August Book Reviews

August ended up being a bit busier month for me, so the amount of reading I accomplished was a little more limited. Thankfully, I was still able to fit in several new books, including reading an early version of a novel a friend is currently writing.  Check out what I got to read below, and for those who are more into comics, please note that I’ll try to do better in September.

Books will be rated on a 1 – 5 star scale with 1 being bad and 5 being excellent.  If you enjoy what you see and don’t want to wait until the next book post, please follow us on Goodreads.  We’ll stay consistently updated there before compiling our month’s reading and thoughts here.

The comics Chaos has read will also be included at the end of the post.  Normally those will just be listed and not officially reviewed.  If you ever want to hear about a comic in particular though or want his thoughts, don’t be afraid to ask.  He enjoys discussing everything he’s read. 

Let’s Go!

Blink by K.L. Slater – 2.5/5 Stars

In Blink, Toni is a widow who has struggled to get her life back together and to properly care for her five year old daughter, Evie.  When she’s unsure where to turn for support, (her mother, her new job, Evie’s teacher), she finds it easiest to turn to self-medication.  Toni is surrounded by questionable acquaintances and at least one of them plans harm to Toni and Evie.  When Evie does go missing, will Toni be able to get herself together long enough to save her, or will Evie join the long list of regrets Toni is building?

Slater has some fun with her use of time and point-of-view in this novel.  The story jumps back and forth between the present and the past, pre-Evie’s abduction.  There are also some chapters dedicated to Toni and others from the perspective of Evie’s new teacher’s aid.  K.L. Slater uses the shifting times and perspectives to slowly deal information to the reader and to build tension.

Overall, I found this novel to be well structured, but a bit on the melodramatic and predictable side.  Slater does a fine job of creating multiple suspects, but the actual perpetrator felt fairly obvious to me from early on.  This should be a satisfactory read for anyone looking for a simple and mildly intriguing thriller.

The Dispatcher by John Scalzi – 3.5/5 Stars

The Dispatcher is a short story set in a world where people can’t be murdered anymore.  Death is still very much a thing, but anyone who is murdered will suddenly find themselves waking up in their own bed, body reset to a few hours before the event.  In this world, Tony Valdez is a licensed dispatcher.  His job is to kill people who are beyond saving, so they can hopefully come back with another chance at life.  Tony’s life takes a turn though, when he gets pulled into the investigation of a missing dispatcher.  Can Tony discover the truth and save his former friend before it’s too late?

This is a pretty short story and the tale itself is only able to cover so much ground, but the world Scalzi creates for this tale is pretty fascinating.  He clearly spent quite a bit of time thinking through his world and building the society that would result from it.  The characters themselves are all well done and interesting.

Not stretching a concept out too much is probably wise, but this story definitely left me wishing I had a bit more.  This book is worth checking out in general, but also for just the premise alone. 

Answers in the Pages by David Levithan – 4/5 Stars

Answers in the Pages is actually three interwoven stories.  The main story features 5th grader Donovan whose teacher assigned him The Adventurers for class.  When Donovan’s mother discovers the book, she finds one line’s possible hints of homosexuality inappropriate for her son, and soon she begins the battle to have it removed from the school’s curriculum.  Donovan, who sees nothing wrong with the novel, whether the characters are gay or not, soon feels caught in the middle as the town battles over the book’s fate in the classroom.

Alongside Donovan’s tale, readers will get select chapters from the fictional The Adventurers novel and another story that focuses on two young men who do find love with one another.

Leviathan’s novel is definitely aimed at middle grade readers, but the stories themselves are well written and told.  Certain aspects of his stories are simplified and more neatly handled than they would be in real life, but the overall lessons and morals shared throughout the novel are solid.  

This book is good for starting many conversations.  It does have clear sides it takes on those topics, but it does seem to assume the other side is well-intentioned, even if mistaken.

Personally, I felt this was a good novel to remind about caring for others and that sometimes we do get it wrong when we try to protect those we love.

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson – 3/5 Stars

Cytonic is the third book in the Skyward series.  This time, Spensa and M-Bot find themselves in the nowhere.  Here they will meet new foes and allies as they explore a world unlike any they could have imaged.  Can Spensa discover anything that can help her friends win the war against the Superiority or fight against the delvers?  Will Spensa even survive this adventure outside of both space and ordinary time?

I’m sad to say the main Skyward series feels like it’s getting weaker as it goes along.  I loved the first book.  The second one wasn’t as strong, but I appreciated what Sanderson did with it.  My hope for the series was revived a bit with the two novellas that came out between main books two and three.  Unfortunately, Cytonic felt like filler or a sidequest.  

Spensa is of course the series’ main protagonist, but her latest adventure often just left me wondering what was going on with her friends who were fighting the real war.  I’ll admit that Sanderson did his usual good job with character development (for Spensa and M-Bot) and that some of the revelations/world-building felt well-done, but I wanted to get through it so we could get to more interesting plot development.

The pattern of Spensa making friends and learning to fight/fly with them while she learns to be a better person has been done already.  Maybe that’s too nitpicky, but Sanderson’s novellas showed that the Skyward world has plenty of other interesting stories and character beats to explore.

I can only hope the fourth book puts this series back on track and captures the fun and excitement of the first novel.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – 4/5 Stars

Ryland Grace has been sent into space on a mission to save Earth.  Unfortunately, his memories are scrambled and the others sent with him are already dead.  Ryland must now work to figure out his past and do his best to make sure Earth has a future.  In his tiny and isolated ship, Ryland knows the clock is ticking.

For those who enjoyed Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, Project Hail Mary should feel like another winner.  Weir leans heavily into his style of presenting problems for his characters to solve through science and resourcefulness.  There is a fine line between exploring the details of interesting solutions to unique problems in a fascinating way and explaining science problems in a way that feels like listening to a professor go over a problem set as you count down the minutes to the end of class.  Thankfully, Weir mostly lands on the right side of that divide.

Again and again, Ryland will come up against an unforeseen obstacle and need to figure out his way through the issue.  Weir does a good job of working this way through the science in a way that should feel accessible to most readers.  Since the issues are usually life-or-death, the story tends to keep the problem-solving dramatic and interesting.  The occasional infusion of humor amongst characters also keeps most of the story from seeming too weighed down in either drama or science discussion.  It’s also hard not to sense that Weir was probably having a blast creating and then solving the scientific problems presented throughout the novel.

At times it can feel like the story could have used one less conflict to sort through or been shortened slightly, but these moments are rare.  

Ryland and the other characters are well-formed and readers should be able to invest in them easily.    

Project Hail Mary hits a sweet spot in creating entertaining science fiction while also celebrating the thrill and tension that comes with scientific discoveries and problem-solving.  The character work here is strong and Weird does a solid job of paying off the many story elements he introduces.

Secret by Secret – No Rating

I read an early draft of a novel that a friend is working on.  I’ve sent him my thoughts privately and won’t actually be rating or reviewing it here.  I just wanted to note that I did read another book, even if I can’t tell you about it.  Hopefully one day it’ll be widely available for others to check out as well.

Comics and Graphic Novels:

Fantastic Four vol. 8 – The Bride of Doom by Dan Slott

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