2015 reads

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Title: Wolf by Wolf

Author: Ryan Graudin

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers [imprint of Hachette]

Date Published: October 20, 2015

Format: ARC {Received in exchange of a fair review}

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Yael wants Hitler dead. She is willing to do anything to see this man pay for what he has done to the world and her people. When she was a little girl she was taken to a death camp and after a being subjected to horrible experiments, she managed to escape. It’s now 1956 and Germany and Japan have carved up the world between them. A rebel group sees their chance to execute the Führer by entering Yael into the annual motorcycle race that crosses Asia, from Europe to Japan, which if she wins, we get her close enough to end him. The Nazi experiments left Yael with the ability to change her appearance. She must imitate last year’s female victor (Adele) to try to win again, but she does not anticipate Adele’s twin brother and a jilted boyfriend to also be in the race testing her cover at every moment.

I’m not usually into alternate histories. Alternate WWII stories, especially, tend to be everywhere and after a while they just seem to have more fun playing with ‘what-ifs’ than actually telling a good story and developing intriguing characters. Wolf by Wolf does an excellent job of not falling into that trap. It is original, clever, fast-paced, and the world is very well-developed.

Yael is a well-crafted character. She is damaged and because of her abilities she has spent most of her teenage life pretending to be the enemy. She can’t even remember what she used to look like before the experiments erased her identity, but Yael still manages to have a strong sense of self. The one thing that she cannot erase when she changes skin are the numbers stamped into her skin. She decides to hide these with elaborate wolf tattoos to represent people she has lost and what she is fighting for. It helps her remember who she is and even though it would be so easy, she doesn’t just run away from it all and blend in with the population. While racing and interacting with other racers we see her world expand and her character grow more and more.

Cover Critique: It looks like a WWII propaganda poster (what a surprise! 😛 ). I think it works perfectly for this book. I like it.

Quick Version: Really interesting and entertaining take on the Axis powers had winning WWII. The world is interesting and thought-provoking, the motorcycle race is entertaining, and the protagonist, Yael, made you want to keep reading and rooting for her. I didn’t know until I was at the end of the book that this was part of a series and while that lead to this ending being a bit anti-climatic, I still really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading the sequel.

Score: 4.5/5 stars

You can buy it here: Amazon

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Publisher: Random House

Date Published: August 16th 2011

Format: Paperback {own}

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I had been reluctant to read this book for so long. My husband and brother have been recommending this to me nonstop for the past year, and even though it sounded perfect for me, I was reluctant to take the plunge. Sometimes when people recommend things to you so much, you are afraid that you won’t like it or that you’ll somehow be disappointed. I’m beyond glad to say that this was not the case with Ready Player One. This book lives up to all it’s much deserved hype and it not only met my expectations, it exceeded them!

Wade Watts is a about to graduate from high school and his life isn’t going too great. It’s 2044 and the world is an ugly place. The only place that he, and most of the world, feel alive is inside the virtual world of OASIS. Everything for him happens inside his headset, including school and meeting friends. He hasn’t known much of a life outside of OASIS and has spent the majority of his childhood obsessed with finding clues to the secret the creator, James Halliday, left inside the game. In his will, Halliday promised that whoever solves the puzzles will inherit the company, which means control over OASIS and becoming a multi-billionaire. Halliday was an 80’s nut and completely obsessed with video games and geeky pop culture. The hunt for clues has stalled and everyone thinks that nothing will ever be found, but one day under-leveled Wade finds a clue. This turns everything on its head and the race ramps up. During the competition Wade finds out that there are big forces going after this prize and more than OASIS is at stake.

