Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Let me preface this review with the following: I hate video games, I did not allow them in my home when raising children, and I see them as a destroyer of human interaction. With that said, you might wonder why I would ever read this book? I questioned that myself, as this entire book is about an interactive simulated video-game world. However, it's just a really, really good story. Our hero, Wade Watts, or Parsival, his game avatar, is not what you might call the most 'heroic' character ever. He's an overweight, teenage boy who lives solely in the Oasis, a simulated world created by a now-dead computer genius. Said genius left an 'egg' in the Oasis and started a world-wide hunt, with the winner of the 'egg' inheriting his multi-billion dollar estate. In other words, game on! The year is 2046, our world is devoid of all things good thanks to the absence of fossil fuel and water, and Wade prefers the simulated school and world to his dingy trailer park home in the Stacks - who wouldn't? As the story progresses, we meet Wade's on-line buddies, H and Artemis, and we watch them battle the 'Sixers' (a computer company that will own the world if they find the egg first). I know - the whole thing just sounds like a bad video game, but Ernest Cline is a masterful story teller. He creates great suspense, is detailed in his description and creativity of this imaginary world, and has a perfect voice for his teenage hero - many laugh-out-loud moments come along as you listen (as I did), or read this book. I would highly recommend it for any young adult who loves their video games, as well as parents/adults who wonder what our youth see in that pastime.
Sandrine's Case by Thomas H. Cook
If you liked Gone Girl, you will be intrigued by this book as well. While I have not read any other books by Cook, I am determined to add him to my 'must-read' authors. Cook creates an intriguing family in this story, with Sam, the mid-western boy who became a college professor, his wife Sandrine, an aristocratic gifted intellectual, and their daughter, Alexandria, a young woman still searching for who she wants to be. The book begins with Sam sitting in a courtroom, awaiting the verdict in his own murder trial - did he kill his wife? The book then flashes back to a variety of time periods, not in chronological order, that replays Sam and Sandrine's life together - student days, young marriage, concerns of tenure, health, friendships - and we, the readers, have to try and piece together the tale of his guilt or innocence, the same as the jury. Cook has some intriguing twists and turns and has created complex characters whom you both love and hate. This was a quick read, as I was driven to find the truth. Could be an intriguing book club option, as some of the 'choices' these two people make are questionable and provoking.
The Police by Jo Nesbo
If you are a mystery fan, loved the Girl series by Stieg Larrson, and you STILL have not discovered Jo Nesbo, you really need to get on board. Don't be intimidated by the number of his Harry Hole detective books (I haven't read them all - you can easily start anywhere). Nesbo is the master of creating sympathetic, tortured, complex characters - and yes, sometimes you invest in them and then they die - but that's what happens in Oslo. His latest book is probably my favorite. The mystery surrounds murders of policemen at the scene of an unsolved mystery, that they investigated - nice twist. We have all of our old favorite characters back, so it feels like old-home week. Harry Hole never fails to disappoint; he is still the wily detective, who struggles with his drinking and his relationships. While it does help to read the previous book, it's not completely necessary in order to enjoy this one. Gruesome murders, complicated story, intriguing characters - another winner by Nesbo.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
This was one of the most controversial, talked-about books of 2013, and since I love rebels, I thought it would be intriguing to see what all the fuss was about - glad I did. Aslan is a historian and theologian, with a PhD who just happens to be Muslim, thus the controversy. (Do watch the interview with Aslan on Fox News - it's painful and humorous, all at the same time, to see the way he corrects the anchor who had obviously not even read his book). However, beyond the media frenzy, this is just a very well-written, well-researched look at one of the most influential people in history. Aslan writes as a historian so don't expect a suspenseful, prettily-written story. Occasionally dry and always backed up by historical fact, he tells the story of a young rebel and places Jesus in the context of a area that was seething with sedition, treason, and unwanted rulers. Using biblical references and historical notes from both Jews and Romans, Aslan paints an intriguing picture. He debunks legends that will offend some Christians, such as the nativity story, but he does so in a factual manner, and has copious notes that prove his theories. I found Aslan to be respectful of both the historical Jesus and the theological Jesus. I completely understand that some people will not read this book because it does not adhere to what they believe about the Bible; however, I am of the opinion that the more knowledge we can gather and the questions we ask ourselves of our faith, strengthens and does not weaken it. It is definitely good 'food for thought,' but does require an open, questioning, scholarly-seeking mind.