Paper Towns, a novel by John Green

Redd Becker Book Review

My enthusiasm for John Green started with my children’s introduction to Crash Course. by John GreenIn Crash Course videos, Green presents a heap of information on topics in a lighting fired rant that sets the groundwork for further research on the topics he presents.

Green’s idea of basing his story on the esoteric concept of ‘paper towns’ didn’t surprise me. His obvious infatuation with odd aspects of history reigns notorious in his Crash Course renditions.

Written in the first person perspective, he takes us into his character’s head. The cool girl next door enlists the help of her longtime nerdy neighbor to rampage her friends and foes. She disappears that night and he takes it upon himself to find her, dead or alive. Unraveling a line of obscure clues she left behind, he follows the trail and discovers the concept of paper towns.

Green develops his characters well, both primary and secondary. My interest wained in a few parts; too long of road trip in the car, too many searches around Orlando.

I’m delighted Green has extended his reach with stories such as Paper Towns, A Fault in My Stars and more. His style is engaging and personal. Besides his active mind on the quirky, he infuses his stories with heart. Who didn’t cry over A Fault in My Stars?

John Green Turns to the Top

John Green is one of the top grossing younger authors. He acknowledges the many people who help him bring his books to life. It shows that even for a known video personality, it takes many people to make a book successful.

A fun article in the New Yorker gives some insight into Green’s background in video and his focus on communicating to younger readers.

Paper Towns, a novel by John GreenPaper Towns by John Green
Published by Speak on September 22nd 2009
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 305
Goodreads

Who is the real Margo?

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew...

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Redd Becker Book Review

I picked up Chuck Wendig’s book, Under the Empyrean Sky, because I liked the sci-fi inspired cover. His reputation precedes him as the author of many Star Wars books, however, so it shouldn’t have taken me the cover to delve into his books.

by Chuck WendigAs the first in The Heartland Trilogy, the story focuses on farmers resisting the government, because they are forced to grow a modified corn plant that is taking over the land. A timely idea. 

Chuck Wendig writes prolifically and has a huge following. He wrote this book in third person in a uniquely personal style. Although the style didn’t motivate me, his books appeal to thousands. His name appears on the NYT Best Seller list often.

Wendig’s blog Terribleminds reflects his prolific creativity and varied interests. His books sit front and center as we expect, but he also writes about game design, food, pop culture, his family and anything else he chooses. Warning: his language may not be for everybody.

Chuck Wendig Controversies

Wendig’s Star Wars novel, Aftermath, created a lot of controversy in 2015 over the inclusion of a gay character. The Guardian wrote a review that included Wendig’s response to the complaints.

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck WendigUnder the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1) by Chuck Wendig
Published by Skyscape on July 30th 2013
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 354
Goodreads

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow. And the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie, his first mate and the love of his life, forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry, angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Redd Becker Book Review

Ruth Ozeki covers a lot of ground in A Tale for the Time BeingShe juxtaposits a sixteen year old, troubled Japanese teenager with a Canadian writer’s older perspective. Both characters search for meaning in their live’s. Their thoughts touch on the cord of how similar we are despite distance or age. by Ruth Ozeki

Nao spent most of her childhood in Silicon Valley, before returning to Japan. Back in Japan her father spirals into depressive, leaving Nao on her own to deal with the change. She gains some reprieve in her 104 year old Buddhist great-grandmother. Across the ocean, in a secluded island of British Columbia, Canada, Ruth finds Nao’s diary. The diary inspires the writer who’s career and life lack the spark it once did. 

The book is a little long at four hundred pages. Although the story integrated lots of great information about environment, culture and philosophy into each of the heroine’s journeys, Oseki could cut or integrate some into another book. That said, A Tale for the Time Being is a book to savor. It’s not where the plot is heading that makes this an interesting read, but how it gets there.  An ultimate compliment to the author is that a reread would bring additional insights; learning, seeing, smelling and enjoying the story.

Ruth Ozeki Writes in Two Points-of-View

Chapters alternate between Ruth’s and Nao’s point-of-view (POV). Ruth’s story comes through a step removed in third-person limited, while Ozeki presents a more intimate first-person POV for her Japanese teenager in the guise of the girl’s diary.

Sometimes the change of POV is disconcerting, although most of the time it works well. Lots of great footnotes on Japanese culture at the bottom of pages add another dimension to the story.

If you enjoy A Tale for the Time Being Ruth Ozeki has written many other books you may be interested in.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Published by Viking on March 12th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 422
Goodreads

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. 

Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

The Martian by Andy Weir, a sci-fi adventure on Mars

Redd Becker Book Review

Andy Weir’s tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars captured my mind as well as my imagination. This is my second read of The Martian and the details of the story fascinate me. I particularly admire Andy Weir for figuring out The Martian by Andy Weir, a story from Marsthe science required to execute the story.

The plot is simple–the struggle for survival under unsurmountable odds. An astronaut becomes stranded on Mars, when a dust storm and equipment failures cause the rest of the crew to leave. Fortunately the stranded astronaut’s background as a botanist and chemist enables him to devise incredibly ingenuous solutions.  The logs of his progress tell the story. Although his prospect of survival appears dim, it’s clear Mark doesn’t loose hope in being rescued.

I really enjoyed The Martian. Weir writes about what interests him and it comes through in every scene. Regardless of the geekiness, the book was fun. Even the ending didn’t disappoint, including Weir’s philosophical summary.

The Magic is in the Details

The trials of growing  food enough to sustain him for over a year was only one of our hero’s challenges. Although Weir describes it all, including technical calculations and equipment issues that reflect Weir’s knowledge of the space program, his descriptions aren’t dumbed-down for lay readers. I can imagine many a learned mathematician and scientist reviewing the details to prove or disprove Weir’s descriptions for themselves. For most of us, however, the story felt plausible.

The chemicals, gases and equipment descriptions add to the story and in many respects make it the hit it became. The story contains more technical details than you think you want, but it went smoothly and just when my interest of the technical wained, something changed to renew my attention.

For a majority of the story, Weir writes in first person, which draws you into the Mark’s situation. Although emotions are largely missing, Weir interweaves plenty of dry humor to keep your spirits up. When contact with NASA finally occurs, Weir shifts to third person in order to present happenings from the Earth perspective, as well as what his comrades, who remain in space as they return home, are doing.

A Geek’s Adventure on Mars for Everybody

This geek’s story of survival hits a universal chord with most readers, as shown by their reviews on Goodreads. With over half-million reader’s the average review remains over four stars. That’s an excellent recommendation for so many readers to agree on.

If your interest in Mars goes deeper, National Geographic wrote an interesting article on why we haven’t planted ourselves on Mars yet.

The Martian by Andy Weir, a sci-fi adventure on MarsThe Martian by Andy Weir
Published by Crown on February 11th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 369
Goodreads
four-half-stars

A mission to Mars.

A freak accident.

One man's struggle to survive.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, Mark won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.
As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive.
But Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

Redd Becker Book Review

Brian Staveley draws from the age-old plot of ‘prince thwarted from his rightful place on the throne’. Nothing new there. The story follows three tracks; two princes and their sister. The king sent his two boys away eight years earlier to study, while their sister remained in the palace.

by Brian Staveley

The eldest son and heir to the throne went to a Shin monastery, where he learned about living on the land. His ability to meditate and clear his mind, however, may be his most valuable skill. His brother trained as a soldier in the country’s most elite military service, while their sister negotiated a place among her father’s ministers. The king’s murder sets his children on a quest to punish the murder and regain the throne. But the enemy’s alleys come from all directions and threaten to dispose of the king’s entire family.

Intricacies of setting and personal challenges bring characters to life. Staveley pays as much attention to each prince’s unique training and environment as to their friends, mentors and individual foes. He ratchets up the drama with the return of an ancient species, who possess powers that threaten to destroy the human race.

This is the first book of seven in The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne.

Brian Staveley is a Master of Descriptions

Staveley writes details into every facet of his story. Although appropriate to each scene, setting details fill lengthy paragraphs. This makes it a long read. Details get the reader oriented to the world, but if you don’t like long paragraphs, they may signal a time to skim.

For a review of the entire series check out BestFantasyBooks.com.

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian StaveleyThe Emperor's Blades (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, #1) by Brian Staveley
Published by Tor Books on January 14th 2014
Pages: 480
Goodreads

Book one in an epic fantasy of intrigue and empire, for fans of George R. R. Martin and Douglas Hulick.
The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again . . .
The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy.
His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.
Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

 

Remember Yesterday by Pintip Dunn (Forget Tomorrow #2)

Redd Becker Book Review

Pintip Dunn fills every chapter of Remember Yesterday with driving action.  by Pintup DunnWe quickly learn our heroine’s sister, Callie, committed suicide to stop future memory research. The nation’s leader pushes on, however, with her vision to mold a society with precognition. A society that already knows its future because future selves send information backward in time. The chairwoman’s plans include winnowing out anyone who doesn’t have precognition. The young Jessa commits herself to fulfilling her sister’s wish to stop the project.

