Book Review: Olivia & the Gentleman from Outer Space

Olivia & the Gentleman from Outer Space
by Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s science fiction

12-year-old Olivia is surprised when a visitor from outer space lands in the wheat field near her house and even more surprised when she’s told he might be able to heal her father’s cancer. But first he needs Olivia’s help to find a black ruby that will give him the power he needs.

This book has an interesting premise (and a pretty cover), but I’m afraid it falls apart in execution. A lot of the story is kind of muddled, especially in the details. Olivia is called the Princess of Blue Earth, but I never did understand what makes her a princess exactly. Her dad doesn’t seem to be a king of anything, and maybe her rare ability to read the treasure map to the black ruby is what makes her a princess, but it wasn’t really explained. The gentleman from outer space, who might have been about Olivia’s age, but it’s hard to say, tends to glow in different ways depending on mood, physical status, etc. (like the alien in the movie Home), which was an interesting addition to the story. However, somehow his glowing didn’t attract the attention of the bad guys, though Olivia could often see his face, hands, and even chest glowing through/inside his space suit. And they’re in a hurry to bring the black ruby back before Olivia’s dad dies, but somehow they have time to stop on the moon for sightseeing, not once, but twice.

I didn’t realize until after I’d started reading it that it is self-published, though I’m not against self-published books by any means and am a self-published author myself. I think the book needed more editing, someone to ask important questions (like why does the author write as if Olivia would literally float away on the moon? There is some gravity) and notice some of the more nonsensical dialog and narration moments. The author seemed to put a lot more effort into the settings, and while his imagination does come through, and I appreciate the brilliant visuals in some of the locations, I would have preferred a more cohesive plot and more developed characters.

Thank you to the author and Netgalley for providing me a copy of this book to review.
Publication date: April 11, 2023

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Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Book #1
by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

I didn’t want to read this book. I never planned to and was content with knowing nothing more about it than the basic premise. (I’ve never seen any of the movies either.) The main reason I stayed away is due to an aversion to heavy violence and death, and of course a book that involves a couple dozen teenagers being forced to kill each other is going to have plenty of that. I finally decided to read it after my son (who has seen the movies, but not read the books) tried to tell me that I might not be giving it a fair assessment, and of course, he was absolutely correct. And I did struggle still early on in the book, considering walking away because I was dreading what was to come. But I stuck it out, and boy, did I not expect to like it this much.

I appreciate the simple writing style—no pretension, no unnecessary words—and that made it easy for me to keep going when I didn’t want to face what was to come (yes, I am as much of a wimp as it sounds). And as the story unfolded, I realized I was empathizing with the tributes so much that my own pulse sped up in certain moments, during action or even just anticipating what was to come. And yet, in the end, I can say that the “violence for the sake of violence” that I anticipated from the book wasn’t there. Instead, we only see what Katniss sees, which is only what’s necessary to advance the plot or show her character.

The characterization and plot are a huge high point for me. Katniss’s attitude and motivation are consistent, and I really felt for Peeta throughout the book. Even the characters that it would be easy to hate end up being well-rounded and sympathetic. I wasn’t thrilled with the love triangle being set up, but at least it was a fairly minor aspect, as was the “romance” in general. While I can’t pretend to appreciate the world Collins has set up in this book, I do like that the book drew me in and made me want badly to see this system dismantled. I have unintentionally managed to avoid much in the way of spoilers for the rest of this series (or maybe I heard plenty of spoilers but just didn’t know what they meant at the time and don’t remember them now), so I am going forward with no idea what to expect, but with hopes for what I’d like to see firmly intact. All I can really say for recommendation, since I’m sure most people who are going to read this have already done so, is that if you’re like me and don’t want to read it because of reasons I mentioned, I suggest you reconsider.

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Book Review: Rise of the Elgen

Rise of the Elgen
Michael Vey #2
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Michael Vey isn’t exactly an ordinary kid. For one thing, he has Tourette syndrome. For another, he produces electricity like a taser. And he’s not the only one with electric abilities. Together with some of the other teens like him, and some without powers, Michael sets out to rescue his mom from Dr. Hatch and the Elgen.

I both enjoyed and was annoyed by this book. For plot and intrigue, I give it a thumbs up. For characterization and writing style, I give it a thumbs down. The story itself kept me interested, and I sped through it. Evans has some interesting ideas involving the electric powers and how they can be used by both sides (though there are some aspects I’m not sure are completely thought out—for example, if Zeus’s electric powers are sapped, wouldn’t water not affect him so much? How does Ian’s echolocation allow him to read printed text?).

