Category: book review

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.

View all my reviews

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

View all my reviews

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 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 . . .

View all my reviews

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

View all my reviews

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

View all my reviews

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

%d bloggers like this: