Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Review of Ernest Cline's "Armada"

As a follow-up to the excellent "Ready Player One," Armada felt much more formulaic, derivative, and rushed.

Among the problems that litter this book, by far the most troubling was the plot's jarring pacing. An overly lengthy intro of mundane life introduces us to a myriad of characters, only to sweep the reader off to an entirely new situation, introducing an all new slew of characters whose dimensionality were undercut by a ten chapter long climax. This certainly seemed liked a trilogy of books all smooshed into a single story that skips straight from the beginning to the end, cutting out most of the middle ground that would have filled it out.

Scaling down to the finer details, this story did manage to come through with its promise to be an ode to outer space nerd lore, from film to TV and to video games. Its premise of video game players becoming soldiers worked well, though more time would have allowed to elaborate more on this. Problems I faced with the nerd cultural fog floating over this story was the over-reliance on pop culture references and quotes used throughout, which seemed indulgent and uncreative. Using "May the force be with us" as a battlecry and other similar instances like this drudged this story in too much nostalgia, taking away opportunities for new, creative ideas to take hold.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review of Frank Portman's "King Dork"

     So maybe my Super Summer is not coming to a realization. I was going strong, downing books like milk at a buffalo wing festival, when it all halted. After some time giving it thought, I think my stoppage boils down to reading books even if they bored me. I tied to convince myself that finishing a book that I didn't like was almost as important or as important as reading ones I do enjoy. I may have been right, but it is draining to spend my leisure time reading mindless dredge, when I could be on the internet doing the same thing with no attachment.
     This is my valiant return, and though I won't finish 25 books by the end of this summer, I will not simply quit. This summer was supposed to be dedicated to reading, and I will make chase.

     I came into this book expecting a change from the common story of a bullied dork, misunderstood by society. What I got instead, was the prime example of what that dilemma should have been about all along. King Dork wound mysteries and hope, but let the real world torment these ideas until this felt like reality. What got me was the all of the mysteries lying in plain sight, and the obvious ones which never got full resolutions. True to life. Every character had premeditated layers of history that keep getting peeled back. Portman has created a living breathing world rich in detail and history.
     The one problem I faced was most of the background of this book was formed through narration. Tom/Chi-mo told us about how much of a nerd he was, but never in the course of the story did he display this. It was as if all of the character development happened between the backstory and the start of the story. That method in general of the main character informing the reader tends to fill the characters out before we even get to meet them in a real sequence. A book should not have all of the characters' reputations proceed them because we only get to glimpse them through the eyes of the narrator. I think the main character should draw conclusions about other characters from their actions during the course of the story.
      I am glad to say, this one will go on the shelf, along with the rest of the best days of my summer.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review of Elisa Ludwig's "The Coin Heist"

     When it takes me longer than two days to post reviews, that's a sign I'm bored to death trying to get through whichever book I am currently reading. Time between reviews, 5 days. I have been inconsistent with how fast I read books, but consistent in how I read the books I enjoy in two days, and the ones I dislike in nearly a week. It is throwing off my schedule, and it is difficult to account for whether or not I'll like a book. By the time I start reading the first chapter, I have already set myself in stone, because it is just as important to read books I detest, as it is to read the ones that make my week. That way, I know what works well, and what falls flat.

