Three Books, Three Thoughts

I’m trying a new style of book review that may be less intimidating than the dreaded “book report” essay many readers are reluctant to write. Three thoughts about three books.

I read almost 50 books in 2019. These three were my favourites:

  1. The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head: Volume 1, The War of the Stolen Mother / Lorinda J. Taylor
  2. Eternity Began Tomorrow / Kevin Brennan
  3. Annals of the Former World / John McPhee

The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head: Volume 1, The War of the Stolen Mother / Lorinda J. Taylor

…the Champion Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head and the Remembrancer Di’fa’kro’mi set out on an epic quest to reach the sea. In the Champion’s home fortress we learn that Ki’shto’ba has a twin and that he may have been sired by the Sky-King. Later, the Companions visit a fortress that has been at war for nine years with its neighbors

Book description at Smashwords
  • The Characters. Yes, they’re termites. Giant termites living on a distant planet. Their personalities, thought processes, and emotions are similar to those of humans, which makes them relatable. But their anatomy and physiology are true to type, which is fascinating.
  • The Plot. It’s an epic quest adventure, full of unexpected hazards and tests of courage and ingenuity. Recognizing similarities to legends of the human world woven into the plot offers the reader happy surprises.
  • The Language. I’m referring to the termite language devised by the author. It’s more than a random collection of made-up words. This is a constructed language (conlang), with a structure and internal logic whose patterns are relatively easy for the reader to discern. It’s interesting in itself and enriches the fictional world and its cultures.

Eternity Began Tomorrow: a novel / Kevin Brennan

When Molly “Blazes” Bolan, a young hotshot reporter for an online news outlet, is assigned the biggest story of her career, she’s eager to run with it. Her subject, John Truthing, has built a cultish organization called “Eternity Began Tomorrow” to fight climate change, and it’s starting to snowball big time. As Blazes digs in, she’s both impressed and disturbed by Truthing, a charismatic eco-warrior with revolutionary ideas. Disturbed because his followers are mainly millennials, all hooked on a drug called Chillax and so devoted they would jump off a cliff if he asked it of them. … Blazes knows that the final story in her EBT series could destroy his movement, but she’s torn. The cause is worthy. The stakes are high. And the election of 2020 could decide the fate of life on earth.

Book description at Amazon.com
  • The Protagonist. Molly “Blazes” Bolan, journalist. She’s smart, funny, and irreverent, but vulnerable. And man, can she tell a story.
  • The Relevance. The story is happening right now. Climate change, social media, the power of charisma to change the world.
  • The Ending. You think you know where the story is going when — wham! — it takes off into unthought-of territory and punches you in the gut. And the heart.

Annals of the Former World / John McPhee

The Pulitzer Prize-winning view of the continent, across the fortieth parallel and down through 4.6 billion years. … Like the terrain it covers, Annals of the Former World tells a multilayered tale, and the reader may choose one of many paths through it. As clearly and succinctly written as it is profoundly informed, this is our finest popular survey of geology and a masterpiece of modern nonfiction.

Book description at Amazon.com
  • The Subject. Geology and geologists. McPhee travels east to west across the US along Interstate 80 in the company of geologists, relaying their expertise to the reader in a way that opens the eye and the mind.
  • The Scope. No less than several billion years, but the focus zooms in and out to human as well as geological time, covering matters such as frontier life, academic life, the oil business, the California gold rush, how geologists think, and a minute-by-minute account of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.
  • The Writing. It’s vivid, precise, lapidary. McPhee doesn’t avoid or dumb down the language of geology, but incorporates it into his narrative in a way that that both informs and delights. Writers should read this book; even if they don’t give a damn about geology they’ll learn something about writing.

Well, fellow writers — what do you think of this attempt at giving impressions of books? Did any of these mini-reviews spark your interest?
All my reviews may be found on Goodreads.

45 comments

      1. Yes, I like reading those once I’ve engaged with a book and either really like it or have some reservations. Then I look for longer, thoughtful reviews. It’s thrilling and gratifying when a reader writes such a review about a book one has written.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michael. I agree that in depth reviews by knowledgeable people (what I consider real reviews) are the gold standard. The thing is, though, that the “reviews” anyone can write are what most potential readers see. Because of their effect on book visibility (on Amazon, of course), writers hope for as many as they can get. I think they could be called a marketing ploy only if they are paid for or otherwise manipulated by writers. Supposedly, Amazon takes punitive actions against such contrivances. My point was to suggest a simple way for readers to contribute their opinions about books. Many readers don’t do that because of time pressures and reluctance to sit down and write essay-form reviews. Better a quick and simple review than no review.

