Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

This one followed on well from the first book (reviewed here): https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/book-review-we…-adams-5-stars/

All the same quirky humor as the first one, so if you liked that one you should like this one. In this second book our characters decide to get something to eat, which as it does leads to a trip across time, space, and parallel dimensions on a mission to speak to the man who runs the universe.

This book scores slightly higher on the weirdness scale than the first book. Since that one involved super intelligent alien mice, you can safely say this is a weird book. Enjoyable, but weird.

A warning. Some dislike these books, and call them random and disorganized. If these things annoyed you about the first book, you can guarantee they’ll annoy you about the sequels. For me, I have a soft spot for random humor, so enjoyed these books a lot. I also love how the author manages to make very insightful points about culture and religion in a humorous way.

Don’t read these books for the plot. The plot is even more random than the last book, and we still get no concrete answers about 42. Don’t read these books for the characters. The characters are funny but quite flat, and undergo little to no development. Read these books for the humor, and maybe for Douglas Adam’s neat way of making you think twice about things you take for granted.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8695.The_Restaurant_at_the_End_of_the_Universe

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Way better than twilight.

So, this is a story about two adolescent kids who meet each other and fall in love. And one of them is a vampire. No-one sparkles. If Edward was this type of vampire, twilight would be a lot cooler. There’d also be a lot more dead people.

Here’s the blurb:

It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last—revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.

But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door—a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night….

The variety of vampire portrayals in books and media is fascinating.  On the one side you have the overly romanticized vampire of twilight. On the extreme other end of things, you have the kind of vampire from the book series ‘The Strain’ (which is also a TV show that I highly recommend). The Strain vampires have no redeeming features whatsoever. The infected turn into these gross things full of worms, and they shoot this strange stinger like something from their throat (usually at people they love), which drains them of blood. Plus, aside from this killing instinct, most have the brainpower of a particularly bright potato.

Eli (our vampire from this book) is somewhere between the two. They’re scary. Eli could break Edward like a twig. But they’re also capable of thoughts, of fear, and of love. Eli is even more interesting than the rest of their kind, because they were turned as a child, and their body and mind is still very much a child’s.

They like playing games, they don’t like hurting people, they make choices they haven’t thought through (very much like a child). You get to know Eli through Oskar’s eyes, and in many ways Eli is younger than Oskar, and in other ways much older. You come to fear them, and also love them, much as Oskar does.

Now some warnings. While this is a very raw, beautiful book, one of the pov characters is a pedophile and thus has some not beautiful thoughts. It’s an interesting contrast with the much more innocent povs of Oskar and Eli. We don’t see the pedophile guy do anything too icky (apart from once later in the book – but he gets just deserts for that).

If you’re a vampire fan, or a fan of raw feeling books, I think you’ll like this one. The characters are anything but two dimensional. Even the guy who’s a pedophile is really quite decent at times. He strangely enough has a very strong moral code. Oskar who is downright innocent in a lot of ways fantasizes about killing people. Eli who has the power to kill and does kill, gets no pleasure out of it, and seems to regard it as a sad fact of life.

It’s these complex characters in their desolate seeming setting that makes this book grip so strongly. Four stars. It lost a star because the pacing seemed a little off to me, but not disastrously so. I really enjoyed reading it. For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/943402.Let_the_Right_One_In

P.S: There are two films based on this book. They’re pretty much the same except one was made in Sweden, and the other America. Both are awesome. Go watch.

 

I’ve been planning on reading this series for a while. There are so many references out there. I must’ve tripped across a few dozen before I decided ‘Ok, I’ll watch the film.’ I liked the film. So I decided ‘Ok, I’ll read the book.’

Guess what. I liked the book. Five stars. Adams has this irrelevant kind of humor. Or at least it can seem irrelevant. It’s kind of like that thought process you (or at least I) had as a kid. You think of something, then your mind goes on a tangent, or you hyper focus on some detail no one thinks is worth bothering about. I still think that way sometimes, so this humor was my kind of humor.

Some don’t like it. But if you’re the kind of people who regularly questions things in life; like why do we think we’re the most intelligent species on earth? What exactly is the function of a paper pusher in the great scheme of things? Is there a meaning behind all the dancing dolphins do? You’ll love it.

