Official Review: An Empty Swing by N. J. Hanson

Official Review: An Empty Swing by N. J. Hanson

This is one of my official reviews for OnlineBookClub.org. View the review on the website here:

An Empty Swing by N. J. Hanson is a paranormal ghost story with a chilling premise, complex characters, and a satisfying ending. The story itself is intriguing, the type of story that leaves you hanging on each page until the end. But in terms of content, this story is a better fit for mature audiences than the younger readers it seems to be directed at.

Hiding from the class bully on a local playground, Luis meets a girl with auburn hair and a red beanie, named Alice. She reveals herself as a ghost, with no memory of her past life or death, linked to the playground along with several other ghost children. Finding out that ghosts exist because of unfinished business in life, Luis takes it upon himself to discover her identity and help Alice fulfill her purpose by finding out how she died. With the help of a girl named Serena Ravenwood, they investigate the deaths of Alice and the others, but matters are complicated by a vindictive ghost who has dire plans for both the living and the dead.

This book has a very appealing plot with an appropriate level of suspense for the danger and complexity that the characters face. Most of the characters have a distinct background and motive, with a degree of pathos that makes it possible to empathize with them. I enjoyed the different topics and issues raised within the narrative, some of them quite difficult, and the writing, though simple, made the pages come alive.

However, this story appears to be written for younger reading levels both in quality of writing and in the characters, using simple words, short sentences, and a lot of unnecessary dialogue to make sure the reader understands what is going on. This is slightly perplexing, given that the story contains content that is much better suited for mature readers, including a horrifying scene where a pedophile rapes a child. This causes a major conflict of interest between the author’s perceived intended audience and the one it best fits. Additionally, the book was obviously not professionally edited. I found dozens of grammatical errors and typos, distracting me and interrupting the flow of the story.

My official rating of this book is a 2 out of 4 stars. This book would be much more appealing if it could be revised and edited to conform to the audience it is intended for, and eliminate the bulk of the spelling and grammar mistakes. Though the story was interesting to me, I do not consider it a good enough book that I would suggest it to others.

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Official Review: Superhighway by Alex Fayman

This is one of my official reviews for OnlineBookClub.org. View the review on the website here.

Superhighway by Alex Fayman is an action-packed adventure novel with a flair for flinging the character into one dramatic situation after another. Fayman creates a believable character in an unbelievable setting, playing on readers’ preconceived notions of topics such as wealth, science, and crime to give the story weight. Though fast-paced and a little lacking in detail, this book is a roller-coaster that will carry you through to the end.

Alexander Fine has lived in an orphanage since he was a baby. Foster families have never worked out for him, and he has given up on ever finding a family. When he is eighteen, the orphanage acquires several computers and installs a computer lab in the former library. In an accidental turn of events, Alex discovers that he can travel via Internet to any place he desires. Between meeting new people, traveling to new places, and getting in way over his head in a powerful crime ring, Alex’s life is changed forever as he struggles to contain his secret. But is he alone in his abilities?

My impression of the book was that it had a good storyline but that it went by too fast. It had too little emotional detail, utilizing more action than anything to keep the story alive. Though the character is constantly questioning his own decisions, they seem to factor little in the overall arc of the story. It favors action and description over the character’s internal thoughts and experiences, even though the latter seem to take up quite a bit of time. At some points, the character makes decisions that make little sense or jumps to conclusions too quickly, leaving the reader a little bit confused about the reasons behind the next step in the plot.

However, the story filled me with thrills and suspense as the character struggled to make sense of his newfound ability, and keep others from finding out. The descriptions of his experiences traveling through the Internet impressed me with the author’s ability to transfer strong visual cues, allowing me to experience the journey right along with him. Traveling from his home city of Los Angeles to Hawaii, Amsterdam, and New York, the variety of settings open readers’ minds to the possibilities and difficulties that Alex’s ability brings. I found myself turning pages faster and faster as the story progressed, and I will probably read the sequel.

