All Book Reviews

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Kesey, Ken
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

As one of the few films in American history to win the “big 5” Academy
Awards (which are Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay), I
was interested in the book that helped One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
attain its award-worthy status. I figured that if such a book could provide
such great content to win awards as a movie, it would certainly have artistic
merit in its own right. After all, many people posit that a book is better
than the movie it is made out of. I wanted to make sure that, at the very
least, it wasn’t any worse than the movie.

Perhaps the largest difference between the two versions of this story (I’m
not going to go into the live-theatre version, since I haven’t seen it), is
that the book has a very interesting narrator in the character of “Chief”
Bromden, whereas the film merely uses the camera to tell the story. Because
we get a glimpse into the mind of the deaf mute giant, he becomes not only a
subjective observer of the situation around him but also a vivid example of
what mental illness feels like. Instead of just focusing on the ways Randle
McMurphy bucks the stringent hospital system, we also get a sense of how
reality is filtered through a disabled mind.

As is usually the case with movie versions, I noticed a lot more content and
characters in the book version because it was likely these extraneous
elements were removed from the film for content and run-time issues. Still, I
wonder if the film would have had more of an impact on educating audiences
about mental illness if it included some of the Chief’s unique
observations. Either way, both the film and the book are excellent pieces of
art, even if it may be a little difficult to swallow at times that these
mental hospital practices have only recently been changed for the better.

An excellent book that spawned an excellent movie, I give One Flew Over the
Cuckoo’s Nest 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Unstoppable: Harnessing Science To Change The World
Nye, Bill
3 stars = Pretty Good

I grew up on Bill Nye’s science show on PBS. I appreciated his
straightforward approach to teaching science to children that was both
informative and humorous. Possibly in part due to this, I now find myself
with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and employed in a very
technical field. I also find myself writing books which are surreptitiously
educational, hoping that the entertainment value of my writing will subtly
inspire people to learn more about science. Consequently, merely based on the
author of this book, I was interested in reading it, despite the somewhat
vague and ambiguous title.

While there was plenty of very interesting material presented in this book,
much of it I had already known about by keeping up with the technological
advances of the world today, I felt like its order was a little off. Right
from the get-go, Nye hammers home that global climate change is a problem.
The entire rest of the book then explores technologies and developments that
could potentially solve, or at least abet the rapid rate of change leading to
our soon-to-be unsustainable world. As a result, there’s a bit of fear
introduced from the beginning that is tugged on throughout. I would have
flipped these topics around and shown all the neat scientific breakthroughs
(or near breakthroughs) we have in our current world, then use the knowledge
of these advancements to address the climate change issue. In this way, I
think the tone would be more inspiring and lead more people to pursue the
solutions instead of being alarmist and driving people to act out of fear
instead of out of the hope of what our future could be if we act now.

Nye’s trademark humor is sprinkled throughout his writing, which made
reading this book enjoyable. Furthermore, since he takes a very personal
approach with his examples and stories (I love his “love/hate”
relationship with Ed Begley Jr.), many of his opinions leak through. Many
times throughout the book, these opinions came off to me as a bit
off-putting, especially if the person reading this book happens to be of an
opinion differing from Nye’s. As such, there was a bit of “preaching to
the choir” that might not be helpful when trying to change the minds of
those who don’t share the same opinions. Still, his attempts at re-framing
the problem of global climate change and adjusting how we think about it were
quite admirable and I think everyone should give his ideas a chance.

A tale of both imminent danger and inspiration, I give Unstoppable 3.5 stars
out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Glynn, Alan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

The first time I was introduced to Alan Glynn’s writing was through the
film, Limitless (2011), which itself was based off his first novel, The Dark
Fields. While I enjoyed the film for its visuals, what really struck me as
interesting was the storytelling and characters Glynn created. Now fifteen
years after his first standalone novel, Paradime continues to show Glynn’s
talent in creating engaging plots and characters. Since I really enjoyed this
book, I will do my best to review it without spoiling it for anyone.

