Category: book review

Book Review: On the Shoulders of Titans

On the Shoulders of Titans (Arcane Ascension, #2)On the Shoulders of Titans by Andrew Rowe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not all books are meant to be a work of art. When I pick up a novel, I’m not always expecting it to change my life. In fact, there are a number of times when I actively avoid reading a novel, since I’m looking for a different experience. Something that I can just read and have a good time turning the pages.

Andrew Rowe’s Arcane Ascension series is perfect for this.

It’s part of a genre called LitRPG. Basically it’s an RPG roleplaying game in book format. (Not choose your own adventure, but rather is if you were watching someone play through the game.) Magic is dealt with in terms of levels and mana power. Interestingly, this gives the book a very “hard magic” sort of feel, with precise limitations and abilities, though since often the book ends up revealing new abilities out of nowhere, this is a very surface level “hardness.” On the surface, it sounds like it wouldn’t work, but man have I enjoyed reading these two books. It’s rare these days when I look at the progress on my Kindle and I’m disappointed to see how little left I have in the book, since I’d rather just keep reading.

Is it high art? By no means. It’s probably the literary equivalent of Fruity Pebbles. But you know what? I really love Fruity Pebbles. I could eat that cereal all day long, as long as I had enough milk.

If you’re looking to read about a ragtag group of students trying to save a world from falling into chaos and destruction, and you love reading about how someone figures out all the angles so he can game the system, then this book is for you. (Though read the first one in the series first, obviously.)

If not . . . then probably better head elsewhere. More Fruity Pebbles for me . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: Taran Wanderer

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain #4)Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite series growing up was The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. I never got into any of his other books, but I loved reading about Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper and his adventures, and I reread the series many times. The Book of Three, Black Cauldron, Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King. I loved them all, but my least favorite was Taran Wanderer. Even years later, I remembered the book being sluggish and not nearly as engaging as the other novels. Not enough cool things happened, as I recalled. Interestingly, my friend Dan Wells had listed Wanderer as his favorite of the books.

I’ve been rereading the series now, and I finally got to Taran Wanderer again. Dan was right. That isn’t to say my twelve-year-old self was wrong. There’s not nearly as many “cool things” at work in the book as there are in Book of Three or Black Cauldron. It’s a voyage of discovery for the main character, and that kind of sailed past me completely when I was reading it the first time.

I’m older now, however. Maybe a bit more mature. And I can appreciate what Alexander was up to with the novel. Up until that point in the series, Taran was all about adventure and glory. He dreamed of being someone important, without really understanding anything about how the world works. It was easier for him to just live in his fantasies. To transition from that character into the Taran of The High King takes real work and effort. It had to be earned, and so Taran embarks on that journey.

I loved seeing the character through new eyes. Studying how Alexander broke him down and had him realistically change his outlook on life bit by bit. Too often it’s easy to just read a book and know you like it without thinking *why* you like it. When I was twelve, I certainly didn’t. But there’s always an underlying reason. Something the author is up to that makes the book or series work for you. I call it the engine. What drives the book and makes it hum.

Sometimes the engine is nothing more than “what happens next.” The plot is built so well you just want to keep turning pages. Sometimes it’s the beauty of the language itself. It can be the characters, or the world building. History or horror. Even today, it’s rare for me to be satisfied with a book that runs pretty much solely on “journey of discovery.” But Taran Wanderer pulls it off perfectly.

If you haven’t read this series, I really recommend it. It still stands up well today. And far from being the weakest of the five books, Taran Wanderer is a favorite.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: On the Road

On the RoadOn the Road by Jack Kerouac
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Longtime blog readers know I almost never give bad reviews of books. Not in public, at any rate. Part of this is professional courtesy. I don’t want to stomp on another author’s toes, especially not when I might meet her or him at a conference at some point and have to answer for my words. Some of it is because I don’t finish books I don’t like, and I don’t review books I haven’t finished. So I almost never have an opportunity to write a bad review.

Until today, apparently.

Because I’ve now read the American classic On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. My first rule doesn’t apply, because he’s deceased, so it’s not like I have to worry about running into him at a conference. (And if I do, I have much more serious things to be concerned about at that point.) And even if he were alive, I think the book’s done just fine for itself over the years, so it’s not like my opinion will hurt its sales much.

As for not finishing books I don’t like? I finished this one because we selected it as the book for the second half of my library’s On Our Mind reading program this year. The theme was “Live. Travel. Adventure,” and I thought we couldn’t go wrong with an American classic. On the Road. What better way to represent travel and adventures?

Except I had never read it. I just assumed it was a good book, because “American classic.”

You know what happens when you assume, right? You’re forced to finish a book you absolutely loathe.

Can I see how this novel might hold an important place in American literature? Sure. I could also see (theoretically) how studying it could be worth while. But I don’t read books to study them anymore. I read books primarily for enjoyment. And there was nothing for me to enjoy in this book whatsoever. I didn’t like the characters, I didn’t like the voice, and there was no plot to speak of.

It started out fair enough. A guy decides to hitchhike across the country to go see his friends in Denver. He makes some foolish decisions, but whatever. One way or the other, he makes it there. The journey itself is pretty boring, from a narrative perspective. It’s basically a laundry list of events. “I did this, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” Nothing really to connect them except sequence.

