Book Review – Soldier Boy

TITLE: Soldier Boy
AUTHOR: Brian Burks
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHED: 1997

So, remember I said I went down the whole library? Well, that includes everything but picture books. I pulled this little children’s chapter book off the shelf pretty close to last (by this time I had 18 or so in my pile), and I had hopes for it.
It starts with Johnny “The Kid” McBane, a nobody without a family fighter in Chicago. His manager wants him to throw a fight, and he doesn’t, abandoning all the money and possessions he has to run away, hop a train, and then enlist in the cavalry. He ends up out west somewhere, part of Custer’s army.

So, the author’s note at the beginning of the book (which is the only thing in the entire 150 pages that puts the book in context of a year aside from the vague Custer reference), talks about how very little was written about under aged soldiers and he really wanted to show how amazing all of this was, etc.
Except that he didn’t show how amazing anything was.
I think the book suffered badly. The things that could have had amazing details didn’t, and the things that had details didn’t often need explained. And some of them were either wrong or extraordinary claims. “Thousands of dollars were bet on this bout…” Really? Thousands of dollars in post-reconstruction America? On a nobody kid who not a lot of people knew? (At the time of this writing, $5000 in 1876 is about $106,332 in today’s money)

I missed the richness that this story desperately needed. Even as a kid, I would have found this book boring as hell. Actually, as a kid, I probably would have given up on it and not kept reading.
The author also did a stupid nod to several pet peeves of mine. So, there was zero point to any of the stuff that Johnny said to another soldier they called The Scholar. (Pet peeve #1- this goes with the old adage of “if you aren’t’ going to shoot it, don’t show the gun”) There was definitely no point in sitting around discussing “But aren’t we being mean to Indians” because that wasn’t exactly the prevailing thought of the day back then. That was seriously only put there because a modern audience would have thought that when reading (pet peeve #2- not paying attention to the society of the time in historical fiction).

In the end, this book was a flop, and I’m amazed that I managed to see it through to the end.
It’s short, even by genre standards, and I think that it seriously could have used about 20% more words (mostly as description), and a bit of deleting when it came to Johnny, who hadn’t much opinion of anything, suddenly being upset about Indians.
Also, the story pretty much is a prologue that ends when you get to the meat of the story, and for that it really sucked. That battle could have been a really amazing chapter.
I’ll give it 2 out of 5. Read it when you’re bored, but don’t go out of your way to find it.

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Book Review – Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Title: Allegiant

Author: Veronica Roth

Format: Hardback

Published: 2013

 

After finishing Insurgent I was quick to pick up Alegiant and read it. I was excited for the read as I had enjoyed insurgent. So I delved in looking forward to getting lost in the book to be jerked right out of the story by the second chapter. Instead of the story being told in first person perspective from the eyes of Tris the story alternates back and forth from the eyes of Tris and Tobias. It is almost every other chapter that the voice changes in first person. Each chapter is marked with whose perspective the story is being told but taking the time to note that every chapter pulls you out of the story that is being told instead of getting lost in it. In addition to that if I got interrupted in the middle of a chapter it was difficult to determine whose perspective I was reading from unless I looked back a few pages at the chapter start.

 

Over all, I don’t mind changing perspectives in third person because that is easy to tell and the voice doesn’t really change just the scene does, but in first person it can be difficult to determine who “I” is. Honestly I feel the story in Allegiant suffered from the changing perspectives and in some ways it was a little necessary but a lot of times it wasn’t and I didn’t see the point of the change in perspective. Alternating back and forth I feel was a poor execution of telling the story. Honestly there are better ways of executing things if there is a need for change in perspective such sections, it still pulls a reader out of the story but not as frequently so one can go multiple chapters without being pulled out. Also a font difference would also help as it is a quick reference and easier to notice than stopping at each chapter to read a name to verify whose talking. Long rant cut short, this made me very cranky and frustrated me with the book.

