Friday, August 29, 2014

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Review)

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
First published: 2011
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

As an avowed geek, I couldn't just go past this book, but I was not sure if I'd like it. You see, what often happens when I read about technology is that I see how implausible it is, and it spoils everything for me. The drawbacks of being a programmer. So I'm always hesitant to pick up books set in a virtual reality or having a lot of computer stuff in them. But I've decided that millions of geeks can't be wrong, and took the risk :) Needless to say, I never once regretted it!

As you have probably heard, the plot revolves around the death of the creator of OASIS - a huge immersive MMORPG which has become the only solace of the humankind after some massive ecological disasters. In his will he tells that his fortune is to be passed to whoever finds the Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in OASIS. Given that the guy is a sociopath with a fixation on the 80th, the egg hunters have to study his areas of interest (which is everything from vintage text games to movies to music) for clues.

The author is clearly an expert on the retro stuff he mentions. I can't claim to know much about the 80th, because I'm too young for that, so I probably didn't catch half of the references while reading, but Cline's descriptions of the old pop culture phenomena are really accurate. I don't doubt he has played all the mentioned games himself. The structure and the rules of OASIS are also very believable, and I couldn't find any major flaws that would make me moan "come on, nobody would program THIS!"

The main character is of course a socially weird teenager whose interests and friends are all online. Of course, he finds the first clue and of course there is a girl. Well, at least her avatar is female. And of course there are bad guys with a lot of resources who are also immensely stupid. This probably gives you a good picture of the plot and anybody can figure out how the book ends :) But don't be too rush to judge! There are some unexpected plot twists, and it's gripping and believable, and it's still a pleasure to see that gun hanging on the wall firing exactly when you expect it to.

I would have gladly given it 5 stars if not for some minor plot inconsistencies that my obsessive nature just couldn't ignore.

*SPOILER ALERT. CONTINUE READING ONLY IS YOU'VE READ THE BOOK!*

Stuff which I had problems with:
1) Nobody could find the first clue for 5 years, and their only problem was that they couldn't figure out where to start searching. And the answer is so obvious it was the only thing I guessed on my own before the "big revelation" was made. Seriously? How is it even statistically possible that several million people haven't guessed something I figured out in 2 mins without any previous knowledge?? Could it be something really difficult instead?
2) Wade is a user. OK, he may be good at fixing hardware he finds in trash. But he's NOT a programmer. It's never mentioned that he is. HOW COME he became a brilliant hacker overnight just to break into a very well protected corporate network?? It's NOT possible!!! You can play games online really well, but that doesn't make you a network security expert
3) After their failure to get info out of Wade, why did they not threaten other scoreboard leaders? They knew where they lived, right? Instead they went to Japan and messed with the guy who was on the fourth position and was not a threat. It would be much easier to track Art3mis. Only the author had to keep the main hero's crash safe...
If you have some explanation for this, please share! :)

*END OF SPOILER ALERT*


In my book:
A great book to make your geeky second (or first) nature happy! Recommended to anyone who has played a computer game at least once in his/her life :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Le Morte D'Arthur Readalong!


Today I want to draw your attention to a wonderful readalong hosted by Jean at Howling Frog Books this late autumn! Le Morte D'Arthur is a classic, and a very thick one, so it's a great idea to have company to read it. If you are interested, please head to the INTRODUCTION POST to learn more about the book and join the fun!

I can't wait to start! :)



The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (Review)

Title: The Prince
Author: Niccolò Machiavelli
First published: 1532
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I don't know why I picked The Prince in the first place: I'm not a fan of political writing or non-fiction, but the mood stroke me and I downloaded it. The book is very short and, although it was written in the 16th century, very accessible. It's essentially a self-help for rulers, stating what are the best ways to gain and retain power, how to approach different problems and to manage different social strata of the kingdom.

Machiavelli is unscrupulous and ruthless, but his methods seem to be really effective. Anyway, what do a hundred dozen dead people mean if it leads to a greater prosperity of the kingdom? :) It is difficult to support his views from the modern point of view, but it's very interesting to explore his reasoning anyway.

Machiavelli was writing The Prince at the time when Italy didn't have a common ruler, and powerful families, the Pope and foreign kings all competed for influence in different regions. Along with the classical examples taken from Roman history Machivelli also uses contemporary situation to explain his views, which makes the book a great source of historical information. Luckily, I was a bit acquainted with Italian politics of the time (thanks to The Borgias! -_-), so it was much easier for me to make sense of what was being referred to. But no previous knowledge is necessary to be able to enjoy the book. (Although if you go and binge-watch The Borgias, you will not regret it!)

In my book:
An essential classic, especially if you are interested in history, philosophy and politics.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Perceval by Chrétien de Troyes (Review)

Title: Perceval, the Story of the Grail
Author: Chrétien de Troyes
First published Written: 1181
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

There, I've finished all of Chrétien de Troyes! *celebrates* Although I must confess I abandoned Perceval in the middle of the book, that doesn't alter the previous statement :) Let me explain. Chrétien was not very good at wrapping up his writing and actually finishing books. So out of his five surviving works he has finished only three. Lancelot was taken up by some unknown writer, and he did a fairly good job of preserving Chrétien's style and bringing the story to a glorious end. Perceval was not so lucky. Or you can say it WAS luckier, four times more so, as it got 4(!) continuations by different authors. I dropped it in the middle of the second continuation, and I think it was a reasonable and time-saving thing to do. You see, in the middle of Chrétien's own writing, he just drops Perceval and switches to Gawain, who is great of course, but has near to no relation to the title story. The first continuation doesn't return to Gawain, but wraps up Gawain's adventures and switches to yet another knight nobody has ever heard of. All this in 9500 lines! My patience was already quite drained when I finished this continuation. Second continuation was better as it switches back to Perceval, but instead of wrapping up the story, it starts several new adventures, which I was too lazy to keep track of. So without seeing any sign of the Grail on the horizon, I've decided to abandon the book.

All this said, I think the beginning of the story is really great. It's as if Chrétien planned the beginning well and even maybe edited it (one may hope), but then just continued to write what came to his head without any structure in mind. Perceval's story begins in his teens, when he learns about knighthood (some comical moments here) and leaves his home for Arthur's court (now this is really heartbreaking. Poor mom!). He's totally uneducated and brutal, and offenses everybody as he proceeds with his adventures. He learns fast though, and is soon well acquainted with the ways of knights. But he still has to seek spiritual education to be worthy of the Grail. And that's what we don't see, as Gawain takes the stage for what seems like forever -_-

The symbolism in the story is very strong, and it's maybe the only Chrétien's romance which feels like literature, not just a retelling of a series of adventures, as it has some ideas and purpose. The notion of the Grail is still quite rudimentary. In the story the Grail is just a big plate for serving at meals, and the bleeding lance is the key artifact. It's interesting that to get information about the lance and the Grail all you need to do is just ask about them when you see them. But somehow most knights are hesitant to do so, maybe not to sound dumb or impolite. I think it's great that Chrétien underlined the importance of being inquisitive in order to succeed in one's education and personal growth.

Gosh, I'm so glad I've finished Chrétien de Troyes! It was really interesting to see the sources of some of the most famous Arthurian stories, but I'm longing for something easier to read now :)

In my book:
Too long and unstructured to be good, except for the beginning.


My Classics Spin Title...


...is A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway! I'm not sure how I feel about this choice, as I've read The Old Man and the Sea and didn't like it... But I was little then, so who knows, maybe I'll enjoy Hemingway this time! Well, at least the novel is not as long as some other entries on my list :D

What do you think about my spin book?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lancelot by Chrétien de Troyes (Review)

Title: Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart
Author: Chrétien de Troyes
First published written: 1170
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I was more excited about reading Lancelot than about any other of Chrétien's romances. I mean, Lancelot's story is so popular and here it appears for the first time, at least according to Wikipedia. But unfortunately the romance was not very exciting. Well, there is love between Lancelot and the queen, all right, and some horrifying details about their night together, like Lancelot bleeding all the time because he's lost his finger while trying to get to the queen's rooms... Imagine that. But overall it's just another story about some guy painfully trying to prove to everyone around that he's the best by challenging everybody else he sees without much consideration. This whole cart business was also not very clear from the text, and I was wondering why he needed taking it except for symbolic reasons.

There are some things I liked though. One is the depiction of father/son relationships. There are two such pairs in the story, and a son is usually a hothead, while his dad tries to stop him, reason with him and protect him. Needless to say, this makes the son ashamed of his parent, although in the end the dad is always right. This is so true to life I had to smile :)

Another scene I liked is when a lady offers Lancelot lounging in exchange for spending a night with her. Smart move, right? And it is so funnily described how very unpleasant it was to Lancelot and how he suffered from it, but he was still going to do this out of honour because he gave his word. I laughed out loud at this! :)

In my book:
Yet another typical Chrétien romance... I'm getting a bit tired of them.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Classics Spin #7

I haven't done a spin for quite some time now, and it's a shame, because I've been really bad at making progress with my list this year. So I hope this will make me finally pick up something I've been putting off!

I don't have a lot of books left on the list, and most of those left I'm hesitant to start, either because they are long or complicated or because I've tried to read them before, unsuccessfully. So I've just picked the first 20! Wish me luck!

