BOOK: Shadow Puppets (2002)

Shadow PuppetsYear: 2002Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 646 minutes / 10.77 hours It’s odd for me to read the third book in a series and be confronted with problems that I usually see by the fourth book. So far, I’ve been on board with the whole Shadow series as it focuses on an interesting character in the form of Bean. For two books, I’ve read about Bean’s survival, made all the more thrilling by the antagonist Achilles. Of course, during Ender’s Shadow and Shadow of the Hegemon, the series picked up plenty of side stories and sub-plots. This is what ruined Shadow Puppets for me: the focus wasn’t on Bean and Achilles, but rather on advancing the story of all these sub-plots. Now, don’t get me wrong, Shadow Puppets has a lot of interesting events. It’s just that it was so entertaining to read about Achilles in the previous books, and he’s relegated to a bookending motif for this book. We don’t get...
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BOOK: The Obelisk Gate (2016)

The Obelisk Gate Year: 2016 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 799 minutes / 13.32 hours I’ll admit that reading The Fifth Season had a bit of a learning curve for the Broken Earth series. Not only did I have to learn about the vastly powerful magic system based on rocks (and other rock forms), but I had to get used to a second-person point of view (POV). Jumping between timelines with similar characters who had different names was a bit confusing, but I was able to figure it out by the end. Fast forward to the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, and most of my qualms with the first book were smoothed over or solved outright. One of the things I enjoyed about The Obelisk Gate was the increase in the scale of the magic system. Including the moon in these calculations makes perfect sense considering the nature of the orogeny magic. I also appreciated how the story seemed to focus on a single POV, which made...
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BOOK: The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (2013)

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets Year: 2013 Author: Simon Singh Length: 253 pages My wife picked up this book for me from the library because she thought I might like to read it. To her credit, I am a huge fan of The Simpsons (and Futurama), and there are plenty of interesting mathematical concepts that I’ve loved reading about over the years. Clearly, I would be the target demographic for this book. Except, after reading through it, I’m clearly not. In fact, I’m not even sure who the target audience for this book is. Fans of Matt Groening’s work will already know the episodes and scenes that are re-described here. Fans of mathematics will already know about prime numbers, Fermat’s last theorem, and Klein bottles. In short, this book felt like a mathematician trying to make math seem interesting by pointing at freeze-frame gags in a popular TV show and waggling his eyebrows as if to say, “See how smart the writers of this...
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BOOK: The Opal Deception (2005)

The Opal Deception Year: 2005 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 449 minutes / 7.48 hours As a fan of the three-act structure that trilogies can provide, I’ve found over the years that the fourth book in a series generally determines what the style of future books will be. Plenty of series have strong plotlines and character arcs that span multiple volumes, but some series settle into a tried-and-true formula that works for them. For The Opal Deception, the fourth book in the Artemis Fowl series, it’s the latter. Granted, the series is meant for grade-school readers, so it’s not entirely surprising that the series has become formulaic. There was an amount of status quo (and returning to it) that had to happen after the events in The Eternity Code, which is where The Opal Deception came in. It honestly feels a little like a half-step backward for the series, or at least a realignment to get the characters all back together to continue on future adventures....
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BOOK: Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry (2010)

Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry Year: 2010 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I’m all for interesting ways to write books, but using a game of “Twitter telephone” is a new one for me. In fact, can we even call this book written by Gaiman at all? Sure, he’s great at these types of modern fairy tales (like Stardust, for instance), but he only got the ball rolling on this story and let the internet write the rest of it. Granted, he was the one who chose which segments to include next, to help guide it into some limited form of coherence, so maybe he “wrote” it after all? It’s not that Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry isn’t an utterly incoherent story; it’s that it lacks focus at times. Plenty of interesting subplots could have been explored but were quickly abandoned as the story switched over to a different writer. I’m almost glad this book was as short as it was because otherwise, I...
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BOOK: How To (2019)

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems Year: 2019 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 307 pages I’ve been a fan of Randall Munroe’s work for quite some time. This artist of the xkcd webcomic certainly has a sense of humor that I appreciate, so I looked forward to his latest book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. While his previous book, What if? covered hypothetical scenarios asked by the users of the internet, How To takes a somewhat opposite approach by using extreme science to do the most basic things imaginable. If you’re looking for simple answers, this isn’t the book for you. While it’s fun to think of the most complicated way to (for example) be on time, often the joke goes on a little too long as the exact science behind the absurdity is explained. There were times I felt I was reading a textbook instead of a humorous treatise on how to cross a river. Even though I...
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BOOK: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

The Man Who Was ThursdayYear: 1908Author: G.K. ChestertonLength: 355 minutes / 5.92 hours On the surface, The Man Who Was Thursday has all the markings of a witty thriller satire. Unfortunately, as the subtitle of this work is “A Nightmare,” things don’t necessarily stay coherent to the end. It’s not that The Man Who Was Thursday is terrible, but rather that it loses focus and becomes absurd the longer it continues. And perhaps that’s the greatest tragedy of this book: that it could have been a solid story if it didn’t devolve into a nightmare at the end. I certainly liked plenty of aspects of the early parts of this book. Infiltrating an anarchist society with day-of-the-week codenames. The revelation that few members of said society were actually who they said they were. The conspiracy and twists as the protagonists and antagonists get flipped on their heads. Of course, this last bit is when things started going downhill. Perhaps it’s that odd...
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BOOK: Wizard and Glass (1997)

Wizard and GlassYear: 1997Author: Stephen KingLength: 1,656 minutes / 27.6 hours When I started reading Wizard and Glass, it became abundantly clear why The Waste Lands ended with a cliffhanger. While it would have been nice to have a short conclusion at the end of The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass needed a small amount of framing. That way, it didn’t become a book entirely devoted to a flashback. Granted, the large majority of this book is a flashback, even to the point that I’d consider it to be a prequel. Fortunately, Roland’s backstory was something that desperately needed to be expounded upon in this series. I know most writers are discouraged from using flashbacks, but in the context of a more extensive series, Wizard and Glass is an integral part of understanding how the Dark Tower universe works. Plus, Stephen King can get away with a lot since he’s so well established. In the end, this book works well because it...
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BOOK: Mist (2013)

Mist Year: 2013 Author: Susan Krinard Length: 384 pages My knowledge of Norse mythology is passable at best. Granted, much of it I “learned” from movies like Thor (2011), so I understand that there’s an amount of fictionalization to my knowledge. That being said, Mist seemed to take this pop-culture understanding of Norse mythology and transplant it into modern-day San Francisco. While solidly in the New Adult genre (there is plenty of sex and allusions to it here), I can’t say that anything is interesting here in terms of story. Sure, there are a few things that happen, but they all seem to be alluding to much more exciting developments that won’t happen until later in the series. One of my biggest qualms with this book was that I didn’t connect with the main character. Mist felt very “Mary Sue” to me. I found the more common elements of her existence (e.g., her employment, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) were mentioned in passing but never given...
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BOOK: Caging Skies (2004)

Caging SkiesYear: 2004Author: Christine LeunensLength: 628 minutes / 10.47 hours When I saw Jojo Rabbit (2019) nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, I decided to give Caging Skies a read to see how close the adaptation came. After finishing this book, I can see why Taika Waititi ended his movie at the half-way point of the plot. This is mostly because this book only has half a plot. I can forgive a bit of blind enthusiasm of Austrian children who thought the Nazis were great, but I can’t forgive a teenager that gaslights (and, let’s be honest, rapes) a captive girl and tries to come off as the victim. While taking a much more serious tone than the one presented in Jojo Rabbit, Caging Skies does a reasonably good job exploring themes of war, disability, and the sacrifices it takes to do what is right. Unfortunately, a lot of the lessons presented by the main character’s parents are entirely lost by the half-way...
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BOOK: The Eternity Code (2003)

The Eternity CodeYear: 2003Author: Eoin ColferLength: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours After the last two adventures in the Artemis Fowl series helped to reunite the titular character with his family, it was entertaining to watch him strike out on his own. This was for no other reason than to prove he has the criminal chops his family name is known for. While decidedly middle-grade to young adult in tone, The Eternity Code is still an entertaining read. One might need to have read the previous two volumes to know who all the main players are, but at least the story is strong enough to carry the reader through to the conclusion without too much hassle. While I appreciated the “on top of it” style Artemis had in Artemis Fowl, I could also enjoy the cracks of vulnerability in his façade present in The Eternity Code. After all, Artemis is merely a teenage boy, and it helps to ground him in reality when...
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BOOK: Lightless (2015)

LightlessYear: 2015Author: C.A. HigginsLength: 304 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** There seem to be a few cardinal sins most writers are cautioned to avoid at all costs. Two of these sins are exposition dumps and “show, don’t tell.” While the entire book doesn’t necessarily fall into these pitfalls, Lightless spends a big chunk of its 300 pages in telling the reader about all the exposition to the story that’s currently playing out. Instead of reading an interrogation, I would have much rather seen the events that led to the current state of the solar system. On top of all this, I failed to care about any of the characters or their plights because this method of storytelling was so impersonal. I’ll admit that I almost gave up reading this book right before it became interesting again. The ending does a pretty good job of re-invigorating the plot, but it might be a case of too little too late. Furthermore, not...
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BOOK: Storm Front (2000)

Storm Front Year: 2000 Author: Jim Butcher Length: 482 minutes / 8.03 hours The first book in the Dresden Files series, Storm Front is the fusion of urban fantasy and detective noir that I didn’t know I needed. As a wizard for hire, Harry Dresden gets a lot of weird cases that only a wizard could deal with, but it’s done in a way that hearkens back to Sam Spade and other detectives just trying to make a buck investigating mysteries that show up on their doorstep. Perhaps I just haven’t read any modern noir (most of it supplanted by the “thriller” genre), but Storm Front is a refreshing return to a classic form of storytelling. Of my two qualms, only one has to do with the book itself. The narrator of this audiobook had a bit too much breathing, sniffling, and other noises that—while being somewhat infrequent—pulled me out of the story far too often. And while I liked how there was always something...
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BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)

A Darker Shade of MagicYear: 2015Author: V.E. SchwabLength: 694 minutes / 11.57 hours A co-worker of mine suggested I check this book out, and I have now finally gotten around to it. While he gave this series of books a glowing review, I can only hope that the other books in this trilogy fare better than this one. For what it was worth, A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t seem to be original enough for me to care much about what happened in it. It’s filled with so many fantasy and YA tropes that I could almost swear I’d read the same book somewhere else before. Perhaps part of my problem comes with the audiobook production of this story. I generally liked Lila, except when she was particularly annoying. There were quite a few times the narrator made her sound like Audrey Hepburn in the early part of My Fair Lady (1964), and that’s not much of a compliment. Overall, though, I...
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BOOK: Shadow of the Hegemon (2000)

Shadow of the HegemonYear: 2000Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 365 pages It’s almost fitting how the follow-on book in the spin-off series to Ender’s Game takes the same tactic as Speaker for the Dead and transforms itself into a completely different genre. While Speaker for the Dead and its sequels still maintained a level of science fiction for the Ender saga, Shadow of the Hegemon pivots into a political thriller with almost no hints of sci-fi to be seen. The strength of the characters helped make this transition relatively smooth, but it still highlights how these child-aged individuals hardly have any child-like qualities. While the Shadow saga certainly needed to start out focusing on Bean, I did appreciate how Shadow of the Hegemon developed many of the supporting characters. For the first time in both series, I felt like the reader was able to know Petra and Peter while also seeing what Achilles was capable of accomplishing. The results of bringing back children...
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BOOK: Schumann – The Faces and the Masks (2018)

Schumann: The Faces and the Masks Year: 2018 Author: Judith Chernaik Length: 773 minutes / 12.83 hours When it comes to biographies of famous artists, it can be difficult to separate their life from their life’s work. It is fascinating to understand the influences of an artist, especially when in the context of their creation. However, much of the ability to talk about the artist’s life depends on common knowledge of their artistic portfolio. For slightly more obscure artists, finding the balance between discussing their personal life and providing an explanation of their art can be a challenge. Schumann: The Faces and the Masks attempts to cover both Robert Schumann’s life and his musical pieces. While revealing some of the more interesting secret codes in Schumann’s music in this book, the moments discussing the songs in detail seem to derail the whole narrative of the biography. Schumann’s life was fascinating enough as it was, with the drama involved in his marriage to Clara Wieck, as...
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BOOK: The Crystal City (2003)

The Crystal City Year: 2003 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours With the end of this series in sight, it seems that the focus of The Crystal City is back on track. That being said, there are a few curious omissions that made it somewhat frustrating to read. I understand that some stories aren’t meant to be part of full books, but when these side short stories sound much more interesting by their mere inference, then I wonder why they weren’t included in the main storyline to begin with. Still, there were enough exciting developments in The Crystal City to keep me wondering what the conclusion will bring in the next book. While I appreciated the historical name dropping earlier in the series, now they seem to be coming left and right, with little-to-no impact on the story other than to say, “Look! Here’s someone you should know, and here’s how they’re different now!” Part of this is due to the...
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BOOK: Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine (2018)

Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine Year: 2018 Author: Jessica Crichton Length: 260 pages While I’m a bit older than the target demographic, I’m not sure I was ever a fan of the kind of “gross-out” tropes that seem to permeate the middle-grade genre. My main problem with Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine is that it relies on this trope in spades. At the very least, it takes this slightly “uncultured” format and takes it to its logical extremes. After all, the amount of accented pidgin adds flavor to this parallel universe, even if it sacrifices some readability. In the end, though, it’s still a pretty good story even if the plot points felt pretty standard for the genre. Aside from some of the content being gross, there were several proofreading errors scattered throughout this book. Not enough to be distracting but enough to be noticeable. I’m also not sure the more complicated “twist” near the end is understandable for the target age range, considering the scientific knowledge needed...
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BOOK: Heartfire (1998)

Heartfire Year: 1998 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 728 minutes / 12.13 hours It’s been a while since I read this far into a series, and I can start to see why I like trilogies and stand-alone books. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this series had evolved into a courtroom drama instead of a historical fantasy. At this point, the whole premise of this series seems to have veered off course and has lost its focus to tackle unrelated issues that were somewhat prominent at the time. Or, at least it’s merely acting as a chance to name drop historical figures and take the side of history against well-known issues that haven’t aged well over time. If anything, Heartfire could have easily been the fourth book in the series, since Alvin Journeyman added nothing to the story. Even so, Heartfire didn’t feel as strong as earlier books in the series. It almost seems like there’s more of a focus on world-building. There...
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BOOK: Pandora’s Lab (2017)

Pandora’s Lab Year: 2017 Author: Paul A. Offit Length: 471 minutes / 7.85 hours Science is an interesting realm. The public would sure like to think that all scientists are dedicated to finding the purest form of some scientific concept and modifying it to benefit society. However, some things become readily clear: not all societies are the same, and science can be abused. If anything, some of the worst scientific discoveries of the last few centuries were made with the best intentions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the full science wasn’t brought to the table, and plenty of people suffered because of it. Enter Pandora’s Lab, a selection of a few of the worst scientific discoveries and the stories behind what made them go awry. Each of the scientific discoveries covered in this book had slightly different negative impacts on the world, but the reason why they became so notorious is almost ubiquitous. Science is no place for emotion, so finding quick fixes for something by...
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BOOK: Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018)

Record of a Spaceborn Few Year: 2018 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 696 minutes / 11.6 hours Considering that A Closed and Common Orbit was only loosely related to the first book in the Wayfarers series, I knew that I shouldn’t expect the third book in this series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, to have any significant connection to the previous books. Unfortunately, even the several different storylines in this book were hardly connected, seeming more like a series of short stories that were inter-cut between themselves. While Chambers’ world-building and dialogue are still top-notch, there isn’t anything in this book other than some boring characters living their boring lives. I understand that any author worth their salt will develop vast amounts of details about the universe they create. However, most authors leave the aspects of the minutia and banal day-to-day lives out of their writing in favor of an actual plot with actual conflict. Instead, this book is filled with the details of world-building and nothing else. If these characters...
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BOOK: Tongues of Serpents (2010)

Tongues of Serpents Year: 2010 Author: Naomi Novik Length: 355 pages Up until now, I had only read one other book by Naomi Novik. I had loved Spinning Silver and the unique take on a classic fairy tale it presented. While I understand Tongues of Serpents is the sixth book in the Temeraire series, I found it to be inferior to Spinning Silver in many ways. I will also grant that I’m not necessarily the target audience for this genre of historical fantasy when it takes a more nautical tilt (like Far Side of the World does). Still, there was enough of a standalone element to Tongues of Serpents that I was able to pull a story out of it and write a review of it. Some things I had trouble getting used to in this book were the fact that the dragons all spoke in the same English as the human characters. I had a tough time identifying which characters were dragons and which were humans, and I didn’t know why they sounded so similar (I’m...
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BOOK: Quiet (2012)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Year: 2012 Author: Susan Cain Length: 639 minutes / 10.65 hours While it’s taken me a long time to finally get around to reading this book, most of what Quiet presented was what I had already known by living my life as an introvert. I will applaud this book’s ability to help society realize how ubiquitous the introverts that comprise the population are. Quiet also helps show what our needs are in this world that prizes the traits of extroversion over anything else. Even if there are many times where I have to put on my “extrovert suit,” it helps to know that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. Perhaps my only qualm with this book is how anecdotal the evidence is. Whether it’s stories about famous introverts (which can be inspiring) or younger introverts who are being brought up by parents who don’t quite understand the strengths of the introvert type, Quiet uses a lot of case...
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BOOK: First King of Shannara (1996)

First King of Shannara Year: 1996 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,155 minutes / 19.25 hours While this prequel to the original Shannara trilogy was written well after completing the first three books, First King of Shannara failed to re-capture the magic that made me adore Wishsong of Shannara. If anything, this book seemed unnecessary. It told a story that already had a fixed ending as described in the exposition of The Sword of Shannara (which itself had a pretty un-climactic ending if I remember correctly). Sure, there’s a lot more world-building in this book, but only avid fans of the series will find any of it interesting. Perhaps my main gripe with this book is how I failed to care for any of the characters. Most of their interactions felt cliché and trite, and there was a smidge too many of them for me to want to take the time to know who they were. If anything, the characters were flat stereotypes with no personality. This was...
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BOOK: Weapons of Math Destruction (2016)

Weapons of Math Destruction Year: 2016 Author: Cathy O’Neil Length: 383 minutes / 6.38 hours I love data. I love what it can show us as individuals and what it can show as society changes from year to year. Being able to trend my spending is just as useful to me as knowing how many people are participating in my National Novel Writing Month region. Because I’m always interested in seeing what pure numbers can show me about the world, I was intrigued to find this book, Weapons of Math Destruction. While I had already heard many of this book’s conclusions, it was interesting to read about the algorithms that work silently behind the scenes of our society and how nobody can really control or change them. I’ll agree that it’s terrifying to have decision-making boiled down to a number popped out of an algorithm that decision-makers just blindly trust without understanding the rules of causality or correlation. People are messy, so I understand how finding...
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BOOK: Cribsheet (2019)