I’m a big 80’s nut and complete geek, anyone who knows me in real life can definitely attest to this. 😛 I’m the child of two 80’s obsessed parents, so my childhood consisted of a steady diet of John Hughes, action/scifi films, and 80’s songs. And while these references are entertaining and it’s amusing when you know exactly what obscure movie moment they’re referring to, it’s not what’s best about this book. Ready Player One manages to balance heart and brain better than most other scifi/dystopian titles. It’s very clever, but it doesn’t revel in its own intelligence. There are many different references that I didn’t understand at all (like specifics about old arcade games), but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of those moments. Wade beating a game of Pac-Man is actually amusing to read about, which if you’ve ever watched anyone play it that’s pretty impressive. Even if we’ve never cared about beating Pac-Man that much, we can all relate to trying prove yourself better than the rest, whether it’s in a game or in real life.

The stakes always felt very high in this book. Many times with these types of stories you never really feel anxious for these players. Like, if they don’t make it, they’ll still be fine in the end. Cline does an excellent job of ramping up the consequences for the characters’ actions as the story goes on. It’s not a story about saving the world from Sauron or anyone who’s going to blow the planet to smithereens, but while you’re reading you do feel like if the protagonists don’t come out on top, many bad things would happen to them and to society.

Cover Critique: I really like this cover for the book and the original one. They both share the title in a huge font, spanning basically the entire cover. It makes for a striking and memorable image. The original is a little more graphic, since it is just yellow words on a red background. But that combination of colors has never been my favorite and makes the book look a little more dated, which considering the 80’s fest, is probably intentional. The cover I used on the post is the one I have, and I really like the illustration. It’s really well done and easily shows you just how bad the world outside this game is.

Quick Version: Ready Player One is an extremely entertaining book that you can easily read in a couple of days. It’s quick-paced and funny, and also makes you care so much for its cast of unique characters. While it does help to be a fan of 80’s pop culture and/or video games to get into it, the book does a good job of explaining these topics enough that you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the novel.

Score: 5/5 stars 😎

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon 

 

18692431Title: Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Publisher: Delacorte Press [imprint of Penguin Random House]

Date Published: September 1, 2015

Format: ARC {Received in exchange of a fair review}

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When I started this book I really thought I would enjoy it. It is sweet, charming, and has a unique story to tell. But about halfway through the book, a series of twists and plot developments left me sorely disappointed. I’m not going to spoil what happens, but the story just becomes increasingly cliché and unrealistic—especially after the so-perfect, yet oh so forbidden, love interest is introduced.

Madeline is not allowed to leave her home—severe allergies that were discovered when she was an infant have kept her cooped up for most of her 17 years. She’s basically a “bubble boy” and fills her days reading books, taking online classes, and hanging out with her mom and nurse, who are the only two people she has regular contact with. One day she glances out the window and sees a family moving in next door. Last time the neighbors left, it really devastated her, so she promises herself she won’t get too attached. Then she sees Olly. He only wears black, because of course that’s what brooding boys do. They begin talking over email and IM, but eventually that is not enough for them. They want to meet in real life, but Madeline knows that’s a slippery slope.

Their romance is too syrupy sweet for me. Writing limericks and haikus to each other somewhat ironically and stuff like that. It was only as the novel progressed that it got to be too much for me. I really dislike where the plot went and I went from enjoying the book, to being completely disappointed in the span of a few pages. I feel like Madeline went from being a character with potential charm and personality, to one that was making all these outrageous decisions without much founding. Later in the novel, Yoon gives a reason for these, but I felt that this twist cheapened the plot and relationships in the novel. It seemed to be a plot device thrown in so she could get the ending she wanted, rather than what would make the most interesting story.

Cover Critique: The cover for Everything, Everything is gorgeous. I love the white with the colorful pencil drawings outlining the text. It looks like a special book and I can imagine it’ll inspire many readers to pick it up.

Quick Version: After a promising start, I was left disappointed by Everything, Everything. What was initially charming about the novel began to grate on me, especially after some plot choices I found pretty questionable. I do admit that I am not the audience for this book, stories about sick teens have never been my favorites, but I had high hopes for this one. Yoon is an excellent writer and even though I was not a fan of this one, I look forward to what she does in the future.

Score: 2/5 stars