Written by: T.L. Costa
Published by: Strange Chemistry
Release date: July 2nd 2013
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult
Buy: B&N, Amazon
Add on: Goodreads
When is a game not a game?
Tyler MacCandless can't focus, even when he takes his medication. He can't focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who's in rehab for heroin abuse... again.
Tyler's dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn't suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.
Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald's, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score's high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game's designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.
That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what's really going on in time to save his brother... and prevent his own future from going down in flames.
Did you really give Playing Tyler a chance?
Well, I tried. In my ebook, I read 72 of 212 pages. It’s a shortish book, so maybe this isn’t enough? Maybe I should’ve stuck it out to 50%? But it took me a few weeks to get that far anyway. I know I have to DNF a book when I decide to read a different book to take a “break”, and then that turns into “well, maybe just one more… actually, just one more…”
Have you enjoyed other books of the same genre?
I love spy/thriller movies, but I haven’t read many YA mystery/thrillers before (unless you count scifi/paranormal YA that also includes a mystery, lol). From the blurb though, Playing Tyler sounded like it was going to be exciting, engaging, unique, and un-put-down-able. Those are all things that I like (who doesn’t?!), so I thought this would be right up my alley.
Had you been looking forward to this book in particular? Why?
It was kind of an impulse-read for me – I saw it on NetGalley, thought it sounded really good, so I requested. So no, I hadn’t been looking forward to it in particular.
Did you have certain expectations for the book before starting it?
Yes. The blurb sounded awesome and exciting, and I was expecting cool characters… An ADHD high school student who is so good at video games, he’s basically recruited by the military to test a new flight program; a 16-year-old college student who designs flight simulations – they had potential. I was also expecting excitement – what’s up with this game that isn’t really a game? What is this shady government organization that no one seems to know about? I wanted to know, and I was expecting a suspenseful lead-in while waiting for all the answers to come to light.
What ultimately made you stop reading?
Honestly, I felt like Playing Tyler played me. I don’t mean that in a not-nice way… Just that I feel like the blurb didn’t accurately portray the weight and focus that was given to the relationship between the two main characters. I was expecting at least an element of suspense from start to finish, but instead the first third of the book focuses almost entirely on Tyler and Ani. I normally enjoy a love story no matter what kind of book it’s set in – paranormal, fantasy, scifi, etc – a little romance is nice. But I didn’t like the way this “relationship” (or at least the build-up to it) was handled.
Admittedly, there are other aspects in the beginning – there’s bits with Tyler playing the flight-simulation “game” (which is obviously not what Tyler thinks it is), and some scenes with Tyler’s brother, and Tyler’s and Ani’s mentor/boss, Rick. But mostly, the only thing that Tyler and Ani can think about is each other. Which didn’t make sense to me. They’d only met once (and didn’t really have any chemistry), but Tyler is instantly obsessed with Ani. He emails her every day for weeks without her returning any of his emails. That’s bad enough – but Ani apparently thinks this is cute, and is totally hung up on him as well. I’m sorry… what? Tyler also gets really stalkery – at the part I stopped, he was attending an event for the sole purpose of finding Ani, after weeks of constant one-sided emails and nothing that indicated she reciprocated his feelings at all. I don’t know if Tyler’s ADHD has anything to do with the obsessive behavior towards Ani – maybe it does – but I found it to be more creepy than cute.
All that to say, those things really made me not able to connect with (and also, sometimes, actively dislike) the characters – and that’s a huge book-turn-off for me. If I’m not invested in the characters in some way, there’s no way I’m going to care about the rest of the story.
Also, like I said, I was expecting more suspense… If 1/3rd of the book is going to be filled with (slightly creepy) relationship/non-relationship issues, a little suspense would have gone a long way in keeping my attention better… But there really wasn’t any. There was some plot set-up, in the form of obviously shady aspects of the game and the people Ani and Tyler work with. But I didn’t feel like it was suspenseful at all. I also feel like most of those first 72 pages probably could have been condensed a lot. Maybe with better pacing (and fewer stalker-vibes from Tyler), I would’ve been more engaged.
Was there anything you liked about Playing Tyler?
I liked the concept to begin with, but I really didn’t enjoy any of the execution – the characters, the plot set-up… it was all just kind of “meh” for me.
Would you read any other books by this author?
I can’t say, really. I did find the writing to be easy to follow (except for when Tyler’s ADHD got the better of him and became kind of stream-of-consciousness – that was hard to get used to). So maybe Costa would be able to grab me with different characters? I can’t say for sure.
So you DNF’d the book – but would you still recommend it to anyone?
Honestly… I can’t say that I would. I would really recommend researching some more reviews, from either end of the spectrum, before jumping in (like the reviews on Goodreads).