December Minireviews – Part 1

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

So I had a pretty stressful fall for multiple reasons and was kind of over life by the time December rolled around haha I usually try to read a mix of books from my various TBRs, but I decided that for the entire month of December (or until I burned out on them) I was just going to read nothing but Christmas fluff! I found some at the library, some from a box of books on eBay (love typing in what I’m looking for and adding the word “lot” at the end – I got books for less $2/ea!), and a few from Kindle. I honestly thought I would get tired of them after a few because they are all quite samey, but it turned out that it was exactly the brain vacation I needed! I read around 4000 pages MORE in December than I did in November! Only a few of these are books I would ever revisit, but the flip side of that is that there were only a few I wished I hadn’t read at all!! And only one DNF for the month, which is pretty solid on the whole.

And so – here’s the first batch!!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – 4*

//published 2011//

Okay, so after all that big introduction, I kind of forgot that my first two books of the month weren’t actually fluff!! Cline’s sequel to this one, Ready Player Two, came in at the library right at the end of November, and was going to need to be returned pretty quickly since it’s a new book. So I reread RP1 first. I’d only read it once (and seen the movie once) so some parts of it I didn’t remember, but on the whole it was still just such a fun, readable story. The pacing is good and although the 80s references can get a little repetitive, Cline usually does a pretty good job of making his explanations about them feel organic to the tale. This one held up to the reread and I’ll probably visit it again in the future – and I’d also like the see the movie again sometime!

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline – 3*

//published 2020//

While this sequel – published 9 years after the original – wasn’t terrible, it also wasn’t great. Where various 80s/video game references felt organic in the original, they felt gimmicky here. The main character has to complete a series of quests, much like in the first story, but for some reason it felt more tedious in this story. The action bogged down a lot – for instance, there’s a torturous number of pages spent on the Prince planet, and another huge section on a planet inspired by the guy who directed (wrote?? I can’t remember) movies like Ferris Buehler’s Day Off and Breakfast Club – except I haven’t seen all those movies, so a lot of that didn’t make sense. I also haven’t really listened to Prince or paid any attention to any of the lore that surrounds him, so that was pretty boring, too. Somehow, the first book managed to keep things moving so even though I hadn’t played many of the video games referenced, I still enjoyed the story. But in the sequel, I found myself frequently bored as the characters spent time with media that I haven’t really listened to/watched/played. It felt like Cline had done a bunch of research on a few really specific things and then just regurgitated it all onto the page.

I don’t want to give away anything big, but there is also a huge opportunity in this book to explore what it really means to be human, what it is that makes us human, but Cline glosses over the whole thing. The story had a chance to be really meaningful or at least thoughtful, but instead just comes through as yet another gimmick. At the end of the day, I think a big part of it comes down to a huge gap in life philosophy between Cline and myself. Sometimes this doesn’t matter when I’m reading a book, but it mattered here. Cline obviously thinks that there is nothing after we die, that all of religion is a crutch to help people who can’t handle the real world (he makes several snide remarks to this effect, which is pretty bold for characters that literally spend their entire lives in a made-up world because the real world is too icky for them…), and that trying to make our world a better place is basically useless because everything already sucks too much. I disagree with all of those things, so a lot of this book’s commentary just really got on my nerves.

In the end, it was still a readable book and I wanted to see how things came out. Parts of it were still funny and engaging. But it wasn’t a good fit for me, and although I’ll probably reread RP1 again in the future, I think I’ll give this one a miss.

My Kind of Christmas by Janet Dailey – 3* (Christmas Tree Ranch)

//published 2018//

Okay NOW it’s time for Christmas fluff!! I kicked it off with a trilogy of books set at a ranch in Texas. Here in the first book, it’s the typical story of a rough-around-the-edges man forced to return to his hometown. Travis was born here but his mother left his alcoholic father while Travis was still pretty young. Most recently, Travis was working as a law enforcement officer and was involved in a shooting that led to him being imprisoned for a few years. Unable to return to his job because of his prison record, he’s come to stay at the old ranch that belonged to his mother’s family. Grumpy and disinterested in becoming a part of the community, he’s rather aggravated to find himself inheriting not just a pair of elderly draft horses and a hand-made sleigh, but the role of Santa Claus from his neighbor who is moving to Colorado to be with his kids. With the town’s sassy mayor unwilling to leave Travis alone, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a part of the community.

Biggest issue with this story? The part involve Travis and his dad, Hank, who has cleaned up his act and now owns a small store in town. As we learn more about the backstory between these two, Hank really was a total jerk to Travis back in the day, but literally everyone acts like Travis is being ridiculous for not immediately forgiving his dad and wanting to be all buddy-buddy with him. Hank never does apologize! Everyone else is just like, “Aw, Hank is such a great guy! Travis is such a jerk for not forgiving him!” It really got on my nerves. Just because Hank is a good guy now doesn’t erase him being a horrible person in the past, and Travis’s unwillingness to forgive/trust Hank didn’t feel unreasonable to me at all. Yes, I wanted Travis to eventually forgive Hank so that everyone could be one big happy family, but I wanted that to come from an honest conversation about the past wherein Hank admits that what he did and said was completely wrong, and that never happened.

