Category Archives: Book Reviews

What I’m Reading 1.13.17

Getting into 2017 and the reading binge continues.

It has slowed just a bit as I’m in one book I’m not as excited about but need to finish and work has picked up a bit. For reading, at least, it was a good and productive break.

Again, all of these came from local library but the links are to Amazon. My next post may be about how much I love the library.

My next editing/revising project is a Young Adult novel, so I got online and researched some more recent YA novels that were supposed to be good. Then I switched to a novel suggested by my brother in law.

 

Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

This is not a YA novel. I was in the middle of reading it during my last post, so posting it here.

This is a Lynley novel, of which there have been several. Lynley is a Scotland Yard detective and so these are crime/mystery type novels. This is the first I’ve read, so I played catch up a little with the characters … kind of like starting to watch friends on season 8. Lot of stuff happened before this.

George is British, so her writing takes its time to a degree. The story was solid, and while parts lagged, the writing was excellent and drew you along enough until you really had to know who the murderer was. The story was pretty disturbing, which is a theme among these “adult” books. Not sure why so many have to possess these disturbing elements of sexual abuse. I know things happen that are tragic and disturbing, but it seems like a prerequisite to “good” modern writing. Doesn’t have to be. Seems to be overused at times, and that lessens its impact. Just a thought.

Back to the novel, however, the mystery ending was satisfying and wrapped up nicely. Recommended and I could see reading other novels by her.

 

And I Darken by Keirsten White

The first of the YA novels I read, And I Darken is re-imagining the “Vlad the Impaler” history as if he were a woman. It begins with Lada’s birth and continues through her teen years, her education and training and first love. This one also lagged in parts, although White isn’t British, and while I liked the concept, not sure I’ll read the next books in the series, of which this is the first. It was interesting but not as fully realized as I would have liked.

 

Riders by Veronica Rossi

What if you found out you were one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse? Gideon does and the drama ensues.

The references to actual Revelation and the Four Horsemen are few, so that was a little disappointing. They’re really heroes and out to save the world, not signify its doom? Not compelling. I give Rossi a little credit for at least mentioning that if the Four Horsemen exist, then so must God, but it’s not explored enough for the context, in my opinion.

The story moves quickly, and it is something I need to do a better job with … keeping the story moving from one crisis to another. The characters are a little forced in their diversity. I liked the setup a great deal, but again, would have loved better development on some themes. Ending was slightly awkward.

 

Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan

Right off the bat – I loved this book.

It also did a great job keeping the story moving from crisis to crisis with little twists and turns that kept it interesting. The setup: Max is an average high school kid with few friends and less motivation in life. He loves heist movies like Ocean’s 11 and gets drawn into a world of elaborate high school pranks. Dinan is a first time author and an English teacher of 20 years, so his perspective and expertise shine throughout. It is told through the eyes of Max, but the quirks of high school life are real and vivid. The voice is well done. The pranks are hilarious. Everything about this book is great. Highly recommended for YA.

 

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

This book was interesting. Nix is a girl on a ship. Her father is the Captain, and the boat can sail to different times and places if they have a certain kind of map. Her father is trying to get back to his wife, Nix’s mother, to save her from death, and this alienates Nix. The novel is about the search and its consequences between Nix and her father.

Again, I loved the setup (one of the reasons I chose this book out of the big YA lists), but it could have been better explained and developed. I liked Nix and some of the other characters. I would have enjoyed a bit more explanation about how the time traveling ship worked, and some of the time manipulation stuff wasn’t as clear as it should be. The ending was good, but it didn’t have the impact it wanted to have since we weren’t led to it well, for me.

 

My Struggle Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Based on a suggestion by my brother in law, I started this series. The reviews claim it is revolutionary writing, and I’ve heard about the book before. I’ll try to be brief in my summation and thoughts, but there is a lot to digest.

Remember how Seinfeld was this well written sitcom about nothing? And how they even made fun of it in later seasons how the show as about nothing, just everyday life sort of things? Same concept, except instead of an American sitcom, think a European high literature novel and that’s what you’ve got with My Struggle.

What I liked: I loved the beginning. While the book is a stream of consciousness kind of thing, the first few pages of discussion on death and life were insightful and set up the rest of the book perfectly. The writing is amazing, and part of the credit must go to the translator (the writer is Norwegian), Dan Barlett. His recollections of his father’s death are heartbreaking and brutal. He is transparent and honest, at least appears to be so, about his feelings and inner thoughts.

As others have noted, his writing meanders, and his descriptions can be painful. The meandering can have its charm. The lack of chapters and organization seems more pretentious than effective or genius. While it reads like an autobiography, the book is listed under fiction, and it probably should be. Some events are too detailed to be true and real, however “real” the emotions might be.

It is controversial for a couple reasons, mainly the title is the same as Hitler’s Mein Kampf, My Struggle, and his unfettered honesty ruffles feathers, as it usually does. Obviously, it is thought provoking, which has its value, as well.

I’m mostly through with the second book. Not as impressed, overall. The first book, however, is worth a recommendation.