 

Despite the changes in perspectives, I still read the book because I wanted to know what happened and it was still a good story that kept my attention as far as stories go and toward the end I was locked into the book and was ready to murder a person for interrupting me in my reading as the story picked up and had enough action that changing perspectives was not a bit deal. Overall the book was a pretty good read, and I will give it a 4 out of 5 pages. If the story wasn’t as good as it was the formatting would have forced this book into a 3 out of 5 but the story saves the book keeping at a strong rating and something I would say is a good read but I would warn about the changing POV’s as that can be annoying.

Book Review – Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Title: Insurgent

Author: Veronica Roth

Format: Hardback

Published: 2012

 

Overall, I feel like everyone on this blog has read and reviewed at least the first book in the Divergent series and some of us have gone forward and reviewed the latter books in the series. I myself have reviewed the first book over a year ago. [ Link ]It was a good read as I recall but I held off reading further considering that my fellow reviewers were doing the same books. I have now returned to the series not because of the not too long ago released movies but rather because I happened to on a lark pick up the audio book of Divergent.

 

In listening to the first book I was reminded of how good the story was and the audio book placed a rather good and compelling voice to the main character of Tris. After finishing the audio book I decided that I very much wanted to read the rest of the series and so I quickly jumped on picking up the next book to read. Once I opened the book I was reminded of how engrossing Veronica Roth’s writing style is. The story was decent but the writing style is one that simply draws you in and refuses to let you go. I found myself quickly lost in the book turning the next page over and over again and hardly noticing when there were chapter breaks.

 

As some of you may know I am a bit of a slow reader. It can take me a long time to get through a book unless it is rather good. In the case of Insurgent I had it done in two days. I hardly put it down for much of anything. I loved how the story traveled to the different factions and there was a lot of interesting information that was revealed in the story. In a lot of ways the action and tension kept pretty strong in this book.

 

Though the book engrossed me and would not let me go and I finished this rather thick book in short order I would still give this book a solid 4 out of 5 pages. Yes the book is good and is certainly a good read but this isn’t a book that I would go rushing out to own and recommend to all of my friends. This is a book that if asked for a book to read I would mention it, or if I see someone already reading it I might remark that it is a good book and a good read but that is where it ranks. I certainly don’t regret reading this book and find that it was time well spend those two days of reading.

Book Review – Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Title: Allegiant
Author: Veronica Roth
Format: Hardback
Published: 2013
So, we’re finally at the last book of the Divergent series, and this review is going to be difficult to write because of spoilers.  Bear with me.  To see my past reviews of the series: Divergent (Book 1) or Insurgent (Book 2). You can also see Misheal’s review of the first book HERE or Katherine’s interesting review of the first couple in this post.

Now then.

The book starts with Tris and her friends in Erudite headquarters, where they’re being held for the stuff that happens in book 2.  They then leave the city and discover what is going on outside the city where nobody’s allowed to go.  Beyond that, I can’t really say much without going into a lot of spoilers.  Seriously, a LOT happens in this book.

On the plus side of things, after how much I hated book 2, this book seriously redeemed the series.  I still think that book 2 could have been condensed into a couple chapters in book 1.  But in this book, the story moved quickly, the characters were interesting to read about (for the most part), and I got a lot of the questions that I had in book 1 answered outright or at least well enough.

On the negative, I still have issues with Veronica’s decision to just go from one book to the next as easily as one chapter to the next.  These books came out like eight months or a year or something apart.  And with NOTHING to recap what happened in the last book, there are several places where I had to stop reading and try to remember what happened.  Oh, wait, why are they at Erudite…?  What does this term mean, again…?  Who is this person…?  Really, would it have killed Roth to give us a wee bit of overlap?

Also, Caleb annoyed the hell out of me.  Yes, I understand why he was there.  Yes, I get what the author was doing.  But every scene with Caleb in it annoyed me somehow.

Also, and here’s the biggest one… I have already complained about first person (especially first person present).  I hate it, and it’s almost never done well.  While Veronica’s story is good enough to make that okay, in this case it was the most annoying thing ever.  Why?  Because every single friggin’ chapter changed the main character that we were following between Tris and Four.  And while I like Tris and Four, it’s really annoying to have to remember who is talking when all anyone is saying is “I am doing this stuff right now.”   There were several instances when I was so into the book that I forgot that the POV changed until somebody referenced the character that I thought was speaking.  *sigh*

PRO TIP – when we’re all into a book and reading, we’re not stopping to look at the chapter headings to change point of view.  Just sayin’.