This book was very well edited, as I only found two mistakes, and the format makes it easy to read. Audiences teen and up who enjoy fast-paced adventure novels starring characters with unusual abilities will likely love this book. Also, fans of romance will enjoy the relationship angle between Alex and other female characters. My official rating is 3 out of 4 stars. Though the content often leaves much to readers’ imaginations, the overall story is engaging and a worthwhile read.

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Official Review: And Then I Met Margaret by Rob White

Official Review: And Then I Met Margaret by Rob White

This is one of my official reviews for OnlineBookClub.org. View the review on the website here:

Who in your life has influenced you? What life lessons did they teach you and how did you apply them? Rob White’s And Then I Met Margaret tells the true story of the ordinary people who influenced him and taught him essential life lessons that have propelled him through his life and career. Each chapter introduces one of these people and the lesson they taught him, and gives an example of how he (or others) benefited from the experience. This inspiring nonfiction book is a gift to its readers, leading them to recognize their own influences and become greater because of them.

Rob White grew up in a small town where tradition was strong and sons took after their fathers. Breaking those traditions, he moved away from his home, went to college, and became a teacher. Later, he went into the real estate business and traveled across the United States. He gained a lot of experience and eventually became very successful financially, but felt like he was missing something. Needing to find the missing piece, he spent his life searching for gurus who could tell him how to succeed in life. Finally, he realized that he had been surrounded by them all along.

From the selflessness of his Aunt Theresa to the former peanut vendor who simply decided not to die, he recounts the lives that touched his, whether they knew it or not. Taking readers on a journey through his life from his childhood in a small mill town to the successful career he enjoys today, he gives recognition to those lives that changed him into the man he is today. He recognizes that the simplest of things can cause a ripple effect, from the plunking of a penny in a jar to a new red dress, causing good deeds to be paid forward and leaving people with a new mindset or even a fresh start.

The overall message of the book – to pay it forward – is an appropriate response to those who have taught someone a life lesson, even if some never know the effect that they had. An ordinary stranger’s generosity can have a multitude of positive effects. A simple act of kindness will be remembered years after it occurs. The innocence of a child can bring about a change in perspective. And the ripples that these small things have can last a lifetime, benefiting people more than can ever be known.

A fairly short book at 188 pages, And Then I Met Margaret is nothing but inspirational. It’s obviously professionally edited, with few mistakes that do not distract from the reading experience. The format flows well and gives the book the feel of a cohesive whole. With chapter titles such as “Shakespeare in My Left Pants Pocket” and “The $3M Shakeup”, the author’s humorous outlook at painful past experiences displays the wisdom he gained from them. With great satisfaction, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. It is an amazing read and a truly inspiring story. I heartily recommend it for anyone looking for a new perspective on their life.

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Official Review: The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz

Official Review: The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz

I’ve been reviewing books for a website called OnlineBookClub for several months now, and have received permission to post my reviews from that site on my blog.

This is the first review I wrote, back in January. I learned a lot and I think my reviews have gotten better since that point, but I’m going to post this anyway in hopes that this review will help inform you about whether you want to read this particular book or not.

You can view this review on the OnlineBookClub website here.

The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz is a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel with a unique setting and a complex plot. Though it clearly fits within its genre, it pushes the limits, bringing in new ideas and stringing together some wild combinations and story elements. Though the story is genuinely engaging and will interest mature readers of the genre, it is heavy-handed and chaotic, effectively barring them from the full effect of this novel.

It is well into the 22nd century. The United States are in ruins, a virus known as Hephaestus has decimated the population, and the once great nation has been reduced to seven cities – three on the east coast, three on the west, and the legendary, terrorized city of Chicago. With the country torn between rulers known as “skylords”, politicians, mercenaries, and sociopaths, a power struggle ensues that will change the topography and politics of the country forever. Characters come and go as the story takes you from Manhattan to San Francisco and everything in between, and when the dust clears, the Seven Cities will be no more.