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  1. Yes I like the way you have done this Audrey, I prefer writing and reading short reviews or comments on books and you have given us enough to have an idea what to expect. These three books are so different from each other and Different!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Janet. This “three things” method could be used for books one isn’t wholeheartedly positive about, as in 2 positives and 1 negative or the other way around, or 3 negatives. Corresponding to the star ratings. And yes, those are three quite different books, but all are excellent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Honored to be included in your Top 3 list, Audrey! Thank you! And I really like this approach to reviewing books. It’s concise, easy to read, and almost launches the prospective customer to the book. Very cool. 😎

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the idea. I think when someone is looking for something to read, a short review may be more effective than a longer one. I like reading those once I’ve developed my own impression of a book and want to see what others think.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. • Obviously these are a [read/skip]: Read recommendation.
    • Format preferred as it gives subject matter/context which helps identify personal preferences.
    • One suggestion would be to provide a ranking for each in the form of “read this before/after you read…” For instance, read Annals of the Former World AFTER you read Guns, Germs & Steel. Choose a book you imagine many of us have read and place it in a ranked-to-read order.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha, you got me there. I don’t keep up with current bestsellers, so can’t compare EBT to one of those. I read it because I liked other books by Kevin Brennan — Fascination, Yesterday Road, and In No Particular Order. They are literary fiction showing people wrestling with major life issues (except In No Particular Order is a memoir). Brennan definitely has a facility with language and an ear for how people talk. You can’t go wrong reading EBT before any of the others I’ve mentioned, so I guess that makes it an alpha. (My apologies if I misunderstood your question.)

          Liked by 1 person

            1. I don’t think that system would work for me, since I don’t rank books. I (mentally) put them into boxes called Yes, I’ll probably read it again and No, once was enough. But within the “to be read again” box, there is no rank. Choosing which book to read again depends on my mood. I quite often have two quite different books going at once and prefer one or the other at different times of day.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. The concept was to create a generic ranking. What you see in that post is MY ranking. Since you already classified Eternity Began Tomorrow as an Alpha, that means it’s above all of those books that you see on my list.
                Yes, this system expects you to have read at least one of those books of mine. But that’s not unreasonable.

                I understand your “bins” method. But with only a few thousand books possible to read in a lifetime, knowing where a book ranks can determine if and when one might read it (in relation to other books).

                (This is an esoteric concept and I’ll understand if it doesn’t come across as cogent.)

                Liked by 1 person

              2. It makes sense to me in theory, but wouldn’t work in practice because the rank of any one book could change a lot from day to day. And my alpha book could be your omega. Also, there’s such a glut of books today it’s less likely that any two people’s lists would have books in common. Goodreads might be a way to compare lists, but I can never decide whether to follow someone or invite them to be a friend, so I’m not using it optimally.

                Liked by 1 person

              3. Are you saying that EBT won’t be an Alpha for you tomorrow or next year? That’s not the way I considered this system. The Hobbit will always be an alpha for me. There would be other alphas, sure, but I figure the Hobbit is more common than any other’s I’ve read.

                Thanks for playing along. Goodreads would be an excellent place to register one’s ranked popular list. I’ll have to see if there’s a way to do that.

                Liked by 1 person

              4. Can’t answer that one since I don’t rank my favourite books that way. When I said it was an alpha I hadn’t read your post explaining that system, so to me it just meant “a book I really like right now.” That isn’t likely to change soon, but it might eventually. There are quite a few books I read several times decades ago that I now have no desire to revisit. They’re languishing at the bottom of that imaginary bin, so I suppose there is a kind of ranking system, but it’s a passive one, sort of like sediments being deposited.

                Liked by 1 person

              5. Not to belabor this discussion, and thanks for being a sport, I’d like to point out that one’s rank it not for your own use — but for others when you recommend a book.

                Let’s say I recommend the book Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I give it a rank of Lambda (#8). You go to my ranking list and see that The Shining, Dune and The Hunger Game are all at or below Lambda and you read The Shining and didn’t like it at all. That would give you a general reference that Seveneves would not be a book you’d like to read.

                All of this started when I began thinking about context and ratings. If you had a twin sister and she likes Earl Grey tea, chances are you would too. If someone completely outside of your context says they like Tandori chicken, without an equitable context there’s no way to know if you’d like it or not.
                All these Amazon and Goodreads ratings are done by people who are nothing like me. Why would I trust their recommendations? Finding some means to create a universal context was my intent.

                Liked by 1 person

              6. That’s where rankings and ratings fail. If you can be sure that your book list and someone else’s have a lot in common, their rating or ranking of a book has meaning for you. But if someone is a total stranger, you need to know WHY they gave a book that 5 star rating. That means reviews that say more than “I couldn’t put it down” or “This is a piece of sh*t.” Specifics like “twisty plot” “nonstop action” “flawed but likable characters” “singing, poetic prose” “detailed descriptions” and similar either get you interested in a book or not. Given a choice, I would dispense with ratings and rankings and go with the words.

                Liked by 1 person

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