Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

From the Unabridged Compact Disc editionReady Player One by Ernest Cline
Published by Random House Audio

The world is a difficult place in the year 2044. Wade Watts spends most of his time in the OASIS, the virtual world where most of the population goes to escape the harshness and ugliness of the real world. James Halliday, creator of the OASIS, has hidden inside its many thousands of planets a puzzle that holds the ultimate power to whoever can solve its many elements and get to the end. Millions of people have worked towards finding these puzzles, with the knowledge that much of what Halliday based them on was his love of 1980′s pop culture, and Wade is just one of those many people. Since he is just a regular person without any real money or means of super powers inside the OASIS, he is happy learning as much about Halliday as possible while knowing, deep down, that he has no chance of being the winner of Halliday’s prize … until he finds the first puzzle.

What a fun and exciting novel Ready Player One is! Let me tell you that even though everyone recommended this book and said I would love it, I went into it with quite a bit of trepidation. You see, even though I was born in the 80′s (1983), I don’t have a lot of memories from the actual 80′s – I’m more of a 90′s generation kid – so I was nervous that I wouldn’t get a lot of the pop culture references. Fear not, fellow twenty-somethings, the 1980′s references were not lost on me a bit and I enjoyed the book all the more for them!

There was so much I truly enjoyed about this novel. Wade is the kind of character that you love and root for instantly – it’s that underdog thing I think, plus he’s such a truly good and nice person you just want good things to come his way. I loved the way he developed a friendship/romance with Artemis, a relationship that was completely based on their OASIS personas but which grew into something real over the course of the novel. I loved all of the adventures it took to get to the final prize from James Halliday.

And oh my gosh, H! For those of you who have read the book, I have to say, I LOVED what Cline did with Wade’s best friend, H. That is all.

I listened to the audio of Ready Player One which was absolutely the right choice. Wil Wheaton narrates it and he does a fantastic job. He truly brought the action, the characters, this entire adventure, to life. I was truly invested in this story and much of that is thanks to Wheaton’s expert narration. I am not sure I would have liked it quite as much had I chose to read the print version.

I loved Ready Player One! Highly recommended.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

InsurgentInsurgent by Veronica Roth
Published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

This review will contain spoilers for the first book in this series, Divergent.

No summary on this one, folks. If you read Divergent you know how it ended, and I was thrilled to find that Insurgent begins exactly where its predecessor left off. This is now a crazy place, with war and factions divided against one another. I loved that the action started right as the book began, it brought me right back into the story and although some details of the first book were a bit fuzzy, the major plot points were brought back to my mind immediately. I remembered what I loved about Tris and Four and my love affair with these characters continued throughout this novel.

Tris really developed as a character over the course of this novel. After the events at the end of the first novel, she’s feeling incredibly conflicted with her emotions – she feels guilty, depressed at the loss of her parents, confused about where her loyalties should lie, and angry about all of it. She remains just as kick-ass a heroine as she was in Divergent, but her character gains a bit more depth as well as she works through all these emotions and grows up even more.

I was extremely relieved to find that Roth did not introduce a love triangle in this story. SO many YA novels have the main character confused over love, but not here. Tris and Four are strong as ever and even though there are obvious issues between the two of them throughout the novel (mostly because of factors outside of their control, like war) they have a mostly solid relationship and I loved them together.

One of the only quibbles I had with Divergent was that I felt the world-building wasn’t as strong as it could have been. Well, at the end of Insurgent there is a HUGE revelation about the world Tris lives in that explains why the reader was left in the dark for so long about the details of why these five factions came to be. This made me so happy, but so anxious at the same time. I’m at the point now where I need the third book, and I’m sure it’ll be quite a while before that happens.

So, yeah. I loved Insurgent too. This series is awesome, you should read it.

