Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Review: Ready Player One

So this is only a kind of quasi-review and more of an endorsement of the audiobook version. 

I finished Ready Player One (hardcover version) by Ernest Cline last fall. I was totally smitten with the book and loved finding a great YA read from a male perspective - and not just any male, a geeky boy narrator! Ready Player One has picked up some steam throughout 2012 and I have enjoyed seeing all the positive reviews and general gushing. Recently, I found out that the audiobook is narrated by Will Wheaton.

If you live under a rock and don't know who Will Wheaton is, stop right now and go Netflix every season of The Big Bang Theory. Will makes many cameo appearances as "himself" on the show. (Like stars who turned up on Entourage were "themselves" in that they weren't playing the part of anyone else, they were just their own asshole alter egos.) One of RPO's many charming qualities is the glorification of all things 1980's, and as Mr. Wheaton played boy genius Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he is mentioned in the novel. I can't tell you how delightful it is to have a self-proclaimed geek narrate a book about a geek in which he is mentioned. It's like the ultimate nerd trifecta!

Ready Player One is set in a tragic future where the energy crisis and economic recession has led to collapse of modern society. Many people spend the majority of their free time in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game called the OASIS. The OASIS is a brilliant virtual reality developed by computer genius and eccentric James Halliday. At the time of his death, Halliday had no heir and left his vast fortune and controlling stock in Gregarious Simulation Systems (the company that runs the OASIS) to the person who could find his Easter Egg (in gaming an easter egg is a hidden message generally left by the game's creator). The hunt for Halliday's Easter Egg took over the world, but five years after his death no new progress has been made. Until Wade Watts uncovers the first of three keys in the challenge. The book follows Wade's rise to super stardom and his quest to find the other two keys and unlock Halliday's Easter Egg.

Filled with endearing 80's pop culture references, Ready Player One takes the reader on an amazing journey through the mind bending world of the OASIS where anything is possible. It hits the mark with themes like user privacy and is an interesting treatise on how we, as a society, are changing the way we communicate, conduct business, and live our lives online. I can't say that I've ever read anything like it and loved the character development and Cline's worldbuilding. The amount of information relayed in the first chapters is a tad overwhelming, but I hungrily devoured all the details (as already stated, I'm a detail glutton).

I encourage anyone looking for something different in the YA genre to read this book and then go pick up the audio version because Will Wheaton crushes it (get it? It's funny because Will Wheaton was Wesley Crusher! Yuck, yuck, yuck).

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Fixation Friday: Sam Clafilin as Finnick Odair

Fangirl or not, no one is free from the clutches of Hunger Games mania. The internet was a-Twitter on Wednesday with the news that Catching Fire favorite Finnick Odair has been cast. Drum roll please...Lionsgate announced that Snow White and the Huntsman star Sam Claflin is to join Katniss and Peeta in the much-anticipated second film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling series. (Wah wah waaaaah).

Not to be hating on the newly-minted franchise star, but come on, Lionsgate! You're killing me! To fully understand the heinous nature of this crime against the Hunger Games fandom, let's review the facts we know about one Mr. Finnick "Want Some Sugar" Odair.

1) He is drop dead gorgeous.

Cute? Sure. Unbelievably beautiful? Meh.
2) He is alluring in the same way a Venus Flytrap is - beautiful and dangerous.

3) He is a bronzed sun god from District 4 (where everyone fishes and sunbathes for a living).

4) To win his games, at the tender age of 14 thankyouverymuch, he wielded a trident. A trident, people. Nothing says bad ass like kicking butt and taking names in the dreaded arena with a friggin' trident.

I've been praising the casting decisions thus far for Catching Fire (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee? Inspired!), but I'm not overly enthused about this one. While I enjoyed Claflin in his role in the last Pirates of the Caribbean jaunt, I saw nothing to convince me that Claflin is up to the challenge on embodying a character many readers have proclaimed to be their favorite.