We start off with the world ending. Always a good way to start a book. It’s being destroyed to make way for a galactic superhighway. Something lazy humans should’ve bothered to look up in their local (read: light years away) planning office. Thankfully for one human, his best friend is a hitchhiking alien doing research for the guide named in the title. Cue one last second escape, and lots of adventures using the guide to help them out.

We also meet Marvin (a chronically depressed robot), Trillian (who our main character met at a party once), and Zaphod (a ex-hippie president of the galaxy following a plan he doesn’t know the plan for).

The plot is fast paced, and there’s humor in almost every sentence. The world (universe) building is awesome. Not as gripping as other books, but plenty going on. I really enjoyed it. Whether you do or not depends on your sense of humor. Give it a try, or go to the following link and look at some quotes to see if it appeals to you.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11.The_Hitchhiker_s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy

Apparently this is one of those books every child has to read. I never got that memo, so decided to rectify that.

This book is about a boy (Jess) and the deep and unexpected friendship he forms with a new girl (Leslie). For me, this was worth the hype it has. You come to love the characters. Jess for his childish reasoning and love. Leslie for her blatant disregard of social pressures, and her ability to be her own quirky self.

They develop a lot over the book. They learn that the people hurting you may also be hurting themselves. Jess learns so much about what is important in life after a big event near the end of the book that I won’t spoil. While the event is horrible, it helps him be closer to the rest of his family, who until then had been very distant from him. That helps round up the book in a pleasing way. So a satisfying ending, but you’ll shed a lot of tears before that comes.

The majority of the plot while not thrilling, is very compelling. It revolves around everyday life and different challenges they face. I enjoyed it, but if you read nothing but non stop thrillers you might find it slow.

There’s one small part that you might find a little disturbing. A minor character reveals to her friends that her father beats her ‘the kind of beating someone goes to jail for.’ Our main characters think a little badly of her for betraying her parent. They help her convince the school her friends made it up, and it never happened.

This isn’t pleasant, but I think it’s true to their childish way of thinking. No one ever talks about a child’s rights not to get beat up, so how would they know it’s important? The impressions the adults put across is that it’s important for the children to obey adults, and definitely always obey their parents. Jess faces this daily, doing the majority of the chores for his distant parents while his older sisters mostly laze around. He knows this is unfair, but still does them.

On a more depressing note, we get little details about his borderline neglect by his parents. Like how his little sister gets to run out and hug his father, but he’d never get away with it. Or how he’s always careful about what he says (or whether he even talks) to his parents because they often seem tense.

I think that goes nicely with the theme that runs through this book: it’s OK to be different. At the start Jess is very driven by social rules, and is completely flabbergasted by how easily Leslie ignores them. This lines up with his distance from his parents, and their treatment of him. He doesn’t hug his father because he’s a boy, and too old for that. His parents put him in a more responsible role than his sisters (possibly because he’s the only male child). He’s asked to do more chores, and told off whenever the baby cries. He loves drawing, but hides it because his father doesn’t think it’s manly enough for a boy to be interested in.

His experience with Leslie gradually desensitized him to breaking of social norms. And I hope that after the book this translates into his family, reminding them he’s just a child, and giving him the courage to stand up for things he likes, like art. There are hints toward the end of the book that this is the case.

This is a beautiful, emotional book. Not the most beautiful and emotional one of its type. That one for me belongs to ‘A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.’ If you like this kind of book and haven’t read that one, go read.

For more reviews of this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2839.Bridge_to_Terabithia

 

Here’s a collection of four novellas around 200 pages each. It’s a nice length. Short enough it’s a quick read, long enough for you to burrow into the story.

First up we have ‘The Langoliers.’ Yet another thing to scare you about flying. Part of this story is working out what the heck is going on, so I’ll leave you to puzzle that mystery with the characters. It’s an interesting idea. One with just enough science to understand the hypothesis the characters come up with, and not a smidgen more. Totally implausible, but somehow still scary.

The characters were two dimensional but serviceable. I did get a bit annoyed with the magic little blind girl. She was a nice person, but really? Does every little child with a disability have to have some kind of special powers? Aren’t they neat enough as they are?

The plot was decent but not something to rave about. The pacing was a little off. A bit slow in places. I’d give this three stars. I did like the ending. It made me wonder what long term effects their trip might cause them. This was my least favorite of the four, and the reason why the whole book didn’t get a five star rating.

