Feed Review

FeedFeed by M.T. Anderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Feed is set in futuristic America during a time of extreme consumerism. It features a group of teenagers who are connected to the Internet through an implant in their brains known as the feed. The feed was surgically placed within their brains and they have lived with it so long that their bodies now rely on the feed in order to function properly. Everything, even school™ and air, has been manipulated by consumerism. The teens in the novel brilliantly represent how stupid society has become because of the feed. There is no need to memorize or learn information because the feed is always there when they are having trouble figuring out a word or an answer to a question. Even the simplest of questions can be answered with the feed! Titus and his friends have grown up and been nurtured by the feed, but after a freak accident at a club on the moon, some choose to fight it and some go on as if nothing ever happened.

Every summary I stumbled across made me want to read Feed. The summary on Goodreads compared it to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, and even Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited, all authors that I adored who had bright minds and the foresight to notice society’s problems before they became the norm.

A few pages into Feed, I kept wondering when all its weird vocabulary would be explained and when Anderson was going to give us some type of context to help construct this world he created. I think I understand a few things after completing it, but I was left with way too many questions about Titus’s world. This was mainly due to the teenagers’ slang and limited use of real communication.

Two stars. This is a case of an excellent concept mixed with poor construction. It was, like, meg confusing?

It’s pretty safe to say that I disliked Feed and had a difficult time coping with its jarring slang, but while I was forcibly gulping down Anderson’s malfunctioned dystopia, I was careful to note how relevant the concepts in the novel were.

In fact, the more I discussed the novel’s take on society with others who’d read it, the more I found myself saying positive things about it. I was in a similar position when I read The Road. The experience from reading the book was much more enjoyable than actually reading the book. My mind was in a much better place after I finished Feed than it was at any point during the plot. The concepts I loved, but the writing style I could really do without. I love to read through the eyes of a protagonist who is descriptive, witty, and grows because of his hardships. Titus was unaware of the feed’s interruption of the world around him, and instead of fighting it like I kept hoping he would, he embraced it more and more even though it was killing Violet.

Feed is horrifyingly relevant. Although it was written just before our society became magnetically engrossed with our smartphones, Anderson had the foresight to identify the human need to connect to the world. Teenagers and the majority of young adults today spend hours playing games and socializing on their phones through the Internet. We may use the excuse that we need to feel connected to the world around us, but it seems more like an excuse to disconnect from socialization altogether. I agree that it is sometimes easier to spend time with our smartphones than it is to share face-to-face contact with our family and friends. Communication is hard; especially actively listening to someone else when we already have so much going on in our own minds. Smartphones allow us to respond to communication at our own convenience rather than at the moment in time when we are really needed. Our handheld devices have had a heavy influence on our society since they became more affordable and popularized. Although I’m grateful that I can carry a computer with me and aid me at my whimsy, it scares me think about how much we are crippling ourselves because of it.

I am still trying to figure out the underlying cause of my discomfort with Feed, but I think the majority of it came from the characters’ dialogue with one another, how little they grew throughout the book, and the choppy feed advertisements randomly scattered about and never explained. Although we couldn’t get quite the same effect from reading from any other point of view, I found myself continuously wishing the shrill teenage dialogue could have been integrated into the novel a little differently. I felt that it distracted from the importance of Anderson’s themes, which is one of the few redeeming qualities about this book.

I fell in love with the premise behind Feed and the ideas it enforced, but the style was a definite deterrent.

Goodreads Rating: 3.54
Recommended for: Young Adult; Science Fiction; Like Way Meg Teens

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Book Love: The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mark Watney is abandoned, left for dead on the surface of Mars. He can’t hear his own thoughts over the sound of the oxygen in his blood escaping into the vacuum of space. The antenna embedded in his rib cage drags across the sand violently, his body reeling in pain from each sway of the storm. In the face of crisis, his crew relinquishes his corpse to the barren surface of the planet they traveled so far to reach, and begin their ascent from the planet. After all, they have a long, quiet trip home. They didn’t want to leave him, but it was protocol.

Before I begin this review, let me preface this all by saying that The Martian is a very good book. If that’s all you need to hear, then there it is. Go ahead and get started. It’s a tale dripping with heroics; your heart is going to swell with pride in the human race by the time you get to the end of it. Mark Watney is an incredibly resilient, intelligent, and humorous man. As a whole, his supporting cast does a superb job of bringing out the best in him and enduring their hardships were some of my favorite experiences while reading this book. However, because I liked this book so much, I’m going to be pretty frank. It could have been better. This story has so much potential to be a knock-out-slam-dunk-home-run-5-star-all-day-every-day kind of book, and it falls *just* short. Mark Watney’s story is so good, it pains me to see it miss the mark of perfection by so little.