I will admit that, as a fan of the book series, I was weary of many of the actors cast for The Hunger Games – except Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket because Elizabeth Banks, as an actress, makes everything better. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly each of the actors embraced their roles and won me over. I’m hoping this latest addition to the franchise will have me eating my words next fall. Until then, I can only speculate and stalk the photos that are bound to be leaked from the set.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fixation Friday: Skinnytaste

My name is Katie and I'm a recipe hoarder. I freely admit to having 200 pins on my Pintrest recipe board (I think I've made maybe 15 or 20 of them). I have a fascination with squirreling away recipes for a hypothetical day in which I decide that I can make three dozen macaroons. Sadly, this day has yet to arrive.

One of my favorite places to find new recipes to pin (and possibly one day maybe make) is Skinnytaste. Skinnytaste is the home of delicious recipes created or modified from others to be lower calorie and less fat. Now before you go screaming for the hills, they're really good. I've actually made a few of them and was able to fool my husband into thinking they were unhealthy. (It's a complicated dance we do at dinner each night whereby I fail to disclose the healthy nature of anything that might be mistaken as "good for you".)

I made this recipe!

Chicken Parmigiana Burgers

If you in the need of some new recipes to spruce up your own Pintrest board, or would actually make food (who even does that?), then check out Skinnytaste. Tell them Katie sent you ;)

And this!

Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Fixation Friday (Book Review): A Discover of Witches

Damn, this is a good book. (I bet there's some rule somewhere that says not to start a blog post or book review with a curse word, but I'm a rule breaker. What are you going to do about it? That's what I thought.) Back to A Discovery of Witches. This is the first installment in Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy and her first novel (she's apparently written some non-fiction too).

When I first started hearing about this book there were quite a few "It's like Outlander meets X" mash ups (the "X" was different for almost everyone, but the comparisons to Diana Galbaldon's Outlander were pervasive). Because you don't all know me personally, I'll let you know that I'm a huge Diana Gabaldon fan and regard the genre-busting Outlander series as one of my favorites. So with all the comparisons, I went into ADoW with high expectations. I was not disappointed.

If you're a fan of rich, detailed background, then Harkness is probably a strong fit for you. I read multiple complaints on Goodreads about the amount of detail and information some readers found superfluous. While I get where these readers are coming from, I just don't care. When dealing in the quasi-fantasy genre, I think detail is important. I want to know, as a reader, that you, as the writer, have thought every last detail through. I'm not the kind of reader who easily forgives shabby worldbuilding. I want the constructs of the setting leaping off the pages and playing a major role in how the characters operate.

A great world filled with lackluster characters a great novel does not make. I was instantly drawn to Diana's academic mind and willful personality. Matthew, with his darkness and unapologetic alpha personality, was a close second for me. They were frustrating at times and utterly real. There was a certain fragility to Diana that, while I didn't mind, landed her in the constant care of others. I don't think this a flaw in the story, and I liked that Diana persevered through many trials but certainly not unscathed. Harkness artfully remained true to her characters while letting them grow.

I can't say enough about how well written and well researched this book was. As a history nerd, I geeked out at all the interesting facts about alchemy that were woven into the story. As much time as she spent unveiling Matthew and Diana, Harkness also made time for each well-rounded supporting character to shine (which is probably why this book is hella long). When a house is one of my favorite characters, you know you've done your job!

Survey says? Well played, Deborah Harkness, well played. I've already got #2 in the series downloaded on my Kindle and ready to rock.

Educate yourself on the topic in this post:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars | In which I review The Fault in Our Stars The Fault in Our Stars was released early this year, but I only just got to it because I have a TBR list a mile long. That's still no excuse, but it's all I got.

The Fault in Our Stars is John Green's latest YA novel. It's a story about two young people who fall in love and who happen to have cancer. I've read in a million places that this a cancer book that's not about cancer and I'd say that's accurate. It's about how you live when dying is your reality.