Honestly, it got to the point that I would only read a chapter at a time and stop whenever the POV changed.

 

End result – the good outweighed the bad for the most part, but I have to only given this a four out of five because of the POV thing.  Sorry.

Book Review – Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent
Veronica Roth
2012 Hardback

Okay, if you remember my review of Divergent, you will remember how much I was looking forward to this book.

Of course, it took me six months to get from book 1 to book 2.

Which is where my issues start.

The story starts right where the first one lets off. As in, if you could turn the page from the last one, you end up on this one.

So in this story, we’re following Tris and Four and everyone else as all hell has broken lose and they’re going to right the wrongs that were left open in the first book.
And since it had been six months since I read the first book, I found myself more preoccupied by trying to remember a book I hadn’t read in a while and less into the story.

I had had some unanswered questions, and they were touched on about 500 pages in with last second offhanded questions.

Unfortunately, this is one of those second-in-a-series books (according to her blog, the third one comes out in October) that’s just really weak and doesn’t at all stand on its own. And it doesn’t really give enough content for the length – there’s a whole lot of people moving from place to place and talking about the same thing over and over again, but with very little to tie it into the last book beyond a couple small comments about her family and a few characters that went away in the last book that are around again here. But again, if you don’t remember what happened, you’re not going to get the few references. What I wanted to see was something that would connect the two. Flashbacks, dreams, explanations to new people, something. Hell, we don’t even get a timeline to know how much time has gone on in this.

In case you can’t tell, I’m seriously disappointed.

I’m giving it a weak three out of five, but with a warning. If you read the first one, read this one – preferably soon after having read the first. Without reading the third, this is just speculation, but this is going to be one of those stories necessary for book three, I’m sure. If you haven’t read the first one, you won’t understand *anything* about this book, so just mosey on and don’t bother.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth

Format: Hardback

Published: 2011

I first picked Divergent up because of two different recommendations.  The first recommendation came from a co-worker of mine who knew I had read the Hunger Game series.  Though I was not fond of the series as a whole as anyone who has read my previous reviews would know, the concept of another book similar to it was not a turn off but a point of intrigue.  I like the idea of the Hunger Games just not the execution, particularly when it came to its sequels and I was also curious to see if another could do it better.  I’m not sure if Veronica Roth succeeded in doing better than Suzanne Collins but she certainly didn’t do it worse even if there are some particular issues I had even with her work.  The other recommendation I received was via a YouTube video from an author that I highly respect and still need to read one of his books (I’ll get there eventually!) John Green.  It was after his recommendation that I determined that I truly needed to read the book!

Upon opening the book I found that there were certain plot elements that I recognized from a review done by Mandi, one of my fellow reviewers.  Realizing it I immediately came to the site to see if I could see if this was an eerie similarity between two different books or the same book.  Due to a fail in technology I could not find Mandi’s review and assumed that it was nothing more than an eerie similarity and continued to read to speak with my fellow reviewer and learn that she had done the book as well.   Considering I was more than half-way done with the book and it had indeed been over six months since her review it was concluded that a different perspective would not hurt anyone.

Once I got past the small feeling of deja vu with the book I admit I was skeptical at first because, seriously who ever thought it was a good idea to break the world up or rather the destroyed city of Chicago into groups based on personality traits.  I was oddly reminded a bit of Hogwarts with the Erudite being Ravenclaw, Dauntless being Gryffindor, and Abnegation being Huffelpuff (though Amenity comes close being the same) then there was Candor the random fifth group focused on the absolute truth.   Though it was explained why society broke up in such a bizarre way it was still weird and made little sense such as the reason as to why the Great Lakes were dried up something even Mandi pointed out in her review.

Yet, despite the weird situation that the novel is set in I kept reading as I found myself curious as our main heroine Beatrice debated about what to do because she is like every other human being in our time and is a Divergent, a person who doesn’t fit in to one personality type.  Of course it isn’t enough to throw a teenage girl into the situation of not knowing who she really is death has to be on the line as well in determining this idea,  just to give it a little more intrigue!

