24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

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Abby Reads: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Random House, 2011, 374 pages
Science Fiction

You know that cliche about old men yelling at everything that displeases them? I’m basically going to embody that for this review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This book — this book — took me seven months to read. I say this not at all to shame people who prefer a more leisurely reading pace than myself, but to point out that even books that I just kind of dislike I finish in a week or two at most. It’s not unheard of for me to read a book in a day and, in my proudest moment, I read three books in one day (and, no, they weren’t picture books). The point is, I had a really hard time getting through Ready Player One, but everyone who had read it that I knew insisted it was great and the end had a great pay-off, so I read on.

Ready Player One is the story of Wade, also known as Parzival in the online virtual reality society is pretty much addicted to in the somewhat-near future. After the creator of this virtual reality dies, he leaves behind clues that promises riches and such if a user can successfully navigate those clues and arrive at the end of the puzzle. As a semi-casual seeker of these clues, Parzival stumbles upon the secrets that professionals have been searching for for years, but he’s not without competition in the form of a cute girl, known as Art3mis, his best friend, Aech, and two Japanese brothers known as Shoto and and Daito. Plus, there’s the evil corporation working as a giant team to not only win the prize, but take Parzival and his friends down.

I read Ready Player One on my Kindle, so I relied on the percentage icon to let me know how deep I was into the book. For months, I was stuck around 33%, feeling like no matter how much I read, I was never going to progress any further. The book had to end sometime, right?! After slogging through the prose for the first 33%, I finally realized what was making the book so slow: Cline is a lister. Ready Player One is like a Buzzfeed listicle on Eighties pop culture nostalgia that is about 373 pages too long. I love War Games as much as the next reader, but Cline spends 98% of the novel name-dropping every possible artifact from the collective consciousness of Eighties pop culture and, while it’s cute for a while, it quickly becomes a chore to read through. The problem is that the nature of the book sort of requires you to read through all those lengthy explanations of movies you only-just remember the premise of or obscure arcade video games you’ve never heard of and don’t care about beyond the confines of the book. If you want to solve the puzzle along with our hero, Wade/Parzival, you’re stuck reading every bit. You could argue that this puts you in an interesting position — it essentially gives you first-person perspective on the book, which is almost like a video game if you’re playing along. Cool effect, but maybe better suited for a novella or short story.

But even beyond the tell-heavy prose style, I had a hard time getting on Wade’s side. Maybe Cline is just pulling from teenage boy stereotypes (some of which may be accurate, given that Cline was once a teenage boy — I wouldn’t know), but Wade is kind of unlikable. He’s arrogant, first and foremost. He’s also something of a bigot, which plays a huge role of the twist of the end, which I felt was a major point of exploitation. I’m all for unlikable characters so long as there’s something for me to latch on to that will make me care about them anyway (and that doesn’t necessarily have to be some kind of redeeming personality quirk). Sure, Wade’s poor — but who isn’t in this universe? And does it really matter when he spends 90% of his waking hours in this virtual reality where his poverty has little impact on how he lives there? He has enough to sustain himself and he uses the virtual reality as an escape, but it’s pretty evident that the virtual reality isn’t an antagonistic feature in his life, other than the fact that it makes him lazy (or, it enables it, anyway). I wasn’t cheering for him to lose, I don’t think, but I didn’t particularly care if he won, either.

Speaking of Wade’s poverty, I never got a true sense of what the world outside the virtual reality was like. Wade’s immediate community is painted pretty well with stacks upon stacks of living quarters piled around each other to create super-vertical communities, but beyond that…nothing. If Cline wants to project his idea of what the world will look like in fifty years, I’d hope he’d spend more time developing what that world is like. The politics of the world’s future are brushed aside in favorite of rolling about in the throes of Eighties nostalgia. Writers should write for themselves and their own entertainment, I agree, but Ready Player One was just a long underdeveloped plot in which Cline indulges himself again and again.

