All Book Reviews

The Long Cosmos
Pratchett, Terry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

By the time I reached the end of the Long Earth series, I had a revelation. With the bounding conditions of the universe being that there are multiple worlds accessible via stepping and that no iron can pass between worlds, the ideas to explore these multiple worlds are almost endless. My revelation was that this series would have been better as an anthology of short stories from a collection of authors, instead of a handful of semi-disjointed novels that didn’t ever quite know what they were doing. The story never shined through, instead of feeling like a distracted three-year-old who wants to explore the potential of other worlds.

While I felt the series was starting to succeed in telling coherent and solid plots, this book removed that forward progress. When nearly one-third of the first part of the book seems to be comprised entirely of summary and recaps of the last four books, you know there’s not a lot of original ideas present in this one. And while minor tangents like the Johnny Shakespeare side-plot were amusing, they were loosely connected to the main plot at best. Even this main plot didn’t feel like it had enough time spent on it, as the main character of Joshua Valienté seemed to spend most of his time distracted on other worlds with unique trees instead of exploring the Long Cosmos that this book was supposed to be describing.

Even though this book was released after Terry Pratchett's death, it was clear he still had some of his influence on the plot and characters. Unfortunately, as was the case in the other books of the series, his contributions seemed to be fairly obvious, as they were the ones that didn’t quite fit in with everything else and just managed to be silly in an otherwise scientific exploration of new worlds.

The final book in a series that should have been an anthology, I give The Long Cosmos 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Hunters
Flanagan, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The novel, The Hunters, by John Flanagan is a great read. The book is the third in the Brotherband book series, and is still entertaining, even if you haven't read the previous books. Throughout the tale of Hal and his fellow Herons, every character is well developed, including some of the side characters. The only thing that I would recommend is that the author tries to build more of a connection between these great characters and the reader. The plot does include some unexpected, but well-placed twists and turns, which adds to the story, but the overall plot is sort-of bland. It's just a good guys versus bad guys kind of story, and it includes some unnecessary events that just seem to prolong the story. I see a great deal of more potential to build upon the base story and flesh it out, especially with the theme of brotherhood in mind. Overall the book is a pretty good read if you're into adventure, and I would recommend it to anyone with some spare free time.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L.
Awards:
The Quillan Games
MacHale, D.J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Quillan Games, by D.J. MacHale, is a phenomenal read, as are all of the other Pendragon books. The Quillan Games is the seventh book in the Pendragon series, and I would recommend starting from book one if you want to fully understand what's going on. The overall story and plot are intricate but well demonstrated with subtle but important details. Both the story and plot are also elegantly woven with the theme of identity. Throughout all of this, Bobby and most of the characters are developed in a way where they also faced with this theme of identity, and adopt it as they progress through the story. The overall dystopian universe created in this book is also fascinating. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone with a bit of time on their hands, as the series incorporates many elements that will keep you hooked for hours. Gr.9.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L.
How to Raise the Perfect Dog
Millan, Cesar
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

How to Raise the Perfect Dog is a great book for those looking to raise a dog. Whether your skeptical about getting a dog or have problems with your current one, this is the perfect book for you. While it's quite a weird book to review, the book gets across its point. It teaches the fundamentals of raising a dog and even elaborates very well on some aspects of dog raising. Overall, it's a pretty good book, but I would only recommend it to those who have a dog.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L.
Genres:
Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Choldenko, Gennifer
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Al Capone Shines My Shoes is an incredible story, that follows up the Newbery Honor novel Al Capone Does My Shirts. In this book, Moose Flanagan's autistic sister is headed to a boarding for special needs students, due to one of the most notorious inmates in Alcatraz. Al Capone is more involved in this story
than the first and writes Moose a letter asking a favor. Choldenko does a great job of mixing real life criminals and fictional characters to make an amazing narrative to read. I enjoyed how this book was very surprising and stood out from the first book in the series. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a mysterious and exciting story to read.

