Posts Tagged ‘5 stars’

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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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

 

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 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

This is the third 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/

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

This is a giant book. It’s split into two parts, and each one of them is a hefty read by itself. Could you imagine it in hardback? Reading it could double as a workout.

Anyways, I enjoyed this book as much as the previous ones. Despite its size I was kept glued from start to finish. It is a big book, but you don’t notice that reading it. You just drop into the world, and zoom, time flies by along with the pages.

There are LOTS of different characters, and quite a few story lines. You might find it a bit of a mess trying to keep track of everyone, but it’s a beautiful mess. You might end up forgetting a minor character here or there, but the important ones are surprisingly easy to keep track of.

Everyone is fighting. Bodies pile up, and some of them are main characters. I won’t give away who.

There’s a lot of feelings in this book. Gah, like the way Robb is trying to be a brilliant leader, but he’s a teenager! So there’s this whole other side to him that’s just ‘I need an adult!’ And Cat just wants to hug and protect him, but knows she has to help him grow up.

I felt really sorry for Cat. She’s the smartest one, and she’s surrounded by idiots who think everything she says is wrong because of what’s between her legs. She’d be an epic war leader if she were allowed. And she goes through so many tragedies in these books.  She is not having a good year.

Dany is pretty kickass. She’s doing so much good, and she has an insane amount of determination in her. I like her a lot, but I also like a lot of people in the place she’s planning to invade. So, conflicts there.

Jaime goes through the most epic journey I have ever seen from ‘hate this guy’ to ‘actually he’s all right. A jerk, but he has a heart.’ He tried to kill Bran! How can I be liking him? But I do. I like him, and the relationship he develops with Brienne is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. I’d be happy if G R R Martin released a dozen weightlifting sized books of just them two wandering around having adventures. I’d read them all.

Jon makes what everyone else is doing child’s play. You read their povs, and think the war is brutal, and I hope my side wins. Then you go to Jon who has real problems. He’s up against monsters! It makes the war look like a group of kids squabbling on the playground over who gets to play with a neat toy.

Sansa has gone through so much character development. By the end of this book she’s a completely different character to the one we met in the first book. Arya has hardened a lot too. She’s going to grow up to be a very scary person.

Theon. Yeah, let’s not talk about Theon. I spent most of his povs shaking my head in exasperation at him saying ‘Dude. No.’ Every bad decision made me want to yell ‘Bad Theon’ and spray him with some water, then sit him in a corner until he saw sense. Do you think that would take a long time? I think that would take a long time.

To me this book was every bit as good as the last one. So if you liked that one, you should like this one. You get incredibly invested with the characters (but we do lose some more – so be prepared). There are some povs like Davos that are a bit meh. But most of the characters are really fun to follow. Five stars. No question.

For more reviews of this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/768889.A_Storm_of_Swords

and: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/147915.A_Storm_of_Swords

I’m enjoying this series greatly. To read my review of the first book in this series go to: https://samaustinwriter.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/book-review-we…hrones-5-stars/

I’m not the biggest fan of epic fantasies. I love all the pieces: dragons, quests, strange beasts, strange worlds. But I find a lot of the writing gets bogged down with all the details, or characters. I love the idea of epic fantasies. I just find it’s so easy to make them boring to read. While this book has a lot of characters, and a big, interesting world, it’s in no way boring.

Because I was analyzing it, the first book took months to get through. I enjoyed it enough that I figured if I wasn’t picking it apart I’d zoom through it. Since I made it through this one in four days, I think I was right. Putting it down to attend to life’s many demands was difficult.

I found it every bit as good as the first book. The characters were deep and wonderfully flawed. The action kept coming. The plot unfolds nicely, and never dawdled long enough for me to get bored.

We keep up with our various characters. Jon seeks the wildings beyond the wall. Dany tries to find allies for her quest to claim the iron throne. Tyrion (one of the most interesting characters in this book) is ordered by his father to become the new kings hand, and the Starks are everywhere. Bran and Rickon are on the run. Robb is a king of an army. Arya (now Arry) is a serving wrench in the middle of a world torn by battles. Sansa undergoes epic character development as she learns more about how brutal the world can be.

All their stories move forward. All the characters change in some way. They grow, some of them too quickly. The world in these books is rich, the plot engaging, but my favorite part of this series is rapidly becoming the character development. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it. It’s beautiful.

They’ve all undergone harsh circumstances. They all react differently. They adapt and rise to the occasion – some sooner than others – but most lose something of themselves along the way. Some break, and eventually pull themselves together with jagged pieces all sticking out.

The hound, who I thought I’d hate forever after he killed Micah, shows a softer side in this book. I’m amazed at how Martin can make characters who do such horrible things, and still make you like at least part of them. So, good book. Five stars. If you’re wondering if this is as good as the first one, the answer is yes.

For more reviews on this book go to:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10572.A_Clash_of_Kings

 

 

I admit it, I’m a tiny bit obsessed with world war two. I’m currently trudging my way through ‘The Coming of the Third Reich’ which is fascinating, though very very dense. It’s a hard read, but I’m hoping it’ll be a worthwhile one.

The Forgotten Soldier however is not a hard read. Not in the same way at least. It’s a very well written memoir about the experiences of a German foot-soldier during world war two. I’ve read a few memoirs from ww2, and none have illustrated the hardships of soldiers in the war quite as well as this one. He doesn’t deter from spilling everything down on the page. From his optimistic view as he entered the war, to all the visceral details of the emotional and physical realities of battle on him and his fellow soldiers.

He manages to get across all the pain and fear he felt. The agony of freezing Russian winters, the loneliness of being so far from home, the pain and noise of fighting. There are so many moments that will stay with me. Him huddling in a trench, terrified with enemy tanks around him. Him talking about the planes that would come to machine gun the civilians they were trying to get to safety. Russians sending their soldiers to march over fields set with bombs to clear the way for the tanks. When they captured some Russians and all the german soldiers decided to split their rations with them so they would have something to eat.

Or when he was forced to retreat from a horrible battle, and he and his fellow soldiers had no choice but to wait in the open for rescue while the planes flew over to fire at them. Then, when rescue finally came they forced to line up and give an inventory of their equipment, and if something was lost or damaged in battle they were reprimanded which made some of the exhausted men burst into tears.

He was treated so badly by so many, from doctors who ignored serious illness to send him back to fight, to  soldiers being killed for looting food, even though they were starving and hadn’t been given rations, and in many cases the food had been abandoned. We get a view from the inside as Germany’s resources diminish. He gets less equipment, and most shocking is the scene when they get new recruits. Half are elderly men, and the other half are children, some laughing with each other and swapping candy.

You see how his perspective changes over time. He starts off the eager young recruit fighting for the third Reich. Then after numerous hard battles and hearing some of the spreading rumors about what Hitler is doing to the Jews, he’s not fighting for the Reich anymore, nor his country. He’s fighting for his family. Then the war goes on, and all he’s fighting for is to keep him and his friends alive. Near the end they’re more than ready to stop fighting. All they’re concerned about is who they turn themselves in to.

I think it’s good for future generations to remind themselves of the impact of events like these so we don’t repeat them. This does a good job of showing a tiny proportion of that impact, and in doing so gives you another reminder of the scale of war and how many lives it ruins.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/102305.The_Forgotten_Soldier