Jessa makes an intriguing heroine. She’s dynamic, conflicted and opinionated. Since she and her twin possessed the power of precognition, she believes she has a chance of stopping the research.

The tension of romance muddles Jessa’s perspective, however, when she collaborates with the young scientist, Tanner, to save her sister. Jessa is both aroused and ethically repelled by what Tanner represents to her. But the twist at the end puts their relationship in new light.

Pintip Dunn’s story comes full circle by the conclusion. Fresh imagery make this a fun read. This is the second book of the series, and Dunn leaves plenty of room to continue to story.

Pintip Dunn Wins the  RITA

Although Goodreads readers didn’t classify Dunn’s book in the Romance genre, Dunn won the RITA Award from the Romance Writers of America for Forget Tomorrow in 2016. Dunn placed in many other award lists as well, which recognizes her fresh writing style, intriguing heroines and driving plots.

For a list of 25 great paranormal romances, check out the  Best Fantasy Books website.

Remember Yesterday by Pintip Dunn (Forget Tomorrow #2)Remember Yesterday (Forget Tomorrow, #2) by Pintip Dunn
Published by Entangled: Teen on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Goodreads

Follow-up to the New York Times bestselling novel, Forget Tomorrow!
Would you change the past to protect your future?
Sixteen-year-old Jessa Stone is the most valuable citizen in Eden City. Her psychic abilities could lead to significant scientific discoveries, if only she’d let TechRA study her. But ten years ago, the scientists kidnapped and experimented on her, leading to severe ramifications for her sister, Callie. She’d much rather break into their labs and sabotage their research—starting with Tanner Callahan, budding scientist and the boy she loathes most at school.
The past isn’t what she assumed, though—and neither is Tanner. He’s not the arrogant jerk she thought he was. And his research opens the door to the possibility that Jessa can rectify a fatal mistake made a decade earlier. She’ll do anything to change the past and save her sister—even if it means teaming up with the enemy she swore to defeat.

Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #6)

Redd Becker Book Review

Darynda Jones writes cross-genre novels that highlight romance, by Darynda Jonesmystery and the occult. Her writing style captures her protagonist’s sharp, irreverent personality and keeps you in Charley’s mind set. Jones breaks the traditional literary approach, but she punches her story up with fun similes, creative descriptions and unexpected subplots that take the reader on tangents into the world of angels, Lucifer’s children and the afterlife.

The protagonist, Charley, sees ghosts. She inherited the role of ‘grim reaper’ which gives her the power to help souls transition, but additional powers, hinted-at, lurk beneath the surface. With a compassionate perspective and defiant approach, Charley blunders forward resolving crisis for the living and dead alike.

To spice the story up romantically, the devil’s son, Reyes, entangles Charley in his sexy-hot tentacles which creates tension, titillation and intrigue.

For me, a muddled middle of subplots left me wondering. By the end I was left wondering. Many of the subplots don’t resolve cleanly and the ending opened as many doors as it closed. Regardless, plenty more books in the series carry Charley’s tale forward.

Darynda Jones Writes with Wit

Darynda Jones’ fresh writing (as writing coach, Margie Lawson, would say) entertains and keeps the reader captivated. Her characters verge on the hilarious; such as a corpse with a hard-on who rides shot-gun in her car.

A review on the first three Charley Davidson novels at FictionVixen provides the foundation for the series, although it contains spoilers.

Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #6)Sixth Grave on the Edge (Charley Davidson, #6) by Darynda Jones
Series: Charley Davidson #6
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 20th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 326
Goodreads

Few things in life can come between a grim reaper and her coffee, but the sexy, sultry son of Satan is one of them. Now that Reyes Farrow has asked for her hand, Charley Davidson feels it's time to learn more about his past, but Reyes is reluctant to open up. When the official FBI file of his childhood abduction lands in her lap, Charley decides to go behind her mysterious beau’s back and conduct her own investigation. Because what could go wrong?
Unfortunately, another case has fallen into her lap—one with dangerous implications. Some very insistent men want Charley to hunt down a witness who is scheduled to testify against their boss, a major player in the local crime syndicate. If Charley doesn't come up with an address in 48 hours, the people closest to her will start to disappear.
Add to that a desperate man in search of the soul he lost in a card game, a dogged mother determined to find the ghost of her son, and a beautiful, young Deaf boy haunted by his new ability to see the departed as clearly as he sees the living, and Charley has her hands full. The fact that Reyes has caught on to her latest venture only adds fuel to the inferno that he is. Good thing for Charley she's used to multi-tasking and always up for a challenge…especially when that challenge comes in the form of Reyes Farrow.

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