Category: book review

Book Review: Skyward

SkywardSkyward by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not, as a rule, a cryer. Call me emotionally stunted, call me cold, but tears seldom try to trickle from the corner of my eyes. (I can’t even remember the last time I cried, honestly.) And yet when I got to the climax of Brandon Sanderson’s latest book, I got choked up. No, I didn’t cry, but I got the closest I’ve come in several years at least.

It’s that good.

Brandon has always excelled at writing satisfying endings of books. It’s been a strength of his for as long as I can remember, going right back to the days I was in his writing group and hanging out in his basement each week. His beginnings are solid. His middles are fine. His magic systems are awesome, but I really feel that his endings are what set him apart from the crowd. Managing a really satisfying ending is no small feat. Getting your readers to really invest in a character or group of characters so that when it all comes together, it feels right? That’s tough.

Usually, you can see a good ending coming in the distance. “Ah,” you’ll say. “That’s how the author could get the hero out of this mess.” And it’s no shame when that actually happens. But really incredible endings leave you guessing right until the end, and then when it all comes together, you’re stunned that you didn’t see that loophole of a happy ending to begin with.

Skyward is the sort of book that makes me want to go back and rerate other books I’ve rated, just so I have space at the top of the scale for me to give it a better rating than anything else I’ve read this year.

It’s not a literary book. I don’t mean that. Does it hold up against The Handmaid’s Tale, another book I gave a perfect 10/10 to this year? Well, no. But it’s not fighting in the same ring, so you can’t hold that against it. Skyward is a YA Science Fiction book about a girl who dreams of being a pilot, even while her entire society is telling her she can’t be. It’s post apocalyptic. It’s fast moving. And it has flat out the best ending I’ve read in a long time.

I don’t know how I can recommend it any more to you. I don’t think I need to describe the characters and the premise. Pick it up and read it. Give it to your friends as a present. Anyone who’s remotely interested in Sci-Fi would love this, I think.

10/10. Must read.

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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.

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Book Review: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Logans, #4)Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m going back through books I never read growing up, reading award winners and the like just to see how they’re put together and what made them great. (It also helps that many of them go on sale over time in the Kindle store, so I can get them for about $2 each.)

While I continue to love fantasy, my obsession with it throughout grade school meant that I skipped over a lot of great reads at the time. (Though to be honest, a lot of these Newbery winners would have been skipped by younger me anyway, just because they would have looked boring. Island of the Blue Dolphins? Who wants to read that? Remember, this is 10 year old me speaking.)

This is just to say that I finally read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and wow! What an incredible book! For those of you who don’t know, it’s the story of an African American girl in the south at the height of segregation. It incorporates history and characters into a riveting account that does a wonderful job of personalizing this painful part of America’s past.

One of the things I love most about books is their ability to transport us into another person’s life. We get to see their thoughts and feelings as they go through the experiences of the novel. I feel like this can help humanize people who otherwise would be Other, if that makes sense. It’s what I tried to do to an extent in VODNIK (though sadly the book never really had a chance of getting published in Slovakia. Each time we tried, publishers froze up as soon as they heard it had a Roma as a main character.)

This is a fast read, which makes what it pulls off even more impressive. To pack that much emotion into so few pages is a feat to be applauded. I loved the book from start to finish, and definitely give it a 10/10. Should be read, even by young boys who might think it looks boring.

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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.

How Much Can an Ending Ruin a Book/Movie?

I was reading a book this past week. One I was generally really enjoying. I tend to keep a running track in my mind of what I’ll be giving a book or a movie as I read or watch it. The baseline for me is a 5/10. The more I like it, the higher it gets (obviously). With this one, I was pretty sure it would be getting a 7 or so, but then as I got farther in, I began thinking it would be more of an 8. I was really like the plot progression, the science fictiony aspects of it were all working. There was about 10% left in the book according to my Kindle, which felt just right.

Except when I went to turn the page at the end of the chapter, and it popped up with the Acknowledgements, instead. I wondered if my Kindle had just done something strange, jumping ahead for a random reason. (It’s been known to happen.) But nope. The rest of the book was just a sneak peek at Book Two in the series.

