Book Review: Armada

I’ve been adamant about my love for Ready Player One, not only listing it as one of my favorite books I read in 2017, but also pushing it on anyone who might like it – including Chuck.

Undoubtedly the stakes were high for Armada, Ernest Cline’s second book. Would it be as good? Would it even be close?

It was darn close. Inches away, even.

Armada takes place in present time. Zack Lightman is a high school senior living in Beaverton, Oregon, where his life is punctuated by video games, a part-time job at a used video game store, and hanging out with his friends. At home, it’s only he and his mom, because when he was barely a year old, his father, Xavier Lightman, died in an unfortunate accident at work. Zack carries around a perpetual sadness on account of that void.

Zack’s biggest flaw is that he’s a daydreamer, but when he spots a space craft – one that looks suspiciously like a ship from his favorite video game, Armada – floating above his school, he starts to wonder if he’s losing his mind.

When men in suits descend from the space craft and call his name for all of the high school to hear, he realizes he’s wide awake and completely sane. 

The story takes on speed when the truth about our national defense and space-based video games unfolds. It is fast and quick to the end.

Armada is a fun ride. Just as Ready Player One was an 80s kid’s dream, Armada has plenty of pop culture references to appease the reader. I don’t consider myself a science fiction fan when it comes to books, but I’m a Ernest Cline fan for sure. If you enjoyed Ready Player One, go for Armada. You won’t be disappointed.

Additionally, if you enjoy audiobooks, both of Cline’s novels are narrated by Wil Wheaton. Double points!

Five Favorite Books I Read in 2017

I chose poorly in 2017, which is perhaps why I was unable to reach my 40-book goal this year. (I’m still reading No. 32 The Man Who Smiled and listening to No. 33 Artemis). I selected no less than a dozen books that ended up being ho-hum or outright bad, which made my resolve for reading a weak one. Some books I didn’t even review on the blog, if that tells you how uninspired I was (Believing the Lie, The Graveyard Book, and more). Plus, four of the books I read this year were for my literature and creative writing class, so while they counted toward the total, I didn’t review them here.

Yet, since I read so many unremarkable books this year, choosing my favorite five was easy! (Original reviews are linked.)

  1. Ready Player One
    Hands-down, this is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and credit goes to Susan (of “Susan and Lesli”) for recommending it to me. Granted, I listened to it on Audible instead of reading it on paper, but if there was ever a book to listen to instead of read, it’s this one. Narrated by Wil Wheaton, Ready Player One is a love letter to the 80s kid who longs for the good old days of Family Ties reruns,  and Atari.
  2. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
    There are two time periods that capture my heart in equal measure. One is the back-to-back Tudor and Elizabethan Eras in England, and the other is the Roaring 20s, specifically the Lost Generation writers who lived an expat life abroad. Zelda Fitzgerald surely would’ve had a different life with access to proper mental health care. Alas, her tragedies flowed straight from her mixed-up mind into real life. If you are equally interested in the Fitzgeralds (and Hemingways), you’ll love Z. 
  3. The Great Divorce
    I’m not sure why it’s taken me until my late 30s to enjoy C.S. Lewis, but better late than never. In a time that feels spiritually void, The Great Divorce reminds me that God is always present and always listening, offering perfect love for our imperfect selves, and the white noise of our collective bickering is small potatoes when it comes to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. From a literary standpoint, I am all over the imagery and symbolism of The Great Divorce. The writing and message are a perfect pair.
  4. Wonderstruck
    I selected Wonderstruck as one of four novels I taught this semester in my literature and creative writing class, so there isn’t a stand-alone review to link (yet). Written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck begins with two stories – Rose in Hoboken, 1927 and Ben in Minnesota, 1977. Rose’s story is told via illustration, while Ben’s is a traditional narrative. The pair of children seem to have nothing in common, but as each side unfolds we see that Rose and Ben have much in common, from their hearing impairments to their search for family. Told in three parts, Wonderstruck is a fast-paced, emotional tale of endurance and an exploration of what one might do to find a home. (Wonderstruck has been made into a film!)
  5. A Column of Fire
    Aside from Hogwarts, Kingsbridge is my favorite fictional setting and I was thrilled to go back there one last time. Just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, A Column of Fire brings together several families – some Protestant, some Catholic, and a few who long for religious tolerance. Not only did it quench my thirst for the Elizabethan era, it was the perfect book to read after a series of duds. Per usual, I didn’t want it to end.

An honorable mention goes to Faceless Killers by Henning Menkell, the author of the Wallander series. If you’re into crime/thriller novels, and especially if you’ve watched the BBC TV show Wallander, check it out! I’m currently reading a second Menkell book (The Man Who Smiled) and have a third waiting in the wings. He’s joined the company of Tana French and Mo Hayder on my crime/thriller bookshelf.

My goal for 2018 is to MAKE BETTER CHOICES. I’m not sure where my brain went this year, but I wasted a lot of time on books I didn’t enjoy. Not again! Cheers!

Book review: Ready Player One

The year isn’t close to being over, but I already know Ready Player One will be on my Top Five Favorite Books I read in 2017.

Correction: I listened to it. But still.

It’s 2045 and an energy crisis led to the depletion of fossil fuels, which means the Earth is a big fat mess. Because real life is so miserable, humans heavily prefer living in a virtual reality world called The Oasis. Created by a Steve Jobsesque billionaire/computer builder/80s fanatic named James Halliday, The Oasis is made up of thousands of levels and worlds, some for fun, others as part of a new society. (Public school happens in The Oasis.)

Upon his death, it was announced that Halliday – unmarried, no kids – would leave his money and the keys to The Oasis to the one person who found the hidden Easter Egg inside the virtual world.

Not a literal Easter Egg, of course, but a hidden message usually planted in films and games. Whoever finds the egg inherits Halliday’s fortune.

Wade Watts (known as Parzival in The Oasis) desperately wants to find the egg. He lives in “the stacks,” literal squalor of stacked trailer homes in Oklahoma City. With no family or real-life friends, he devotes his entire high school life to searching for the egg. The obsession requires each “gunter” (egg hunter) become as knowledgeable as possible about 80s pop culture because everything about the hunt is connected to Halliday’s childhood favorites.

I am here to tell you that the 80s references had my heart a-flutter throughout the entire book. If ever there was a love letter written to the 80s, it is Ready Player One.

Along for the journey are Wade’s virtual reality friend Aech (pronounced “H”) and his virtual reality crush Artemis. Though they aren’t working as a team, they work in tandem with two other gunters to 1) find the egg, and 2) prevent a horrible multinational corporation from finding the egg and monetizing The Oasis.

This is the first – and maybe the last – time I’ve read a Science Fiction book and reviewed it on this site. I’m not sure what it will take for me to read another one. Ready Player One – narrated by Wil Wheaton on audio book – is everything an 80s child like me loves: a sweeping adventure with nail-biting action and regular references to favorites such as Pac-Man, The Muppet Show, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Atari, and – our first computer – the Commodore 64. (In fact, here’s a list of all the allusions and references Cline makes in the book.)

IT IS SO GOOD. While I normally recommend people read the real book, today I’m recommending the audio book. Wil Wheaton makes it all worth it.

For funsies, here’s a link to the movie trailer for Ready Player One, set to come out in 2018.