Category: Other People’s Books

Pines, by Blake Crouch

Other People's Books

Pines (The Wayward Pines Trilogy, Book 1) by [Crouch, Blake]

As a general rule, if books get a whole lot of attention, get turned into a movie or TV series (this one was a pretty good TV series), and so on, it kind of turns me off. But I have to admit: this book was just plain brilliant. The author does a superb job of slowly lowering us into a mind-bending experience, and expertly find the point where it’s almost too much strangeness and then “Oh my God, DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?” And then it gets wild from there. Really, everyone should try this. Different people like different genres, but I honestly feel like the only person who might not like this one is that lonely person who exclusively reads werewolf-themed bodice-rippers.

H2O (re-released as The Rain), by Virginia Bergin

Other People's Books

H2O (H2O Series Book 1) by [Bergin, Virginia]

It’s hard to find a novel populated with young folks that deals realistically with the gritty, awful truths of a world-ending disaster. This one does. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s not one of those stories where out plucky heroine somehow rises above and conquers the world. But it’s a good story, absorbing, sometimes disturbing, sometimes sad, but always worth the journey.

Something from the Nightside, by Simon R. Green

Other People's Books

Something from the Nightside (Nightside Series Book 1) by [Green, Simon R.]

Brilliant, different, snarky fun. The book, like the characters in the book, doesn’t take anything too seriously, but it sure is fun. I’ve read all the Nightside books that have been released so far (11 of them), and though things might start getting rather worn by book 9 or so, the first ones are truly memorable fun. The author has created a uniquely twisted mirror-world that is hugely fun to play around in, and a good cast of reluctant, misfit heroes to follow through that world. Give it a try.

Empty Space, by Alan Black

Other People's Books

Empty Space by [Black, Alan]

Empty Space

Can a sociopath be a hero? Why yes. Yes he can.

I love Alan Black’s books because he takes a fun sci-fi adventure and peppers it with truly interesting characters who give the story an extra level of exploration and fascination. This one has that in spades.

The book starts out like many other sci-fi tales, in a far-future world of a highly stratified society where our hero is, against all odds, working to rise above his lower-class roots and make something of himself. It comes as no surprise that members of the higher society whose ranks he aspires to join are not welcoming, and actively set out to sabotage him. What is a surprise is the character’s reaction.

I’m not going to spoil the author’s gradual development and unveiling of his main character, but I will tell you that Mr. Black does what very few authors do: he acknowledges that his character comes from a difficult upbringing, he doesn’t shy away from the horrible things that happen to that character as a member of a disadvantaged class. Moreover, the author does shy away from the emotional scars that the character’s past has left. Instead, those scars become the key to why this main character is different than any of the others whose stories you’ve read.

By the end, I found myself rooting for the main character, of course, while at the same time having a vigorous internal debate with myself about what it said about me that I was pulling for a guy who, to be honest, did some pretty terrible things to other people, deserved or not.

Thank you, Mr. Black, for giving me that extra layer of meaning and introspection. It makes a fun story so much more.

I Am the Weapon (Unknown Assassin series, Book 1), by Allen Zadoff

Other People's Books

I Am the Weapon

(Note that this was originally released under the title “Boy Nobody.”)

There are a lot of teen spy novels out there: hapless teen is living his regular life one day, and the next day he is thrown into being a spy, which is a life filled with adventure, secret bases, high tech gadgetry, and overly dramatic bad guys. (Cherub, Department 19, Alex Rider, H.I.V.E., and so on.)

This teen is different. He’s no light-hearted Joe bumbling through his life. This teen is serious. This teen is a pure assassin; no regrets, no feelings, no sympathy. Get close to the target, kill, and move on to the next job. He didn’t really have much choice but to become an assassin and, to tell the truth, hasn’t had much of an urge to be introspective about it. As a basis for a character, it’s brilliant. The main character does, as you may suspect, start to question his life choices and the choices that are made for him. The bad guys and good guys become less clear, instead of more clear, as the novel moves along, and the reader navigates the main character’s reality as it starts to shift beneath him.

It’s a fun read, but it’s also got a unique perspective that brings it above other novels in this genre. If you’ve enjoyed any of the teen spy novels out there, you’ll love this one.

I’ve since read the other novels in this series. They aren’t quite to the level of book 1, mostly because the concept and character are no longer new, but the quality of the series remains high.

Metal Boxes, by Alan Black

Other People's Books

Metal Boxes by [Black, Alan]

Metal Boxes

Good stuff! This was my introduction to Alan Black, and I’m sure glad I found him. He’s a reliable source for a rousing tale, full of action and avoiding the stereotypes of his genre when he can.

This book is all I’ve learned to expect from Alan Black. It’s a little off the path of most science fiction novels, with a main character that’s more a misfit than a swashbuckling hero. But as you might guess, he does eventually come into his own.

Very good editing and the author shows a serious talent for storytelling. I feel like I know the characters well, and the world-building is very succinct and clear.

And finally, the ultimate test: I lost track of time as I read this, becoming fully involved in the character’s struggles and really rooting for him. Pick this book up for some good entertainment.

Traitor’s Blade (The Greatcoats), by Sebastien de Castell

Other People's Books

Traitor's Blade (The Greatcoats) by [de Castell, Sebastien]

Traitor’s Blade (The Greatcoats)

For about the first third of the book, I was really enjoying this as a fast-moving, light-hearted adventure tale. But sometimes a reader can identify the magical moment when a book crosses from good to great; from fun to memorable. For me, (don’t worry – no spoilers here) that was when Falcio said “Watch out for the arrow.”

