Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Book Love: The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, this cover is eye catching and definitely had me interested from the get-go. Second, this mysterious title is intriguing. Who is this girl? What are all these gifts she possesses?

I have to commend M.R. Carey on coming up with yet another word for zombies. Understandably, at this point the word “zombie” in itself should be avoided at all costs in zombie literature/movies/TV, but this new name is spot on. Zombies have plagued (see what I did there?) our airways lately, and although you may think zombies have had their allotted time in the spotlight, Carey has somehow managed to spin the situation while coming up with a few of his own original rules for his zombie-infested post-apocalyptic world. “Hungries” is how readers of The Girl With All the Gifts came to know the familiar violently dead creatures, but Carey’s rules about their movements and mannerisms are what made his world so uniquely satisfying. Carey’s premises are both logical and worth the read, avoiding many of the all too common clichés.

Another compliment I have to this novel is the voice of our narrator, Melanie, who is about 10 years old. Melanie is not your ordinary 10-year-old girl, although she would like to be. Captured in the wild several years before the book begins, she now lives on a military base and is one of several subjects being studied. In many ways she is extremely normal, craving attention, full of a desire for learning, and infatuated with her favorite schoolteacher, but it is her gifts that separate her from other kids her age. Her voice is paramount to the success of this story, because without it, it would just be another zombie text. Instead of giving us a huge infodump at the beginning of the book, Carey uses Melanie as a filter for his world, allowing us to only learn as she does. Like us, society outside of the military base is new to Melanie, which enables us to react according to Melanie’s reception alone.

Survival is usually the driving factor in a world full of zombies, but The Girl With All the Gifts manages to avoid that as well, focusing instead on scientific exploration and objectivity. He uses his other characters, a crazed over-involved scientist, a tough military official, and Melanie’s loving schoolteacher, to contrast one another on the subject of our connection to our work. He suggests that no one can come into an observation situation without being a little biased, our prior experiences affecting us whether we’re conscious of them or not. As you can imagine, a zombie apocalypse is full of death. The Walking Dead among others have shown us what it’s like to live with death, and The Girl With All the Gifts is no different in that respect. If there was anything this book taught me, it was that we are all victims of our experiences. Our past determines who we are more than most of us would like to admit, driving us to act out subconscious desires. While some of us are looking for redemption, others want to make a difference in the world, especially one as ugly as this. It wasn’t what it taught me about zombies that will stick with me; it was what I learned about how humans treat other humans that I’ll remember. Our perspective of the world has a lot to do with how we react to each and every situation, and often it is our lack of awareness of this perspective that causes us to not love other humans the way we are meant to.

All in all, Carey offers a refreshing change to a genre that has been bogged down with sameness.

Goodreads Rating: 3.91
Recommended for: Zombie Fans

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Book Review: Armada

ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is Ernest Cline a “Ready Player One-trick-pony”, or has he found the perfect formula to appeal to science fiction lovers?

To say the Tome Raiders were excited for Armada, Ernest Cline’s latest romp in the world of campy 80s science fiction, would be an egregious understatement.

We were so excited for Armada
We were so excited for Armada
Whenever we’re asked for book recommendations the suggestion is almost always Ready Player One. It hit all of the notes of a thrilling adventure novel while sprinkling in the nostalgia-inducing movies, music, and mechs we’ve come to expect from Ernest Cline. However, the question looming on everyone’s’ lips was this: Could he do it again? I went in to this read with as realistic expectations as possible and put forth my best effort to produce an objective review regardless of the subject matter at hand or how I felt about the author’s previous work. With that being said, here is my DISCLAIMER: I love Ender’s Game, Firefly, and Cowboy Bebop. I’ve been an avid gamer my entire life and have played Magic: The Gathering, Starcraft, and Destiny for uncomfortably lengthy periods of my existence. I’m listening to Freddie Mercury belt out his sveltey signature lines as I write this review. I was clearly the target demographic of this novel. With that being said…

Armada was not a terrifically hard read, and the writing style and structure is very reminiscent of Ready Player One, as is the pacing of the story. The only times I had to stop reading were to Google a reference I might not have been familiar with or to visibly rest my face on the palm of my hand because of whatever I had just read (more on this later). The plot is basic wish fulfillment, as even the protagonist Zack Lightman points out several times throughout the story. Zack is an 18-year-old gamer in his senior year of high school on plain ‘ole boring earth. He lives with his widowed mother and is trying to survive the last few weeks of school til graduation so he can work full time at his current job where he sells used video game merchandise. Nothing too ground breaking thus far, just a relatable “blank canvas” guy (maybe TOO relatable for some) the readers can imprint themselves upon. Zack longs for adventure and intrigue to pull him from his unexceptional life, when one day he looks out of his classroom window and sees flying over nearby fields and forests a UFO that eerily resembles the alien starfighters he combats every day in his favorite video game, Armada. Zack is then recruited to the Earth Defense Alliance, along with all of the world’s top gamers. It is here that they discover the world’s two most popular video games, Armada and Terra Firma, were actually combat simulators preparing Earth’s citizens to defend their planet from an incoming alien invasion.

