The journey of a nerd who loves the Lord

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Book Review Roundup

Another week has gone by where I have not completed any real writing exercises.  I did spend some time researching and reading, however.  Some of the literature I read ties into my writing more so than the rest of it.  As I share with you my thoughts on these stories, you will find a good mix.  As always, the star ratings simply represent how much I enjoyed the books, and are not meant to be some true “objective” critique as to the quality of the writing involved.

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Book Review – Daughter of Dragons

Dragon1Daughter of Dragons
The Legacy of Dragons, Book 1
By: Jack Campbell
Narrated by: MacLeod Andrews
Audio Length: 11 hrs and 27 mins
Release date: 02-14-17

I do not recall clearly, but I believe I picked this audio book up on a super sale for $1.99 or so.  The premise reads,

The world of Dematr had been locked unchanging for centuries by the Great Guilds, most people living in a world of oil lamps, crossbows, and horse cavalry, the Mechanics reserving to themselves the technology for steam locomotives, rifles, and far-talkers while the Mages treated all others as if they were nothing – until Master Mechanic Mari, dragon slayer and pirate queen, and Master of Mages Alain raised the army of the new day to free their world.

Kira of Pacta Servanda, the daughter of the two greatest heroes of her world, was six years old the day she stood on a battlement in Dorcastle, staring up at a statue of her mother while surrounded by bodyguards who fenced Kira off from the nearby crowds. As the morning sun cast the shadow of Mari’s statue over Kira, she realized that she would spend the rest of her life in that shade. Then the world of Dematr learned that a new kind of ship had left the far-distant world of Urth. The ship would take only 10 years to cover the immense distances between stars. Of all the colony worlds, the ship was coming to Dematr. But for what purpose? Kira was 16 when the ship from Urth arrived, and she discovered that her world still needed heroes.

tigrexUpon reading the premise, I worried that the plot would consist of moan worthy cliches.  I was pleasantly surprised.  While Kira, the main character, has angsty, parent-hating moments that you expect from these types of stories, they are tempered by moments when she demonstrates respect for her parents.  For me, this made it easier for me to relate to her (and kept me from stopping half way through!).  Unfortunately, the plot does involve a budding love interest for her, full of some of the same ol’ one would expect, but the action keeps these from taking center stage for too long.

The above would certainly not push me to recommend this book, but it has three things going for it.  First, the original setting draws you in.  Dematr has mechanics and wizards in a medieval / steampunk like era… and figuring out how that works and their history becomes part of the fun.  Yet, without spoiling too much, how the world got started, and their connection with the ship, proves more interesting.  Second, I really liked the antagonist, and how the final confrontation resolves.  This evil woman represents the worst of humanity’s greed, and gives the reader motivation to see if and how she’s gets what she wants, or her due.  Finally, I really enjoyed the pacing of the book.  It jumped into the action and did not let go until the end.  A few slow scenes throughout provided a needed respite from the action, but it never drug on too long.  I also found it refreshing to read a book that painted parents, and the family relationship, in a positive light.

I can easily recommend this book to lovers of fantasy, sci-fi, and family friendly stories.  Mind you, I understand that life is not always peaches and cream.  And, I enjoy a down to earth, dark story from time to time.  However, I also read books as a form of escape, to imagine better things, and this book does a great job of that… and wraps it all in an exciting journey.  4/5 stars.

4star

Book Review: Ex-Heroes

exheroEx-Heroes
Written by Peter Clines
Narrated by Audible Stuidos

Description

Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes. Vigilantes. Crusaders for justice, using their superhuman abilites to make Los Angeles a better place. Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Despite the best efforts of the superheroes, the police, and the military, the hungry corpses rose up and overwhelmed the country. The population was decimated, heroes fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland like so many others. (more…)

Book Review: Survival Quest

survivalSurvival Quest
Written by Vasily Mahanenko
Narrated by Jonathan Yen

Description

Barliona: a virtual world jam-packed with monsters, battles – and, predictably, players. Millions of them come to Barliona, looking forward to the things they can’t get in real life: elves and magic, dragons and princesses, and unforgettable combat. The game has become so popular that players now choose to spend months online without returning home. In Barliona, anything goes: You can assault fellow players, level up, become a mythical hero, a wizard, or a legendary thief. The only rule that attempted to regulate the game demanded that no player be allowed to feel actual pain. But there’s an exception to every rule. For a certain bunch of players, Barliona has become their personal hell. They are criminals sent to Barliona to serve their time. They aren’t in it for the dragons’ gold or the abundant loot. All they want is to survive the virtual inferno. They face the ultimate survival quest..

A few weeks ago, I found a blog about books while surfing.  One of the entries mentioned a ‘new genre’ of books called “LitRPG.”  Essentially, LitRPGs take you through the experience of a role playing game (MMORPG in this case), first hand.  While some fantasy books attempt to tell stories within the lands created by game writers, LitRPGs actually take you through the game… by putting you directly in the mind of one of the gamers.  The protagonist shares with you the rules of the game, the crunch under the hood, the monotony of grinding and the ecstasy of leveling up.

I thought, at first, that the incessant ‘system messages’ and crunch might make the book a bit too boring.  And, for some readers, it probably is.  However, for those of us who have spent dozens of hours reading boards and hint books to learn how to best level up characters in video games, we can find a lot to like here.  The main character, stuck in this virtual world, may be a bit boring and two dimensional.  However, the world around the character really stands out.  After all, with a video game as the setting, anything can and will happen.  While a typical fantasy novel is constrained by the need to have some basis in logic, natural order of things, etc., (with magic providing some exception to that), the world of Barliona is constrained only by video game/MMO logic and rules.  This allows the author a lot of freedom in exploring fantastical possibilities even while utilizing a somewhat boring main character and typical MMO quest lines.  While the first book sets the stage, the 2nd book really explores these possibilities more fantastically.

