Category Archives: Book Reviews

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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Goodreads Quick Review: Going Postal

Going Postal
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

33 books in, and Pratchett continues to breath new life into his epic fantasy world with a new main character – Moist Von Lipwig. Moist is a delightfully human character, complete with token flaws and inner struggles to overcome. Recurring character Vetinari also makes a big appearance, and the Ankh-Morpork leader is on top of his game this time around.

Unfortunately for Moist, the plot doesn’t give him enough room to really work his character. While there are plenty of awesome moments to enjoy, the overall story suffers from uneven pacing and oddly placed fluff. To be fair, Pratchett is working with a new character, and the plot oddities never distract the reader too long. Forced cameos also pop in and out to help support Moist, who is interesting enough without these random appearances…yes we know everyone loves the Watch, but several times they show up in this book (with none of their personality) to be “Hey! It’s me, Carrot!”

Going Postal gives readers hope for more fresh and innovative Discworld adventures. Pratchett just needs a few more books to give Moist a chance to stretch his legs.

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The Blood That Bonds Book Review

Title: The Blood That Bonds

Author: Christopher Buecheler

Scope: Paranormal (vampire) romance/thriller.

In the midst of Twilight-copiers out there, it is very refreshing to finally read a book that does not turn the vampire genre into an overly dumbed-down romanticized mess. Don’t get me wrong, The Blood That Bonds is very much a romance novel with a good blend of thriller elements. However what you have here is a far more serious, complex story than the silly little Bella/Edward romance that tweens everywhere adore. This is Twilight for adults.

Ironically, at its core, The Blood That Bonds is actually rather similar to Twilight. Theroen (punny name, as you’ll soon see upon reading) vampire living for hundreds of years somehow falls in love with Two, a 19 year old prostitute enslaved by heroin (okay that’s not like Twilight) and complications arise. What makes this better than Twilight is that the author clearly has a much better grasp of how to write a compelling romance novel than Meyer and it shows in the writing. This is particularly true in the characters. In the Twilight series, characters come and go, attached at the hip to the Bella/Edward romance. Most characters only have as much importance as the main romance allows, and are otherwise pretty shallow outside of some backstory that may or may not actually be relevant. In The Blood That Bonds, every character, even the minor ones, evoke very strong emotions. You will love some, despise others, you will hold active interest in everyone’s fate, not just that of Two/Theroen.

Do not worry, there is still plenty enough romance to go around, but there is also more, so much more. It is cruelly realistic (ironic word choice I know) in its romantic storytelling. Although some obvious tropes are employed, the story remain fresh enough to keep you turning the pages until the very end. Buecheler does a great job of creating a deep vampire society with all sorts of varied clans that is only touched upon in this novel. That is part of the beauty of it though, as you can tell throughout the story that Buecheler wrote this book intending it to be the first in a series. He wrote it with clear awareness of what he wants to reveal now and save until later, as opposed to developing it as he continues the series. Although a degree of resolution is reached by the end of the novel, there are plenty enough questions that will leave you eager to continue reading.

Like I said, this novel is Twilight for adults. As such, I cannot easily recommend this one to the tweenage fangirl crowd. Foul-language is abound in this novel, including plenty of uses of the F-word. Prostitution and addictive drug-use serves as a backstory for a few characters, including the main heroine (pun intended) and there are explicit references to all of this happening to a 12-year old girl as well. Suffice to say the beginning of this novel is not a pretty sight to behold in terms of rough times, consider yourself warned. That aside, I highly recommend this novel for young adults and older folk who thought Twilight was pretty good but want something more serious, and likewise for the Twilight-haters that who want to sink their teeth into a good vampire romance.

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Childhood Books, Childhood Memories

I’ve decided to try a few new things out. I won’t give out any details…yet, but it will be interesting to see where these things go, if anywhere.

In the meantime I’ve been doing some Spring Cleaning, and in the process came across a bunch of books from my childhood years. I read even more when I was a kid than I do today, so naturally I had a lot of books stored! Applegate, Bruce Coville, lots of good authors gained my interest as a child of the 90’s. Glancing through them all brought back some fond memories, both of the book itself and the times in my life when I read them. Unfortunately they are taking up too much space so I will probably end up donating them to a local book charity in Baltimore. I feel a bit bad about doing so, like I’m giving up part of my childhood with these books, but if kids out there will read them one day and experience the same joy as I did as a kid, it will definitely be worth it. 🙂

I’ll be posting another book review this weekend. Roseflower Creek was a dark read, but oh so powerful.

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Book Reviews!

