Ready Player One Jeopardy

I loved the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, so when when I had to figure out what science fiction book I was going to have my class read, it was a no brainer.

I suppose I should back up a bit. Right now I’m teaching a Readers’ Advisory Services course to library science graduate students at the College of St. Catherine. Yes, that means I have three jobs. No wonder I haven’t had a chance to take a course at The Loft and do some of my own writing.

But don’t get me wrong, I love teaching this course.

Readers’ Advisory is a librarian term meaning how we help library patrons find books they may like to read. The course is designed to give students a background in many genres, to give them tools to help people find books, and to emphasize the importance of highlighting books and reading by creating book-related events.

To get my students thinking about book-related events, I’m doing a bunch of different events in my classroom. I had an author speaker come in, we had a murder mystery party, and recently we played Ready Player One Jeopardy.

To give a short background of Ready Player One, you should know that it takes plays in 2044, where much of the world lives in the virtual world The Oasis. The Oasis was built by a Steve Jobs-like man who became a billionaire. When he died he had no heirs, so before he passed he designed a game inside The Oasis where people had to find clues and keys to become the winner and take over The Oasis and his billions. The whole world becomes obsessed in finding the keys, and in turn they become obsessed with the 1980s. The clues for all the keys are based on 1980s pop culture because this man was obsessed with the 1980s, the decade in which he was a teenager. So in 2044, everyone loves 1980s music, movies, television, and fashion.

To show the students that you can do things besides having book clubs and bringing in author speakers, we had a Ready Player One/80s party where we danced to 80s music, students came dressed in costume, and we played Ready Player One/80s Jeopardy.

Have you read the book? Here’s the Jeopardy board. Try playing it.

How’d you do?

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The Office of Mercy

office of mercyThe Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian bills itself as a dystopian novel that Hunger Games fans would love, so this fanatic had to check it out. It’s not as good as Katniss and her crew, but it is an interesting dystopian novel with an unpredictable ending, far from where I thought it was going.

Natasha lives in the underground settlement America-Five, hundreds (or even thousands?) of years in our future. This settlement came to life after a massive storm wiped out the majority of the 59 billion people living on Earth. America-Five sounds like the ultimate utopia. There is no starvation or crime, everyone has a job and shelter, and everyone lives forever because organs matching each person’s DNA are just waiting for when the person needs a replacement. But all of this comes at a cost.

Natasha works in the Office of Mercy, the office that watches the outside world where people are still living, though they are described as tribespeople and depicted as not much more intelligent than animals. They are the cave people of the future. The Office of Mercy’s job is to keep an eye on these tribes to maintain the safety of the settlement and to put the tribes out of their misery if they seem to be in pain or suffering.

The Office of Mercy carries out mass killings of these tribes because of their settlement’s Ethical Code, essentially their Bible and the laws that rule them. The Ethical Code is the guideline for how those in the settlement behave, which includes guarding their empathy with metaphorical “walls,” disdain for the outside world, the belief that the way their society runs is the only way in which humans can survive, and the idea that pain and suffering needs to be granted mercy, hence killing the suffering tribespeople.

As with all dystopian novels, our protagonist Natasha starts to question her world and this drives the story. She allowed her “wall” to fall down and she felt empathy for a tribe the Office of Mercy killed. She starts researching the settlement’s beginning, meeting with others who believe the mercy killings are wrong, and she even ventures outside the settlement and interacts with tribespeople who are different than what she thought.

The world Djanikian created was really elaborate. We follow Natasha as she learns about and questions the settlement, and the way we learn more about the settlement is written really well. We aren’t given pages of the Ethical Code to read or long passages about the settlement’s history, but this is all revealed in different ways throughout the novel, just like how we learn about the things Natasha uncovers.

Natasha is a great character, and how she matures throughout the novel really reminds me of young adult fiction, though this isn’t billed as young adult, but it could be. While Natasha is twenty-four, she is very naive in the beginning, but she grows in belief and strength as we move forward, just like lead characters in young adult novels.

The initial path Natasha was on seemed predictable with her questioning her life and wondering whether she could enact change, and I thought I knew what would happen, that this would follow the same formula we see in dystopian novels, but it didn’t. At all. I don’t know if dystopian fans will like this ending, just like how mystery fans bemoaned the Gone Girl ending, but I think it’s good to shake things up and it surprised me. I still wonder what will happen after the ending and I like that feeling.