Cribsheet Year: 2019 Author: Emily Oster Length: 642 minutes / 10.70 hours As a new parent and an engineer, I am skeptical when so much advice about raising a baby comes from hearsay or anecdotal evidence. So many controversial topics abound in the early years of a child’s life that I wanted to make sure I was basing my decisions off the scientific data instead of mere wives' tales. Fortunately, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool exists. Unfortunately, it has merely proven to me that there haven’t been enough rigorous studies to show any causal relationships to make my parenting decisions any easier. Similar in the tactics of Zero to Five (whose author was a science journalist), Cribsheet takes the experience of an economist and pits it against the studies that have been performed to determine which of them are legitimate enough to be trusted. In most cases, it seems that plenty of research into the benefits and detriments for children (and parents) merely...
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BOOK: Sleeping Giants (2016)

Sleeping Giants Year: 2016 Author: Sylvain Neuvel Length: 307 pages After my slight disappointment with Mecha Samurai Empire, I was pleased to find that a book that actually knows how to do "mecha" right already existed years before Mecha Samurai Empire was released. Taking a somewhat unique approach in its narrative structure, Sleeping Giants uses a series of interview transcripts to tell the story of discovering the parts of an ancient, giant robot and learning how to pilot this unique piece of equipment. There aren't any dialogue tags. There aren't any direct action sequences. There are just words describing the events as they happened. Somehow, it totally works. I seriously couldn't get enough of this book and basically devoured every word. I was a little disappointed with the semi-cliffhanger ending, though. Just as everything was starting to finally come together, it just kind of ends. Sure, many of the large plot movements reached a momentary conclusion but now I really want to know what happens...
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BOOK: Assignment in Eternity (1953)

Assignment in Eternity Year: 1953 Author: Robert A. Heinlein Length: 520 minutes / 8.67 hours Back in college, my first introduction to Heinlein was Stranger in a Strange Land. I had to read this book for my “Science in Literature” course, and I found it moderately interesting. Since then, I’ve read other Heinlein books like Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I didn’t realize how dedicated Heinlein was to some of his “supernatural” themes until I read Assignment in Eternity. Sure, most authors will have some concept or idea that they like to revisit. Still, the fact that a majority of Assignment in Eternity ’s included short stories deal in some way with “superhumans” must mean something. The whole concept of ESP and “evolved” humans isn’t interesting to me since I don’t think there’s much that can be done with the concept. While Stranger in a Strange Land covered most of the bases, Assignment in Eternity doesn’t really expand the ideas any further. If anything, Stranger in a Strange Land was the culmination of Heinlein’s obsession...
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BOOK: The Force Doth Awaken (2017)

William Shakespeare’s the Force Doth Awaken Year: 2017 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours As I’ve been working my way through Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations of pop culture movies, I think I’ve hit the point where the novelty has worn off. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like The Force Doth Awaken had the same charm as other entries in this quirky mash-up series. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to one of two factors: 1. The newer movies have more “modern” dialogue that seemed as if it was directly plopped into the Shakespearean format, or 2. The original trilogy had more time to be ingrained in my psyche, and the translation to Shakespearean felt appropriate. I don’t want to downplay the novelty of this adaptation, though. The voice acting is still superb, and the sound effects add a little something extra that immersed me as I listened to this audiobook. Plus, it’s not like these books are that lengthy...
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BOOK: The Skull Throne (2015)

The Skull Throne Year: 2015 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,509 minutes / 25.15 hours You’d think a book with (what I assume is) Renna Bales (nee Tanner) on the cover would follow her and the group of people she’s traveling with. You’d think a book titled “The Skull Throne” would spend a lot of time addressing the now-empty Skull Throne. Instead, we only got brief mentions of these two sub-plots. While I’m happy that the latter didn’t have many pages dedicated to it, I’m disappointed that the former was addressed for only a few scant sections at the beginning and end. Instead, the majority of this book spent time in places that didn’t advance the overall story at all. Having read all the books (and the “3.5” novella) up until now, my concerns that arose during Messenger’s Legacy seem to have materialized. Sure, I do enjoy following the three main characters from The Warded Man, but there were certainly moments where I thought I was reading...
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BOOK: Mortal Engines (2001)

Mortal Engines Year: 2001 Author: Philip Reeve Length: 541 minutes / 9.02 hours In yet another case of watching a movie first before reading the books, I finally got around to reading Mortal Engines after absolutely loving the 2018 movie. While I understand middle-grade or Young Adult readers are the intended audiences, it left me wanting in its presentation. Sure, most of the elements that made it into the film were there (with some less-than-necessary parts being cut from the screenplay for obvious reasons), but the way it was written felt a bit too flowery for my tastes. In fact, the engineer in me would have loved a lot more world-building than I got in this short volume. I did still appreciate the post-apocalyptic steampunk world of Mortal Engines—if for no other reason than its ridiculous premise. The idea that whole cities would transform into moving monstrosities that devour lesser towns in a “predator and prey” relationship is such an intriguing notion that I had to give...
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BOOK: Ender’s Shadow (1999)

Ender’s Shadow Year: 1999 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 469 pages Those who have already read my reviews of the Ender Saga know I hold this series in high esteem. While this original series follows a format more similar to The Lord of the Rings—in that it starts with a singular prequel then advances into a three-book main story—approaching the first book in the series from another character’s point of view is a compelling tactic. Despite already knowing the outcome of most of the plot of Ender’s Shadow (via Ender’s Game), it was interesting to see how Card had improved his writing in the years since the original book in the series was released. While Ender’s Shadow could stand on its own, the shocking reveal in Ender’s Game is something that I felt lacked the impact it had in this book. Additionally, there was an unusual amount of nudity, even if it was markedly non-sexual. In the end, though, Ender’s Shadow is an excellent setup to a true sequel series instead of having to endure the “time...
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BOOK: Alvin Journeyman (1995)

Alvin Journeyman Year: 1995 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 902 minutes / 15.03 hours With this fourth book in the Alvin Maker series, I’m starting to see why a lot of writers like to stick to trilogies. If anything, I think most readers can probably skip this volume and move on to the next one because there wasn’t anything too new or interesting that happened in it. If anything, it was a re-hash of events in the previous book with a few new characters added to it. I will concede that Alvin Journeyman did finally develop a fitting antagonist for Alvin. Still, so few pages were dedicated to this sub-plot that I’m wondering if it should have just been pulled out and made into its own novella that would span the gap between book three and book five. Once again, the strength of the series as a whole carries through here, and some loose character arcs are tied up before moving on to more important things. However, spending the...
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BOOK: The Fifth Season (2015)

The Fifth Season Year: 2015 Author: N.K. Jemisin Length: 927 minutes / 15.45 hours It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book with such a unique magic system in place. I truly enjoyed the amount of thought that went into a world where the main source of power was that of the earth itself. From magma to solid obelisks, the ability to control the vibrations of the planet (either to amplify or dampen) had an interesting and logical follow-through in its characters and storyline. I’m honestly looking forward to eventually starting the next book in the series since the world was built so well. It’s no wonder that it ended up winning the Hugo Award for that year. While I suppose The Fifth Season is also partly a pseudo-post-apocalypse story, it was only shown in small snippets and references here and there. Consequently, this would make this story almost “modern fantasy” in comparison to some of the classics. Additionally, this would explain some...
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BOOK: Get Thee…Back to the Future! (2019)

William Shakespeare’s Get Thee…Back to the Future! Year: 2019 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 215 minutes / 3.58 hours Having already listened to the audiobooks for the Shakespearean versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, I was curious to see how another beloved pop culture film would fare with the treatment. Get Thee…Back to the Future! had a bit more of a challenge when compared to the Star Wars stories. First, as the plot is set in (relatively) modern times, much of our technology had to be “explained” in Shakespearean format (e.g., a car is “a horseless carriage born on fumes of gas and flame”). At least the Star Wars stories seemed to fit in the Shakespearean timeframe a little better. Despite this clash of modern and medieval, the transformation into Shakespearean form does end up working. I’d probably compare this to some of his comedies like Taming of the Shrew, 12th Night, and Much Ado About Nothing, if for no other reason than the comedy...
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BOOK: The Green and the Gray (2004)

The Green and the Gray Year: 2004 Author: Timothy Zahn Length: 560 pages I’ll admit that The Green and the Gray is an interesting concept. Two factions of humanoids living in secret in New York, holding on to a tenuous peace because a war would devastate their respective families. Baking this into a bit of urban fantasy was interesting for a while (the action helped). However, there’s so much filler in this book that makes me wonder if authors who write in this genre are required to hit a specific word or page count to even be published. Perhaps I’m just used to snappier action and less retreading of facts that the reader knows, but the characters don’t. There’s certainly a lot of mystery that needs to be solved and a lot of world-building that needs to happen for The Green and the Gray to make sense. As with any standard story of this type, certain aspects of the strange events and people fuel the...
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BOOK: The Waste Lands (1991)

The Waste Lands Year: 1991 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours Before I got into reading the Dark Tower series, I saw the movie adaptation. It’s honestly what inspired me to get into the books. While I was a little disappointed with The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three showed me the series’ true potential. Moving on from my favorite book in the series, we have The Waste Lands. It's sort of a mash-up of the two earlier books in terms of characters and plot points. However, it's ultimately less than the sum of their parts (and that’s mostly due to the ending). What strikes me with The Waste Lands is how it could have been better than it was. Those who have seen the movie version of The Dark Tower will recognize a lot of scenes, if not a huge chunk of them. I can see why they cut the two most interesting characters from the film, especially since everyone ends...
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BOOK: Messenger’s Legacy (2014)

Messenger’s Legacy Year: 2014 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 172 minutes / 2.87 hours In a series that’s full of exposition and backstory, I found it a little odd that these extraneous details weren’t relegated to side-story novellas so the plot of the main series of books could focus on the current action. What’s even more curious is that Messenger’s Legacy, a side-story novella in this series, doesn’t explore anything new or interesting that hadn’t already been covered in the main books. The only new information I learned in this novella was slightly more detail about bog and swamp demons, which seems unnecessary with all things considered. Following somewhat minor characters from The Warded Man (who haven’t appeared in the series since), Messenger’s Legacy shows it is easier to survive in demon-infested nights than the series initially indicated. While I’m not sure if any of these details will come into play in the main-line books, it does help expand the world-building just a little bit...
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BOOK: The Daylight War (2013)

The Daylight War Year: 2013 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,607 minutes / 26.78 hours I’m glad to see that it only took two books for Peter V. Brett to cut down on some of the extraneous flashbacks and exposition in the Demon Cycle series. While whole chunks of The Warded Man could have been cut with nothing significant lost in the process, and The Desert Spear had what appeared to be an unrelated storyline that weaved through the narrative, The Daylight War has a minimal amount of this “fluff.” Granted, there is still some amount of world-building that helped to explain yet another aspect of this setting, but it’s minimal in comparison to its predecessors. Additionally, I already knew this series was an adult fantasy from my experience with The Warded Man and The Desert Spear. These are tame when compared to the third entry in the series. The sex in this book made the previous two look like nuns in comparison. Sure, it...
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BOOK: The Drawing of the Three (1987)

The Drawing of the Three Year: 1987 Author: Stephen King Length: 766 minutes / 12.77 hours While it took me a while to get used to The Gunslinger, I was able to dive right in with The Drawing of the Three as I continue reading this Dark Tower series. Personally, I think the simplicity of the story and the immediacy of the danger helped to hook me from the start. Unlike the first book in the series, The Drawing of the Three has a solid set of relatable characters that are introduced just fast enough to get used to their unique personal challenges. If anything, these individuals piqued my interest, and I’m curious to see where their story goes from here. One aspect of this book I found to be extremely entertaining was the action sequences. When there were stakes on the line, and things had to happen, the resulting action in these plot-moving points was both intense and hilarious. Generally, I am not much...
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BOOK: Mecha Samurai Empire (2018)

Mecha Samurai Empire Year: 2018 Author: Peter Tieryas Length: 447 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For a genre that’s usually associated with Japanese anime and manga, I haven’t seen many “mecha” novels (or movies, for that matter, with Pacific Rim (2013) being the only notable example). Consequently, when I received an advance reader copy of Mecha Samurai Empire, I was looking forward to reading it. While there were still a few grammatical and proofreading errors in this book—of which I’m sure have been fixed in the final version—portions of the plot didn’t sit well with me. My main qualm is the main character who really isn’t good at anything but still gets to pilot a huge and complicated piece of machinery just because he wants to. A clear and obvious mix between The Man in the High Castle and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the few strong elements of this book were in the mecha battles themselves. The problem is that the references sprinkled throughout...
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BOOK: Roadwork (1981)

Roadwork Year: 1981 Author: Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) Length: 577 minutes / 9.62 hours I wasn’t aware of Stephen King’s Richard Bachman pseudonym until I picked up this book to read on a whim. While it’s clear all of King’s technical prowess is still present in Bachman’s work, the “king of horror” gained a chance to write outside his genre. Of course, King has done this before with a few different books (like Hearts in Atlantis, The Green Mile, and The Dark Tower series), but writing under a pseudonym seemed to unleash an amount of cynicism I’ve hardly seen in King’s writing before. Written in the early 1980s, Roadwork exhibits all the identifying marks of a cynic who has been over-saturated with consumerism. The need to have a job to support a family by buying a house that needs to be filled with the accouterments of modern living is a bit too much for some people. This is especially true for those who don’t...
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BOOK: BlacKkKlansman (2014)

BlacKkKlansman Year: 2014 Author: Ron Stalworth Length: 352 minutes / 5.87 hours As someone who lives in Colorado Springs and calls this town my home, I was intrigued by Ron Stalworth's story after watching the 2018 Spike Lee movie based on the undercover investigation into the local Ku Klux Klan. Sure, I didn’t live in the Springs during the period covered in this book, but I did have enough understanding of the town to know the locations referenced throughout. To think that I live close to some of the areas that could have been affected by cross burnings or other Klan events is a little eerie to me, mostly because it’s something I rarely think about. For those who have seen the movie first, this book covers everything that made it to the big screen but also adds some details about other events not directly linked to the Klan (but were still relevant to the discussion of race in the area). I’ll admit that Colorado...
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BOOK: Prentice Alvin (1989)

Prentice Alvin Year: 1989 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 830 minutes / 13.83 hours As I’ve been reading through the Tales of Alvin Maker series, I have found it interesting to see what big societal issues have been covered so far. While Seventh Son tackled religion and Red Prophet delved into politics and war, Prentice Alvin bit off a big chunk of racism and tried to address it in a way that’s half fantasy and half historical fiction. Sure, there’s still some semblance of the religion content present in this book that informs the racism dialogue. Still, these large issues end up taking a back seat to the more fascinating aspects of the titular character learning how to control his incredible powers. In fact, this might be my favorite book of the series so far. It’s always more entertaining to watch a character come into the depth of their abilities, and Prentice Alvin has this in spades (both metaphorically and literally). While there weren’t many instances of Alvin directly being affected by a conflict...
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BOOK: Origin (2015)

Origin Year: 2015 Author: Dan Brown Length: 1,090 minutes / 18.17 hours When it comes to Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of books, I have appreciated his ability to mold art and symbology into a tight and thrilling narrative. His works have not been without controversy, the main perpetrator, of course, being The Da Vinci Code. In Origin, Brown leaves the world of classical art for the modern pieces that are still filled with meaning and symbology, just not in ways that lend themselves to uncovering ancient mysteries. While there is plenty of interesting plot points and twists along the way, Origin seems set to stir the pot of controversy more than tell an interesting story. It’s been quite some time since the last Robert Langdon book released, so this book needed to advance its technology to be able to keep up with the modern times. If anything, I felt the inclusion of artificial intelligence down-played why Langdon was even involved at all, since he was mostly the “answer man” who knew the...
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BOOK: How to Tell Fate from Destiny (2018)

How to Tell Fate from Destiny: And Other Skillful Word Distinctions Year: 2018 Author: Charles Harrington Elster Length: 320 pages I’ve written blog posts and recorded vlogs about writers who seem to rely on spell check to make sure they’re using the right word. Most of the time, they probably didn’t have an adequate editor to review their manuscript and thus didn’t check whether or not they were using the right word (even if the wrong word is spelled correctly). With the state of the printed word slipping year after year, a book like How to Tell Fate from Destiny should be a standard reference on any writer’s desk. Although, many of the words covered in this book are slowly changing due to idiomatic circumstances. It is slightly encouraging to see examples provided in this book from reputable sources (like well-known newspapers and magazines) that still have these common errors in their writing. If anything, these examples prove how difficult it can be to distinguish the correct...
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BOOK: Red Prophet (1988)

Red Prophet Year: 1988 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 733 minutes / 12.22 hours Continuing from the previous book in the Alvin Maker series, Red Prophet flashes back and shows certain events from a different point of view before driving forward into some fascinating alternate history. I continue to enjoy the fantastical elements brought into American history, even to the point of explaining how certain famous historical figures were the way they were. Although, if you know enough history, you’ll realize the fates of some of the characters presented in Red Prophet (William Henry Harrison, for instance) might not need the foreshadowing missing from this text. While Seventh Son managed to set up this alternate history and establish some of its rules, Red Prophet delves into the action and excitement that comes from some of the more “kinetic” talents of these characters. Once the plot catches up with where Seventh Son left off, I was hooked. The interactions between Alvin and the Native Americans were quite interesting, and I found everything up until the climactic battle to...
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BOOK: Ideas, Influence, and Income (2018)

Ideas, Influence, and Income: Write a Book, Build Your Brand, and Lead Your Industry Year: 2018 Author: Tanya Hall Length: 214 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ll admit that I initially thought this book was for all kinds of writers, to include fiction authors. I was looking for a few good ideas to push my brand out of the mires of obscurity, and this book seemed like it would help. While Ideas, Influence, and Income is focused mainly on those people who might not even consider writing a non-fiction book, there’s still plenty of advice for authors of all stages. The insight the author brings to the table here is a little intimidating, though, and not for the weak of will. As far as I could understand it, this book caters towards individuals who are “trendsetters” or “influencers” who could turn their original idea into a brand that could support a book, speaking engagements, and other social media content pieces. Because of...
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BOOK: Seventh Son (1987)

Seventh Son Year: 1987 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 547 minutes / 9.12 hours Having loved Orson Scott Card’s Ender Saga, I decided to start into another of his series, Tales of Alvin Maker. I was used to his science fiction writing, so I thought it would be interesting to see how he handled semi-historical fiction. For the first book in a series, Seventh Son certainly has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s clear this book came on the heels of the Ender Saga, as there are a lot of parallels between characters and motifs that I just couldn’t ignore. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing by any means. While the history of colonial America is the setting of Seventh Son, the fantasy elements added to it made for an interesting read. I did appreciate the distinctive “good vs. evil” conflict between the Makers and the Unmaker, even if it’s a little too tried and true. At the very least, while the religious characters had...
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BOOK: Ember Falls (2016)