  1. Ovid: Metamorphoses 
  2. Turold: The Song of Roland 
  3. Chaucer, Geoffrey: The Canterbury Tales
  4. Malory, Thomas: Le Morte d'Arthur
  5. Swift, Jonathon: Gulliver’s Travels
  6. Dickens, Charles: Great Expectations
  7. Eliot, George: Middlemarch 
  8. Hardy, Thomas: Tess of the D'Urbervilles
  9. Hugo, Victor: Les Miserables
  10. Scott, Sir Walter: The Lady of the Lake
  11. Scott, Sir Walter: The Bride of Lammermoor
  12. Twain, Mark: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court 
  13. Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Lost World
  14. Dreiser, Theodore: American Tragedy
  15. Du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca
  16. Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Beautiful and Damned
  17. Hemingway, Ernest: A Farewell to Arms
  18. Hemingway, Ernest: For Whom the Bell Tolls 
  19. Joyce James: Ulysses
  20. Kundera, Milan: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Monday, August 4, 2014

Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Mini-reviews)

This review is of books 2 and 3 in the series, so there are spoilers! If you haven't read the first book, go to my review of it or read the book itself and come back to discuss :)

I didn't expect to like The Hunger Games, but I totally did. I wasn't very eager to continue with the series though, as I expected more teenage love and revolution. So instead I watched the movie Catching Fire, and I liked how the plot turned so much that I started to read the rest of the series immediately after the final titles. It's been a long time since I did this kind of fangirling! So what got me hooked?

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
First published: 2009
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

The second book deals with the aftermaths of the decisions made in the first book. It's about responsibilities and how hard it is to understand what's right and most of all about post-traumatic syndrome. Katniss has to cope with what she's seen and done and to protect her family meanwhile. And then she has to go to Hunger Games again! Psychologically it's all very well described. The whole conspiracy plot is also awesome, as reader is given some clues as to what's happening, but he's in the dark most of the time, same as Katniss. The information dump in the end was not very subtle, I'd prefer it all revealed somehow differently, but whatever. Besides, there are some great new characters introduced, which I totally loved. I liked it that the stakes are much higher in this new installment of the games and that there are hard decisions to be made.

What I have a problem with is why these games were introduced in the first place. The Capitol seems to be really good with propaganda and censoring, and these should be enough to keep districts in order without the threat of taking their children from them. Slumberous and passive people are so much easier to rule.

Also, I kinda love Peeta in this book, hehe! And Haymitch, obvsly :)

Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
First published: 2010
Add it: Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★☆

Mockingjay is the darkest book of all. I was so depressed to learn that the rebels are no better than the Capitol and are also all about putting up a good show. But that's why I like Collins - she doesn't make things black or white. Plot-wise the book is a bit messy, as the motifs of some characters, especially Katniss, are hard to understand. For example, why on Earth did she go on that suicidal mission to kill Snow? She didn't arrive much earlier than the main forces anyway and got some of my favourite characters killed. But all the Games survivors are so wretched that no one can expect good decisions from them. On the other hand, although the thing they did to Peeta and the curing process were not very believable, I think it was a good plot twist. And it was certainly beneficial for him to get some rest from his unhealthy obsession with Katniss. He finally understands that she was not behaving very well towards him. It's a pity he needs the venom treatment for it.

The finale was quite satisfactory. That's exactly how I imagined the book to finish, and it felt right. Although the third book is probably my least favourite because of some plot problems, I've got so invested in the characters that I couldn't put the book down anyway.

In my book:
Read the series! It is an entertaining read with some good character study and interesting ideas.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Language Freak July Update - Holiday Edition


Hellooo sweeties! That's me greeting you from northern Italy, where I was on vacation last week! I hope your summer is being wonderful too!

How are you all doing with the challenge? I'm still plodding through that Czech book which is supposed to encourage boys to do all these boyscout/pioneer activities... They have game descriptions and tasks in the end of each chapter now! Not exciting. At this pace and with an exam to prepare for, it will be a miracle if I finish it by the end of the challenge. I'll do my best though! :)

July was a down time review-wise, but we still have 2 new reviews! Below, as usual, are all our reviews by language. Note that July reviews have been marked by NEW!!!

Chinese
Frog is Sad by Max Velthuijs (Carola @ brilliant years)

French
Nuits de Juin by Victor Hugo (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)
Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (Cleo @ Classical Carousel) - NEW!!!
Délicieusement Cru par Judita Wignall (Cleo @ Classical Carousel) - NEW!!!

German
Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai by Heinrich Heine (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)
Krabat, by Otfried Preußler (Carola @ brilliant years)
Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) by The Brothers Grimm (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)

Russian
Magpie Beloboka (Anja Kasap @ Reading 2011 (and Beyond))

Spanish
Corre, Perro, Corre - P.D. Eastman (Cleo @ Classical Carousel)

Don't forget that August is the last month of the challenge! So it's high time to reach your goals! :) I'll post a final recap of the challenge in the beginning of September, so don't forget to write about your reading experience!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...