Reviewer's Name: Miles
Genres:
Al Capone Does My Homework
Choldenko, Gennifer
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Al Capone Does My Homework finishes off an amazing book series to read. This book is action packed and includes gambling, stolen belongings, and counterfeit money. Al Capone plays a surprising role in this story and saves someone's life. Moose's relationships with his friends are further developed in this novel, and his father is promoted which puts Moose's family in even more danger. This book is spectacular and filled with action. It is a very good closing to the series and gives all readers a different perspective of Al Capone.

Reviewer's Name: Miles
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Rowling, J. K.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finishes off an exciting series that is one of the best of all time. In this book Harry finds out that he must kill Lord Voldemort and can only do so by finding his hidden Horcruxes. The book contains an astonishing ending and many characters fight for their lives. It also has twists, turns and plenty of action as Harry, Ron and Hermione run from Death Eaters on the quest to kill Voldemort. I would recommend this book for older readers and adults. Also, I would recommend reading the books before this one to understand what is going on in the story. It is an overall action-packed adventure.

Reviewer's Name: Miles
Genres:
The Giver
Lowry, Lois
2 stars = Meh
Review:

In the story "The Giver", the main character Jonas lives in what he thinks to be an utopia until he receives knowledge that only him and another person in the community hold. With this knowledge he realizes that his community lacks so much that things must change. Jonas decides to rebel against the guidelines with the other person in the community that holds the information he does which is The Giver. Jonas leaves the community by simply walking out of the borderlines and as a result the community receives the change Jonas and The Giver wanted. The book does end on a cliffhanger, which I did not like and what happens to Jonas and his escape partner is not definite. I read this book because it was what we were reading for the unit at my school in advanced language arts. I did not like the book. I didn't like the characters or the setting. "The Giver" is in a genre of books that I do not usually read and I think that is why I was not fond of it. The characters are not relatable in my opinion but to other people they might be. The plot of "The Giver" was disappointing. In general I just really didn't care for the book, but it wasn't the worst book I have read this year.

Reviewer's Name: Oriana O.
Hatchet
Paulsen, Gary
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The award winning book by Gary Paulsen, Hatchet, is about a boy named Brian
whose parents are divorced. Right before, Brian gets on the plane that would
take him to his Dad’s house, his mother gives him a hatchet. While flying
over the 1000s of miles of forests in Canada, the pilot has a heart attack
and dies. Brian is forced to fly the plane into a lake in the middle of the
forest. Somehow he survives the crash, but now he is stranded in the
wilderness. He must survive against the harshness of nature with only his
mind and the hatchet to help him.

The realistic scenarios make the reader feel like they are trapped in the
forest with Brian. It was interesting to think about what would have happened
if he did not have the hatchet with him and the reader wonders what they
would do in Brian’s place. Would they be able to survive until help came
and make life or death decisions?

Hatchet is actually the original book in what Paulsen turned into a five book
series. I would recommend reading the whole series, it really deepens the
view of the story. My personal favorite is the second book, Brian’s Winter,
but the entire story is definitely worth reading. 8th Grade.

Reviewer's Name: Ben
There's a Dragon in Your Book
Fletcher, Tom
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

If you’re a fan of interactive books, you should check this one out. It
starts with an egg which hatches into a dragon. That baby dragon sneezes and
sets the book on fire. Use your imagination (and follow the instructions) to
help save the day!

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin
Mosca, Julia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Do you ever feel different from the people around you? Are you struggling
with figuring out how you fit in? If so, read the story of Temple Grandin.
Although struggling with autism, her unique way of thinking allowed her to
become an amazing scientist who invented farm improvements used around the
world. This biography, set it rhyme, encourages all to STAND TALL.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
I Spy on the Farm
Gibbs, Edward
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is a great introduction to the game of I Spy. Follow the clues to
guess which farm animal is visible through the eyehole. The animal’s sound
is given as a clue. You can then take the book to the next level by playing
the game wherever you are.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Meeow and the Big Box
Braun, Sebastien
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Meeow likes making things. See what he can do with a box and his imagination. Be inspired to make things of you own.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Book of Massively Epic Engineering Disasters
Connolly, Sean
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

History tells us of many engineering disasters from the Colossus of Rhodes to the “Unsinkable” Titanic and more. While some of these engineering disasters are merely embarrassing, others had deadly consequences. Learn about what happened in these events and then try out the hands-on experiments demonstrating why the event happened. Learn not just the “what”, but also “why” and have some fun doing it.

Reviewer's Name: Carol
The Long Utopia
Pratchett, Terry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

After the events that take place in The Long Mars , I was expecting the next book in the series, The Long Utopia, to be about the CEO of the Black Corporation and the settlement he established to help him live longer. Instead, I got a story that had little to no connection to the previous plots. That being said, at least there was a story with a projected conclusion instead of merely a series of random events that eventually led to the sudden destruction of some location (as had been the case up until now).

While I did appreciate some of the back-story for Joshua Valienté, there wasn’t anything in Joshua’s behavior or motivations in any of the previous books that indicated that he was even interested in learning about his past. I also was pleased that some of the “limitations” of this universe were brought back, or at least provided as a reminder to the reader. It honestly doesn’t make sense to me that these parallel worlds would have the kind of technology available to them without the use of iron. The fact that the material workarounds were never explained is probably the most frustrating part to me.

As I mentioned already, the stronger story in this book helped keep me invested in the characters, not only as they tried to figure out what was happening, but as they tried to determine how to stop it. Unfortunately, none of the consequences in this universe seem to hold any weight. Lobsang can “die,” but there are still plenty other versions of him around. The Next can be mostly exterminated, but then the next book just glosses over the attempted genocide. In the end, though, I can’t honestly tell you what the titular “Utopia” of this book was, and that’s disappointing.

A slightly above-average chapter in the Long Earth series, I give The Long Utopia 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Bird Box
Malerman, Josh
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Imagine, you are a mom who has had to raise her two kids in a world where going outside was a major undertaking. No! This world is not filled with the usual “monstrous suspects” you come to expect in horror novels, vampires, werewolves etc.. this evil is unseen and unknown. It can’t be known, for you see, the moment any person glimpses it, this “evil” drives them to unspeakable violence and shortly after, their own death. The world didn’t used to be like this, it used to be normal but since “the evil” infested our world, things have never been the same. This evil leaves no survivors, and no one can stop it because no one can see it. It simply is unbeatable.

Malorie and her two children live in this world where evil can ravage anyone if you were just to step outside. To protect her and her children she raises them and teaches herself, to live life almost completely blind with a blindfold on most of the time. They do the best they can, holed up in their home trying to survive. One day through their meager means of communication Mallorie hears of this place 20 miles downriver where her and her family might be safe. But only if they can get there. Malorie and her kids, soon after, set out on a harrowing and terrifying journey downriver, all while wearing blindfolds, that will test them in ways they couldn’t have imagine.

Mallerman creates a horrifying and terrifying experience for readers that will leave them continually guessing. The strength of this story is also what makes it the best kind of horror. It’s unknowable and theirs a mystery around every corner. It could be something that could turn out to be a monster or something that could help the hero’s on their journey. The tense and creepy atmosphere Mallerman creates from the character’s surroundings also adds to the overall terrifying and mysterious aura of the story. Add to this that the evil so talked about throughout the book, is never actually revealed. Mallerman does a brilliant job of revealing some things but not everything leaving the readers imagination to make up the rest. And that is the strength of this book really, it turns the readers mind against them. Highly original and so creepy this book is a solid five stars. Pick up this intense terrifying psychological horror story today. And check out the movie coming to Netflix this December. I promise you, you won’t regret it!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Descendants
Hemmings, Kaui Hart
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

On paper, the plot of The Descendants almost sounds like a bad soap opera. A man who has the deciding vote that could mean wealth for him and his extended family is dealing with an unfaithful wife who is in a life-threatening coma. The execution of this plot, however, brings so much humanity to the forefront that I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these events were real. While I loved the movie adaptation of this book, the first-person narrative of the book helped add so much more depth to the story. It’s difficult to get into the main character’s head when there’s no internal monologue like in the movie.

