presents real, fresh data in the style of a friendly conversation. If you’re interested in romantic relationships or how people connect to each other in today’s day and age at all, pick this book up immediately. But also pick it up if you’re simply after a quick chuckle.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover photo from Amazon.com

Dead Wake

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Review #23: Non-fiction

Blogging for Books #5

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake

It would honestly go against everything I know about good writing and storytelling, not to mention come as a complete and utter shock, if anything by Erik Larson wasn’t phenomenal. Not only is what he writes informative, but it’s entertaining; something that doesn’t happen all that often with non-fiction, unfortunately.

Firstly, Dead Wake is extremely well researched. Even without the dozens of pages of reference material and notes at the end of the book, you can tell just from the meat of the book that Larson labored over it extensively. There are more than a handful of characters in this book, but none of them is neglected. We are never introduced to someone who we don’t hear from again. Larson has created a well-balanced cast from several different sides of this story, with myriad viewpoints. We really get to know these characters, and though we know how many of their stories will end, we are still drawn into their journey every step of the way, waiting to see if we will find out their exact fate. Larson ties up as many loose ends as he can with his research. Each character has a story that is both heartbreaking and beautiful — stories that wouldn’t be known if it weren’t for Larson.

One of the hallmarks of a good historian and researcher is to find the information that hasn’t been discovered or distributed before. Many say that history is written by the victors, and in many cases, this is very true. History will always have bias. Here, Larson tells the story of the Lusitania from the views of Americans, the British, passengers on the ship, naval officers, German u-boat crew, and many others. He uses first and secondary accounts of what was going on with the Allies as well as the Germans through this wartime, and humanizes both sides. Though through the evidence he gathers, it is very obvious that there are heroes and villains in this story, he reminds us that both groups are people, something that oftentimes gets lost among the pages of our history books.

There is an element of mystery and adventure to Larson’s book. He is a master of writing a story that we know the ending to and still fostering thrills and suspense. Larson admits to having believed a different version of the story of Lusitania before beginning his research; a false story that I had also assumed, and suppose many others might as well. The sinking of the Lusitania, to my understanding before reading Dead Wake, directly and immediately lead to the United States’s involvement in World War I. However, Larson, in great detail, paints a very different picture. From the lead up to the Lusitania’s voyage; to its attack and eventual sinking; and the aftermath for friends, family, and country; Larson painstakingly presents the decisions that had to be made by everyone involved along the way. In fact, several years passed and other events lead to the US eventually entering the war efforts. And Larson presents all of these facts in a way that is both informative and interesting.

I was expecting nothing less than a good read out of Dead Wake, but what I got was much better than expected. Larson weaves exceptional details about a time in history that seems to be little-known with human interest stories and an action packed nautical thriller seamlessly. Dead Wake has it all, and does something that, in my mind is nearly impossible; readers will be thoroughly entertained, while simultaneously informed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.