I get why people love the whole pop culture thing. It’s fun to reminisce about old favorites and imagine a world in which their importance is greater than we imagine. But at what cost? Ready Player One didn’t do it for me but it’s gotten an impressive rating on Goodreads and is generally favored throughout the reading community. Give it a shot, if you like, but be prepared for a novel listicle.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer

Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer
Bloomsbury USA, 2012, 320 pages
YA Thriller

Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer came into my life as a result of looking for books that take places at women’s colleges. In my attempt to find such novels for the purpose of writing one of my own, I’ve been severely disappointed at the lack of them. I can’t say I’m really all that surprised about it, though. I came upon Vicious Little Darlings and felt optimistic about it — after all, it had been written by an alumna of a women’s college, so she had to know what she was talking about.

The disappointment continued. The title pretty much sums up everything as simply as possible. Easer’s depiction of women — and of vaguely-identified lesbian, bisexual, and asexual women in particular — is almost hateful. Let me set the scene for you. We begin with Sarah, who, living with her grandmother is sent to a women’s college across the country due to her boy-crazy lifestyle. Sarah, the first-person narrator, spends a good deal of the book slut-shaming herself while simultaneously criticizing the lack of boys at her school and desperately pursuing any opportunity to meet boys. But, okay — humans have conflicting and complicated feelings and, while I disagreed with Sarah on her attitude, I held out hope that through her narrative, she would come to a change in the end, having learned empowerment.

No such luck. Sarah talks about feminism as a sort of disease one contracts while attending a women’s college. Yikes. This kind of talk is especially prevalent toward the beginning of the book, but persists throughout, even when she starts to recognize some of her own actions as feminist (debatable, I think). It’s at this point she considers herself maybe-infected and she’s disturbed about it. Another yikes.

Anyway, Sarah makes friends — sort of — with the strange and lying Maddy and the off-putting Agnes. Despite Maddy’s lies, Agnes is obsessed with Maddy and they have this really odd friendship going on that makes Sarah uncomfortable. The three decide, however, to rent a home to live in off-campus and drama ensues.

Through much of this book, I was waiting for some kind of supernatural element to appear — it never did. It felt like it should, given the generally oddness of the entire novel and the tension that never felt real, but there was nothing. Despite the odd tension, the book moves very slowly with little action until the final few chapters, where everything happens all at once and oh-god-make-it-stop-it’s-too-fast-what-just-happened goes down. And, too, despite the drama of these last moments (melodramatic, even, like a lot of the prose), the direction of the main plot wasn’t strong enough for me to get a grasp on. It wasn’t until the very end that I understood how things had led to other things. In some novels, this works incredibly well; not so much, in this one.

The novel’s events are ridiculous — some of them I couldn’t help but share in a live-blog fashion through Facebook. It was just too much. As they say, I couldn’t even.

For all her anti-feminism and slut-shaming, Sarah is, compared to Maddy and Agnes, pretty normal. She’s fairly believable as a character, though she takes on the I’m-really-good-at-drawing trope like the millions of other young adult protagonists. She’s manipulated by both Maddy and Agnes as humans are wont to do, so I don’t find the manipulation and, frankly, abuse unbelievable — but Maddy and Agnes? I think I half-expected to find out they were figments of Sarah’s imagination. No such luck. The most glaring personality trait I found was Agnes’s style of speaking. It’s tight, it’s lofty, and it’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever heard come out of the mouth of a teenager or twenty-something in earnest. I can handle some of this in light doses when it’s intended to convey the personality of a character, but the heavy-handedness of it made it to unrealistic. Maddy, meanwhile, could perhaps be explained by a psychological disorder, but I still found much of her character to be unbelievable.

Truth be told, none of the characters had likable personalities. This wasn’t the horrible kind of character you like, either (you know, the ones you shouldn’t sympathize with, but do, anyway? Loki? Kylo Ren? Pretty much the whole cast of The Secret History?) Make of that what you will, but I found it disheartening especially when the women I knew at my women’s college will full of heart and bravery while being so kind and thoughtful.