However, the group of hero teens generally fall into two categories—the boys are strong, alpha males who just want to flirt and smash. The girls are silly creatures that think fluffy animals are cute (except for the rats). The only exceptions to these stereotypes are Michael himself and his best friend Ostin. And then there’s the bad guy, who makes me feel like Evans did a study in how to do one better on the evils of Nazi Germany. The things they do are just over the top evil, it’s disturbing. As for the writing, I hate to say it, but it made me feel like I was reading my own early attempts at writing as a 12-year-old. I rolled my eyes several times at the immaturity. I know this is written for a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean it has to be quite so silly.

In the end, though I wrote down several notes of things that bothered me, I look back and mostly see an exciting, fast-paced book (which might be interesting, since I’ve read several reviews that say this book was slower than the first). While the downsides are the kind of thing that I don’t expect to get any better in future books, as long as the good parts are still there, I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

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Book Review: The Lost World

The Lost World
Jurassic Park #2
by Michael Crichton

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Up front, I will say that I’ve seen the Jurassic Park movies (original 3) many, many times, so if you’re looking for an unbiased opinion, you may want to go elsewhere. Jurassic Park is one of my top 3 favorite movie franchises, if not the top. I did read this book once, back in high school, most likely because of how much I already liked the first couple of movies then. However, unlike the first book, which I couldn’t help but compare to the movie as I read, this one is so different from the movie that very early on, I had to try to push the movie out of my mind. And in doing that, I am probably able to review it more for itself than based on my love of the movies. Though I can’t pretend that love didn’t still possibly make me enjoy this more than I might have otherwise.

I didn’t love this book quite as much as the first, but I did enjoy it, and it kept my attention throughout. Malcolm’s arrogance and loquaciousness takes a back seat to a new character, Richard Levine, though we do get almost a repeat of an injured, drugged Malcolm rambling on that also happened in the previous book. I don’t know why Crichton insists on putting kids in harms way in these books, but I did like the kids in this one more than the two in the first book (it was mostly Lex that was annoying in the first book). One of my biggest frustrations while reading is probably fair enough for Crichton to have included, but it frustrates me to have an intelligent character say that evolution may not tell the entire story of existence up to now, that there may be more that modern scientists haven’t uncovered, yet without a doubt, creationism is just wrong. To be so absolutely sure that one model is wrong, though there is plenty to confirm it, even while saying we may not know all the answers smacks of willful ignorance. Sadly, this is absolutely the world we live in.

Though, as I said, I didn’t compare the book to the movie as much this time around, one thing that I realized is that Sarah Harding is quite the strong, courageous woman. She’s mostly portrayed that way in the movie too, but I don’t understand why the movie makers decided to flip the script when the trailers are being pushed over the side of the cliff. In the book, Sarah does the saving, while in the movie, she has to be saved by Malcolm. I’m not a feminist, but that seems fairly deliberate to me. Though, I suppose, it could have just been more about giving Jeff Goldblum the save than anything to do with gender roles. Overall, I do think that fans of the first book and/or the movie franchise will enjoy this book.

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Book Review: The Diamond of Darkhold

The Diamond of Darkhold
Book of Ember #4
by Jeanne DuPrau

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, The City of Ember.

The people of Sparks are suffering through winter without enough food for everyone and with many sicknesses and injuries. When Doon discovers a book that seems to hold a secret for the people of Ember, he and Lina make a plan to uncover that secret and hopefully help their town.

After liking the first book and being a little disappointed with the second, I enjoyed this one, which I felt brought back the adventure and intrigue of the first book. It helped me to realize that one of the things missing from the 2nd book is Lina and Doon working together, rather than both having their own quests. I also liked the return to Ember, even though much had changed, and how things played out there. The secret of the diamond was underwhelming at first, but as I came to understand it better, I appreciated it more.

The ending was a little strange to me, partly because it leaps forward and then backward at least once, and I had to reread some spots to make sure I wasn’t confused. And the reference to the third book in the series, which I skipped in favor of the next book in sequence (the third book is a prequel) was weird and made me less inclined to even read the third one (though I still will). However, the ending only detracted a little, hence the half point down from 5 in my rating. Overall, it was a satisfying conclusion to a series that I’m glad I read.

