Book Review: Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two
Book #2
by Ernest Cline
read by Wil Wheaton

My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Science fiction, dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous book, Ready Player One.

As it turns out, Halliday didn’t leave just one contest behind in the Oasis when he died. He left a second one, which wouldn’t be triggered unless his heir found and decided to release a controversial, highly-advanced, game-changing technology to the world and the world then went crazy for it. And since, of course, that’s exactly what happens after the first contest is over, Oasis users are sent on another impossible quest that involves having unlikely knowledge of every single thing someone they never met loved and obsessed over. If it isn’t clear from my rating and from that synopsis I wrote, I did not like this book. To be fair, I didn’t expect to like it, and really didn’t plan to ever read it. But curiosity got the better of me.

To start with, I’ll state that I didn’t love Ready Player One. It was okay, but since I wasn’t won over by all of the 80s nostalgia, I was left with just the plot and characters, which were mediocre overall. So when the sequel was even more 80s trivia and even less plot and characters, it was destined to fail to thrill me. I think the nostalgia has to be the only reason that anyone really likes this book, since it’s otherwise poorly done. Though to be honest, I don’t even know how the pop culture references could be all that enjoyable for anyone, since they’re so shallow. I thought the same when reading RP1, but it seemed even moreso this time. It feels like Cline just really wants to showcase his pop culture knowledge in these books, except half of what we get is something that anyone with an internet connection could easily include in a story.

As for the story itself, there’s a ridiculous amount of exposition, usually dumped in huge piles, and often right when something exciting is about to happen. Seriously, when we’re told the first item for the contest has (finally) been found, we stop for a whole bunch of explanation before actually moving on to the item. And worse yet, sometimes the exposition is repeated. Cline wants so badly for us to know how certain aspects of this make-believe world within a make-believe world work that he tells us twice!

Wade, the MC, is a terrible human being masquerading as a compassionate guy who just doesn’t know how to deal with people. We went through a depressing time with him in the first book, when he pushed all of his friends away and became depressed, but at least we got a good ending out of it. But we have almost a repeat of that in this book, and it’s even more clear now that he’s simply a terrible person. I just can’t bring myself to root for him anymore. I didn’t care if he and Samantha got back together or not, and I really didn’t care about their conflicting views of how to best “save” humanity.

And then there’s the ending…I could not believe what I was hearing when I got to the last chapter. It’s astounding to me that anyone can truly think that the decisions that are made by this group of characters are a good idea. That they’re even remotely okay. That they solve anything! I guess it’s supposed to be a happy ending, but it sounds terrifying and depressing to me. I need to stop now, before the review gets any longer, but suffice it to say that I do not recommend this book to anyone, fans of 80s culture or not. If you really like John Hughes movies or Prince, you might be in heaven for 3-4 chapters of this book. For anyone else…read at your own risk.

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Book Review: The Captured Bride

The Captured Bride
The Daughters of the Mayflower

by Michelle Griep

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Mercy Lytton’s keen eyesight makes her a great scout for the British during the French and Indian War. When she’s tasked with pretending to be the wife of a Frenchman who has been condemned by the British as a traitor on a perilous journey to deliver a load of stolen gold to a British stronghold, the nearby, antagonistic Wyandot warriors may threaten Mercy’s life, but the condemned Elias Dubois will threaten her heart.

I’m finding it difficult to rate and review this book. It’s been a few weeks since I finished it, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long to review it, because now I’m struggling to remember much of it. That is probably an accurate enough reflection of the book. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. I spent the first few chapters really confused about a lot of things, like whose loyalties lay where and how certain people were related or connected to each other. Some of it gets answered by the end of the book, but I think certain aspects would have been much better off explained earlier on, so that I didn’t spend the first third of the story so confused. I re-read the first few pages after getting into it a little, thinking I might just have missed something, but it didn’t help.

I think this is yet another book in this series that suffers from having too much going on, and not all of it ends up being explained in the end. There was a lot of action, and it was done pretty well. A lot of side characters popped in and out, not necessarily adding enough to the story to make them worth taking the space they did. And something that really detracted from the story, for me, were the physical aspects of the building romance. Though there is clearly mutual respect between the two leads, and the relationship does build in a somewhat organic way, the author still puts more of an emphasis on physical attraction and nearness than I like to see in this type of story (though I have read worse in Christian fiction). Again, the book isn’t terrible, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have preferred. I think this will be the last book in the series that I read.