    If you're going to have four main characters, make them all uniquely distinguishable. Not just different appearances in backstories, because if they all speak like the same person, it is easy to mix them up. Ludwig was able to shove all the characters into the standard high school cliques, nerd, burnout, popular overachiever, and jock. Then it took the breakfast club, and mixed it with a watered down Ocean's Eleven. Then it took the easy route, setting the main characters attracted to each other.
    If I could add something that this book sorely needed, it would be a villain with a face. The villain in this book was that the characters made a mistake in their plan, or maybe hormones. Otherwise, the threat was nullified because there was nobody throwing himself/herself in the way. The motives were also lacking, because these characters were all doing it for money, but most of them did not justify why they would risk imprisonment for money. One character seemed to only do it because she could hack into the Coin Mint's system. Another did it because he lost his football scholarship to an academics based college prep high school with a poor football team.
    This school was already throwing its money down the drain drafting football players, before it got robbed by the dean. This school has millions of dollars in funding, and somehow entrusted all of that to the dean, rather than a treasurer. And the guy manages to blow $50 million dollars without the school noticing.
    I found the logic in this book so flawed, and the story arc so predictable, I had no drive to see what would happen next. If this ever winds up on my shelf, I hope someone stages an elaborate heist to steal and take it far away.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Review of Blake Nelson's "The Prince of Venice Beach"

    This book I primarily read by loitering inside a Barnes and Noble, which is fitting for this book. I remember going to the setting of this book, Venice Beach once, and my friend said he wished he could be one of the people who just live on the beach so he could get to know all of the interesting folk. I thought, why would you ever want to do something like that:

    This book felt surreal, because it was about homelessness and teens with mental problems, but it was so down to earth. Somehow, the subject matter only bred hope and you almost never pity these characters. Nelson was never trying to make readers feel guilty, and did not try to shove any values down readers' throats. It blended realism and the mundane into a subject that would be abstract to most people.
    I appreciate the effort in keeping this story grounded. It is difficult to wrap one's head around the mind set of some of these characters, but that does not lessen how endearing they are. Cali, shines with optimism and great morals throughout. Jojo just sounds like the best guy you'll ever meet who wears Spongebob sneakers and sleeps on the beach. Other characters play their roles and most are brief, they feel like they exist their in this world, not just plot devices.
    I did have a few issues. The first person narration lead to Cali making generalizations about characters before we got to meet them which tampers with their images. I would prefer if he did not fill my head with the preassembled description that I have for "nerdy girl" and just let a character breathe a bit. I get that we want to see how he perceives her, but that will tamper with how I view her if he makes this statement before he meets her. I also felt like the evil twins showed up too often, too at random. They seemed like they were shoehorned in wherever the plot needed them.
    Otherwise, one of my favorite books of the Super Summer. That's 10 down, 15(+) to go! And shelf.

bad things:
-first person and Cali
-the random twins
-Cali explaining people

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review of John Green's "An Abundance of Katherines"

    I normally try to space out my reading of high-profile authors, but chose to follow up Suzanne Collins with John Green for 2 reasons: 1) I have wanted to read a John Green book for a while now, because he is such a huge author currently in the YA field 2) After reading Mockingjay, I wanted to read something lighter, and so I compromised with my first stipulation by reading a light John Green book. I had wanted to read The Fault in our Stars, but after seeing the movie first, I new it would be heavy. With this review, I've decided to go more in-depth. My review of Mockingjay brief, because had I let myself go, I would have dissected like an alien life form:

    One thing that struck me immediately with this book, was that it was told in the third person. Many popular YA novels thick with quirky narrators and teenage angst opt for the first person view. I appreciated the extra effort. What I did not like so much towards the beginning, was all of the "telling" mostly used to describe character's habits. It felt like my hand was being held too much. The first third had some other troubles such as the narrator giving an opinion out of nowhere, clichéd dialogue and Colin being overly judgmental. Then the last third of the book seemed to get lazy with description, and throw in adverbs. The one thing that annoyed me that isn't a common issue, was the use of the word "fug," and more so its overuse. Until it was explained, the word seemed like a childish way to get around using cuss words. Dialogue does not need cussing to make it impactful, but this turned out to be more of a homage. Now that I have covered my issues, on to the story.
    What carried most of this book was Colin's personality, and just listening to him. Otherwise, not much else had me craving to see what would happen next. One of the strongest problems was the large cast of characters, that are all given limited time and limited personalities so that they seem like filler between Colin's breakthroughs. Most of the other dynamic elements seemed to just fall in place, and Colin merely coexisted with them. His relationship with Hasan and their bickering was also a highlight of the book, but their language made every other character seem too bland. I loved hearing from them so much, and following Colin's train of thought, that it seemed every other aspect was just a nuisance of Green to write.
    I had to admire John Green for the work he put into writing this, such as the cliffnote on remembering the number sequence of pi. He put a lot of love into the little details, that made this book seem real, but almost so real that they seem like they were outright conceived outside of the novel. I think the main issue of this book was spending too much effort on certain aspects that most of the story could not match that level of passion. It was an uneven trip.
    I do not think it was the strongest John Green book to have started off with, but with the few characters he played with, I could see all of the passion and precision he puts into his work. It is hard not to love a book where you can see the author put so much work into. Shelf.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review of Suzanne Collin's "Mockingjay"