If you’re looking at this story for lessons, the one I come away with is, “See?! This is what happens when you have an environment of all women! Chaos! Violence! The collapse of society as we know it!” It’s silly and ridiculous and, honestly, kind of offensive. I had sincerely hoped that as an insider to women’s institutions, Easer would flip the tables on her anti-feminist character in a way that wasn’t a cliche or an attack on the values so many women’s institutions hold. I was severely disappointed.

I can’t, in good faith, recommend this book, even my own feelings about equality and such aside. I so wanted this to work out, but with a lack of direction, characters I can’t believe, and a plot I can’t make much out of, I leave Vicious Little Darlings with one heart.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron

The Harm in Asking: My Clumsy Encounters with the Human Race by Sara Barron
Three Rivers Press, 2014, 320 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays

It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve read The Harm in Asking. I toyed around with the idea of not writing a review for it at all because, frankly, I have few positive things to say about it. In fact, I never even took a picture of the book because I was so sure I wouldn’t review it. However, I’m committed to reviewing as much as I read as possible and, despite being woefully behind in that, I have no real reason to not review Barron’s collection of essays. If you’re interested in the particulars of why I was less-than-impressed by this book, read on.

Barron’s essay collection is very like many other essay collections: she describes her various misadventures as a twenty-something living in New York City while pursuing the seemingly unreachable goal of a profitable career as a holder of a Bachelor’s in English. Barron suffers getting locked out of her apartment multiple times within a day, breaking a leg, and the horror of washing her landlord’s back on a regular basis among other tales. There is, in true white-girl-English-major fashion (yes, I’m aware I’m a white-girl-former-English-major), lots of alcohol involved. Overall, the theme of Barron’s collection can be summed up in two titlewords: privileged irresponsibility.

I get the whole self-deprecating humor thing. In fact, it’s something I love to do (and feel I’m pretty good at, if you don’t mind me saying so) myself. It’s my intimate knowledge of this particular brand of humor that leads me to believe Barron fails at it. While feigning self-loathing, Barron actually turns the hate on everyone around her in each of her stories, managing to blame just about everyone except herself for her problems. To her credit, she does sometimes admit to this and it’s sort-of-kind-of in her subtitle. But I found it to be a bit much. She’s regularly offensive, using long-outdated and consciously-insulting words for “jokes,” and isn’t above any category of slur. I could go on about why Barron’s take on humor is harmful, but I’ll leave the research to you (unless it pops up in the comments, in which case I’m happy to oblige). In any case, Barron’s essays felt condescending while she played the victim and everyone else was a villainous *insert racial/homophobic/ableist/sexist slur here*. It was disheartening. And this isn’t to say that Barron necessarily is condescending and plays the victim and all that — I haven’t met Barron. Her writing may be an act for all I know. This is merely how these set of essays came across.

If you can get past the general offense of Barron’s writing and take a look at the writing style, it’s really nothing remarkable. Overall, it’s not poor writing, but it also doesn’t tickle any particular sense to life. There are no especially clever turns of phrase, no heart-stopping similes, no exciting plays on words. The pace flows quickly enough and doesn’t feel disjointed or anything like it, but you’re not going to hold up this book as a piece of Great Literature.

Of the stories Barron tells, most of them are fairly similar if you take enough steps back. Barron thinks things are going well, she makes a bad decision, she complains about the situation she’s now in, she blames it on those around her, someone else solves the problem or she ignores it until it goes away (or it turns out to not really be a problem after all). With this predictable formula present in each story, it’s easy to become bored, especially as you’re inevitably turned off by one or more of her comments that somehow feel like person attacks even though she’s not saying any of this directly to you. I hate to come back to this issue and I know I’m what people like to call a “sensitive person,” but the ongoing offense became tiresome. Not only was it in poor taste, but it seemed to be a main theme and it just felt old and not funny and unoriginal. Because this was the foundation of so many of Barron’s stories, it’s hard to come away from the book with any sense of joy. If Barron’s collection is supposed to be a book of humor, I think she missed the mark.

I did manage to finish it, if only just, so it gets a heart for that. But nothing more.

❤ out of ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Abby Reads: Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron
Viking Books for Young Readers, 2013, 384 pages
YA Science Fiction

Boy lives and works in a New York City theater with his parents, Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride and a cast of creatures and creations alike. Hungry for a more human experience, Boy heads out on his own, gets an apartment, a job, and is soon joined by his crush. But after unleashing a computer virus he’s been obsessing over for ages, everything starts to fall apart at the seams.16756864091_8e12d1bc94_o

Man Made Boy features a set of well-developed and, for the most part, interesting characters. Skovron uses modern and not-so-modern myths to help populate his Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel, largely by drawing from and retelling pieces of some classics, Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  The complexity of the characters led me to believe that various problematic behaviors different characters exhibited (particularly Boy, who was often misogynistic among other things) would eventually be eradicated (or at least dulled) from the characters as they learned and grew. This was not the case. I was disappointed to see, instead, Boy speaking as a sort of mouth piece for the men in the world who subscribe to “meninism” and who believe in the “friendzone.” Several times one character or another (again, mainly Boy, as the narrator of Man Made Boy) said something which so reflected such an anti-women philosophy that I almost put the book down or, at the very least, rolled my eyes. I felt that it was important to continue, however, with the hope that these characters would change (as characters do) and the general belief that a political or social disagreement does not warrant my censorship in my own reading. Besides, what if there was some other really great thing about the novel I would miss out on if I gave up?

That all said, I’m not convinced the rest of the book was worth it for me. I became frustrated with the pacing and the proportions of action (getting a bit into theory here, referring to rising/falling action and the like) felt awkward. I never felt like I was reading just one solid plot line, but rather a mix of small plot lines with one vague one that sort of stood out sometimes.  I should point out that this is also how I’ve felt about Frankenstein the few times I’ve read it. So make of that what you will. As a Sci-Fi plot, Skovron did well with the details overall, and I enjoyed the off-the-wall theater setting for the earlier bits. I did find I asked myself frequently, “Where did Boy get his consciousness, his self?” because Boy was, like his father, assembled from pieces of other (dead) individuals. Assuming the same was done for his brain, (and remember we’re working in a universe where this is possible) he’d start off with the consciousness (and personality, language, memories, etc.) of someone else. So is this really “Boy” at all? Skovron dodges this issue entirely, though deals with other oddities and enigmas in better detail.

There was nothing in Skovron’s writing style that stood out to me, other than a few awkward phrase here or there and my general disbelief that a teenage “boy” would say many of the things Boy did. Skovron divided the book into parts, heading each with a philosophical and foreboding quote from one source or another. I didn’t feel these quotes added anything special, though they did help guide the theme for readers who may struggle with identifying themes (hint: if you need a book for a book report/paper, this might be a good option). In the “grand finale” of the book, I was generally confused about what was going on. Here, the writing seemed to go from “okay, but nothing special” to “ehhh, not so great.”

I was unimpressed with this one and reading it with a feminist lens really sealed the didn’t-like-it feeling for me.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Harlequin Teen, 2010, 368 pages
YA Fantasy

When her brother is mysteriously replaced by a violent changeling, freshly sixteen-year-old Meghan knows she has to IMG_2767do everything in her power to get him back. As she travels into the world of the fey, she learns more and more about herself — things she had never even thought to question. No one is who they seem to be and histories Meghan believed to be true are false. Encountering mischievous folk and hostile situations, Meghan goes off in search of her brother’s kidnapper.

This has been on my to-read list for a long time, ever since I won a copy in a contest. (The contest in question involves drawing Roiben of Tithe by Holly Black.) I finally got around to it when I discovered the Arlington Public Library in Virginia had a digital copy available for loan on ereaders. To be blunt, it was a pretty big disappointment.

Kagawa had a hard time keeping my attention throughout the story. The pacing left me bored and I found myself skimming and even skipping some paragraphs. Despite the fantastical setting — and my usual adoration for all things Faerie — physical descriptions of settings and characters were lacking in something I can’t quite name. Perhaps it had something to do with a sort-of break from a lot of Faerie lore I’ve read in the past (my two favorites being War for the Oaks by Emma Bull and Tithe by Holly Black), but whatever the case, the descriptions and the writing style that delivered those  descriptions just didn’t do it for me.

The characters, consisting mainly of Meghan, Robbie, Ash, and Grimalkin, presented somewhat original if a little one-dimensional and occasionally contradictory personalities. Kagawa also pulls from Shakespearean tradition with Oberon and Titania (of A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and, arguably, Grimalkin himself (from Macbeth). I wonder at the danger of using Shakespeare’s characters in modern Faerie novels. I’ve never seen it done in a way that I liked or felt fit, The Iron King included. Some characters suffered a short stick, in that readers are left with many questions about them. This may be a symptom of the fact that The Iron King is continued into several sequels, but the open-endedness of some of the characters felt inappropriate for this particular instance.

The traditional plot of the novel (hero loses something, hero goes on journey through unfamiliar lands to retrieve that something, hero meets a number of characters along the way) carries through, but is perhaps traditional to the point of being cliched. The whole atmosphere of the book contributes to its downfall as a plot and as a piece of writing. It comes down to a world that doesn’t appear to have a great deal of detail behind what readers are given. The world Kagawa builds feels structurally unsound and undeveloped, breaking the fourth wall almost entirely and leaving the reader with a constant reminder that they are reading a book, as opposed to experiencing a story.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Asylum by Madeleine Roux
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2013, 310
YA Thriller

Asylum follows Dan during his summer at the New Hampshire College Prep program in fictional Camford, New Hampshire. Dan, his two friends Abby and Jordan, and other students will stay in the Brookline dorm, which used to be a mental hospital of sorts. As the three friends explore the dorm and learn more about the history of Brookline and IMG_2655Camford, strange things begin to happen. Dan receives anonymous letters with cryptic messages, Abby begins finding information about a lost aunt, and students are finding the bodies of their peers left in posed positions. It all points to 1960s serial killer, the Sculptor, but despite research and visions, no one believes Dan.

Admittedly, I decided to read this book for a few reasons — (a) It takes place in New Hampshire and I’m all about that home-state fiction, (b) One of the characters has my name, and (c) I’d heard it was reminiscent of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which I enjoyed well enough to give this novel a shot.

Asylum supports little-to-no character development throughout the novel. Dan’s character is inconsistent at best, which may be somewhat supported by his own apparent (and stated) mental illness, though does not quite add up. He goes from incredibly mature to immature within a matter of sentences if not words, and is never clearly defined in terms of personality. Abby hops off the cliché boat, taking on the artsy and disturbed manic-pixie-dream-girl trope with Dan chasing after her all the while. Jordan, perhaps, is the best of the three in terms of being an original character, but comes off as a third-wheel at all times. Other relationships among the characters are equally tired, as Dan struggles to understand his weird and inconvenient roommate, Felix, and wonders about the quirky and mysterious Professor Reyes.

Roux’s writing style is nothing to get excited about. Overall the sentence structure and vocabulary is not reflective of the target audience or cast of characters, nor does it support its “horror/thriller” tag. Roux throws in the occasional SAT word which makes the language even more uncharacteristic of its narrator (a third-person limited omniscient speaker) and its characters.

The plot of Asylum is equally underdeveloped and generally confusing. The end all but promises a sequel (and if that doesn’t, the “#1” after the title on Goodreads does), so it seems readers were deprived of plenty of information in the spirit of writing a series. However, rather than relying on a large story arc for a series and a small one that contributed to the larger arc for the novel itself, Asylum relies on just the one large arc, leaving the reader unsatisfied with the pseudo-conclusion.

If you’re looking for Miss Peregine’s again, this isn’t it. Like Miss Peregrine’s, pictures are included in the novel but lack a sense of authenticity. While the pictures in Miss Peregine’s are real photographs found with a story built around them, this is not the case for Asylum, which features photograph pulled from stock sites such as Getty Images. This move makes the plot of the novel far less creepy than it could be.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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