When I first read the synopsis for Armada months ago my stomach sank as I thought to myself, “This sounds like a rehash of countless already existing sci-fi classics…” though I immediately sprung back because I knew that Cline would have his own clever twist on the story. “Surely he’s using these stories as inspiration; it won’t be the exact same thing,” I rationalized. Well.. let me just put it like this: having the protagonist say, “Everything that is happening to me feels just like it came right out of my science fiction stories!” in a painfully self-aware fashion in order to rattle off the titles of some fan-favorite books and movies is not an excuse for an original plot or creative writing. Reading Armada can be likened to reading Ender’s Game, but in the first 20 pages Ender watches a copy of The Last Starfighter before going to Battle School. The experience is still a good ride, but every key plot point is excruciatingly telegraphed in the opening pages of the book. Not a single event caught me unaware or truly rewarded me as the reader. Now, I understand that Ernest Cline has the right to craft the book he wants to and he owes me nothing, but I would be very hard pressed to recommend this piece of fiction as opposed to any of its many predecessors.

So, the plot was unoriginal from beginning to end, but I sure did have a good time reading it. This is where I really fell into Cline’s wish-fulfilling trap. The pacing of the story flows very well and action pieces are told in a fluid and satisfying manner. There are a few romantic developments throughout the story, but unfortunately they all felt extremely forced. As much as the R2-D2 flask-wielding punk rocker Lex Larkin seems like my dream girl, I’m not falling for it, Cline. Putting a clone of every gamer nerds’ secret crush in the book doesn’t make her a good character. She’s so caricaturized and undeveloped that it feels cartoonish. Every character feels this way. They all seem to just fit into different facets of tropes on sci-fi characters. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I scoffed at lines such as, “We can play some pretty decent Van Halen covers […] Maybe we’ll jam for you guys later?” from one of the highest ranking military officers in the Earth Defense Alliance in the face of an impending alien invasion only hours away. You mean to tell me that someone SPRAY PAINTED, “The cake is a lie,” on the walls of a highly militarized secret base on the moon, and I’m not even supposed to bat an eye? Here’s why I think this sort of thing worked in Ready Player One, and not Armada:

Ready Player One was about the characters’ actual lives being turned into a video game. Armada is about the characters’ video games being turned into their actual lives.

Science fiction and fiction in general hinges on suspension of disbelief. The reader has to be able to compartmentalize their own knowledge and understanding and put it aside in order to take on the perspective that the author gives them. In Ready Player One it’s okay when someone references Star Wars or hops inside of a Gundam because they are gamers who are fighting to save their video game world. The stakes aren’t so high I can’t forgive the campy references. However, when the script is flipped and the aliens are coming to destroy everything that we know and love, I find it pretty unacceptable to have a high ranking military officer in charge of the Earth’s last defense getting blazed on some scientifically engineered VIDEO GAME WEED before boning one of the Earth’s best Interceptor fighter pilots named “Kushmaster5000” (I wish I was making all of this up, I really do.) There are many scenes like this in Armada, and I find them terribly distracting and derivative of the already uninspired plot. Though there are equally as many placed references that truly brought me joy and I found myself smiling at, they don’t carry near as much weight as the ones that “ruined the moment”.

Ultimately, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that Ernest Cline would take his gift for storytelling and his vast knowledge of this shared nerd culture we all have and produce the story that is Armada. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and I was spurned. When I have the desire to revisit an exciting nostalgia thrill ride, I will be reaching for Ready Player One long before I will Armada. With that being said, I love what you do Ernest Cline, and I eagerly await your next work.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

Recommended for: Ender Wiggins, Star Citizens, Ramona Flowers

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Reading Recs for 2014-2015 School Year: 3rd 9 Weeks

I’m finally onto the 3rd and probably my favorite segment of what I read this past year. My 3rd 9 weeks’ reading list began during Christmas Break, which allowed me to squeeze an extra two weeks of reading onto my reading log. I read some of my favorite books during this 11 weeks, and it’s also when this blog was spoken into existence. I believe during this time I became more intentional about what I was reading, giving my literary life purpose and spontaneity at the same time. From January to March I read more pages, began seriously reading comics, read a couple classics, and read what is now my all-time favorite book, which I will post about at the end of this list of recommendations. Take notes and enjoy!