Ember Falls Year: 2016 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 234 pages Being a fan of children’s series like The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as a lover of rabbits (owning two Flemish giants as pets), I was glad to get back into the Green Ember series with the second book, Ember Falls. Obviously, as this series is mainly geared toward children, there were a few points of the plot of this second book that I either predicted from the start or could see coming from a mile away. In any case, the world building that continued with this book was top notch, despite certainly feeling like a “linking” part of the series. While The Green Ember could stand on its own and laid the groundwork for the books that came after it, Ember Falls certainly needs its predecessor to make sense. It also seems to rely on the next book in the series to reach some conclusion. This is an issue that often arises in book...
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BOOK: Micro (2011)

Micro Year: 2011 Author: Michael Crichton and Richard Preston Length: 833 minutes / 13.88 hours I liked Michael Crichton’s writing. And what I mean by this is that I liked Jurassic Park (and to a lesser extent, The Lost World). Recently, I’ve been delving into a few of his other works, like Timeline and Micro. I understand that authors like Crichton excel in their genre—in this case, the technological thriller—but at what point does it just become the same old song and dance? Sure, I know a different author completed Micro and released posthumously. However, it mostly just felt like another re-hash of Jurassic Park mixed with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). To Crichton’s credit, I feel his exploration of complex scientific principles in his writing are easy to understand and mostly accurate. For Micro, each bit of information that drove the plot seemed to make sense from a scientific standpoint. This was a plus considering how often the “shrink ray” sci-fi trope is...
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BOOK: The Baby Owner’s Manual (2003)

The Baby Owner’s Manual Year: 2003 Authors: Louis and Joe Borgenicht Length: 226 pages You might be shocked to learn that some men do read the instructions. There have been numerous products that I have purchased over the years which necessitated a read-through of the instructions provided. Usually, these were items of extreme complexity or of thorough interest to me to require fully understanding the items before beginning to use them. The Baby Owner’s Manual might seem like a humorous fusion of a parenting book with a repair manual for a vehicle, but somehow the fusion of these two works better than I would have ever expected. Published by Quirk Books (who have created other genius mash-ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Shakespeare’s Star Wars), The Baby Owner’s Manual takes the complicated and frightening task of keeping a newborn alive and presents the necessary information in a format that any guy can understand. In fact, aside from a few choice substitutions that make...
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BOOK: Nightflyers (1985)

Nightflyers Year: 1985 Author: George R.R. Martin Length: 247 minutes / 4.12 hours Those who are familiar with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series may be lamenting the end of the semi-faithful Game of Thrones television show. In the time we’ll all have to wait until the next Song of Ice and Fire book comes out, there are other little stories from this author to satiate our appetite. Nightflyers is a short novella by Martin that also seems to be hinging itself on the success of Game of Thrones, albeit in the science fiction genre instead of high fantasy. Considering how verbose Martin can get with his works, it was almost refreshing to read a story that was so focused and short. Granted, even though Nightflyers is science fiction, all of the notable George R.R. Martin elements were present: mainly, sex and violence. Depending on your tolerance of these elements, I can say that they’re at least naturally integrated with this...
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BOOK: Flight of the Kikayon (2013)

Flight of the Kikayon: A Space Opera Novelette Year: 2013 Author: Kary English Length: 25 pages As an avid reader, I am aware that there are different lengths to stories. Novels are usually the longest, followed by novellas and short stories, which are each shorter than the last, respectively. Up until now, I had never heard of the “novelette,” which seems to sit somewhere between novella and a short story. Considering Flight of the Kikayon only took me about a half-hour to finish, it was definitely shorter than a novella. I’m just not sure if defining a new term for short story is necessary. In either case, there were some details that I think could have easily been added to make this a fully fleshed-out novella. What starts as a story that could have been an exciting look into surviving on an alien planet pretty quickly pivots into a flashback. I’m not sure this backstory was entirely necessary, especially since the main antagonist seemed like a...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return (2014)

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return Year: 2014 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 204 minutes / 3.40 hours Of the original Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi has been my favorite for as long as I can remember. I enjoyed how there was some finality to the stories started back in A New Hope, and Empire Strikes Back. Plus, there were a ton of neat creatures (like the Rancor and Sarlacc) and machines (like the Speeder bikes and AT-STs) that grabbed my attention from a young age. Sure, I can understand the depth of Empire Strikes Back now that I’m an adult, but Return of the Jedi always holds that element of nostalgia for me. So, how does the Shakespearean version of my favorite Star Wars story stack up? If anything, Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return is consistent with its predecessors, Verily, a New Hope and The Empire Striketh Back. I enjoyed the voice acting and the little changes that made the audiobook more than...
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BOOK: How to Traumatize Your Children (2007)

How to Traumatize Your Children: 7 Proven Methods to Help You Screw Up Your Kids Deliberately and with Skill Year: 2007 Author: Knock Knock Length: 144 pages A friend of mine loaned me this book to help prepare me for the joys of parenting by using a slightly humorous slant on the standard parenting books that hand out helpful advice for parents to be. While I chuckled at some of the pages as I flipped through the book, once I sat down to read it, I almost immediately became depressed. Sure, How to Traumatize Your Children is tongue-in-cheek, but that only lasts through the first few chapters. Overall, it’s virtually a traumatizing look into actual bad parenting instead of a comedic take on it. The moment that it hit me how real these “methods” are was when I started to realize many parents inadvertently use them to their children’s disadvantage. From my own experience, and observing the experiences of others, this book presents each one of these methods in...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back (2014)

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back Year: 2014 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 205 minutes / 3.42 hours I said it for my review of Shakespeare’s Star Wars, and I’ll say it again: this combination of old verbiage and meter with popular science fiction is a match made in heaven. The follow-up to the first part of the original trilogy, Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back continues to be an amusing exercise that anyone who loves Shakespeare and/or Star Wars will enjoy. Some consider Empire to be the best part of the original trilogy, and its adherence to the plot won’t disappoint. Additionally, the audiobook version continues to use music, sound effects, and voice acting to recreate an experience as close to the source material as possible. While the audiobook did provide a robust experience of the text (especially the voice actors who recreated Han Solo and C-3PO’s speech patterns), the author’s explanation at the end made me realize there were some aspects that weren’t quite as...
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BOOK: The Far Side of the World (1984)

The Far Side of the World Year: 1984 Author: Patrick O’Brian Length: 406 pages Nautical historical fiction is a rare genre for me to read. The last one I read—and that most people would be able to recognize—was Moby Dick, and that was probably 15 years ago. Needless to say, I found myself in brief possession of The Far Side of the World and decided to give it a read. Of course, this was mostly because of the movie of the same name released in 2003 that earned many Oscar nominations (only winning in two). While the plot of both is slightly different in a few key areas, I wasn’t disappointed with having read this book. First, as a historical look into the realms of sailing and whaling at the time, The Far Side of the World does a fantastic job of informing and educating the reader without necessarily resorting to huge exposition dumps. Sure, a few moments were a little obvious that the author was trying to get...
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BOOK: The Desert Spear (2010)

The Desert Spear Year: 2010 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,573 minutes / 26.22 hours The second book in the Demon Cycle series, The Desert Spear practically proves my point that its predecessor, The Warded Man, started in the wrong place. In fact, if there weren’t an awesome battle sequence at the end of The Warded Man, I’d suggest just skipping to The Desert Spear since all the key moments from the first book were referenced in this sequel. That being said, this book has some of its own issues, some of which are gripes I continue to have about this series—which makes me think this is just the way these books are going to be. Before I get too far down the criticism hole, I do want to say that I truly enjoy the magic system in these books. The Desert Spear doesn’t necessarily do anything new with it, but there’s at least a little more world building that happens in terms of the...
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BOOK: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2008)

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die: 5th Edition Year: 2008 Author: Steven Jay Schneider Length: 960 pages As a movie aficionado, it was only a matter of time before I picked up this book. At the time, the 5th edition covered most of the films that were out at the time, but I do realize there are more recent versions of this book that include some of the latest hits of the last decade. Not one to use this book as a simple desk reference, I took the time to sit down and read through the reviews of these 1,000+ movies. In the time since buying this book, I’ve managed to increase my percentage of films seen, but there’s still a long way to go. Even before I started reading this book, I had already seen a good portion of the movies mentioned, many of which won critical awards for their achievements. With a concerted effort, I’m now sitting at 42% of these 1001 movies...
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BOOK: Expeditions of the Mantis (2019)

Expeditions of the Mantis Year: 2019 Author: Jim Henderson Length: 260 pages Sequels are interesting creatures. While the onus of the first book of a series is to lay out some ground rules of the universe and introduce us to the main characters, any follow-on books should dive a little deeper into the characters and explore some of the conflicts that drive the universe. Expeditions of the Mantis attempts a bit of the latter when compared to Jaunts of the Mantis, but ends up falling into old patterns by the end of the book. If anything, I have more questions about this universe now than when I started, since Expeditions of the Mantis only scratched the surface of some fascinating topics. Unfortunately, while the crew of the Mantis was the most interesting aspect of Jaunts of the Mantis, the dynamic didn’t work as well in this sequel. If anything, the inability to add in a strong “third character” (a role held by the preacher in the previous book) highlighted how one-dimensional these characters...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s Star Wars (2013)

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope Year: 2013 Author: Ian Doescher Length: 209 minutes / 3.48 hours Much like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies took a classic and fused it with something entirely opposite from its original intent, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope manages to take something modern and combine it with the classic styling of William Shakespeare. It’s no wonder these two kinds of books are both from Quirk Classics. While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies essentially forces the reader to read Pride and Prejudice, but with zombies added in, Shakespeare’s Star Wars is the re-telling of the original Star Wars (1977) screenplay, but in iambic pentameter. To be honest, if someone were to stage this version of Star Wars, I’d pay to see it in a heartbeat. Not only does the basic plot from the movie transfer over almost flawlessly, but the addition of the Shakespeare dialogue and verbiage made this way more entertaining than it had any...
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BOOK: Jaunts of the Mantis (2019)

Jaunts of the Mantis Year: 2019 Author: Jim Henderson Length: 241 pages Ever since I discovered the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, I found that I enjoyed the “down to earth” (metaphorically speaking) stories of space travel. These books added some realism to the science fiction genre by covering some of the details involved with running a ship in outer space. From ship maintenance to inventory management, these stories tended to focus on the close-knit relationships of the crew and their adventures across the universe as they try to make a living. Modern-era equivalents would be stories with people on submarines or shipping barges, but the addition of space travel makes this sub-genre entertaining for me. Another entry in this genre is Jaunts of the Mantis. Covering a handful of scenarios, the book gets into the adventure reasonably quickly with a minimum of the crew (maybe a few less than might actually be needed). These “jaunts” cover all the standard setups for this kind of book....
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BOOK: Foundation and Empire (1952)

Foundation and Empire Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 575 minutes / 9.58 hours One of my qualms with the start of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series was how different the stories were from each other. Each was set in the same universe but failed to have much of a cohesive narrative that tied them all together. While Foundation covered five different short stories, its sequel, Foundation and Empire managed to whittle this method of storytelling down to two novellas. The result was a clear improvement in clarity and focus as each half of this book only covered a single plot each. In Foundation and Empire, I finally was able to read a story that stuck with me in this series. Up until this point, I probably couldn’t tell you the premise of any of the short stories in Foundation, let alone the plot of the first half of this book. However, once this book transitioned over from topics that were more in line with science...
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BOOK: The Point (2018)

The Point Year: 2018 Author: John Dixon Length: 320 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** With the rise in popularity of the superhero genre, it was only a matter of time before it leaked into other genres. While some genres like steampunk (like in The Esper Files) make for an interesting twist, others like military YA sci-fi are so similar as to be just one other entry in the zeitgeist. The problem with this is that other, more famous handlings of supernatural superpowers bring much more to the table than books like The Point (which doesn’t necessarily add much to either genre on the whole). As far as I could gather, there are only three or four different “types” of mutants in The Point: telekinetic, pyrokinesis, super strength, and “other” (like dream manipulation and energy storage, the latter of which was reasonably original). I suppose franchises like X-Men and One Piece, which give each of their unique characters unique superpowers and rarely (if ever)...
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BOOK: Foundation (1951)

Foundation Year: 1951 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 518 minutes / 8.63 hours For years, people have asked whether or not I have read the penultimate science fiction series that is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Up until now, I could not say that I had. While I knew the series by its name, I hadn’t ever heard any comparisons or even knew what these books were about. This probably should have been my first indication of what to expect. I wasn’t expecting anything other than its notable status as a pillar of classic sci-fi. If anything, the fact each “section” of Foundation is its own short story says volumes about the origin of the genre. Set within the same universe, Foundation follows five different groups across the timespan of a couple hundred years. Asimov explored a few different concepts and spent most of this book in world-building mode. I’ll applaud his ability to remain fairly consistent across these different stories, but the fact that there isn’t much...
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BOOK: Kaleidoscope (2018)

Kaleidoscope: Keeping the church from becoming a museum Year: 2018 Author: Kurt Trempert Length: 226 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** In Kaleidoscope: Keeping the church from becoming a museum, Kurt Trempert uses the metaphor of the kaleidoscope to examine what an incarnational church looks like when compared to some of the stagnancies arising in the modern American church. This book addresses many issues and criticisms the church faces in the contemporary era. They're covered in a way that shows not only what’s perhaps behind these shortcomings, but what can potentially be done to fix them. Of course, this then begs the question, who is this book’s audience? Is it for those who run their local church, or the congregation of said churches? Content-wise, I didn’t have many issues with what was presented here. Most of my qualms had to do with the formatting, including right-align text, the font, and lack of indents. Since it was consistent throughout, I eventually got over it. I would...
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BOOK: The Wishsong of Shannara (1985)

The Wishsong of Shannara Year: 1985 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,253 minutes / 20.88 hours One thing that was made clear to me when I read The Elfstones of Shannara was that this trilogy (that started with The Sword of Shannara) didn’t follow the same characters from book to book, per se. Sure, there were characters like Allanon the Druid who managed to span all three volumes, but overall I didn’t find that I needed to have read the previous book in the trilogy to understand what was going on in the story. This was quite beneficial when I started reading The Wishsong of Shannara, as it quickly grew to be my favorite in the series so far. While I had high hopes for the “main quest” of this book, the fact that it’s put into side-story status almost from the beginning was a little frustrating. Don’t make me follow the journey of the character who needs to grow the most! Show me the thrilling adventures...
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BOOK: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (2019)

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill Year: 2019 Author: Abbi Waxman Length: 352 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’m not sure if The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is a millennial romantic comedy or a hipster romantic comedy. Either way, I did enjoy reading it, mostly because the formula for this genre is relatively straightforward and predictable. It probably helped that I could relate to the main character, or at least her introverted nature. The supporting characters were a bit quirky and fun as well which just added to the entertaining nature of the narrative. At the very least, I could see something like this becoming a movie, even if it was only released on cable television. Since the copy of this book I read was an advanced reader copy, I’m sure some of the errata like missing book images at several section breaks and a few backward quotes near the end will be fixed for the final product. Content-wise, I did find...
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BOOK: The 39 Steps (1915)

The 39 Steps Year: 1915 Author: John Buchan Length: 234 minutes / 3.9 hours It’s weird to think that stories like The 39 Steps have only been around for 100 years. Perhaps their ubiquity in modern action thrillers has made me numb to their “man on the run” plotline, but I didn’t find this book to be as interesting as I had expected. Sure, it’s short, but how many of its twists and turns were merely repeating the same way of escaping the main character’s pursuers time and again? And perhaps that’s the main issue I have with this book: the main character seemed to be too skilled at eluding capture for it to be believable. I know the “wrong man” trope that thrusts an ordinary person into these kinds of circumstances isn’t as realistic as it could be, but when Richard Hannay just happens to know exactly what to do at each instance, I wonder how “ordinary” he really is. Don’t get me wrong, the chase...
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BOOK: Nobody’s Fool (2019)

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead Year: 2019 Author: Bill Griffith Length: 256 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I was growing up, I occasionally read Bill Griffith’s comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead. While the absurdist humor was a bit above my head at the time, the titular character stuck with me. Fast forward to when I won a giveaway copy of Nobody’s Fool. I thought this was going to be a fake biography about the origins of the comic strip character; I was surprised to start reading and find so many real-life details from the 1930s. I thought it was an odd detail to include a fictional character in a well-known cult classic like Freaks (1932) until I realized that this story wasn’t fictional. It was about the real person who inspired the character of Zippy the Pinhead. Of course, I didn’t come to this realization until I was about half-way through the book. Griffith’s self-insert around this point helped to confirm my suspicions....
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens (2010)

Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens Year: 2010 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 382 minutes / 6.36 hours After reading through the last two books in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series, I was hesitant to continue with the fourth book, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens. What I found innovative and hilarious in the first book had become a bit more annoying by books two and three. Book four, however, was a refreshing addition to the series. It helped that the jokes were funny enough that I actually laughed out loud. Moreover, the lore and overall arching plot of the series seemed to coalesce into something that made sense and was actually driving toward a satisfying conclusion. While I can’t completely disregard the previous two books in the series, I felt that there was probably enough backstory explanation in Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens that these other books could be potentially be skipped over altogether. After all, we learn a lot about Alcatraz, his family roots, and the Smedry talents in this book, and...
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BOOK: Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid (2019)

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid Year: 2019 Author: Marcus Emerson Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Once again, I seem to have jumped in on the second book of a series. Fortunately, there was plenty of exposition detailing the events of The Super Life of Ben Braver. Maybe a little too much exposition. This sequel took a little long getting to its own story because of this, along with a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing as well. Regardless of its slow start, Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid is a pretty standard middle-grade book that calls upon the success of the superhero genre to package a lesson about pride between action set pieces. While there are some parallels between the X-Men series, I feel the main character’s arc is perhaps a little more similar to early My Hero Academia. Plus, it wouldn’t be a middle-grade story without a bit of a Harry Potter feel to it as well (i.e., a unique main character with a semi-bumbling male...
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BOOK: The Arctic Incident (2002)

The Arctic Incident Year: 2002 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 387 minutes / 6.45 hours Sequels can be tough. There seems to be a need to incorporate what made the original successful, while also trying out new ideas at the same time. Additionally, the characters need to grow and show that they can handle any new problems thrown their way. In The Arctic Incident, the sequel to Artemis Fowl, I found more of the same military sci-fi fantasy elements present, but with changes to the characters that took away a lot of what I liked about them in the first book. And by characters, I specifically mean Artemis Fowl. While the first book in this series contained a confident, coy, and conniving teenage super-genius, The Arctic Incident took Artemis Fowl and expanded those brief moments of emotional vulnerability into an entire character. Perhaps this was due to Artemis joining forces with the same magical creatures that he swindled out of their gold in the first book, or maybe it was...
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BOOK: Creating Characters (1990)