Normally, this book by itself would get a 4/5 from me.  However, three things elevate this book to the coveted 5/5 stars.  First, while I’m only about half way or so through the second book, it is clear that the author saved some of his more imaginative twists and turns for future books.  Second, this approach to fantasy story telling feels fresh.  Originality always wins brownie points from me!  Finally, my wife gives it two thumbs WAY up.  She enjoyed this book so much, she has torn through the rest of the books available in this series.  She simply cannot stop listening.  While the writing is great, the reader definitely carries his end and does a great job using voices effectively to tell the story.

I can highly recommend this book series to any of my friends who enjoy computer and console RPGs.

5/5 Stars

 

5star

Book Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Written by Ernest Cline
Narrated by Wil Weaton

Description

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

A fellow friend of the nerd variety recommended this book… and boy, am I glad he did.  Ready Player One grabs you by the seat of your pants and does not let you go.  Imagine Willy Wonka meets The Matrix, you get Ready Player One.  Before he died, the creator of the OASIS, a virtual reality world, set up a contest.  Whoever could find his ‘easter egg’ (think hidden secret) located somewhere in the simulation, would inherit his company and vast fortune.  To solve the clues, players have to know pop culture from the 70s and 80s.  Set in a dystopian future, this adventure follows Wade Watts, as he works with his friends to win that contest, all while minions from an evil corporation attempt to do the same.

Those of us who grew up in the age of the Atari 2600, Commodore 64 and Nintendo will find much to like here.  As the main character works his way through the puzzles and contests, the pop culture references come fast and furious.  Yet, even those lacking in knowledge will find that the adventure itself has plenty of excitement and edge-of-the-seat moments.  My wife, who listened to the book with me, couldn’t wait to see what happened next.  Every chapter seemed to raise the stakes just a bit more.  At a few points, I even heard her cheering for the protaganist.

A few elements took away from our overall enjoyment, however.  Primarily, the ending felt a bit rushed.  We would have enjoyed another chapter wrapping things up a bit more, or an epilogue.  Also, some of the relationships felt a bit…cliché.  The story of one of the supporting characters made my wife and I groan.  While I will not go into details for fear of spoilers, it feels like another attempt to force a political viewpoint into a story…and one that does not feel organic.  Thankfully, the author does not spend too much time on this point.

With that being said, we still enjoyed the ride quite a bit, and can recommend it to any of our friends.  It’s a relatively short, self contained, exciting adventure for the entire family.  If you enjoy older pop/nerd culture, you will feel right at home, here.  If you opt for the audible version, rest assured that Wil Weaton does a great job bringing this story to life.  I would love to hear him again.  4/5 Stars

Book Review: Till We Have Faces

facesTill We Have Faces Audio Book Review
Written by C.S. Lewis Audio
Narrated by Nadia May

Description

  1. C.S. Lewis reworks the timeless myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction in this novel about the struggle between sacred and profane love. Set in the pre-Christian world of Glome on the outskirts of Greek civilization, it is a tale of two princesses: the beautiful Psyche, who is loved by the god of love himself, and Orual, Psyche’s unattractive and embittered older sister who loves Psyche with a destructive possessiveness. Her frustration and jealousy over Psyche’s fate sets Orual on the troubled path of self-discovery. Lewis’ last work of fiction, this is often considered his best by critics.

As part of my recent C.S. Lewis kick, I picked up this book, not really knowing what to expect.  I saw the note in the description mentioning that many consider this one of Lewis’ best books, and many of the user reviews agreed.

First, Lewis writes this story of self-discovery completely from the first perspective, which I have grown to enjoy the more I read.   Lewis does a great job keying into the main character, Orual, and making you feel as she feels.  Early on, Orual makes it clear she has beef with the gods, and Lewis does a great job explaining exactly why.  While some define atheists as those who do not believe in gods at all, I have seen some (in fiction) define them as those who believe that the gods are simply not worthy of faith and worship.  That’s exactly how Orual thinks, as nearly the entire book serves as her well thought out complaint against them as a whole.

Ironically, I have seen this exact same sentiment in some of my atheists friends and family.  If God does not exists, how can they be so mad at Him?  I see them shaking their fist in the air, at Him.  They argue, if He exists, He must be a cruel God because of XYZ… and therefore not worthy of worship even if they saw Him face to face.  Lewis excellently paints the argument, drawing on his own feelings and experience as an atheist for many years.  His final strokes in the tale and debate are masterfully painted.

His excellence permeates the other aspects of the story, as well.  From the supporting characters, to describing the world.  He wastes not a word.  In fact, I had to slow down my normal playing speed as He uses thick language full of color and thought.  You cannot listen to this book casually, lest you miss an important point.

Nadia May executes the narration near flawlessly, lending a different voice to each character.  I really enjoyed this entire book from beginning to end.  I highly recommend it to my friends who study theology, those looking for a good, fictional book steeped in mythology, and even my atheist friends who may find a kindred soul in the main character.   5/5 Stars.

5star

Audible Books

Salutations!

I know the following sounds like a commercial!  But, honestly, I just want to share one of the cooler things I enjoy with y’all.

With my busy life, I can struggle to find even a little time to read books.  If you have kept up with my blog, you know that I highly value this activity, as it exercises the mind and usually forces you to think through some of the deeper subjects of life.  Even a fictional story can shed light on deeper issues while entertaining.  I have found that books do a better job of this than other mediums, such as movies.  So, how does a busy bee like me find time to read? (more…)