BOOK: Ducks (2022)

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil SandsYear: 2022Author: Kate BeatonLength: 430 pages Having only really experienced Kate Beaton's web comic, Hark! A Vagrant and her sillier material, I was interested to see how a graphic novel of her life would play out on the printed page. I was shocked to find her somewhat whimsical style had so much emotion for a story that was assuredly a difficult one to tell. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is as gripping as it is frustrating that such working conditions remain this dangerous for women. Telling the story of how Beaton paid off her student loans from art school in the fastest way possible, Ducks highlights the misogyny and sexism present in the (frankly) male-dominated field of petroleum. Working on the oil sands isn't safe in a physical sense, but add to that the "hanging with the guys" tropes that eventually lead to assault. It was hard to read sections of this book, knowing...
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BOOK: After Earth (2013)

After EarthYear: 2013Author: Peter DavidLength: 547 minutes / 9.12 hours It's weird how a bit of hindsight brings a work into full focus. I never watched the movie After Earth (2013) because of its critical reception among audiences and critics alike. I figured maybe I would give the novel a try, not realizing it was not some work that the movie adapted, but instead a novelization of the movie itself. This was clearly a Will Smith passion project and never have I seen such blatant self-inserts in a work of fiction. While the author of this novelization may be Peter David, Will Smith was behind much of this plot. Seeing the home life of the adult character in this book mirroring the home life that we know between Will and Jada is cringe-worthy. What's worse is that these characters (either the Will or the Jaden stand-ins) were so flat and boring as to be completely worthless. The plot that drives their adventure...
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BOOK: Humble Pi (2019)

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths ErrorsYear: 2019Author: Matt ParkerLength: 314 pages Growing up, I was never the type of kid who complained to my math teacher with the common saying, "When am I going to use this in real life?" Instead, I was always trying to find the weird and fantastical things that made math interesting. Unfortunately, many people get to adulthood and work on important engineering projects having probably asked that "real life" question at some point in their past. Humble Pi is a collection of many such stories of when math goes wrong in real life. I can appreciate how Parker formatted this book to poke fun at some of the common math errors that have led to real-world situations. Things like the page numbers counting backward, the chapter numbers being poorly rounded, or that there are 314 pages in a book with "Pi" in the title are not lost on me. I had heard of many of these...
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BOOK: Housekeeping (1980)

HousekeepingYear: 1980Author: Marilynne RobinsonLength: 332 minutes / 5.53 hours As I'm working my way through Pulitzer winners and finalists, I approached Housekeeping with skepticism. I knew nothing about this book other than its inclusion on these lists for "high literature." Having now read it, this book completely underwhelmed me. I'm going to include this with other books of literature like One Hundred Years of Solitude or Ulysses, both of which I found extremely boring and lacking of any kind of plot that I could latch onto. At least this was short and had some occasionally flowery prose. Even now, thinking back on what I read, I can't pick out anything significant that happened in this book. That I'm having trouble remembering what it was about should indicate how little impact it had on me. I vaguely remember there being something about an aunt who was a drifter and the bigger metaphor of "home is where the heart is." And, of course, extrapolating...
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BOOK: Exit Strategy (2018)

Exit Strategy Year: 2018 Author: Martha Wells Length: 226 minutes / 3.77 hours Until now, I've enjoyed the somewhat serial format of the novellas from the Murderbot Diaries series. Each story grows the story of the main character with a concise plot that does a little world building along the way. It didn't matter if the characters changed between each book, as the focus was always on the first person perspective. With Exit Strategy, we loop back to the beginning as old faces come back into the major thrust of the plot. I appreciate that there seems to be an overarching narrative across this series. Now that things are connecting together, it feels like a much more thought-out universe instead of the "flavor of the month" stories that the series could have become. Granted, with each one being so short, this book feels like a solid arrival in the second half of the entire story arc—maybe even the pivotal half-way point. The more the titular...
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BOOK: Bullshit Jobs (2018)

Bullshit Jobs: A TheoryYear: 2018Author: David GraeberLength: 759 minutes / 12.65 hours Every so often, I read a non-fiction book so eye opening that it continues to stay with me long after reading it. These are the books that point a light at something so obvious that I have to wonder why I didn't see it that way before. And perhaps these are the best non-fiction books because they can pull an entrenched mind out of the status quo to look at the system surrounding it with an entirely new perspective. Bullshit Jobs is one of these books for me. I've been fortunate to have worked at a job that I like for about 15 years now. But even within these comfortable confines, I see much of what Graeber talks about when he refers to these so-called bullshit jobs. It's present in the bureaucracy, the middle managers, and the micro managers. That almost all jobs today have some element of BS in...
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BOOK: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Year: 2007 Author: Junot Diaz Length: 960 minutes / 16.00 hours I picked up this book because it was on a list of Pulitzer Prize winners and I figured that was a good enough metric to give it a shot. I was not disappointed. Told from a few different perspectives, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a fantastic look into the lives of Dominican Americans. I could tell the author was writing from deeply personal experiences, and the result was riveting. There's a lot I don't know about the Dominican culture, but I felt this book was an eye-opening look into their history. Told as personal anecdotes from the characters, it was wild to see the effects of living under a dictator. However, even once someone escaped from that oppression, life in America wasn't an easy walk in the park either. The effects of racism might not be as bad as having your daughters sold to...
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BOOK: Summer Knight (2002)

Summer Knight Year: 2002 Author: Jim Butcher Length: 673 minutes / 11.22 hours A piece of advice given to most writers is to make their characters suffer, then document how they grow. In Summer Knight, Jim Butcher puts Harry Dresden through the ringer. Not only is Dresden on the edge of being homeless and dead from starvation, but he finds himself tangled up in the politics of the wizards and faeries. As usual, the world-building in the Dresden Files is fantastic and multi-layered. Sure, there are still the problems that keep popping up in this series, but they seemed less when Dresden was focused on merely staying alive. With each book in the Dresden Files, I find the deepening lore fascinating. In Summer Knight, we finally learn about the council of wizards and see how unique Harry is when compared to others from the organization. In learning about more of his past, it’s easy to see how Dresden has come to this impasse with the...
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BOOK: The Road to Little Dribbling (2015)

The Road to Little Dribbling Year: 2015 Author: Bill Bryson Length: 844 minutes / 14.07 hours I keep forgetting that Bill Bryson’s books are hit-or-miss for me. I’ll read one and think it’s great, then proceed to another and find myself disappointed. Perhaps I’ve already read the good books from his bibliography and now all I’m left with are the ones that aren’t. I’ll usually forget that I’ve been disappointed after a few months or years of not reading Bryson, which inevitably leads me to remembering his good books and giving it another shot. The Road to Little Dribbling is another book I’d put on the “bad” pile. While I never read the book that preceded this one, I didn’t need any context to determine The Road to Little Dribbling’s major flaw. As a Millennial, I am often annoyed by Boomer-age people who bemoan that things “used to be better.” They’ll moan about prices being lower, quality being better, and everyone living happily together in...
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BOOK: Rogue Protocol (2018)

Rogue Protocol Year: 2018 Author: Martha Wells Length: 226 minutes / 3.77 hours By this point in the Murderbot Diaries series, I'm used to the short length of these stories. I appreciate that there's still an overarching plot that the books are driving toward, but the bite-size adventures of the sentient AI robot are also entertaining by themselves. Now that the series is in a good groove by book three, I was glad to see the introduction of a foil to compare and contrast the main character's interactions with the humans. The rogue SecUnit continues to find himself deeper into the shady dealings of humans, but with each interaction, he's finding it harder to hide who he is and what he's doing. That these "missions" he gives himself are a significant amount of effort for someone who would much rather be lazy and just watch vids all day seems contradictory until you realize that it's great character development—even if it's subtle. Raising the stakes with...
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BOOK: I Am Not Okay With This (2018)

I Am Not Okay With This Year: 2018 Author: Charles Forsman Length: 160 pages I'm open to a lot of visual styles for graphic novels. It can be what elevates a mediocre story to something profound, but it can also tonally clash with the message and leave a muddled mess. Storytelling in this format is a challenge to pull off and few have been able to do so successfully. I Am Not Okay With This unfortunately falls into the other camp here. Even if this were just a novel without the "graphic" part, there's not much to recommend it. Filled with cliches about what it's like to be a teenage girl, I Am Not Okay With This suffers from the "men writing women" trope. None of the interactions felt believable or realistic. Instead, they seemed forced through what a man thought these interactions should be based on minimal or merely pop culture research. None of it had the feel of anyone who has lived as...
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BOOK: The Dark Tower (2004)

The Dark Tower Year: 2004 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,731 minutes / 28.85 hours For a series that spanned over two decades, it’s nice to see that The Dark Tower ends on a titular high note. Other series may lose steam or fade to mediocrity as the stories to tell become less interesting. Or the author dies. While this series narrowly avoided this fate, the meta subplots in the last few books were well out of the way for the grand finale that is The Dark Tower. I’m almost disappointed that more of the books in the series weren’t like this, since there were actual stakes involved. I don’t normally think of Stephen King as an “action” writer, but the fight sequences in this book were absolutely superb. These enemies had the “final boss” gravitas that made the battles so entertaining to read. That there was an incredible new superpower introduced in this book makes me wish we had more stories about that character since...
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BOOK: Infected (2008)

Infected Year: 2008 Author: Scott Sigler Length: 684 minutes / 11.4 hours Stephen King has written most of the horror I’ve read. In deciding to branch out from the master of the genre, I saw the cover for this book in the listing of audiobooks for my library’s reader app and thought it looked interesting. While the horror here was more body/gross-out horror—which I didn’t have any issue with—there are other, deeper problems with this book. I’ll grant that in terms of audiobooks, it was an interesting recording with the sound effects and “alien voice” bits. However, I can’t say I recommend this book based on those merits alone. Perhaps this is an artifact of the times, but a book that came out in 2008 has not aged well at all. First, is the abundance of “men writing women” tropes that not only minimize the female characters to minor roles but doesn’t consider that perhaps not everything has to be about sex. Furthermore, while the...
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BOOK: Morning Star (2016)

Morning Star Year: 2016 Author: Pierce Brown Length: 1,310 minutes / 21.83 hours After the disappointment of Golden Son, I was leery of starting on the last part of the Red Rising trilogy. Oddly enough, this book was actually somewhat interesting, but in a way that made the first two books seem unnecessary. There was definitely a lot of action in this book, which is part of what made it more exciting than the others. And as far as a book that’s supposed to wrap up a trilogy, Morning Star certainly doesn’t leave too many loose plotlines when it ends. I still think the world-building is forced with all the Roman imagery and sci-fi tech, but at least now it’s over. As with the previous books, I still had trouble with keeping track of all the different characters and their motivations. The main character was pretty straightforward (if not bluntly so) and his love interest just felt like she wanted to do whatever he was...
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BOOK: Bone, Vol. 1 – Out from Boneville (2005)