Creating Characters: How to Build Story People Year: 1990 Author: Dwight V. Swain Length: 195 pages Writing advice is generally pretty timeless. Fundamentally, little changes between the classics written hundreds of years ago and the classics written today. Sure, there might be some new way to go about creating plots, or there might be a scientific breakthrough that tweaks a setting or two, but the one thing that remains constant throughout is characters. Complex characters have always been interesting, even if it can be a challenge to create them for a story. This is where Creating Characters: How to Build Story People comes in to help. While there is plenty of great advice in this book, I did find that it to be somewhat dated in a few spots. We’re now almost 30 years after this book was initially written, so the author's advice for writers working on radio plays might work for someone doing podcasts, but not much else. Similarly, there are tons of great examples...
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BOOK: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Year: 1831 Author: Victor Hugo Length: 1,136 minutes / 18.93 hours Victor Hugo is one of those classic authors who I’ve hesitated reading because his stories tend to have a lot of details that don’t necessarily add to the plot. Sure, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is no Les Miserables, but Hugo’s style made this book perhaps a little longer than it should have been. Either way, now I know a lot more about the architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral. Despite all this, the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is timeless in many ways, not the least of which centers around its titular character. While modern stories are vying to be inclusive and diverse, Victor Hugo managed to write a story in the 1800s that not only included a disabled individual but racially diverse characters (at least for France) as well. The fact that both are sympathetic protagonists helps cement Quasimodo and Esmerelda in my mind. They’re both persecuted in their own ways;...
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BOOK: Artemis Fowl (2001)

Artemis Fowl Year: 2001 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 281 pages With the movie adaptation of this book coming out in a few months, I figured the premise of Artemis Fowl looked interesting enough that I’d want to read it before seeing the film. After all, a child genius going up against fantasy forces sounded like it would be entertaining. Overall, this was true. Granted, this book starts one of those classic Young Adult series that’s actually meant for children, so I can forgive a bit of its bathroom humor—but only to a point. Still, I found the fusion of modern technology and fantasy elements to be the strength of this book. Much in the vein of the science fantasy genre, Artemis Fowl uses scientific principles and concepts to explain the numerous phenomena connected to creatures like fairies, dwarves, and trolls. It only makes sense that these creatures would evolve technologically along with humanity. Being able to explain how these creatures could remain undetected for thousands of years was nearly...
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BOOK: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Year: 2007 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 1,222 minutes / 20.37 hours Now that I’ve finished the third book in this series, I realize it falls into the “trilogy conundrum” of having a strong, standalone first part, followed by two sequels that rely on each other to finish out the story. Heck, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest should have just been Part 3 of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo since it completed the story arc started back in book one. I had my suspicions this book would continue from the exact moment where The Girl Who Played with Fire ended. After all, there were a ton of loose ends, and the story ended abruptly. Part of my issue with this book was that it was primarily tasked with tying up all the subplots from the first two books. However, it still felt like it needed to spend time on new storylines that didn’t add much to the overall plot and were only...
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BOOK: Clash of Eagles (2015)

Clash of Eagles Year: 2015 Author: Alan Smale Length: 464 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** When I picked up Clash of Eagles, I thought the idea had merit. The Roman Empire remained strong and alive past its original fall and finally managed to work its way over to the North American continent. Just like the Europeans from our history, they encountered the Native Americans who vehemently protected their native land from foreign invaders. Basically: Romans vs. Indians. Since the timeframe for this book was a few centuries after the original fall of Rome, I was expecting a bit more in terms of this alternate history but was ultimately disappointed with the result. While a lot can change in a few hundred years, the Romans remained mostly the same. Sure, the Native Americans had some impressive new technology, but then the narrative felt pretty one-sided. Since the book focused on the advancing Roman troops, I had trouble latching on to the main character for...
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BOOK: Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire (2018)

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire Year: 2018 Author: John August Length: 411 minutes / 6.85 hours Having already read Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon, I decided to go back and read the book that kicked off this series. While I already knew what had happened in Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire—as the sequel frequently referenced it—I still appreciated reading the details myself. I had a few questions and concerns that I hoped this book would address, and only about half of them were answered to my satisfaction. Still, I did enjoy this Harry Potter and Boy Scouts mashup, even if it is literally that. In the sequel, I definitely got the Harry Potter vibe, but I fully realized the almost 1-for-1 influence of the J.K. Rowling series on this series when I read this book. Unsuspectingly powerful main character with a unique physical trait? Check. Overachieving female friend? Check. Somewhat bumbling male friend? Check. Different groups categorized via...
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BOOK: The First Five Pages (2000)

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile Year: 2000 Author: Noah Lukeman Length: 208 pages As a writer who is looking to submit to agents soon, I was hoping The First Five Pages would give me some insight into the hook that could lead to the acceptance of my book. Additionally, as an individual who also creates and publishes short story anthologies, I hoped this book would give some useful advice for writers to keep their stories out of the rejection pile. Unfortunately, while this book is almost 20 years old, much has changed since its initial publication. Everyone has computers. Word processors and other tools are in abundance. Nobody prints out manuscripts anymore. Split into three sections and a total of 19 topics, this book doesn’t so much tell an author how to avoid rejection from agents and publishers as much as how to write. I will say from personal experience that the one topic on formatting is the...
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BOOK: The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006)

The Girl Who Played with Fire Year: 2006 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 1,115 minutes / 18.58 hours Despite some of its weaknesses, some of which were due to my reading it via audiobook, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great book. In its sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, some of these weaknesses were addressed, but others manifested in their place. Again, these faults might be attributed to the audiobook format, but are fairly minor when considering how fantastic the story is as a whole. In fact, I probably like The Girl Who Played with Fire more than its predecessor. Of course, part of this was how events in the first book carried over to influence the plot of the second. In the first book of the Millennium series, I didn’t realize just how much sex was in it. This was mostly because of the rape scene that made everything else seem tame in comparison. In this book, the sex is still there, but there’s so much of it...
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BOOK: In Ashes Born (2015)

In Ashes Born Year: 2015 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 310 pages As someone who enjoyed the core Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, parts of it seemed rushed in order to focus on the rise of Ishmael Wang to the penultimate title of “Owner.” Along the way, there were characters and sub-plots that I would have loved to see more of but woefully had to settle with focusing almost entirely on Ishmael’s story. From his time at the Academy to whatever happened with his first marriage, I think these moments not contained in the wrappings of ship life would have added a few moments of reprieve between the exciting world of Solar Clippers. In Ashes Born manages to quench my thirst for more stories set in this universe. It also manages to pull together many of the interesting characters over the core 6-book series and place them on track to have perhaps the most exciting adventure yet. Similar to how Ender’s Game pulled disparate characters together for a final battle...
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BOOK: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Year: 2005 Author: Stieg Larsson Length: 980 minutes / 16.33 hours For many years, I was hesitant to read this book, mostly due to a few intense sequences that I saw in the David Fincher film adaptation. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be subjected to them in book form any more than I had been already. Fortunately, these scenes were quite a bit more tolerable in the book, mostly because the descriptions weren’t nearly as visceral as watching them on the big screen. I’m only now kicking myself for waiting this long to read such a fantastic book. While the book and the movie diverge in a few spots, I can see the reasoning behind the differences. When it comes right down to it, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a showcase for its titular character. Lisbeth Salander is tough, smart, and an overall entertaining individual to follow. While it takes quite a while for her to...
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BOOK: The Warded Man (2008)

The Warded Man Year: 2008 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 453 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** For anyone who thinks that fantasy is a childish genre, The Warded Man shows that it can have very adult themes. While this adds an element of realism by including sex and violence, it also means that the intended audience for this book should be mature enough to be able to pay attention. Unfortunately, this book takes a repetitive approach with its character arcs, almost as if writing for children who need the point constantly driven home. In the end, I’m mostly just disappointed at what this book could have been instead of what it was. I’m not sure if there’s a minimum page count/word count for fantasy books, but The Warded Man seems to be an interesting novella, padded out with tons of unnecessary backstory—or at least backstory that could be covered in a relevant line or paragraph when needed. I did like the concept and the magical system in...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (2009)

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 406 minutes / 6.77 hours You know, it’s difficult to review a book that already highlights its flaws in the text itself. Part of me wonders if the reviews from the second book in the series were bad enough to warrant this kind of meta self-awareness. In the end, while Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia does take the time to address these weaknesses in its story and characters, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that they’re in there in the first place. These winking soliloquies seem to gloss over the fact that the book knows what’s wrong with it, but instead decides to gloss over it with self-reference instead of fixing the root of the problems themselves. By this point in the series, I have come to terms with its middle-grade silliness and occasional bathroom humor. I loved the rule-breaking first book in the series, only to become annoyed by this constant...
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BOOK: The Graduate (1963)

The Graduate Year: 1963 Author: Charles Webb Length: 366 minutes / 6.10 hours If I could condense this book down to a single phrase, it would be “What?” It’s not that I didn’t understand this book, it’s more that this single word/question was used for every third line of dialogue. Not only was this incredibly annoying to read—as every character seemed to have hearing problems that required the other speaker to repeat themselves—but it just seemed to pad out an already weak plot. I have no idea how this book became so famous that it led to a much superior film adaptation, but now I know that nobody should bother reading this book because of its inspiration for the movie. Let’s talk about character motivations next. Nothing ever made any sense. Sure, there’s a bit of existential ennui involved with finishing something you excel in (school, in this case), but the actions of the main character only make sense up until a point. Once we hit...
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BOOK: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (1993)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print Year: 1993 Authors: Renni Browne and Dave King Length: 237 pages Even though this book was published 25 years ago, its advice for aspiring authors is timeless. From those just starting to veterans still polishing their craft, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was initially released. After all, the pre-eminence of self-published authors has spawned a plethora of poorly-written and amateur works that seriously need some form of editing. On the plus side, the more self-published authors who take the advice in this book and put it to good use, then perhaps there will be less of a stigma against them in the future. Breaking down the editing process into 12 distinct parts, this book shows the reader—through numerous examples—how a lousy piece of prose can be edited into something much more palatable. That being said, there are a lot of examples, some of which take up multiple pages. Occasionally, the errors...
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BOOK: A Closed and Common Orbit (2017)

A Closed and Common Orbit Year: 2017 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 690 minutes / 11.50 hours After the refreshing sci-fi The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I was ready to follow the crew of the Wayfarer to their next adventure. Unfortunately, the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, decided to take a path more akin to The Godfather Part II (1974). Instead of following the main characters of the first story, this sequel delved into the new life of the AI now known as Sidra, while also interspersing a quasi-related prequel story of one of the new characters introduced in this book. Fortunately, these two stories were well paced against each other. Even though I feel readers could pick up this book without having read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, there are certainly a few details about the diverse races found in this universe left out of this book—probably for the sake of brevity. This didn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of A Closed and Common...
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BOOK: Here and Now and Then (2019)

Here and Now and Then Year: 2019 Author: Mike Chen Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ve always found time travel to be an intriguing plot device. There are plenty of rules that come along with this phenomenon, but they can be somewhat flexible based on the situation that demands it. In Here and Now and Then (which is a brilliant title, by the way), the “rules” about time travel are reasonably strict, even if there’s a fair amount of hand-waving to explain away any changes made to the timeline. While this leads to a perfectly suitable ending, there were certainly a few alternative endings that I would have liked to have seen as well. Set in two time periods over 100 years apart, the main plotline follows Quinoa “Kin” Stewart, a time traveler from the future who was stuck in the past with no hope of returning home. Taking some advice from comedian Mitch Hedberg, “If you find yourself lost in the woods…build...
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BOOK: The Elfstones of Shannara (1982)

The Elfstones of Shannara Year: 1982 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,400 minutes / 23.33 hours Back in 2016, I saw advertisements for a TV show adaptation of the original Shannara trilogy, likely trying to cash in on the success of Game of Thrones. While I never watched the show, I remembered enough from these trailers that I was able to recognize that the plot of the first book in the series, The Sword of Shannara, was not the plot of the series. However, when I started reading the next book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara, suddenly memories of the TV show came to mind. Having finished this book, I can see why the TV show wanted to start here. I didn’t particularly care for the derivative Sword of Shannara, as it seemed to steal all its ideas from The Lord of the Rings. While The Elfstones of Shannara still appears to take influence from this quintessential epic fantasy, there are enough other fantasy tropes thrown in to make it feel at least...
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BOOK: Dreadfully Ever After (2011)

Dreadfully Ever After Year: 2011 Author: Steve Hockensmith Length: 287 pages While the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a combination most people never knew they needed, apparently making it into a trilogy was the next logical conclusion. Combined with the prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Dreadfully Ever After puts the series to rest with a sequel that seems to re-hash a lot of similar ideas presented in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but with enough connection to the prequel and at least one or two original ideas that helped to round out the characters. These new ideas were logical extrapolations from the events that concluded Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so they weren’t necessarily shocking, but still entertaining to pull the thread nonetheless. I think, overall, I prefer the prequel and sequel to the original Austen/monster mashup. It probably helped that both were written by the same author, who was essentially writing fan fiction based on the idea that this romantic classic could be combined with the undead. Dawn...
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BOOK: The Black Star of Kingston (2015)

The Black Star of Kingston Year: 2015 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 160 pages Immediately after I finished reading The Green Ember, I picked up this short story/prequel and read through it in one sitting. I had become pretty well invested in the world created in The Green Ember and wanted more of it before diving into the sequel, Ember Falls. While The Green Ember mentioned a story of The Black Star of Kingston in its main plot, I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed as I would have hoped. Sure, all the things that made The Green Ember great were mostly present in The Black Star of Kingston, but it felt a little…underdeveloped. Once again, the strength of the plot and characters helped provide entertainment as I read this story. However, without a more comprehensive understanding of the lore of this series, I wasn’t quite sure where this story fits in with the rest of the canon. I knew it was a prequel...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones (2008)

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones Year: 2008 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 425 minutes / 7.08 hours Earlier this year, I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and absolutely loved it. Consequently, I had high hopes for the next book in this series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. While there was still the same amount of self-awareness and humor in this book, it felt a little…off. Perhaps I should have read these two books closer together, but I had some trouble coming up to speed in the beginning and wasn’t entirely sure why the “goal” of this book was to find Alcatraz’s father. In any case, Sanderson’s world-building is still in top form here. Of course, the “cute” way that this series was self-aware when I read the first book was a bit more annoying this time around. It almost felt like every chapter had to have a soliloquy, even if it didn’t link itself to where the plot was at the time—which often broke the...
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BOOK: The Green Ember (2014)

The Green Ember Year: 2014 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 368 pages On the other end of the spectrum of “fantasy rabbit” stories from Watership Down, we have The Green Ember, the first in a series that probably could have been written without the animal trappings and still been a good story. Where Watership Down had very rabbit-like characters interacting with the human world, The Green Ember has very person-like characters interacting with an animal world. Occasionally, the attributes that make the rabbits unique were used—especially in the battle sequences—but there were often moments when I forgot that these characters were rabbits. I felt the cuteness of rabbits, and the scariness of wolves and hawks, help reach a younger audience without directly confronting them with the realities of the scary world around them. After all, if it was people vs. people in this book, then the intended audience might miss out on some of the important morals and lessons contained therein. Having a clearly evil force...
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BOOK: The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

The Red Badge of Courage Year: 1895 Author: Stephen Crane Length: 315 minutes / 5.25 hours War is an ugly thing full of death and destruction. While most books written today bemoan this fact and complain that wars should never start in the first place, what do the individual soldiers handle a war that they didn’t even start? Set in the Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage is perhaps the best representation of the growth of a soldier from a deserter to a courageous fighter. Our intrinsic fear of death is what motivates so many of us to do the things we do to survive. Overcoming that fear and charging headlong into battle does take a measure of courage usually not present in most people. Stephen Crane does a fantastic job weaving the story of a young man who has to learn what it truly means to earn the titular “red badge of courage.” His prose is almost poetic as he describes the landscapes,...
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BOOK: Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon (2019)

Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon Year: 2019 Author: John August Length: 384 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As a Boy Scout that grew up in northern Colorado, I was a little surprised to read a book like this that was able to combine the supernatural elements that would fit well in the Harry Potter universe with the pseudo-military structure and trappings of the scouting program. Of course, I’m also kicking myself for not writing these books myself first, because the two elements combine so well that the fusion is natural and fun to read. The icing on the cake was having the main character go to a summer camp with a “Redfeather Lake” and a layout that seemed suspiciously similar to the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch that I regularly visited when I was a scout. Coming in on the second book of this series, I didn’t feel too out of the loop with what had happened in the previous...
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BOOK: Ender in Exile (2008)

Ender in Exile Year: 2008 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 823 minutes / 13.72 hours When it comes to the Ender saga, I was excited to read the direct sequel to Ender’s Game, Ender in Exile. After all, Speaker for the Dead was set so far after the events in Ender’s Game that there was a distinct division between the first book in the series and the following three (almost like The Hobbit when compared to The Lord of the Rings). And yet, while there was a huge gap between the first two books of the Ender saga, there was enough explanation about what had happened between them that Ender in Exile seemed a little unnecessary. My biggest problem with this book was that I haven’t started on the Shadow spinoff series, so a lot of the revelations presented in this book essentially spoiled those books for me. If you’re wondering when to read Ender in Exile, I’d suggest reading Ender’s Game, followed by the Shadow saga, and then read this book before continuing to the end of the Ender saga with Speaker for the Dead. I’ll still read...
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BOOK: The Astronaut’s Son (2018)

The Astronaut’s Son Year: 2018 Author: Tom Seigel Length: 232 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While the modern landscape for space exploration is expanding in ways that are very exciting, it’s interesting to read a story set in the early 2000’s that actually accomplishes something that hasn’t happened in decades: landing on the moon. And yet, this part of the plot of The Astronaut’s Son takes a minor role when compared with the primary thrust of the story. Sure, I would have thought that there would be plenty of things to occupy an astronaut’s time in the lead-up to a significant accomplishment, but apparently, there’s plenty of free time to explore the validity of a conspiracy theory. I’ll admit that I never thought that there would be Nazi sympathizers in the space program, but The Astronaut’s Son brings up a few interesting and perhaps semi-plausible ideas. These are explored via the main character’s investigation as to whether his father’s sudden death would was truly due to a...
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BOOK: The Long Cosmos (2016)

The Long Cosmos Year: 2016 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 742 minutes / 12.37 hours By the time I reached the end of the Long Earth series, I had a revelation. With the bounding conditions of the universe being that there are multiple worlds accessible via stepping and that no iron can pass between worlds, the ideas to explore these multiple worlds are almost endless. My revelation was that this series would have been better as an anthology of short stories from a collection of authors, instead of a handful of semi-disjointed novels that didn’t ever quite know what they were doing. The story never shined through, instead of feeling like a distracted three-year-old who wants to explore the potential of other worlds. While I felt the series was starting to succeed in telling coherent and solid plots, this book removed that forward progress. When nearly one-third of the first part of the book seems to be comprised entirely of summary and recaps...
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BOOK: The Invasion of Heaven (2013)

