Tag Archives: good book reviews

“We Are the Ants” Book Review

“We Are the Ants” is a Young Adult semi-science fiction novel by Shaun David Hutchinson. I say semi-science fiction because the novel is more contemporary than Sci-Fi, and it deals with some very realistic and dark issues. However, if I rated this novel on a scale of 1-5, with five being I absolutely loved it, I’d try to cheat the system and give it a six.15785386571_4b0249c2ff_z

At first, I was put off by the amount of cursing within the opening chapters (heads up there’s several f-bombs), but I quickly became engrossed with the protagonist Henry’s personality, trauma, and, most importantly, story.

This novel engages readers, and forces them to witness bullying, mental illness, and come to understandings that they would normally otherwise rather not think about. Shaun David Hutchinson uses Henry to send some very important messages to readers: “Remember the past, live the present, write the future” and that we do matter; maybe not to the universe or in the grand scheme of things – all of us will be forgotten in time – but we do matter and because we live the present, we’ll keep on.

After all, we’re the ants. And what do ants do? They keep marching one by one.

There’s a deepness to this story that isn’t initially apparent, but then showcases itself brilliantly through the pain of loss, the presence of new love and the guilt and fear that sometimes accompany that love, and much more.

This novel begins with Henry telling readers about how he’s been abducted by aliens multiple times, and that they’ve now given him a choice: press the button and save Earth or don’t press the button and on 29 January 2016 the world is going to end. The question remains: will Henry press the button?

Though there is a love story within this book, this novel is so much more complex than a YA romance between Henry and Diego. Henry’s ex-boyfriend Jesse – the love of his life – committed suicide. Henry’s mother is a chain-smoking waitress, who cannot stand her one-time dream of being a chef because that dream reminds her too much of Henry’s dead-beat, door-slamming father, who abandoned them. Henry’s brother is a college dropout. The most popular boy in school alternates bullying and making out with Henry. Henry’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s. The list goes on, and it is dark and amazing and heartfelt, and at times when readers need it most, comical.

Insight abounds in this novel, and what’s more is that the insight is conceivable. Usually in YA books, the protagonist possesses an awareness other characters miss, and often that insight is too deep or advanced for that character. However, in this novel Henry struggles with the big life questions. He asks others for answers, and the answers they provide create a well-rounded and realistic picture, with each of their answers reflecting the events that have occurred in their lives and how those events have impacted them. This story and its characters are believable to the point I imagined it as real life. That’s a big part of what makes this novel so engrossing, and what had me smiling, crying, and feeling all the emotions throughout the tale.

This book left my mind reeling with thoughts long after I closed the back cover. Definitely take the time to read this.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Brace.)

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“Into Thin Air” Book Review

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Now that the 2015 movie “Everest” is out, I thought I’d post the review of the book the movie is based on.

4737596733_ff5798aef1_z“Into Thin Air” is a truthful account of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, where many people lost their lives during one major storm that brewed overtop Everest. Told by Jon Krakauer, a journalist and mountaineer, he not only was on the expedition, and so experienced the majority of these events first hand, but he also spent countless hours interviewing those on his team and on other teams to bring this account to the page.

Into Thin Air shows how unforgiving nature can be, how easily human life can be extinguished, how human error can turn to tragedy, and how one misstep means death. It shows what the cost of accomplishing your dream means, what it takes to survive, and what it means to be a survivor, knowing teammates and friends lost their lives, and wondering if there was anything more you could have done to prevent that.

Exploring who and if anyone is to blame for this tragedy, Jon shows what a deadly place Mt. Everest is, especially after having entered the dead zone, where the air is so thin you can hardly eat or think without supplemental oxygen, where your brain cells are rapidly dying, and where wind and cold are relentless.

This story is more than about suffering and death. It’s about determination and will to survive. It’s about sacrifice, bravery, and endurance.624711184_91907356a1_z

This story will show you the truth behind what it takes to reach the summit of Everest, 29,028 feet above sea level. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s not glorious and gleaming. There’s no brilliant epiphany, no spiritual awakening or deep insight into the meaning of life. In climbing Everest, you face death head on, but it’s not until Everest whips up a massive storm, where you can’t see your hand in front of your face or where if you stand up straight you get blown off into the night, that you realize the weight of facing death and the fragile nature of human life.

(Photos courtesy of Philip MilneJody McIntyre, and Didrik Johnck.)

Should Authors Write Book Reviews?