Movie reviews were an old staple of my blog, and although I still watch lots of movies, I find myself reading books more. Especially now that I have a Kindle and 10,000 free and equally interesting books to read. I’ll still be putting up movie reviews from time to time, but expect to see book reviews making an appearance as well.

As with movie reviews, I write book reviews with the intended audience in mind. Will romantics like this romance novel? Will young adults appreciate this young adult novel? I try to maintain a specific focus with my reviews because reviewing a book or movie with everyone’s interests in mind is clearly impossible. No single movie or book exists in this universe that virtually everyone likes, after all.

Anyway, I have a lot of books on my “Finished Reading” list to get to, so tomorrow night I’ll start posting reviews for some YA literature I checked out. Why am I reading YA literature you might ask? It’s the librarian in me – I read everything. 😉

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Twilight Book Review

I folded the letter carefully, and sealed it in the envelope. Eventually he would find it. I only hoped he would understand, and listen to me just this once. And then I carefully sealed away my heart.

-Bella

*Warning: The following review contains super-mega spoilers for the first Twilight novel. Failure to heed this warning will result in me sicking Jasper upon you.

I knew going into this review that this would be a hard book to rate. Part of the reason involves the subject manner. Romance novels aren’t exactly my forte I’ll admit, but being an English Major has forced me to read stories that have forced me to develop an open mind about plots that would drive most people
insane. The other reason is that Twilight is the introductory novel of a major series. As with other major series the first book mainly serves the purpose of introducing the major players, and then throwing in a conflict at the end just to keep things interesting. Twilight is no exception to this rule. Still, it is possible to have a first book in a series be unbelievably epic, so does Twilight fit this bill?

I promised myself I would be completely honest in this review, so I have to admit that in beginning the novel, the answer was a resounding no. The beginning chapters weren’t necessarily bad per-say; they just lacked the all-star quality that I would think makes the book so popular. However, in progressing through the chapters I realized that Bella’s otherwise normal teenage anxiety and accounts of high school drama were done for good reason. Yes, most of the characters that appear are pretty uneventful and static, yet they all serve the main purpose of helping connect Bella to that strange and mysterious Edward Cullen. Whenever one of the guys fails at asking her to the dance, Edward is right there to provide a moment of connection. When Bella nearly gets turned into a car sandwich Edward is there. Although I don’t necessarily agree with Meyer’s strategy, I can respect her use of throwaway characters as a plot device. After all, some people are horrible with character management, and the results can be disasterous.

Speaking of Edward, Meyer does a fantastic job of introducing his character. Edward and his mysterious family sitting alone at the lunch table provide a sharp contrast to the otherwise normal high school kids. Even if you somehow have no clue that Edward is one of the main characters and a vampire going in, you can tell that he stands out in a crowd. While his behavior around Bella might seem a little unusual by normal standards, I wasn’t expecting some of the twists that Meyer ended up pulling with his character. Sure his character disappears a lot because he needs to feed, but nearly attacking Bella over her scent? Like a good mystery novel, Twilight really deserves a second reading to catch all of the subtle details.

Edward aside, one of the few things I appreciated about the early parts of the book was Meyer’s ability to have fun with Bella and her circus of throwaway characters. From the start of the novel in which Bella describes the cloudy and sunless town of Forks, up until the point when the vampire secret is revealed, Meyer constantly throws in subtle vampire references. While saying things like “stabbed with a pencil” might be seen as foreshadowing, they end up having the purpose of providing fun comedy relief in an otherwise dramatic story. I had a lot of fun counting the vampire references in the early parts of the story.

My initial hesitation towards the book immediately started to change around the time Edward revealed his true identity to Bella. It felt to me that Meyer was able to remove a great weight off her shoulders, and move on to the actual meat and potatoes of the novel. Such details become visible when Edward introduces Bella to his family. Meyer clearly has big plans for the Cullen’s, even if you don’t know what all of them are right now. Carlisle in particular quickly became a favorite of mine. Not only does he have the coolest name ever, I found his character back story to be rather awesome. I’ve started the second book, and suffice to say I was pleased to see more love for Carlisle’s back story. Although not a member of the family, I ended the novel wondering a lot about Jacob as well. I’ve been told that he plays a major role in the second novel, so all is well.

While I dragged my feet through the first parts of the story, it really began to pull a 180 once vampires came into the picture. Gone are the boring high school kids, now we have vampires and unique abilities based on their personality. Of course, the Edward x Bella romance began souring here, and it was at this point that I realized why Twilight is so incredibly popular (and hated) among the female gender. Personally, I thought the romantic scenes at the forest and in Bella’s room were cute and well-written. On the other hand, I haven’t read many romance novels written after the 1800’s so parts of it might have been a bit cliché. Some of the dialogue (Edward’s in particular) was rather corny, but I thrive on silly, so it was all well and good.

