And Then There Were None – Book Review

Agatha Christie is a legend in mystery writing. This is her best selling book and arguably her best. It’s changed names several times, in order to be politically correct. I thought that the changes would affect the story in some way but I can assure you it makes no difference.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my post here.

Characters

In two chapters, Christie manages to introduce all ten characters. They are very distinct and each has unique quirks or traits. Each character is well defined and I rarely became confused between them. That’s impressive. I have a terrible memory and usually have trouble remembering characters.

One thing that she did that helped immensely was separating each character into a tiny sub-chapter and starting the chapter with their name. It gave me the choice of going back, and double checking who she was talking about.

The characters were not very likeable, but considering the plot of the story that was fully understandable.

For characters, I give it 4 out of 5

Writing Style

Clear and clean, is the best way to describe the style she used. Even seventy years later this book reads flawlessly. A few words have changed meanings and a few colloquialisms that are unfamiliar but nothing that ever distracts from the story.

She manages to keep it clear and still add a little poetry. Every word is important, there is nothing wasteful or useless.  

I give it a 4 out of 5.

Story

The plot is simple, the execution is genius. It is a mystery and a thriller. Not a murder mystery, remember that a Murder Mystery has less than 60% mortality rate. This book has 110% mortality.

I can’t get into more detail without spoilers but know that the story twists you, makes you re-think everything and still kicks you in the gut with the conclusion.

It is nearly perfect in every way. I need to re-read it before I can fully grasp the intricacies of the plot. I give the story a 5 out of 5

Fun

The book holds joy in trying to decide who is next and how they will die. Trying to figure out the murderer is a large part of the fun in this book. I imagine next time, it’ll be seeing all the hints and details that lead to the murderer.

I give it a 5 out of 5 for fun

Overall

If you like mystery, thrillers, reading, or a great story READ this book. It’s a masterpiece. I believe it is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Final score is 90%

How to be Death – Book Review

How to be Death is the fourth Calliope Reaper-Jones Novel by Amber Benson. The first three concluded the main story of Calliope. This novel is not a stand-alone book it’s a sequel rather than a continuation. I recommend reading the first three books before you pick up this one.

I’m only going to be reviewing this book on its own, not the whole series.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my post here.

Characters

If you’ve read the first three books, you know the core cast of characters. They do evolve a little but this is more about expanding the world of Death and the secondary characters that inhabit it.

That being said the characters are well written and for a murder mystery that is extremely important.

I have a terrible memory. It took me re-watching all the Marvel super hero movies to remember whom agent Colson was in the Avengers. When I watch a reality TV show, I’m continually asking my wife who each person is. In a murder mystery, for me, it’s important that the characters stand out and are memorable. Benson manages to introduce nearly a dozen characters and I never once had to go back to the beginning to see who they were.

In her earlier books, I found that Calliope regressed at the beginning of every book. In this one she hadn’t and that was nice. There are also some really interesting character revelations in this book that I look forward to her exploring in future books.

For creating characters that were clear and easy to follow, along with interesting I give it a 4 out of 5 for characters.

Writing Style

A first person narrative’s writing style is dependant on the character’s voice. All of the Colliope Reaper-Jones books are written in first person, and follow Calliope. She is a mildly narcissistic, fashionista, with a huge victim complex.

When she stops whining and starts acting, she is a wonderful person. In between she complains and whines about everything. In this novel, she’s toned down the whininess and started taking responsibility.

All this to say that the writing style is extremely casual, even for first person, and at times a little shocking.

Benson does everything that a good author has to do to balance a self-involved character with a good narrative. She makes sure that the reader understands things that the main character doesn’t, she makes sure that the character doesn’t cross the line between frustrating and hated, and most importantly she keeps interest in parts that could easily lose a reader.

Speaking as a man, a lot of the shoe, and fashion stuff didn’t interest me. Benson manages to avoid overdoing it and I think I might have learnt a few things. Apparently Steve Madden isn’t just a line of NFL video games.

For writing style, I give this novel a 3 out of 5.

Story

The story structure of a good murder mystery is usually split into three acts. The first act introduces all the characters and defines them. The second act starts with a Murder, which is followed by multiple interviews, clues, and sometimes one or two more murders. In act three something shocking happens, either another murder, theft etc. Followed by either a blind plan (In which only a few characters know what’s happening) or some action (Usually a chase) and finally excessive amounts of exposition. Incidentally, a survival horror or slasher share the same first two acts. A great way to tell the difference is to see if there’s a detective which indicates a mystery, or if the body count is over 40% at the end of act 2 which indicates the horror story.

I found the story took a chapter or two too long before the first murder. It could be me but I was looking forward to a lengthy act 2 with all kinds of hi-jinks and it made act 1 feel a little slow. I also think the exposition was rushed. It could have been done longer and in two scenes instead of what felt to me to be too quick.

The story was good, the structure could have been better, I give it a 3 out of 5.

Fun

This book is a continuation of a series that I greatly enjoyed. They are fun. The book is a departure from the story structure of the other three but I think it works towards the books advantage. I like the banter and enjoy the characters.

This book is more fun than you’d expect. It’s a nice twist on a supernatural murder mystery. For fun I give it a 4 out of five.

Overall

There are book and series that I plan to never read again. No matter how amazing they are I just don’t want to relive them. This isn’t one if those series.

The Calliope Reaper-Jones Series is one series that I look forward to
re-reading. Amber Benson is one of a small group of authors whom I will buy their new books as soon as they come out.

If you like Urban Fantasy that’s a little light on the doom and gloom, read this series.

I give it a total score of 70%

A Clash of Kings – Book Review

A Clash of Kings is the second novel in the truly epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The series is now a successful television show on HBO called a Game of Thrones.

This is a brick of a book. I take an average amount of time to read a book and this took me the better part of two months. The softcover that I own is a thousand pages.

I’ll try to keep this spoiler free but there might be a few that sneak in.

Characters

Complex mythologies and huge casts of characters go hand in hand with fantasy. Clash of Kings isn’t an exception. There are more characters than I could possibly keep straight. There are nine point of view characters and a plethora of others.

It would be easy with nice point of view characters, and a gazillion others, to make them bland or similar. Not going to happen in this book. I believe that despite the terrible things that happen to the characters, they are the best part of this book. Each and every one of them make you feel for them. The emotions vary as much as the characters but they’re their and strong.

That characters are great but they do drop like flies. The body count is as high as the emotions. Often the most likeable characters are the ones that die.

For the strength and consistency of the characters I give this book a five out of five.

Writing Style

This isn’t a quirky or flowery writing style. Martin has a way of making every word count and make you want to keep reading. It’s also a very easy style to follow. That means you won’t spend ten minutes reading a page only to realize you can’t remember what you read.

That being said I like quirkiness, I like flowers, and most of all I like a witty turn of phrase. Martin does it but it’s always through dialogue. If the narrative weren’t so well calculated, it would be dry.
It’s not your typical sword and sorcery fantasy. This is a high fantasy with low magic. It’s gritty and bloody.

For its efficiency I give the writing style a four out of five.

Story

I’ll say this right away. This isn’t one book with one story. Its one book with nine main characters and three times that many stories. It could have been split into 3 books with 3 characters and there would be little difference. With the exception of the wonderful bicep muscles I’ve developed.

Each book in this series builds upon the stories and even adds some. It’s all interlinked and brilliant. The stories are great and plentiful.

That all said I found the twists, high points, and low points subdued in comparison to the first one. I guess the first had a lot farther for the characters to fall on their faces. When the world has already turned to shit, it can’t get much worse. It does just not as dramatically as the first book.

It’s the second book in a series that could be just one large book it does a great job at what it needs to do but isn’t as awesome as the first.

I give it a three out of five for story.

Fun

In its own way this series is a lot of fun. It’s well written, intelligent, and keeps you on your toes. Clash of Kings felt long though. It could be that I wasn’t in the right mood for it or that it didn’t have the dramatic twists of the first. I found myself longing for the next book I’d read.

In fun I give it a three out of five.

Overall

Overall, if you have the upper body strength, patience, stomach, and love of high fantasy you’ll truly enjoy this book as part of the series. If you’ve read the first one and liked, keep going.

I think it’s a solid book by a master writer with an amazing talent with characters. For that I give it a final score of 75%.

A Clash of Kings – Book Review

A Clash of Kings is the second novel in the truly epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The series is now a successful television show on HBO called a Game of Thrones.

This is a brick of a book. I take an average amount of time to read a book and this took me the better part of two months. The softcover that I own is a thousand pages.

I’ll try to keep this spoiler free but there might be a few that sneak in.

Characters

Complex mythologies and huge casts of characters go hand in hand with fantasy. Clash of Kings isn’t an exception. There are more characters than I could possibly keep straight. There are nine point of view characters and a plethora of others.

It would be easy with nice point of view characters, and a gazillion others, to make them bland or similar. Not going to happen in this book. I believe that despite the terrible things that happen to the characters, they are the best part of this book. Each and every one of them make you feel for them. The emotions vary as much as the characters but they’re their and strong.

