Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Summary (2) & Mini Review/Recommendation

This week has been pretty killer. Between my 5am shifts and the continuing job search, I am pretty exhausted and ready for the weekend! I have very few plans for the weekend other than sleeping and vegging on television and books. Oh, and maybe studying for the GRE. I guess that's important too.

Something today made me remember this book that I read in February when I was procrastinating on writing my thesis. I didn't write a review for it because I was in the middle of school and I'm lazy as all getout during school, but I wish I had now. It's called Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I wanted to throw it out as a recommendation because it was one of those rare five-star books, in my opinion.

Goodreads says this about it:

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune -- and remarkable power -- to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved -- that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt -- among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life -- and love -- in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

And these are my notes on my Goodreads rating: 

I really am not a fan of video games or 80s music and movies or whatever else this book's random trivia was centered on. But, the magnificent thing was that Ernest Cline made me care about all that and I couldn't put the book down. By the end I was cheering, I was laughing and it astounded me that I was that emotionally invested in a book about things that I wouldn't normally be interested in. That's quality writing.  

So if the fact that this book had me absolutely entranced, astounded, blown away and unable to put it down when it's based on cultures and interests that I know nothing about and truly, care little about, has you intrigued, pick up Ready Player One!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern

Genre: Adult/YA Fantasy
Publisher: Doubleday

Length: 387 pages
Original Publishing Date: September 13th, 2011
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: E-library

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

Main characters: 3/5

There was quite a cast of main characters and for a while I found it difficult to know who to focus on. Marco and Celia were obviously two of the most important. It was hard for me to feel a deep connection to either until very late in the book because the first half was written in a tale-like style that focused on the past as though it were legend, rather than showing direct action taking place. When Morgenstern focused more on the dialogue and action between them, I felt far more connected to them. On the other side, I thought Poppet and Widget were mysterious and fascinating, but they lacked some depth. Ironically, I felt that Bailey had the complexity I desired but was pretty boring. Overall, I wish that Morgenstern had more fully developed these characters earlier in the novel, because their late characterization seemed too little too late.

Secondary characters: 2.5/5

Just as with the primary characters, the secondary characters grew more human and complex as the novel went on. Lainie Burgess sort of came out of no where and I found myself appreciating her as a well-rounded character. Mr. Barris was sometimes a little flat for my taste and he didn't grow much throughout the novel but served an important purpose. I continuously hated Alexander and "Prospero the Great" and I think that they could have benefited from some positive characterization as I didn't really understand their motivations. Just as with the main characters, I feel that the secondary characters could have benefited from some additional characterization and history.

Writing style: 4.5/5

The Night Circus has such a mysterious, engaging and sometimes frustrating writing style. The point of view/time period shifts and you suddenly find yourself ten years forward and backward from the scene you were just reading. Even the point of view changes from third person to second person. Despite all of this however, I was able to stay engaged and focused on the story, rather than turned off by the abrupt switches. Morgenstern understands how to employ these shifting styles and time periods without alienating the reader and leaving them lost and confused. Beyond Morgenstern's skillful manipulation of a variety of times and points of view, she is also adept at a beautifully detailed style without being overwhelming or dry. In particular, the anniversary party descriptions were absolutely gorgeous. The novel flew by, despite its length.

Plot: 4/5 
Just as the complexity of the writing style is impeccably done, so is the plot which dictates it. Morgenstern weaves together these various timelines and points of view masterfully. The plot is intriguing and unique, and left me yearning to know the mysteries of the Circus and the Challenge. The world building and the fantasy elements were exceptional, especially the Circus. I was enthralled with the depth of world building that Morgenstern put into the Circus and its different elements. My one disappointment is that the challenge seemed to become slightly contrived as the novel moved on and I didn't feel like it truly moved the plot along. It felt a little bit like a gimmick, even though it was supposed to be the central conflict.

Ending: 3/5

I'm a little torn. I saw the resolution to the conflict coming long before it occurred (which is unusual as I'm a particularly oblivious reader). I felt jipped at the conclusion with Alexander and the challenge, although I assume I am intended to feel that way. However, it was still not a pleasant note to end such a long and fantastical story on. I did like the final chapter in second person because it left things ambiguous, as I assume that Morgenstern attempted in the second to last chapter, and yet it had an air of mystery and hopefulness about it that the Widget and Alexander chapter lacked. 

Best scene: I mentioned earlier that I adored the writing of the anniversary party scene so I'll list that again here.

Reminded Me Of: Water for Elephants meets Conjured

Positives: Writing style, enchanting plot, mysterious characters, dream-like ending

Negatives: Characterization was too little, too late, some plot elements seemed contrived, the ending was so-so

Cover: This cover is gorgeous, especially the font and the color scheme that fits perfectly with the circus. My only complaint would be that it's not particularly exciting or enthralling, and if I hadn't heard rave reviews of the book, it may not have enticed me to pick it up. 

Verdict: An enchanting and magical read; worthwhile

Rating: 6.8/10 (4 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saturday Summary (1)

Hello readers!
It's been a while! I know that I've had some periodic posts but I'll be honest when I say that I haven't written a review since last September. I pre-made all of my reviews and scheduled them! I feel like a little bit of a cheater but hey, I graduated college this year so I feel like it is acceptable that I was busy living it up and didn't have time to read or review during the year.
Speaking of graduating, I graduated with my BA in English from Oregon this past Monday!
I am so thankful to everyone who I met and my family who helped me accomplish my goals! Now to start my job hunt...
In between my current seasonal job and sending out those applications, I'm hoping to get some reading and reviewing done and get this blog back up and running, but getting up at 4am every day for this job may impede that a little. Wish me luck!
Until next Saturday,

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

So, this review is going to be a little different. My dad and I both read Oscar Wao this past year and we've started discussing it together. My dad doesn't have a lot of time to read, but he always sparks some really interesting discussions.
We sat down the other day to discuss the basic storyline (it's been a while since I read it) and some basic things that we liked and didn't like. One of the first thing that popped up were the footnotes. My dad and I both agreed that we really liked the style of the footnotes, but sometimes they were longer than the thing they were supposed to be commenting on.
Something else that was maybe a generational difference is that my dad didn't find the story new. To me, I'd had some background experience with Central America in the 50s but ultimately a lot of it was brand new information. My dad, on the other hand, said that he knew about the harsh Central American governments and that there wasn't anything new or exciting about this world that Diaz was presenting us. My question to him was, does a book need to present us with a world that we don't have experience with for the book to be good? What do you think?