The Invasion of Heaven Year: 2013 Author: Michael B. Koep Length: 416 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Every once in a while, I come across an idea so original that it makes me stand up and take notice. These are the ideas that make me wonder why nobody had thought of it before. While the execution of the concept might be stylistically similar to other authors, the core of it is purely imaginative. For the most part, The Invasion of Heaven is such a book. The idea that art can literally affect a person’s mental and/or physical reality is quite a novel concept. Even if the style might be a little bit toward Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series, The Invasion of Heaven is still original enough to stand on its own. While I did mostly enjoy this book, there were a few curious choices that soured my experience. The handful of formatting/proofreading errors aside, and ignoring some of the pacing issues (some...
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BOOK: The Long Utopia (2015)

The Long Utopia Year: 2015 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 725 minutes / 12.08 hours After the events that take place in The Long Mars, I was expecting the next book in the series, The Long Utopia, to be about the CEO of the Black Corporation and the settlement he established to help him live longer. Instead, I got a story that had little to no connection to the previous plots. That being said, at least there was a story with a projected conclusion instead of merely a series of random events that eventually led to the sudden destruction of some location (as had been the case up until now). While I did appreciate some of the back-story for Joshua Valienté, there wasn’t anything in Joshua’s behavior or motivations in any of the previous books that indicated that he was even interested in learning about his past. I also was pleased that some of the “limitations” of this universe were brought back, or at least provided...
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BOOK: The Descendants (2007)

The Descendants Year: 2007 Author: Kaui Hart Hemmings Length: 550 minutes / 9.17 hours On paper, the plot of The Descendants almost sounds like a bad soap opera. A man who has the deciding vote that could mean wealth for him and his extended family is dealing with an unfaithful wife who is in a life-threatening coma. The execution of this plot, however, brings so much humanity to the forefront that I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these events were real. While I loved the movie adaptation of this book, the first-person narrative of the book helped add so much more depth to the story. It’s difficult to get into the main character’s head when there’s no internal monologue like in the movie. Of course, with such realistic and vulnerable characters, there were bound to be a few that I didn’t like. Ironically enough, I hated the comatose wife. Sure, her husband was probably a bit of a workaholic, but he always meant well and was...
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BOOK: When God Winks at You (2000)

When God Winks at You Year: 2000 Author: Squire Rushnell Length: 240 pages A few months ago, I received an e-mail from my mother that passed along a suggestion from my grandmother that I read this book. While not a long book by any means, my wife and I read a story each night after dinner and finished it in a few months. Basically, this collection of inspiring stories goes so far as to suggest that all the fortuitous coincidences we experience in our lives are evidence of a loving and all-powerful Creator. As a Christian, I did see most of these stories as supernaturally-influenced, even if my scientific mind was skeptical at times. Separating the coincidental with the God-influenced can be difficult. While some stories seemed like mere coincidence, there were still quite a few contained in this volume that had no other explanation other than God showing off what He can do. Collected into a few different categories, many of these stories had...
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BOOK: The Long Mars (2014)

The Long Mars Year: 2014 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 723 minutes / 12.05 hours While the previous two entries in this series seemed to be disjointed in their writing styles, The Long Mars seemed to iron out some of these discrepancies . . . finally. In The Long Earth and The Long War, you could almost pinpoint the sections that Terry Pratchett wrote and the sections primarily written by Stephen Baxter. By The Long Mars, there are still a few moments of Terry Pratchett’s goofiness, but they are few and far between. Consequently, the narrative of The Long Mars seemed a lot more consistent than its predecessors. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that The Long Mars is absent of problems. While there was plenty of exploration of these parallel universes, the ones that were deemed necessary enough to describe didn’t add anything to the plot. In fact, I felt like this book could have been much shorter if these thought experiments that explored how parallel universes would function were cut out entirely....
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BOOK: My Little Ikigai Journal (2018)

My Little Ikigai Journal Year: 2018 Author: Amanda Kudo Length: 128 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** A few years ago, I had heard a little snippet about Ikigai and thought it was a great way to focus a person's life. Essentially, Ikigai is the Japanese concept that combines four qualities of a person's passion and concentrates them into a productive and meaningful life. The four tenets of Ikigai are the things a person loves, the talents where the person excels, the individual's worldview, and a recognition of where the person can make a difference in the world. At the center of all four of these ideas is the concept of Ikigai. This book is a handy journal that provides some exercises for the reader to help them consider these aspects of their life and how they can find their Ikigai. Each page either has an encouraging quote that ties to one of the four Ikigai pillars or a question for the reader to fill...
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BOOK: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)

One Hundred Years of Solitude Year: 1967 Author: Gabriel García Márquez Length: 844 minutes / 14.07 hours I’ll admit: I didn’t really “get” this book. I had seen a TED-Ed YouTube video that told me how great it was, and I decided to give it a try. While there were parts that were entertaining, most of this book went over my head. I suppose if I understood Columbian history and the culture of Central and South America, I might have had a better grasp of what was going on. As it was, I felt lost most of the time and kind of wonder what makes it so highly-recommended. Perhaps my biggest qualm with this book is how its narrative structure is laid out. There’s practically no dialogue, and it’s basically told in the form of a parable or fairy tale. There are a lot of characters, but their names were so similar that I had trouble keeping track of them all. I get they’re all...
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BOOK: Beyond the Checkup (2018)

Beyond the Checkup from Birth to Age Four: A Pediatrician's Guide to Calm, Confident Parenting Year: 2018 Author: Luke Voytas Length: 288 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While I do not have children yet, I am doing my best to prepare my knowledge for when they do become a part of my life. Consequently, books like Beyond the Checkup seem to be a perfect resource for parents, as it is written by a pediatrician. That being said, I think I'm probably a little biased in wanting an older, more grandfatherly pediatrician writing books like this. After all, a lifetime of experience seems to speak more than just 15-years-worth of it. Regarding the book's content, Luk Voytas does a reasonably good job of presenting the big problems that might come up in a child's first four years. While he does use scientific studies to back up his suggestions, there are some instances where it's unclear whether or not there is any science behind his opinion, or if it's his...
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BOOK: Sideways (2004)

Sideways Year: 2004 Author: Rex Pickett Length: 665 minutes / 11.08 hours When I got into this book, the only things I knew about it were that it was about wine and it was made into a movie of the same name by Alexander Payne. Unfortunately, unlike a good wine, this book doesn’t seem to have aged well. Maybe people were able to put up with buddy comedy sex romps back in the early 2000’s, but the social climate has changed considerably since then. I doubt a book like this would be written today, at least without some outcry from people who find the women in it to be inherently objectified. Most of my issue with this book comes down to the characters. I’ll give the author credit for creating individuals that made me react to them so vehemently. The problem is that I hated these characters. I hated Jack for being so sex-crazed that he felt obligated to satiate his urges mere days before...
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BOOK: The Bridge (2018)

The Bridge Year: 2018 Author: Jim Frishkey Length: 240 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ll be honest when I say that I entered the giveaway for this book based on the attractive cover and the premise. Unfortunately, the book delivered on neither (it says it’s a “mystery,” but it had none of that either). There are too many amateur mistakes in this book for me to take any of it seriously. Some of these mistakes are so frustrating that I can’t honestly recommend this book to anyone. It’s a bit sad because a story featuring the spawn of Hitler would probably be pretty interesting. Maybe these interesting stories were in the previous four books, but judging on the errors in this one, I don’t want to read them. Let’s start with the formatting: it’s a mess. Right-aligned text, odd gaps in the paragraphs, and even some text that’s gray for some reason. Moving on to the proofreading errors, they are sprinkled enough...
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BOOK: Ajax Penumbra 1969 (2013)

Ajax Penumbra 1969 Year: 2013 Author: Robin Sloan Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours As I said in my review of Sourdough, I absolutely adored Robin Sloan's debut work, Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore. Since Sourdough didn't necessarily sate my appetite, I found Ajax Penumbra 1969 to be a light snack that brought me back into the world created by Sloan. Acting as a bit of a short story/novella prequel to the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 still maintains the themes common in Sloan's work: mainly, the combination and juxtaposition of analog and digital technology. In this case, the reader just happens to come across this dichotomy in 1969. Following the titular character from the first book, Ajax Penumbra 1969 gives the origins of this mysterious character as he searches for answers and eventually ends up in San Francisco at a little 24-hour bookstore. The following mystery and intrigue are what I would expect from such a story, but the inclusion of the budding technological aspects of the late 1960's helped to...
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BOOK: The Interpretation of Dreams (1899)

The Interpretation of Dreams Year: 1899 Author: Sigmund Freud Length: 736 pages Years ago, I tried picking up this book and reading it so I could become educated about dreams and their interpretations. Back then, I lost interest within the first hundred pages. This time, as I prepare to write my own fictional series of books about dreams and the parallel world they inhabit, I was much more focused and able to finish this daunting book. While many will say what they will about Freud and his theories, this book was the definitive and groundbreaking work that helped us all understand a little more of what influences our dreams. Written mostly as an academic examination of the influencing factors of dreams, Freud includes a plentitude of examples from his patients and his own life to help prove his point. This can be a little tedious at times, as it feels like he’s banging the reader over the head with multiple examples that don’t add much...
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BOOK: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)

The Time Traveler’s Wife Year: 2003 Author: Audrey Niffenegger Length: 1,058 minutes / 17.63 hours I find myself somewhat conflicted between two mediums whenever a book is made into a movie. On the one hand, I truly enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) when I first saw it. While the book the movie was based on has a lot more material, it became obvious that a lot of this material could easily be cut for the movie and very little would be lost in the narrative. Despite this material (which I'll get to in a bit), the book is lavishly and poetically written and was a joy to read. With a main character who can time travel, I'm having a tough time determining if the foreshadowing in this book was brilliant or just a bit too heavy-handed. I'm also not sure if I even like the main characters themselves since they're essentially the definition of "white privilege" (with all the trust funds, alcoholism and casual drug use,...
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BOOK: Moonraker (1955)

Moonraker Year: 1955 Author: Ian Fleming Length: 410 minutes / 6.83 hours For those of you who have seen the movie Moonraker (1979), push everything you know about this story out of your head. About the only things that the film has in common with the book are the main character, villain, and an enormous rocket. While the film tried to capitalize on the sci-fi that was popular at the time, the original book takes a look at the threat introduced in World War II by the Germans: ballistic missiles. For its time, the book was relevant in a world that hadn’t even been to space yet. Having now read a handful of the James Bond books, my problem with this book stems from how formulaic it was. Only three books in, and it felt like Fleming was recycling content and would continue to for books to come (like in Goldfinger). I mean, never before has a game of bridge been so exciting, but using card games as...
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BOOK: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014)

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Year: 2014 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 863 minutes / 14.38 hours One of the biggest qualms I have with a lot of modern science fiction is that it’s not nearly imaginative enough. I believe most of this stems from the fact that modern sci-fi authors were influenced by franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars, where even the aliens are basically humanoids with different skin color. In The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, author Becky Chambers takes a great leap forward for sci-fi by exploring what it would be like to work on a spaceship with a variety of different species. Needless to say, there are plenty of “cultural” adaptations that one would need to make in such a situation. Unfortunately, because the characters are so interesting, the main plot takes a back seat for the majority of the book. Instead, the reader is treated to a series of almost “episodic” moments between the crew that act as excellent exposition,...
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BOOK: Sourdough (2017)

Sourdough Year: 2017 Author: Robin Sloan Length: 259 pages Much like Armada to Ready Player One or Artemis to The Martian, I looked forward to reading Robin Sloan’s follow-up to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. Unfortunately, much like the follow-up books by Ernest Cline and Andy Weir, respectively, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with Sloan’s Sourdough. I will give credit that Sloan’s quirky and charming style is still in high form here, it’s more that there wasn’t much of a central conflict that would have led to a satisfying ending. It’s almost like too many plotlines got into the mix, and it muddled everything up to the point where it would be too difficult to follow each to their logical conclusion. Cline has video game references. Weir has accurate, hard sci-fi. If there’s one thing Sloan does well, it’s the fusion of analog and digital. From Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, it was the appreciation of the printed book in the era of Google searches. In Sourdough, Sloan explores the future of food—which is perhaps the most analog of...
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BOOK: The Way of Kings (2010)

The Way of Kings Year: 2010 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 1258 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** I’ve only recently started reading Brandon Sanderson’s books, but I’ve liked what I’ve read so far. I started out with Warbreaker, which was a relatively light fantasy novel when compared to the hefty tome that is The Way of Kings. While I loved the moderate pace that Warbreaker moved at, I instinctually knew that most “high fantasy” books are usually bogged down with exposition and world-building. The Way of Kings is certainly a “high fantasy,” which makes me wonder if perhaps Sanderson tried to do too much in this first volume of his newest series. The Way of Kings follows about three main storylines but could have potentially gotten away with two of them, even if the one that could be easily cut—the Soulcaster theft storyline—had some of my favorite characters in it. I could also see the plotline being pared down to the one following Kaladin (who appears in each of the...
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BOOK: The Currents of Space (1952)

The Currents of Space Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 475 minutes / 7.92 hours For the first time, it seems that I’m reading a series backward. Of course, it was also written a bit backward, which explains why I’m going about it this way. While Pebble in the Sky was the first book in this series, it actually comes at the end of the narrative. A year later, Isaac Asimov would write the prequel, The Stars, Like Dust, which was then followed by a book that fit between the two. The Currents of Space is that book. Fortunately, there isn’t much tying this book to Pebble in the Sky, other than the universal setting for the events to take place. It is encouraging that Asimov’s writing was able to improve in two short years between his first ever novel and this follow-on prequel. The Currents of Space has a distinct main character, apparent conflict, and well-timed plot revelations. The focus of this book helps to describe a somewhat interesting and thrilling scenario,...
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BOOK: Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) (2018)

Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) Year: 2018 Author: Michael Fry & Bradley Jackson Length: 272 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As can be implied from the title, Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) is the follow-up to an earlier appearance of the titular character in The Naughty List. One does not need to have read The Naughty List to understand what happened to Bobbie since this book does a pretty good—if not too thorough—re-telling of the events of the first book that would eventually lead her to save the world (again). While I’m sure the previous book was focused on Christmas-related shenanigans, this book opens up the potential for weird, random, and bizarre via the same inter-dimensional portals used previously. I will say that I was impressed with this book’s ability to seamlessly intertwine verbal narrative with accompanying pictures. It’s not quite a picture-book, but it’s also not a chapter book either. It’s a hybrid of the two. While I’m assuming the illustrations will be a...
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BOOK: The Long War (2013)

The Long War Year: 2013 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 828 minutes / 13.80 hours You think with an inciting incident as extreme as the one at the end of The Long Earth, the follow-on book, The Long War, would be an exciting series of battles. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. Instead, authors Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter take the Speaker for the Dead route by aging the main character of the first book by at least a decade and throwing in heavy doses of non-human racism (speciesism?). For a book that has “war” in the title, there isn’t much war at all. This is disappointing for many reasons. Sure, there’s still plenty of neat science fiction ideas presented here, but The Long War exhibits the same problems that were present in The Long Earth. First and foremost, the wit and humor of Terry Pratchett is hardly to be seen in this book, only occasionally popping up to add levity to a situation. Secondly, there’s so much exposition that...
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BOOK: Spinning Silver (2018)

Spinning Silver Year: 2018 Author: Naomi Novik Length: 434 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** About seven years ago, there seemed to be a renaissance of fairy tale retellings and reimagining that swept through popular culture. From television shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm to movies like Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Mirror Mirror (2012) to the books of Melanie Dickerson, it seemed that wherever you turned, you could find someone’s different take on classic fairy tales. While perhaps a little outside this bubble of pop culture, Spinning Silver has the benefit of standing out in a field of genre books that seems to have cooled in recent years. Based partially on the story of Rumpelstiltskin, author Naomi Novik has masterfully combined elements of Jewish and Russian folklore to reimagine this story from a somewhat more modern perspective while also maintaining its fairytale settings and tropes. If anything, her strong and independent female characters highlight how chauvinistic the original fairy tales seem when compared to the culture we’re living in...
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BOOK: The Long Earth (2012)

The Long Earth Year: 2012 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 691 minutes / 11.52 hours Having read a few of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books before, I am no stranger to the randomness of his writing style. Usually, he has some character or object that just doesn’t fit in a normal narrative, but he manages to work it in with an explanation that’s both natural and makes sense. However, this only works if Pratchett has control over the entire story. Unfortunately, as is the case in The Long Earth, the randomness that Pratchett brings to the table sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the mostly sci-fi story. For instance, does an artificial intelligence have to be a reincarnated Tibetan motorcycle repairman? If you want to take the story seriously, probably not. In the end, this book seems to be mostly written by Stephen Baxter, with only a smattering of Pratchett’s charm thrown in occasionally for levity. I haven’t read any of...
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BOOK: Pebble in the Sky (1950)

Pebble in the Sky Year: 1950 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 487 minutes / 8.12 hours As I pulled together some of the information for this review, I became aware that Pebble in the Sky was Isaac Asimov’s first novel. To be honest, that explains a lot. I’d read a few Asimov books before—I, Robot being a personal favorite—so I was a little disappointed with this story. If anything, it showed Asimov’s potential for bigger and better stories, or at least stories that were a little more focused. As it is, Pebble in the Sky provided the groundwork for prequels and some of Asimov’s best writing, but it remains fairly rough in comparison. Some of the ideas in Pebble in the Sky are certainly noteworthy, including an age limit for humans and telepathic abilities. We also see here the ability of science fiction to address social issues as well. In this case, racism was the topic du jour, which was definitely in the early edges of revolution in 1950. And yet, the political commentary...
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BOOK: Wish Upon a Sleepover (2018)

Wish Upon a Sleepover Year: 2018 Author: Suzanne Selfors Length: 208 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While the story of “stone soup” has been around for a long time, and traversed many cultures, apparently it needed another re-telling in the form of this book. Wish Upon a Sleepover is a pretty standard middle-grade book that seeks to teach a number of lessons about judging others while managing to create some interesting characters with unique and modern quirks. It is through these characters—and not necessarily the primary protagonist—that any child who decides to read this book can learn how to interact with others. The irony is that the central protagonist is probably better described as the antagonist of the story. Even though this book is stated as being appropriate from children from grades 3 to 7, as a result of this somewhat broad range of ages, it seems to be more geared toward the low end of the range, while having characters from the upper...
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BOOK: Piercing the Darkness (1989)

Piercing the Darkness Year: 1989 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 1,250 minutes / 20.83 hours It’s weird how something that was done so well the first time loses all its magic during a sequel. I absolutely loved This Present Darkness, as I felt it accurately captured the invisible war of the spiritual world while also providing a gripping thriller in the human realm to keep the action moving forward. I was not impressed with the follow-up book, Piercing the Darkness. If it was a separate story with separate characters, I might have gotten into it more, but as it is, the tie-in to the first book seemed sloppy and almost unnecessary. Almost every part of This Present Darkness that I thought was amazing seemed copied into Piercing the Darkness, but without the stakes or “oomph” to make the plot even semi-interesting. I think the reason for this was that most of the subtlety was gone from the characters. It’s a little more terrifying when you learn that normal, everyday people are...
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BOOK: The City of Brass (2017)