At its most simple level, Paradime is a modernized retelling of Mark
Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, or at least half of it anyway. Told from
the perspective of an out-of-work and out-of-luck cook, Danny Lynch, the
pacing of each of the three acts is steady and intense. Even if some of
Danny’s vocabulary seems a little advanced at times, he is the perfect
“everyman” to convey his peculiar circumstances to the reader. Those
familiar with Limitless will probably see many parallels between the two
stories, with the main exception being how the story ends for Danny.

Glynn’s writing style is very natural and easy to read in this modern
thriller. Each chapter left me wanting to read more and I found myself having
difficulty stopping because the pull of the plot was so intense. I also
appreciated the ability of Glynn to tie things up in an almost unexpectedly
expected way so that no detail in this book was left unused. While this may
have been the first time I’ve read anything by Alan Glynn, I am now
certainly a fan and will have to go back and pick up his other books to read.

A fast-paced and thrilling read, I give Paradime 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Force Awakens
Foster, Alan Dean
4 stars = Really Good

If you’ve been following along recently, you’ll know that I’ve been on
a bit of a “movie” kick when it comes to the audiobooks I’ve listened
to. While there are plenty of movies based on books, I haven’t really been
one to read novelizations of movies. That being said, I’ve found the
writing style in my own novels to be a bit of a novelization of the ideas in
my mind, since I usually try and describe scenes in a cinematic way. At any
rate, I was expecting a story that held close to the film, and this book
certainly delivered on that promise.

I’ll admit that the more I think about the plot and characters of The Force
Awakens, the more I find that it almost exactly matches the events of A New
Hope. However, there were some weaknesses in the first installment of the
Star Wars franchise that I feel are addressed in this recent installment.
Sure, all the elements are there, but they’ve been mixed around into
different characters, settings, and conflicts that add a bit more depth to
the story than the archetypical one presented in A New Hope. As a reboot, The
Force Awakens does an excellent job of calling back to what made the original
great, but doing so in a way that is still different enough to provide
interesting twists and questions.

One thing I do like about this version of the story, compared to the movie,
is the “deleted scenes” that help explain some of the plot holes from the
film. Maybe these scenes hindered the flow of the movie (or weren’t
important enough to include) but they certainly helped me understand the
story a lot better now that I know about them. Finally, while I know that
many films have “enhanced audio” for blind people, I’d almost recommend
these people listen to this audiobook instead. The music, sound effects, and
even many of the actors’ voices all are used at a pace that’s much slower
in order to really grasp what’s happening with the story.

A fantastic audiobook that faithfully captures everything (and more) that
made the film great, I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Rook
O'Malley, Daniel
4 stars = Really Good

One of the nice things about listening to audiobooks from my library (via the
Overdrive app), is that I can pick up a book and listen to it without really
knowing what it’s about other than a title and a cover. In this way, I
often have no preconceived notions about the book other than first
impressions. At this point, all I’m giving up to “read” the book is the
time it takes me to listen to it, and I have plenty of that driving to and
from work every day.

Since I had no idea what this book was really about, I was surprised at how
humorous it was. If I were to combine a few, better-known series together,
I’d say this is X-Men mixed with James Bond, with just a dash of Jason
Bourne all blended together in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. An odd
combination, I know. But somehow, it works here. The humor is markedly
British, but the characters and their powers are supernatural, to say the
least. Since this was merely the first in a developing series, I can’t wait
to get to book #2: Stiletto.

All this being said, there were a few structural choices to this book that I
often found confusing, which may just be part of listening to it in audiobook
form instead of reading it. First off, the decision to have the main
character afflicted with amnesia was an interesting way to essentially give
the audience what the character already would have known but had conveniently
forgotten. Secondly, because the letters from her former self were used as
backstory, these “flashbacks” were often confusing because it was easy to
lose track of which Mfwany Thomas (glad I had the audiobook for the
pronunciation of this name) was “speaking” at the moment.

