Category Archives: Book Reviews

Goodreads Quick Review: Broken Strings

Broken Strings
Broken Strings by Nancy Means Wright
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Intrepid everyday heroine Fay Hubbard pursues the elusive Skull-Man, out to murder the puppeteer group for performing offbeat endings to popular children’s stories. Every time she gets close to finding the killer out, another twist or murder throws a wrench into the mystery. Hubbard also has three foster children and a beloved goat, but of course she doesn’t mind putting them all at risk while she pursues a ruthless killer with her desire for truth and justice.

In other words, this is your bog standard murder mystery novel. The gimmick here is that puppets are involved! A puppet-sty;e killer *should* make for a (horrifyingly) cool mystery, but the magic of puppeteering is constantly muddled by a diverse, yet unnecessarily large ensemble cast competing for screen time. Wright clearly demonstrates the ability to write complex characters, a key formula in murder mysteries. Unfortunately, there are simply too many character strings attached to the intrepid detective.

I really wanted to like this book, and I saw a lot of great potential with the puppet mystery. But complex characters are not always interesting, and I struggled through to the end hoping for a satisfying twist that never occurred.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Mass Effect: Ascension

Mass Effect: Ascension
Mass Effect: Ascension by Drew Karpyshyn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whereas Mass Effect: Revelation established itself as an effective prequel to the video game trilogy, the second entry into the series falls squarely into side-story territory. Although Mass Effect: Ascension provides an effective introduction to the Illusive Man and the Quarian’s Migrant Fleet, both playing major rules in Mass Effect 2 and 3, no big steps are made to advance the plot of the games. A sensible decision, considering the myriad choices that can influence and shape each run through the games. Establishing the smallest ripple of canon through these choices would create a tidal-wave of fan outcry over say, the fate of the council after the Citadel invasion. Even the name of Shepard is avoided, perhaps to avoid accidentally assigning the hero a canon gender or any physical details.

With many potential story branches to avoid tripping over, the novel wisely continues the story of a 1st novel-exclusive character Kahlee Sanders (Anderson at this point is too ingrained in the games to be usable in a novel). This time around, Kahlee is putting her alliance background towards training purposes, as she helps an autistic biotic girl who, go figure, happens to be Cerberus’ little biotic pet project. Naturally Kahlee doesn’t want this sweet innocent girl to become a pawn of an evil human supremacy group, and what follows is a pretty standard run away from bad guys adventure.

While the first novel had the benefit of opening readers to the wonderful universe of Mass Effect, by this point the reader is virtually required to be a Mass Effect fan, as major plot points from the first game are briefly mentioned in passing with little context. Yet this provides one of the more endearing benefits of the novel. Great detail is taken to avoid inconsistencies with the rest of the Mass Effect universe, and the attention to even the smallest of species notes makes it clear that the Mass Effect creators played an active role in the development of the story.

Although Mass Effect: Ascension will only appeal to bibliophilic Mass Effect fans, they will be rewarded with a decently written science fiction adventure which earns its spot in the franchise.

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Goodreads Quick Review: The Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage Describing Modern Manners and Customs of Courtship and Marriage

The Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage Describing Modern Manners and Customs of Courtship and Marriage, and Giving Full Details Regarding the
The Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage Describing Modern Manners and Customs of Courtship and Marriage by G.R.M. Devereux
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I came across this little piece while browsing wedding-planning tips on my Kindle. The book fancies itself a modern-day guide for the bride and groom (with a slight preference directed at the former) written by someone who grew up writing with the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen. Put simply, this a wedding planner designed like a 200-Level English Literature survey-style college course.

Tips are given throughout every phase of the engagement, from the proposal to after-wedding advice. A few sections also cover weddings in other countries which, although interesting, tend to slow down the narrative. Including the international tips in a separate appendix at the end of the book would have worked much better.

Although written with a British audience in mind, a good amount of the material applies equally well to American audiences. Unfortunately, if you won’t touch Pride and Prejudice with a 10-foot pole you may find the flowery wording too difficult to follow. The writer clearly holds some knowledge about the marriage process, and this knowledge is dispensed with thought-provoking quotes certain to cause debate in book clubs everywhere.

For the low cost of $0 it was a nice quick read (just over 100 pages), but I wouldn’t recommend shelling out shillings for it.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this tribute to all things 80’s, Wade, an everyday soon to graduate high school geek living in a dystopian world (albeit somewhat light for a dystopian setting), plunges into a virtual reality MMORPG that is literally the single most popular thing on the planet. Aided on and off by a small group of online users he doesn’t truly know (or know to trust), he fights an evil corporation and attempts to solve a reality bending puzzle devised by the game’s dead creator, who was a bit…eccentric. Oh and naturally enough power to alter the world lies in the balance.

Yes, this is a review of Ready Player One, not Dot Hack. Unlike Dot Hack, the plot here makes sense.