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Book Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase
The Librarians #2
by Greg Cox
read by Therese Plummer

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure

When the Mother Goose Treaty of 1918 appears to have been broken, nursery rhymes come to life, and they’re anything but whimsical. The Librarians and their guardian are sent in different directions to investigate these nursery rhymes, while Flynn Carson is nowhere to be found.

Let me start by saying again, as I did for the previous book in the series, that I love The Librarians. I think the show is better than it has any right to be, and a large part of that is due to the great casting. The movies were good as well, but I think the show really took the overall story world to a new level. I’m glad to be able to read these books, though it’s frustrating to me that they’re so vague about where they fit in the series. This one seems to take place after season 3, but while there are plenty of references to Prospero (and a spoiler for the end of season 2) and definitely to Dulaque (from season 1), there aren’t any references to Apep from season 3. Plus, a major development for Cassandra that took place at the end of season 3 definitely doesn’t come into play in this book, so it seems it can’t have happened. Maybe it’s just supposed to be vague, but I would have preferred to be able to read it at the right time while watching the show. And while the book does attempt to give some basic understanding of the overall setting and backstory of the Library and the Librarians, I think this book is best read by someone who has seen at least the TV show. Knowledge of the movies may not be necessary.

Now to the story itself. Overall it was decent. I didn’t mind the Librarians being separated as much as others did, partly because they still each had a counterpart of sorts to work with. I thought some of the story was weak, for example the nursery rhyme connection to the man in Florida was a major stretch, and for a while, I kept expecting someone to say they were wrong about which nursery rhyme they’d associated it with. The stakes were as high as they get, and there was a bit of a twist that I only figured out a moment before Baird did. In the end, there things I liked more about it than the previous book, and things I like less about it. This book had all the campy fun of the show, and I like that the characters’ personalities come through on the page like they do on the small screen. I still don’t care for the narrator’s breathy tendencies, and if I do re-read this series in the future, I’ll probably skip the audiobooks. Still, I’m enjoying this extension of the show.

Fact check: Jenkins explains that “Mother Goose” is more of a title, passed down through generations, the bearer of which is meant to guard the spells that end up being written down and distributed as nursery rhymes. Elizabeth Goose was her generation’s Mother Goose, and a real-life person, however her maiden name was Elizabeth Foster, and she married the Goose name, so it’s weird she was coincidentally that generation’s Mother Goose (and that this isn’t brought up in the book). Also, Jenkins says that “tourists in Boston flock to what’s claimed to be the grave of the ‘real’ Mother Goose, blithely unaware that she was actually only one in a long line of Mother Gooses, carrying on an ancient tradition.” But the grave in Boston that has become a tourist attraction is actually the grave of MARY Goose, unrelated to the woman whose rhymes prompted the publishing. Mary Goose was actually the first, late wife of Elizabeth’s husband.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts

The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts
Book #10
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran’s friend and former landlady calls him in a panic, he rushes to her house but is too late to prevent her death. She’d told him stories of hearing ghosts in the walls and appeared to have been frightened to death. Qwilleran is compelled to believe there’s a human element involved and moves into Mrs. Cobb’s empty dwelling to see if he can uncover the truth.

This is one of the few books from this series that I remember pretty well from 20+ years ago when I read some of this series. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it a lot on this reading, which is probably the reason I remember it so well. The death of a recurring character kicks the story off with a bang, and the old Goodwinter farmhouse, where Mrs. Cobb was living, is the perfect setting for a ghost-themed mystery. The side characters and side plots are interesting, and everything came together well at the end.

Though Qwilleran is a fairly set in his ways and has little patience for certain personalities, I liked how his compassionate side comes out in this book. And not just the easier kind of compassion toward someone that he likes or is intrigued by, but also compassion toward someone he dislikes or at least doesn’t regard in a great light originally. This is a great addition to a series that I really enjoy and highly recommend to fans of cozy mysteries.

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Book Review: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
Book #1
by Michael Crichton

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Up front, I will say that the movie probably influenced my reaction to the book, so if you’re looking for an unbiased opinion, you may want to go elsewhere. Jurassic Park is one of my top 3 favorite movie franchises, if not the top, even though I can certainly admit that there are some duds in there. I just don’t care; I love them anyway. I did read this book once, back in high school, most likely because of how much I already liked the first couple of movies then.