An interesting premise with plenty of potential in future iterations, I give
The Rook 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Infinity of You & Me
Coyle, J. Q.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Unlike Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory, The Infinity of You & Me
really nails the complex and unique challenges of dealing with multiple
universes. Far more serious than its comedic counterpart, Infinity takes the
reader on a journey through the multiple lives of a teenage girl. The
descriptive writing used for this task was quite adept at conveying the
transition between worlds, as well as the numerous dystopian scenarios
present within them. Clearly, the Sylvia Plath poems the main character holds
dear also influenced the author’s writing style.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of the young adult genre, especially
when it devolves to cliches. This book managed to reside in that young adult
genre, but successfully told a story that didn’t make me roll my eyes in
annoyance. Sure, the elements were there, but they were handled much more
subtly, almost in the vein of how The Hunger Games did it years ago. The
complexity of the internal struggle of the main character really made her
come alive. Her growth by the end of the book was significant and made me
enjoy reading this book.

While it’s almost perfect, there are still a few weaknesses in this book.
Early on, it was difficult for me to figure out that the other multiverse
worlds were taking place in the same timeframe, and not in the past.
Furthermore, there were some sections that didn’t make as much sense as I
would have liked, but I suspect that’s also a limitation of dealing with
the multiverse as your main topic. Despite all these things, the story is
solid and the characters are complex and understandable.

Perhaps the best fictional account of the multiverse I’ve ever read, I give
The Infinity of You & Me 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Lincoln Lawyer
Connelly, Michael
4 stars = Really Good

While I saw the movie before listening to the audiobook, I must say that I
still really enjoy the main character. He’s one of those guys you love to
hate, but he’s trying so hard to do the right thing, even if it means
defending a scumbag who deserves a lot worse. Of course, since I had seen the
movie already, I had an idea how it was going to end, but couldn’t remember
the specifics. Perhaps that’s a measure of a great crime drama: all the
misdirection makes it difficult to know “whodunit”, allowing future
rereads to be enjoyable.

But, back to the main character, Mickey Haller, I think one of the reasons
this book was a breeze to listen to was because the main character’s POV is
so well written. You can tell that he has some baggage from his father, which
is partly why he defends everyone, regardless if they’re guilty or not. The
fact that Haller knows his way around the legal system and uses it to his
advantage to even get the guilty an innocent ruling just shows that he takes
pride in his work, even if it labels him as someone who keeps the crime on
the streets.

The plus to this audiobook was also the narrator, who was awesome in bringing
all the different characters to life with his voice acting. Even if the story
is told from the point of view of the eponymous “Lincoln Lawyer,” there
are plenty of interesting people in this book, and each one certainly has a
different “sound” to them. It’s the attention to these details that
differentiates a narrator just reading a book to you and a voice actor who
can bring the events happening in the words he’s speaking to life.

A great start to an interesting crime drama series, I give The Lincoln Lawyer
4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Brass Verdict
Connelly, Michael
3 stars = Pretty Good

Another book, another trial for the Lincoln Lawyer. While I appreciated the
stand-alone nature of this book, I also liked that knowledge of the events in
the first book of this sub-series helped to provide context for the
challenges Mickey Haller now faces. The main case of this novel was pretty
predictable, especially if you read into the insinuation of the title. I
would have liked a little more attention on the side-case surrounding the
death of Haller’s lawyer colleague. It seemed to be more of a Harry Bosch
story, though, so I can understand why the focus was on Haller’s case.

Once again, Michael Connelly creates an easily readable series of events that
unfold in the courtroom. Some twists at the end were exciting developments
but were definitely easily guessed if the reader was paying attention.
There’s almost a guilty pleasure in following Haller along as he embeds
that reasonable doubt into the jury’s minds. Something about the justice
system being used to make absolutely sure someone is innocent or guilty just
sits right, even if it’s in the defense of a completely unlikeable
character. This character’s final fate was equally as satisfying, even if
it wasn’t in court.

As noted above, my only qualm with the novel was that it seemed to be only
one side of the story. While we followed Mickey Haller, there was another
story unfolding with Harry Bosch that probably could have filled up another
volume. There was a lot that Bosch did behind the scenes that made his story
also seem quite interesting, even if it wasn’t expressed in these pages.
The connection between these two characters at the end of the book was also
nice, and I am curious how often Bosch will come back into play in future
Mickey Haller books.