John Green is amazing in many ways and I have a nerd crush on him. (A nerd crush ((a word I just made up)) is a non-sexual crush you have on someone who is too awesome to not have a crush on, but who you are incidentally not attracted to in any way.) His books are great and everyone should read them because he is an adult who has somehow never forgotten what being a teenager feels like. I had a good time as a kid in high school. I wasn't overly popular, but had friends. I wasn't a genius, but was liked by my teachers. But I, like many adults, can no longer recall what it felt like to by sixteen.

Back to TFiOS. The story is narrated by Hazel - a sixteen year-old girl who is dying of cancer. She struggles each day to keep on living with lungs that "suck at being lungs". I wish I could find the words to describe Hazel that Hazel herself wouldn't hate, but I'm kind of at a loss. I guess what I can say is that TFiOS is like the anti-cancer cancer book. It is well written and executed beautifully, but the story is ugly in that it is, to me, truthful. Cancer is ugly and awful and life can be equally awful and entirely unfair. I was constantly reminded that people fighting a losing battle with cancer are still people, just like me. They still deserve to be treated as people, not the walking dead. We don't need to eulogize cancer patients while they still breathe, we need to remind them that they are still them and we are still us and cancer can't change that. For people whom death is imminent (b/c I guess I can't say dying b/c we are all dying, just at a different rates), and I don't know this for sure, I think they want to maintain their dignity and we could all do more to help that. I think this is best achieved by doing nothing. Not nothing, just nothing special.

I hate that so many books or movies or tv shows about cancer allow the disease to become the defining trait of someone or a modifier to their pre-cancer traits. I love that TFiOS doesn't do that. I would consider it a personal favor if everyone would read this book. Then, go here and learn about Esther Earl. (I realize that it sucks that to learn about someone who touched many lives, I have to send you to an obit. It sucks that you learn about how someone was amazing by reading about what people said when they died. I find this point awful and I wish there was a better summary I could find for people who don't know who Esther Earl was, but I don't have one. This is the best I could do. I encourage anyone unfamiliar with Esther to read the obit first and then do some googling because your experience with the plethora of videos and such will be heightened when you have some context.) Then donate to the charity Esther's family created in her memory.

Coincidentally, today is Esther Earl day. A celebrated by Nerfighteria as an occasion to tell the people you love that you love them. I think in honor of the girl who influenced a book I now love, I will tell people I love that I love them. And, as always, don't forget to be awesome.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Here's the thing about spoilers *no spoilers*

I hate surprises. Absolutely can't stand them. I've often considered what this says about me and here's what I think: 1) With surprises, comes the fact that other people know more about what's going to happen to you than you do. I'm a control freak so I loathe being out of the loop b/c it means other people have more information than I do and that doesn't sit well with me. 2) I feel like I'm that person who hates secrecy in general. Most surprises are shrouded in secrecy and deception. I've often found myself on the receiving end of many surprises that came with equal parts boldface lies and half-truths. 3) What's the point to surprises anyway? If an event (say a surprise birthday party) is truly unexpected, it would be just as surprising to the recipient to learn about it weeks in advance as it would be when people jump out from behind living room furniture - and far less likely to induce heart failure. To me, a book ending is just another surprise - one which many people know about and that gives them an unfair advantage over me.

Back to my original point, which I have yet to state: almost nothing I read is a complete surprise because I almost always spoil the ending for myself. This fact draws the ire of many serious readers. ("What do you mean you read the last pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before you read the first chapter?!" "You googled the ending before you finished Mockingjay?!" "We're not friends anymore.") But the funny thing about spoiling book endings for myself is that even when I know with relative certainty how a book is going to end, especially if the ending is tragic and heart-wrenching, I still hope until the very last pages that all of the internets is wrong. A character may be hurtling to a certain death, of which I may or may not know the details, and I still turn each page hoping for a different outcome.

I guess the purpose of this post is to say that while I spoil books for myself, it doesn't mean that I don't enjoy them. I may know the final destination, but the journey is still every bit as exciting. Everyone reads differently and I just so happen to be an adept googler who knows the ending before I become acquainted with the beginning. I don't spoil anything for anyone because that would be just as distasteful to me as someone willfully withholding information from me and that's just not how I roll.