BOOK: The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara Year: 1977 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,600 minutes / 26.67 hours Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: an unassuming character is given the task to use a magical item to destroy a great evil that once terrorized the world. To help this character on their quest is their best friend, a magic-wielding individual, a ranger with a love interest, a dwarf, and some elves. Look, I get that The Lord of the Rings redefined the fantasy genre in the 1950’s, but why were fantasy writers still replicating this formula twenty years later? I only half-paid attention to this derivative plot, mostly because I already had an idea what was going to happen. Now, I will admit that The Sword of Shannara isn’t completely a 1-for-1 rehashing of The Lord of the Rings, but enough of it is similar that it feels almost too familiar. The plot does divert from the Tolkien formula, but probably not until about halfway through....
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BOOK: The Golden Apples of the Sun (1997)

The Golden Apples of the Sun Year: 1997 Author: Ray Bradbury Length: 338 pages While I know Ray Bradbury is a great science fiction writer, before I read this book I only knew of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, both of which I’ve read. In this collection of short stories, Bradbury shows he’s not just a writer of sci-fi, but of other genres and ideas as well. That being said, his strength certainly lies in science fiction, even if these stories are a bit dated from their original, 1950’s publications. Either way, most of the stories contained in this collection were quite short and could be easily read in those brief moments in between life’s activities. Many of the stories reveal the political ideologies of their time. From the threat of nuclear war to the unknown of interplanetary travel, these themes continue to pop up throughout this book. Some of the stories are a little abstract, but there are enough solid pieces to make...
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BOOK: Valkyrie (2009)

Valkyrie Year: 2009 Author: Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager Length: 268 minutes / 4.47 hours I first gained awareness of “Operation Valkyrie” when the film starring Tom Cruise, Valkyrie (2008), was first released. It makes logical sense to me that not all Germans involved in the war were Nazis, and not all Germans agreed with Hitler’s tactics. It is then the logical conclusion that some of them would attempt to assassinate the leader who had brought their country into a sweeping, global conflict. While this assassination attempt failed, I was still curious about the inner-workings of the plot and the people who would go so far as to try and kill Hitler. My expectation of this book was for it to be an in-depth analysis of the many facets of the operation. From Hitler’s security concerns to the backgrounds of the lives of the individuals involved, I was expecting this book to be a non-fictional examination of the assassination that never succeeded. Instead, I was a...
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BOOK: Fire with Fire (2013)

Fire with Fire Year: 2013 Author: Charles E. Gannon Length: 656 pages I’m not sure which is more boring in a book: a plot that doesn’t go anywhere, or a main character who is perfect. Unfortunately, Fire with Fire has both. I’ll first start with my qualms about the plot. This story started way too late, as it didn’t get interesting until halfway through. Even when it did finally get interesting, it suddenly became bogged down in committee. Seriously? Didn’t we learn anything from the Star Wars prequels? Adding politics to a story about traveling across space merely makes it tedious. This is also not to mention how heavy and clunky the exposition is, with almost every chapter being filled with information that isn’t important, and the jumps between chapters needing way more explanation. Secondly, let’s take a look at “Mr. Perfect,” Caine Riordan. Aside from the egregious fact that the POV switched between 1st person and 3rd person within most of the paragraphs of...
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BOOK: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1965)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Year: 1965 Author: Robert A. Heinlein Length: 852 minutes / 14.2 hours Certainly well ahead of his time, Robert A. Heinlein remains one of the definitive writers of the science fiction genre, even today. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein covers such topics as artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial colonization, and interplanetary warfare. Even today, most of these subjects are accurately depicted in the narrative, even if some of the technology has advanced past where it was thought to be in 1965. Part of me is almost jealous at Heinlein’s ingenious use of Earth’s gravity well, and I know any attempt I might make to replicate the idea will merely seem derivative in comparison. As is the case with some of his other works, Heinlein makes many socio-political statements via his writing. His stance on taxes, revolutions, and independent governing bodies is a critical section of the plot in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and I can certainly...
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BOOK: Warbreaker (2009)

Warbreaker Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 676 pages For the last few years, Brandon Sanderson’s name kept coming up amongst my writer friends. I had never heard of him, but they had been fans of his writing for some time. In my goal to read all the unread books I own, I found that I had obtained a Brandon Sanderson book many years ago as a prize during my first National Novel Writing Month. Even with the daunting page count, I decided to give Warbreaker a read. All I can say is that it was refreshing to finally read a fantasy book written by someone who genuinely knows what they’re doing. I’ve read a lot of books recently that I would consider “amateur,” but Sanderson proves he’s a professional in this tightly written book. From incredibly interesting and entertaining characters to expertly placed foreshadowing to a fascinating magic system, Warbreaker is fully original while also maintaining the tropes and structure of a high fantasy...
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BOOK: Dark Matter (2016)

Dark Matter Year: 2016 Author: Blake Crouch Length: 608 minutes / 10.13 hours It seems to me that the multiverse is a popular topic in fiction today. Sure, there have been plenty of stories about parallel universes and the fractal branching of our decisions, but for some reason, there’s been an uptick in the number of these stories lately. Perhaps these stories are trying to find a better universe in which to live, or perhaps they’re trying to show us that the world we have could be much worse. Either way, Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter nails the multiverse plot by exploring all the different connotations of the ability to travel between parallel universes. Presented in a traditional, three-act narrative, Dark Matter thrusts its protagonist into another version of his reality, ripping him away from his idyllic life. Using quantum physics as a form of magical hand-waving, the narrative then turns to the main character’s relentless search for his original universe. While the result of this exploration fits nicely...
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BOOK: Shadowguard (2015)

Shadowguard Year: 2015 Author: Gama Ray Martinez Length: 228 pages I picked this book up for free on my Kindle recently, probably due to some promotion to heighten awareness of the latest book in the Pharim War series. As the first book in this series, Shadowguard doesn’t waste any time getting down into the action of the story. Somewhat light on exposition and description, the world created here is still vibrant and fascinating, regardless. The story's characters and setting immediately immersed me in the world, and that's not even mentioning the interesting magic system Gama Ray Martinez has created. It fell in line with the fantasy genre without being too derivative of it. Some may say a series of books about a magical boy learning magic at an illustrious school sounds a lot like the Harry Potter series. The fact that the Pharim War series has a fantasy world setting, and isn't just a hidden part of our real world, makes it distinctly different from J.K....
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BOOK: A Boy and His Bot (2011)

A Boy and His Bot Year: 2011 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 280 minutes / 4.67 hours Daniel H. Wilson knows how to write about robots. From How to Survive a Robot Uprising to Robopocalypse, he has taken the same material and re-packaged it in different forms. The tongue-in-cheek “guide” of How to Survive a Robot Uprising was more entertaining than the journal-entry styled Robopocalypse, but mostly because of its humor. In A Boy and His Bot, Wilson takes his knowledge of robots and wraps it in a children’s fantasy book. Somehow, this method worked better than the two books I’ve already mentioned, leaving me entertained and educated, but with a sincerity of story that was heartwarming. Taking cues from works like The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland, A Boy and His Bot immerses the reader in a world entirely comprised of robots. Via the stranger-in-a-strange-land approach, this book explores the many characteristics and traits that make robots different from humans. Often, these quirky characters have a lesson about robotics embedded within...
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BOOK: Armstrong and Charlie (2017)

Armstrong and Charlie Year: 2017 Author: Steven B. Frank Length: 304 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With race relations where they are today, it’s almost somewhat jarring to know that things haven’t changed much in over four decades. In an attempt to educate the next generation about racism, Steven B. Frank’s Armstrong and Charlie is an excellent start. While I would like to think that race relations have improved since the mid-1970’s, there are plenty of lessons available in this book that are applicable today. Still, racism can be a two-way street, and I couldn’t help but think of the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Beyond the obvious racial undertones to this book, Armstrong and Charlie is a fantastic book about growing up. Aimed at kids on the cusp of growing into adults, the book masterfully represents moments of peer pressure where the characters have to decide what the correct response should be. Not only does it have valuable lessons about lying, stealing, bullying, and...
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