The City of Brass Year: 2017 Author: S.A. Chakraborty Length: 533 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In S.A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, The City of Brass, we find some of the standard tropes that seem to be the foundation of the Young Adult genre. There are snippets of works like Harry Potter and Twilight that seem to leak through, their influences helping to shape the world that the author has created. However, while some of these tropes might be tired in any other setting, they are used to great effect here, as the author has created something grounded in culture and traditions that helps to enhance the fantasy world that lies just beyond our own. While I did enjoy reading this book overall, there were a few weaknesses. The start of the story was action-packed and hooked me right from the get-go, but then the section leading up to the second half of the plot seemed to be bogged down with lots of exposition and world-building. It also...
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BOOK: Pensées (1669)

Pensées Year: 1669 Author: Blaise Pascal Length: 771 minutes / 12.85 hours While I do enjoy and appreciate the ease of which I can listen to an audiobook and absorb the content of a variety of books, there are always a few books that don’t translate well into the format. Sure, I might have my qualms about the narrator’s pronunciation, volume control, or other technical issues. However, this is the first book where the rating I’m giving applies explicitly to the audiobook version, and not necessarily to the book’s contents. The difference here is that the audiobook version of Pascal’s Pensées doesn’t allow the reader enough time to adequately absorb the content. If I were to classify this book, I’d probably say it’s closer to a listing of complaints/observations that would work better on a multi-year “item-a-day” calendar than in an audiobook format. The majority of Pensées is a series of proverbs by Blaise Pascal, a name that most scientists will recognize. The fact that...
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BOOK: This Present Darkness (1986)

This Present Darkness Year: 1986 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 520 pages Back in high school, I had to read this book as part of my Religions class and thought it was pretty good. As I have been preparing for writing The Slumberealm Gambit, I decided to give This Present Darkness another read so I could recall how Peretti combined the fantastical spirit world with the real world. For a book written in 1986, it’s aged surprisingly well, even if the demise of the newspaper and the rise of constant contact via cell phones would make this kind of book set in modern times a hard sell. Even so, I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone adapted this book into a movie, as the plot is thrilling and the action is top-notch. Strangely enough, one of my qualms with this book is with its formatting and proofreading. There were a few missed typos, and the right-align text didn’t seem as professional as I would have hoped a widely-printed book would...
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BOOK: Mildred Pierce (1941)

Mildred Pierce Year: 1941 Author: James M. Cain Length: 601 minutes / 10.0 hours It’s almost uncanny how timeless the story of Mildred Pierce remains to this day. I could easily see a similar story set in 2009, immediately following the housing crash—instead of following the Great Depression. Of course, this also is an unsettling reminder that many societal structures haven’t changed much since the 1940’s. The patriarchal society that existed then still exists to an extent today, which is troubling because of the increased difficulty women have in trying to get ahead in life, especially after something like a divorce or bankruptcy. The fact that the titular character was able to overcome these limitations speaks to her talent as much as to her luck. The most noticeable differences between the Hollywood version with Joan Crawford and the source material of this book mainly come down to the amount of suggestive/objectionable material within it. This is likely due to the book’s slightly more pulpy origins, combined with...
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BOOK: The Ghost Script (2018)

The Ghost Script Year: 2018 Author: Jules Feiffer Length: 160 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I received this book in the mail, I opened it up and was suddenly surprised. First, I suppose I didn’t realize this was the third book in a series. Second, I thought the rough sketching of the cover was an aesthetic choice, but it seemed to permeate the entirety of this graphic novel. Since these first impressions took me for a loop, I had to warm up to the idea of this book before I sat down to read it. Even despite my initial misgivings, The Ghost Script is an enjoyable and quick read with a visual style that somehow works, even despite its “rough” characteristics. Part of me almost wished the book was a little longer, but I suppose if I read all three pieces together, I’d get the length of a book I usually look for in a graphic novel. As it was, I...
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BOOK: Timeline (1999)

Timeline Year: 1999 Author: Michael Crichton Length: 912 minutes / 15.20 hours It’s been a while since I read any Michael Crichton. I thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic Park—and to a lesser extent, The Lost World. I enjoyed the action and the science that went into creating these stories, helping to educate as well as entertain (kind of like my own writing style, if I do say so myself :D). For Timeline, the science in question is more quantum in nature, but I felt the explanations given were sufficient to arrive at a time-travel narrative, even if it did require a small amount of scientific hand-waving. Also, a lot of my perceptions about the dark ages were completely flipped around through this book’s meticulous details. Even though I liked the scientific and historical sections of this book, there were undoubtedly some weaknesses I cannot overlook. First of all, Crichton seems to like hammering home the idea that science as an entertainment business is a bad idea (a la...
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BOOK: The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678)

The Pilgrim’s Progress Year: 1678 Author: John Bunyan Length: 324 pages I distinctly remember my parents reading this book to me when I was a child. Decades later, I decided to re-visit it and read it for myself. I don’t know if it was an abridged version or a simplified re-telling appropriate for kids, but this was not the book I remember from my childhood. Sure, the action bits were still there, like the fight with Apollyon, the Slough of Despair, and the suicide discussion in Vanity Fair, but there was way more dialogue than what I recalled of the story. Not to mention the verbiage/wording seemed more along the lines of a King James Bible than of a fantasy setting. Sure, I’ll concede that, for 1678, this was a groundbreaking piece of fiction, and perhaps the first piece of successful fantasy ever written, but it hasn’t aged entirely as well over the years when compared to its source material. There are undoubtedly little lessons...
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BOOK: Farside (2013)

Farside Year: 2013 Author: Ben Bova Length: 580 minutes / 9.67 hours I had never heard of this author before picking up this audiobook to read—I just thought the title and cover looked neat—but apparently he’s been writing science fiction for a few decades now. It shows. While I’m not entirely certain that this 20th part in the “Grand Tour” series connects to any other parts written before it, Farside does stand by itself as a story. Unfortunately, the story’s not that good. It almost seems as though the “old rules” of golden-age sci-fi live on through this author, which allowed for this misogynistic piece of fiction to be written in the new millennium. Much like Fire with Fire, there seems to be some sort of checklist that authors trying to imitate the pulpy origins of sci-fi are using to create their modern works. These tired tropes need to stop. Especially the tropes that have to do with the blatant sexism. None of the sex...
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BOOK: Smothered (2018)

Smothered Year: 2018 Author: Autumn Chiklis Length: 288 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Even though I'm a Millennial, I never experienced the embarrassing situation of having to move back in with my parents after college. Of course, my degree was in Mechanical Engineering and not the degree the main character received from Columbia University that left her with no job prospects. If I were to describe the style of awkward comedy presented here, it would be "schadenfreude-esque." I suppose it's funny to watch someone fail in the ways presented here, but it's more of an amusing chuckle than a laugh-out-loud series of situations. In the end, this is still your basic "romantic comedy" where the main character can't communicate worth a darn and leads her to learn hard lessons about life. While I did like the interweaving of social media and technology into the narrative, I don't think it went far enough. Who were the journal entries for? If they were for the main character to...
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BOOK: Monster (2005)

Monster Year: 2005 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 679 minutes / 11.32 hours One of the challenges of the Christian author is being able to craft stories and characters that share their beliefs, but without being too heavy-handed about it. In Frank Peretti’s Monster, the author mostly succeeds, providing characters that can easily be identified as Christian, but also exhibiting the traits of normal humans instead of straight-up caricatures. The main plot of this book was only tangentially related to an argument against evolution, so that was also a plus. Still, the way the book was put together, it was clear where the author’s bias was. While some people might not appreciate the Christian undertones in this thriller, my qualms with it are more structural. Following a few different characters after a woman is abducted by an unnatural beast, the mystery of the disappearances and killings unravels to reveal a semi-plausible explanation. Unfortunately, the man and wife pair that are introduced at the start of the...
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BOOK: Killer Thrillers (2015)

Killer Thrillers Year: 2015 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 899 pages I was glad I picked this triad of books up for free, as I probably would have asked for my money back otherwise. Consisting of three books, The Enigma Strain (with a bonus few chapters of the next book in the series), The Atlantis Stone, and The Depths, the drastic need for an editor (or beta reader group) became apparent by the end of the collection. I’m almost a little disappointed that there were so many errors in proofreading and logic in these books since I would think they’d be cleaned up a bit from their first publications in order to be compiled together here. While I did finish these three books, I can probably blame The Enigma Strain for that fact. The first book in this collection, The Enigma Strain was a passable thriller, even if it was a little cliché and stereotypical. I was vastly more disappointed in The Atlantis Stone, which hardly...
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BOOK: All the Light We Cannot See (2014)

All the Light We Cannot See Year: 2014 Author: Anthony Doerr Length: 962 minutes / 16.03 hours If All the Light We Cannot See were a movie, I would consider it “Oscar bait.” Set during the most romantic of World Wars: check. Main character with disability: check. Drama, tragedy, and suspense: check, check, and check. It’s then no wonder that All the Light We Cannot See ended up winning a Pulitzer. Sure, it’s filled with plenty of the “award” tropes that we tend to see repeated over and over again—but it works. What helps this book stand out from the rest of the books and movies that try too hard to earn awards is twofold: its characters and its plot. Before I get too far into my praise for this book, I have to mention that the narrator for the audiobook version seemed to mispronounce a few words early on, which threw me for a loop and made me wonder if I’ve been mispronouncing them myself. Similarly, it was...
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BOOK: The Depths (2014)

The Depths Year: 2014 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 384 pages The Depths will be the last book I read from this author. While The Enigma Strain was passable, The Atlantis Stone revealed quite a few weaknesses in his writing style. I had hoped The Depths would redeem this author, but unfortunately, that was not the case. There’s too much left unpolished in these books that I cannot recommend people spend their time reading them. In The Depths, the main issues lie more with the scientific accuracy and leaps of logic that don’t make sense. There’s still the problem of too many flat and unimportant characters that were present in The Atlantis Stone, but it’s just slightly better than before. While I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, I felt the writing seemed to be more “stream of consciousness” than something figured out in advance. There are a few main characters, and a basic idea that eventually becomes the central conflict of...
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BOOK: A War of Gifts (2007)

A War of Gifts Year: 2007 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 145 minutes / 2.42 hours Side stories are a somewhat odd occurrence in the literary world. They’re essentially like the “deleted scenes” from movies: they don’t add to the plot, even if they are interesting by themselves. A War of Gifts is a side story to Ender’s Game that finds the reader back at the battle school during Ender Wiggin’s training period. While Ender’s Game is a tight piece of science fiction, with no room for a Santa Claus sup-plot, A War of Gifts does require some knowledge of the source material in order to understand this sub-plot. I am always in awe of Orson Scott Card’s ability to take some of the most basic ideas and make them the most profound, most philosophically-intriguing debates. In the case of A War of Gifts, we have a fundamentalist Christian who was taught that the more commercial aspects of Christmas (like Santa Claus, for instance) are...
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BOOK: The Atlantis Stone (2013)

The Atlantis Stone Year: 2013 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 480 pages Albert Einstein is often attributed to the quote, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” In that case, The Atlantis Stone, is not creative, as all its sources are plainly on display, jumping from imitations of Dan Brown to imitations of National Treasure, and everything in-between. I wouldn’t mind the obvious homage to better stories if the plot was any good. The Atlantis Stone is not a good story, though. The main reason for this seems to be the characters themselves, but there’s plenty of plot holes to blame as well. Let’s start with the characters: there are too many of them, and many are entirely unnecessary. The token female in the entire group seems tagged on for the mere ability to provide a few moments of exposition, as well as give the lecherous males something to long for. Her uncle is completely unnecessary, as his research doesn’t require him to actually be at these...
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BOOK: The Gunslinger (1982)

The Gunslinger Year: 1982 Author: Stephen King Length: 440 minutes / 7.33 hours With the recent release of The Dark Tower (2017), I became interested in the book series that inspired the movie. I already knew the books would likely take a different direction from the film, and I was prepared for them. Up until now, I’ve enjoyed many of King’s other works, including The Shining, On Writing, and The Green Mile. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Gunslinger; it’s more that most of his books have not been part of a larger series. I still want to know what happens in the next book of the Dark Tower series, so The Gunslinger certainly succeeded in that aspect. Stephen King’s talent for description is in high form here as he crafts a world unlike our own but still linked to it via the wandering boy, Jake. Considering King’s background in describing all sorts of evil creatures and villains, the calm and calculating “Man...
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BOOK: Men and Manners (2018)

Men and Manners: Essays, Advice, and Considerations Year: 2018 Author: David Coggins Length: 192 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In a world becoming increasingly modern and digital, it’s a little odd to find a book like Men and Manners, especially since its weird page colors make it seem like it was written in the 1950’s. While this book did have some pieces of advice, it seemed to be as specifically tailored (like a high-end tuxedo) to Manhattan, New York, instead of being general advice for men in Manhattan, Kansas. Many of the locations and businesses explicitly mentioned in this book were complete mysteries to me since I don’t live in New York City. These references made it seem like the manners advice wasn’t relevant to me at all. While I would have appreciated more thorough explanations of why particular manners should exist, this book seemed to be mostly filled with anecdotes from east coast elites about their opinion on certain matters. Sure, some...
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BOOK: On Stranger Tides (1987)

On Stranger Tides Year: 1987 Author: Tim Powers Length: 721 minutes / 12.02 hours Since I knew the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie was based on this book, I decided to give it a read to see if it was any better than the so-so extension of the Pirates franchise. Let's just say that this book was a loose inspiration for the film. About the only elements that survived the transition were Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth. Of course, even the movie version vastly improved the Fountain. In fact, I think I prefer the Pirates movie of the same name, even if the two don't share much in common. I will say that On Stranger Tides does excel in its action sequences. The fights and battles are choreographed and described in such a way that is entertaining to read and comprehensible to understand. Unfortunately, a book full of fight sequences does not a good story make. Events in this book just seemed to happen,...
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BOOK: The Essex Serpent (2016)

The Essex Serpent Year: 2016 Author: Sarah Perry Length: 464 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** It’s been a while since I’ve read a book as profound as The Essex Serpent. Perhaps it’s because they don’t write books like this anymore. While written in the last few years, the style of The Essex Serpent is distinctly Victorian. It holds callbacks to the greats of gothic literature, including the physiological studies of Frankenstein and the back-and-forth letter writing of Dracula. All the while, the ever-present gloom of the muddy and foggy Essex shoreline hides the eponymous serpent just outside the reader’s view, providing anticipation of its reveal. Is the Essex Serpent real or is it a figment of so much imagination? Of course, in staying with the Victorian style, the book does suffer somewhat in readability. The vocabulary and description are certainly more voluminous than modern volumes, but my biggest qualm seems to be more along the lines of the seemingly endless talk that occurs in the first half of...
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BOOK: The Pearl (1947)

The Pearl Year: 1947 Author: John Steinbeck Length: 155 minutes / 2.58 hours Perhaps one of the lesser-known of Steinbeck’s works, The Pearl still exhibits his concise and emotionally-powerful storytelling. More along the length of Of Mice and Men than The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck doesn’t waste much time arriving at the central conflict of The Pearl, using realistic characters and settings to weave his story. Some might find the characters in this story to be mere stereotypes, but I would almost argue that they’re the archetypes that have aided good storytelling for centuries. The fact that people today could easily find themselves in similar situations merely speaks to the timeless nature of the story itself. Somewhat of a deviation from the depression-era settings of some of his previous works, Steinbeck uses the natural beauty of the island setting to contrast the ugliness present in the hearts of its inhabitants. Granted, the antagonists of the story are the inherently-greedy colonialists who are trying to take advantage of the indigenous population, but...
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BOOK: Zero to Five (2018)

Zero to Five Year: 2018 Author: Tracy Cutchlow Length: 247 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As an INTJ who is preparing to have kids, I’ve found a lot of advice that seems to be hearsay and old wives tales. As a scientist, I don’t particularly care for “tips and tricks” that are based on emotional responses or limited data sets either. Enter Zero to Five, a book that attempts to gather together the scientific research done to identify the positive and negative methodologies used to raise kids from birth to five years old. Some of the results are not what you’d expect. Of course, many of the snippets of advice contained in this book keep reiterating the same points: empathy, communication, and problem-solving. Early on in Zero to Five, I was engaged with the format and the narrative, but as the book dragged on, the repetition of the same themes became tedious. It also felt like the references to studies and research that were...
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BOOK: The Green Mile (1996)

The Green Mile Year: 1996 Author: Stephen King Length: 839 minutes / 13.98 hours While most people might not realize Stephen King wrote The Green Mile, I was completely unaware that the original version of this book was released serially—much like Charles Dickens used to do with his books. The novelty of experimenting with this format is somewhat lost now that the volumes are collected together to create a whole narrative. Even so, King is still the master of his craft, even if there’s minimal “horror” contained within the walls of this prison. At least, it’s an expected horror through the system of capital punishment, and not tied to the terror of the unknown. Even though I enjoyed this story for its characters and plot, one element stuck out like a sore thumb: the framing via the retirement home. Sure, there’s a neat twist involved near the end, but so often the narrative would pull away from the time period in the prison to show some...
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BOOK: Gaia (2017)

Gaia Year: 2017 Author: J.A. Darmanin Length: 296 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s one of those basic Young Adult stories, replete with the clichés like the “normal girl who finds out she’s super-special” and “main character is the only one who can save the world.” However, it also didn’t have the obscenity, violence, and sexuality that as seemed to permeate most YA books of late. Similarly, I found the main characters to be incredibly annoying, but then they were also written as teenage girls . . . so I guess there’s an amount of realism there. While there are certainly polished elements to this book, including the cover and some of the formatting, there are a few amateur mistakes that reveal that this is the author’s first book. The biggest problem I had was the variety of plot holes present throughout the book. Sure, there were a few moments that came...
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BOOK: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (2007)

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians Year: 2007 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 414 minutes / 6.90 hours Never before have I read a book that has been so self-aware . . . and I loved every minute of it. There’s breaking the fourth wall, and then there’s Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. A fun and hilarious read for teens and adults, this book’s premise is as ridiculous as it is original. Of course, while it tends to border on the random (for maximum comedic effect), this book also manages to tie all these random pieces together in the most satisfying way. The comedy in this book is effortless, and the plot is certainly the most interesting thing I’ve read recently. I think the ability of this book to successfully break norms and fully immerse the reader in the world is due to Sanderson’s talent as a fantasy writer. The details that seem odd, like receiving a bag of sand for your thirteenth birthday, manage to...
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BOOK: Factor Man (2018)

Factor Man Year: 2018 Author: Matt Ginsberg Length: 292 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** First off, basing an entire book on solving the P=NP problem is a bit of a risky gamble. Most people have limited understanding of advanced mathematics, so describing this conundrum of complexity theory walks a fine line between not enough information and an exposition dump. Fortunately, Factor Man is able to maintain that balance, even if many of its sections and POVs did start to trend into exposition for exposition's sake. I mean, I understand the reasoning behind the New York Times' coverage of the lead-up, but each of the articles didn't read like they would have come from the New York Times. I will say that the strength of this book lies in its buildup. A lot is riding on the successful execution of Factor Man's plan, so his meticulous attention to detail to ensure every part of it comes to fruition was entertaining, to say the least. The mystery of Factor...
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BOOK: The Clockwork Dynasty (2017)

