Review: “Christian Nation” by Frederic C. Rich

This is a novel I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time. Granted, I’m not that much of an intellectually political type (hell, on only an English major in college right now), but I’m also a sucker for dystopian novels, especially if it’s relevant to the times we’re in. And with a controversial US Presidential election nearing, I thought it would be right to talk about Frederic C. Rich’s political thriller novel, “Christian Nation”.

Before anyone starts to have a heart attack, I should mention that I have absolutely nothing against religion, yet I do not condone violence or hate in the name of any God. Any religion that wholly believes in taking other people’s rights away is no religion, but why don’t I get started on the review before I begin a flame war on religion, right?

Continue reading

Review: “Pax” by Sara Pennypacker

What makes the bond of an owner and a pet so special? What makes that bond so inseparable in someone’s youth and adulthood? These are questions I’ve asked ever since my first dog died over a decade ago, and I’ve learned the answer to as I grew up.

“Pax” is a novel I initially noticed while visiting a local bookstore, and was drawn to how simple yet detailed Jon Klassen’s illustration of the cover showed. Add Sara Pennypacker’s heartwarming and poignantly timeless writing style similar to “Coraline”, and you get s novel that left me yearning for a good ending.

Continue reading

Book are/aren’t like mirrors.

They say books are like mirrors, and that the characters and settings in them are reflections of you and your surroundings. I partially disagree; books are more like cracked mirrors, where the reflections we see are different but similar enough to show the faults in ourselves and the world.

But that’s just my beliefs.

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments!:)

 

Update on Reader’s Boulevard

First of all, I’m pushing back the date of when I publish reviews, and will be posting every two weeks on Saturday afternoon starting later this weeks. I’m sorry if this is an inconvenience for anyone, but I hope to balance my personal life more with posting reviews.

Second, I’ve now included new rules for what the guidelines in book reviews for the future will be. I can now do novels based on true stories, and will allow comic books and graphic novels with 50+ pages in it.

If you have any questions or would like to recommend anything to me, please leave a comment and follow my blog. Have a nice day! 🙂

Review: ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ by Ruth Ware

Whenever I read books about a group of strangers meeting in an isolated place and being thrust into a horror story, I often can’t help but roll my eyes. If you remember my review of ‘The Rules’ in October, you may recall it kind of left a foul taste in my mouth. It was by no means terrible, but it left me wanting more variety and depth. I wanted an original story with new characters, a sense of chilling atmosphere, and be genuinely scared and care for the characters.

Well…Ruth Ware’s chilling novel ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ is that book. Continue reading

Review: ‘Willful Machines’ by Tim Floreen

Science fiction novels involving machines gone astray is practically a dime a dozen, from Isaac Asimov’s classic short stories to works such as ‘The Matrix’ franchise turning AI entertainment into a clichéd genre. In almost every fictional work, there’s always an innocent AI, a prejudiced character that sees the AI as an abomination, and a heroic bystander who will end up choosing between humanity or the AI (or heck, even destroying the AI to save the world). There’s more variety to other works, but to me that’s the basic gist of AI in science fiction.

So how does new-coming author Tim Floreen make his latest book ‘Willful Machines’ more of a diverse addition to the genre? Making the main character gay of course.

Interesting choice.

It is the (obviously not very) near future, where the world is becoming more obsessed with technology. After a newly created AI name Charlotte escapes destruction via downloading onto the internet, she begins a campaign of cyberterrorism on America. Her demands? Release her other robotic counterparts and let them live equal to humans.

Years later, a new American president has been elected under a new political party that is against AI and values traditional values. Things get complicated though when it is believed that the president’s son, a closeted (and once suicidal) robotics student named Lee Fischer, may be Charlotte’s next target. With only his gruff bodyguard and his best friend at school, Lee doesn’t know who to trust with his life (and secret), probably not even Nico Medina, the new boy in school he has a crush on.

Obviously this is a weird setup for a story the more you think about it, hell Kirkus Reviews called it a mixture of ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet’, which I can honestly say best matches the description of the book. It is a weird mixture, but the author of this clearly knows it and embraces the strangeness and the commentary to get out of this type of story.