When searching for the next book I want to read, I always turn to book reviews. It’s gotten to the point where I specifically look for certain book reviewers I trust, and see what they rated a book before considering reading it myself. Without reading book reviews, I’d start a lot of novels I should have never picked up in the first place.

The vast majority of book reviewers are laypeople, meaning they’re your average Joe, or, for the purposes of this post, non-authors (people who haven’t gotten published). However, what happens when someone is an author? Should they post book reviews? What if they start out unpublished and post reviews, and then become published? Should they take down all their reviews or just the bad ones?

4236086905_e88cccb3ba_zAuthor Kristen Lamb posted on her blog the Three NEVERS of Social Media for Writers. In this post she talks about avoiding posting distasteful and crude online comments, including being rude on Twitter, and never writing bad book reviews. She believes that a person cannot be both an author and a reviewer.

On one hand, I agree with her. Authors should support each other and one big way to do that is by not posting bad reviews about another author’s work. And, while an author is only human, just like actors and singers and politicians, their opinion – in fact this is the case with anyone who’s looked up to – holds more weight than an anonymous person.

Not to mention that authors tend to think about point of view, character arcs, setting, plot holes, etc. a lot more in depth than most readers. Sometimes this makes enjoying a novel more challenging because authors focus on the smaller aspects of a novel that many lay readers gloss over or accept as part of the fictional world. Readers are reading for enjoyment, and if they find a novel entertaining, regardless of the plot holes or flat, stereotypic characters, they’re more likely to rate a novel favorably. Authors are more likely to get distracted with nit-picking. (An example? In a book I read, character B doesn’t own a cell phone. However, five pages later, character A texts character B. How? I have no clue, but it happened, and I ended up ranting to my friend for a few minutes about how irritating it is to find small inconsistencies like these in novels. My friend laughed and shrugged off my annoyance, telling me to just enjoy the story.)

Because authors are familiar with the craft of writing, they more readily spot problems within the text. Honestly? That kind of sucks.

But it does make a decent argument for why authors should not post bad reviews. Perhaps, authors shouldn’t post book reviews at all.

On the other hand, authors are people. And just because they’re published doesn’t mean their voices should be squashed. One of the great things about authors is that they tend to be voracious readers. They devour books, and if they end up liking a book, then it usually means that book is one to put on your reading list.

I’m not attempting to state my opinion on this matter – I’m conflicted as to where I stand – but I am curious to know what others think. Should authors remain silent when it comes to reviewing books, or should they be able to express their opinions? Should they only express those opinions when their thoughts are favorable?

(Photo courtesy of jay thebooknerd.)

Getting Your Review On

book-reviewI’ve always wondered about how people review books. From The Guardian and The New York Times to Amazon and Goodreads (which is owned by Amazon but has separate reviews from it) reviews of novels are prevalent.

How do people go about rating a book or writing a review of it? I’ve seen reviews that are thorough and go through both the positives and negatives of novels, reviews that are no more than giant rants or superfluous praise, and reviews that are either so skeletal that they provide nothing constructive or have nothing to do with the novel.

When I review books, I find that I have two parts of myself: the writer half and the reader half. The writer half is a harsh critic. It nitpicks, deconstructing the novel and examining it on a more academic level. Is the writing good? Are there plot holes? Are the characters flat, stereotypical, believable, etc.? Is there sentence variety, correct punctuation and spelling, metaphors?

The writer half of me will rant about books that are poorly written and go off on tangents about how books like such and such should have never been published because they are everything agents and editors say they don’t want.

However, the reader half of me will look at those same books and love them. Because although they may be stereotypical, have poor world building, have characters you want to smack for either their (1) lack of intelligent decision making skills, (2) jerk behavior, or (3) some combination of (1) and (2), and are overall horribly written, I still get pulled into the story. I find myself laughing or rooting for the characters. I want to know what happens next.

pile-of-booksIf I didn’t have these two parts of myself, my reviews would be quite different. If only the writer half existed, I would have a lot more one and two star reviews (one being absolutely atrocious and five being one of the best books I’ve ever read). If only the reader half was there, I’d have a ton of five star reviews. The writer and reader parts of myself balance each other out. I have very few five star reviews and even fewer one star reviews. The vast majority of my reviews are either three or four stars, and then I get into the meat of why I’ve rated a book what I’ve rated it.

How do you go about reviewing books? You don’t have to place your reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, or other review sites to appraise a book. Every novel you read you form an opinion about. How do you mold the opinion you have?

(Photo courtesy of inkspand and pinterest.)