Though it comes across that I am trashing this book, I’m not really.  I enjoyed the read such to the point that I couldn’t put it down on several occasions and almost wound up late for work or not going to bet until the sun was staring to rise.  Despite the oddities of this book and the situation that Roth has placed her characters in the read is rather engrossing and if you like a little bit of odd and can ignore a few moments where the reality of the situation doesn’t gel then you will enjoy the book and I would personally give it a 4 out of 5 page rating.

Book Review–After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story by Michael Hainey

Title: After Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story
Author: Michael Hainey
Format: Electronic
Written: 2012
Published: 2013

 

One early morning while Michael Hainey dressed for Kindergarten, his uncle Dick showed up at their modest Chicago home to tell Michael’s mother that her husband, a respected journalist,  had died in the wee small hours of that same morning.   Years later Michael read his father’s obituaries for a report and was struck by a few  things that just  seemed…off.    For more than a decade the persistent ghost of his father was joined by the haunting feeling that Michael, his mother and his older brother hadn’t been told the truth.     They knew Robert Hainey had an aneurysm burst as he was coming home from his night shift on the copy edit desk of the Chicago Sun Times.   Yet the obituaries in Hainey’s own paper said that he’d died after visiting friends…

on the other side of Chicago.

Why was Robert Hainey “visiting friends” at 4:00am?  What friends–if they were indeed friends at all–lived over there?    And why had Richard Hainey felt the need to lie to the family yet print the truth in his newspaper?

I’d read a write-up on the book in Entertainment Weekly; friends told me there was also a story on NPR.  The more I heard the more I was torn between curiosity and skepticism.   I desperately wanted to know the truth about that mysterious death, but I also just really hate “Daddy Issues” stories.    After five years of watching Jack Shepherd whinge about it on LOST and decades of characters in novels wittering on about it, there was also a pretty deep mystery about whether or not I would have the patience for yet another story about fathers and sons who don’t connect.

Curiosity won out, and I splurged eleven dollars on the Kindle Version once it wasn’t available at the library.  (Silly me, expecting the Nashville Public Library to buy a book that didn’t have naked people embracing on the cover.)   That was late Friday night, and I joked with Mandi that I wasn’t sure I’d have the review done since I had just downloaded the book.

I clicked the file open on my trusty Kindle Paperwhite and did not come up for air for three and a half hours.

I have been very fortunate in the last six months to have found many good books.  My ratio of good reads to mediocre/bad reads has been much better lately, thanks in large part to a vast network of recommenders who are honest and enthusiastic about sharing exciting titles.   So I can’t say I’ve had many bad reads.

The problem with that is that when I try to tell you how good this book is–no, how FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC this book is–I’m afraid I’ll come off like someone who just rates everything super high all the time.   (“Oh, look! Kath’s turning into Harriet Klausner!”)   After all, my review last week was a five-worm book.   It was also “the most entertaining, thrilling, and captivating read of the last six months.” 

So what superlatives are left?  And will you believe that they are earnest reactions and not bandwagon hype?     I honestly hope you will because this book was amazing.   In searching for answers to who his father was and how and why he really died, Hainey takes us on a journey through the lost world of pre-Watergate journalism and mid-century newspapers, crisscrossing the Midwest as he hunts down leads.   He takes us through his personal history, but he also serves as a docent to  the history of journalism, railroads, Chicago and the Dust Bowl.   Halfway through the novel you realise that Hainey has become a latter-day Virgil, taking the reader through the concentric circles of life as it spirals to the inevitable end.   There is literally not one paragraph of the book that is dull or uninteresting or pointless or showy.   Every word fits together as if it were made specifically to tell this story.

If you love mysteries, history, journalism, memoirs, then this is a book you will enjoy.   If you’ve ever found yourself questioning God about why you are here, or found yourself wondering exactly how and why your life turned out this way, then you’ll find a kindred spirit in Hainey.

It goes without saying that this book is a five-bookworm read, but I’d also say that it’s one of the rare books I’d rate as “Beyond Five”.

3bookworms2bookworms

Beyond Five!

Beyond Five!

 

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