 

So out of all these books, what did I learn? Most or all of the YA novels were in first person, and the better ones had great voice and the story moved well from crisis to crisis.

Banquet of Consequences and Knausgaard both showed, on the other hand, how taking time and exploring the emotions and meaning of a single scene or event can have value, as well. For Knausgaard, the subjective honesty he is so bold about is one of the reasons we like to read, seeing into the thoughts and motivations of another, even if they are not so pretty or pure. We identify with that, and as a writer, I should have that as part of the arsenal of writing skills. Well placed, it can be very effective.

Peace.

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What I’ve Been Reading 12.15.16

I finished the rough draft of The Fire Reborn on Nov. 11.

And then I started reading again.

I read before. A book here or there, articles, kept up with my Bible reading. But I was so immersed into The Fire Reborn that and busy with other things that I couldn’t find that time to really read. And I love to read.

If you’re going to be a writer, you must read. Any writer worth anything loves to read. But as I’ve said before, if I want to improve as a writer, I can’t read for pleasure alone. To grow as a writer, I have to expose myself to different authors and genres, quality material to use as a standard and guide.

So I began to read. I did, however, begin with a couple books by favorite authors in fantasy/scifi, but I asked writer friends for suggestions and researched some lists of top books from 2015 or 2016, all so much easier now with the internet than it was twenty years ago. And then I went online to the library and requested some books. Some quick reviews.

Links are for Amazon, but all found at local library, as well.

Calamity by Brian Sanderson

The third book in the Reckoners series that began with Steelheart by one of my favorite authors, if not my favorite. They are YA novels and have some great pace. The basic setup is that this weird star appears in the sky and some people begin to get superpowers but they use them for evil. Superheroes are the bad guys. Overall imaginative, as Sanderson usually is, although the ending was a tad disappointing. Recommended for those that like scifi and YA.

Vengeance of the Iron Dwarf by RA Salvatore

I really like the Drizzt character from RA Salvatore. Got into Salvatore through some episodic Star Wars novels, and I enjoyed them. After checking out a book that looked cool from him fifteen years ago, I got into the whole Drizzt story and his friends and have read most of those books. The newer books aren’t as well put together as the older ones, in my opinion, but I enjoyed them. For those new to Salvatore and Drizzt, I’d go back and start from the beginning.

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

I read the first five Grisham novels, my favorite still being A Time to Kill, his first written book. Rogue Lawyer is about a lawyer (shocking, I know) that takes on cases no one wants to take, defending in a semi-noble way the accused who might not get a fair trial otherwise. He is a shady character with his own issues but an idealist who fights for justice as much as possible, even if it puts him in danger from the police and others who want speedy justice for those they assume are guilty. It was an interesting book and read quick. There was some of the “police are mostly corrupt” agenda that was somewhat necessary to the story and his character but got a little preachy at times. A good book, though. Recommended.

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

Another from a list online. Sounded interesting. Told from the point of view of an autistic man who has lived in this special needs community for a few decades. The overall story was good, but the way Gottlieb told events from the autistic perspective was really well done. Recommended.

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

Another one with a unique point of view in the story, Delicious Foods is about a young man and his mother. She is a widower who has become addicted to crack cocaine. Part of the story is told from the point of view of the drug, crack cocaine, and it is well done. The story gets sad and disturbing, which isn’t surprising, and the conclusion is odd, but a well done book overall. Recommended if you can deal with some disturbing parts.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This one was recommended by a friend and another one from the viewpoint of an autistic character, but this is a teenager. The point of view was also well done and the story was better. The boy finds a dog killed across the street, and since he loves mysteries like Sherlock Holmes, he decides to try and solve the mystery. In the process, he uncovers secrets and lies. The arguments for atheism are immature at best, and unfortunately show the author’s bent more than exploring the thoughts of the main character, but that’s a minor thing. And there’s a play? I’d love to see the play. Highly recommended, for sure.

I am now three fourths of the way through A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George, and I have a stack of YA novels from the library to tackle next. Fun Christmas break!

Peace.

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Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – Book Review

ancillary justiceBased on another recommendation, I picked up Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

Ancillary Justice is about a former warship Artificial Intelligence that is now trapped in a human body and looking for revenge.

This is good sci fi. An interesting idea and well written story. As it went, the gender pronouns were screwy. Not explained right away, but the main society in Ancillary Justice is gender neutral, but that meant every person was a “she”. It was confusing enough – and not really necessary – that I almost put the book down. But the story intrigued me, and the writing was good. I’m glad I kept reading. I enjoyed it and ignored the gender designations, which was probably the point. Or not. I just ignored it.

The story comes to a satisfying resolution. For a “first novel,” it is a great book and I highly recommend it. More of a college, adult fare, but a great book.

Peace.

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Hyperion by Dan Simmons – Book Review

Hyperion_coverBeen reading more lately, which is good. After starting one hard sci-fi book that didn’t really grip me (Blindsight by Peter Watts … meh), I put that book down and started Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

Really a phenomenal book. Obviously, it won a Hugo, so it should be good at something, but the writing was well crafted with different voices and characters. The overall story takes its time to develop, but it doesn’t bore the reader along the way.