A straightforward courtroom drama with predictable twists, I give The Brass
Verdict 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Reversal
Connelly, Michael
3 stars = Pretty Good

After two novels of Mickey Haller defending guilty scumbags, Michael Connelly
changes it up with The Reversal. Not only does the title refer to the
reversal of a 24-year old conviction, but also to the main character’s swap
over to the prosecution. While there seems to have been a book between this
one and The Brass Verdict, I have a feeling it was mostly about Harry Bosch,
since the hinted details in this book give me a good idea of what happened
and it didn’t change the last reference point of Mickey Haller.

Now that these two main characters were tied together in this case, one of
the issues I had with this book was how often it switched between first and
third person POVs. Perhaps I was too used to the story being told from Mickey
Haller’s perspective and there was so much that happened outside of his
direct involvement that it was necessary. However, there were times where
Haller was present in the scene and it seemed to switch between the two POVs
somewhat inconsistently, adding to my confusion as to who was speaking. I
only hope the next book in the series focuses more on Haller than splitting
the time between him and Bosch.

Furthermore, while I did appreciate the change of Haller being a part of the
prosecution team with his ex-wife, the story unfolded much in the same way
the others had. Most of the trial was pretty predictable with the twists
being easily recognized well before they were revealed. The unpredictable
ending is almost part of the template now, so even though it was an exciting
development, I had come to expect it.

Another Michael Connelly standard with a few changes to make it interesting,
I give The Reversal 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Fifth Witness
Connelly, Michael
4 stars = Really Good

In the fourth installment of The Lincoln Lawyer series, The Fifth Witness
follows Mickey Haller as he navigates another murder trial. This time, the
real scenario of the foreclosure crisis is brought in to help set the stage
for the trial. Using a historical event like this helped to bring the story
together in a way that felt more real and relatable than the previous entries
in the series. Most Americans I know who were affected by the housing market
crash would certainly be entertained by this story of corruption and
underhanded dealings, if for no other reason than to justify how screwed up
the system is.

Gone from this part of the series is detective Harry Bosch, who I felt
distracted from the main storyline centering around Mickey Haller and his
court battle in the previous two books of this series. This time, it’s all
Mickey. What helped to make this book stand out from the rest was the amount
of soul-searching and character development our favorite defense lawyer does
throughout the events unfolding around this trial. Because of his work as a
defense attorney, it was easy for him to become cynical, thus making his
aloof attitude more entertaining than endearing. This time around, he starts
to become self-aware and sees that his life isn’t heading in the direction
he wants.

I appreciated the slight bit of meta-humor in this book, not only in its
title but considering it came out around the same time as The Lincoln Lawyer
(2011) movie. And while some of the numerous “sudden evidence” events for
the trial was a bit of a cheap way to add twists to the story, Connelly
expertly hid the true twist ending until the final moments of the book,
something that was somewhat missing from earlier parts of the series. With an
interesting nod toward some future storylines, I felt The Fifth Witness is
the strongest entry in the series so far.

A great courtroom drama pulled straight from the housing crisis, I give The
Fifth Witness 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Ender's Game
Card, Orson Scott
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

In another “lapse” of my reading habits, I didn’t manage to read
Ender’s Game until the movie of the same name came out in 2013. At the
time, all the sci-fi fans were eagerly anticipating a film that had taken
over 25 years to finally become a reality. While I thought the movie was
quite well done and engaging, after I read the book, I can understand why
some of the diehard fans of the series were disappointed. As is usually the
case with book-to-movie transitions, sub-plots often find themselves on the
cutting room floor. Of course, I don’t blame them for cutting what they
did; after all, it is called Ender’s Game.

Even though watching the movie first spoiled the exciting twist of the ending
when I read the book, I almost read the book differently knowing how it would
turn out. I could see the signs leading up to the shocking reveal, almost as
if I had read it before. I did appreciate the sub-plot with Ender’s
siblings and their efforts back on Earth as their brother was winning the war
in space. If anything, it helped to break up the intense action surrounding
the eponymous main character so that the reader could fully absorb what was
happening in the universe on a political level as well as a military one.

It is disappointing that there will likely be no more movies in this series
since the source material is full of interesting ideas that I’d like to see
on the big screen. Perhaps the series would be better suited for a television
show (a la Game of Thrones) to fully include all the different elements that
made it a classic of sci-fi back in 1985. Either way, I look forward to
exploring more of Orson Scott Card’s universe in the next book of the
series: Speaker for the Dead.