The Clockwork Dynasty Year: 2017 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 650 minutes / 10.83 hours If there's anything Daniel H. Wilson is good at, it's writing about robots. In his latest book, The Clockwork Dynasty, he takes a steampunk approach by setting the book, not in the future, but in the present and distant past. Returning to the origins of robots via the automatons created for the entertainment of the wealthy and royal, Wilson has crafted another workable piece of fiction centered on robots. Unfortunately, as is the case with some of this other writing, I didn't like a few of his stylistic choices. The Clockwork Dynasty jumps back and forth between flashbacks and "present era" actions, which can sometimes be distracting, especially if one of the storylines is particularly interesting at the time. I almost wonder if there could have been a better way to focus on the action in the present and to reveal the details of the past in more of a "show" instead...
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BOOK: If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? (2017)

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Year: 2017 Author: Alan Alda Length: 213 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While miscommunication might be the source of conflict for romantic comedies, it’s a much more significant problem in the real world. If people aren’t able to efficiently and accurately communicate with their fellow man, then we all have room for improvement. Scientists and doctors are often the worst offenders, even though their ideas need to be communicated to the world for the advancement of society. Alan Alda has spent years trying to figure out why people are unable to communicate, and he has also figured out what we can do to improve this situation. As a scientist and writer, I feel many of his insights have merit. I grew up watching Alan Alda on Scientific American Frontiers, so I know how often he has interacted with scientists. His conclusions that we can all become better communicators through empathy and...
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BOOK: The Carpet People (1971)

The Carpet People Year: 1971 Author: Terry Pratchett Length: 335 minutes / 5.58 hours Having now read one of Terry Pratchett's books, I thought it might be interesting to go back and read his very first work. Many authors don't manage to become famous with their very first book, and I think Terry Pratchett is no exception here. The Carpet People is an amusing book with his standard British charm, but I think it never goes far enough in its exploration of the idea. After all, I was expecting this book to be more along the lines of The Borrowers instead of just a straight-up fantasy with a few references to the fact that these creatures lived in the carpet. Part of the problem I seemed to have with this book was the incessant need for fantasy books to create new names for objects and creatures that already (mostly) exist. If you took away the carpet setting, I think this book could be practically indistinguishable from...
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BOOK: The Silent Invader (2017)

The Silent Invader Year: 2017 Author: R.B. Thurman Length: 353 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this. In this case, that’s not a good thing. As a self-published author, I know how exciting it is to see my writing in print. Being able to hold a physical copy of my work in my hands feels good, but only if I know the content inside is worthy of the printed page. After struggling through The Silent Invader, I’m honestly wondering if I’m the first person, including the author, to read it all the way through (the only other rating so far is from the author, and he’s obviously biased). So much of the use of present tense, repeated word usage, passive voice sentences, and preposition-ended sentences just sound awkward and could easily be fixed if the author were to read this book out loud. Unfortunately, the grammatical errors that plague this book aren’t the only problem...
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BOOK: Ganymede (2011)

Ganymede Year: 2011 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 729 minutes / 12.15 hours Now that I’ve read the first three books in the Clockwork Century series, any hope I had of some cohesive narrative is essentially gone. While following a new character for each book helps to provide a different setting of the steampunk alternate universe, when I know these characters won’t matter outside their own books, I kind of stop caring about them. Even previous heroines are relegated to cameo and minor character status as the persistent series of somewhat pointless events drags on. And don’t even get me started on the zombies, which are a distraction to any actual story in my opinion. I think the main problem I have with these books is the fact that things happen without much lead-up or foreshadowing. Sure, there are some fascinating factors involved with making a submarine work in the Civil War era, but the resulting battle and conclusion went exactly as I expected them to. This isn’t...
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BOOK: The Enigma Strain (2014)

The Enigma Strain Year: 2014 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 271 pages The basic formula for a thriller is as follows: one loner, one love-interest, and lots of running. The Enigma Strain is your cookie-cutter thriller, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The premise is somewhat entertaining, if not downright ridiculous and unrealistic. The pacing is certainly fast enough to keep the characters moving and racing against the clock of destruction (at times even literally). In the end, there were no surprises as the day is saved and the loner opens up enough to attract the love interest. The fact that the ending was predictable just meant that it delivered on the thriller formula. One of the weaknesses of The Enigma Strain is the sense of space and time. There was plenty of driving around to different locations, which made them seem like they were quite close together. However, the love-interest kept talking about flying, which made me wonder how far away these places were. If...
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BOOK: Dreadnought (2010)

Dreadnought Year: 2010 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 803 minutes / 13.38 hours For the most part, the book series I have read progress the story from one book to another. I get that there are some series with the same character in different predicaments for each book, but jumping from one character to another in each different book is an interesting tactic. Of course, I’m somewhat guilty of this, as The Fluxion Trilogy focuses on different characters for each book. As far as I can tell, The Clockwork Century series also does this, even if the connections between the characters are flimsy at best. Even so, the plot seemed to take a step backward from Boneshaker to Dreadnought. One of my qualms with Boneshaker was that there wasn’t a lot of world-building that established what this alternate-reality Seattle was like in the scheme of the broader United States. Dreadnought solves this problem by giving the main character an opportunity to travel across the country, thus establishing some of the world-building in the process. In fact, there...
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BOOK: Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box (2018)

Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box Year: 2018 Author: Maédeiva Myre Length: 230 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** When the author contacted me about reviewing this book, he compared it to The Kite Runner. Having now read this book, I think Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box can stand on its own without the comparison. Sure, both focus on the events of childhoods in the Pakistan/India area, but the one scene that both seem to share (the rape) seems completely unnecessary in Fifty Plastic Bottles and the Shoeshine Box. This was my only practical qualm with the book. As it is, the author has crafted a well-thought-out narrative that covers plenty of meaningful topics and themes. Except for the violence perhaps being a little too intense in places, I could see myself reading this to elementary-age children to help them understand a culture different from their own. Not only does the author show the differences between varying levels of poverty, but he does so in...
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BOOK: I Am Legend and Other Stories (1954)

I Am Legend and Other Stories Year: 1954 Author: Richard Matheson Length: 652 minutes / 10.86 hours After listening to this audiobook, it became abundantly clear why this story was adapted into a movie on three separate occasions (the most recent being the 2007 movie of the same name). While this latest adaptation didn’t seem to emphasize the “vampire-ness” of the creatures as much as its source material, many of the elements of the story were still present. In fact, I now prefer the original story, as its prose was almost poetic at times in its descriptions of the main character’s struggle to survive. While the ending wasn’t particularly satisfying in either incarnation, the plot development was superb. I appreciated how the author was able to strip away the superstition that surrounds vampires and look at these fantastical creatures in a more logical and scientific light. Why do vampires hate garlic? Why does a stake through the heart kill them? Do crosses work against vampires who...
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BOOK: Louisiana Catch (2018)

Louisiana Catch Year: 2018 Author: Sweta Srivastava Vikram Length: 254 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** At a time when the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are at their peak, a book like Louisiana Catch is poised to address something that many American’s might choose to ignore: abuse of women in foreign countries. Sure, there’s sexual harassment in the United States, but in other cultures where there is a firm patriarchy in control, there are much more severe issues like throwing acid and marital rape. While Louisiana Catch does cover these abuses in the context of India, there are other elements to the story that distracts from the impact of overcoming past abuse. First of all, Louisiana Catch is a somewhat misleading title, since most of the action happens in either New York City or New Delhi. Sure, there’s some amount of Louisiana in the characters, and the women’s conference is held in New Orleans (not sure why, since New York would have been a better fit), but the focus of...
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BOOK: Double Indemnity (1936)

Double Indemnity Year: 1936 Author: James M. Cain Length: 197 minutes / 3.28 hours This classic piece of noir does what some might consider impossible: making an insurance salesman interesting. Of course, planning to commit insurance fraud makes the scenario much more interesting, even if it follows some of the basic tropes of the genre. Because the story is so short, only lasting just over three hours of audiobook reading, I feel the movie adaptation was able to include everything that made this story so engaging. I do think the ending was improved in the film, though, as the story’s ending felt a little disjointed from the narrative. What made Double Indemnity so enjoyable was how the main characters were so sure they’d get away with the crime they were about to commit. The details of the fraud were so thorough that the reader is almost convinced that nothing could go wrong. When the aftermath starts to unravel, that’s when the story began to get...
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BOOK: Soledad (2016)

Soledad Year: 2016 Author: D.L. Young Length: 245 pages This first book in the “Dark Republic” series is a prime example of the New Adult post-apocalyptic genre. I wouldn’t classify it as Young Adult due to the graphic nature of sex and violence, as well as the amount of obscenity peppering the dialogue. I’m not necessarily saying they’re bad things, as they help to define the world created by the author, it’s more that the audience should be prepared for these things. Even more to the point, the one sex scene present in this book was probably more along the lines of rape, even if it was a common element of the characters' backstories. Regardless of the content, the story in Soledad is compelling enough. Considering this is the first book in a series, the author spent almost the entirety of it exploring the three different factions present in post-apocalyptic Texas. While this was great for world-building, by the end of the book, little seemed to change...
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BOOK: The Circle (2013)

The Circle Year: 2013 Author: Dave Eggers Length: 822 minutes / 13.70 hours When I saw the movie adaptation of this book, I felt like the presentation of this somewhat interesting idea was already dated by about five years. This made me curious if the book was any better. As is probably no surprise to anyone, the book was much better. Sure, the movie cut a few things from the book that I thought were a bit too unnecessary (all the “sex,” that is) or underutilized (the “Calvin” character), but the book really hits at the intensity of the internet-addicted generation. I would even go so far as to say The Circle is the modern version of 1984. I’m somewhat torn when it comes to the message presented here. I understand how trying to stay on top of millions of e-mails, and thousands of social media updates can be utterly overwhelming. I also agree that a lot of ideas that seem to be beneficial to society will have the removal...
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BOOK: Chasing Hindy (2017)

Chasing Hindy Year: 2017 Author: Darin Gibby Length: 285 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** I’ve read a few legal thrillers over the years. From John Grisham’s Runaway Jury to Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, the excitement of the case is usually matched by the excitement surrounding the legal proceedings. Darin Gibby’s Chasing Hindy certainly fits the bill for a legal thriller, but perhaps with a little less polish than the big hitters in the genre. Even so, this book certainly kept me engaged and interested throughout, which is the mark of a good thriller, no matter what sub-genre it belongs to. Plus, even if the subject matter could have trended into “preachy” territory, Gibby manages to put the opinions about the environment in the subtext, and not in the reader’s face. While I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys this genre, I do have a few problems with it. First, the main character, Addy, is an interesting character, but I kept...
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BOOK: Boneshaker (2009)

Boneshaker Year: 2009 Author: Cherie Priest Length: 822 minutes / 13.70 hours I suppose when I chose to read this book, it would have been a little more steampunk than it was. Sure, Boneshaker has some of the trappings of a steampunk story, like the Civil War and inventions comprised of brass; but in the end, it felt more like light window dressing than something important to the plot. Surprisingly enough, this book was more along the lines of a zombie apocalypse novel than a steampunk one. In that sense, I’m disappointed that the cover didn’t completely deliver on its premise and instead decided to rely on the tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre. The characters themselves were somewhat interesting, but their motivations seemed a little flat. The boy who wants to find his father and the mother who chases after him aren’t that compelling. In fact, the journey of both characters could have probably been accomplished via one of them, with supporting characters providing information about the...
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BOOK: Freedom’s Fire (2017)

Freedom’s Fire Year: 2017 Author: Bobby Adair Length: 338 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I find it somewhat refreshing to read a dystopian book where the dystopia has already happened. There are far too many that detail the onset of a dystopia, and a scant few that actually deal with the realities of the dystopia. While this does lead Freedom’s Fire to have a cynical and depressing tone, at least there is a growing hope as the story progresses. At the very least, this book was a quick read, helped along by its pacing and action-packed sequences. On a personal note, I also liked the fact that it was set in Colorado, as I could easily connect with the locations and lingo. While Freedom’s Fire was an enjoyable read, it did have a few minor flaws. As I read, I mostly understood the vague goals of the main character and his crew, at least in simplistic terms. Get off Earth. Join the Resistance. It was the...
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BOOK: The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

The Brothers Karamazov Year: 1880 Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky Length: 2,239 minutes / 37.32 hours As is usually the case with Russian literature, The Brothers Karamazov is a daunting read. These thick tomes are usually on lists of books you should read, but picking up such a large volume and consuming its contents can be quite intimidating. Even the audiobook version (which I used for this review) clocks in at almost a full work-week of listening to get through it all. Still, those who manage to take on this herculean task are likely to be rewarded with an engaging story that covers a wide variety of topics to include (but not limited to) religion, marriage, communism, fatherhood, and (of course) brotherhood. Having already read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I found The Brothers Karamazov to be more along the lines of Law & Order. His former book was a tight and well-paced examination of guilt, even in the face of necessity and wealth distribution. The Brothers Karamazov,...
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BOOK: The Infinet (2017)

The Infinet Year: 2017 Author: John Akers Length: 410 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** After reading plenty of sub-par first novels from aspiring authors, The Infinet was a breath of fresh air. I was also pleasantly surprised that this book was written during a National Novel Writing Month, thus proving how useful the NaNoWriMo challenge is for people to get their stories out there. In the five years between the writing and publishing of this book, it looks like a lot of care went into polishing it into the entertaining and brilliant book that exists today. There are plenty of things that The Infinet gets right when it comes to speculative science fiction. First, it doesn’t dwell on the details of the “hard science,” but it does mention the concepts in passing. As far as I can tell, the ideas presented here are accurate, which is key for this genre. Secondly, so many authors put their personal biases into their narratives, which can sour the experience...
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BOOK: Robogenesis (2014)

Robogenesis Year: 2014 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 956 minutes / 15.93 hours While I appreciated the logical nature that Daniel H. Wilson brought to the idea of a robot apocalypse in Robopocalypse, I felt the book itself was disjointed as a series of short stories that examined the various forms our robot servants would turn on us. The whole book seemed more like an academic exercise than a piece of fiction. In the follow-up to Robopocalypse, Wilson picks up right where the last book left off. With the exposition of how the robots turned on us already covered, he then is able to fully explore the fictional environment via its characters in Robogenesis. It took me a little while to recall who some of these characters were and what had happened during the previous book, which left me confused in the early moments of each section. Once I eventually got my bearings, the stories themselves were interesting and tied together pretty well. Some of the action was a little disorienting,...
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BOOK: Mr. Booker’s Summer Vacation (2017)

Mr. Booker’s Summer Vacation Year: 2017 Author: Mark Lages Length: 312 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Can we please stop using fiction as an avenue to whine and complain about the state of current affairs? Books like Mr. Booker’s Summer Vacation and Nobel Peace Prize do nothing other than highlight how broken society is, all the while never providing any actual solutions to these problems. The only way these authors think they can get away with it is by packaging it as “fiction.” Let’s face it, just title the book, Things are terrible and here’s why everyone else is to blame and put it in the non-fiction section. Regarding Mr. Booker’s Summer Vacation, I couldn’t figure out who the target audience was. It’s written in a clipped, repetitive, redundant, and childish prose that makes me think it’s targeted toward children. However, with sexual situations (including a story about rape), violent and unnecessary subplots, and a sprinkling of profanity, I would never give this book to a child to read....
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BOOK: Don Quixote (1605)

Don Quixote Year: 1605 Author: Miguel De Cervantes Length: 344 minutes / 5.73 hours Aside from the “Cliff’s notes” version presented on the TV show, Wishbone, I knew enough about Don Quixote to be dangerous without having actually read it. After all, this book has spawned such words and phrases as “tilting at windmills” and “quixotic,” as well as a Broadway musical. But how does this 17th-century classic hold up in today’s world? One would argue that chivalry was already dead by the time it was written, so it’s not likely to be an examination of chivalrous attitudes and how they’d benefit society. As far as I see it, Don Quixote is a bit like a romantic comedy in the vein of William Shakespeare’s plays. Probably the first-ever recorded instance of a dedicated live action role player (LARPer), the character Don Quixote borders on that line between comedy and tragedy. If I were to give a medical explanation for his actions, it’s either severe delusion...
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BOOK: Watership Down (1975)

Watership Down Year: 1975 Author: Richard Adams Length: 953 minutes / 15.88 hours In an ever-increasing list of books I failed to read as a child, I finally managed to get to Watership Down. While I am aware that many people speculate the true meaning of the book to be an allegory for Nazis or Communism, or whatever, the prologue provided by the author in this edition stated that it was merely a bedtime story for his children. With this in mind, I’m sure many subconscious influences led to some of the themes in Watership Down. Either way, the story seemed to be a rambling series of events that didn’t have much of a point or purpose. Let’s be clear: I like rabbits. I think they’re cute, and I even own two of them. Therefore, I appreciate the little details of lagomorph mannerisms sprinkled throughout. And yet, there were a few confusing choices made in this book, like giving a somewhat-confusing “rabbit language” that rarely...
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BOOK: The Body Snatchers

The Body Snatchers Year: 1955 Author: Jack Finney Length: 400 minutes / 6.67 hours Most people know this book by its numerous film adaptations, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978), Body Snatchers (1993), and The Invasion (2007). In fact, I like to think that many facets of this story have become a part of popular culture, including the replication “pods” and Donald Sutherland’s scream in the 1978 film version. While the source material is inherently pulpy, a result of the genre and the era in which it was published, there is an entertaining quality to the story that has allowed it to survive for so long. Simple in its execution, but brilliant in its reveal, The Body Snatchers builds up an inherent distrust of the people surrounding the main characters as they investigate why everyone seems “off” in this small, California town. While the full explanation of the aliens’ presence and purpose is relegated to an enormous information dump more than half-way through the book, it nevertheless contains some interesting ideas...
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BOOK: The Dot on the Left (2017)

The Dot on the Left Year: 2017 Author: Dave Swanson Length: 176 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As someone who has usually found themselves naturally on the center of any variety of bell curves, I know that application of some hard work and dedication can move someone to the right side of said bell curves. It was with this in mind that I was curious what advice is contained in The Dot on the Left. Were the same tactics used for those who underperformed to get them to (and even past) the average of the curve? I was disappointed to find that this book is not so much a “self-help/advice” type book, but rather a memoir from someone who was on the left side of the curve. Sure, there is still some of the advice that I would expect to find in a self-help book in The Dot on the Left, but it’s sometimes hidden within the memoir stories of the author....
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BOOK: As You Wish (2014)

As You Wish – Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride Year: 2014 Author: Cary Elwes Length: 421 minutes / 7.02 hours While I love audiobooks for their capacity to let me mindlessly absorb books while I’m driving to or from work, much of the story comes down to the narrator and their inflections. Sometimes these narrators can be annoying, or incomprehensible, or vary their volume too much. It is a rare treat to find an audiobook that fully capitalizes on the medium, either by adding music and sound effects or (in this case) using the voices of actual people to narrate the story. As You Wish is just such an audiobook, and I would even go so far to say it is the superior version of this book, even without “reading” it for myself. As one of the most frequent and common of quotable movies, The Princess Bride (1987) is an odd little film that just works. It’s fantasy, it’s comedy, it’s family-friendly. It’s all these things...
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BOOK: Hearts in Atlantis (1999)

Hearts in Atlantis Year: 1999 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,210 minutes / 20.17 hours When I started Hearts in Atlantis, all I knew about it was that it was written by Stephen King and there was a movie of the same name that was likely based on it. As I began to read, I found myself enthralled by the coming-of-age story that presented itself. I had no idea it connected to the Dark Tower series, but that detail was almost ancillary, a neat little connection into a bigger picture. Having made it half-way through the book, I wanted to follow the main character’s development into adulthood but, then the story suddenly stopped. Instead of following a story that had engaged me, the focus shifted to a completely different character, only loosely tied to the events in the first half of the book via one of the characters, who was now in college. Almost in a fractal fashion, this story was half as long as the first, with each...
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BOOK: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (2010)

Dawn of the Dreadfuls Year: 2010 Author: Steve Hockensmith Length: 287 pages As I’ve mentioned before in my review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I understand the concept of combining this classic piece of romantic literature with its complete obverse; it just felt like it was almost held back from its full potential by adhering to (most of) the original manuscript. With the prequel to this book, Dawn of the Dreadfuls manages to examine the ridiculous nature of this mashup in a way that’s so tongue-in-cheek that the tongue has practically ruptured the cheek entirely. That is, this prequel doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as the original Jane Austen adaptation did. Even if the non-Pride and Prejudice and Zombies characters were mostly cartoonish in their representation of stereotypes and tropes, they were fun to read as they provided a delightful offset to the canonical characters of the Bennet family. Also, instead of trying to find some boring section of text wherein to insert...
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BOOK: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001)

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents Year: 2001 Author: Terry Pratchett Length: 395 minutes / 6.58 hours For many years, I have heard of Terry Pratchett, but have never read any of his work. This came to light in 2015, when Pratchett died, and many fans of his work came forward to express their condolences. At that point, I hadn’t considered reading any of his work, but the outpouring of love for the recently deceased author made me reconsider. Consequently, I added some Pratchett books to my “to read” list and eventually chose The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents for my first foray into the written world of Terry Pratchett. I certainly picked well, as it won the Carnegie Medal in the year it was written. I was a little worried that I would be lost coming into the Discworld series at anywhere other than the beginning, but since this book was written for children, it made it simple to ease into the...
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BOOK: Artemis (2017)

Artemis Year: 2017 Author: Andy Weir Length: 539 minutes / 8.98 hours After reading Weir’s breakout work, The Martian, I looked forward to his next novel, Artemis, with rapt anticipation. The scientist in me appreciated how Weir made a realistic setting with realistic science an approachable and entertaining endeavor. The writer in me liked how he kept the tension throughout the plot of The Martian at a consistent level. Consequently, I had high hopes for Artemis and wondered if he could outdo himself (or at least match his previous success) considering how highly regarded The Martian ended up being for him. Between the two books, Weir seems to have created a style that consists of three elements: accurate science, event-driven plot, and a racially diverse cast of characters. In Artemis, we now find ourselves on the moon, where a colony has been created and sustained for a few decades. Weir conveys the science involved with such a feat naturally and realistically. The exploration of this science...
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BOOK: A Natural (2017)

A Natural Year: 2017 Author: Ross Raisin Length: 386 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** This book was, without a doubt, the gayest book I’ve ever read. Usually, I don’t read books with LGBTQ+ themes, but the cover and title led me to believe it was about soccer (or, in this case, football). I am not against books with these themes, per se, as long as the characters are likable and relatable. It’s just I would hope that Random House isn’t merely publishing books with these themes to get “automatic” sales from people who want to support the LGBTQ+ movement. Unfortunately, based on the weakness of the story in A Natural, I suspect this was the only reason a large publisher released it. For a book I thought was about football, actual instances of the sport being played collectively comprises perhaps 1% of the entire book. That’s roughly 3.86 pages of football in a book about football players. If you’re looking for tension and...
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BOOK: Kidnapped (1886)

Kidnapped Year: 1886 Author: Robert Louis Stevenson Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours Another one of those “short adventures” that I have finally gotten around to reading, Kidnapped doesn’t suffer from some of the attributes that I found irritating about Captains Courageous. Sure, some of my qualms with Captains Courageous came from the audiobook itself but Kidnapped managed to have an easy-to-understand narrator as well as some sound effects and music that added to the experience of the book. As for the book itself, Kidnapped is pretty basic despite its title being only a small fraction of its plot. Even despite its short length, a lot happens in Kidnapped. Aside from the obvious kidnapping, many events transpired because of it, including escaping and returning home. Of course, partly because of the short length of the book, the action moves at a pretty quick pace that was sometimes difficult to follow (which may also be an artifact of the time when it was written). The language...
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BOOK: Boys vs. Men – The Definition of a Man (2017)

Boys vs. Men – The Definition of a Man Year: 2017 Author: Noah N. Johnson Length: 122 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Now, more than ever, society needs a good, hard look at what it means to be a man. For years and decades, absentee fathers have created generations of males who turn to less-reputable sources for their male role models. When I won this book as a Goodreads Giveaway, I was hopeful that it could be a resource I could recommend to “boys” who need to grow up into “men,” regardless of their age. Unfortunately, while this book addresses some of the fundamental issues of manhood, it doesn’t go nearly deep enough to hit the problems endemic with full-grown boys who should act like men. In defense of the author, this seems to be his first book, made evident by the very casual style of writing and a lack of understanding when it comes to interior formatting (all the pages were...
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BOOK: On Writing (2000)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft Year: 2000 Author: Stephen King Length: 480 minutes / 8.0 hours While I don't usually read horror books, the only ones that I have read were written by Stephen King. Consequently, when I found that he had written a book about writing, it struck me as an opportunity to get into the head of a prolific and successful writer. As a writer of novels myself, I am always looking for ways to improve my writing. I have come a long way in eight years, and King's little book here merely confirms that I'm doing the right things that a writer should do to help their craft. Written as a half-memoir, On Writing is a personal look into the upbringing and life of Stephen King, which then helps inform what and how he writes. Suddenly, you start to understand why he writes the things he does. Intermingled amidst these moments of becoming the writer he is today, King sprinkles in abundant gems...
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BOOK: Plane (2017)

Plane Year: 2017 Author: William Hrdina Length: 148 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Two things help to create a good story: little to no suspension of disbelief, and realistic characters. The more a writer has to justify what they’re doing in the world they’ve written, either through scientific or historical inaccuracies, the harder it is for the reader to accept the story they’ve been given. Similarly, if the characters are only flat stereotypes or caricatures that act in pre-defined ways based on these broad brushstrokes, the reader can’t take the story seriously. Unfortunately, Plane fails on both of these elements. If anything, its short, novella length is its redemption since the reader doesn’t have to invest much into reading it. Let’s start with the suspension of disbelief. First off, I doubt a college student would be allowed to fill in for a professor at an international conference, let alone one where the student would be speaking on behalf of the professor. That...
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BOOK: The Killing Floor (1997)

The Killing Floor Year: 1997 Author: Lee Child Length: 1,067 minutes / 17.78 hours The first book in the Jack Reacher series is certainly a thriller, through-and-through. I certainly can understand its appeal, especially for male readers, since it has plenty of violence and sex while also exhibiting a number of action sequences. Consequently, it felt somewhat “pulpy” in that it was entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Sure, it’s a fun thrill-ride, but certain elements didn’t invest me in the characters. Jack Reacher himself is probably the majority of this issue, as he’s a drifter with little-to-no connections to anything or anyone, merely acting as a conduit to make action/killing happen. As for the core mystery of The Killing Floor, it was a fascinating premise and had a slow unraveling to keep me intrigued along the way. This was undoubtedly the strength of the book since it was a unique and intriguing twist on a pretty common crime. With a small cast of characters, the plot...
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BOOK: Stop Licking That (2017)

Stop Licking That Year: 2017 Author: Karin Mitchell Length: 270 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** As someone who does not have kids yet, I’ve read plenty about what to expect in the transition to parenthood. Stop Licking That takes the no-nonsense approach with a slightly humorous spin to let new parents know that it’s going to be a messy process for the first couple of years. While each of the chapters covers some topic about raising kids (especially two young boys), the stories tied to these sections end up being some of the same kinds of stories you’d hear from any other parent of young boys. If anything, Stop Licking That merely confirms that we shouldn’t take parenthood too seriously. As I received an Advanced Reader Copy for my review, I will assume that the handful of minor proofreading errors have been fixed. I also hope the gutter margins were increased, so the words don’t get lost in the crease between pages. I...
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BOOK: Captains Courageous (1897)

Captains Courageous Year: 1897 Author: Rudyard Kipling Length: 356 minutes / 5.93 hours Captains Courageous is one of those classics that I just haven’t read, for whatever reason. I got the sense it was about being at sea, probably in the same vein as Moby Dick or Treasure Island. And yet, I don’t know if I could tell you what happened in this book. Sure, the main character was picked up by a fishing vessel, and eventually, they learned how to deal with the harsh job of being a fisherman, but that’s pretty much it. The series of fishing adventures seem to be loosely tied together, and the overarching plot was weak at best. Part of me wonders if the audiobook version of this classic was to blame. Not only did the narrator have a bit of an accent, but she did all the different dialects of the various characters based on their ethnic origins. While I would usually love this attention to detail, more...
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BOOK: Zenith (2018)

Zenith Year: 2018 Authors: Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings Length: 512 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Every once in a while, I'll read a book which is basically the equivalent of literary "candy." It hits all the tropes of its genre, most of its twists are predictable, and the whole thing is purely entertainment for entertainment's sake. Zenith, the first book in the Androma Saga, is just such a book. This book has been described as an all-female Guardians of the Galaxy, and I would tend to agree with that assessment. Overall, it's a fun book, but there's not too much substance to it aside from the typical space opera Young Adult romance. If anything, it proves why the tropes of its genres work the way they do. The writing itself in this book is easy to read, which helped me crank through its 500 pages in just my lunch breaks and time at the gym. Even if I wasn't paying too...
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BOOK: Notes from the Internet Apocalypse (2014)

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse Year: 2014 Author: Wayne Gladstone Length: 323 minutes / 5.38 hours The main concept behind Notes from the Internet Apocalypse is interesting: one day, the internet just stops working. All the computers and phone lines still work, but the internet has just gone missing. The story that results should be considered a satire since I hardly believe people who have hidden behind a veil of anonymity for so long will do the same deplorable things in real life just to get their “internet fix.” Bringing the reality of our connected society to its extreme logical conclusion in a world without internet, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse is a harsh mirror of what we’ve become, even to the point of cringing at it. I was a little taken aback by the amount of vulgar language, overt sexuality, and lack of common decency by the characters in this book. Of course, in a book about the internet, these types of people run...
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BOOK: The Legend of the Three Roses (2017)

The Legend of the Three Roses Year: 2017 Author: Jason Hubbard Length: 509 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** After reading plenty of sub-par independent authors recently, I was pleasantly surprised to have the opportunity to read The Legend of the Three Roses by Jason Hubbard. With a slick cover and good chapter header graphics, the book looks good, but how does it read? I’m a stickler for proofreading, and I found maybe one or two errors in the entire manuscript. Again, good so far. There were a few confusing spots near the end that could have used either chapter or scene breaks, but overall, the book was solid. What made me truly enjoy reading The Legend of the Three Roses were the characters. I can forgive a lot if the story is engaging, but if I find the characters annoying or illogical, I’ll usually force myself through. This book was not the case, as it had both an immersive story and setting,...
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BOOK: The Death Cure (2011)

The Death Cure Year: 2011 Author: James Dashner Length: 535 minutes / 8.91 hours If ever there was proof that not every book should have a trilogy, it’s The Death Cure. Sure, The Maze Runner was an interesting concept, but it brought up a lot of questions. None of these questions were answered by the end of the series since most of the focus was on random action sequences rarely driven by the main characters’ actions. If action wasn’t the focus, then the loose and unbelievable “love triangle” certainly was. In the end, I had no connection to the characters, which was why I was mostly unaffected by some of their deaths. The real problem with The Death Cure (as well as its predecessor, The Scorch Trials), is how much “fluff” is in the story. The Maze Runner worked because there was a concrete objective: escape the maze. In the two books that followed, what was the goal? Was it to defeat WICKED? If it...
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BOOK: Forest Dark (2017)

Forest Dark Year: 2017 Author: Nicole Krauss Length: 290 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ve read a lot of books this year, but very few of them I would consider “literature.” Forest Dark is the rare exception. The flowery language and high-concept imagery invoked in this book would certainly make it a prime candidate for some art-house film. Author Nicole Krauss doesn’t just tell a story (or two) in this book; she crafts them out of the very essence of the human condition with expertly chosen words. There’s little to no “fluff” in this book, which somewhat explains it somewhat shorter length, especially considering it’s two stories in one. While I am not Jewish, the two, intertwining narratives in Forest Dark pull out the cultural identity from two very different characters. From an aging man who wants to make a legacy without relying too much on his heritage to a woman who has been given an opportunity to use her skills as...
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BOOK: Children of the Mind (1996)

Children of the Mind Year: 1996 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 810 minutes / 13.50 hours Just like Xenocide before it, Children of the Mind is difficult to separate from the previous books in the Ender’s Game series. In fact, Xenocide and Children of the Mind are considered by Orson Scott Card to merely be two parts of the same book, separated at a point in the plot that makes sense. Even further to the point, I would consider Children of the Mind the last “part” of a story that stretches across four books. While it was easy to take Ender’s Game by itself, every additional piece of the story needs the previous parts for it to have the full impact of what Card was trying to accomplish. What’s most interesting about this series is how each book has a different focus, almost putting them in distinct genres. Ender’s Game was militaristic sci-fi, while Speaker of the Dead was more along the lines of a...
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BOOK: Time of Destruction (2015)

Time of Destruction Year: 2015 Author: John C. Meyer Length: 386 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** Having written a time-travel novel myself, I can understand how difficult continuity can be to ensure the story makes sense. In Time of Destruction, the continuity of events is certainly there, but it lacks in so many other areas as to make it almost unreadable. While the continuity of the timeline was well thought out, the continuity of details was not. From limiting the “time bubble” to 30 minutes of air, then allowing an antagonist to exist in the space for a full hour, to inconsistencies in the spelling of minor characters’ names (even on the same page), Time of Destruction has a good story buried deep within a mess of simple writing errata. Right from the start, the format of the book highlights the author’s lack of quality control. From the right-hand pages having the page number in the gutter margin to the right-aligned text to...
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BOOK: Xenocide (1991)

Xenocide Year: 1991 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 1,210 minutes / 20.17 hours Much like authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were well ahead of their time in their science fiction writing, Orson Scott Card once again shows that he understood some of the key concepts of our universe. Written in 1991, Card’s Xenocide deepens and furthers the continuing adventure of Ender Wiggin that he began back in Ender’s Game. Picking up where Speaker for the Dead left off, Xenocide adds a powerful adversary while also tying plot points back to the first book in the series. In this sense, the tight intertwining of Xenocide with its predecessors makes it difficult to separate and review by itself. I appreciate what Card has done by creating a multi-book narrative that requires the reader to have started from the very beginning of the story. While Xenocide is not nearly the end of the series, as made clear by the astounding twist near the end, it does pull enough...
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BOOK: Universe: Awakening (2017)

Universe: Awakening Year: 2017 Author: D. Ellis Overttun Length: 317 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** The idiom of “don’t judge a book by its cover” does not apply to Universe: Awakening. With a blurry and indistinct image that has a few colored boxes and basic sans-serif fonts slapped on top, it’s no wonder that the content inside is practically pointless. Furthermore, while there was an “awakening” in a flashback, and the book takes place in the universe, I suppose the title means something . . . not that it’s apparent to the reader. In fact, as this is the first book in the “Terra Nova” series, I can say those two words describe it adequately. “Terra” translates to “dirt,” which describes the clunky “tell instead of show” style of exposition (imagine reading someone doing Google searches for endless amounts of pages). “Nova” translates to “not going,” which describes the overall plot (every single scene had no point, and there was no urgency...
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BOOK: Welcome to the Monkey House (1968)

Welcome to the Monkey House Year: 1968 Author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Length: 686 minutes / 11.43 hours Much like short story anthologies by a single author (see Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors and Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun), Welcome to the Monkey House is both quintessentially a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s biting wit and satire as well as an exploration of other genres not often associated with Vonnegut’s style. Fans of Vonnegut will likely have already read some of these short stories (like “EPICAC” and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”), but some of the other stories might have been missed and for a good reason. Overall, Welcome to the Monkey House is a fantastic set of stories, but a few of them fail to have the impact to make them memorable. Granted, these stories are few and far between, and help to break up the well-written social commentaries presented in “Harrison Bergeron” and the titular “Welcome to the Monkey House.” Vonnegut’s ability to show the slippery slope of such...
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BOOK: The Kite Runner (2003)

The Kite Runner Year: 2003 Author: Khaled Hosseini Length: 324 pages In an odd twist, I haven’t actually seen the movie this book was based on before I started reading it. Sure, I was aware The Kite Runner was a notable book, but I knew little about it other than the peripheral knowledge that comes from seeing an occasional movie trailer. About five years ago, I found this book for cheap at a bookstore and decided to pick it up on a whim. Now that I’ve finally read it, I’m glad I bought it those many years ago. Unquestionably, it deserved the notoriety it received, as it is a well-written and engaging story. I’ll admit that there is much I don’t know about the specifics of Afghanistan and Islam. This book certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things I had suspected, but could never confirm. First of all: men are awful. I’m a man myself, but I’m ashamed that so much of human misery is...
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BOOK: The Screwtape Letters (1942)

The Screwtape Letters Year: 1942 Author: C.S. Lewis Length: 216 minutes / 3.60 hours Perhaps the first documented fictional exploration of spiritual warfare, The Screwtape Letters is an expertly crafted examination of what the enemy of our souls is plotting. The reader is given insight into one side of a correspondence between two demons of differing influence and rank, thus providing a “behind the scenes” look at what the enemy is plotting and what they consider to be a victory for them. At moments, it can be difficult to follow along since the context of Screwtape’s “enemy” is really the “good” side of the spiritual battle. Either way, C.S. Lewis has crafted a brilliant satire about how little humans understand of their spiritual lives. While I wouldn’t necessarily ascribe The Screwtape Letters to pure theology, there are plenty of eye-opening and thought-provoking statements in Screwtape’s letters to his nephew. From the demons’ acknowledgment that pleasure is of God’s design but overindulgence in pleasure is in their realm to the...
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