Secret Window, Secret Garden:

Four stars.  I watched the movie beforehand, so might’ve found it more entertaining if I hadn’t know the twist. I did like the tense claustrophobic feeling the whole story has. It’s well written, and the twist is a great one. We spend most of our time with one character. He’s got a lot of similarities with most of Stephen King’s characters. A writer. A guy still suffering the aftereffects of a nasty break up. 

He’s trying and failing to write a book, and then a stranger comes and accuses him of stealing a story of his. Things get worse from there. 

I thought on the whole the story was a very good one. It required some suspension of belief as to why the guy doesn’t just call in the police. At first, sure, he can play the nice guy. But then something happened that made the animal lover in me cringe and curl up into a ball of sadness. Nothing would’ve stopped me calling the police after that. Or taking more violent action.

The story manages to stay supernatural free until right at the very end. I’m not sure the supernatural insert was needed. In my opinion the story would’ve been more powerful without it, but that’s just my view.

The Library Policeman:

Five stars. This one and the next one were my favorites of this collection. 

This one revolves around a man roped into writing a last minute speech. Being the diligent guy he is, he checks out a couple of books from the library to help. Only, he loses the books and can’t return them. He soon finds this is a bigger deal than he’d thought. 

Scary book. Heavy on the supernatural which worked well. It also has an interesting creature I haven’t come across before. It makes a frightening idea.

I found the plot worked well. The pacing kept me interested. The last showdown was pretty cool, and the conclusion was satisfying. A good story.

The Sun Dog:

A boy gets a camera for his birthday. Only, no matter what he points the camera at, the picture comes out showing a dog. And with every picture the dog gets closer. 

Five stars. It’s close, but if I had to choose between this one and the previous one, Sun Dog would win. This story had great everything. The tension stayed high. The pacing was great. When the action happened, it was thrilling enough to have me on the edge of my seat. 

I liked the characters more than the previous story which is what pushed this one into the winning spot. The boy is one of those genuinely nice, respectful kids. Mature for his age, but still enough of a kid not to seem unnatural. The other characters were varied and interesting. The father turned out to be a lot deeper of a character than the son makes out at the start. Plus he has a back-story that makes his interactions with our ‘bad guy’ interesting.

Our ‘bad guy’ is another we spend a lot of time with. He’s not really bad, just invested and ambitious. Not a nice guy, but not a terrible one. He’s the hero of his own story. 

Great story with a satisfying ending, and a tiny little extra twist that adds to the whole creepy feel. 

For more reviews on this collection go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/133266.Four_Past_Midnight

This is a dark story of a kidnapped girl told from the point of view of her five year old son. As such, there are difficult moments in this book, but nothing too graphic. The mother protects her son well, and so we are protected from most of it. Most of the worst bits are hints in the background that Jack doesn’t understand, but we as readers do.

Here’s the blurb:

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

There are three main parts: first we see Jack and Ma’s life in the room, then the dramatic escape, and last the recovery process.

The psychology behind it all is what interested me the most. Jack calls all the things in Room by name. They’re his friends. He believes that’s all there is to the world. That beyond Room’s walls there’s nothing else. His refusal to believe otherwise, while understandable was shocking.

Jack and Ma have a loving relationship, but a slightly unhealthy one. Note: I am not talking about her still breastfeeding him. Children are physically designed to breastfeed until around five. It’s the early weaning we have in first world countries that is unnatural. They also spend all their time together, which again is not unhealthy (though it would be more healthy for him to interact with other people as well).

The unhealthy aspect of their relationship was that in the past she had obviously suffered a lot and reacted to herself negatively. Jack’s picked up on this, and while he loves her, he sometimes thinks of her as stupid and calls her that. She agrees with him.

I won’t mention details of the second part, but it was very harrowing. The first part is slow, but rich. We’re trying to orientate ourselves with their lives. The second part is pure tension.

Then comes the recovery process. I can’t express how glad I am that the author devoted such a big chunk of the book to this. Often it gets forgotten, but adjusting back to the real world and recovering is a big deal for both characters.

Their recovery is not a straight line. Jack has to cope with so many new things. Can you imagine never having worn shoes, or walked on grass, or been everywhere but one room? Places smell. People smell. Things are noisy. People are confusing.

The author has clearly thought through the things that would happen to Jack. No one understands his speech, because of course he’s never spoken to anyone apart from his mother. He doesn’t understand a lot of phrases. He doesn’t understand a lot of things in the world we take for granted, like how everyone is so worried about time. He interacts with another child for a second, and instantly he thinks they’re his best friend and he loves them.

