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Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia

Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Author: 
Sanderson, Brandon
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

You know, it’s difficult to review a book that already highlights its flaws in the text itself. Part of me wonders if the reviews from the second book in the series were bad enough to warrant this kind of meta self-awareness. In the end, while Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia does take the time to address these weaknesses in its story and characters, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that they’re in there in the first place. These winking soliloquies seem to gloss over the fact that the book knows what’s wrong with it, but instead decides to gloss over it with self-reference instead of fixing the root of the problems themselves.

By this point in the series, I have come to terms with its middle-grade silliness and occasional bathroom humor. I loved the rule-breaking first book in the series, only to become annoyed by this constant fourth-wall breaking that happened in book two. By book three—this book—I finally came to terms with the fact that I’m not the target audience for this book, despite how well-written it is and how intricately its fantasy world has been created.

Perhaps due to my acceptance of this series for what it is, I felt the plot and character development were better in this part of the series—even if it did seem to trend toward “after school special” territory more often than not. Not only did we get to see more of Alcatraz’s parents (although, not nearly enough in my opinion), there was a lot more world-building that helped to flesh out this strange land introduced in previous volumes. Plus, the character who was a former librarian was (and is) probably my favorite character in the series right now.

More of the same self-aware silliness from Brandon Sanderson, I give Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: The Graduate

The Graduate
Author: 
Webb, Charles
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

If I could condense this book down to a single phrase, it would be “What?” It’s not that I didn’t understand this book, it’s more that this single word/question was used for every third line of dialogue. Not only was this incredibly annoying to read—as every character seemed to have hearing problems that required the other speaker to repeat themselves—but it just seemed to pad out an already weak plot. I have no idea how this book became so famous that it led to a much superior film adaptation, but now I know that nobody should bother reading this book because of its inspiration for the movie.

Let’s talk about character motivations next. Nothing ever made any sense. Sure, there’s a bit of existential ennui involved with finishing something you excel in (school, in this case), but the actions of the main character only make sense up until a point. Once we hit the third act, there’s just a series of random actions that aren’t grounded in reality. This is also not to mention that the characters around him, especially the primary love interest, also make illogical decisions that aren’t founded in any sort of reality. At least this book is short enough that you’re not going to waste much time reading it.

Maybe I’m just missing the point of this book. Perhaps it’s an examination of the consequences and realizations that come from living a life that seems to have no meaning. I mean, I get the counter-play between the newly-disillusioned Benjamin and the almost permanently-disillusioned Mrs. Robinson; butwhenthe entire thing is filled with awkward and nervous dialogue that constantly repeats itself, I can’t help but think that there isn’t anything significant there. Even the ending was so abrupt and unfulfilling that I had to thank the movie version for its subtleness in revealing the characters’ realization of what they’ve done.

A truly sub-par story that was made into an above average movie, I give The Graduate 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones

Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones
Author: 
Sanderson, Brandon
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Earlier this year, I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and absolutely loved it. Consequently, I had high hopes for the next book in this series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. While there was still the same amount of self-awareness and humor in this book, it felt a little…off. Perhaps I should have read these two books closer together, but I had some trouble coming up to speed in the beginning and wasn’t entirely sure why the “goal” of this book was to find Alcatraz’s father. In any case, Sanderson’s world-building is still in top form here.

Of course, the “cute” way that this series was self-aware when I read the first book was a bit more annoying this time around. It almost felt like every chapter had to have a soliloquy, even if it didn’t link itself to where the plot was at the time—which often broke the flow of the action. Similarly, while the randomness introduced in Versus the Evil Librarians did seem to have some purpose, it seemed to have less of a purpose in this book. It felt like it was randomness for randomness sake, even if some of it did eventually come into play.