As is typical for dystopian fiction, an inordinate amount of time is spent establishing just how terrible the world has become. The book starts off slow and sluggish, perhaps intentionally slow given the overall theme. Stick with it though, as once Wade navigates a replica of the classic Dungeons & Dragons Tomb of Horror’s module and duels the demilich within to the classic arcade game Joust (complete with original game cabinet) the book zooms right along and rarely loses momentum.

No seriously, that actually happens, and that’s only about a quarter of the way into the book (pun intended). Insert more quarters to continue, for the plot only gets crazier from there. I don’t want to say much more due to spoilers but I will give praise to one of the more creative uses of giant monster fights. Pacific Rim was child’s play compared to what happens later on.

One more coin pun: the last quarter of the book is very well done. You’ll have a hard time putting it down at the final stretch.

Don’t worry niner kids and beyond, most of the constant 80’s references are immediately explained. Given their importance to the plot and the sharp writing, these references never get distracting, and there are plenty of unexplained 80’s easter eggs for the keen reader to spot.

You can judge a good book based on how seamlessly you can picture the world you dive into. Get lost in the Oasis, you won’t be disappointed. As for me? I’ll be truly disappointed if there is no sequel.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Mass Effect: Revelation

Mass Effect: Revelation
Mass Effect: Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mass Effect: Revelation was released before the first Mass Effect game came out, and appropriately so. This novel provides an excellent introduction to the Mass Effect universe, and I highly recommend reading it before starting the games. Although you won’t really miss anything if you skip the novel, conversations in-game with Anderson pretty much spoil the plot of this book. The book also provides a great deal of backstory for both Anderson and Saren, two notable characters in the Mass Effect universe.

On the bright side, this novel provides a shining beacon of hope for video game novels. Proof that they can be written well anyway, as most hold poor writing quality. If I were to rate this book in comparison to all video game novels I would give it a perfect 5 stars. However I am judging this book based on its merits in the sci-fi genre. A perfectly serviceable entry, but nothing truly noteworthy.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Making Money

Making Money
Making Money by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout the middle of the story, protagonist Moist Von Lipwig constantly remarks “I don’t want to deal with (X Problem); I want to go back to making money!” Moist himself appears to lament the issue of too many subplots overtaking the main story. Yet the problem is a catch-22, for if Moist were allowed to simply focus on his original goal, to make money using his paper currency gambit, the entire narration would be all too similar to his previous adventure in Going Postal. Add to the troubles an overly bombastic villain whose personality dooms him from the beginning, and it is all too easy to see why Corporal Nobbs cannot get a bet against Moist winning.

Speaking of the City Watch, Pratchett has all but yielded to the fact that he simply cannot keep the City Watch out of any Anhk-Morpork-based story. Although their presence is significantly higher as the crimes get more noticeable, the Watch once again manages to avoid stealing the spotlight. Pratchet deserves credit for subtly introducing the mannerisms of his Watch characters to new readers in such a way that veterans avoid growing bored at the umpteenth re-introduction.

Just as Vimes proved himself to Vetinari way back in Guards! Guards!, so did Moist prove himself back in Going Postal. As another favorite chess piece of Vetinari, the outcome is inevitable. As is the case in similar Discworld books, the journey, not the destination provides the hilarious fun and thrills. So where can Moist go from here? Who knows? Maybe one day he will be tasked with running the entire city. A very possible outcome, if something happens to Vetinari and Carrot declines his birthright.

Vetinari remarks at the climax of the book that killing Moist would solve all of his immediate problems. Fortunately for Moist, the magnificent mastermind Vetinari always thinks ahead and knows how to milk a person for all he’s worth. Fortunate as well for the reader, as this means another Moist adventure will be waiting in the wings.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Storm Front

Storm Front
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Believe it or not I have never read The Dresden files. Rest assured I am now working on correcting this oddity. In any event, my only complaint about this book was that it was over too quickly. Seriously, this is probably the fastest 300 page book I’ve ever read.

Ok, I should add a few more words. Stormfront combines my two favorite things in one novel: well thought out magic and the noir style. That’s not something you usually see at the same time. Dresden is a cynical, powerful man out to clear his name. Yet despite the power Dresden possesses, he never once ventures into sue-mode territory. Dresden is plenty capable of both kicking ass and getting his ass kicked. Usually the former happens right after the latter. Magic aside, it’s almost too…human. Hopefully in future novels Dresden will remember to keep a better grip on his staff and various other magical implements.

A common complaint I have about the first novel in any series is the lack of a fleshed-out world. To this end, I argue that you should frequently start your protagonist around the middle of his career. It gives the writer two directions in time to work with instead of just one. The best writers bring the reader into a well-developed world right off the first page, and the reader is so carefully introduced that he/she is never confused. It is clear that Butcher spent a great deal of time fleshing out his world, his characters and the overall plot arc long before this book hit shelves. Signature noir introduction of Dresden’s business aside, it would be easy to mistake this book for the third or fourth entry into the series. The characters and setting are that well detailed, while never confusing the reader.

So The Dresden Files and Discworld will now be competing for reading time in the near future. I have a lot of catching up to do with both.

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