Now reading it again, I think I appreciated it even more than I did back then. Yes, the science gets a little long-winded, as do Malcolm’s speeches, so I might have skimmed a little. But that doesn’t keep me from enjoying a book. Outside of that, there is a lot of excitement, and even though Malcolm won’t shut up, I really liked his character. The race against time caused by the juvenile raptors on the boat headed for the mainland adds even higher stakes. And the book doesn’t make quite as many huge leaps about dinosaurs that paleontologists couldn’t possibly know for sure, but rather the characters have to learn about them and deduce what they can expect as they go.

I have seen the movie too many times to not have been constantly comparing the two as I read, and I even made some notes to help myself keep both the similarities and differences straight (some were things that were used in the 2nd movie, even though there’s also a 2nd book). But I do think the book stands on its own and should be read by fans of the movie, which is more famous than the book, but does owe its existence to the book.

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Book Review: Quest for the King’s Crown

Quest for the King’s Crown
Last Chance Detectives #6/7*
by Robert Vernon

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

Mysterious strangers and very old skeletons launch the Last Chance Detectives into another case, this time searching for treasure!

This series takes place in the mid-90s, though I sometimes think the author takes some liberty with the technology available at the time. Still, this story is fun, with some twists and turns that keep it interesting. There are some things that happen that I feel are unlikely enough to lower the rating by a star, because while kids may not pick up on those issues, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a story with a tighter plot. I also think the kids themselves and their personalities take a bit of a backseat to the grander plot, but overall, it’s a good addition to the series. I was leery of new books being written after so long, but now I’m glad to be able to read more about these young detectives from the 90s and really hope the author is planning more, especially considering the tiny crumb we’re given about Mike’s missing dad in this book.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers/Focus on the Family for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about Quest for the King’s Crown
Publication date: November 8, 2022
*There were 3 books in the series originally, back in the 90s, and then a prequel came out in 2004. For some reason, when the first more recent book was published in 2021, the first one was labeled as book #5 in the series, I guess making the prequel the new #1 and pushing the rest a book later. But the early ones are still labeled as 1-3 in many places, so now it’s just kind of a mess…

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Book Review: The People of Sparks

The People of Sparks
Book of Ember #2
by Jeanne DuPrau

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, The City of Ember.

After escaping from the underground city of Ember, Lina and Doon are joined by 400 of their fellow Emberites. With little food and no knowledge of life above ground, they stumble upon the city of Sparks, a town with a rocky past of their own. Though the people of Sparks are generous, the Emberites more than double the strain on their own limited resources. When tension mounts and anger begins to flare on both sides, can Lina and Doon help the people of Sparks and the people of Ember avoid war?

I think what I’m seeing in this book is that the author’s desire to insert a theme and to teach kids something she believes in made the story a lot less interesting than it could have been. Exploring the idea that these people have lived their entire lives underground, in a city that was built for them, with technology they never understood, and literally don’t even know what the sun is, much less how seasons work, did take up some of the book, but it fell by the wayside when the “War is bad” motif took over. Yes, war is bad, and yes, in the context of this story, war is what drove the Emberites’ ancestors underground. And it’s what left the people of Sparks in a primitive lifestyle, only now finally able to store excess food for an emergency. However, I’m not sure I buy that the people of Ember, who have just barely survived the death of their city and the stumbling around in a foreign land to find shelter, could produce someone who wanted power for himself and would be willing to incite others to violence to get it. It seemed like the ramping up to a conflict happened really fast.

Following Lina as she tried to understand her vision/memory/whatever about the gleaming city almost seemed like an afterthought. She took a lot of risk and a lot of the story was taken up by her adventure, just for a really minor pay-off.

I do like what ultimately transpired in the climax and the aftermath of that, and frankly, it went better than I expected it to. I anticipated a really simple, heavy-handed resolution, and though what actually happened wasn’t necessarily unique and unexpected, it was nice. And the book ended well, leaving me still interested in the next in the series. While I think this book could have been MUCH better, it’s not a bad follow-up for those who enjoyed the first in the series, and might be more enjoyable for the age group that it’s meant for than it was for me.

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Book Review: Storm Front

Storm Front
The Dresden Files #1
by Jim Butcher
read by James Marsters

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Paranormal mystery

Harry Dresden is the only professional wizard available for hire in Chicago and is sometimes called on by the police to help solve crimes where magic is involved. He also takes other cases, and when he’s asked to track down a missing person while also working on a murder case for the local PD, Harry is relieved that he might just be able to pay his rent this month. However, tracking down someone who kills with magic, which is not just illegal but also forbidden in the magical realm, requires more than a little investigating. And the missing person’s case turns out to be more involved than he’d thought or hoped, too. Suddenly, Harry has a lot more to be worried about than whether or not he’ll be evicted.