Despite the things that made the first book endearing becoming a little more grating in this book, I did enjoy the magic system, and more in-depth explanations of the lore were explored in this sequel. Things like why the main character is named Alcatraz and a better explanation of the “powers” of his family members helped round out the questions that weren’t necessarily obvious in the first book but still needed to be answered at some point anyway. The action was fantastic (if not against all laws of physics), and I wouldn’t mind seeing how the relationship between Alcatraz and Bastille develops in later books.

An amusing and well-rounded “silly fantasy,” I give Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Sideways

Sideways
Author: 
Pickett, Rex
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

When I got into this book, the only things I knew about it were that it was about wine and it was made into a movie of the same name by Alexander Payne. Unfortunately, unlike a good wine, this book doesn’t seem to have aged well. Maybe people were able to put up with buddy comedy sex romps back in the early2000’s, but the social climate has changed considerably since then. I doubt a book like this would be written today, at least without some outcry from people who find the women in it to be inherently objectified.

Most of my issue with this book comes down to the characters. I’ll give the author credit for creating individuals that made me react to them so vehemently. The problem is that I hated these characters. I hated Jack for being so sex-crazed that he felt obligated to satiate his urges mere days before his wedding. Ihated Miles for being the stereotypical alcoholic failing author. If you wanted a template for poor life decisions, I think these two characters would fit the bill. There wasn’t much (if any) redemption in either of their story arcs, and both of them just seemed to enable their worse selves.

In the end, this book is supposed to be a comedy. At least, it’s a comedy in the sense that it ended with a wedding (as most comedic plays and musicals usually do). Sure, it’s filled with witty banter and some good stretches of natural dialogue, but there was hardly any vulnerability of the characters to give them any grounding. One moment near the end briefly pulled away to let Miles reminisce, but I would have liked some more consequences that would have forced both men to change for the better. And maybe that’s the point: real life doesn’t work that way, and I hate that there are real men out there who have these very same faults.

Terrible people in somewhat amusing situations, I give Sideways 2.5 stars out
of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.
Genres: 

Book Review: The Misadventures of Max Crumbly Middle School Mayhem

The Misadventures of Max Crumbly Middle School Mayhem
Author: 
Russell, Rachel
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

It's about a teenage boy who deals with bullies and he ends up in the ventilation systems of his school on the weekend and he found burglars trying to steal the schools new computers.

Reviewer's Name: 
Delaney

Book Review: Squirrel in the House

Squirrel in the House
Author: 
Vande Velde, Vivian
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Twitch, the school-yard squirrel and Cuddles, the dog next door, don’t get along. Twitch narrates the book and explains why squirrels have such a better life – they have no rules. During the holiday celebrations, Twitch heads inside Cuddles’ house and mayhem ensues. The day turns serious when a young human gets into trouble. Can Twitch & Cuddles work together to save the boy? Read & find out.

Reviewer's Name: 
Carol

Book Review: Stay! A Top Dog Story

Stay! A Top Dog Story
Author: 
Latimer, Alex
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Ben loves his dog, Buster, but has to leave him with Grampa when he goes on vacation. He remembers and writes down all sorts of instructions for Grampa. As he remembers more things, he writes postcards from vacation. Eventually, he remembers what he forgot, but it is too late. Grampa & Buster are already on the way to the post office. Read what happens as Buster learns how to behave – at least most of the time.

Reviewer's Name: 
Carol

Book Review: Swim the Fly

Swim the Fly
Author: 
Calame, Don
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

15-year-old Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Sean and Coop have been friends since kindergarten and have set summer goals for themselves since they can remember, though this year that goal almost seems impossible.

Trying to reach it gets them into situations and adventures you couldn't imagine happening to just some Lower Rockville Razorbacks of the Rockville Swimming Association.
I find this book a really great choice for a summer read, very relatable for most teens and also funny beyond all beliefs. It can get a little inappropriate for those under 15, though if you are comfortable with that kind of humor, it is hilarious. It is also a very great book for a swimmer to read, though you do not have to be a swimmer to understand everything or enjoy the book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Franscesca J

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