Novel Review: Gamers by Thomas K. Carpenter

Let’s be honest here. When it comes to books, I’m not always eager for review requests. You’ve probably noticed my reviews have been rather scarce these days. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading books though. I’ve just been quietly enjoying my reads. So when Thomas K. Carpenter asked me if I wanted to read Gamers, I was more than a little wishy-washy in my response.

I tell you, Mr. Carpenter hit me up at the right time though. I was at the tail end of my current read and wasn’t in the mood for searching for another book. So up next? Gamers. Before the review, how about the blurb?

Two points for brushing your teeth. Ten points for keeping your room tidy. Seventy-two points for the Bioeconomic Game Design pop quiz on the ride to school in your personal FunCar. Another thirty for making every hurdle in gym class. 

Life is a game, unless you’re not the one winning.

Gabby DeCorte, top student and reality-hacker extraordinaire, has been doing whatever it takes to keep her best friend, Zaela, from falling behind in LifeGame. Zaela has gifts of artistry that amaze Gabby, but none of those skills translate in LifeGame and with final exams coming up, they can’t afford to waste a single minute. But when a mysterious group called the Frags contacts Gabby claiming to know what really happens to the losers of LifeGame, she must choose between winning and what she believes in.

Available at Barnes & Nobles || Amazon || The Book Depository || Kobo || iTunes || Smashwords

First off, I want to say I’m so thankful Mr. Carpenter didn’t say, “Screw you” and not reply after my not-so-enthusantic response to his review request. Because this was definitely a book I’m glad I had an opportunity to read.

So… The style: Mr. Carpenter can be my Game Master any day. 🙂 The novel mixed the futuristic world with the gaming world. Basically, Gabby’s life was a game of racking up points in order to reach the next level. Talk about your rat race.

It totally took me back to my EverQuest addicted days. The game talk, the leveling, the never-ending pursuit to acquire more, whether it be points, gear, etc… I was there. But it was a bit more, especially in the final raid. It took online roleplaying and a paper DnD twist to it. I couldn’t help but think about:

Let’s move on, shall we?

The plot: The story was well-paced. Once I got into it, I had a hard time putting it down, even going so far as taking it to the bathroom with me. Is that TMI? One thing I will say is Gamers seemed more like the beginning of something big. The major players were introduced but it didn’t have a sense of finality to it. It was more as if it set me up for the end of one adventure while opening the door for a whole new adventure. I haven’t read the full trilogy yet, but I definitely would say Gamers isn’t the book to stop on.

Okay… I really want to ruin this book for you with sentences that start with “like this one time…” But I know you’ll hate me for it. So… let’s talk about…

Characters: The novel was told from Gabby’s POV. She started out very much a part of the system, very focused on the end game, which in her case happened to be getting into the grand university. She reminded me a lot of the AP straight-A students I’d encountered while working in the high school. She knew what she wanted, how to do get it, and didn’t slack in reaching her goals. Yet she never acted like she was better than everyone else. She was just a regular kid (except for being a super genius) with typical problems…. well typical until the poo hit the fan. I liked her.

The other characters were rather fleeting. They didn’t take up much of my time, but each played important roles which pushed the plot forward or gave insight to an aspect of Gabby’s character of the total story. 🙂 To be honest, if you quizzed me, I wouldn’t remember a single name. That doesn’t say a lot though. I’m horrible with names and even had to read the blurb to remember Gabby’s. Still, I love the cohesiveness the characters brought to the entire story. Each was rememberable (not so much the names for me but the personalities definitely). I’ve snapped a photograph of each of them in my mind’s eye.

Final thoughts: Gamers had a few loose ends which gave the first book a cliffhanger feel to it. You all know how much I hate cliffhangers. Yet at the same time, I was satisfied with the ending, especially knowing the next two books are already available.

My score? 4.5 – 5 out of 5 stars. HIGHLY recommended for RPG-ers. Until next time, I leave you with our infamous friend Leeroy.

Anyone else in the mood for chicken?

Trusting Reviews: Only as far as I can throw the REVIEWER

I came across a Kindle Select freebie awhile back, read it, and left the following review on Goodreads.