Bone, Vol. 1: Out from Boneville Year: 2005 Author: Jeff Smith Length: 138 pages Bone is one of those comics I’ve always been aware of but haven’t gotten around to reading until now. It’s interesting how the visual style of the titular characters evokes an older style of comics, while the other characters in the world feel more modern. The storytelling runs at a pretty fast pace that kept me turning the pages to see what happens next. There’s some pretty good humor here, as well as tense situations to keep it from becoming too silly. I can definitely see the appeal and why it’s been a notable comic since its origins in the early 1990s. My only qualm with this book has to do with the main characters. The three “Bones” feel out of place in the fantasy realm, let alone our world. It also took me a while to distinguish visually between Fone Bone and Phoney Bone, which was only aided because this...
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BOOK: The Memory of Earth (1992)

The Memory of Earth Year: 1992 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 635 minutes / 10.58 hours Having read through Orson Scott Card's science fiction Ender's Game saga and alternate reality historical fantasy Alvin Maker series, I was comfortable starting a new series from him. The Memory of Earth is the first book in the Homecoming series. As a post-apocalyptic story, there are definitely elements of science fiction and fantasy in this book (however, I wouldn't quite call it science fantasy). And while there are elements of his writing in the previous series I've read that I don't much care for, I really didn't like The Memory of Earth. I'm not sure if this book was so bad due to publisher deadlines or if Card wasn't getting honest feedback on it. As it stands, everything in this book feels generic. The post-apocalyptic setting has all the annoying "let's have an in-world complicated name for items from modern technology" tropes that don't really add anything. The plot...
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BOOK: Song of Susannah (2004)

Song of Susannah Year: 2004 Author: Stephen King Length: 822 minutes / 13.70 hours Six books into the Dark Tower series, and I'm glad that things are wrapping up. I felt Wolves of the Calla was only as good as it was because it was clearly a ripoff of The Magnificent Seven (1960). And with so many of the books in this series focusing on the men of the ka-tet, it was nice to get a book that mostly focused on Susannah's experiences. A lot of weird stuff happened in this book, but at least it laid the groundwork for the last entry in the series. Perhaps the weirdest part of this book was its meta-narrative with Stephen King. I was a little surprised this fourth-wall-breaking move worked as well as it did. Then again, King clearly hinted that this was a possibility in the previous book in the series. Author self-inserts usually take the form of the main character living out the author's fantasies....
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BOOK: A River Runs Through It (1976)

A River Runs Through It Year: 1976 Author: Norman Maclean Length: 236 minutes / 3.93 hours I love how books can give insight into things we might not otherwise know. How, when someone "writes what they know" in an autobiographical sense, the reader gets to experience that slice of their life. I'm not interested in fishing—in any of its styles. And yet, A River Runs Through It gave such a clear picture of what it's like to go fly-fishing that I felt like I had actually experienced it. I'm still not interested in trying it in real life, but now I feel like I get it. Of course, A River Runs Through It isn't entirely about fly-fishing. There are other universal themes, like fatherhood, brotherhood, sonship, and unity with nature. I can also appreciate that there is a Christian tilt to the main character without being judgmental of the choices his family has made. This unconditional love speaks to what Christianity is all about. That's...
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BOOK: How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity (2014)

How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity Year: 2014 Author: Rick Chillot Length: 128 pages I'm starting to think that these satirical "how-to" books genuinely only have one joke. If you've read the title and a few pages, you get the joke. Books like How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety or How to Traumatize Your Children wear out their singular joke much too fast. While How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity doesn't have a lot of depth, at least it has cute pictures and diagrams of babies. Humor books with a "bit" like the ones mentioned above are usually better when they fully commit. That's why I prefer The Baby Owner's Manual for its ability to translate raising a baby into car mechanic terms. How to Make Your Baby an Internet Celebrity isn't quite that clever, since you might read it not knowing it's satire and try these techniques on your own baby. And perhaps my appreciation of satirical...
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BOOK: Nimona (2015)

Nimona Year: 2015 Author: N.D. Stevenson Length: 266 pages It's a rare treat to find a graphic novel with well-rounded characters, an interesting story, and an art style that has range. Even if it started as a webcomic, Nimona shows a surprising amount of depth for the medium. Sure, some of the early parts were clearly encapsulated in a serial format, but they were a quick way to introduce the characters and setting. When the story has some room to grow, it gets even better. It's definitely a page-turner, and I devoured it as fast as I could. The heart of Nimona is its characters. Flipping the hero's journey on its head and focusing on the villain's perspective was a fun touch. Nimona's chaotic nature was a fun contrast to Lord Ballister Blackheart, who just wanted to do his villainous revenge alone. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how naturally the book handles LGBTQ+ themes. None of it felt forced or odd, even in a science...
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BOOK: Solutions and Other Problems (2020)

Solutions and Other Problems Year: 2020 Author: Allie Brosh Length: 519 pages My first introduction to Allie Brosh's work—as I'm sure is the case for many—was the "all the things" meme. For those looking for more depth from these drawings, look no further than the humorous illustrated memoir, Solutions and Other Problems. I have never quite read a book like this. When I picked it up off the shelf, I was expecting a graphic novel, only to be surprised with big chunks of text between illustrations. Clearly, the best of both worlds here. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be glad you read this book. While it might be easy to discount the simple drawing style at first glance, many illustrations in this book prove to be quite exquisite. The stories themselves, which are not all silly or humorous, aid this distinction. Solutions and Other Problems subverted my expectations by being both hilarious and deeply profound. I've never read a book that had both a story...
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BOOK: Sword of Destiny (1992)

Sword of Destiny Year: 1992 Author: Andrzej Sapkowski Length: 768 minutes / 12.80 hours In the second collection of short stories that start the Witcher saga, Sword of Destiny helps to further broaden the setting and characters that would eventually be used in Blood of Elves. Following somewhat chronologically and expanding upon ideas first covered in The Last Wish, this collection continues to flesh out characters like Geralt and Yennifer while also introducing characters like Ciri. While they're fine stories by themselves, they pale in comparison to long-form novels like Blood of Elves, mainly because of their episodic nature. I applaud author Andrzej Sapkowski for using these short stories to introduce the world-building of the Witcher series. While some writers might just make character sheets for their characters, he actually puts them in interesting situations to see what they would do. From a writing standpoint, I'd recommend this method of concept development as it gives certain edge cases or rarer character interactions to see where...
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BOOK: The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains (2016)

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains Year: 2016 Author: Jon Morris Length: 256 pages With the success of comic book movies in the last decade, it's sometimes hard to forget that these films don't explore all of what the pulpy medium offered. The rise in popularity of comics in a few different "eras" inevitably led to saturation in the medium. When something becomes saturated, creators don't care as much about what they're putting out, since everything sells. This is how a book like The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains can collect quite a few foes that were better left forgotten. If there's anything this book does well, it's showing how simple and bland the early years of comics were. Perhaps I'm just used to the modern era that's had decades to figure out which superheroes and supervillains work best. Many of the early comic villains are forgettable, indicating a lack of imagination on the part of their creators. Unfortunately, since this book collects a lot of these...
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BOOK: Michael Strogoff – Courier to the Czar (1876)

Michael Strogoff: Courier to the CzarYear: 1876Author: Jules VerneLength: 416 pages While we mostly know Jules Verne for his science fiction stories, it's hard to miss the fact that his books are also quite adventurous. Even though Michael Strogoff: Courier to the Czar isn't one of his famous works, it may be one of his best. This book was something my father wanted his children to appreciate, and now that I've read it a few more times, I truly understand how ahead of its time it was. Even if Michael Strogoff isn't explicitly a science fiction novel, Jules Verne still sneaks plenty of science into this race across Russia to save the life of the Czar's brother. Of course, since it is an adventure novel, Michael Strogoff certainly has a lot of adventure between Moscow and Irkutsk, with some scenes feeling like they were pulled out of a modern action film. The tension of sneaking behind enemy lines to deliver an important...
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BOOK: Golden Son (2015)

Golden SonYear: 2015Author: Pierce BrownLength: 1,143 minutes / 19.05 hours After reading this book (or more accurately, listening to it), I'm on the edge of whether I'll continue this series. I thought Red Rising was OK for what seemed like a Hunger Games rip-off. Perhaps my problem with this one was trying to listen to it while caring for an infant. Or it was that it's been three years since I read the last book. Maybe the genre (or what's become of it) really doesn't appeal to me. At any rate, I had trouble engaging with this book at all. It didn't help that I only vaguely remembered the main character and what his goal was. This sequel didn't seem to have any of the recurring characters from the previous book, or at least it didn't pull from that cast of characters very much. I understood the need for a revolution against the higher classes via infiltration, but the motivation of the...
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BOOK: Snowpiercer – The Prequel Part 2 – Apocalypse (2020)

Snowpiercer - The Prequel Part 2: Apocalypse Year: 2020 Author: Matz & Jean-Marc Rochette Length: 104 pages After the somewhat disappointing Part 1 prequel to Snowpiercer, Part 2 was only slightly better. While the previous book in this prequel series was fairly generic with its apocalyptic scenarios, the Apocalypse portion of this trilogy gave personality to the story. Now that there are characters the reader is following, it's easier to relate to the plight of humanity. This still doesn't negate the fact that I know how things will eventually end up since I've already seen the Snowpiercer (2013) movie. What makes this volume more interesting than its predecessor is that we get to see how humanity would really act in an Apocalypse situation. Once the end of the world finally comes, all bets are off. For the "doomsday cult," their plan hinges on unhinged individuals. For the Snowpiercer project, it's not so easy to control tickets when everyone wants to board. And for humanity, we...
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BOOK: Snowpiercer – The Prequel Part 1 – Extinction (2019)

Snowpiercer - The Prequel Part 1: Extinction Year: 2019 Author: Matz & Jean-Marc Rochette Length: 90 pages One of the best original sci-fi movies to come out in the last decade, in my opinion, was Snowpiercer (2013). The story originated as a 1982 French graphic novel under the name of Le Transperceneige. While I haven't read the original source material, I decided that a prequel graphic novel was probably pretty safe to read. I figured the events leading up to the world ending and a perpetual train being launched wouldn't spoil anything for me (I also haven't seen the TV show either). While it's only a scant 90 pages, part 1 of this prequel trilogy, Extinction, had nothing I didn't already know in it. Most of the plotlines in this book were fairly generic end-of-the-world-type stories. Each one obviously would lead to the last of humanity boarding this infinitely running train, which was no surprise. It probably didn't help that there weren't that many distinct...
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BOOK: Virtual Boy Works (2021)

Virtual Boy WorksYear: 2021Author: Jeremy ParishLength: 176 pages A few years ago, I found myself down a YouTube rabbit hole and stumbled across Jeremy Parish's "Works" series of videos detailing the history of video games. Specifically, he was making videos that chronologically documented the games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System,  Game Boy, Super NES, and Sega Genesis. One system that I was able to watch all the way through was his series on the Virtual Boy, Nintendo's oft-maligned 32-bit console. This book is a written-down version of the scripts from that series. While I enjoyed the bite-size chapters on each of the 22 games for the system, the few additional chapters on fan games were a nice addition that wasn't part of the YouTube series. The book also included a pair of blue/red 3D glasses so readers could catch a glimpse of what these games might have been like (it works OK, but it's no Virtual Boy emulation on a VR...
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BOOK: What If? 2 (2022)

