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: 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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BOOK: Lost in Arcadia (2017)

Lost in Arcadia Year: 2017 Author: Sean Gandert Length: 412 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I first started reading Lost in Arcadia (the “A Novel” tag is unnecessary), I learned “Arcadia” was a computer program / operating system and expected the plot to be somewhat akin to Tron (1982), The Matrix (1999), or Ready Player One. Instead, this program barely features in the book, and the plot only briefly examines what an internet addiction can look like. Of the five-ish main characters, only three of them even interact with Arcadia, which I find hard to believe is a successful game from Electronic Arts, considering the plethora of bugs they usually have in their products. As a character-driven narrative, there are just too many to justify spending time with each of them. If the plot focused on the three Arcadia-linked characters, then they might have been developed and interesting. Of course, that’s if you even get that far into the book. All the characters are profane and irritating, not...
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BOOK: The Tracker (2017)

The Tracker Year: 2017 Author: Chad Zunker Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As I mentioned in my review of Hard Road, I’m starting to find myself genuinely enjoying the thriller genre. The pace is almost frenetic, the action is exciting, and the stakes are always high. The first book in the Sam Callahan series, The Tracker is all of these tropes and clichés, but it also has much more. While most thrillers have protagonists who are older and have plenty of life (and tactical) experience, The Tracker decides to go much younger with the main character. Granted, this choice works because Sam Callahan has already lived a lifetime out on the streets and managed to escape its clutches and now considers himself better in spite of it. Even though I appreciated the depth of the main character, part of me felt ripped away from the action each time the book went into “flashback mode.” Sometimes these sections would cover many...
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BOOK: To the Sky Kingdom (2016)

To the Sky Kingdom Year: 2016 Author: Tang Qi Length: 460 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Many barriers prevent a smooth transition of an artistic from one language into another. In more visual mediums, like film and graphic novels, the language barrier is less of an issue because there are other cues the viewer is observing to help them make sense of what is going on. These visual cues are unfortunately absent from a written work, and thus the translated words are the only way the reader can interact with the original work. Add to this language barrier the vastly disparate cultures of the Chinese and the English (be it any of the English-speaking cultures), and you can start to understand why I did not finish reading To the Sky Kingdom. Over the years, I have developed a fairly thorough understanding of Japanese culture; but even though China is geographically close to Japan, their cultures are quite different. Consequently, I had trouble...
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BOOK: Tiger and the Robot (2017)

Tiger and the Robot Year: 2017 Author: Grahame Shannon Length: 250 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** In this era of smartphones and artificial intelligence (AI), it's interesting to see a book start to explore the topic of AI without getting too bogged down in the details. With movies like Her (2013) showing just how integrated into our lives an AI personal assistant can be, this book's approach almost takes the idea from that movie and fuses it with the "mute" AI from Person of Interest. Unfortunately, I felt the AI section of the book distracted by the endless sailing adventures. As someone who lives in a land-locked state, I didn't understand much of the sailing jargon in this book (especially when it became technical), but I do think this book had some potential. Despite containing a main character who comes off a bit like a creeper (and thus somewhat unrelatable), one of my main qualms with Tiger and the Robot was the disjointed...
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BOOK: The Captain’s Kid (2016)

The Captain's Kid Year: 2016 Author: Liz Coley Length: 352 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** With today's Young Adult genre overtaken by books not appropriate for young adults, it's refreshing to read a book that not only has content for teenagers but realistic teenage characters as well. These are the characters dealing with their first foray into independence and finding their identity separate from that of their parents. Each of these individuals has their strengths and weaknesses, and it's in recognition of these assets and liabilities that they start to realize their true potential in life. The fact that the setting takes place in outer space is simply to keep the reader engaged with the plot. Regarding the science behind the plot, the author seems to have done her research. At a cursory glance, all the elements that come together to create the main thrust of the plot all make sense, and all add to each other to make a believable situation. From microgravity...
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BOOK: Tier One (2016)

Tier One Year: 2016 Author: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson Length: 402 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While violence, action, and excitement fill stories involving tactical military operations, one element of these stories that adds realism can also alienate unknowledgeable readers: jargon. I am fortunate to know enough of the terms and acronyms from my day job, but if a story like this needs an acronym and definitions list in the back, I can see it being difficult to get into for the casual reader. They might be able to push through it and make assumptions on what’s happening, but following the discussions helps the reader to understand the level of importance for each action. Of course, in this post-9/11 world, Islam has now taken the role of stereotypical “bad guy” that used to be held by the Nazis. I’m almost surprised by how many antagonists are Muslim in the books I read. From apocalyptic stories like Dark Ages: 2020 to science fiction novels...
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BOOK: Dragon Airways (2016)

Dragon Airways Year: 2016 Author: Brian Rathbone Length: 202 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** A book filled with equal parts fantasy and steampunk, Dragon Airways delivers on the promise of flying the skies on the back of a dragon. Brian Rathbone does an expert job of fusing diesel engines and magic stones in this exciting story. Not only is the setting interesting, but most of the characters are quite engaging as well. Because of this, Dragon Airways was a pleasure to read, and I voraciously read every page that was available to me. While I did thoroughly enjoy reading this book, there were a few things that made it a little difficult to follow along. First, some of the minor characters weren't that well-developed (or non-existent after the first few chapters), which made it difficult to know who they were, especially when some of them had multiple names and titles assigned to them. Secondly, I minimally understood the layout of the world...
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BOOK: Opaque (2016)

Opaque Year: 2016 Author: Calix Leigh-Reign Length: 254 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** While I eventually liked this book, it took a little getting used to. When you start a story with a deplorable main character, it makes you not want to continue reading. Honestly, I think the plot probably could have started closer to the halfway part, and reveal everything important after the fact or merely hint at it. You know, via a “show don’t tell” method. There’s a lot of “telling” in the first half of this book. Despite this, there is plenty of excellent character development in the second half to redeem the first half. What strikes me odd about this book is its classification as “Young Adult.” I usually consider early teens to be this genre's demographic, given the main characters are generally in that age range. Considering the graphic violence, excessive swearing, and questionable sexual content in the first section of this book, I wouldn’t let teenagers read...
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