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Book Review: Son

The Giver series #4
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian, fantasy

As a teenage Birthmother, Claire produces her first child of the three that are expected of her. But there are complications, and she is unceremoniously ejected from the job she’d been assigned. She begins to long for her son and will stop at nothing to find him again after he is taken from the community by Jonas, the recently appointed Receiver.

Well…what a strange, uncertain journey it has been through this series. In some ways, it seems like Son decently ties up the three books that come before it. In other ways, it seems like Lowry had no idea where she was going and took a rambling route to the end. I tend to assume that Lowry wrote The Giver without intending any follow-up. Then, considering how many years passed between each successive sequel that came out, I wonder if she had an ultimate plan in mind for this series, or if she just wrote each book as it came to her and tried to build on the previous. It would make more sense to me if the latter were true. Either way, though, I do appreciate being able to see more of the escapees from the first book. On the other hand, the existence of innate magical powers in quite a few people, in a series that started more as sci-fi than fantasy, is rather confusing.

I felt there were some weak areas in the book, even outside of the broader questions of simply what on earth is going on in this world. For example, I have a difficult time believing that Einar could really memorize so well the climb up the cliff that he had done only once, and an even more difficult time believing that the path up had not changed since the years before that Einar climbed it (plants should have grown, rocks might have crumbled, etc.). For that matter, since Claire’s reason for not leaving the seaside town by boat was her fear of the water, what was Einar’s? Why would he not just sail away, rather than attempt such a long, arduous, dangerous climb?

While I appreciate the storylines that Lowry does tie up in this book, I really wonder if we would have been better off left with The Giver as a standalone novel. On the other hand, many people like the series overall. It seems like the kind of thing you either love or hate. Though I’m personally in the middle somewhere, so maybe not. My final recommendation, though, is to read The Giver, if you haven’t already, and maybe just leave it at that, unless you’re really curious.

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Book Review: The Prisoner of Cell 25

The Prisoner of Cell 25
Michael Vey #1
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Michael Vey isn’t exactly an ordinary kid. For one thing, he has Tourette syndrome. For another, he produces electricity like a taser. In the space of a few days, Michael discovers that he’s not the only one with powers and that there are sinister forces that are looking for him. When his mom is kidnapped, Michael has to go on the offensive while figuring out what his powers can do.

I enjoyed this story overall. The writing was nothing special, but the story is interesting. I think I liked Michael’s powerless friend, Ostin, most. I kept imagining him as Ned from the more recent Spider-Man movies. Hatch is a sufficiently interesting bad guy, who I assume majored in psychology, because he really knows how to manipulate people. Though I do think he makes some obvious errors when trying to break one of the characters, so that was a little off-putting. It might just show how completely deranged he is though.

For as atypical as Michael is supposed to be, he sure seems to bring a lot of tropes and cliches to the book. For example, he has a crush on the cheerleader and can’t talk right around her. He’s also scrawny and victim to some intense bullying, yet is able to understand their motivation super quickly and easily, which is definitely not likely to happen in a situation like this. But while most of the characters don’t get a lot of development and there’s an amazing coincidence involving two kids with powers that happen to go to the same school that is never explained, the story overall moves along quickly and kept my attention. The climax may have been a little on the easy side, but I don’t mind that, especially in a book for a younger audience. The story this first book sets up is intriguing, so I’ll definitely be continuing the series.

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Book Review: Lightning

by Dean Koontz

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Laura Shane’s life has been marked throughout by lightning events, both figurative and literal. During some of the hard times she’s experienced, a mysterious man has shown up to help her in some way—her guardian angel. As she gets older, though, her guardian slips into myth in her mind. When he appears again, it’s on the worst day of her life, and Laura’s life becomes one of fear and paranoia. Even as she begins to understand the depth to which her guardian has been involved in her life, she wonders if she’ll ever be safe again.

I never cared about Koontz when I was younger, probably thinking he was all horror, and I have never cared for horror. My husband (maybe my boyfriend at the time, I don’t recall…it was around 20 years ago) recommended this book, and I remember being pleasantly surprised. I’ve never read another Koontz since, but that just left this to keep a special place in my heart. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it again, but I’m so glad I did! The suspense is really high at certain points in the book. Laura’s guardian, Stefan, is a sympathetic hero, especially when you learn more about him and where he comes from. And though Laura herself isn’t my favorite main character, I can appreciate the way that the various difficulties in her life shape her into the person she becomes as an adult.