A fantastic sci-fi story with an incredible twist ending, I give Ender’s
Game 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
the martian
Weir, Andy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

What a world we live in! It’s exciting to see a self-published book receive
such attention, eventually becoming a New York Times bestseller! Truly, if a
writer is talented enough with a good enough story, they can make it in this
over-saturated market. And while some of my love for this book comes from my
hopes of eventually being “discovered” as a self-published author, most
of it comes from my love of scientific realism in fiction. Truly, this is
more of a challenge than world-building in a fantasy genre, because in order
for it to be believable, it must obey the laws of physics.

But let’s get down to brass tacks here. There is no doubt that Andy Weir
did his homework on this book. In fact, some sections almost read like the
output section of a very complicated spreadsheet (which I certainly
appreciate, on a personal level). Even with the technical detail to keep the
story grounded in science, the successive cause-and-effect events that
eventually lead to the climax of the story give the reader equal amounts of
elation and heartbreak right along with the protagonist, Mark Watney. Still,
the problem solving accomplished in this novel merely proves how smart we are
as a species today, and how the vast knowledge of the universe has catapulted
us into the very realistic scenario portrayed in the pages. In fact, Weir’s
methodical approach really gives the reader a scale of how big an operation a
trip to (or from) Mars would be.

Even though the science is front and center, the whole reason we read these
almost intimate logs of a Martian astronaut is because the characters are so
well written. With a humor and spunky attitude that help alleviate his dire
situation, Watney almost comes across as a genius “everyman” in that most
of his solutions could be arrived at with a little bit of thought and
ingenuity. And while the majority of the book centers around Watney’s logs,
every minor character has a depth and expertise that helps to propel the
story forward.

A fast and fun read full of excitement and ingenious science solutions, I
give The Martian 5.0 stars out of 5.

For more reviews of books and movies like this, please visit

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Echo of the boom
Neely-Cohen, Maxwell
4 stars = Really Good

From the title of this book, I would have expected it to be about the
aftermath of an apocalypse-inducing event. If anything Echo of the Boom is a
misnomer and the book should be titled Prelude of the Boom. The cover also
doesn’t give much into what it’s about, other than the four different
points of view which are followed throughout the narrative.

While I did eventually like the book, it took too long to get there (some of
the occasional typos didn’t help me get into it either). With the
characters’ motivations unclear from the start, it becomes obvious about
150 pages in that nothing is really going to happen in this book. Instead of
having any driving force propelling the characters forward, it’s more
accurate to describe this book as a nearly 500 page rap battle. Each
character has their own track, living their lives the way many teenagers
today might (which in itself is a scary thought), but occasionally the tracks
mix together albeit briefly and with little perturbation to the individual
characters. At least the words the author uses are artistic and articulate,
making it fun to read.

Honestly, the very last sentences of this book made me want to read what
happens next much more than what had already been written, since it sounded
like it was going to be much more interesting than the origin stories of
these characters. If the author’s opinions and worldviews weren’t so
blatantly obvious through this book, it might have been interesting as a
“slice of life” novel, but at least he has something to say (even if
it’s regularly redundant). If anything, this book should give parents the
motivation to be more actively involved in their teenagers’ lives, lest
they end up with the motivation to destroy all systems of authority if for no
other reason than pure anarchy.

A rewarding read that takes some getting used to; I give Echo of the Boom 4.0
stars out of 5.

For more reviews of books and movies like this, please visit

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Ryan, Jeanne
4 stars = Really Good

Nerve is about a coward named Vee who decides to try this game online called NERVE. In this mysterious game, you can either be a player or a watcher.

Watchers must pay money to watch, and players get paid to do dares. Vee thinks this is a stupid idea, but then begins to wonder if it actually a fun thing to do. She decides to try it out. One challenge leads to another, and the dares begin to become deadly. Should Vee risk her life for a good prize, or will she lose NERVE?