Going in, the main character Lee reminded me of Caleb from the film ‘Ex Machina’, who’s a quietly meek but intelligent and well-spoken young man. He’s a loner, but not to the point of disliking human interaction. And although he still carries suicidal thoughts due to his insecure sexuality, you feel the pain and anguishing struggle.

Nico is also a very likeable character, being a good contrast to the robotic-loving Lee. He’s devilishly handsome but also so eccentric. He’s happily jubilant to breathe life, loves reading Shakespeare, and adores eating the terrible food at Lee’s school. Nico is less of a fictional character and more like the eccentric but good-looking Chilean exchange student you meet in college or a frat house. And when you put him and our main character together, their chemistry is beautiful, especially after a grave secret of Nico’s is revealed (which I won’t dare give away).

The rest of the side characters are good, especially Lee’s best friend named Bex (who reminds me of every liberal feminist you ever see at high school) and his bodyguard named Trumbull, but it is also a problem. Throughout the novel, it feels like the story wants to focus more on Nico and Lee’s relationship, and that’s fine. However, when you have a novel like this where the main character is questioning his sexuality and is genuinely afraid of what his friends and the world will think, it is necessary for us to know about the relationships between themselves and Lee. Don’t get me wrong: they do that, but not as much as I would’ve liked.

For example, there’s a scene in the beginning of ‘Willful Machines’ where Lee and his father, the anti-robotics POTUS, are meeting in his dorm room and questioning why Lee is into robotics. It is a good scene and plays out very well when he meets and approves of Nico as a new friend, but I wanted some more of Lee’s father. Despite his views and policies on family values, the President seems like a father who genuinely loves his son, and only wants what he believes is best for him. He’s kind of (more like is) the football coaching father who has a nerdy son who wants to enroll in Caltech.
Aside from, that I do love the other interactions of Lee and Nico with the other characters, even if I could’ve used a bit more.

Outside of that, ‘Willful Machines’ provides extraordinary commentary on freewill and the idea of whether or not we make choices or our choices make us. One of Lee’s teachers says this one intriguing quote about how humans are no different from machines because the choices we make are based on genetics and in our DNA. That’s a fairly good point, considering how some people believe they choose to be smart when in fact it can be due to good genes (i.e. good programming). She even goes on to say if God exists, humans may be no different from machines, and it is beautifully simple enough to understand for younger readers.

And not only is the ending of this tragic like ‘Romeo and Juliet’, but the ending leaves itself up for a good sequel I hope to read soon. I grew to adore the main couple and want to know what’ll happen.

Drenched in modern gothic storytelling and thrilling commentary on AI, Tim Floreen’s ‘Willful Machines’ is a great science fiction novel for both the straight reader and the questioning one.

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments! 🙂

 

Review: ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, I thought I’d review a random romance novel that caught my eye. Looking at the cover, ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon seems like an average book in the YA romance section. However, knowing what it’s actually about and reading it from cover to cover, I couldn’t stop reading it even on school nights. It has a good personality, engrossing leads, and a touching but cynical atmosphere that’d make ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ blush. It did keep me interested, but maybe I was expecting a little more, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Madeline Whittier is a young teenage girl who has an extremely rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which makes her literally allergic to the outside world (yeah, remember the movie called ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’? That’s this in a YA romance). Besides taking online classes and spending her days in a white house built with an airlock, Madeline is catered by her overprotective mother and a loving nurse. She never changes routine, and always wonders about the world outside.

But one day, a new family moves next door to Madeline, and the oldest boy is a teenager her age named Olly. Unlike her, he embraces the outside and spends his days either doing parkour on the roof or dressing like a Goth off the set of ‘American Horror Story’. As predicted, Madeline falls head over heels for him, and he begins to see the tragedy of her lifelong predicament. However, will Madeline risk her life for a chance of real happiness?

This is a book that cynics like myself may hate because of the choices and life-threatening decisions Madeline makes to see her love interest. On the one hand, you understand how this is the first time she’s probably been in love, but you do have to side with the mother when it’s life-threatening.

However, going into the first two-thirds of the story, this kind of reminded me of the popularly criticized book ‘Into the Wild’, with the main character being cooped up in one place for a long time and making piss-poor decisions of living one day to live life like it was meant to be lived. Sure his decisions are stupid and the risks he takes are beyond insane, but at the same time you have to admire the passion he holds into following his dreams and how naïve but gently determined he is.