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)  The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, #2)  The Death Cure (Maze Runner, #3)

The Maze Runner series is one that gained publicity this year by earning its own movie. The cover art for the series was appealing to a young audience, and the plot was intriguing to students who desired adventure with a little mystery attached. This series was so popular in my classroom I couldn’t get my hands on it long enough to see what I thought about it. No one checked it out for Christmas break, so it made its way to the top of my list. It was a quick and enjoyable read despite some of my issues with Dashner’s writing style. It was fast-paced, which is great for young readers, but the plot’s intensity and shocking events are what drove the novel. The writing is slightly jarring, and at times it’s way too obvious it was written with kids in mind, which makes it hard for older readers to enjoy it, too. The first book was the best in the series, although I haven’t read The Kill Order yet. The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure seemed to both lag at times with frustrating plot twists and character choices. Regardless of the problems I had with the series, it was a fun read, and I found I was unable to put it down once I’d started.

The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)  The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2)

The 5th Wave took me all of 24 hours to read and left me of the edge on my seat all the while. I was entranced by its cover art and more and more curious about what the 5th wave actually was the more I read it. The series opens up with Cassie Walker alone in her tent clutching her gun, thinking about her little brother, who she willingly sent away with Them. Earth has been invaded by Them, who sent several different waves down in rapid succession to take over the planet. The first three waves were easy to understand, but these last few waves have left the remaining human inhabitants alone, able to trust no one. Cassie is haunted by the lives she’s been forced to take and the knowledge her brother’s rescue may be impossible. She finds herself injured and in the care of Evan Walker, and although she can no longer be trusting of anyone, she finds she must trust him to survive. The series is told from many perspectives, giving the story a wholeness and a certain omniscience about it that is encapsulating. Both Cassie and the reader discover what the 5th wave is together, forcing them to survive through the shock and continue on Yancey’s thoughtfully designed journey. The first book has been my favorite so far because of the perspective we get to experience, but both have earned a deserved 4 stars or higher on Goodreads and in my gradebook. The third book is set to come out May 2016, and I will be preordering it. I’ve recommended this book to anyone who enjoys a good sci-fi read, and although it a Young Adult book, it is targeted for a more mature audience (early 20s).

Batgirl #35

Batgirl, like many other DC heroes, got herself a fun and modern reboot last year. I have loved reading Barbara Gordon’s story so far and will likely keep up with it for a long time. Her outfit, lifestyle, and the technological aspect of Batgirl’s crime fighting is relatable to my generation, and the first volume of the new Batgirl of Burnside has a despicable villain that came as a shock to me and many other readers. If you haven’t kept up with Batgirl until issue 35, no worries. Cameron Stewart has completely remade Barbara. She has flaws, personality, and flair, and I can’t wait to read more of her this year.

Winger (Winger, #1)

Ryan Dean’s life at private school is for mature readers only. Because he is two years younger than his fellow classmates, he is picked on and envied by others for his intelligence and constantly being placed in the friend zone by his best friend, Annie. As a junior in a private school for rich kids, Ryan Dean finds himself in trouble most of the time, and although he/s often extremely witty despite his unfortunate situations, the novel ends on an unexpectedly sad note. Andrew Smith has written many other wonderful books, and Winger’s sequel will soon be published. It’s titled Stand-off and is expected to be available this September. Despite its size, it’s a fast read, and you will find yourself in tears from laughing and from its shocking conclusion.

The Martian

Soon after it became a bestseller, Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, got itself a movie contract with leading man Matt Damon playing our protagonist Mark Watney. This book is one we’ve already written a full review for earlier on Tome Raiders, but I feel the need to promote it again for good measure. Yes, it has a ton of technical jargon, but it is easy to overlook, and I know this novel will transfer well to the big screen. It’s easily one of my favorite book covers of all time, and the trailer for the movie looks A+. If you’d like to watch the trailer first, here it is for your viewing pleasure: The Martian Movie Trailer

Ready Player One

We’ve finally reached the end of the 3rd 9 weeks’ reading list, and I can’t think of a better way to finish this post than with my favorite, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This is another one we’ve already reviewed here on Tome Raiders. A movie directed by Spielberg is already in the works, and I can promise you you will not be disappointed in this one. It’s futuristic and modern all at once, it has a striking cast of characters, and it explores themes that face the youth of today. Can we be the same people we are online and in real life? Does technology provide us with better opportunities or are we losing ourselves to it? Can the power of goodness and friendship overcome the power of money and corporation? I’ve been tempted to reread this since putting it down, and I am looking forward to Cline’s next novel, Armada, which I think was written with a hint of Ender’s Game in mind. I can’t say enough good things about RPO or Ernest Cline, and my review barely does the book justice. Cline has come up with a piece of perfection that I feel obligated to pass on to everyone I know.

Please let me know which of these reviews you found helpful and what you’d like to see more of on the blog. If you have a recommendation for us here at Tome Raiders, we’d love to hear it. We’re constantly look for new books to read and review.

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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