HOWEVER overall it was fluffy and fun and since I already had the other two books from the library, I decided to give them a shot. My only other issue? This book clearly describes the dog as being a border collie mix that looks like a border collies and the dog on the cover does not remotely look like a border collie! What even!

It’s a Christmas Thing by Janet Dailey (Christmas Tree Ranch) – 3.5*

//published 2019//

So throughout the course of the first book, we end up with two other eligible bachelors living at Travis’s ranch, Rush (a veterinarian) and Conner (used to be a rodeo rider). This one focuses on Rush, who falls in love with a lovely lady who has recently ended up with a stray cat – who had kittens. There wasn’t anything crazy in this one, just some regular fluff with no surprises.

Cover complaint: The author specifically talks about how none of these guys can ride a horse and that the only two horses they have are the old draft horses that pull the sleigh. There’s also only one dog. Who designs these covers?!

Holding Out for Christmas by Janet Daily – 3.5* (Christmas Tree Ranch)

//published 2020//

Side note, I don’t know exactly where in Texas this place is, but they get a LOT of snow. It really seemed like this ranch should have been in like Nebraska or South Dakota or something. Anyway. Book three is of course about bachelor #3, Connor, who used to ride the rodeo circuit until a bad injury made him unable to ever ride a horse again. Connor’s the flirty one out of the three, so that’s his big drama. There weren’t any surprises here, but it was still a fun read.

Conclusion: I won’t ever reread this trilogy, but they were fun for a one-off read.

Cover complain: What’s on this cover? A pile of puppies?? Do you know how many puppies are in this book? ZERO! NO PUPPIES! ABSOLUTELY ZERO PUPPIES APPEAR IN THIS STORY!? WHAT KIND OF HORRIBLE PERSON PUTS PUPPIES ON THE COVER OF A STORY IN WHICH THERE ARE NO PUPPIES?!?!?!?!

Ready Player One // by Ernest Cline

//published 2011//

Wade Watts is your typical high schooler.  He goes to school every day and attends classes, eats lunch, takes notes, and tries to avoid the bullies.  Except the year is 2044, and the school Wade attends is part of an online virtual reality called OASIS.

Basically everyone has an OASIS account and spends as much time there as possible, since the real world (of course) sucks.  I actually almost didn’t continue reading this book after having to sit through multiple pages of Wade explaining how God is a myth, people driving cars destroyed the entire earth, and Republicans ruined the economy.  Polemic much?  But I’m glad I stuck it out, because after we got done listening to Wade griping about how if only stupid conservatives had agreed to let the government force everyone to drive electric cars the world would be perfect, an actual story emerged and I was totally hooked.

The creator of OASIS, James Halliday, died five years before the story begins, and left behind his company and a ridiculous amount of money.  But instead of naming a specific person or entity to be his heir, he left behind a quest and a clue – and the person(s) to solve the quest would inherit everything.  Of course, this has led to all sorts of shenanigans and, among other things, created an entire huge group of people who do basically nothing except try to solve the first clue.  Wade is one of these people (“gunters”), albeit one who doesn’t feel like he has much chance of success.  He’s poor, which means he’s stuck on only a couple of the very basic planets in the OASIS with no opportunities to really get out and explore/hunt for the clue.

Halliday grew up in the 1980’s, and was obsessed with the stuff of his youth.  Many of his creations in OASIS reflect this, and most gunters believe that it’s super important to have a thorough working knowledge of all things 80’s culture.  This actually gave a really fun dimension to this book, with the futuristic virtual reality balanced with the retro 80’s tidbits.

Of course, it’s no real surprise when Wade has a bit break through in the quest, and things get crazy from there.  Although the quest is taking place in a virtual universe, there is a lot of real-life money on the line, and Wade soon finds himself a target to a big company that wants to win the quest so they can take over Halliday’s company, money, and OASIS.

One thing that was cracking me up when I was reading this was that Halliday grew up in Ohio, and eventually headquartered his company in our state capital, Columbus.  Hearing Columbus described as a “mecca of technology” totally made my day.

There were some things about this book that kept it from being perfect (beyond the preaching in the first chapter).  The pace definitely slowed in the middle, when a lot of the quest action was taking place separate from Wade (who is the narrator as well as the protagonist, so the story always stays with him) and Wade is busy dealing with romantic feelings (booooorrriinnnnggg).  The ending felt a little too simple/abrupt – an epilogue would have been really nice, to hear how some of the details got wrapped up.  Weirdly, I felt like the message wasn’t clear in this book.  I kind of assumed the Cline would be pointing out the importance of embracing real life, etc. – but that didn’t really come through.  In some ways, he seemed to act like a virtual future is the only bright one we have.

But all in all, this book was just a fun ride.  I was completely glued to the pages, and could hardly read fast enough in some places.  I really liked Wade a lot.  It seemed like although there tons of references to video games/movies/music/1980’s, it didn’t interfere with the plot, and didn’t deter me from enjoying the book even when it was something I had never heard of.  I felt like Wade did a good job describing what I needed to know in order to understand the next part of the story, but without slowing down the plot.  It was just a fun rollick of a read, and I intend both to add this one to my permanent collection, and to check out more of Cline’s work.  4/5 and recommended.

PS I originally read about this book many moons ago when Sophie reviewed it.  Check out her review here!