I hate to say it, but if I had to pick just one reason why I’m suffering so much over this, it would be because of the protagonist. Now you may be thinking, “Joe, what gives? You were just praising the guy one paragraph ago?” The problem is this, I like Mark Watney so much, and I want more of the guy. This isn’t Mark’s fault; he’s trapped on Mars after all. He has bigger fish to fry than to paint me a picture of his life, but I have to fault Andy Weir for making Mark such a one dimensional character. Every interaction with our favorite Martian essentially boils down to this MadLib:

"Well, I almost died again today.  This time it was the _____ that went and _____.  I'm not 
sure what to do.  I'll need some time to think it over"
...
...
"I've figured it out!  All I need to do is _____.  (Insert humorous anecdote)."

This is killing me! Andy Weir, you’ve created such a charismatic, lovable character. I just wish you would have shown us the man inside the EVA suit. I wanted a peek into this man’s mind, into his soul. What drives him? What does he miss about Earth? Who does he miss on Earth? His parents barely get a passing mention, let alone a significant other or friends. He laughs off every catastrophic event in the book like a fearless MacGyver. This is a story about a man who is utterly alone and stands face to face with death itself on a daily basis, and I never once felt afraid for him because I felt that he was never afraid for himself.

Now, I perceive that this is partially because the story is told in the form of Watney’s logs left behind to be found by whoever may come across them.
I can’t help but think, though, that Andy Weir kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. What does the “log” format really bring to the story? Sure, it’s kind of neat to read the very same logs that NASA will eventually see, but that alone does not add enough substance to the story to make up for the loss of hearing Watney’s inner monologue. I feel that if the entire story was told from the narrative point of view, (a log here and there would have been grand) I would have gotten to experience those bits of his character that couldn’t be conveyed through the text of his logs alone.

It seems like I’m really bashing Andy Weir here, but if I ever got to meet the guy, I’d thank him for writing such a powerful and endearing story. Yes, I feel that the characters could have been more fully developed and I wish Watney’s adventure wasn’t so linear and predictable. However, I bet that the first book I ever write won’t be near as good as The Martian.

I warned you, I was going to be critical. Like a concerned parent, I’m only being this way because I love it. This is a story about a man with a will to survive, and a planet full of people who are rooting for him to come back home. It’s impossible not to cheer along. My only wish is to have known more about the man I was rooting for and to feel what he felt; to stand in the boots of the first man destined to die on the Red Planet.

Goodreads Rating: 4.36
Recommended for: Adventurous Aeronauts, Wannabe Walter Mitty’s, The Curiosity Rover

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Book Love: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A science fiction classic in the making, Ready Player One immediately grabbed my attention by being completely plausible. “I could totally see this happening,” I thought to myself during the first chapter. Cline seemed to effortlessly cast a protagonist who anyone would feel compelled to root for while simultaneously casting his counter-part to be The Corporation and Big Business we all fear will take over our meager existences and cause worldwide unhappiness by diminishing our personal rights and freedoms. Basically, my jaw dropped early in the prologue and continued to hang open for the remainder of the novel. I respect any author who can set up a plot and create an entire dystopia so successfully during a time in literature where imperfect dystopian worlds run rampant and are often not thought out enough. Ready Player One embodies many modern themes that plague the human race, however I won’t mention them all as to avoid spoilers. Similar to previous dystopian novels, Cline perfectly tackles the world’s current problems through his words; we of the world are destroying its energy while constantly seeking refuge in our own realities rather than living in the world itself. This notion along with the countless 80s references and relatable geeky characters littered throughout Ready Player One have boosted it to my high score table of Best Books Ever.

The novel follows protagonist Wade Watts (a.k.a. Parzival) throughout Cline’s virtual reality game of the OASIS, which is what all of us video gamers dream of coming true. Despite the limitless possibilities and worlds within the OASIS, it sheds both a positive and negative light on reality. Because our future selves have destroyed many of the earth’s resources, many have decided to use the OASIS as an escape from the tragedy and brokenness of society. For kids like Wade, who are poor and have no real family, the OASIS gives them an identity they can shape for themselves, which I believe is an excellent concept.

The creator of the OASIS, Halliday, was born in the 80s and amassed an unreasonable amount of money from the profits of it, even though there was no fee for joining the OASIS community. He died with no friends or family, so in his will, he created a giant Easter egg hunt full of riddles and 80s trivia. So, although Cline’s world is set in the 2040s, there are 80s references everywhere, giving the story plenty of relatable nostalgia. The unpaid “professionals” who spend all of their time online hunting for these eggs are known as Gunters, and Wade, who has no money to do anything else, has spent the last 5 years gathering knowledge for the hunt while playing through 80s video games. Several years after Halliday’s death and still no one has been able to crack the only riddle he left behind. This is where we put on our own haptic suits and insert ourselves into Cline’s dystopian world to watch the plot unfold.

I am anxious to see the movie and read the sequel when they are completed. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone. Everyone has something to gain from reading it, and this is especially true for anyone remotely geeky over the age of 25. 5/5 stars.