I was quite upset, for a number of reasons. For one thing, I hadn’t been expecting a book two. Nowhere had it seemed like this was the start of a series, so it felt like a real sucker punch. But more than that, I felt robbed of a real ending. The one that existed just sort of . . . stopped. There was no real denouement. No real climax even. I mean, there had been a scene that was important to the characters. It was exciting, but it tied up nothing,. It didn’t bring any feeling of resolution to anything.

It just stopped talking.

And that ending alone tanked my rating of the book from an 8 to a 4. I wished I hadn’t read it to begin with. I can’t in good conscience even recommend it to other people, despite the fact that I enjoyed it for 95% of the time. Why not? Because I felt betrayed by that ending. I lost my trust in the author to know what a good story needs to satisfy its readers. Why in the world would I put myself through that again, even though the start of book two was right there. I could have bought the next book right away and just continued reading.

But I’m not going to. It felt like a cheap money grab, and I’m not rewarding that with any more of my attention.

I’m not going to tell you which book or author it was out of professional courtesy, but I’m curious if any of you have had similar experiences with a work. You liked it for almost the whole thing, but then the ending soured the rest of it completely. Thinking over my experiences, there have been a few times it’s happened to me, but nothing in recent memory. I know many fans objected to the ending of LOST, but to me that’s something different. The series had an end. It just wasn’t an end that satisfied some people.

Then again, it satisfied me, and so perhaps that’s why it feels different to me. I’m sure there are some who thought this book’s ending was just fine . . .

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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: Fuzzy Nation

Fuzzy NationFuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of John Scalzi’s writing style. Let’s get that out of the way right off. He has an easy narrative voice that I enjoy reading, and it’s easy to breeze through just about anything he writes. So even if it were a lame book, I’m saying I’d be more inclined to have a great time reading a Scalzi book than another on the same topic.

But Fuzzy Nation is far from a lame book. A snarky surveyor with dreams of striking it rich finds the Mother Lode on a far off distant planet. Things look seriously up for a good few days, until a motley group of alien cat monkey things show up in his house and exhibit alarming signs of possible sentience. Could the Mother Lode belong to them? Yes, if they’re sentient and count as people. No, if they’re just smart animals, like trained Spaniels.

The book tackles a number of very weighty topics, and it does so with a breeze and finesse that hard to find these days. It’s not often you get a great plot that also makes you reanalyze larger implications of life in general. It’s a book that makes you think, even while you’re having a great time.

But Scalzi doesn’t shrink back from having terrible things happen to his characters, no matter how much we might like them. It’s the George RR Martin principle. I’m not saying everyone you ever loved in this book will die, but I am saying anything’s on the table, and those sort of stakes really up the ante for me.

I blazed through this book in a few days, and I gave it an easy 10/10. A bit of language here and there, but other than that, just a smashingly good read. If you like science fiction at all, you should check this one out. If you like cats and/or dogs, check it out too.

If you like cat monkeys, then I assume you stopped reading this review a few paragraphs ago and are already deep in the narrative.

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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: The Marathon Man

Marathon ManMarathon Man by William Goldman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been a William Goldman fan for just one of his books. (The Princess Bride, obviously.) I’ve also appreciated him for his screenplays (Butch Cassidy, Princess Bride, All the President’s Men, etc.) So when I saw The Marathon Man on sale for Kindle, I decided to give it a shot. It was also turned into a movie with Dustin Hoffman in the seventies (which I have not seen).

Really, it was a blast of a book. The premise is straightforward: a PhD candidate gets involved with a spy ring. It’s your classic under-prepared protagonist in an impossible situation. It’s set apart from other thrillers by a couple of things. First off, I was impressed with Goldman’s skill of writing third person effectively, inserting the character’s views into the narration in a way that made things (for me) very readable. (Actually, I enjoyed it so much I thought I’d give it a shot in writing. I didn’t make it past a few paragraphs with each attempt. Pulling it off was really difficult for me, which made me even more impressed.)

Second, I liked how focused Goldman kept the story, going into details in the scenes and really fleshing them out. You can have something that takes five minutes in real life take pages and pages in a text, or you can sum it up in a sentence, or you can skip it entirely. Goldman knows when to dive deep and when to skim. (If you’ve got a thing against dentists, this is a book to skip. Trust me.)

The book did what it was designed to do: kept me turning pages, even after I wanted to go to sleep. I love it when a book does that. In the end I gave it a 9/10. If you’re looking for a fun summer read, give this one a shot. Sure, it’s from the 70s, but it’s aged very well.

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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.

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