This is not an action packed book, but there’s plenty going on as Jack faces his new challenges. It’s a neat, emotional journey and definitely deserves the awards and nominations it received. In the end things aren’t perfect. Neither Jack nor Ma are one hundred percent Ok. They might never be. But they’re better than they were, and they’re making plans for the future.

I’m so happy the author didn’t try to go for a picture perfect ending. They still have a long journey ahead of them, and I’m glad the author understands the material enough to acknowledge that.

Emotional book, interesting pov, and well researched. Watching Jack slowly get to grips with the outside world after that tiny room is like taking a deep breath of fresh air. The whole energy of the writing changes. Five stars from me.

For more reviews of this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7937843-room

Yup, still making my way through Stephen King. It’s taking a while, but I’m enjoying it.

Skeleton Crew is a collection. One novella, and twenty-one short stories. I think this is my favorite short story collection of his I’ve read. Not every short story is five stars, some are just OK, others are amazing.

The star of the book for me was the novella: The Mist. You may have watched the film based on it. This is about a father and son trapped with a group of people in a grocery store when a mysterious mist closes around them. And of course, since this is Stephen King, it’s no ordinary mist. There are things inside it, and they aren’t friendly.

One thing I really loved about this is we never find out for sure what caused the mist. There are several very strong hints, but the mystery is soon tossed aside to focus on what’s important: how to survive. There are strange monsters here, but the majority of this book is about surviving the even stranger monsters human beings turn into when they’re frightened and desperate.

There are so many good short stories in the bunch, it’s hard to pick favorites, but here goes nothing:

The Reach: This is the story you turn to after The Mist leaves you feeling desolate and hopeless. It’s about an old woman who’s never left the tiny island she lives on. For Stephen King this is really rather a sweet story. Sure there’s death (it’s Stephen King), but it’s the kind of death made up of old friends, and arms ready to fold you up and comfort you. More of a literary short story than a horror. A nice contrast to the heebie jeebies the rest of the book has in spades.

The Jaunt: Rather a straight forward short story with some neat imagined science, and an ultra creepy twist ending.

Nona: Creepy, creepy. About a boy, a girl he meets, and the horrible things that happen as consequence of meeting her. With a twist.

The Word Processor of the Gods: A decent ‘monkey paw’ type story with a happy ending! Bookmark this one to read after some of the many others with far from happy endings.

Survivor Type: One of the most disgusting and horrific short stories of his I’ve read. It’s (slight) plausibility makes it all the more scary. This will stick with you. Not sure if that’s good or bad.

Gramma: starts slow, but mega creepy ending.

The Monkey: Not as scary as some of the others, but still worthy of this list.

The Raft: If I’m going to be inserted into a story (I’m hoping for a superhero story that lets me have awesome powers) this one is at the bottom of my list. No thank you. No way. I will not be going on that raft. In short: SCARY.

The rest of the stories were decent, but the milkman stories? I have no clue what’s going on in those ones. Am I missing something?

Anyways, good collection filled with a lot of gems. It’s worth reading for The Mist alone, but short stories like The Jaunt make it doubly worth it.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13440.Skeleton_Crew

This is the fourth book in the series.

Here’s my review of the first book: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/book-review-we…hrones-5-stars/

Here’s my review of the second: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/book-review-we…martin-5-stars/

And here’s the third: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/book-review-we…fire-3-5-stars/

Another five star book. This series continues to amaze me by how much I need to read ‘just one more page.’

Now, a warning. We don’t get all the pov characters in this book, and there’s quite a bit of overlap with the events of the next book. While G R R Martin was writing book four he found it much too long. So he decided to split it up, showing most of the story from half the povs, then in book five showing the story from the rest of the povs, along with more to the story.

Some people say they’d have preferred it kept chronologically and split down the middle, but I understand why he did it that way. There wasn’t a good stopping point around the middle. It would’ve made for a unfulfilled and very confusing story, skipping from pov to countless pov, and not arriving anywhere. I think this was the best call.

A lot of the less interesting povs are in this one, plus we get some new povs from Theon’s uncles. I don’t like them as much as the established characters, but they do tell an important side of the story. And I don’t really know them. Maybe they’ll develop, or the herd will be thinned and we’ll lose some more povs.

