Month: April 2018

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One

 . . . I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.

Imagine a world in which human interaction is minimal, the country is falling apart, and people would rather disappear into a digital world rather than live in the real world. Well, maybe this scenario isn’t as hard to visualize as it might have once been. Ernest Cline, the author of Ready Player One, imagined just such a world, in 2044, and as I read this book I kept thinking that Cline’s reality isn’t as farfetched as we might think. This is a really fun, interesting science fiction novel that I think anyone, even if you don’t usually read science fiction, will enjoy.

Wade Watts is a teenager living in the disastrous time of 2044. The country has fallen apart, people live in RVs and mobile homes piled on top of each other, known as stacks, and the only way to escape is in the virtual world known as the OASIS. In the OASIS, people are known by their avatars and made-names-you can be anyone you want to be. Kids go to school there, if you have money you can explore different virtual planets, and, most importantly, everyone can ignore the mess of the real world. When the founder of the OASIS (who was obsessed with 80s culture-this is extremely prominent throughout the entire book) dies, instead of leaving his fortune to someone, he announces through a video that he has devised a game full of puzzles and clues. Whoever solves all of the clues will win his fortune. And so begins the massive treasure hunt, with people who are willing to kill in real life to get that treasure. Wade, an OASIS expert, has to confront difficulties in both the virtual and real worlds to win the treasure . . . and avoid destruction.

This was published in 2011, and I think it’s even more relevant today. Don’t we all live in our cell phones, to varying degrees? I mean, there are apps to track our phone usage so we can try and cut down. We lose ourselves in the Pinterest-perfect worlds we find online and have to remind ourselves to come up for air. And that it’s not real. Cline explores what our world might look like if we took that obsession a bit further and really inserted ourselves into a virtual world, including the positive aspects and major pitfalls. As I said, this book is so much fun-the 80s nostalgia, sarcastic characters, fantastic virtual battles, and the enduring theme of good vs evil (and what actually IS good and evil) all make this book a great combination of sci fi, adventure, and surprisingly thought-provoking moments. The only problem I had was at the very end. I wanted . . . more. It’ll spoil the book to say anything else, but it’s such a small problem, and I’m glad I read it!

Ready Player One was a surprising read for me-I like sci fi but I avoided this one for awhile. I am so, so glad I finally picked it up! I raced through it, and if you like any type of adventure story I think you’ll like it too.



Bucket List Book Club: My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One

Ok, Bucket List Book Clubbers! Book 3 is My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante! It is the first in a trilogy and has been sitting on my unread shelf for several years since I bought it at Costco. (Because I buy everything at Costco…) I also just found out it’s going to be a series on HBO, so this is great timing to read before that comes out.

Description from the publisher

“Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.

Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.”

I’m all in for a saga, and I love book series, so I can’t wait to finish this one! I’ve been told that the narrator for the audiobook for My Brilliant Friend is great as well!

If you want to join in, we’ll be reading it throughout the month of April, with a discussion in early May. (If you’re interested, our discussion of My Brilliant Friend will be Sunday, May 6, at 2PM CST on my Instagram page!)

You can also follow the hashtag #bucketlistbookclub on Instagram to see other people’s posts as we read My Brilliant Friend.

I’ll post my review here when I’m finished, and you can also use the comments section on that post, and this one, to discuss it.

Happy reading!


Review: Drama High

Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater

Theater gives them what a computer takes away, what no classroom teacher can teach. They learn to work with other people. They learn patience and tolerance and how to be deferential to each other. They learn to be good citizens. It’s unifying. It has an impact on kids that can’t be quantified. Educators don’t know how to measure it.

If you’ve seen the new TV show Rise, you’re probably familiar with the culture of some high school theatre programs. What you might not know (I didn’t until Kate at Kate Reads Books posted about it) is that the show is based on this book, Drama High by Michael Sokolove. It’s the story of a real theatre group that really struggled with support and budget (as most theatre programs do) that ended up becoming one of the most highly respected drama groups in the country.

Lou Volpe became the theatre director at Truman High School in Levittown in 1970. His first show, Antigone, had no set and the actors wore trash bags and aluminum foil. He had no history in theatre, except for loving it. But he was more than dedicated to the shows he produced and the students who starred in them. He worked just as hard as the students, and in return a deep, mutual respect evolved. Volpe’s students trusted him and his direction outright, and he trusted that they would put all of themselves into every performance. That kind of dedication is what lead Broadway producers to travel to Levittown to watch those high school performance and to test out edited versions of big Broadway shows (such as Les Miserable, Rent, and Spring Awakening) to see if they would work for other high schools. Volpe, who recently retired, left quite a legacy, and this book explores that journey.

So before I give you my thoughts, let me say that I was (and always will be, really) a theatre kid. I was in theatre, choir, and show choir in high school, in a small town, and those places were truly havens for me. I felt at home in the theatre. So when I read Drama High, I had a happy trip down memory lane. This is a really great book. Lou Volpe and his drama department are absolutely worthy subjects for a novel, not to mention Levittown itself. I really enjoyed reading about Volpe’s history, the history of the town, and the students Volpe taught. That being said, some of the town history sections became a bit heavy and repetitive and could have been cut down. (The author is clearly an amazing researcher, and it felt like he wanted every detail included.) In my opinion, cutting 25-50 pages out would have made the book a smoother read, but it’s not a reason to not pick up this book!

If you have any interest in the subject of theatre, if you love theatre, if you want to read about the true story behind Rise, or if, like me, you were a drama geek in high school, I definitely recommend Drama High. It’s a great non-fiction read, and you’ll learn a lot about the culture of high school theatre and what it takes to survive in a small town.



What My Kids Are Reading: 7th Birthday Edition!

In honor of my younger son’s 7th birthday, I’m posting his three favorite books (right now) today! He loves graphic novels right now, the sillier the better, and, of course, Harry Potter!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Because he’s my son, he loves Harry Potter, although not as much as my 9-year-old. I think it’s an age thing, and that he’ll be reading them on his own in a year or so. In the meantime, we’re reading the illustrated versions because . . . well, let’s be honest, don’t we all love illustrated books?? These versions are so beautiful, and make the series even more fun for young (and old) fans. He still isn’t super into long chapter books, so the illustrations help a lot. (Although I think the audiobooks might be his absolute favorite. Because Jim Dale is amazing.)

The 78-Story Treehouse

I know I’ve mentioned this series before, but I cannot recommend it enough! This is the 6th book in the series, and the 7th book (which is already out in Australia) will be out this summer. I used to not be a fan of graphic novels, but my kids have made me realize that they’re actually amazing for young readers. And a series about two boys living in a massive treehouse, with features such as man-eating sharks, a lemonade fountain, and a time machine? Yes, please! This is perfect for elementary-aged kids who need fast-paced books and engaging storylines in their books. This is the series that my 7-year-old (I cannot believe he’s 7!) can’t wait for the next book.

Galactic Hot Dogs 3: Revenge of the Space Pirates

Alright, y’all. This is one of those books that I raised my eyebrows at, starting shaking my head no, but my 7-year-old begged me for it so I said yes. It is . . . I’m not sure ridiculous is really descriptive enough, but I will say that fans of the Treehouse books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Dog Man will absolutely love. This series is about a boy named Cosmoe who is the captain of a flying food truck called the Neon Wiener. (Nope, I am not kidding.) He meets all kinds of interesting alien beings on his travels and gets himself into plenty of sticky situations. In this one, he is captured by space pirates during a hot dog eating contest. My 7-year-old would only eat hot dogs if I let him, so this series is truly perfect for him. It’s silly, funny, well-illustrated, and keeps his attention for far longer than I want to read about galactic hot dogs. If you’re ok with some slapsticky, borderline potty humor, this book is perfect for young to middle-grade readers who like funny adventure stories.

I can’t wait to see what books he loves next year!


Review: The Wedding Date

The Wedding Date

I do, however, think this is just more evidence that I’ve been cursed when it comes to this wedding.

Sometimes I want to read a big book that makes me think. Sometimes I want to read a fast-paced adventure that makes my heart race. Sometimes I want to read something happy that just makes me smile. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory is one of those books. I don’t read a lot of romance novels, but this one had some things in it that are different from the usual, so I decided to give it a try. It wasn’t my favorite book, but I think there are some good reasons to read it.

Alexa Monroe is on the way to see her sister in her hotel room when the elevator gets stuck. With a very cute boy in it with her. Drew Nichols is getting ready to go a wedding. The wedding of his ex-girlfriend and best friend. Oh, and he’s a groomsman. When he laments that he doesn’t have a date to this disaster of a situation, Alexa agrees to go with him. From then on, they are inseparable. They hit it off, to say the least. After the wedding, Drew flies back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa goes back to Berkley and her job as the mayor’s chief of staff. They can’t stop thinking about each other, and each one has to confront their own feelings to figure out if they’re in lust or true love.

This is a really cute book, and I think it would make a good movie. It is obviously predictable, but I don’t think this is the kind of book anyone goes into for a surprise ending. It’s well written, the pace is fast, and the characters are likable. It is also very different from most romance novels in a few important ways. The plot itself falls in line with most romances, but the details are significant. Drew is a white, good-looking doctor who is incredibly thoughtful. But Alexa. Oh, Alexa. She is African American, short, curvy, and loves to eat. I LOVE HER. Guillory manages to write about the important topics of powerful working women, body positivity, and interracial relationships in a light manner. None of it gets too heavy, but she makes her point very clearly. Drew loves Alexa’s body, and while she is uncomfortable around tall, skinny girls sometimes, she doesn’t let that stop her from eating, and she never speaks about her body negatively. That is so important, and I really appreciate the author writing a book like this.

That being said, while I did like the main characters, I really wanted more from them. To be frank, all they did was have sex for most of the book, and when they finally started getting to know in each other in the small, less sexy moments of life, it was only briefly mentioned in a few throwaway lines. I would have loved to see more character development in those moments.

The Wedding Date is a nice palate-cleansing novel after having read a few heavier books, and a good choice if you want to try romance but don’t usually like this genre. I wanted it to be better, but it’s different enough that I’m glad I read it.