I am so glad I finally decided to give this book series a chance. I enjoyed so much about it and was interested from start to finish. The author drops the reader right into the middle of this magical world, which feels very real, due to the way Butcher mostly explains some of the magical mechanics almost off-handedly, rather than as a big info dump. It almost felt like I’d jumped into the middle of an ongoing series, even though this is book #1, but not in a bad way that made me feel like I was struggling to understand. I did have some confusion early on, but not enough to lessen my enjoyment.

The mystery/detective side of the story was interesting in its own right, but add in the vampires, fairies, and demons, and it was more of a thrill ride. I also really appreciated the wit throughout the story, which I picked up on in the first few chapters. And I have a feeling that Bob could become a favorite of mine.

I knew what I was getting into, as far as content goes, but for anyone who doesn’t really know—there is quite a bit of sexual content, though nothing gratuitous. Even when Dresden spends a decent stretch of time naked, the reader isn’t reminded of it constantly, and in fact, I forgot a few times that he was naked. There’s also some language, but not actually as much as I anticipated. And there’s certainly some violence, but again, it’s not gratuitous. All of these content issues together aren’t enough to discourage me from continuing the series (and my tolerance is fairly low, especially compared to the average reader).

I listened to the audiobook narrated by James Marsters, which I’ll admit went a long way to pushing me to finally start this series. I highly recommend the book in general, and his narration specifically. If you’re a fan of mystery and detective noir novels, and enjoy or at least can tolerate the addition of supernatural elements (and the content warning I gave), you should give this book a read.

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Book Review: Messenger

The Giver series #3
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic dystopian

Moving from the harsh place he grew up, where perfection was valued and kids were abused by adults as a rule, Matty now lives in Village, where weaknesses are embraced and everyone generally treats each other with kindness. But unhappiness and unpleasantness are starting to creep in, and even the nearby forest, through which Matty came to his new home, and through which he’s traveled many times over the years, is beginning to grow hostile.

I do not know where Lois Lowry is going with this series at this point. I don’t understand much of anything after reading this third book in the series. And since, at the time of this book’s release, it seemed to be considered the end of a trilogy, I can understand why a lot of people were quite unhappy with it at the time that it came out. It sort of gives us a little continuation of the first book in the series, but it heaps on new questions and confusions, and puts absolutely none of them to rest. Why did Forest begin to become corrupted in the first place? Where did the Trade Mart come from, and how was it connected to Forest? What happened to the Trade Mart leader at the end of the book? I guess the book is meant to be one huge allegory about people giving up parts of themselves for something superficial, but it’s pretty subtle, so I really doubt kids of the age it’s meant for will pick up on that at all. And maybe that’s even what already happened in the village that Matty, the Seer, and Kira came from, considering that they’re pretty much just terrible people there, but it’s definitely not stated to be such.

I’m not necessarily against a story that leaves some questions unanswered, though I generally don’t prefer it, but this took that to a whole new level. There was really no resolution to anything but what I can only assume is a symptom of something greater. Will things just start to get bad again eventually? I hope not, because the fix in this book can’t really be applied again, not that the fix really makes sense to me in the light of the allegory the author may or may not have been intending. I still have the final book in the tetralogy to read, so maybe answers will come there, but at this point, I’d have a difficult time recommending that fans of The Giver continue the series.

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September in Review

I read 13 books last month, which breaks my highest amount of books in 1 month this year by 1 book. However, the page count was not the highest for the year, which is not surprising, since I read quite a few shorter books this month. But that was on purpose, since I need to catch up a bit to hit my total books read goal by the end of the year.

Here are the books I read in September:

The Plunder Down Under by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein (3 / 5)
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (5 / 5)
The Librarians and The Lost Lamp by Greg Cox (4 / 5)
Alcatraz by Roland Smith & Michael P. Spradlin (3.5 / 5)
Ready to Return by Ken Ham with Jeff Kinley (5 / 5)
The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (3 / 5)
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (4 / 5)
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (3 / 5)
Millstone of Doubt by Erica Vetsch (4 / 5)
The Cat Who Went Underground by Lilian Jackson Braun (3.5 / 5)
The Ultimate Quest by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein (2 / 5)
Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod by Robert Vernon (4.5 / 5)
Messenger by Lois Lowry (review pending)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 1 re-read. My favorite book from September was The City of Ember. I started 3 series, continued 4 series, and finished (or caught up on) 3 series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.