Madeline is the same way. She’s a person who’s never been sick like a regular person, never smelled fresh air, and knows not much about the outside world than what she’s seen on a laptop or in books. Even knowing the risks she’ll take to just see Olly across a living room, you have to admire the naïve passion she owns, the intellectual optimism, and the cynical pessimism she has for the future. It is almost like seeing an animal in a cage, but with a human being.

Then we have Olly, who at first is at first nothing but eye candy in the first third of ‘Everything, Everything’, until you start to learn more about him next to Madeline. He may dress like a Goth, but he’s surprisingly intellectual when it comes to mathematics and astronomy. Olly knows the risks of seeing Madeline much like she does, but is also passionate to know the girl more. Much like the book, his personality shines as the story progresses.

In fact, I love how the novel tell you about the character in a simple way to know their struggles and understand what’s going on. For example, there are chapters where Madeline and Olly are sending texts and IMs to each other over the course of several weeks and that’s it. Over their conversations, they hint at what we miss in-between chapters, and give vague enough answers for us to know how protective Madeline’s mother is, and how violent Olly’s father is. It is the right balance of giving details without giving answers.

Aside from the decisions Madeline makes in the first two-thirds, my only main problem is surprisingly the ending. I won’t try to spoil anything here, but the climax of the film feels out-of-synch with the rest of the book. For a majority of the novel, we believe Nicola Yoon is giving us a quirky but dramatic tragedy, but suddenly gives us a sudden twist that was never built on. Granted, the ending chapter is bittersweet yet heart-warming, but I never felt that the ending of ‘Everything, Everything’ lived up to its full potential.

Overall, ‘Everything, Everything’ has all the greater elements that should be in a good YA romance novel. It isn’t great, but it is dramatically entertaining with a sweet couple and an enriching personality. If you enjoy this kind of thing, I highly recommend it for anyone in the spirit of Valentine’s Day!

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments! 🙂

Review: ‘Forest Gods’ by Ryan Campbell

At last! At long, long last! After waiting for a couple years, I’ve read the latest instalment of Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, confusingly called ‘Forest Gods’. I’m telling you that ever since I finished reading ‘God of Clay’ some months ago, I have been itching to know what happened in the cliffhanger I was left on, and what will happen to our main character. Is it better than the first book, and can Ryan Campbell continue making a romantic relationship between a leopard deity and a young human man less uncomfortable than it would sound at first? Read on to find out.

In the wake of the last book, the god of the forest Kwaee has turned his entire domain against the human villagers outside his jungle, killing anyone whom he believes to be allied with the demonic fire god Ogya. And after running for the savanna in the wake of all this, Kwaee’s son Doto and his human lover Clay must embark into the neighboring savannas in search of a god whom they believe will help them find out the truth. Both will have to sacrifice their morals, risk their lives, and maybe even the happiness they may or may not be able to have.

Meanwhile, back in Clay’s home, Laughing Dog has returned in ways too different to explain. His and Clay’s father, King First Claw, has died under mysterious circumstances, and their grieving but slow-minded brother Great Ram has taken the throne in these dark times. Little does anyone know however, that Ogya has taken possession of Laughing Dog, and is using the agnostic believer’s naïveté to cause tension among the other villagers through acts of framing, hoping to rile them into attacking the forest and finally reignite the ancient war with Kwaee.

The only two people who see through the young prince’s actions are the tribe’s elderly healer named Cloud, and the prince’s promised fiancé named Ant With a Leaf. Determined to save their people from unknowingly killing themselves, Any and Cloud must throw aside their status as women and challenge the prince and puppet king before it’s too late. Will they both succeed and save humanity, or will Ogya’s fire consume the village and everything in its path?

It’s very clear in the first several that real shit will go down as the book progresses, and Ryan Campbell brilliantly allows the scenery and emotions to drip together with the narrative. There’s more drama, much darker moments between the line, and I had to stop myself from skipping ahead several times to keep reading each page. As you guess, I absolutely loved it.