The Three LettersThe Three Letters by Robert Ruisi

I received an event showing this would be offered for free. It sounded interesting, PLUS it’s short… something I could knock out in a few minutes.

I imagine it was a heartfelt endeavor for a father to take the opportunity to write letters of love to his daughters. Kudos to him. Not everyone takes the time to say, “I love you” to the ones they care about.

The letters were told in a fairytale fashion–once upon a time. I can imagine in later years his daughters sitting with their children at bedtime and reading the letters. One child might even ask, “Who is he talking about, Mommy?” And the daughter would say… “Me.” Or “My sister.”

So what did I think of the work overall? Well, it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t fond of the story telling and couldn’t get into the once upon a time style. It also had an air of repetition. I think it’d work for a children’s book, as I mentioned, a bedtime story, but not so much on an adult level. And since the letters were written for grown daughters, I think it missed the mark when it comes to the adult audience.

For the most part, I think these letters are something his daughters would appreciate. Perhaps the letters would even appeal to his family and friends, since they’d have a background knowledge. As for me the reader, I didn’t connect with the work.

One last item I’m adding. This work could use another round of editing. It’s short enough that a pass through a critique group would likely do the trick. As it is, it makes me wonder if English is the author’s second or third language.

Just my opinion: An interesting conversational piece and keepsake for the author’s descendants but lacks commercial appeal.

An interesting discussion followed in regards to the author’s personal life and the purpose of his publication.

In the past, readers (and writers) have put up a stink about dishonest reviews. It’s a common practice for some writers to endorse their buddies writers with 5-star reviews regardless of the quality of the writing. I suppose it’s the mentality, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.

When I first got involved with the indie community (as a writer, that is), I saw a lot of this. I’d read through reviews and recognize the names of other indie writers. In fact, I noticed a trend where little cliques had formed. I knew those reviews couldn’t be trusted because they weren’t based upon the quality of the work but rather a cross-promoting scheme.

We hear about writers purchasing 5-star reviews or even writers adding their own fraudulent 5-star reviews under fake names. The lack of integrity is sad. Even sadder are the reviews which come after the book was top-loaded with the 5-star reviews which state something to the effect “I purchased this book because of all the great reviews, but when I read it, I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it because the quality was so bad. I can’t believe people rated it so high.”

I’ve seen the effects of the other side also where writers will do the opposite to the competition–pay for negative reviews or write them under fake names to lower the rating of other.

It used to be finding great books was a matter of following the review trail. Not so much these days. It’s reached the point general reviews one finds on retail sites can’t be trusted because one can never be sure which is a fake review and which is an honest review.

What are your thoughts on the matter? How do you overcome the lack of integrity prominent with reviews these days?

Novel Review: Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin

I was pretty luck to come across Ashfall last year (see review here). When I found Ashen Winter on NetGalley, you better believe I scooped it up. 🙂 So the blurb:

It’s been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex’s relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this series. It’s also been six months of waiting for Alex’s parents to return from Iowa. Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex’s parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.

Available at Barnes & Nobles || The Book Depository || Amazon

One of the things I loved most about Ashen Winter is the emotional connection between the characters. I could really feel the love. It was more than just lip service. The love was shown in actions even to the point of sacrifice.

The realism in this work was awesome. Alex is a perfect example. He’s a kid, and most kids know very little about survival. Despite going through hell in Ashfall, Alex is still pretty much clueless most of the time, and it shows. My boy Alex had a heroic complex. Problem with his heroism was he usually puts himself and everyone around him in danger.

Usually it’s an insult to say a character is too stupid to live. Okay… it’s still an insult. 🙂 But in the case of Alex, even he recognized it. Some of his choices infuriated me. Yet at the same time, most wouldn’t have even survived what he’d survived. Alex did the best he could with the limited knowledge he had.

I’ve seen some authors counter their character’s stupidity with unbelievable luck. Mike Mullin had enough respect for the reader not to play the coincidence game. When Alex screwed up, people suffered, people got hurt, people died.

What about the other characters? Darla was sensible to the point of being a major drag. But after dealing with the consequences of Alex’s actions, sensible would have been great for them. 🙂 After awhile, I started to miss Darla’s innovation. One thing for sure, she’s a tough chickadee.