This is a great book for anyone obsessed with online games, or thrills in general. I definitely recommend this book for any thrill seekers.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin V.
Alex, Approximately
Bennett, Jenn
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Alex, Approximately is written about a young girl by the name of Bailey Rydell, who has left her past life behind to start a new one with her dad.

Bailey, otherwise known as "Mink", has left her mom and step father from Washington D.C. to live with her father in a small town in California. Her father knows about her geeky online crush, Alex, who supposedly lives in the same surfing town as Baylie. As Baylie starts her new job, a hot security guard by the name of Porter Roth irritates her, until it suddenly begins to seem cute. Should Baylie hold on to her fantasy with Alex, or try with Porter?

I think this book is completely underrated. It's an incredible book. and deserves more attention. Definitely recommend it for casual reading.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin V.
The Accidental Superpower : The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder
Zeihan, Peter
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

I can’t remember when or why I added this book to my “to-read” list on
Overdrive, but I’m certainly glad I did. While it’s a little dated from a
2017 perspective, The Accidental Superpower is an incredibly insightful book
that helps to peel back the onion of global politics and economics to reveal
the underlying factors that are, and have been, shaping the world into what
it is today. As a bonus, after reading this book, I have a better
understanding of how countries and societies develop from a geographical and
economic standpoint and can use these insights to aid in the world-building
for a few of my upcoming novel series.

Right from the get-go, The Accidental Superpower opened my eyes to the
obvious: geography determines economy. Mountains separate areas almost as
well as oceans do, but the best economies are the ones that can move their
goods about in the fastest and most efficient ways. As luck would have it
when first colonizing the United States, the founding fathers had no idea
just how immensely fortunate they would be with the geography to their west.
Peter Zeihan expertly shows how other countries have geographic problems that
are keeping them from being nearly as united as the United States.

However, disaster is soon upon us. The demographic changes throughout the
world will soon impose strains on all economic systems. While the world will
continue to be in crisis due to its geographies influencing the economies of
its various nation states, the United States is the only one holding it all
together, mostly due to our generosity of offering “free trade” after the
end of World War II. If we pull that rug out from underneath the world, we in
the U.S. will likely survive, but at the cost of the global economy

A must-read for anyone who exists in this global economy, I give The
Accidental Superpower 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Angels & Demons
Brown, Dan
3 stars = Pretty Good

While Angels and Demons is not nearly as popular as its sequel, the famous (if not infamous) The Da Vinci Code, the elements which led to its successor’s success are certainly all contained within this first book in the Robert Langdon series. Of course, just because you have the materials to build a nice house doesn’t mean that it magically becomes a mansion. Despite containing many of the elements that made The Da Vinci Code so good, Angels and Demons feels a little underdeveloped in quite a few areas.

First, the protagonist, Robert Langdon, is supposed to feel like an “Indiana Jones”-type character, but with a specialty like symbology as his background, I just can’t buy the action-hero transformation of this everyday academic. Add to this the almost repetitive nature of his “discoveries” wherein he makes an assessment, then goes to the location of the assessment only to find that he didn’t think of it in the right way and thus requiring the whole plot to shift gears as he rushes to the new location. He eventually had better predictions, but by then it felt repetitive.

Secondly, the whole “treasure hunt” to find the antimatter (of which I feel CERN is a more recognizable name than it was back in 2000) seemed to take a back burner to the parallel plot of the pope’s death and finding his replacement. It is hard to focus on both plotlines, especially since both of them had pretty predictable endings. Finally, the romance aspect of this novel seemed quite forced, even to the point where the final scene of the book felt like it was ripped out of a James Bond story. Wherein a modicum of charm from the male protagonist makes his female counterpart swoon with undying affection that wasn’t in any part of the prior plot.

A rough start to the Robert Langdon series, I give Angels and Demons 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory
Scott, Nick
2 stars = Meh

As someone who enjoys learning about the many interesting unknowns in our universe, the mere title of Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory (2016) caught my attention from the get-go. The ideas of parallel universes coexisting in an invisible space next to our own is something I eventually want to cover in my own writing (tentatively titled The Slumberealm Saga). And while this book somewhat delivered on the premise of its title, it unfortunately did so through an incredible plethora of clichés. Due to the authors’ background in improv comedy, it’s clear that they merely wrote this book to capitalize on the style’s random nature.