That characters are great but they do drop like flies. The body count is as high as the emotions. Often the most likeable characters are the ones that die.

For the strength and consistency of the characters I give this book a five out of five.

Writing Style

This isn’t a quirky or flowery writing style. Martin has a way of making every word count and make you want to keep reading. It’s also a very easy style to follow. That means you won’t spend ten minutes reading a page only to realize you can’t remember what you read.

That being said I like quirkiness, I like flowers, and most of all I like a witty turn of phrase. Martin does it but it’s always through dialogue. If the narrative weren’t so well calculated, it would be dry.
It’s not your typical sword and sorcery fantasy. This is a high fantasy with low magic. It’s gritty and bloody.

For its efficiency I give the writing style a four out of five.

Story

I’ll say this right away. This isn’t one book with one story. Its one book with nine main characters and three times that many stories. It could have been split into 3 books with 3 characters and there would be little difference. With the exception of the wonderful bicep muscles I’ve developed.

Each book in this series builds upon the stories and even adds some. It’s all interlinked and brilliant. The stories are great and plentiful.

That all said I found the twists, high points, and low points subdued in comparison to the first one. I guess the first had a lot farther for the characters to fall on their faces. When the world has already turned to shit, it can’t get much worse. It does just not as dramatically as the first book.

It’s the second book in a series that could be just one large book it does a great job at what it needs to do but isn’t as awesome as the first.

I give it a three out of five for story.

Fun

In its own way this series is a lot of fun. It’s well written, intelligent, and keeps you on your toes. Clash of Kings felt long though. It could be that I wasn’t in the right mood for it or that it didn’t have the dramatic twists of the first. I found myself longing for the next book I’d read.

In fun I give it a three out of five.

Overall

Overall, if you have the upper body strength, patience, stomach, and love of high fantasy you’ll truly enjoy this book as part of the series. If you’ve read the first one and liked, keep going.

I think it’s a solid book by a master writer with an amazing talent with characters. For that I give it a final score of 75%.

The Hunger Games Trilogy – Book Review

The Hunger games Trilogy is composed of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. It’s written by Suzanne Collins.

In late December, I saw a few trailers for The Hunger Games movie. It looked interesting, I showed the trailer to my wife, and she bought the first book for her birthday shopping spree. Being a mean husband, I read it before she did. I immediately wanted the next two.

It’s an almost standard Post Apocalyptic Utopian Science Fiction. Set in a not so distant future where humanity has almost destroyed itself. You can easily see influences from multiple sources in her books. A little Greek myth, a little fantasy, and a strong dose of war fiction.

I decided to review the series as a whole since it felt more like one large book rather than three and I would be saying the same in all of the reviews anyways.

Characters

There is a multitude of characters throughout the three books. Each with varying importance but the author gives you the impression that they have fully fleshed out backstories. Not only do you feel each character has their whole life written out, the author makes you wish you could follow them and see their stories.

That’s not to say that the main character, Katniss Everdeen, ever gets boring. She’s a strong but young girl thrown from one duplicitous situation to another. If there’s any criticism about Katniss, it’s that she’s too real. She’s not a hero, she’s just a girl. When Harry Potter, or Frodo would complain and bitch but keep going, Katniss breaks down and cries.

As much as I wanted Katniss to get up, grab a bow, and shoot everything evil, it was a nice change to have a character that was genuinely traumatized by the crap she’s survived. Possibly the most intense part of the series was being right there with her and feeling every single moment. There were times I put down the book and wanted to cry but never did I want to stop reading.

The secondary characters are all as engrossing and as much as I enjoyed the epilogue. I could have used another hundred pages telling me what happened to each minor character.

I give the series a 5 out of 5 for characters. When I wish I could know what happened to a character mentioned only once or twice in a book, I have to acknowledge the authors skill.

Writing Style

I have to start out by giving Suzanne Collins credit for writing in the First Person Present Tense. First person is hard enough when written in the past tense but written in the present tense it’s extremely challenging.(Remember all this is my opinion based off of my experience writing.)

One of the great advantages of the first person present tense is tension. If someone is speaking in the past tense then you can assume they are still alive but with the present tense, there’s more urgency and fear.

In order to allow the reader to make their own conclusions Collins let’s Katniss describe an event and then later draw conclusions. This often leads to the reader knowing something way before the protagonist has even considered it.

As far as story structure goes the books, and the series, follow a three act formula. I think this forces Collins to force the story into the mould. There are parts that drag a little and some that seem rushed in order to fit into the three acts.