Mom and Dad also made an appearance. I didn’t like them. They were no-nonsense in a scary way. Really, they were the kind of parents who frustrate children until the kid yells, “You never listen to me!” I wanted to throttle them at times. Yet I couldn’t deny they were parents through and through. Unfortunately for them, Alex had grown too much to be treated like a child. Despite all the stupid decisions Alex made, I was thankful he manned up to his parents and did the right thing.

Anyway, Ashen Winter was even better than Ashfall. This book was harsh, gritty, and at times it brought tears to my eyes. Other times it had me dying laughing. I’m really looking forward to the conclusion of this trilogy. 5 star read.

Novel Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I was pretty excited when Insurgent by Veronica Roth came out. Divergent reminded me of Hunger Games in so many ways (see review here), and I could hardly wait for the sequel. When this book came in the mail, my daughter and I debated who would read it first. Since I was in the middle of a book, she got it. 🙂 At last my turn came. I hopped in, full of eager anticipation. So the blurb!

One choice can transform you–or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves–and herself–while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable–and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

“New York Times” bestselling author Veronica Roth’s much-anticipated second book of the dystopian “Divergent” series is another intoxicating thrill ride of a story, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreaks, romance, and powerful insights about human nature.

Available at Barnes & Nobles || The Book Depository

Hmmm…. I guess I’m a bit shocked. I am beyond astonished I didn’t like it nearly as much as Divergent.

I’m really not sure what happened to this book. It’s like the manuscript came back from beta readers with LOTS of suggested changes. Then the changes were made, but no one read through it to make sure everything made sense in the end.

For example, [View Spoiler]

Anyway, the entire book is filled with plot holes and inconsistencies. The Erudite are supposed to be geniuses, or at least logical, but they spend more time asking questions everyone knows the answer to than applying their logic to important tasks… like not letting people with questionable loyalties guard Tris.

Character analysis. I was so not fond of Tris this time around. She was so intent on killing herself, I’m not sure why she didn’t run back to the Dauntless compound and throw herself into the pit. It certainly would have been more effective than risking her life, so others felt obligated to save her and risk getting killed themselves.

Even my beloved Caleb fell through. There was a point I was so proud of him. I thought, now here’s a hero. Resourceful, dedicated, and level headed. Then I found that Caleb was just a simulation in Tris’s head. Talk about your major bummers. He turned out to be the biggest liar of all. And Tris continued to fawn over him until the end. I would have kicked his butt to the curb and never looked back. “To the left, to the left. Everything in the box to the left.”

The ending. I hit it and found it terribly anticlimactic. I think it was meant to be a cliffhanger… end in a way to make me eagerly anticipate the next in the series. But when I hit the big reveal, it was more with a shrug and an “oh.”

This book had so much potential to be good. Unfortunately, it dragged and most of the real story didn’t start until the last 100 pages.

So how did I come up with this rating. Despite my many complaints while reading Insurgent, I clung to a three star rating. I kept telling myself, this had to be at least three stars. After all, Divergent was pretty decent. Every time I hit one of those plot inconsistencies, which were many, many, my rating plunged to 2 stars. Then I’d read on and convince myself Insurgent would pull out of the slump… we had to make it to three stars. Then another plot hole would hit a page later.

I truly wanted to give this 3 stars, but this book was so poorly executed, it seemed dishonest to give it anything more than 2 stars. When I looked through other books which have earned 2 stars from me, this one didn’t even rank that high. I’m totally bummed and feel awful this book wasn’t better. I wish there was a way to take this book off the market and put it through a developmental editor before rereleasing it. Cut the filler, fix the plot screw ups, and make Tris more like the survival Tris in Divergent. This might inch its way to a 1.5-star read, but I hesitate to even go that far.

As it is, I don’t see myself purchasing the next book in this series. I feel like something went horribly wrong, and the people the author should have been able to trust to tell her the truth fell through. I read Divergent and know the author can do better. I’m just not willing to bet my money (or time) on more of the same I got from Insurgent.

I am Candor, hear my truth!