Pure by Julianna Baggott

PurePure by Julianna Baggott
Published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette

Pressia survived the Detonations almost unscathed, with nothing to show for them other than the small doll’s head fused to her fist. Many people weren’t so lucky – millions of people died, or fused together, or became part of the earth, or became crippled by the huge items that fused to their bodies. She doesn’t think much about the Before, just spends her time with her grandfather in his small apartment, her grandfather who has cared for her ever since her parents died in the Detonations. Partridge has a much nicer life – he is a Pure. The Pures escaped the catastrophic Detonations by living in the Dome, a secluded world that only the very privileged and important people were sent to just before the world exploded. But Partridge doesn’t have a perfect life in the Dome – his father is emotionally distant, his mother refused to join them and died in the Detonations, and shortly after, his brother killed himself. When he ventures outside the Dome and meets Pressia, both of their lives are turned completely upside-down.

Oh my gosh, I don’t know how to even review Pure. There were so many disturbing things about this book, but ultimately I couldn’t put it down. The world Baggott created in Pure is bleak, no question about that. It might just be the most disturbing post-apocalyptic world I’ve seen in fiction yet. People are fused with nature. People are fused with other people. People are fused with animals, for gosh sakes. It’s incredibly distressing to read but also I had a hard time looking away. I wanted more but I was afraid to want more. I know, that sounds so weird, but I swear if you read the book that will make sense.

What is so redeeming about this novel is how truly fabulous and well-drawn its characters are. Pressia has seen the worst of humanity but still holds out hope for a better life for herself, and has an intense devotion and love for her grandfather, despite the fact that she’s lost everyone else she’s loved. Partridge, who rebels against his father’s teachings and searches high and low to find the mother he knows didn’t abandon him, was a character I didn’t love at first but came to really admire. And Bradwell, sweet, hardened Bradwell, well that guy stole my heart. He’s been through the worst of the worst, with no family or real friends, leading an underground movement to overthrow the Dome, and when the Detonations came a flock of birds fused to his back, so they are forever a part of his body and soul. You wouldn’t think love would be possible in a world this awful but you would be wrong – these three form something of a little family as they fight to stay alive in this insane, terrifying world.

I raced through this book and couldn’t put it down. Ultimately, it has a very hopeful feel to it, as these characters force you to believe that anything is possible, that this world can change and redemption is possible. I found it to be a fresh take on the whole dystopia/post-apocalyptic genre and I believe it to be a welcome addition to the pool of other great books in this vein. Read it!

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins

*This review may contain spoilers for Delirium, the first book in this series.

Lena’s love, Alex, has been killed and it’s up to Lena to figure out how to make a life for herself as an Invalid in the Wilds. She meets a group of Invalids who take her in and soon she belongs with them, to the point where she begins to feel like she has a family again. But life in the Wilds is never rosy, and soon Lena joins the resistance – to fight for what she believes in. As part of her assignment, she attends a huge pro-cure rally – and that is where things in her life get even crazier than she ever imagined.

Pandemonium starts off with a bang and the reader is pulled into the action immediately, so if you are fuzzy on the details of Delirium, you may have a difficult time catching up. I did myself the favor of rereading Delirium right before picking up this book, and I’m so glad I did – otherwise I would have been SO lost. I was a little nervous about not loving this book as much as I did its predecessor, but I shouldn’t have been worried about that because Lauren Oliver really delivered everything I was hoping she would with Pandemonium.

Lena as a character is everything I loved about her in the first book, plus quite a bit more spunk and courage. Alex’s death has hardened her, has made her unafraid of what life can throw her way, and it’s also made her realize that she’s stronger, emotionally and physically, than she thought she was. This puts her in the unique position to be able to risk almost everything for the cause she believes passionately in, and it creates this incredibly interesting dynamic in the novel. For most of the book I thought the side of her that was so affected by her mother’s death and falling in love with Alex was extinguished, but events that happen towards the end of the novel brought the softer side of Lena back to light. I loved the balance of tough and soft with her character, and I’m really hoping that continues throughout the last book of this trilogy.