Another criticism would be how rushed some of her actions scenes feel. There is one extremely important action scene at the end of the last book, which takes up two or three lines. The scene is so shocking that I had to reread it several time before I understood it.

For writing style, I give the series a 3 out of 5. It’s very good but has some structure weaknesses.

Story

I’ve heard every comparison about this series with other arena-style books or movies. They’re full of it. This has a lot more in common with Utopian/dystopian fiction. I see a little Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, etc. It also has many similarities to a standard hero’s journey. Despite the protagonist not being a true hero.

I keep asking myself was this a good story? And my answer is both yes and no. If your definition of a good story is something that both touches you and scars you for life, than yes. If your definition of a good story is something that touches you and makes you happy, than no.

This is a poignant and heartwrenching series that will stick with you long after you’ve read it.

I give it a 4 out of 5 for story.

Fun

As much as I wanted to keep reading this series, I can’t call it fun. It’s painful, sad, shocking, and depressing.

I posted that I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry after finishing it and I think many people reading it would agree.

This category’s score reflects my joy while reading. I really like being happy when I finish a book for this reason I give it a 2 out of 5 for fun. I would give it a 1 but the pain is essential to the story and not just there for its own sake.

Overall

It’s a great series that I admire the style and story but will most likely never read again.

I’d only recommend reading it to someone who is emotionally stable and with the warning that it will twist your heart and rip it out of your chest.

Overall, like I’ve said, great but it’s score is low from my emphasis on fun. I give it a 70%

A Princess of Mars – Book Review

A princess of Mars is the first of eleven books in the Barsoom series. I’ve also heard it called the John Carter of Mars series.

This is a classic Science-Fantasy, published in 1912. Like other Mars novels from that time, almost all its scientific assumptions about Mars have been disproved.

This novel created and still personifies the Sword and Planet Genre.

The author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, is best known for his Tarzan series. However, his science fiction has had an influence that can still be seen in newer authors. He had an amazing way of mixing science fiction and fantasy without making it feel forced. His influence can be seen in many of the “New Wave” science fiction authors like Laguin, Zelazny, or Moorcock.

Below is my review. For more information on how and why I review books read my post here.

Characters

This book only has two main characters. John Carter is veteran of the American Civil war and possibly many others, he refers to himself as a Virginian Gentleman. He’s a fighter and an impressive one. He looks thirty and has lived at least a hundred years. Interestingly doesn’t remember his childhood.

Where John Carter is impressive, his character arc isn’t. The only thing that changes is his understanding of Mars and his relationship status. That being said, he is an interesting and entertaining narrator/character. There is no doubt that he is a hero and he’s an entertaining guide to Barsoom.

The second main character is Mars, or as the natives call it Barsoom. There is more ink dedicated to her than to anyone else in the novel. A dying world with interesting and detailed cultures, the real character arc is Mars’. She goes from a war torn, segregated, and dying world to a united(ish) kingdom, but still dying. It’s a beautifully described world. At some points I preferred the world building and Martian history more than the actual story.

There are plenty of secondary characters some of which are fun others are down right boring. Overall, they feel unimportant next to John Carter.

The weakest character, as in most adventure stories from this time, is Dejah Thoris. Or the love interest. She’s less of a person and more of a goal for the protagonist. He treats her well but she has all the personality of an inanimate object.

I give it a 3 out of 5 for characters. Even though most of the characters are uninteresting, they are also unimportant next to the awesome John Carter and the brilliant Barsoom.

Writing Style

The book is written in first person, John Carter is writing his memoirs in the form of a letter to a friend. With few exceptions we are always dealing with John Carter and the way he sees the world(s).

The style is dry and at times, a little disconnected. When I say dry, I mean it felt academic. It’s a feel and style that was used a lot in that time and he does make it interesting.

One of the things that kept the book from feeling like a long Barsoomian discourse on history was the fact that it was so disconnected. The story would get a little dry and suddenly we’d be learning the history behind the Green Martians firearms. I’d get bored with the history and suddenly John Carter is kicking someone’s ass. It was a nice way of keeping the reader interested and informed.

I give the style a 3 out of 5. I guess I’m just a sucker for a first person narrative.

Story

It’s difficult to tell which tropes the author is using and which he invented. At its base, this is an “Other World” novel, sometimes called “Portal Fantasy” or “Trapped in another world”. It’s a common story structure with immense customization. I’m not sure you can say it was influenced by The Time Machine or by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but they are definitely pulling from the same source material. Most likely, whether the authors did it on purpose or not, these stories are heavily influenced by old fairy myths.