Romance novel or not, I knew that a storyline this complex would have to have some kind of action or drama before the end. We are dealing with vampires after all. Well, suffice to say that the action and suspense eventually did hit, and when it did, it occurred in a completely surprising and unexpected way. It occurs to me that it is a bit difficult to explain. I mean, you have a friendly game of vampire baseball turning into a friendly game of baseball between two vampire groups turning into a dramatic chase across the western half of the United States…which don’t get me wrong is quite *awesome*.

While the middle part of the book was quite good, the ending ended up being fantastic, even if it only lasted for about 100 pages or so, the sudden goodbye to Charlie, Bella running for her life and subsequent charge into death at the hands of James was perfect. When I throw in a quote for a review, I tend to pick one that captures one of the most powerful moments of the novel. Bella’s suicid-err goodbye note to Edward followed by the line “And then I carefully sealed away my heart.” …call me a romantic floozy if you must, but I really liked that line. Everything about the hunt was perfect. Bella thinking fast to escape Mary Sue vampires, the resulting double-cross of James’ not actually having Bella’s mom (which I admit I didn’t see coming, but it makes sense in more ways than one) and the self-fulfilling prophecy that the preface alludes to as Bella is about to die, it was brilliant.

And then, everything fell apart.

Okay, so I understand that the novel takes place entirely from Bella’s point of view. As a result, we are naturally going to be robbed of what could only be described as an epic save of Edward beating the tar out of James if Bella is unconscious. But I honestly I feel kind of robbed that we, the reader, got to miss out on it. Sure I’m a guy that loves a token action scene, but I really felt like Meyer cheated in the ending. James, badass manipulating hunter, is suddenly tossed on a bus that promptly explodes, and the reader is left with a rather boring medical scene. Okay, so I’m being a little harsh here. Edward did get faced with a tough decision that he fortunately managed to be rescued from making, and the resulting scene provides an important plot point in the story to come (based on what I’ve read of the second book so far anyway). I just really disliked the way Meyer dealt with James’ demise. You know deep down that Bella was probably not going to die (at least, not at the end of the first book) and that someone would rescue her, but as far as I’m concerned Meyer utilized some extremely poor execution here. Here’s to hoping the movie gives me an epic vampire battle. 🙂

So what did I think of the book? Overall, I admit I liked it. Yes, there was more than one part I really disliked, but overall the good outweighed the bad. The first book in the series tends to be one that mainly serves to establish characters, with the action picking up fast from there. Meyer has proven in the last half of Twilight that she can develop a solid story once she puts introduction out of the way, so I can only hope that the fun manages to continue. While I’ve been warned that the second book has a lot to be desired, I’ve also been told that it is Jacob heavy, so I think I can see patterns from the first book re-emerging with more exposition coming forth. And who knows? By the third and fourth book Meyer might actually treat the reader to an action sequence. 😉

With the review done, I now throw in some random theories and predictions about what might happen in the books to come. No clue if any of them are correct, but I like to try.

*Isn’t it strange that Bella can smell blood? On that note, how come Edward can’t sense her thoughts? I originally thought that Bella was a half-vampire (from her mother), but dismissed that notion pretty quickly. I think the Cullen’s would have figured that out pretty quickly if that was the case. Still…

*Vampires seem to have a tendency of bringing in a powerful quality from their human self. I have no clue if Bella ends up becoming a vampire or not by the end of the series, but I fear her clumsy nature will end up being the dominant vampire gene. 🙂

*There’s something special about Bella’s mother. No clue what, but Meyer has given subtle hints that at least one of Bella’s parents has something unusual going on, and I’m saying it’s the mother. Bella: “I got X trait from Y parent.”

*Jasper will die by the end of the series, and it will involve a self-sacrifice in rescuing Bella from someone or something. Perhaps rescuing her from himself, after reading the first few chapters of book 2.

*Bella will either convince Rosalie to like her, or Rosalie will end up joining the major villain, and probably die.

*Speaking of which, there has been a decisive lack of a major villain from what I can tell. Though early mention of the Volturi in New Moon might cause that to change quickly.

*Although handled poorly, James death will have repercussions that involve someone close to him. Probably Victoria (she is still alive I think?), and if that’s the case she will probably become a future villain, if not the major one.

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