Time travel isn’t exactly original, but not everyone does as good a job as Koontz did here. The things that could and could not be affected, the way there are natural limitations to avoid paradoxes, it all makes sense. And what is done by characters to try to get around that can be a little mind-twisty, but it makes for a great read! I know there were a few points when I wondered if it was really necessary to see so much of Laura’s life that don’t really relate to the grander story. I think it was mostly there to build up our connection with Laura. Whatever the reason, it never made me bored. As a stand-alone sci-fi thriller, Lightning definitely worth reading! I know I’ll re-read it again in the future.

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Book Review: Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two
Book #2
by Ernest Cline
read by Wil Wheaton

My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Science fiction, dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous book, Ready Player One.

As it turns out, Halliday didn’t leave just one contest behind in the Oasis when he died. He left a second one, which wouldn’t be triggered unless his heir found and decided to release a controversial, highly-advanced, game-changing technology to the world and the world then went crazy for it. And since, of course, that’s exactly what happens after the first contest is over, Oasis users are sent on another impossible quest that involves having unlikely knowledge of every single thing someone they never met loved and obsessed over. If it isn’t clear from my rating and from that synopsis I wrote, I did not like this book. To be fair, I didn’t expect to like it, and really didn’t plan to ever read it. But curiosity got the better of me.

To start with, I’ll state that I didn’t love Ready Player One. It was okay, but since I wasn’t won over by all of the 80s nostalgia, I was left with just the plot and characters, which were mediocre overall. So when the sequel was even more 80s trivia and even less plot and characters, it was destined to fail to thrill me. I think the nostalgia has to be the only reason that anyone really likes this book, since it’s otherwise poorly done. Though to be honest, I don’t even know how the pop culture references could be all that enjoyable for anyone, since they’re so shallow. I thought the same when reading RP1, but it seemed even moreso this time. It feels like Cline just really wants to showcase his pop culture knowledge in these books, except half of what we get is something that anyone with an internet connection could easily include in a story.

As for the story itself, there’s a ridiculous amount of exposition, usually dumped in huge piles, and often right when something exciting is about to happen. Seriously, when we’re told the first item for the contest has (finally) been found, we stop for a whole bunch of explanation before actually moving on to the item. And worse yet, sometimes the exposition is repeated. Cline wants so badly for us to know how certain aspects of this make-believe world within a make-believe world work that he tells us twice!

Wade, the MC, is a terrible human being masquerading as a compassionate guy who just doesn’t know how to deal with people. We went through a depressing time with him in the first book, when he pushed all of his friends away and became depressed, but at least we got a good ending out of it. But we have almost a repeat of that in this book, and it’s even more clear now that he’s simply a terrible person. I just can’t bring myself to root for him anymore. I didn’t care if he and Samantha got back together or not, and I really didn’t care about their conflicting views of how to best “save” humanity.

And then there’s the ending…I could not believe what I was hearing when I got to the last chapter. It’s astounding to me that anyone can truly think that the decisions that are made by this group of characters are a good idea. That they’re even remotely okay. That they solve anything! I guess it’s supposed to be a happy ending, but it sounds terrifying and depressing to me. I need to stop now, before the review gets any longer, but suffice it to say that I do not recommend this book to anyone, fans of 80s culture or not. If you really like John Hughes movies or Prince, you might be in heaven for 3-4 chapters of this book. For anyone else…read at your own risk.

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Book Review: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
Book #1
by Michael Crichton

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Up front, I will say that the movie probably influenced my reaction to the book, so if you’re looking for an unbiased opinion, you may want to go elsewhere. Jurassic Park is one of my top 3 favorite movie franchises, if not the top, even though I can certainly admit that there are some duds in there. I just don’t care; I love them anyway. I did read this book once, back in high school, most likely because of how much I already liked the first couple of movies then.

Now reading it again, I think I appreciated it even more than I did back then. Yes, the science gets a little long-winded, as do Malcolm’s speeches, so I might have skimmed a little. But that doesn’t keep me from enjoying a book. Outside of that, there is a lot of excitement, and even though Malcolm won’t shut up, I really liked his character. The race against time caused by the juvenile raptors on the boat headed for the mainland adds even higher stakes. And the book doesn’t make quite as many huge leaps about dinosaurs that paleontologists couldn’t possibly know for sure, but rather the characters have to learn about them and deduce what they can expect as they go.

I have seen the movie too many times to not have been constantly comparing the two as I read, and I even made some notes to help myself keep both the similarities and differences straight (some were things that were used in the 2nd movie, even though there’s also a 2nd book). But I do think the book stands on its own and should be read by fans of the movie, which is more famous than the book, but does owe its existence to the book.

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