Ernest Cline also just announced that pre-ordering is available for his new book, Armada, which I expect to be just as amazing as Ready Player One. It is available for pre-order here: Amazon

Joe and I will be filming an in-depth video discussion of this book very soon, which will contain spoilers.

Goodreads rating: 4.33
Recommended for: 80s kids, Video Game Lovers, Everyone

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The Iron Trial Review

The Iron Trial (Magisterium, #1)The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My thoughts before opening this book: “Yes, I have reservations about this book “ripping” off of Harry Potter, however, there were plenty of books about magic that came out before the HP series. J.K. Rowling was not the first to write about worlds involving magic, and she will not be the last.”

After finishing the book, which only took me a couple days, I’ve been really wondering how I want to write a review of it and what points I would hit on. It would be easy to touch on the many parallels it had to the HP series, but that’ s been done and will continue to be done. Also, I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It was most definitely written for the same audience, and it will continue to be compared and most likely viewed in a negative light. That being said, I think there will be several people out there who will disagree with the following statement: It was a good book. Let me add to that: Despite the ever-so-obvious parallels to HP, it was good book, nonetheless.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain. Kids who like to read about fantasy worlds often read books in the same genre. Some of these include Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Eragon series, and His Dark Materials series, among many others. Each of these books has similarities that cannot be ignored, which doesn’t have to be viewed as a negative characteristic. The Iron Trial is no different, however, I did think there were too many similarities between it and HP. Had I been the author of this charming, quickly paced book, I would have made sure that I either thanked J.K. Rowling for the wonderful inspiration or changed the obvious parallels so the bloggers and HP fans in the world wouldn’t constantly call me out for copying. I use “copying” lightly because The Iron Trial is NOT a carbon copy of HP, and I don’t want anyone walking away believing so.

This novel, told in collaboration by the esteemed Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, had some major plot differences that are worth noting. It was also not nearly as predictable as HP, which I can appreciate (even though HP is absolutely my favorite series of all time).

I would recommend this book to fans of the HP series because:
1. You need to read it and see the differences and parallels for yourself in order to make your own judgments.
2. It puts us older fantasy fans back into a child-like mindset and reminds us why we adored the genre so long ago.

For anyone who is still living in a cave and not familiar with the Harry Potter series, you actually have the advantage here and should go ahead and read The Iron Trial with no reservations. Following your completion of this first book, you should pick up Harry Potter and open your eyes. I do plan on reading the next book in the series in hopes that the plot continues to surprise me. My rating currently sits at a 3.5/5 (in my mind since Goodreads won’t give us half stars), but much of that rating is due to the fact that I thought there were many things left unexplained. As for reading a book that will be deemed by others to be an HP “knock-off”, I have no regrets. If you would go into this book with the mindset that it is HP fan-fiction, then you will probably love it.

I would love to discuss this book further, so feel free to comment and share.

Goodreads rating: 3.88
Recommended for: Harry Potter fans, Cassandra Clare fans, Middle Schoolers

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Book Love: The Running Dream

The Running DreamThe Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The overwhelming amount of love I have for this novel is making it difficult for me to write an accurate review of it. For me, someone who has been a runner through and through for more than half of my life, this was much more than just a book. I am by no means a realistic fiction reader, but sometimes I make an exception. Not only would I normally avoid a book about running due to the fact that most authors can’t relate their plot to what it’s really like, but I would normally stay far away from anything having to do with illness, amputated limbs, or any of life’s other physical woes. Despite all of this, I picked up The Running Dream. The Running Dream is about Jessica, a 400 meter runner in high school, whose track team suffers a collision on the way home from a meet. She loses part of her leg, and since her greatest passion and focus is on running, she’s devastated. Even though I knew that would happen based on the summary on the back of the book, it still hurt me to read it on those first few pages. The rest of the novel is Jessica’s journey back to the track, which is told in a really unique and profound way. So, here’s what Wendelin Van Draanen got right about running: You can’t keep a real runner away from it. Running is so much more than a sport, and most of the time, runners are competing against themselves. In this sense especially, the characterization was spot on. Sadly, this is a fact that many other writers ignore. This novel got it right in so many ways and is an exceptionally quick read with short chapters that make you want to keep on flipping. If you are a runner, you need to read The Running Dream because it is relatable, inspirational, hopeful, truthful, and loyal to the spirit of running. If you’re not a runner, you should read The Running Dream because it is heartwarming, thought-provoking, and encapsulating of so many YA themes. It deals with friendships, family relationships, and school struggles in the most realistic way. It teaches perseverance, identity, courage, and faith among other things. Whether you are an avid reader or one who is normally reluctant, you must give this book a chance.

Goodreads rating: 4.30
Recommended for: Athletes, Realistic Fiction Fans, Reluctant Readers

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