What If? 2 Year: 2022 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 354 pages As a fan of XKCD, I've loved the What If? spinoff series despite how irregularly Randall has updated it. Considering there have only been five new posts in the last five years, and they were all in the months leading up to the release of this book, I needed a good dose of What If? Partly because it had been so long since I had read any What If? posts, all the chapters in this book felt fresh and hilarious. Now that I read through it, I'm sad that I'll have to wait another eight years for a third book in the series. Randall always has a down-to-earth style of describing incredibly complicated scientific concepts. This means What If? 2 is quite educational once you get past the ridiculous premises that readers have sent in. It's also nice how each chapter is easily readable in a few minutes so that I could just pick...
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BOOK: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Squirrels Just Want to Have Fun (2021)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrels Just Want to Have FunYear: 2021Author: Ryan NorthLength: 224 pages After reading the second collection of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I was a little worried that this third collection would be more of the same. Comedic situations involving a variety of Marvel heroes and villains punctuated by some silly squirrel-based shenanigans. And while The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrels Just Want to Have Fun has these things, there was also a fair amount of character growth for the titular superhero. I appreciated that this volume included some of the lore surrounding Squirrel Girl, especially since we've only seen her in modern settings in most of these issues. Knowing what it was like growing up as Squirrel Girl helped ground the character a little more and make her relatable. The arc where she teamed up with Ant-Man was also entertaining because of the change of scenery (everything is in New York, give Canada a chance!). Still, these comics were...
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BOOK: Hellboy – Weird Tales (2014)

Hellboy: Weird Tales Year: 2014 Author: Mike Mignola Length: 261 pages I have rarely read comics or graphic novels prior to seeing their movie adaptations, and Hellboy is no exception. I enjoyed the 2004 movie and its 2008 sequel but only just now picked up this anthology collection of Hellboy comics. It's difficult to know where to start with any western comic series, so Hellboy: Weird Tales was actually a perfect injection point for me since nothing from these comics is necessarily canon. Instead, I was able to enjoy other artists' take on this demon-fighting character's adventures. As with any anthology collection, not everything in Weird Tales is great. Still, there were a few comics that I enjoyed over the others. I appreciated the parody of comic books in the "Lobster Johnson" section and the manga-like "Hot" that also felt appropriate given the Japanese setting. The art style and punchline of "Haunted" were both entertaining. "Flight Risk" was bold and action-filled. "Family Story" and "The...
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BOOK: Artificial Condition (2018)

Artificial Condition Year: 2018 Author: Martha Wells Length: 202 minutes / 3.36 hours After being disappointed with the length of the first entry in the Murderbot Diaries series, I'm glad that I stuck with it and read the second book, Artificial Condition. While All Systems Red was necessary to introduce the concept of a sentient (and pacifist) murderbot, this book was much more interesting from a narrative perspective. At this point, I'm used to the short length of these stories, but after reading this book now I have to know how the rest of the series plays out. The titular murderbot in this book felt much more fleshed out (ha ha) as a character. Having moved past the phase where it recognizes that its sentience is an anomaly, the challenge of fitting into society as a murderbot or as a human as the circumstances warranted was much more enthralling. The interactions with other AI like ART were much more entertaining than merely hearing about how...
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BOOK: The End of the World (2013)

The End of the World Year: 2013 Author: Don Hertzfeldt Length: 224 pages I was first introduced to the works of Don Hertzfeldt via his Oscar-nominated short film, Rejected. The bizarre humor immediately struck a chord with me but the simplistic animation style (with a 4th-wall-breaking ending) made this short a classic that I still quote to this day. Since then, I have still mostly kept up with the little animation projects Hertzfeldt has done over the years. As a graphic novel, The End of the World seems like a logical step for the animator, and it works, but only in a few spots. Despite Rejected being mostly silly, his other works (which retain his signature stick-figure style) are silly but with a profound message that seems out-of-place coming from someone who animated a character screaming of the woes brought on by a bleeding anus. The End of the World has a lot of one-off jokes that don't quite land, but the longer narrative bits...
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BOOK: Story Engineering (2011)

Story Engineering Year: 2011 Author: Larry Brooks Length: 278 pages Every successful author eventually concludes that they have something to provide for the neophytes of the craft. The problem is that the most insight any individual author might provide for someone who wants to get into writing stories has probably been said before. In Story Engineering, I was hoping for some useful tips on structure but instead was accosted with incredibly biased opinions from the author (and his obsession with a handful of books). He seems to think there is only one singular way to be successful and his book is the only way to understand it. I’m used to biased non-fiction, but not nearly this much of it. I think that all writing methods have their benefits and downsides, but if you were to corner the author and ask him about pantsers (i.e., people who write by the seat of their pants via “exploratory writing”), he’d probably admit that they murdered his mother. In...
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BOOK: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012)

The Wind Through the Keyhole Year: 2012 Author: Stephen King Length: 627 minutes / 10.45 hours Backstory can often be a difficult element to work into a series. To keep the action in the present and moving forward, there’s rarely time to go into the background of the characters, let alone the main character of the series. This is why side stories like Fairest and The Wind Through the Keyhole exist. There’s a subtle need to explore the troubled past of a main character, but to get into the depth of their backstory requires a significant amount of words that won’t fit into already full books in the main series. In The Wind Through the Keyhole, Stephen King lets the reader see the origins of Roland the Gunslinger. What’s interesting here is that King does so in a series of nested stories, almost evoking something from Inception (2010) or Cloud Atlas. After all, a single story hardly affects real people but is instead a string...
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BOOK: The Last Guardian (2012)

The Last GuardianYear: 2012Author: Eoin ColferLength: 459 minutes / 7.65 hours The Last Guardian—the final book in the Artemis Fowl series—could not have gotten here any faster. In my mind, the series was basically over once they did the "time travel" book in the fifth entry, The Time Paradox. That The Atlantis Complex felt like the weakest in the series meant I didn't have high hopes for this wrap-up of the series. Fortunately, the downward trend since the third book did not continue here, and it finished on a satisfying high note. Perhaps due to this being the last book in the series, the whole "deus ex machina" style of returning everything to normal by the end of the book seemed to go out the window here. This allowed for some truly exciting developments—not the least of which includes the death of main characters. Using not one, but two of the series' best antagonist was also a smart move to increase the...
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BOOK: Shadows in Flight (2011)

Shadows in Flight Year: 2011 Author: Orson Scott Card Length: 383 minutes / 6.38 hours You know how sometimes a series has overstayed its welcome? How, even though the author has wrapped up most of the loose ends, there's another story afterward that only exists to extend the series even farther than it has already come? The only times I can forgive these extensions is if the story in question isn't particularly long. For instance, the "epilogue" story in Marissa Meyer's Stars Above is a great way to show the characters settling into normal life after the main conflict ends. Shadows in Flight is almost unnecessary, but at least it's short. Shadow of the Giant was a satisfying conclusion to the Ender's Shadow saga, so the fact that Shadows in Flight exists is merely to wrap up Bean's story even if the rest of the world had already reached its peaceful conclusion. After all, one question remained from this series: can those with Anton's Key...
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BOOK: The Man in the High Castle (1962)

The Man in the High CastleYear: 1962Author: Philip K. DickLength: 505 minutes / 8.42 hours While I haven't seen the Amazon TV series based on this book, I have had enough awareness of the basic premise going in. An alternate reality where the Allies lost World War II felt like such an interesting concept that I had to read the book that spawned this idea. Of course, I also enjoy Philip K. Dick's writing for the same reasons: he has novel ideas that he executes well. Unfortunately, I found The Man in the High Castle to be underwhelming. To Dick's credit, his world-building for a history where Japan took over part of the United States after World War II felt quite thorough. Little subtle ways that people act, economies based on American antiques, as well as other differences that made sense with such a drastic change to history. The problem is, Dick was so focused on world-building that he forgot to write...
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BOOK: The Heroine’s Journey (2020)

The Heroine's JourneyYear: 2020Author: Gail CarrigerLength: 305 pages When I started writing over a decade ago, I subconsciously modeled my story structures off the stories that I enjoyed. I didn't go into my first novel with the plan to make it the typical "Hero's Journey," and the result was far from it. The stories I was writing seemed to work, even if they didn't abide by the known structure many authors had used before me. The problem was, I didn't have a name for the style of story I was writing. After reading Gail Carriger's book, The Heroine's Journey, I can finally label the stories I write. Carriger makes it clear that stories that follow the Heroine's Journey don't always have females in the lead role. Instead, the Heroine's Journey is the antithesis of the Hero's Journey. Where the Hero's Journey is about individual achievement and sacrifice, the Heroine's Journey is more about building community to tackle a problem larger than any...
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BOOK: Grave Peril (2001)

Grave Peril Year: 2001 Author: Jim Butcher Length: 378 pages The third book in the Dresden Files, Grave Peril continues the adventures of Chicago’s resident wizard as he takes on ghosts, godmothers, and ghoulish vampires. While it’s definitely an improvement from Fool Moon, Grave Peril still has some of the misogynistic flaws of the series’ titular character. On the plus side, we finally get to delve into deeper lore for the series. And we get Michael. He’s the best new character in this series and by far my favorite for many reasons—mainly because how he does things differently than Dresden. I’ll admit that it took me a while to get through this book, which felt odd considering the action was superb, the writing was proficient, and the story was thrilling. For some reason, I didn’t feel the motivation to continue reading and went weeks between picking it up and continuing. I think if I had read it all as quickly as possible, then it might...
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BOOK: The Key House (2022)

The Key House Year: 2022 Author: Mike Curtis Length: 227 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** Growing up, I never read many middle-grade adventure books. I understood the appeal of a series like The Hardy Boys, but I was drawn more to Encyclopedia Brown. Even without this pre-existing knowledge of the genre, The Key House seems to hit all the required tropes for those who want something along the lines of a mystery/adventure. This is both a strength and a weakness of this book, as it feels done before (significant The Goonies (1985) vibes) but is familiar enough for young readers to know what to expect. The trouble is that the few points where The Key House strays from the middle-grade adventure tropes stick out. Most of these adventures don't involve parents at all, so it's not until halfway through the plot that it feels like this story can actually do what it needs to. The characters felt somewhat generic—like they belonged in Leave...
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BOOK: Pity the Reader (2019)

Pity the Reader: On Writing with Style Year: 2019 Author: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. & Suzanne McConnell Length: 721 minutes / 12.02 hours People will always ask successful writers how they do what they do. What tricks do they have? What techniques make their writing timeless? Kurt Vonnegut is definitely a successful writer, so we'd want to know how he writes so we can apply his lessons to our own work. I picked up this book thinking it was like Stephen King's On Writing, not initially realizing that this book was released over a decade after his death. Consequently, this book was a disappointment. I would say that Vonnegut did not actually write any of this book. If he had, I'm sure it would have been much shorter. Instead, we get a pseudo-biography of the man who wrote such classics as Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle. This is a book written by Suzanne McConnell. And while she may have been close enough to Vonnegut to glean...
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BOOK: Supernova (2019)