I’m not sure who the target audience for this book might be, since the main characters are high school students who use an awful lot of foul language. I would think it’s aimed at being a Young Adult (YA) comedy, but most of the laughs seem forced and trite. Told from two different perspectives, Scott and Davey, both characters aren’t really that likeable, and neither of them change that much (if at all) by the end of the book. In fact, it’s almost obnoxious how Davey is essentially a jerk to everyone, especially Scott, even though it becomes incredibly clear she should be more accepting of him earlier on in the plot.

Speaking of plot, it seems to drag in quite a few places, especially in the beginning as both characters start noticing the multiverse collapsing in on their school. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned clichés, the entire rest of the plot was pretty predictable, even if the different universes were quite random (and even that randomness was cliché). Nosebleeds indicating a fracture in spacetime, narcissistic cheerleaders, nerdy loners. Everything fits nice and squarely into the formula for a YA book (despite the obscenities). The problem with this is that the authors clearly saw they were writing clichés, because there were a few points that could have been cliché (like the two main characters falling in love), but just weren’t there at the end, thus leaving the reader somewhat unfulfilled. If you’re going to follow a formula, it needs to be followed in its entirety.

An easy and fast read with nothing much to offer, I give Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Da Vinci Code
Brown, Dan
4 stars = Really Good

What a difference three years makes! Even though it contains all the same tropes and motifs that Angels and Demons did, The Da Vinci Code eliminates the fluff and focuses on the strengths of these individual pieces to create an enthralling adventure through Christian history. I will admit that I first read this book because I was curious about the controversy that surrounded it. While Dan Brown is a fantastic storyteller, and many of his connections and links to Christianity made sense, I still maintain that, at its core, The Da Vinci Code is just well-written fiction.

This time around, Robert Langdon is much better suited for the task of finding the “Holy Grail” instead of being a glorified Roman tour guide. His expertise in symbology certainly helped to drive the plot forward, even if it sometimes was in a misleading direction for the sake of a twist. I did appreciate how, even if a clue didn't immediately come into play, it became useful later to help round out the plot. It wasn’t just a series of “find me a rock” exercises but had a parallel set of intersecting strings and subplots that drove the story forward to its exciting conclusion.

And while the female protagonist was much more developed than the one in Angels and Demons, the villains also had more depth to them as well. Instead of a few individuals using the name of a huge organization like the Illuminati to create the conflict, a singular man with a singular goal helped to create the “chase” that propelled Robert Langdon across Christendom to find the Holy Grail. While both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons share almost identical plot structures, the former shows that the execution of such a story is precisely what makes one a great read and the other an exercise in eye-rolling.

An exciting treasure hunt filled with fictional historical connections, I give The Da Vinci Code 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Go Set a Watchman
Lee, Harper
3 stars = Pretty Good

Part of the problem of releasing a sequel to a beloved book 55 years later is a lot of other books have been written in between them. Consequently, there have been successful books written with some of the exact same plot and motifs, thus making the sequel feel like a rip-off instead of the other way around. In the case of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, I found myself drawing plenty of comparisons to Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (2009).

While I felt the time-frame of Go Set a Watchman to be somewhat ambiguous, most of the similarities between it and The Help were in their heroines. Both were southern-born-and-raised women who smoked, were outsiders, and weren’t going to stand for racism. And while the main character of The Help did something about it, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch merely fell apart at the realization that everyone around her, including her closest family, was racist. Unfortunately, this makes for a pretty thin storyline, which was why defining moments from the last twenty years of Scout’s life are interspersed to fill in some of the character development. I almost wish there was a little more time given to the changes left unexplained in the 20-year interim, like what really happened to Scout’s brother.

Despite its weaknesses, Go Set a Watchman does share some similarities with its predecessor, and not just in setting and characters. While I was about ready to completely brush this book off as another version of The Help, the monologues at the end of the book really made the read worth it. Much like the courtroom arguments for a man’s innocence in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), the soliloquies of these characters were deep and probing and really made me think about my place in a society with its current racial tensions.

An adequate extension of its predecessor, I give Go Set a Watchman 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert