Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Line (audiobook)

genre: young adult dystopia

Wade lives in a not-so-future world in which hope is hard to find.  Desperate and gray, it's not hard to understand why Wade much prefers leaving the real world to spend his time in The Oasis - a virtual reality universe that nearly everyone in the world can access and where you can be anyone you want.  Part video-game and part social interactive platform, the Oasis is worlds upon worlds to explore.  And when the man responsible for its creation dies, he posthumously announces a contest to win his fortune.  Wade's life is never the same as he devotes himself to a study of this one individual and the decade he adores, the 80s, in order to have a fighting chance at winning the biggest prize the world has ever seen.

I'm giving it 5 stars.  I can't believe I liked it that much, but I did.   I put off trying this book for so long because I have a hard time with teenage male protagonists, in general (not fair, I know, but there you are) but this one really captured my attention from the start.  Yes, it helps that I grew up in the 80s and the pop culture references were beyond fun.  But it's also a rollickingly adventurous story.  It's intense and incredibly creative.  It kept me guessing and made me feel things, and although it lulled a tiny bit in the middle, by the final third I was practically on the edge of my seat, wondering how it would all shake down.  I found myself thinking about the "virtual" world that I, too, spend a lot of my time in and I appreciated the overall message of the novel, about how as amazing as the virtual world we can create are, we do actually need real people in our lives. 

note to parents: language, some discussion of sexual topics

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Scarlet Pimpernel Emmuska Orczy (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

I was only 15 when I fell in love with the movie the Scarlet Pimpernel. Then I fell in love with the music and saw the musical, which was phenomenal. For some reason, though, when I tried the book many years ago I couldn’t get into it. This time, though, my 12-year-old is reading it for his middle school English class and so I decided to try again. Oh my goodness. I should have persevered last time. I loved it!

Who is the elusive Pimpernel? That dashing hero saving beleaguered aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine? Well, isn’t that the mystery? For Marguerite St. Just, the Scarlet Pimpernel is everything she wishes she had in a husband. Instead, Sir Perceval Blakeney is more than a bit of a Who is the elusive pimpernel? That dashing hero saving beleaguered aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine? Well, isn’t that the mystery? For my cure songs used in, the scar the pimpernel is everything she wishes she had in a husband. Instead, Sir Percy Blakeney is more than a bit of a fop and their relationship is shallow and unfeeling.  But when her brother gets caught up in the intrigue, suddenly Marguerite no longer has the luxury of admiring the Scarlet Pimpernel's deeds from a far. She is soon in the thick of the horror that is the French revolution and knowing the identity of that scoundrel my be her only hope.

I found myself drawn into Margurite’s cares, I fell for the romance of it all. The last third of the book really had me dying to know what would happen. Was it repetitive? Yes, sometimes. Is there some intense anti-Semitism? Yeah, that was bristling. But the STORY. The deception and intrigue. The whole ending is so different than the movie that it was exciting to see how it would work out.

Now, I must rewatch my beloved film!!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui


Until she was an adult, Thi Bui did not know the stories of her parents. She knew they came from Vietnam but the world they knew, the circumstances that created her life, all that was a mystery until she began to dig. The Best We Could Do is the story of Thi’s family: what they experienced and overcame. And it’s not pretty. It is the story of people living in a Vietnam in flux, a county shifting and changing until it is a place of fear and danger. As she sorts through her roots, she slowly begins to understand herself.

This was powerful and very sad. It’s a story that puts a face to the plight of refugees, fleshing out how truly terrorizing life can be and what people are willing to sacrifice to get a chance for their children. I liked the graphic novel format for this tale that taught me about a Vietnam that no longer exists and about the complicated web of experience that makes us who we are.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

One girl from the Akha Ethnic Minority culture.

One tea cake.

In the far mountains of China lives a community of tea growers.  Tight-knit with incredibly strict traditions, Li-yan grows up knowing exactly where she fits in the world.  She appeases the spirits, she helps her mother who is a healer and midwife, and she picks tea.  It isn't long, however, before the tranquilly of this mountain life is disrupted by an outsider and Li-yan's choices lead to an untenable situation: she is pregnant and unmarried, a taboo in her culture.  Li-yan's decisions, the friends she makes, the place she finds herself in between traditional and modern life, all of this is at the crux of this book.  

I found myself completely immersed in this story, especially enjoying learning about the tea-making culture and the struggles of adoptees from China.  I cared about Li-yan and while somethings seemed too horrible to bear, some things also seemed too good to be true, but I was able to suspend my disbelief for both.  As an audiobook, I loved the voice of Li-yan and to hear the words spoken in Chinese. The other narrator's more juvenile voice grated on me a bit - it never seemed to age the way I expected it too, but still, I'm not disappointed I listened instead of read.  

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