At that moment I realized I was reading something that was exquisitely plotted and prepared, with rich characters that I truly cared about, living in a world I could see with perfect clarity.

The only negative I can mention is that I read this book in January, and I think I’ve already found the book I’m going to be telling others was the best book I read in 2016. (Update – it’s October now, and yes, this is still the best book of 2016).

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness

Other People's Books

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Patrick Ness is quickly becoming one of my two or three favorite authors. Everything he produces contains not only a well-thought-out plot, but also seems to come from a unique perspective that other authors haven’t approached before. Whether it’s hearing the thoughts of a dog (Knife of Never Letting Go) a book where you’re not even sure what the “monster” is (The Monster Calls) or whatever it was that happened to me in More Than This, Patrick Ness just never lets me sit still and read. He has to show me something different.

And this book is really all about “unique perspective,” in several ways. There is a typical YA thriller going on in the background someplace, but we’re just learning about the regular kids: the ones with no superpowers who are not the Chosen One and aren’t super-spies either. And guess what? These kids have their own lives, too. They have problems. They’re trying to navigate family, peers, and even themselves. Who needs an adventure with aliens when you’re trying, like every other teen, to figure own your own life in this weird little world?

Patrick Ness slips so many interesting philosophical nuggets into this narrative as he tells the tale of these “regular” kids. I want every person in my life who works with teens (teachers, parents, etc.) to read this book just because of these glimpses into the heads of these teens. I found their lives fascinating, and the way their lives fit within the framework of their unique home town and the stories happening in the background of the town… This is a true five-star book from Mr. Ness… Again!

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

Other People's Books

Six of Crows

First off, I had to spring for the hardback version, because the black-edged pages are just so cool. Good job, marketing department.

But Lo, there is a book inside the pages! And it’s a good book!

This is a wonderfully imagined world, with complicated characters who have complicated back stories, and plot that keeps things moving at a good clip. And good news for adults who are made nervous by modern YA offerings: There’s no weepy girl gazing into the dark pools of a rough hero’s eyes in this one. The male hero’s rough but more dangerous than hunky, and the female lead is about the most dangerous person around. Together, they and their supporting cast tell a riveting tale.

I’m looking forward to the next installment.

The Dragon Star (Realms of Shadow and Grace: Volume 1), by G. L. Breedon

Other People's Books

The Dragon Star (Realms of Shadow and Grace: Volume 1) by [Breedon, G.L.]

The Dragon Star

OK, this review is overly long. But it’s a big book, and there’s a lot to talk about; not only with the seven episodes, seven story arcs, and host of main characters, but with the innovative way the author is using the digital book form as well.

First the story; almost 800 pages of it. (Though to be fair, there’s a lot of detailed background stuff at the back and you don’t have to read all that.) It’s worth it. I just pretended I was reading three books in a row and was perfectly happy.

This book is well written and well edited. It really has to be, to hold all the detail of what’s going on in the story. And it’s an interesting story. This is a sweeping fantasy, intricately plotted, with varied and detailed characters ranging all across the large world the author has conceived. The basic premise is that about 10% of the world’s population suddenly starts to have the same dream of a new religion forming around a new goddess. Then, as shown in the dreams, a new, red star suddenly shines in the night sky for all to see.

Unsurprisingly, these strange events set off a variety of different storylines across the world. Some ignore the dreams, many pretend they aren’t having them, some embrace this new religion, and some hunt down the dreamers as heretics. And away we go, following seven main storylines and a dozen or so characters as they weave around the world, occasionally crossing paths but often having very little to do with each other.

Here’s the part where this book becomes unique. You can read the book, like any other book, front to back. That’s how I started. But I’ve got to tell you, it annoys me when each chapter moves on to another storyline. At the end of each chapter I’m forced to give up on the people whose story I just got interested in and switch my brain, reminding myself again who this new set of characters are and what they are doing. Then I get going with the new storyline and… Argh! The chapter ends and I’ve got to take up a whole new cast and plot!

The solution to this? Digital media to the rescue! The author has taken what I believe is an important leap forward, using the digital book to his advantage. If you reach the end of a chapter and don’t want to switch to a new storyline, guess what? You don’t have to switch! Just follow the link at the end of the chapter and the book zips you to the next installment of that same storyline. Or, to get even more specific, there are also links at the end of a chapter to follow a specific character if you get really into one person.

Practically speaking, this technique has its pluses and minuses. I did follow some of the individual storylines and I enjoyed not having to leave the people I was interested in. I liked that. There were a few hitches, though. For example, in one storyline I followed, I moved on to the next occurrence of the storyline and was dismayed to learn that somebody had been assassinated, and I hadn’t read that bit; turns out their assassination was told from the perspective of a character in a different storyline. That was kind of disconcerting, but overall, I liked the technique. Usually the storylines stayed separate enough that following one to the end didn’t ruin the surprises in another storyline.

Finally, a few technical things. The editing in the book was superb, with grammar errors being very rare. Also, the author used links throughout the book to give the reader background on concepts and history of the world he was building to very good effect. Many times I saw something mentioned in the story, followed a link to read a few pages about what that thing was, and then was conveniently zipped back to where I came from, ready to continue the story and feeling that I knew what was being talked about. That was much appreciated. (And it must have been a huge amount of work – there are links to all sorts of things, taking me all over the place, and I imaging it must have taken forever to get everything working.)

So to sum up: This long, well-written and very complex book is worth the time, not just for the story, but to experience the new things the author is doing with the digital book format. Honestly it’s four stars for the story, and one extra star for advancing the art form.

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