    It was an indecent hour, when I finally laid down Mockingjay. I was about to postpone the review, but my nose began to bleed, and I couldn't very well go out like Attila, so I stayed up and started writing. This one differs greatly from any of my other reviews, because it is a sequel. I have, read the other two books in the series, but have decided to review this book by itself, and not rate it compared to the series as a whole:

    It is easy to get lost in the gripping voice of Katniss Everdeen, which distracts from how glum and sometimes dull the beginning of this book could be. Besides her propaganda films, most of the plot is rolled out before her eyes and she just watches. Finally, when she does take the initiative to propel the plot on her lonesome, the payoff is heartbreaking.  This book caught my interest, picked up the action in the middle slowing killing off characters just like the other two, and then the momentum devolves into a snowball during an avalanche, collecting all the pieces into a disorganized jumble that does not know what to do with itself. It was difficult to draw the line at what was supposed to be the climactic moment, but whatever it was, it had way too much fallout. This disrupts the pacing and throws the entire book out of whack after 350 pages. Collins repeats both of her previous entrees, by having the ending of Catching Fire where Katniss is left out on everything and is ineffectual in the climax, but has the prolonged ending of The Hunger Games. 
     To ease my distaste, I was hooked on this book the entire time, and it played out a lot of great moments, that did not quite come together in the end. But, there is no doubt, this one has to go on the shelf.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review of Kate Hattemer's "The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy"

    Honestly, what drew me to the book, aside from the advertising, was the "Vigilante" in the title. Despite not being an actual superhero fiction story, a story of vigilante's has the same concept. However, the plot involving the rebellion against a reality tv show, also had my mind going. Now, let me finally stop dawdling and get to the good stuff (foreshadowing):

    Vigilante Poets straddled the line between ultra realistic, and utterly implausible to a large degree. The characters, emotions, and mundane qualities exuded real life, but much like a reality tv show, there were things that were off. And it was subtle, but I caught wind. For example: A reality tv show shot from a pool of contestants taken from one school that airs Friday nights at 9, and is shot the week prior to airing on tv. A few things wrong with this, in a glorious tricolon: Friday nights between 8pm-11pm is death to a tv show of this caliber, a reality tv show would most likely film months in advance, so there is time to edit every episode, and a reality tv show that takes only students from one highschool in Minnesota would lack diversity  which tv begs for.
    So, I got caught up in some flaws. However, the characters feel all to real. These teens have some unique personalities, are flawed, and do not suffer from many clichés. The writing was exciting, but also having fun with itself. It also had a realistic plot that was not forced towards an absolute resolution.
    The one thing that truly brought this book down was the pacing of the plot. So much time was spent waiting, and discovering, that there was only two instances in the book where the main characters did anything to challenge the system. I could not wait for something to happen, which is normally a good thing, but the breadcrumbs were spaced so far apart it was difficult to reach the next one without getting lost and bored.
    The climax of the book, really grabbed me by the collar though, and I finally got the payoff. If I could suggest anything for this book, it would be that actions speak louder than words. shelf.