Pandemonium is told in alternating chapters set in two different time periods: then – the time right after Lena crossed over to the Wilds, and now – the time after she’s joined the resistance and lives in disguise in New York. I thought writing the story in this way was absolutely genius because it gives the reader ample opportunity to understand how Lena got into the resistance without spending too much time on potentially boring details. It worked perfectly for me.

I am not sure how else to say that I loved Pandemonium and I think Oliver stepped up her game even more with this novel than with its predecessor. This is an exciting, thought-provoking, unique dystopian series and I highly recommend you give it a try.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (reread)

In anticipation of Pandemonium being released, I decided to reread Delirium – the first in this series – right before reading Pandemonium for the first time. I’m glad I read the book one more time because turns out I forgot a LOT of what happened. The general plot I still had outlined in my mind, but rereading the book made me realize just how many important details had escaped from my brain since I read the novel the first time.

If you recall, I LOVED Delirium when I first read it. I’m happy to report that it definitely stood up to my reread – that is to say, I loved it just as much the second time around. I can definitely tell how much I raced through the book when I originally read it, because so many of the details felt completely new to me. Obviously I read them the first time, but I was reading so fast to keep up with the plot that I didn’t recall a LOT of little things. However, the big stuff stuck with me from the first time and it was a much different experience reading the novel with the general knowledge of what was going to happen. I was able to relax, enjoy the characters more, and savor Oliver’s writing, as opposed to racing through the book to find out what happens next.

I have to be honest and say that I don’t love the new cover… I much prefer the original one, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

If you are a fan of this book and plan to read Pandemonium, I would highly recommend a reread of Delirium. Pandemonium starts off with a huge bang and if you are fuzzy on the details of the first book, you might find yourself lost in Lena’s new life. Just a suggestion – it definitely was the right choice for me.

Check back tomorrow because I’ll be reviewing Pandemonium, the second book in this exciting trilogy by the fabulously talented Lauren Oliver.

Legend by Marie Lu

LegendLegend by Marie Lu
Published by Putnam Juvenile, an imprint of Penguin

The Republic is a region in the west of what used to be the United States, a nation constantly at war with its neighbors. Fifteen-year-old June was born into one of the wealthiest families in The Republic, and she’s being trained to be a member of one of The Republic’s most talented military factions. Fifteen-year-old Day was born into a poor family in one of the worst parts of town, and now he’s The Republic’s most wanted criminal. On the surface, these two have nothing in common, but they cross paths when June’s brother is murdered and Day becomes the number one suspect. While June is desperate to avenge her brother’s death, she comes to realize that her and Day have one shocking thing in common, and this realization leads her to question everything she’s always believed about herself and her country.

I know there are a million and one YA dystopia novels out there, but let me add my voice to the chorus of those that have been saying that Legend is actually very good and worth diving into. The fact that the reader gets to hear this story from the perspectives of both Day and June is refreshing, and as a reader, I liked both of them quite a bit. To me, the concept – once you get to the heart of the story and find out what it really is – was clever and original, and actually quite terrifying.

The action in Legend is paced quite well, in such a way that I never got bored but also didn’t race through the book either. Lu sets the story up nicely, and I really felt that I got to know the characters and their world quite well while enjoying where the story was taking me.

The thing is that I went into Legend knowing very little about it, and I think you should too. So I’m going to stop now and say that if you enjoy a good YA dystopia, Legend will really fit the bill and I would recommend it. But beware because this is, of course, the first in a series! I enjoyed many things about this one, though, and I sincerely look forward to the second book.

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Published by Candlewick Press

Sixteen-year-old Rosalinda Fitzroy is awoken from a sixty-two years-long sleep (known as stasis) when she is awoken to a world she knows nothing about. Her parents died during the horrific Dark Times, leaving Rose heiress to the biggest interplanetary empire that exists. But Rose is overwhelmed and terrified by the new world she finds herself in. She’s weak and frail from being in stasis for so long, and she doesn’t know who in her parents’ company she can actually trust. She finds herself falling for the boy who woke her up and becoming friends with the strange blue alien at her school, as he is an outcast just like Rose. She must adjust quickly to her new surroundings, though, because things are not what they seem and someone is searching for Rose with a deadly weapon – so she must uncover the mysteries of her past in order to move on with her future.

A Long, Long Sleep is novel constructed around a very interesting concept – the idea (inspired by Sleeping Beauty, according to Sheehan) that a person could literally sleep her entire life away and wake up to a whole different world – that, in my opinion, really delivered on this unique concept. This is a book that doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. It has aspects of science fiction, it is kind of dystopian, it is a twist on a fairy tale, it has a hint of romance… yet it all comes together seamlessly and really doesn’t need to fit into a specific genre to be successful.

The most compelling aspect of A Long, Long Sleep is Rose herself. She is a person who has been completely dependent upon her parents for her entire life, so to wake up to a world without them in it was shocking for her, to say the least. She was an interesting character because she had moments of feistyness and bravery and extreme intelligence, yet overall she was such a passive, compliant person because that’s who her parents raised her to be. So I quite enjoyed her journey over the course of the novel as she became the mature, independent, and spunky young adult/adult she should have been the whole time.

As far as the story itself and the world Sheehan created, I was definitely on board with everything. The story itself was believable and the world was not so out-there that it didn’t seem remotely possible. Possible in the very distant future, at least. The events toward the end of the novel shocked me and the ending definitely had me reeling. Let’s just say that Sheehan hooked me with this one and I was desperate to find out how it all turned out… and I loved what she did with the ending.

I read this novel as an audiobook and the narrator, Angela Dawe, is a voice I’ve heard before and really loved. She did an excellent job with A Long, Long Sleep and I can absolutely recommend experiencing this book in audio format.

One other thing – readers will be shocked to learn that this is NOT a trilogy! To be honest, this is one of the first YA books in a while that I’ve seen that doesn’t have a major cliffhanger ending because of a planned trilogy. Sheehan could definitely take this same world and characters and write another book, but there is a clear ending to this one. It was refreshing to see that, to say the least.

I enjoyed A Long, Long Sleep quite a bit. Definitely recommended!

Crossed by Ally Condie

CrossedCrossed by Ally Condie
Published by Dutton Juvenile, an imprint of Penguin

*This review may contain spoilers for the first book in the series, Matched. You have been warned.

In search of Ky, Cassia travels to the Outer Provinces in the hopes that he hasn’t already been killed and that Ky can be a part of her future – a future that is incredibly uncertain as it is. Her travels cause her to question everything she thought she knew about her life, including the one person who has always been steadily there for her, Xander. Outside the Society, nothing is as it seems, and Cassia is forced to make major decisions while huge unknowns exist all around her.

I read Matched over a year ago, and while I obviously enjoyed it [my review], when I sat down to begin reading Crossed I realized that I remembered almost nothing about the first book. That was kind of an issue, because Condie throws the reader right into the story here, and I found myself trying desperately to remember how the first book ended (unsuccessfully). I do wish I had read the two books closer together, to be honest.

That being said, Crossed was an enjoyable read. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t dislike it either. I was definitely intrigued by all the things that Cassia didn’t understand about the world around her, and like her I was anxious for some answers. I enjoyed the fact that Ky told parts of this story as well, as his character really grew on me as the book went on. If I remember correctly, this book was more action-packed than the first, and the plot definitely kept me turning pages.

I found the secrets revealed toward the end of the book incredibly interesting, and the ending did leave me wanting more. I think I just haven’t gotten as invested with these characters as I have with other books of similar type (Divergent and The Hunger Games would be two examples) which might be why I’m not over the moon about this series. I remember feeling a little more enthusiastic about the first book than about this one, although like I said, it wasn’t very memorable so I’m not sure how that plays into things.