Surely, it must improve later on, right?

Wrong.

He gets to Denver and decides that’s a pretty lame place as well, so he keeps traveling. One place after the other. That’s all the book is. Traveling traveling traveling. No real concrete goals other than to be somewhere other than where he is at the time. It’s a rambling narrative that weaves around like an alcoholic at 3am.

There are no hidden witticisms. Nothing redeeming about him or his friends. He sleeps, drinks, and drugs his way from one random occurrence to another. I can’t even call them “events,” because an event at least implies something interesting happened. This is like the world’s lamest Facebook account. In fact, this wouldn’t even be interesting if it were presented in Facebook form. It would just be a series of pictures of people and places, with no real information given about any of them.

I loathed this book. I would have put it down after 50 pages if I could have, but instead I was trapped finishing the thing, because there was no way I was going to lead a book discussion on it if I hadn’t read it in its entirety. Which is a good illustration of why forced reading in school turns avid readers into people who hate reading.

Call it a classic if you must. For me, On the Road is nothing more than the thing that took hours of my life and will never give them back.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $13/month so far. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: Zodiac

ZodiacZodiac by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You ever have an author who writes in a style you personally can’t put down, but which you can understand other people might not care for nearly as much? That’s Neal Stephenson for me. Not to say that his books aren’t well liked. He’s a very popular author. But each time I come across one of his books I haven’t read, I check out the reviews ahead of time, and often they’re mixed.

People enjoy them well enough. But I don’t really want to read a book I just “enjoy well enough.” Especially not a Neal Stephenson book. His stories can be hard to get into. They’ve got a steep learning curve, as you have to figure out just what his characters are talking about when you start to read. He dives deep into their heads. Not that his sentences are unintelligible, but his characters will use lingo you’ve never encountered. It can be overwhelming.

And yet, despite the mixed reviews, I inevitably read the book anyway, because Neal Stephenson. Zodiac was a book I’d been avoiding, because it didn’t seem to be the typical Stephenson I like so much. I love his science fiction, and this book was about . . . lobsters? And the environment? Maybe it would be best if I avoided it.

Until I couldn’t avoid it. I was ahead on my reading schedule, so I thought it was worth a risk. I’m really glad I took it.

As usual, the book is hard to understand at first. It’s not until 20 or 30 pages in that I started to understand a bit about the life of the main character. How he’s an activist fighting against pollution, and not afraid to get his hands a bit dirty in the process. It’s him and his team vs. big corporations, and he’s made enough of a name for himself that those corporations are worried about him.

He stumbles across something that might (or might not) be a huge environmental disaster. It’s definitely a mystery he wants to unravel. And unravel it he does.

I read the book very quickly. I was squeezing in pages wherever I could. I felt like I learned a lot about pollution and how companies can get away with it. (One of his best lines was on how thrashed communal spaces become. I could relate to this, as when I lived in Germany as a Mormon missionary, the shared apartments had a tendency to get very . . . “well used.” No one had an incentive to keep them up to snuff. When it comes to the oceans and rivers, the same principle is at work. No one has any stake in the game when it comes to defending them. Keeping them clean. And so people abuse them.)

I personally feel like Stephenson’s writing and plotting justify the hard entry into his novels. They can be frustrating at first, but he does such an excellent job of bringing his characters to life, that all that struggle feels worthwhile at the end. If you’ve held back from Stephenson because he does sci-fi more often, then give this one a shot. And if you’ve been holding back from Zodiac because it’s not sci-fi, hold back no longer.

It was a great read.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $6/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

Book Review: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Island of the Blue Dolphins, #1)Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Every now and then I like to go read something from a while ago. Something that’s not new at all, though it’s new to me. I’d heard about Island of the Blue Dolphins growing up. I remember seeing it on the shelf in my school’s library, though I always avoided it. It looked far too much like a dreaded “girl book,” and it definitely wasn’t fantasy, so why bother?

Of course, now that I’m older, other things catch my interest. Things like “Scott O’Dell” and “Newbery Winner,” along with a slew of other awards. So when it went on sale for Kindle a while ago, I snatched up a copy, and I was able to read it last week.

What a great novel. It tells the story of a young girl on an island in the Pacific. Her life is turned upside down when her island encounters seal hunters from a distant land. I’d say more about the plot, but honestly one of the things that attracted me most to the story was how it kept doing things I didn’t expect. A bit of the way in, I assumed this would be a “slice of life” story, and so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned a different way. More assumptions followed that turn, and they were once again foiled. Always nice when that happens. In this case, a clear advantage to reading the book electronically and having just heard of it through vague memories. I knew the title, the author, and that’s it. No reading the jacket or book blurbs.

It isn’t terribly long (184 pages), but it’s well written, with the good historical details you expect from O’Dell. I was even more pleased to find out it’s based on a true account.

Would I have liked the book if I’d picked it up and read it back in grade school? Probably not. But I loved it now, and I’m going to point my 9 year old daughter in its direction (as soon as she finishes the Percy Jackson series, which she’s devouring at the moment.)

Highly recommended.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $6/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

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