We do get a lot of Jaime who goes through even more development. He’s changed a lot in a short time. I enjoyed his story a lot, particularly when he falls out with Cersei. I never liked her.

Arya continues her ‘becoming a badass’ training. She doesn’t really do a lot, but I can see that this is going to give her some cool skills for the future.

We spent a lot of time in Dorne where interesting things seem to be setting up, but not much really huge is happening.

Brienne goes on her quest to find Sansa. She encounters heaps of trouble. It’s always interesting to be in her head. She has a different view of the world from our other povs, being a maiden knight determined to prove herself.

I loved every moment reading this book, and wanted the next one the moment I put his one down. So five stars. Given a bit of distance from it, I think this is a lower five stars than the past books. Still very enjoyable, but not as brilliant as the last book.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13497.A_Feast_for_Crows

This one should interest writers out there. I’ve made my way through a number of writing books and courses in my time, but this is something special. Best of all it’s based on a blog post the writer put up. So if you want to get a taste of the kind of thing in this book and see if you like it, go to: http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-day.html

The blog post is about 2.5 pages, while the book is around 70 pages, so there’s a lot of extra material in the book. It covers the same kind of things: ways in which you can write faster and better. It’s well written with a fun, engaging style. It’s one of those books you’ll zoom through the first time, then go back and get more out of it.

The best thing about this book is the tactics are simple. You can read, then minutes later be putting them into action. I can’t say for sure that my word-count has changed, but I’ve used her tactics in every writing session since reading the book.

If you’re a new writer, then you could do worse than reading this book. You’ll still need more material to help work on your craft and editing, but really, you’d need to no matter how long you’d been writing. You never stop working on craft. This is a very streamlined book, and I think a newbie reading this could get a great structure on which to build with various other craft books.

If you’ve been writing as long, or longer than I have, you’ll find yourself recognizing tactics in this book as ones you already use. I still think you’ll get a lot out of this. Aaron has this great way of stating things that should be obvious that you’ve never thought to do. Like measuring your words per hour to see what times and places you work best. Or being excited about what you’re writing. After all if you don’t enjoy writing it, why would anyone enjoy reading it?

Neat book. One that I’m going to read many times over. I give it four stars.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16080676-2k-to-10k

This is another of the ‘how to become successful at a skill’ books. If you liked Outliers,  Mindset, or Bounce, you’ll love this one. In Outliers (life changing book) Gladwell talks about how it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class expert at a skill.

It’s worth noting here that I say world-class expert, and practice. Like chinese whispers, that original sentence has changed a lot. I’ve heard people say they don’t think it’s worth learning a skill because they don’t have 10,000 hours (or ten years) to become good at something. Others not only think you have to put in ALL that time to show any aptitude at a skill, every minute of that practice needs to be bone breaking, high concentration work.

I’m taking this time to remind readers that success is not a binary. You don’t either have it, or not. Success at a skill is a long line from ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ to ‘world class expert.’ Every minute of practice takes you further along that line. And ‘good’ doesn’t take the full 10,000 hours. It takes a lot less. The exact amount of hours depends on how good you want to be.

As for every minute of practice being back-breaking work, that’s not true either. 10,000 hours is the estimated time of total practice it takes to be world-class expert. Some of that is going to be back-breaking, but not all of it. If all of it was high intensity focused practice you’d reach world-class expert in less hours. You’d also be more likely to burn out faster, so there’s a balance.

A quick and easy check to see if your practice is worth it is to ask whether you’re challenging yourself. If you’re a writer, are you improving your craft, reading books and thinking about them critically, trying new things? If you’re a singer are you singing the same songs you’ve sang a dozen times, or are you trying new ones, new ranges, following your teacher’s feedback, listening critically to other singers? And so on.

Now that’s cleared up, let’s go onto this book.

This book spends a lot of time talking about deep practice, and deliberate practice. It’s approached from all areas from music to sports. This is the kind of practice you want to aim for. It helps you get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time. Everyone wants that.

It also looks in-depth at myelin and the scientific mechanisms behind learning. I’m a very visual person, so I loved being able to ‘see’ what was happening when I attempt to learn a skill, and why struggling is so important.

A five-star book with valuable information to add to skill building. This is one of those books that should be read by all teachers and parents, and anyone who wants to become good at something (which is everyone).

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5771014-the-talent-code