Either way, I did enjoy Crossed, I did think it was a nicely done, solid sequel, and I will probably read the third book when it comes out.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

DivergentDivergent by Veronica Roth
Published by Katherine Tegan Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

In the not-too-distant future in Chicago, the city is divided into five factions, each focusing on a particular human virtue. There is Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peacefulness), and Erudite (intelligence). Tris, born into Abnegation, must make a choice at the age of sixteen as to which faction she truly belongs in. She chooses Dauntless, and subsequently is pulled into a grueling initiation that causes her to question everything she thought she knew about herself, her family, and her society.

Divergent is one of those books that I just knew I would love, long before I began reading it. Set in Chicago (my hometown)? Yes, please. Kick-ass female main character? Yes, please. A book that’s been compared to The Hunger Games? YES. I’m happy to say that Divergent lived up to the very high expectations I had for it. I absolutely loved this book.

Tris is a fantastic character and I was drawn to her immediately. She is physically tough and very smart but also has a realistic vulnerability to her that makes her very believable. I empathized with her struggles to come into her own in the Dauntless faction, and with the internal conflicts she had as she left her Abnegation family and friends behind.

The non-romance romance between Tris and Four definitely captured my interest. I rooted for them from the start and hoped that they would figure out how great they would be together. The friendship that developed between the two of them was realistic to me and I believed in them as a couple.

I have to admit that the world-building in Divergent wasn’t as perfect as I would have liked. I feel that I have a good idea of what this society is really about, but what’s missing is how did they get to this point? But since this is the first book in a series (of course) I am confident Roth will give the reader more details in the following books.

I feel that I haven’t said very much about what made Divergent such a hit with me, but I enjoyed it so much that I don’t know how else to explain my feelings! I know this book has been compared to The Hunger Games, and I can see why, but they really are two very different novels. Pick up Divergent and let me know what you think!

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

jacket image for When She WokeWhen She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Published by Algonquin Books

Hannah Payne has always been a good girl and followed the rules of her family and of her society. But when she’s convicted of murder for having her married lover’s baby aborted, her skin is dyed red to broadcast her crime, and her shame, to the world. Despite the pressure she receives from the press and her family, she refuses to give up the baby’s father’s identity, and because of that she becomes a Red, the worst class of criminals. She must now find her own way in the world, as her family and friends don’t associate with Reds, and along the way she begins to question the values and beliefs she’d previously taken for granted.

From the first page of When She Woke, in which Hannah wakes up in a stark, cold room with bright red skin and cameras filming her every move, I was hooked. I could not put this book down, not necessarily because of the action (although there was some) but more because of how intrigued I was by this world Jordan created. The thing about it is that the ideals this society holds dear aren’t too far off from what we value now. There are plenty of people in our world who would prefer women who get abortions to be convicted of murder, and Jordan just took that idea to the extreme. But it didn’t seem all that extreme as I was reading it, it seemed very much, terrifyingly, possible. Which is probably what made the book so compelling to me – I could imagine these attitudes being a basis for our laws and the idea of that is so scary to me.

The second reason I was hanging on to Jordan’s every word was the character of Hannah. She was the kind of character I can always get on board with, as I saw aspects of my own personality in hers. Like Hannah, growing up I was the quintessential “good girl” (and still am, to a degree) who always tried to please my parents, teachers, etc. But like Hannah, I have of course made mistakes along the way and I cannot imagine suffering the kind of punishment for my mistakes that she has to suffer for hers. It broke my heart to see this formerly happy, confident girl become completely shunned by her family and friends and be forced to make it on her own. At the same time, I loved reading about Hannah’s journey to forming her own beliefs and building up her own sense of self, independent from what she’d always been taught.

I know that some readers have found fault with certain aspects of When She Woke, but I absolutely loved every second of it. I very much admire Hillary Jordan’s ability to craft a unique story with a compelling narrator and excellent writing to boot. Highly recommended.