I thought this was a good dystopian novel. Why I don’t think it was as good as The Hunger Games is that there isn’t that much action. There are definite moments, but overall this is a dissection of the community and what people give up by living in so-called utopias. It was very provocative, but people looking for something similar to the action of The Hunger Games may not find it here.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.

So good. So simple.

stuffed jumbo shellsIf you had been to my house the other night, you would’ve thought I was Chef Boyardee.

Wait. Maybe that’s a bad example.

You would’ve thought I was Antonio Carluccio.

What? You have no idea who that is? Yeah, me either, but he’s number one on this list of famous Italian chefs, so he’s probably good, right? (Did you see who number two was?)

But, seriously, I made a really good, really easy pasta dish. Don’t get too excited, it’s not like I made my own sauce. I used the sauce from the jar, but I still think this counts.

This recipe comes from my good old Anyone Can Cook cookbook.

Spinach-Stuffed Pasta Shells

12 dried jumbo shell macaroni
1 10-ounce package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 26- to 32-ounce jar pasta sauce

Drain the thawed spinach and set aside.

Cook the jumbo shells, drain and set aside.

Mix together spinach, eggs, 1 1/2 cup of Italian cheese, and ricotta cheese. Spoon the mix into the shells (about 2 tablespoons in each).

Put in baking dish and cover with jar of pasta sauce.

Bake, covered, at 350 for 40 minutes. Sprinkle with rest of Italian cheese and eat.

Pro tip: I had 16 shells. Maybe I didn’t fill mine enough, but I had extra filling so I filled extra shells.

Vegetarian friends, take notice, this is what you’ll be eating the next time you’re at my place. It won’t disappoint.

Warm Bodies

warm-bodiesI’ve been seeing the previews for the movie “Warm Bodies” featuring the kid from “About a Boy” who’s not such a kid anymore. Yes, that’s him. IMDB it. Blew my mind, too.

The previews for “Warm Bodies” make me smile, and the book has been on my to-read list for awhile, so I picked it up this weekend and didn’t put it down until I finished. It’s that good, but it does make me wonder how in the hell they’ll turn it into a movie.

Warm Bodies is about R, a zombie living in an airport with a bunch of other zombies. They don’t remember anything from their past lives, including their names, and they just wander around the airport, grunting. Occasionally they have to go into town to scrounge for food, and on their latest hunt, things start changing.

When a zombie eats our brain, they can see our memories. As R and his friends attack a group of people, R eats Perry’s brain and instantly has some memories about Julie, a young woman about to be attacked by R’s best friend, M. R saves Julie from M and rubs zombie guts on her, blocking her human scent from zombies. He brings her back to the airport to keep her safe, something he’s never done before.

The rest of the book is about Julie learning about R, R learning about Julie, and this zombie-infested world crumbling. There are other characters, and really bad zombies called Boneys, but for me this is all about Julie and R. And Perry. This is where I wonder about the movie.

R eats bits and pieces of Perry’s brain throughout the rest of the book, getting more of Perry’s memories in his head. A lot of this book takes place in R’s head, because even though he doesn’t remember who he is, he constantly thinks about the world and about Perry’s life. I’m not sure how this will play on the big screen, but in the book it made me fall in love with R. R is pretty dreamy, even if he is a decomposing, stinky zombie.

This book is nothing to take serious, but it was a damn good time, and I heard that it will be series with the second book coming out in 2014. I’m not so sure I’m excited about that. The book ends perfectly, so I don’t really know where a second book will go, but I will definitely read it.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.

Welcome!

Hello_World_In_Several_LanguagesIn an effort to collect myself from all over the web, and to house an up-to-date resume, I decided to make my own site.

I have been reviewing books on Minnesota Reads for a couple years now, and Twitter has been my microblogging platform (I love Twitter), but I feel like I need a place to put this all together.

I’ve blogged in the past, but never consistently, and always focusing on one thing, like libraries or cooking. Here I’m going to include anything and everything, and hopefully with this flexibility I’ll be much better about blogging regularly.

Most of my posts will include information about books, writing, libraries, and food, because there just aren’t enough book and food blogs.

I will also include sarcasm, like that, so you’re forewarned.