Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Book Review

Summer is my favorite time to read.

I love kicking back with a glass of iced tea or lemonade (or occasionally something stronger) and a good book. I'll read just about anything, but I wanted to share with you what I've read so far this summer.

Full disclosure, I started reading The Graveyard Book while it was still the school year, but I'm reviewing it here for you anyway. Neil Gaiman is kind of weird guy (Coraline, anyone?) but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The premise is that of The Jungle Book (which, much to my sister's amusement, took me about half the book to realize even though it pretty much says so on the back cover), except it takes place in a graveyard instead of the jungle. Baby boy is adopted by dead parents who live in the graveyard. He is raised under their care, as well as that of the mysterious caretaker, Silas.

This book blurred the lines beautifully between the fantastical and the realistic. It has a seamlessly timeless feel, made possible by the vastly different eras represented through the characters (Saxon England to the very recently dead). There is just enough symbolism and mythology entwined in the plot to be fun, and enough suspense to make you read faster.

Jeannette Walls is rapidly becoming a favorite author of mine. I read her memoir, The Glass Castle, in college when I worked in a bookstore. She redefined biographies for me, gifted storyteller that she is. This is her second novel, and I intend to get ahold of her other novel as soon as I can.

The Silver Star is a coming-of-age book, which is among my favorite genres. It is also about the relationship between sisters, something close to my heart. Ms. Walls reveals beautifully the depth of love and closeness even in a seemingly dysfunctional family, and how even broken families can be there for one another in their own way. The story takes place mostly in a little town in Virginia, stuck in the 1950's and happy to stay that way. Two sisters travel across the country to find a new home in this little town, and they learn to navigate through a whole new world there. The relationships are so authentic and the quirks of her characters are extremely lovable. Definitely a great summer read.

Yes, yes, I know. It's going to be a chick flick! It's a NYT Bestseller! Whatever your thoughts are (and frankly, I find John Green a funny enough guy to be interested in his work anyway) I knew I wanted to at least give this book a shot.

My friend told me she didn't want to read this book on principle, and I understand that. It's a romance, it's about teenagers and puppy love, and it's just popular enough to make you think it's going to be all sap. But really, I thought this book was all guts and humor. Sure, it's puppy love and false noblesse oblige and teenage angst. But it's also heart and laughter and honesty. Main character (and narrator) Hazel has terminal cancer and is pretty stoic about it. Her life sucks and she knows it, and she makes no bones about how short that life going to be. Her partners in crime are equally frank about their situations, and very little attempt is made to gloss over the harder aspects of terminal illness. The overarching theme is fairly simple--"pain demands to be felt." And guess what? You feel it. Yes, I cried, and yes, parts of it were sappy. But it felt like an honestly-come-by sappiness, rather than excessive, Nicholas-Sparks-eqsue sap. Totally worth your time, and your tissues.

My sister recommended this book to me, and my sister reads awesome stuff so I usually try to follow through when she gives me books.

This is a futuristic dystopian novel, and a very creative one at that. It takes place in the not-too-distant future, when the natural resources of the Earth have been drained and the planet is in shambles. Most of the world spends the majority of their time inside the OASIS, an all-encompassing virtual reality. It's a video game like none have ever seen before--children can go to school, people have jobs and build relationships, and there's plenty of magic, fantastical technology, and excitement for "traditional" RP (role play) gamers. The creator of the OASIS dies before the book begins, and he leaves behind an incredible quest through the virtual reality, the winner of which will inherit his vast fortune and control of the OASIS. We follow the main character and narrator, Wade (or Parzival, as his avatar is named), through the quest, which is almost entirely based in 1980's trivia and pop culture.

This book wowed me with the depth of knowledge conveyed by the author of the 1980's. I was a child of the 90's and I knew almost none of the intricate details covered in the novel. I also enjoyed the adventure elements of the book, and I'm always a fan of a good dystopic novel. However, I am not quite enough of a geek to appreciate all the gaming details in the book. I know it's hard to believe that there's a limit to my nerdiness, but I'm not a video or computer gamer, so the parts where the main character simply turned on his jet pack shoes (which were previously unknown to the reader) was a little hard to swallow. However, I have a strong feeling that this is just my bias. My lack of gaming knowledge didn't make the story less enjoyable, and someone with more gaming background would probably have an instant connection to those jet pack shoes or experience levels.

The only thing about this book that disappointed was the lack of discussion surrounding why the Earth was in such bad shape, and what the future would look like once the quest is won. I would have appreciated a little more dystopia (and fewer wizards, but again, I think that's just me).

What have you been reading this summer? Do you have a favorite genre or author?