Once John Carter arrives on earth (after an extremely bad portrayal of Native Americans) the story becomes a loose narrative of his journey around Barsoom. The only story motivation is survival. In the third act he is moved to action and almost single-handedly changes the face of Mars.

There are a lot of coincidences throughout the book that stretch believability along with John Carter’s inability to make a mistake. Other than the typical “White is right” and “Women are only good at being pretty” this book does have a few interesting messages. It’s definitely championing emotion, especially love, as what makes us human and what makes the difference between right and wrong.

An interesting essay could be comparing the cruel, barbarity of the Green Martians with that of the Humans in Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World and trying to associate it with their similar reproductive methods.

It could change with the rest of the series but the weakest part of this book is the story. I give it a 2 out of 5.

Fun

Was this book fun? Yes, Yes and yes. Maybe it’s the little boy in me (I’ve been meaning to get that removed) or the adventure lover but this book was a joy to read. It helped that it was tiny by comparison to other books of it’s genre. It made the bare-bones plot and history lesson seem quick and move along without getting dull.

A few modern Authors could learn something about Story/world-building from Burroughs I give it a 5out of 5 for fun

Overall

Overall, if you like swashbuckling and classic science fiction than I’d recommend you read A Princess of Mars. However it does suffer from it’s age and wouldn’t make it into my top ten best books.

I’ll probably pick up The Gods of Mars at some point and see what happens to John Carter. Most of the novels are available from the Gutenberg Project for free, can’t go wrong there.

Overall it was enjoyable but not amazing. I give it a 65% enjoyability score.

Book Reviews

Why am I writing reviews

I love to read. I wouldn’t call myself a heavy reader. On average, I only read one or two books a month. Since I love reading and I love writing. I’ve decided if I can coherently assess the books I read, than maybe I can understand why I like or dislike them. Giving me insight for my own writing.

Why you should care

If you’ve read my blog and liked what you’ve seen than it’s logical that you’d like the same things I do.

As far as my qualifications, I have

  • a Bachelors degree in Media Communications from the University of Ottawa,
  • a second, mostly finished, Bachelors degree in English Literature and Film Studies from the University of Ottawa,
  • two completed novels and one almost finished (so far unpublished),
  • over four years experience writing and Game Mastering the same group of players,
  • my wife and I own over two thousand books, and
  • of those two thousand books, I’ve read at least a quarter

It’s not the greatest list of qualifications but I hope its enough to keep you reading.

How it’ll work

I’ll be reviewing four aspects of each book I read. These for aspects represent things that I find important in my books. I’ll give each aspect a rating out of five and at the end give the book a rating percentage.

I am not reviewing if a book is good literature, or social commentary, etc. I am reviewing whether I enjoyed the book. I might do some literary analysis but most of it will be personal not scientific.

Characters

To enjoy a book I have to care about the characters. That doesn’t mean they have to be nice, good, or awesome. I just need them to be interesting and relatable.

Writing Style

This is an extremely personal aspect of books. I have certain styles I can’t stand and some that I love. A writing style can elevate a mediocre story into a great read and vice versa.

Story

I’ll be honest. I don’t believe in an original story or idea. I do believe that there are original ways to put story elements together. There are themes, character arcs, plots and subplots, and multiple other elements that go into a story.

Fun

You could call it the X factor, but sometimes it makes all the difference. A novel could be bland in every other way but still fun to read.

Opinion

As my wife can tell you, I’m not always right. Everything I say here is my opinion. If you disagree or want to discuss my points, feel free to comment.

Crochet Cell Phone Cases

Crocheted Cell Phone Case shaped like a tardis

My wife has been making awesome crochet cell phone cases.

There’s a Tardis, a Jayne Hat, and soon star trek uniforms.

Check out her store at Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/JenEricDesigns

Crocheted Cell Phone Case shaped like a tardis  Crocheted Cell phone Case that looks like a Jayne Hat

We took awesome pictures this summer at Disney world of a large stuffed Tardis she made. It’s awesome and you can follow it at: http://crochettardis.blogspot.com/

A stuffed Tardis

Crochet Cell Phone Cases

My wife has been making awesome crochet cell phone cases.

There’s a Tardis, a Jayne Hat, and soon star trek uniforms.

Check out her store at Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/JenEricDesigns

Crocheted Cell Phone Case shaped like a tardis  Crocheted Cell phone Case that looks like a Jayne Hat

We took awesome pictures this summer at Disney world of a large stuffed Tardis she made. It’s awesome and you can follow it at: http://crochettardis.blogspot.com/

A stuffed Tardis