Think of Hyperion as a Caterbury Tales in space. Every character represents some part of the world Simmons has developed, and their individual stories are engaging and creative. The characters were crude and graphic and heartbreaking when it fit.

A partial spoiler: the book ends with a “to be continued.” While there was a moment of frustration since I wanted the story to come to a resolution, the writing and structure of the book alone was worth the time and effort to get through the novel.

More of an “adult” oriented book, but other than the non-resolution at the end, I highly recommend the book.

Peace.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Book Review

readyplayeroneReady Player One is a semi-dystopian sci-fi novel by Ernest Cline.

My interest in the book came from a list online of books as I researched some new novels to check out. It looked interesting, but my interest grew as I learned Spielberg is making the movie.

Wade is a young man living in a future where poverty has increased, as has people’s connection to a virtual world, called OASIS. The creator of this virtual, internet world died and placed a contest within OASIS, and whoever finds the keys and the eggs within the world that he hid, they would win ownership of the multi-billion dollar virtual world.

As you can imagine, Wade becomes central in finding the keys and eggs and the great reward.

The creator of OASIS was deep into the 80’s pop culture – movies, games, TV shows, music, etc, so the hints are connected to things from the 80’s.

The book is well written, has great pacing, and an engaging story. The characters are full and realized. As it says on the novel’s cover, it is derivative of Willy Wonka and the Matrix, and takes the best from both.

A huge amount of the novel’s charm is the 80’s references, both popular and obscure. As a child of the 80’s myself, I could tell Cline either did amazing research or is an 80’s pop culture geek himself … or both. I’m not sure how people not raised in the 80’s would appreciate, but that era was so iconic, it is a big selling point.

While the book won an award for Young Adult, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone younger than high school for some of the language and themes. But overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I highly recommend it.

Peace.

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Book Review

gracelingRooting around on the internet one day, I came across a post that included suggestions for those who liked the Harry Potter series. My son, at 9 years old, has read the whole series and a couple of the books more than once. So I read through the article with him in mind. While it was not a list for kids only, a couple of the books caught my interest.

One of them was a book called Graceling by Kristin Cashore. First of all, I loved the title, a little jealous of the title, to be honest. Second, it appeared to be more of a YA title, so it had some potential for my son. I picked it up from the library and read it.

In the story of Graceling, Katsa is a member of the royal family of one of seven kingdoms. She is a Graceling, which means she has a special power or ability, called a Grace. Katsa’s Grace is fighting, and while society looks down on her and sees her as dangerous, she is used by he uncle, the king, as a thug. Into the story, she comes into contact with another prince with a Grace, and they become friends as they attempt to unravel a royal kidnapping among the kingdoms.

For a first novel, Cashore writes well, and the “magic” system in the fantasy realm is well thought out. The world itself is well imagined and has a lot of potential. The characters are good, especially Katsa, and we quickly cheer for the heroes of the story.

Overall, the story was average. I liked the villain, but I could have used a little more background on him to fill out the story and better define our heroes. For the world, we see some of the medieval politics and society, but what about religion? Some inclusion of religious beliefs would have made the world more believable and rich.

As a YA novel, the language was clean and not a lot of violence, but there are some sexual situations that I would not suggest for middle schoolers, necessarily. Parents should use their own discretion, as usual.

While it was a good book, I would not highly recommend it, especially not over some other modern fantasy. But if you’re looking for something new with potential, check it out.

Peace.

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Review of The Story of St. Catrick by Robby Charters

story of st. catrickCatrick is a professor at the university. After being saved and cared for by a mouse family, Catrick, a cat, begins to question the abuses of the cat community and their authority over rodent-kind and canines. From there he must struggle with his own philosophy and ideals to decide what is best for all.

As I started this book, I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. This is not your standard fantasy fare, and after seeing the style of writing and that the characters are talking animals, I wasn’t sure whether this book was for kids or not.

While there is nothing graphic in the book, either language or otherwise, this is not a kids book. Charters has created a world of allegory where races of people are represented by animals – namely felines, rodents, and canines. Within this world, Charters addresses sociopolitical thought and racial unrest by playing on the differences between the different animals and their “natural” animosity towards each other. Taking from colonial issues, European history, and the American Civil Rights Movement, Charters brings in aspects and combines them in an interesting way.
Given all of those aspects, Catrick, the main character, comes to a unique conclusion, one that is idealistic and yet inspiring in its simple faith.

The writing is at times charming and funny, and the solution of simple yet powerful faith is a clear guide throughout. Some of the names and comments twisted to animal type names were well done (i.e. St. Catrick like St. Patrick).

I read a lot of fantasy, and a lot of fiction, and Charters has done something unique. So unique that it is difficult for me to recommend to any specific audience … other than those looking for something refreshingly original.

Purchase Story of St. Catrick here.

Peace.

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