Of course, with such realistic and vulnerable characters, there were bound to be a few that I didn’t like. Ironically enough, I hated the comatose wife. Sure, her husband was probably a bit of a workaholic, but he always meant well and was practically saint-like in his dealings with her, her family, and her friends after her accident. I think the most significant part of my dislike of the wife was how much she seemed to screw up her kids. Throughout almost the entire book, the main character is trying to control his out-of-control daughters, and it becomes abundantly clear where they got their tendency for poor life decisions.

In the end, I probably wouldn’t like the wife character if I met her in real life, which is why I didn’t like her in this book. That says a lot about the realism of the writing here. To be able to create a character that I reacted to on an emotional level (even if it was a negative emotion), with nothing more than what other characters said or remembered about her speaks volumes to the author’s talent. If anything, the contrast of the main character was heightened because of it and showed how noble and upstanding his actions were in the midst of crisis and significant life changes.

An expertly-written book full of juicy drama, I give The Descendants 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Genres:
The Long Mars
Pratchett, Terry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

While the previous two entries in this series seemed to be disjointed in their writing styles, The Long Mars seemed to iron out some of these discrepancies . . . finally. In The Long Earth and The Long War , you could almost pinpoint the sections that Terry Pratchett wrote and the sections primarily written by Stephen Baxter. By The Long Mars, there are still a few moments of Terry Pratchett’s goofiness, but they are few and far between. Consequently, the narrative of The Long Mars seemed a lot more consistent than its predecessors.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that The Long Mars is absent of problems. While there was plenty of exploration of these parallel universes, the ones that were deemed necessary enough to describe didn’t add anything to the plot. In fact, I felt like this book could have been much shorter if these thought experiments that explored how parallel universes would function were cut out entirely. If these momentary breaks in the action were tied to critical moments or conflicts, then I could see their necessity. As they are right now, you could remove almost every one of them and still have the same basic story.

The scientist in me did like the broader examination of what to do with multiple universes, like easily visiting Mars. These concepts were touched on in the previous books, but now they felt a lot more fleshed out. Similarly, I felt like the characters were a lot more interesting, especially the dynamic between Sally and her father. Sure, there were probably a few too many plot lines to follow, but at least I cared about the characters now. I’m also not sure if the ending was supposed to mimic its predecessors, as that was one of my frustrations with The Long War: an almost identical ending to The Long Earth.

A significant improvement in the Long Earth series, I give The Long Mars 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
When God Winks at You
Rushnell, Squire
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A few months ago, I received an e-mail from my mother that passed along a suggestion from my grandmother that I read this book. While not a long book by any means, my wife and I read a story each night after dinner and finished it in a few months. Basically, this collection of inspiring stories goes so far as to suggest that all the fortuitous coincidences we experience in our lives are evidence of a loving and all-powerful Creator. As a Christian, I did see most of these stories as supernaturally-influenced, even if my scientific mind was skeptical at times.

Separating the coincidental with the God-influenced can be difficult. While some stories seemed like mere coincidence, there were still quite a few contained in this volume that had no other explanation other than God showing off what He can do. Collected into a few different categories, many of these stories had us in tears as they were filled with touching moments that spoke to our ability as individuals to be God’s vessels to impart His timing in the lives of others, either to save their lives or to bring blessing into them.

In the end, the book does highlight how our lives can either be seen as a series of coincidences or as God-inspired plans. If we live our lives with the mindset that any lucky break or prescient reminder is just random chance, then we might miss out on some of the truly spectacular coincidences that have no other explanation than being orchestrated by a higher power. On the other hand, if we recognize even the smallest connections in our lives as God acting through the slightest details, we can be comforted in the fact that He cares about us, even down to the minutia.

A little book filled with inspirational stories, I give When God Winks 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Twain, Mark
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Tom Sawyer is not the most likable of characters, but he is clever. This book seems to be an honest depiction of a young boy growing up in the 1840s. I like that Tom, Huck, and the rest of his friends go on adventures big and small. Our children can't do that today, which is a shame. This is a fun book to listen to on audio.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn

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