The best thing about this book is both the theme and how it has heavily impacted the characters, and it is change. From the last book to this one’s cliffhanger, ‘Forest Gods’ does the right balance of commenting on change while we read about our characters’ journeys. Everyone in the novel talks about how they miss the old days, and feel like an impending doom is coming to their way of life. It is an understandable feeling, as many people in today’s world have the same feeling whether they’re religious or not. However, the novel isn’t preaching to abandon beliefs, but to adapt to the change in order to survive.

Doto and Clay go through a similar situation on their new journey, except it starts to turn into a romantic relationship between a god and a mortal. You might remember from my review of the last book that they both had a sex scene, and I must inform you there are a few in ‘Forest Gods’ as well. However, the book doesn’t go into intimate detail, and focuses more on the story and relationship between the two. Granted, the idea of a human and anthropomorphic leopard being in a sexual relationship sounds very disturbing still, but then again if authors can get away with werewolf romances, why not this? Besides, werewolf romances these days are crap compared to this.

Clay is still the optimistic human from the first book, but learns how the gods have abused their power. He’s emotional, but quick on his feet while keeping good morals. He’s noble, but will challenge kindness when it is needed. And despite his devotion to Doto (both spiritually and romantically), Clay has limits to how far the leopard would go to hurt others in their way.

In ‘God of Clay’, Doto originally treated his human companion as though he’s nothing more than a subordinate worshipper. In ‘Forest Gods’, he still cares for Clay, but slowly learns to consider him an equal. He’s still impatient and serious, but will protect Clay from anything. He’s determined, but learns humility from Clay. He also learns how to have emotions, and doesn’t know how to feel about them, especially in dramatic scenes. The one that tugs at my heartstrings is when Doto finds out someone about his legacy he never know, and how it ties him into the war between Kwaee and Ogya. I won’t give anything away, but you feel the weight that Doto feels once it’s discovered.

Aside from the two couple, but I was strangely surprised to have Cloud and Ant, two minor characters from the first book, become the secondary characters in the novel. I barely even remembered them in ‘God of Clay’, but reading the newest book and getting to know them better has made me wonder why Ryan Campbell didn’t give them more focus? I absolutely love them, as they remind me of some people I knew growing up in my family. Cloud is an elderly woman that’s strong and has a clever wit despite her old age, is independent but knows when to ask for help, and she perfectly mirrors Ant’s will to do what is right for the village. In fact, I remember ‘Bookworm Reviews’ on Youtube mentioning that his only problem with the first book as that Ant didn’t have a personality. This highly makes up for it, and she’s thoroughly entertaining (and David Popovich, if you’re reading this, I highly recommend this for a future review).

That reminds me. The only complain I have regarding characters is this one that popped out of nowhere and wasn’t mentioned again in detail. It was Adanko, the God of Hares and Lies who seemed too amusing to be a background character. At first it seems like he’ll be the comic relief of the story, but he comes and goes without a second though.

Then we have Laughing Dog, who has turned from an agnostic child who whines and complains in the last book into an unpredictable beast with his older brother’s kingly position wrapped around his finger. I love and fear how he manipulates the King so easily just by being related to him, showcasing how Laughing Dog isn’t just a tough guy with a knife. He’s a conniver and a plotter, trying to keep a façade of honor and charisma to his people while willingly working for Ogya. The way he puts blame on Kwaee, frames Cloud, twists others words against them, it’s like you’ve entered the infamous McCarthy Trials!

I find aspects like this the most terrifying in a villain, because it makes us wonder when they can be threatening, whether they’re about to strike you down or not. Both are unpredictable, overconfident in their goals, and will not hesitate to kill anyone, even family and loved ones, in their way of success.

Once again, Ryan Campbell astounds me in a fantastic novel of family, beliefs, and love. Enriched with African culture, vast in journeys across landscapes, and seeded with an addictive plot, I highly recommend reading this after taking a gander at the first book.

~*~*~*~*~

Follow me on Facebook @

https://m.facebook.com/readersboulevard

And feel free to click on the post to leave comments! 🙂

Update: New deadline for book reviews

If you’ve noticed recently, I usually have random days I give book reviews on here, so I’ve decided to have a set deadline for book reviews to be posted. Every Thursday evening every two weeks (starting February 11th), basically around 5:00 or 7:00, I’ll post my reviews so you won’t have to come back and forth to see if I’ve posted anything new (which I still recommend XP). If you have any questions, please contact me, and have a wonderful day!