Hugo Award

Book Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit
Author: 
Chambers, Becky
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

After the refreshing sci-fi The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet , I was ready to follow the crew of the Wayfarer to their next adventure. Unfortunately, the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, decided to take a path more akin to The Godfather Part II (1974). Instead of following the main characters of the first story, this sequel delved into the new life of the AI now known as Sidra, while also interspersing a quasi-related prequel story of one of the new characters introduced in this book. Fortunately, these two stories were well paced against each other.

Even though I feel readers could pick up this book without having read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, there are certainly a few details about the diverse races found in this universe left out of this book—probably for the sake of brevity. This didn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of A Closed and Common Orbit, but having that previous knowledge certainly helped to bring these alien creatures to life in my mind. Still, the main characters are basically humans, so the interactions with the aliens would be the main reason to know how these creatures communicate.

While this book is only tangentially related to the one that proceeded it in the series, the universe the author has created is solid enough to support a few more additional stories like the ones found here. With fewer characters to focus on in this book, A Closed and Common Orbit was able to dive deep into some pretty heavy topics, including child slavery and artificial intelligence. The writing still retains its casual dialogue style that genuinely helped bring these few characters to life. If anything, the author’s writing is what will keep me coming back to this series.

A mostly unrelated, but still expertly written sequel, I give A Closed and Common Orbit 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book
Author: 
Gaiman, Neil
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Nobody Owens (Bod for short) grows up in an ancient cemetery, raised by the spirits who reside there. As he becomes older, along with his school lessons and the special abilities given to him with the “freedom of the graveyard”, Bod must discover the secrets behind the death of his birth family, and the "Jacks of All Trades” (a dangerous secret society). Along the way Bod learns from various night creatures in addition to his extended family of ghosts, including ghouls, a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire. He must use all the knowledge that he acquires to fulfill his pivotal role in defeating the Jacks.

Reviewer's Name: 
Chris W.

Book Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm
Author: 
Orwell, George
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Animal Farm is a dystopian novel about a farm overrun by the farm animals. The animals revolt and create their own hierarchy, which poses an overarching metaphor for humanity. Like many of Orwell’s books, this book exposes the flaws of mankind in an allegorical manner. I chose this book for its dystopian nature, and it did not disappoint. It is artful in its satire, and Orwell takes a clear stance on tyranny. This is among the best dystopian books I have read.
Reviewer Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: 
Sabrina J

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings
Author: 
Tolkien, J. R. R.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

A stout story, a rich song, a tale for all times. Tolkien heard the gorgeous music of narrative, with all its valleys and hilltops, with all the grit of the fight, all the glory of overcoming, all the long, drawnout parts of day-in and day-out small faithfulness. He heard a musical narrative and he composed a symphony. But like all great masterpieces, one’s affections and tastes must be enlarged and strengthened to enjoy wine this strong. Such a stout story is not for the faint in heart. In an era where our literary sensibilities are cheapened by bland paperback fiction, reality TV, inane tweets, texts, and Facebook posts, we are a society easily pleased by cultural fast food, and we often can’t appreciate with the robustness of a story told this well. There are answers in this story to questions we’ve never thought to ask. This story explores places in the heart we’ve never thought to search, depths of the human soul we’ve never considered worth pluming. If we don’t resonate with this story it is because there is much that the author wants to tell us that we are not yet ready to hear.

Search the world over, and I don’t believe you’ll find another piece of fiction as epic, as moving, as heart-transforming, as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. What sets the literary genius of Tolkien above most other authors of fiction is his ability to make his imaginary world shine with such brilliance that the affections of the heart will come to love its shores, its stories, its struggle to stay in the light. Story is one thing that cannot be faked by a shallow writer. Either an author has within him an tale of inspiring beauty, of struggle, of overcoming, of fighting and conquering, of living and dying for what one believes in—or he does not—and what comes out instead is flat, bland, one-dimensional.

But if one is willing to be a patient learner, one can have one’s mind and heart expanded by being a slow and thoughtful reader. If your heart does not sing by the end of the book, if you do not have a new resolve to overcome the evil in your own heart, if you are not transformed to live for truth and beauty by the end, then I wonder that you have a pulse.

The only precaution I give you is the peculiar feeling of sharp disappointment that will pang you as you read the last line of last volume, knowing that the book is over and there will never be another like it. The only solace I allowed myself was the thought that soon my children will be at an age to appreciate it and I can relive the volumes through their imaginations. Be prepared to mourn for the series' finitude even as you enjoy every brilliant page.

Reviewer's Name: 
Leslie Taylor

Book Review: Boneshaker

Boneshaker
Author: 
Priest, Cherie
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

I suppose when I chose to read this book, it would have been a little more steampunk than it was. Sure, Boneshaker has some of the trappings of a steampunk story, like the Civil War and inventions comprised of brass; but in the end, it felt more like light window dressing than something important to the plot. Surprisingly enough, this book was more along the lines of a zombie apocalypse novel than a steampunk one. In that sense, I’m disappointed that the cover didn’t completely deliver on its premise and instead decided to rely on the tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre.

The characters themselves were somewhat interesting, but their motivations seemed a little flat. The boy who wants to find his father and the mother who chases after him aren’t that compelling. In fact, the journey of both characters could have probably been accomplished via one of them, with supporting characters providing information about the other one. If anything, the plot was only used as a method to explore this semi-steampunk Seattle. This meant that, by the end of the book, there were quite a few more questions I had than answers. I guess that’s why there are two more books in this series.

I think my main problem with this book is that it isn’t more thoroughly tied to real history and real locations. Sure, there were a few mentions of the Civil War, but if you removed those few links to history, the story stands on its own pretty well. In fact, you could probably set this anywhere, even in its own, unique world, and it should still work. Because it doesn’t rely on our knowledge of history and familiar places, it doesn’t feel like the “alternate history” that steampunk can provide. In the end, this was a pretty good idea, but it’s misleading in its marketing.

A post-apocalyptic zombie book that has hints of steampunk thrown in, I give Boneshaker 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: Monstress

Author: 
Liu, Majorie
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I chose this book because comics are a type of novel that I find interest in. This is a fantasy book that takes place where monsters and humans are divided after a war, and monsters who are caught by humans on the other side are used to be sold and experimented on. The main character, Maika, goes on the other side in search for hope of her mother. This is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys comics.

Reviewer's Name: 
Mona H

Book Review: Uprooted

Uprooted
Author: 
Novik, Naomi
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was an interesting read - with magic and mythical creatures - but I found that in the first few chapters I stepped away from the novel several times. The beginning was slow with not much action, more setting up the scenery and the laws of the land than anything else. The novel follows a girl named Agnieszka living in a quaint village called Dvernik by a magic infested forest where every ten years a mysterious and immortal wizard called the Dragon, who lives in a nearby tower, visits to pick one woman as payment for protecting Dvernik from The Wood. Agnieszka is chosen to her surprise, but her interactions with the infamous Dragon are almost boring - they share a typical, overused trope in a love-hate relationship that frustrates the reader. The two are also locked away in the tower where there are minimal outside interactions from any other characters for almost the entire first half with the exception of one of Agnieszka‘s bedridden friends. I found that the last half of the novel was the most interesting because that was when other characters from the faraway capital were introduced and the scenes were more fast-paced. Because the world building aspect in the beginning was making me impatient, the problem was that later when Agnieszka returns to her village, I spent a long time away from there that the characters and their relationships were hard to remember and I personally did not care for them. There were definitely characters I met in the last half that I empathized or was absolutely lucid with and I did enjoy all the plot twists because, of course, they were unexpected and added some excitement to Uprooted. Overall, the beginning takes off one star for me due to the inaction and some common young adult tropes were utilized, but I loved most of the characters and the plotline anyway regardless of the latter.

Reviewer's Name: 
Isabella W

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway
Author: 
McGuire, Seanan
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

A fascinating and dark book. The premise is enjoyable. I adored the thought of a home for kids who went to other worlds. The kids could be summed up in one word: PTSD. And they were perfect, with complex backstories and hopes and dreams. The world's were even better, from the silent Hall of the Dead to the Moors, a world hovering between the lightning strike and the resurrection. I couldn't put the book down. In fact, I wish it was longer so I could spend more time in the rich world with its people. From a dapper mad scientist to a girl who ran on rainbows, they are all unique. And I love them for it. I love their interactions and their longing for the world's they had seen. The question was, who would murder to go back to the place they considered home.
Reviewer Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: 
Morgan J.

Book Review: Xenocide

Xenocide
Author: 
Card, Orson Scott
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Much like authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were well ahead of their time in their science fiction writing, Orson Scott Card once again shows that he understood some of the key concepts of our universe. Written in 1991, Card’s Xenocide deepens and furthers the continuing adventure of Ender Wiggin that he began back in Ender’s Game . Picking up where Speaker for the Dead left off, Xenocide adds a powerful adversary while also tying plot points back to the first book in the series. In this sense, the tight intertwining of Xenocide with its predecessors makes it difficult to separate and review by itself.

I appreciate what Card has done by creating a multi-book narrative that requires the reader to have started from the very beginning of the story.
While Xenocide is not nearly the end of the series, as made clear by the astounding twist near the end, it does pull enough unresolved threads from Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead to create the next segment of the story. In this sense, the whole story is a multi-book epic so well-written that no detail or specific piece of continuity is overlooked. Plus, with so much history behind it, Xenocide reads at a frenetic pace, just trying to “beat the clock” of an almost assured planetary destruction.

Surprisingly, if you told me that there was a sci-fi book comprised almost entirely of dialogue and profound, philosophical arguments, I would probably assume it was boring (or at least written by Robert Heinlein). And yet, Card has brought the reasoning proposed in the previous books of this series and pulled them through to their logical conclusions, creating an engaging discussion of artificial intelligence and sentience, while wrapping the whole thing in the context of moral arguments for and against exterminating an entire species. There are no easy answers in this book, but Card has masterfully included concepts like cloud computing, interdimensional travel, and genetic engineering to get his point across.

A fantastic continuation of Ender Wiggin’s story that leaves the reader begging for more, I give Xenocide 5.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. Weilert

Book Review: Ender's Game

Ender's Game
Author: 
Card, Orson Scott
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Ender's Game is an enthralling and thrilling sci-fi following a young boy as he is prepped to save the world. Ender departs for battle school at the ripe age of 6, where he is thrust into a world were children go head to head in a competition to be the best, fight in an all out war, and earn all the glory.
Although young and inexperienced, Ender is the best. But things seem to be stacked against him....
Orson Scott Card writes with incredible dexterity and Ender's Game pulls you into a new world.
(Reviewer Grade: 12)

Reviewer's Name: 
Lynzie M.

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