Supernova Year: 2019 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 992 minutes / 16.53 hours If there's one thing I appreciate about Marissa Meyer's writing, it's that she has a conclusive ending in three to four books. The Lunar Chronicles wrapped up everything nice and tight in four books, and the Renegades trilogy does the same thing with the last book, Supernova. After all, I enjoy reading a tight set of three or four books instead of a meandering series with dozens of entries. That being said, I wasn't a fan of the epilogue in this book, but at least everything else concluded in a way that made sense for the narrative arc of the whole trilogy. In the first two books of the Renegades trilogy, I had some assumptions about the big questions Meyer presented to the reader. Who really killed Adrian's mom? How would Nova eventually be found out? Who is Phobia? While Archenemies really hit it out of the park by introducing the moral gray...
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BOOK: Blood Ties (2015)

Blood Ties Year: 2015 Author: Quincy J. Allen Length: 322 pages While I haven't read many steampunk stories, the genre is intriguing to me for a variety of reasons. Mostly, the aesthetic is a way to combine genres typically set in historical eras with other elements of science fiction or fantasy. In Blood Ties, steampunk is the overlay on a western, but with fantasy elements mixed in for a distinct flavor I haven't read before. And while its unique elements are its strengths, there were a few parts of Blood Ties that felt unfinished—or at least written in a way to force the reader to pick up the next book in the Blood War Chronicles. I appreciated that this book addressed some of the logistical challenges of steampunk. Metal is often heavy, so the fact that the main character had to ride something sturdier than a horse was a welcome detail. The zeppelin ride also seemed to take up much of the book's length, which...
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BOOK: The Atlantis Complex (2010)

The Atlantis ComplexYear: 2010Author: Eoin ColferLength: 458 minutes / 7.63 hours While I have certainly enjoyed the Artemis Fowl series, I knew the time-travel plot of The Time Paradox was the writing on the wall for this teenage genius criminal. The Atlantis Complex merely enforced my opinion, as it completely removed the elements that made the titular character himself. At least in the previous book, the author contrasted the character's growth against a younger version of Artemis. Here, it just feels off. Unmemorable and going through the motions, The Atlantis Complex is underwater in more ways than one. I get that YA series will often lean on the formulas that made them successful, but seven books into this series and it has become quite stale. Having read this book about six months before writing this review, nothing stuck with me other than the potential for an eventual development in the "relationship" between Artemis and Holly. Everything else faded into the background as...
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BOOK: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (2018)

Save the Cat! Writes a NovelYear: 2018Author: Jessica BrodyLength: 320 pages I had already written a dozen manuscripts by the time I read Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. Most of my plots had come fairly easily to me, but as a father, I now have less time to spend on planning novels. The plot of the last trilogy I drafted felt unfocused, so I knew I needed some way to re-structure my unedited and unwritten novels from here on out. When I asked my writer friend to suggest a few books to help me, she gave me this one to read. I am now a changed man. I had already heard of this book from a few other writers who use its method, but now I truly understand the appeal. Looking back on the books I had written, I was already using parts of the Save the Cat structure subconsciously. Fortunately, now that I had the full picture of this writing...
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BOOK: Archenemies (2018)

Archenemies Year: 2018 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 877 minutes / 14.62 hours There's a trope in comic books about how supervillains' schemes sometimes make sense. Maybe they want to solve some systemic problem with society, but the way they go about it is all wrong. There's often a leap of logic between "let's solve global warming" and "I want to build an ice ray to freeze the entire planet." Because this trope falls apart in the cartoony logic that graces the pages of comic books, it's refreshing to see some truly fantastic moral ambiguity between villains and heroes (all with quite unique powers and abilities) in Marissa Meyer's Archenemies. While there were a few moments of illogical villains in Renegades, this sequel really delves into these characters who think they're doing the right thing—from both sides. I love how there are heroes who take their "we are justice" ideology too far, while there are also villains out there trying to improve the broken society that...
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BOOK: All Systems Red (2017)

All Systems Red Year: 2017 Author: Martha Wells Length: 199 minutes / 3.12 hours Sentient artificial intelligence is a topic that science fiction has covered for decades. Somehow, in all that time, I haven't really come across many stories from the perspective of the newly sentient AI. All Systems Red scratches that itch in a way that's intriguing but merely feels like a prologue to something much more interesting. Perhaps I'm just used to longer-form stories that explore such a complex topic like this. Still, to so densely convey what it's like to be a robot now in control of its destiny takes a certain level of skill. The problem is, it's been about six months since I listened to this audiobook and I can't recall much about it other than it's in first person via the "Murderbot" point-of-view. I guess there was some humor involved with this robot describing things that we as humans almost take for granted—using the external observer to point out...
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BOOK: Renegades (2017)

RenegadesYear: 2017Author: Marissa MeyerLength: 1,018 minutes / 16.97 hours After having finished Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, it pleased me to learn that her next major series was about superheroes. After all, the fairy tale sci-fi retelling was great, but its source material always felt like it was for girls. Just like getting the choice of a girl's toy or a boy's toy in a Happy Meal, Renegades felt like it was meant for the guys. Obviously, I'm being a little facetious, as both series are definitely for all genders. The twist with this book is that the main character is a villain in a world filled with superheroes. Renegades feels like the pendulum swing away from the superhero purism that saturated the market with the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shows like The Boys and Invincible—both of which started as comics themselves—bring up interesting thought experiments when questioning the legal and moral repercussions of superheroes in the real world. Renegades does...
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BOOK: Public Works Steampunk presents Jane Eyre (2021)

Public Works Steampunk presents Jane EyreYear: 2021Author: R.A. Harding and Charlotte BronteLength: 941 minutes / 15.68 hours I heard about this book during a convention I attended earlier this year. Jane Eyre was required reading for one of my High School English courses, so it intrigued me that someone would make steampunk additions to this literary classic. The original book naturally fits into the steampunk timeframe, so I'm a little surprised this mash-up hasn't been done before. Unfortunately, because Jane Eyre is so compatible with steampunk, it didn't feel like Steampunk Jane Eyre added anything to the narrative. Perhaps my expectations were skewed for this modified classic from my experience with the "Classical Literature Monsters" series from Quirk Books. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters only add a little eldritch horror to a mostly unmodified book that's in the public domain. However, these minor changes make a significant shift in tone that ends up creating a...
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BOOK: City Monster (2020)

City Monster Year: 2020 Author: Reza Farazmand Length: 112 pages I'm not sure when I started reading Reza Farazmand's Poorly Drawn Lines webcomic, but I have enjoyed his simple art style and humor for quite a while. City Monster is a graphic novel in this same, simple style with a plot that's quite a bit longer than the handful of panels he uses to tell a joke in his webcomic.  With all-new characters that don't regularly appear in the webcomic, it was nice to see something different than just another adventure with bird, mouse, turtle, and maybe Kevin. Even at 112 pages long, it's a quick read, and the ending is satisfying. Still, City Monster has a few minor flaws. Again, I love Reza's simple drawing style. However, there's a danger in making something look simple because some might think this book is appropriate for children. The occasional strong language might put some people off, mainly because it feels a little out of character and is...
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BOOK: The Hands We’re Given (2018)

The Hands We're Given Year: 2018 Author: O.E. Tearmann Length: 350 pages This book was not what I expected. First, the cover makes it look like it's some kind of heist/hacker book, which it's not. Instead, I got a military sci-fi with heavy LGBTQ+ themes. Second, even if you picked up this book for its gay/trans romance, the only reason it's a "slow burn" is because it starts in the wrong place. Third, even within this post-apocalyptic setting, I had so many moments where things made little sense. It also didn't help that one of the most annoying characters I've read maintained her annoying personality for much too long until they rectified it. Ultimately, this book was not for me. All this being said, The Hands We're Given is the first book I've read that appears to convey the struggles of a female-to-male transition somewhat accurately. Granted, I'm still confused about the main character's sexual attraction, since it would normally be considered "straight" before their transition,...
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BOOK: Project Hail Mary (2021)

Project Hail Mary Year: 2021 Author: Andy Weir Length: 476 pages The strength of Andy Weir's hard sci-fi storytelling was evident in The Martian. He sets up a problem, shows us a solution, then does everything in his author-ly power to prevent the main character from achieving that solution. His scientific explanations might get a little dry, but they are necessary to understand the situation without diving too deep into details. While his sophomore effort with Artemis showed me he struggles with writing women, he came back to his roots and knocked it out of the park with Project Hail Mary. There are many similarities between The Martian and Project Hail Mary, which is probably why I like both books equally. Sure, the stakes are higher in Project Hail Mary—with the survival of humanity on the line instead of just one astronaut—but the explanation of the science follows the same format he used in The Martian. Specifically, a problem derails all the progress made so...
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BOOK: Wolves of the Calla (2003)

Wolves of the Calla Year: 2003 Author: Stephen King Length: 1,563 minutes / 26.05 hours There comes a point when you've consumed enough stories that you notice similarities. Sure, there are common tropes applied to plots that make them seem similar, but what I'm talking about is when you're reading a book and immediately, you're like, "This is exactly like [FILL IN THE BLANK]." For me, the fifth book in the Dark Tower series, Wolves of the Calla, laid out its premise, and I instantly thought, "This is exactly like Seven Samurai (1954)." Fortunately, there was more to this book than this classic tale of villagers defending themselves with the help of skilled warriors. I will give credit to Stephen King for taking a well-known plot and adding enough sub-plots to distract from the fact that this book is the Dark Tower equivalent of The Magnificent Seven (1960). This is probably because these sub-plots are the driving force behind the main story arc of the...
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BOOK: How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety (2016)

How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun SafetyYear: 2016Author: Zachary AuburnLength: 144 pages I had seen this book cover on the internet a few years ago and found it to be an amusing concept. When I ran across the paperback version of this book at a thrift store, I bought it and gave it a read. Presented by the fictional "American Association of Patriots," How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety is a satire parody of right-wing and evangelical pamphlets that seek to inform readers of the "right" way to do something. In this case, talk to your cat about gun safety. This book is actually a collection of a few different pamphlets that cover a variety of topics, including safety for guns, sex, online, and the apocalypse. To its credit, if you didn't realize this was satire, you'd think this book was being serious. Perhaps this is more an indictment of how crazy some people have become since...
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BOOK: Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011)

Thinking, Fast and Slow Year: 2011 Author: Daniel Kahneman Length: 1,202 minutes / 20.03 hours We all make choices. Every day, from the banal to the life-altering, we can break these choices down into two different ways of thinking. It's amazing to me how this psychological subject presented in Thinking, Fast and Slow is so intuitive, but so difficult to control. Daniel Kahneman does a superb job bringing this topic down to the layperson level with plenty of examples and quizzes to show the reader how we can literally change an impulsive decision into a logical one. Thinking, Fast and Slow opened my eyes to the two systems that influence every decision I make. The quick-thinking "System One" runs on emotions, whereas the slower "System Two" takes time to examine a situation thoroughly before deciding. The amazing thing about these systems is that sometimes the intuitive System One is correct—meaning that it can sometimes be easy to overthink a problem. What's even more fascinating is...
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BOOK: Abaddon’s Gate (2013)

Abaddon's GateYear: 2013Author: James S. A. CoreyLength: 1,182 minutes / 19.7 hours I'll admit that watching the Expanse television show spoiled this book for me. I already knew what was going to happen, so there weren't too many surprises in this book because the show kept close to the source material. Even with this a priori knowledge going in, I found Abaddon's Gate to be my favorite book of the series so far. The plot felt like it was actually getting somewhere instead of just dancing on the edges of the important series arc that finally solidified in this book. Some of my favorite moments of the series were retained in the written form of this book, including the description of the first "sudden stop" when someone tried entering the alien portal. The human drama was also interesting because it wasn't entirely geopolitical but wove in elements of religious beliefs as well. It helped that the crew members of the Rocinante are...
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BOOK: Waking Gods (2017)

Waking Gods Year: 2017 Author: Sylvain Neuvel Length: 336 pages When I read Sleeping Giants, the narrative technique used to tell this story blew me away. I was hooked, and it pleased me to learn there were two more books in this Themis Files trilogy. Sure, I still had some qualms with the first book, but it was mostly from an "omniscient exposition dump." It took me a while to get back to this series, but I was looking forward to reading the second book, Waking Gods. In that time, something changed, and I did not enjoy this book. Despite loving this indirect narrative approach in the first book, the technique showed its cracks as it reached past its limitations in Waking Gods. Interviews and recording transcripts can only show so much, and it's difficult to get into the characters when they're at arm's length. And perhaps this was the other thing I didn't like about this book: the characters. None of them are particularly...
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BOOK: Earth Awakens (2014)

Earth Awakens Year: 2014 Author: Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston Length: 896 minutes / 14.93 hours Having read most of Orson Scott Card's Shadow series that follows the events of the rest of the cadets after the events of Ender's Game, it's clear to me he has a skill in describing geopolitics. This skill is also on display in the third book of the First Formic War series, Earth Awakens. Acting as bookends to the Ender Saga, these two series give a plausible look into the world before and after the alien invasion of Earth. There's a challenge with prequels, though. How much does the author leave unsaid between the end of the prequel and the start of the original lore? I can appreciate how Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston wrapped up many of the threads in this trilogy, but there were also too many things left unresolved that the reader must assume wrap up between the end of this book and the...
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BOOK: Earth Afire (2013)

Earth Afire Year: 2013 Author: Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston Length: 924 minutes / 15.40 hours It's odd how the main ideas presented in the original Ender Saga have almost no depictions of combat or war in them at all. It is then appropriate that the second book in this prequel trilogy pulls out all the stops and shows what a horrific battle against ant-like aliens would be like in the not-to-distant future. After all, war is hell, and the atrocities committed by a species trying to terraform Earth to their specifications are quite gruesome. Fortunately, Earth Afire does not focus too much on the gory details of war. There are still subplots being explored that bring realism to this doomsday scenario—like needing to go against orders and bureaucracy to save people. The reader finally gets to spend some significant time with Mazer Rackham, who is absolutely the most interesting character in this prequel trilogy. His story is where Earth Afire really shines. Sure,...
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BOOK: Earth Unaware (2012)

Earth UnawareYear: 2012Author: Orson Scott Card and Aaron JohnstonLength: 839 minutes / 13.98 hours Prequels sometimes get a bad rap because they often feel unnecessary. If the story was important enough to start at the very beginning, then that's where the series should have started. Still, there is a comfort in prequels that comes from knowing what will happen. Little details that the reader knows will become important for the main part of the series act as subtle nods in the early stages of the series' lore. Earth Unaware is the first book in the Ender's Game prequel trilogy and flawlessly introduces the events that lead to the Earth's drastic response. Orson Scott Card co-wrote Earth Unaware over a decade after publishing the first books in the Ender Saga. In that time, science advanced to the point where a near-future scenario like the one presented in Earth Unaware could be plausible. All the reader ever knew about the first Formic War from...
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BOOK: Neverwhere (1996)

Neverwhere Year: 1996 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 828 minutes / 13.80 hours Neil Gaiman has written a lot of different books. His writing has been hit-or-miss for me, but nothing that's truly middle-of-the-road average. That was until I listened to Neverwhere. I appreciate how Gaiman narrates most of the audiobooks of his works that I've listened to so far, and Neverwhere was in line with the narration quality I expect from him. However, the content felt so mediocre that I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if it came from any other different British authors like Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams (both of which are talented writers, mind you). There's a distinct flavor of British comedy that comes through in the absurdist naming of characters and places in Neverwhere. Perhaps it's why I felt this book was so generic. It's your classic "Institutionalized" story where a man has (what seems to him) a stable life, only to have this life upended by a fantastical parallel world...
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BOOK: Shadow of the Giant (2005)

Shadow of the GiantYear: 2005Author: Orson Scott CardLength: 746 minutes / 12.43 hours I'm glad Ender Wiggin's crewmates had this side series to explore their identities. While most of these characters were in the background of the Shadow series until now, Shadow of the Giant finally gives them time to shine on their own. After all, after three books focusing on Bean, it's nice to see the geopolitical drama unfold between these young tactical geniuses. I can definitely appreciate the storytelling that fills in the gaps between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. With Achilles being killed off in the previous book, Shadow Puppets, the principal antagonist of the series left a vacuum on the world stage that was inevitably going to be filled by Ender's Jeesh. And while these individuals had aged to the point of young adulthood, I can't deny the clever game they played with entire nations so they could position themselves in stations of power. It's entertaining...
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BOOK: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Big Squirrels Don’t Cry (2020)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Big Squirrels Don't Cry Year: 2020 Author: Ryan North Length: 288 pages In this second collection of Squirrel Girl comics, you'll once again find Doreen Green trying to balance her life as Squirrel Girl and as a computer science student at Empire State University. This can be quite the balancing act, especially when you have a huge fluffy tail that you have to hide when you're in your civilian persona. While other superheroes have origin stories that explain their tremendous powers, Squirrel Girl is...Squirrel Girl. Doreen's "unbeatable" title continues to be tested as she uses both her skills as a squirrel person who can communicate with and control squirrels and as a computer science major to defeat villains who terrorize New York City. The fact that she's a superhero who can talk to and control squirrels is just amusing enough that fans of the first collection will likely enjoy this one. However, I wasn't prepared to read a Howard the Duck...
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BOOK: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Powers of a Squirrel (2019)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Powers of a Squirrel Year: 2019 Author: Ryan North Length: 184 pages I was first made aware of this somewhat obscure Marvel superhero because I am a regular reader of Ryan North's Dinosaur Comics webcomic series. While I sat on the knowledge of Squirrel Girl's existence for some time, I finally broke down and bought the two-volume collection of North's imagining of the hero. In this first volume, Powers of a Squirrel, we get to know Doreen Green (aka Squirrel Girl), a computer scientist student studying at Empire State University. As a much more comedic superhero compared to the likes of Iron Man or Captain America, Squirrel Girl's claim to fame is the fact that she is "Unbeatable." This includes defeating some of Marvel's most fearsome and powerful villains in unique ways that don't involve violence. Sure, sometimes Squirrel Girl has to get her paws dirty, but the more amusing storylines are the ones where she saves the day using unconventional...
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BOOK: The Core (2017)

The Core Year: 2017 Author: Peter V. Brett Length: 1,778 minutes / 29.63 hours While it took me a while to finally get around to the last book in the Demon Cycle series, I'm glad I put the time in to complete it. The initial concept laid out in The Warded Man was so interesting that I had to see it play out to the end. The Core wraps up this series with an ending that was mostly inevitable while also managing to add more subplots that merely padded out an already large conclusion to this series. Overall, my main qualm with the Demon Cycle series is that it is a prime example of "Men Writing Women." This trope is evident in many places across this series but seems most egregious in The Core with its depiction of childbirth (especially the one at the beginning). I understand that many fantasy worlds are based on medieval Europe, but that doesn't mean the writer has to be...
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BOOK: Stars Above (2016)

Stars AboveYear: 2016Author: Marissa MeyerLength: 581 minutes / 9.63 hours Something I feel is underappreciated in book series is when authors don't try to cram in as much material and side stories as possible to pad each of the books to be longer than they should be. Keeping the core books of a series concise helps drive the main plot forward without requiring larger and larger volumes to tie up all the loose ends introduced along the way. The Lunar Chronicles excels in this. Look no further than the "prequel," Fairest, and the collection of short stories and epilogue that is Stars Above for proof of this restraint. I can appreciate that worldbuilding will often create so much content that it doesn't always make sense to include it in the actual storytelling. Still, some origin stories might seem interesting, only to find out that most of these moments of exposition happened along the way as the character's motives are revealed to the...
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BOOK: Winter (2015)

WinterYear: 2015Author: Marissa MeyerLength: 1,384 minutes / 23.07 hours If there's one thing I appreciate with a series, it's when all the loose ends are tied up by the end. In the fourth and final installment in the Lunar Chronicles series, Marissa Meyer manages to wrap up all the disparate parts of the story that had been running in parallel for three books. Not only does this series have a satisfying ending, but there's even enough time to flesh out the titular character, Winter, so that her presence makes sense in the context of the whole series. Still, even if the backstory for Levanna in Fairest isn't directly needed to understand more of Winter's character in this book, it certainly helped that I had already read it going into this final chapter of the series. While my standard qualms with the "teenage girl" style of characterizations remain for this book (as it has for the entire series), the dialogue feels very natural...
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BOOK: Fairest (2015)

Fairest: Levana’s Story Year: 2015 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 392 minutes / 6.53 hours I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere in the last decade or so, the idea of “redeemable villains” took off. So many stories had antagonists that had their heinous acts justified by some past trauma that somehow made them more human and understandable. While I appreciate flawed characters and the bad decisions that eventually led them down the dark and evil path, I don’t think it’s always necessary to make villains redeemable. That is unless it’s done well. Fairest does it well. Right from the first pages of Fairest, the reader understands that Levana was the runt of the family. The amount of teasing and hypocrisy that formed this young girl into the evil queen she would eventually become is understandable. However, the real brilliance of this story comes in when Levana tries to solve her problems the only way she knows how: by manipulation. It’s not entirely her fault,...
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BOOK: Cress (2014)

Cress Year: 2014 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 941 minutes / 15.68 hours Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time with me will know that one of my top three favorite movies is Tangled (2010). It then comes as no surprise to me that the third book in the Lunar Chronicles series that adapts the Rapunzel fairy tale into this sci-fi retelling would be my favorite of the set. It wasn't until I was reading original fairy tales to my daughter that I realized how close Cress came to representing the story it was based on instead of just relying on the familiar accouterments of the fairy tale. While I didn't appreciate as much of the split storylines in Scarlet, I felt they improved the greater story arc of the whole series here. Cress explored much of the inner workings of the antagonist faction of Lunars that had been missing up until this point of the series. As such, I was able to gain...
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BOOK: The Three-Body Problem (2006)

The Three-Body Problem Year: 2006 Author: Liu Cixin Length: 806 minutes / 13.43 hours A few years ago, someone suggested that I read the Remembrance of Earth's Past series, so of course, I added it to my Overdrive wish list so I could eventually listen to the audiobook. I'm usually down to read some hard sci-fi since it's a niche genre I enjoy. I was intrigued that this book came from China because I don't usually think of hard sci-fi when I think of that country. In fact, I hardly think of literature that wasn't written hundreds of years ago. It's been about five months since I read this book, so this review is a long time coming. I still vaguely know what this book was about and what science was explored within its prose, but that's about it. Nothing stuck with me other than the sense that it was a bit of an Ender's Game ripoff. I would have liked to connect with the...
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BOOK: A World Out of Time (1976)

A World Out of Time Year: 1976 Author: Larry Niven Length: 474 minutes / 7.90 hours I’m starting to realize that science fiction in the 1970s might need to stay there. While there was a lot of progress in the genre past the golden era of the 1950s, many of these books are unfortunate snapshots of a time that has not aged well. Similar to Ringworld, I found A World Out of Time to rely heavily on the sexism that runs rampant through 1970s sci-fi. Additionally, while the hard science presented in this book was generally plausible, the way it was presented was so dry and dense as to make it more of a Ph.D. thesis than an entertaining read. On the plus side, A World Out of Time explores many scientific ideas that were well ahead of its time. Aside from the normal sci-fi tropes of mind implants and artificial intelligence, this book also deals with climate change in a way that hasn’t been...
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BOOK: Stories of Your Life and Others (2002)

Stories of Your Life and OthersYear: 2002Author: Ted ChiangLength: 623 minutes / 10.38 hours After reading Exhalation, I found myself in search of more stories by Ted Chiang. This led me to Stories of Your Life and Others. Partly because this collection included many of Chiang’s earlier stories, not all of them were great pieces of literature like the ones in Exhalation. I could tell that Chiang was still trying to find his voice as a writer as he explored many science fiction topics common to the genre. While not all of the stories are fantastic, there are enough good ones to warrant reading this collection. What’s a little disappointing is how some of the ideas Chiang explores in this book are truly interesting topics, but the execution of these stories feels a little too erudite for the common reader. I appreciate Chiang’s later ability to humanize these ideas (as shown by my love of Exhalation), but he just wasn’t quite there...
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BOOK: Augie and the Green Knight (2014)

Augie and the Green Knight Year: 2014 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 219 pages While I’m slowly getting into the deep and thorough lore of the Arthurian legend, one story that seems to be popular in the cultural zeitgeist is the one about the Green Knight. I haven’t seen the recent The Green Knight (2021) movie adaptation yet, but I’m definitely aware of its overarching story due to the middle-grade book Augie and the Green Knight. It’s clear from some of the review snippets I’ve seen for the movie that the logic of the tale doesn’t hold up to today’s standards, an issue that Augie and the Green Knight thoroughly explores. This book follows Augie, a precocious girl who is definitely smarter than her years—even at the cost of the credulity of the story. When she finds herself transported into the mythical world of the Green Knight, she is unfazed by the peculiar world. The plot unfolds as it always does in this story, except that...
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BOOK: Caliban’s War (2012)

Caliban's WarYear: 2012Author: James S.A. CoreyLength: 1,190 minutes / 19.83 hours One of the things I like about James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series is how these books focus on the crew of the Rocinante. Many hard sci-fi writers try to show how smart they are by making it obvious how much math they did to explain how their sci-fi universe works. While The Expanse certainly has these moments, they’re fit in between the human drama that follows James Holden and his crew. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, and in Caliban’s War, they’re pulled into a political conflict that spans the solar system. I appreciate how an overarching plot with the protomolecule connects Leviathan Wakes to Caliban’s War. While the first book in the series took some time ramping up into having a cohesive collection of characters, Caliban’s War uses all four members of Rocinante’s crew in a new way that felt more interesting. Of course, this book also contains...
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BOOK: The Stone Sky (2017)

The Stone SkyYear: 2017Author: N.K. JemisinLength: 862 minutes / 14.37 hours I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with The Stone Sky. It took me some time to get used to the way the author wrote the Broken Earth trilogy, but by the end of the second book, The Obelisk Gate, I had bought into the premise. The fact that this book had a lot to live up to with the foreshadowing presented in the second book might be why I’m disappointed with the result. After all, I was looking forward to some epic moments involving the moon, which didn’t seem to materialize for me. Now that I’ve finished this trilogy, I’m starting to wonder if the reason it didn’t quite fully click for me was because I was reading it via audiobook. There seemed to be a lot that I missed that would leave me confused about who the characters were, what they were doing, and why they were doing...
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BOOK: The Time Paradox (2008)

The Time Paradox Year: 2008 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 532 minutes / 8.87 hours Just like Godwin’s law asserts that internet conversations eventually lead to comparisons of Hitler, the longer a book series progresses, the more likely it is to include a time travel story. For the Artemis Fowl series, I was glad that it took six books to get here. Unfortunately, this plotline completely stalled the forward momentum the series had developed from the last entry, The Lost Colony (especially with introducing a potential love triangle). Sure, The Time Paradox does set up a revival for bringing back one of the series’ best antagonists, but mostly it is used to highlight the growth of the titular character. Of course, in comparing the old Artemis Fowl with the new one, there seemed to be a regression of the one I had come to enjoy at the end of The Lost Colony. It was almost like he saw how he used to act and thought, “You know, I should try and...
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BOOK: A Climate of Doubt (2018)

A Climate of DoubtYear: 2018Author: Russell F. MoranLength: 250 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW*** Most people don’t take thrillers seriously. These types of books are meant for silly entertainment and often have a plot similar to campy B-movies. If you’re into that kind of book, A Climate of Doubt is right up your alley. I was actually a little surprised at how well it handled most of its female characters for the genre (despite all of them being married and tied to their husbands at the wrists and ankles). Even though A Climate of Doubt deals with serious scientific subjects, you can turn your brain off and enjoy the mayhem that wild swings in weather will bring upon a planet. Of course, I partly say this because A Climate of Doubt exists in a logical sphere separate from our known universe (i.e., the secondary and tertiary effects of such drastic changes are not addressed or are merely mentioned after...
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BOOK: Neither Here Nor There (1991)

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in EuropeYear: 1991Author: Bill BrysonLength: 338 minutes / 5.63 hours Over time, I've found Bill Bryson's books are hit-or-miss for me. I enjoyed his memoir about childhood, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and it was A Walk in the Woods that introduced me to Bryson in the first place. However, since then, I've struggled to find something that's lived up to those two books. At Home came close, but I was really turned off by I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Ultimately, I hoped Neither Here Nor There would fit the bill, but it disappointed me once again. Perhaps Bryson's travels in Europe weren't interesting to me because I haven't been over there myself. Most of the details in this book felt like they would only be understood by someone who knew what Bryson was talking about because they had experienced the same thing. I did appreciate the dueling retrospective look at Bryson's life between...
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BOOK: Alamo Tree (2020)

Alamo TreeYear: 2020Author: Tana S. HolmesLength: 29 pages As a new father, I can appreciate when picture books try and approach complex subjects. I'm already tired of learning about zoo animals and colors, so a book like Alamo Tree is a nice reprieve from the monotony. Granted, I don't think my child is old enough yet to have the attention span to read this book, but it's nice to know I have it when that time comes. Of course, I'm not sure when I'll need to teach my child about the Alamo either. Told through the perspective of a tree located at the Alamo site, Alamo Tree tries to make the tragedy that happened at the Alamo relatable to children. Unfortunately, this means it cuts out quite a bit of context that kids might miss and wouldn't be appropriate for them anyway. Despite this, I'd consider Alamo Tree a good primer to gauge a child's interest in American history (even if it's...
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BOOK: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (2007)

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself Year: 2007 Author: Alan Alda Length: 361 minutes / 6.02 hours After reading If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, I decided to add some other Alan Alda books to my reading list. Months later, I finally got around to listening to the audiobook for Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. I appreciate that Alda was the narrator, as he already has such a great voice for narration. That being said, there are a few aspects of this book that were likely lost in the translation to audiobook format. As a celebrity, Alan Alda was invited to speak at many graduation ceremonies for many decades. This book is a collection of some of the speeches he gave at these events. While there are certainly gems of wisdom spread throughout this book, many of the same points are reiterated from speech to speech, making it slightly repetitive after a while. Also, if you...
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BOOK: Religion – Ruining Everything (2015)

RELIGION: Ruining Everything Since 4004 B.C. Year: 2015 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 261 pages Much like SCIENCE: Ruining Everything, RELIGION: Ruining Everything is another collection of webcomics from "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal" (SMBC). Basically, these two topics cover the vast majority of Zach Weinersmith's comics. This book can act as a primer for anyone who wants to start reading this webcomic but happens to not have the internet (for some reason). This printed collection of webcomics still manages to capture the humor and hidden jokes present in the online versions of these same comics, but with a few extras sprinkled in to make long-time readers pick it up as well. While not nearly as biased as The Holy-Bible Unabridged, no religion is safe from being the butt of Weinersmith's jokes in this collection. It did help that the distribution of jokes about these different religions seemed to be fairly well balanced in this book. And even as someone who considers themself a Christian, I could...
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BOOK: Science – Ruining Everything (2013)

SCIENCE: Ruining Everything Since 1543Year: 2013Author: Zach WeinersmithLength: 266 pages One of the webcomics I regularly enjoy is none other than "Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal" (or SMBC for short). SCIENCE: Ruining Everything Since 1543 is a collection of some of the best science-related comics from SMBC that Zach Weinersmith has created over the years. Of course, much like his "Abridged" series—especially Science Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness—there are concepts presented in this book that go way over my head. Even as a mechanical engineer, there are still lots of scientific jokes that I didn't understand in this book. I do find it interesting how certain webcomic artists adapt to the printed page. Weinersmith's comics vary in length so much that it can be challenging to contain these comics in such a limited space. Still, even the little secrets and jokes that hide on a webpage format find their way into this book in a way that works. Of course, another benefit...
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BOOK: The Lost Colony (2006)

The Lost Colony Year: 2006 Author: Eoin Colfer Length: 504 minutes / 8.40 hours A good fantasy series knows that it needs to keep building its lore as it progresses past its first few volumes. Some might start to sag around the fifth volume, but The Lost Colony doubles down and introduces a whole new species into its universe: demons. The fact that these creatures are both tied to the fairies that have comprised the series up to now and have their own set of rules that tracks with traditional demon lore is a testament to the research that went into this series. Of course, introducing demons into the series this late in the game isn't necessarily what makes The Lost Colony good. Rather, it's the introduction of a rival for Artemis—who also has the potential to be a rival in love against Holly Short. The last few books in the Artemis Fowl series felt like an episodic "deus ex machina" that didn't change much...
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BOOK: Scarlet (2013)

Scarlet Year: 2013 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 679 minutes / 11.32 hours I continue to be impressed with Marissa Meyer's ability to weave a compelling narrative based on common fairy tale themes but set in a sci-fi framework. A continuation of the story that started in Cinder, Scarlet felt a little distracted as it added in elements from "Little Red Riding Hood" and split its time between the new characters—mainly Scarlet and Thorne—and advancing the plot of Cinder to its next logical step. As long as you realize this series centers around Cinder and her rise to the Lunar throne, this book should provide some great entertainment. Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this book was how it seamlessly integrated with the lore already established in the previous volume while also being true to its source. Nothing strays too far from the themes of wolves/werewolves, so it's a bit of an obvious connection to make in a series that's titled the Lunar Chronicles. Still, the...
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BOOK: A Darkling Plain (2006)

A Darkling Plain Year: 2006 Author: Philip Reeve Length: 931 minutes / 15.52 hours With the way Infernal Devices ended, I immediately knew there had to be a fourth book to finish this unique series. Few books resolve their respective series as well as A Darkling Plain does, which I can appreciate. In fact, the final epilogue was as beautiful as it was tragic. Along the way, the little loose ends tie up nicely so that all the characters are given some closure—whether or not they deserve it. I wasn't wild with the time-skip tactic that Infernal Devices used since it basically split this series into two larger stories. Mortal Engines and Predator's Gold covered Hester and Tom's relationship, while the last two books covered their daughter's adventures. Of course, I was shocked with the ending of Infernal Devices, which did get an explanation in this book, even if it lessened the impact of that plot twist. That being said, some of the characters' fates...
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BOOK: The Last Wish (1993)

The Last Wish Year: 1993 Author: Andrzej Sapkowski Length: 617 minutes / 10.28 hours Those of us who have seen Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher will find this collection of short stories quite familiar. The first book in the series, The Last Wish introduces the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, as he goes about his job ridding the world of dangerous supernatural creatures. It’s no wonder the TV series felt a little disjointed, as it had a series of short stories that were loosely connected via Geralt to work with. Still, these stories are solid and help flesh out the world where humans and creatures live together, rarely in harmony. Told in a somewhat chronological manner, these bite-size stories often carry over and blend into each other in a way that feels natural. Actions in one story may influence the characters in another, so there is something deeper here than just a collection of short stories. While this technique is rarely used, I can appreciate how each story...
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BOOK: Working with Difficult People (1990)

Working with Difficult People Year: 1990 Author: Amy Cooper Hakim and Muriel Solomon Length: 475 minutes / 7.92 hours Occasionally, I come across a book that doesn’t really work as an audiobook. Working with Difficult People is certainly a must-have for any working-class bookshelf. Still, it was difficult to follow the thread of different difficult personalities when it was being read aloud. Sure, there were useful descriptions of the types of people you’ll encounter in the workforce, but there were at least a few of them where I wanted to slow down and read through those archetypes again to better understand the people who irk me in life. Of course, going in, I was hoping I could read this book and understand how to handle people who I find difficult to work with. Instead, I kept listening to these people's descriptions and finding individuals who nearly matched them in my life. This was my main qualm with the book: people are more complex than a single...
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BOOK: Good Omens (1990)

Good Omens Year: 1990 Author: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman Length: 753 minutes / 12.55 hours Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I only thought Good Omens was just OK. You’d think that the combination of two of the best British writers would create an incredible story, but I felt it was mostly disjointed, un-climatic, and full of that British humor that tends to be more random than based in actual jokes. Granted, most books by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman that I’ve read have been hit or miss, depending on how peculiarly random the subject might be. Sure, there are elements of a great story here; it just felt distracted from its main purpose half of the time. The core of Good Omens is split into two parts: following the actual Antichrist who is unaware of his theological significance/role in the end of the world and the journey of an angel and a demon who happened to lose said Antichrist. This idea's strength is enough...
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BOOK: Exhalation (2019)

Exhalation Year: 2019 Author: Ted Chiang Length: 682 minutes / 11.37 hours My librarian uncle introduced me to Ted Chiang recently, and I was so intrigued by such an award-winning author who wrote exclusively in short stories that I had to check out one of his books. Exhalation is a collection of these stories, and I can see why Chiang is lauded as a writer. It seems that modern science fiction is too focused on new technologies and how they can lead to utopias or dystopias. In Chiang’s stories, I saw some stark realism that took well-tread topics of the genre and examined them through a lens that was extremely realistic to how society would function with such advancements. It was refreshing—a sigh of fresh air, or exhalation, if you will—to read stories about parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and time travel that didn’t stick to the same tropes that have made science fiction almost boring in comparison. In the end, Chiang is so concise with his...
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BOOK: Cinder (2012)

Cinder Year: 2012 Author: Marissa Meyer Length: 602 minutes / 10.03 hours For years, I had heard of The Lunar Chronicles and thought people were referring to the two Sega Saturn video games, Lunar: Silver Star Story and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue. However, seeing as most people haven’t heard of these video games, I eventually figured out that they referred to the Young Adult series of books. While 2012 was definitely around the height of the re-imagined fairy tale craze, I do have to admit that this science-fiction take on these classic stories is a fresh new way of adapting the plots that we all grew up with through Disney movies. The first book in the series, Cinder, takes Cinderella's down-and-out heroine and updates her to a cyborg unaware of her royal origins. What made this story engaging was figuring out how the standard trappings of the Cinderella story would be adapted to this futuristic setting. Granted, this made some of the plot points more than obvious well before they happened, but...
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MOVIE: Artemis Fowl (2020)

Artemis Fowl Year: 2020 Rating: PG Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours When I first saw the trailers for Artemis Fowl (2020), I was intrigued enough to pick up the book and read it. With its continual delays, I was able to also read through the first five books in the series. This may have helped me understand what Disney was trying to do with this, but it doesn't excuse their butchering of the source material. I can only imagine how confused people who hadn't read a single word of the books would be, and I was right on the verge with them. What gets me is that, as a fairly short book, Disney could have made a perfect adaptation in a scant two hours. Instead, they decided to cram so much "sequel potential" into 95 minutes to lose focus on any of the stories they were trying to adapt simultaneously. I also understand how the movie version is inclusive of all races and genders,...
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BOOK: Autonomous (2017)

Autonomous Year: 2017 Author: Annalee Newitz Length: 627 minutes / 10.45 hours Science fiction often seeks to answer the moral and ontological questions that we’ll soon face in future technological landscapes. When I picked up Autonomous, I was expecting an examination of artificial intelligence and the ability for robots and machines to eventually become sentient. Unfortunately, that was only about half of the book that I ended up reading. The fact that there were two dueling scientific topics in this book made its message muddled, let alone misleading. It really should have been branded/titled as a book about pharmaceuticals and the patent system that holds the healthcare system hostage. While I’m sure the pharmaceutical elements of this story are accurate (at least in a fictional context), this wasn’t the reason I wanted to read Autonomous. Granted, telling two parts of the story—from the POV of the pirate chemist and from the POV of the law enforcement sent to catch her—was a good way to reveal the plot...
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BOOK: White Fragility (2018)

White Fragility Year: 2018 Author: Robin DiAngelo Length: 381 minutes / 6.35 hours With race relations as challenging as they currently are in the United States, a book like White Fragility is required reading for both opponents and allies of racial unity. Racism is a huge problem, and it’s difficult to tackle something this large without first understanding the foundation on which it was built. It can be easy to simply address the problem's symptoms instead of digging out the root and identifying where many secondary and tertiary issues originate. As a straight white male, I was first hesitant to read such a book, but now I think it should be required for all of us straight white males. The only qualm I have with this book is that it almost exclusively addresses the racism toward the black community. While I understand this is the most volatile and pressing facet of racism right now, I would have appreciated a chapter about applying the tools presented in...
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BOOK: Infernal Devices (2005)

Infernal DevicesYear: 2005Author: Philip ReeveLength: 607 minutes / 10.12 hours Wow. OK. Maybe this series isn’t for children as much as I thought it was. Sure, a post-apocalyptic world has many subjects that can be considered dark—death being the main one—but Infernal Devices certainly went all in here and pushed the ugliness of humanity to the forefront of the plot. Of course, one wonders if the POV change to focus on the progeny of the two characters who comprised the first two books is part of why the tone of this book changed so drastically. Sure, there was violence in the previous two books; it just didn’t seem so gratuitous then. Aside from all the killing, which I suppose was meant to signify Hester’s character development, there wasn’t too much new in terms of world-building in this book. I appreciated all the developments in Mortal Engines and Predator’s Gold, but the addition of the African and Middle Eastern cities didn’t expound the...
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BOOK: Predator’s Gold (2003)

Predator’s GoldYear: 2003Author: Philip ReeveLength: 580 minutes / 9.67 hours Taking place a few years after the events of Mortal Engines, I was aided somewhat in my read-through of Predator’s Gold by the fact that I didn’t have a movie to compare against. While the first book in this series helped set the stage, I felt the real story didn’t start until book two. After all, this series really is about the relationship between Hester and Tom. In Mortal Engines, they had only just met; in Predator’s Gold, we see how far they’ll go for each other, even if most of the story beats are somewhat predictable. I appreciated how thoroughly real this ridiculous concept of monstrous towns roaming the world and devouring each other seems in this book. This post-apocalyptic setting felt thought-out by adding the main setting of Anchorage and the introduction of a charlatan author who cons everyone around him for his sole benefit. So often, an additional concept...
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BOOK: Blood of Elves (1994)

Blood of Elves Year: 1994 Author: Andrzej Sapkowski Length: 655 minutes / 10.92 hours I’ll admit that I had a bit of a head start understanding the Witcher universe when I picked up this book. I’ve played a few hours of The Witcher 3 on my Switch, and I watched the first season of the show on Netflix. Would the lack of this prior knowledge have hurt my chances of understanding this high fantasy? Not likely. Arranged as a series of vignettes, Blood of Elves reveals its characters and setting based on a collection of almost everyday scenarios. While this approach made understanding the overarching goal of the series difficult to discern, it did make the characters quite a bit more realistic and relatable. When it comes down to it, this book is about its characters. Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer all stood out to me as unique and well-rounded individuals who each had their own stories to tell and plotlines to follow. And while their...
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BOOK: Ringworld (1970)

Ringworld Year: 1970 Author: Larry Niven Length: 675 minutes / 11.25 hours It can be difficult to judge a book, especially one as critically acclaimed as Ringworld, with 50 years of scientific and societal progress between when it was written and today. On the one hand, there are many scientific concepts explored in this book that we almost take for granted in modern sci-fi. On the other hand, the stink of 1970s misogyny doesn’t age very well, and this book is a prime example. Even today, sci-fi authors are still trying to dig out from the sexist tropes that books like this perpetuated throughout the genre. It’s a complicated, uphill battle, but we’re trying to be better than this. For 1970, I do have to admit that the science presented here is relatively revolutionary. Unfortunately, the descriptions were occasionally a bit dry and felt more like reading a textbook than a sci-fi adventure. I could appreciate how Niven described the indescribable scale of something as...
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BOOK: Fool Moon (2001)

Fool MoonYear: 2001Author: Jim ButcherLength: 607 minutes / 10.12 hours I haven’t read a lot of the urban fantasy genre, but series like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is what I’ve come to expect. There’s a certain amount of logic that goes into combining fantasy elements into modern settings, and—if done well—can bring a story to life. Fool Moon (a delicious play on words, if I do say so myself) continues to take the noir twist from Storm Front and applies Harry Dresden’s magical skills against werewolf foes. Perhaps Storm Front wowed me with the concept of a detective magician so much that I thought Fool Moon was slightly weaker in comparison. For starters, I felt there were too many factions to keep track of in this book. Half the time, I was trying to remember if the werewolves in question were the good guys or the bad guys. Granted, the ambiguity of the factions’ intent helped drive the plot, but they all...
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BOOK: Real Artists Don’t Starve (2017)

Real Artists Don’t Starve Year: 2017 Author: Jeff Goins Length: 346 minutes / 5.77 hours I’m a little conflicted with this book’s message, mostly because it downplays its definitions at the beginning of what an “artist” really is. It would be nice to make a living on my writing, but this book isn’t about how to do that. In fact, I’m already the artist that this book describes: someone who sells their creative hobby while pursuing it on weeknights and weekends. I have a full-time job, so my art isn’t my primary profession like the term “starving artist” is meant to invoke. Sure, there are bits of useful advice sprinkled throughout this book, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t already picked up by now. Perhaps the audience for this book is the individual who is thinking of taking a considerable risk and quitting their job to jump wholly into being an artist? Any more, the current Millennial mindset of “hustles” makes this an old way...
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BOOK: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Year: 2013 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 348 minutes / 5.80 hours It’s nice to know that Neil Gaiman can write engaging, modern fairy tales that are longer than the short story format. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a delight to read, and I can see some parallels to other famous middle-grade fantasies (the Narnia series came to mind here and was mentioned in the book). Everything about this story made sense, and the character and the world-building were top notch—which I’ve just come to expect from Gaiman’s work. Truly, he continues to be the modern fairy tale maestro. One of the unique aspects of this story was how it seamlessly integrated the magical and the mundane. So often, these types of fairy tales transition to a world of magic and leave the boring, ordinary world behind. Not so in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If anything, using the supernatural to...
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BOOK: The Dark Talent (2016)

The Dark Talent Year: 2016 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 348 minutes / 5.80 hours There’s foreshadowing; then there are five books of foreshadowing. In The Dark Talent, Brandon Sanderson starts wrapping up this amusing middle-grade series by finally reaching the part of the story that was alluded to so many books ago. While this could easily be the final book in the series, I believe there’s enough left unconcluded that another volume should be written to wrap these remaining subplots up into satisfying conclusions. By this point in the series, the Alcatraz formula has been thoroughly explored, and it almost seems to be running on autopilot*. Granted, this was after four books of character and plot development, but there’s still an amount of “been there seen that” here. I am always in awe of Brandon Sanderson’s world-building, and the Alcatraz series is no exception. Breaking into the Library of Congress was such a natural extension of the “Librarian” motif that I’m a little surprised it...
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BOOK: Leviathan Wakes (2011)

Leviathan Wakes Year: 2011 Author: James S.A. Corey Length: 1,264 minutes / 21.07 hours For years, my co-worker has been suggesting that I read the Expanse series of books. Before I finally got around to the audiobook for Leviathan Wakes, I took a slight shortcut and watched the television series on Amazon. This came in handy because I was able to pick up this book and immediately be able to visualize what was happening and who the characters were. Sure, the actors cast in the show are slightly different from their literary counterparts. Still, overall there was a lot in this book that I had already experienced with the television show. I will applaud this book for being a hard science fiction story, but not shoving the calculations in the reader’s face. Sure, The Martian did an excellent job of explaining all the scientific challenges of interplanetary travel. However, Leviathan Wakes took this a step further and created a universe that’s still controlled by the...
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BOOK: Professor Challenger – The Serpent of the Loch (2018)

Professor Challenger: The Serpent of the Loch Year: 2018 Author: Lou J Berger Length: 30 pages Some days, I wonder what amazing new stories we could read if more intellectual properties were allowed to enter the public domain. Even if there is a wealth of characters who might continue to have adventures long after their authors have passed away, we can enjoy some of these expanding stories with today’s public domain works. Case in point, this short story that adds to the lore of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger character, The Serpent of the Loch. Even if you’re not familiar with the characters Doyle created, this story is well worth your time. While I’ve only read The Lost World and was familiar with Doyle’s style via a handful of Sherlock Holmes stories, I can say that Berger has done well to replicate the former author’s style. There were plenty of moments where I had to remind myself that this was written almost a century...
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BOOK: Shakespeare’s Sonnets – Abridged (2018)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2018 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 101 pages The third (and currently last) book in Zach Weinersmith’s “Abridged” series, Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness is by far the best of the set. While Holy Bible: Abridged was quite rough, and Science: Abridged showed promise, Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Abridged is wholly focused on its subject matter—and it shows. To top everything off, Weinersmith cleverly sums up each of Shakespeare’s sonnets in his own rhyming couplet, adding to the overall experience and maintaining some semblance of the poetry involved with the source material. If anything, reading all the truncated sonnets together helped paint the picture of what Shakespeare was trying to accomplish. Having never delved into Shakespeare’s Sonnets before, this book was a handy summary of the different “phases” of these poems. Adding context to the flowery language helped to paint a much different picture than most people consider when thinking about Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This book was...
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BOOK: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (2010)

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains Year: 2010 Author: Neil Gaiman Length: 83 minutes / 1.38 hours As I’d realized in previous works of Neil Gaiman’s that I’ve read, he excels at (at least) two things: short stories and fairy tales. One could argue that the latter is a subset of the former, but longer works like Stardust cause me to separate the distinction. Perhaps this book was made all the more magical by its audiobook production. Not only did the author himself read it, but it was accompanied with some great atmospheric music to enhance the mood produced by Gaiman’s words. I missed the illustrations this book sports, but I think the words can speak for themselves. In terms of a fairy tale, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains manages to contain the usual flare of morality and truth against a backdrop of riches and mysterious wonder. I’m almost surprised there aren’t more authors writing modern fairy tales...
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BOOK: Science – Abridged (2017)

Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2017 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 60 pages Another in Zach Weinersmith’s “Abridged” series, Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness is another tongue-in-cheek examination of topics that require much more than a few witty summations to understand completely. Unfortunately, much like his Nerd Disses book, only those who have extensively studied all of these scientific disciplines will understand every joke. As an engineer, I could understand a lot of the humor here, but even I was ignorant of some of the more obscure (or more social) sciences. That being said, he nailed the abridged version of engineering, which makes me think the other sciences received the same treatment. While not nearly as borderline sacrilegious as The Holy Bible: Abridged, Science: Abridged does get its cheap shots in where it can. I’m sure those who extensively study these sciences will laugh at the sardonic tidbits contained in this book, understanding how ridiculous their chosen field may appear at...
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BOOK: The Holy Bible-Abridged (2015)

The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness Year: 2015 Author: Zach Weinersmith Length: 72 pages Satire is a fine line between comedy and offense. While I can't fault The Holy Bible: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness for being precisely what it says—abridged beyond the point of usefulness—there's definitely a bias present in its scant 72 pages. I can take a joke about my faith pretty well, mostly because I understand the reference being made and can identify what's funny about it. Sure, The Holy Bible: Abridged has a few amusing bits in it, but there are almost too many portions that feel too irreverent to be funny. The Bible is a long book, and I know most people probably haven't read through the entire thing. This book tries to remedy this situation by providing a brief comedic sentence about each book in the Bible. Sure, it gets the point across quite succinctly sometimes, but it misses the point in many of its...
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BOOK: 2^7 Nerd Disses (2013)

2⁷ Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect Year: 2013 Author: Zach Weinersmith and Philip Plait Length: 31 pages Have you ever been in an argument and had a stinging zinger of a remark that would have left the other party completely devastated? I’m sure plenty of socially-awkward nerds have been in this situation, which is probably why this book exists in the first place. 27 Nerd Disses is a small collection of witty comebacks that cover a variety of brainy topics. From economics to mathematics, all 128 of these insults require some amount of knowledge of their source material to get the joke they’re trying to make. Unfortunately, this book contains some knowledge at levels higher than a basic college education. While I understood a good majority of the nerdy references in this book, the parts of these disses that I had trouble with were the references that the uncultured masses were likely comparing these heady subjects to. This ends up being the problematic...
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BOOK: Peter Pan (1911)

Peter Pan Year: 1911 Author: J.M. Barrie Length: 302 minutes / 5.03 hours I didn't grow up with Peter Pan as a child. The fact that I'm reviewing this book when I'm 34 merely highlights this oversight. I didn't even get into this story through the animated Disney version. Again, another oversight. About the only reason I know anything about Peter Pan is through the 1991 movie Hook—which I remember quite fondly. At this point, finally getting around to reading the source material was refreshing even if I already picked up most of the pop culture references this book inspired. While I didn't grow up with Peter Pan, I can see its merit. I'll probably even read it to my daughter when she's old enough to understand it. What's perhaps the most notable quality of this book is how its randomness almost makes sense. Do you know how kids make stuff up but have a logical sense about their creations? Well, Peter Pan has plenty...
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BOOK: Red Rising (2014)

Red RisingYear: 2014Author: Pierce BrownLength: 400 pages It is difficult to review a book like Red Rising without noting the heavy comparisons to The Hunger Games. Perhaps this speaks to the strength of The Hunger Games’ format, but there are almost too many parallels to ignore. Dystopian class-separated society? Check. A skilled lower-class individual who defies the odds? Check. Violence and a romantic subplot? Check and check. About the only difference between the two is that Red Rising takes place on Mars and over a few years instead of a week or so. Of course, it’s hard to tell the timespan since important details always seem to be missing from the first-person narrative. If anything, I’d peg Red Rising as the gritty, over-violent, and over-sexualized version of The Hunger Games. If The Hunger Games appeals to girls and women, Red Rising should appeal to boys and men. A lot of the content in this book felt a bit over the top and...
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BOOK: Cartwright’s Cavaliers (2016)

Cartwright’s Cavaliers Year: 2016 Author: Mark Wandrey Length: 473 pages I don’t generally read military sci-fi, but I picked this book up for free and thought I’d give it a try. Cartwright’s Cavaliers certainly has its strengths. The action sequences are well-described, and the origin story of the main character was a unique setup that seems like it would be uncommon in the military sci-fi genre. That being said, Cartwright’s Cavaliers has a strong start but bumbles along to the point of being cringe-inducing by the end. It’s unfortunate, considering how it could have been better if it had stuck to some of the more common tropes of the genre instead of focusing on a (mostly) unlikeable protagonist. Aside from a sprinkling of typos and proofreading errors, my main qualm with this book is the main character: Jim Cartwright. About one-third of the way through the book, he is revealed to be a fan of an animated series that was popular with men of his...
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BOOK: The Final Empire (2006)

The Final Empire Year: 2006 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 1,480 minutes / 24.67 hours Having already read a few of Brandon Sanderson’s later works, I knew I eventually wanted to tackle his Mistborn series. While he has a consistent style that makes his world-building a bit predictable, the concise nature of his magic systems and fantastically-written fight sequences deliver time and time again. After all, if it works, why change anything? In The Final Empire, the source of the magical superpowers is a set of metals utilized by “allomancers,” much like color was for Warbreaker and the energy of storms for The Way of Kings. I’m always in awe of the complexity of his magic systems, but with such simple concepts that I wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” If Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings is the standard for high fantasy and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is the baseline for “realistic” fantasy, I can already tell that Sanderson’s...
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BOOK: Breach (2018)

BreachYear: 2018Author: W.L. GoodwaterLength: 368 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** It’s always interesting to see an alternate take on history where fantastical elements can help explain some mostly banal events and activities. In Breach, the reader is offered a glimpse into the top-secret realm of magicians in military espionage. Most of my knowledge of Cold War Berlin is based on pop culture representations, so there wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary here that would scream of historical inaccuracies. If anything, Breach almost felt like it could have been an extension of the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise with how well it integrated history and magic. While there was perhaps a bit too much browbeating over women’s role in society during the Cold War, the pacing, twists, and characters were excellent. It was a little difficult to tell the timeframe of this book, but I assumed it was probably in an alternate 1950s, based on the context clues. Of course, with the pacing of a...
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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: 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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