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Steplings
by C.W. Smith
272 pages
2011
general fiction

Nineteen-year-old Jason has certainly experienced his share of difficult circumstances in his young life, but upon receiving a farewell letter from his college-bound girlfriend, Lisa, he completely unravels. He decides to embark on a journey (hitchhikes) to see her and convince her that they should be together; however, it gets a little sticky when his preteen stepsister, Emily, joins him on the road in her own quest to see her father.

I was so excited to read this book when I first read the summary - I love a good road trip combined with a tale of self-discovery. Unfortunately, the problems with the book's plot and its characters quickly turned me off. As a young high school teacher, in the past five years I have read a decent amount of YA lit and books about teenagers; as I read I couldn't determine if the book was geared for adults or for teens but ultimately decided that neither group would particularly care for it. It doesn't have enough heart to be beloved by adults who venture into YA territory, and the characters are not real enough to interest teenagers. The dialogue would nauseate both groups.

A couple of issues I have with the book...
I felt like I was supposed to sympathize with Jason in his bereavement of his relationship with Lisa, but because I couldn't buy into them as a couple there was nothing for me to mourn. She is a college-bound, pre-med student with goals and dreams. Jason is kind of a loser with no plans, a pack of smokes, and some alcohol in his system. You can completely understand why Lisa dumps him, so you can't root for him throughout his road trip to see her. If you can't root for the protagonist at all, it sure makes it hard to keep turning pages. A bad plot can be overcome by interesting characters (especially for someone like me who prefers character-driven novels), but this book presents both a bad plot and bad characters. An apathetic reader is much worse than an angry reader.

Emily's dialogue and behavior flounders between childlike and wise-beyond-her-years, which doesn't make her more loveable and dynamic, it just adds further awkwardness to the story. I am certain I was supposed to be charmed in her exchanges with Jason (and have some "Awww... moments") but I was just annoyed.

The two biggest issues I had with the book were the dialogue (so horrible I actually highlighted passages in my nook to quote but am too lazy to do so now) and the fact that the author doesn't know how to write teenagers. I am no author, but I know teens, and Jason doesn't reflect anything I know about this age group.

I wish I would have loved this book - the author and camp couldn't have been nicer, but I just cannot recommend this as a fall read. I dreaded reading it, and I dreaded writing a review.

 
 
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Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
384 pages
2011
science-fiction? dystopian lit? general fiction? ...not sure...

***Recommended Reading

In the future, human connections are maintained primarily through interacting in an incredibly extensive virtual world created by a brilliant developer and lover of 1980s geekery. Our hero is Wade/Parzival, a high school student who has had a particularly difficult life and relishes the escape of OASIS for conducting his day-to-day activities. When the creator of OASIS dies, the mother of all treasure hunts is revealed to the world: hidden within the depths of the OASIS platform is a multi-billion dollar reward to the man or woman able to unlock the clues and succeed in the battles that arise for the competitors ("gunters" - egg hunters, as in "Easter egg") during their quest. Also battling for this money are the employees (called "sixers") of a huge corporation, kept as indentured servants, paid to search for the egg. Sounds like corporate America. Obviously these guys are the enemy.

First let me say that Ready Player One is completely unlike anything I have ever read. While reading it, I knew I was reading the words of a book that is going to receive a lot of attention upon its release. The number of references to the history of video game development and music and movies of the 1980s is remarkable and it is extremely apparent that the author worked very hard to create a great story from his obvious love for the decade. Don't worry - he in fact, wrote a GREAT story. One this non-gamer, 30 year-old female could get on board with. It will probably be going on my top ten of 2011 list at the end of the year.

So, the entire time I was reading I kept thinking about the probability of the book being optioned for a movie, and sure enough, I learned shortly after finishing that it has. I will be very curious to see how this evolves into a feature film. Will it work?

 
 
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Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day
by Ben Loory
208 pages
2011
short stories

***Recommended Reading***

A delayed review, thanks to a career change right in the middle of attempting to read a pile of books from NetGalley!

I followed the suggestion put forth by author Ben Loory in his fabulous title and read most of his stories at nighttime, which proved frustrating because I had a difficult time putting the book down. I quickly developed the "just one more..." mentality while reading and loved being whisked away at night with his take on the modern fable. I was extremely pleased to see the book featured at my local Barnes & Noble during my last visit to the store - it definitely deserves attention for its creativity and heart. I have a hunch it may be one of those quietly successful books that is passed around from book lover to book lover and discussed among friends.

While I am not generally a fan of short stories, I was completely mesmerized and delighted by this collection which was just as magical as the two collections I often recommend to others: Kissing in Manhattan and Magic for Beginners. I love stories that put you on edge, have an air of mystery about them, spark some magic, and keep you guessing. Since I was reading this on my nook, I never knew when a story was going to end, and that was a huge part of the fun for me as well.

After reading the entire book, I thought long and hard about which stories affected me most, whether for pure enjoyment reasons or because they made me think after I had moved on. It was challenging, but I narrowed the list to ten of my favorites, and then narrowed it even more for this review. If you are curious even a little about this collection, please check out this fantastic debut and dive into Loory's imagination with some of the following...

(I am not giving away anything really, because I just want you to have at it! Here is a tasting...)

The Book - in which a book with completely blank pages becomes and incredible success
The Crown - in which a dish-washing employee discovers an invisible crown in the suds and begins to wear it with results he does not anticipate
The Octopus - in which an octopus has left the sea to live in the city but struggles with agoraphobia
The Tree - in which a tree that can walk is fenced in for public display
The TV and Winston Churchill - in which a television, frustrated with showing horrible and mind-numbing programming, decides to compose an opera about Churchill

I think this book will be one of my top ten of 2011 and I will be pushing it on everyone I know.