Looking at the basic outline of the story, the book is very compelling. It contains a lot of information and dives deeply into every subject, be it politics, science, or combat. Additionally, Tysz juggles numerous perspectives and a tangled web of politics, personal goals, and base desires without slipping up. While this is clearly no black-and-white storyline, exploring the darkest side of human nature, readers will find themselves identifying with certain characters and despising others, imbuing the narrative with the humanity the content seems to lack. Although there is much wanting, this kind of appeal gives it the potential to be a breathtaking and engaging story.

However, the book is extremely disorganized and chaotic. Though the viewpoints of these characters give an interesting outlook on some of the events of the story, it confuses readers deeply. The multitudes of characters and viewpoints assist the reader in understanding the complexity of the narrative, but the constant change in terrain makes it unsettling and distracting. It is hard to follow any cast of characters that changes so suddenly and often. Brand-new, unannounced characters pop up randomly for a chapter, then disappear forever. Readers are thrown into events without introduction, like stumbling into a firefight, and by the time they orient themselves, the picture has changed again. Additionally, the amount of profanity and sexual content hinders the story. Its only purpose appears to be for shock value, which is ineffective when used this much.

I give this book 2 out of 4 stars for a compelling plotline and appeal to readers of this genre. I personally did not enjoy this book, but some readers may. At a whopping 658 pages, it seems a little long for this deep of a narrative, and could be easily shortened or split into two or more books without disturbing the content. Though most of the book was fine in the editing department, there were more moments than I’d have liked where the sentence structure made me cringe. Audiences most likely to enjoy this book are mature, detail-oriented readers who strive to understand every possible perspective on a dire situation, and do not mind being constantly placed into the middle of new situations. I do not recommend this book for anyone who prefers a simple or unencumbered plot – if you prefer the usual good-versus-evil storyline, this book is not for you.

Find the book on Amazon here!

Official Review: Bleachers by John Grisham

Official Review: Bleachers by John Grisham

This will be the first official review posted on my blog. Though it’s not a new book (it was published in 2008), I wanted to get some experience with writing short, informal reviews for this website. If you haven’t read the book, I hope this review informs your decision about whether you read it or not!

A few weeks ago, I was over at my grandmother’s house with my family, helping her pack up her things to move into her new apartment. When we cleaned off her bookshelves, she put all the books she planned to get rid of in a box and told us that we could pick the ones we wanted.

Among those were several brand-new-looking, first edition John Grisham books. I’d never read any of Grisham’s books for adults (I’ve read some of his Theodore Boone kids series), so I thought I’d give them a try.

The first of the books that I picked out was Bleachers. It was slow at first, with no apparent plotline, though the writing was exemplary – I kept stopping to daydream about the metaphors and analogies he uses to describe places, events, and feelings. But as the book progressed, I started to realize the heart of the story, and by the end, I was empathizing with the characters and contemplating the moral of this ordinary tale and the impact that one person can have.

Bleachers, first and foremost, is a story about football. Football terms litter almost every page, describing plays and passes in such intricate detail that I finished the book feeling like I knew more about football than if I’d actually grown up watching or playing it (which I haven’t). This requires an in-depth knowledge of the sport that impresses me, and makes me wonder if Grisham has a personal knowledge of football or if he researched it specifically for this book. If the answer is the latter, then I am astounded. This to me is the hallmark of a good writer.

But the thing that touched me most about this book is also the heart of this book, and that is Coach Eddie Rake. He is the one the story centers around. Every character has been touched by the life of this one man, though they didn’t realize it until later. A simple football coach, yet the things his players and town remember – his actions towards the people around him, life lessons he taught, the way he pushed his players – not every memory was good, yet years later the people he influenced still remember him.

It makes me wonder who my own life has touched. What would people say about me if I died tomorrow?  What impact have I made? This is a question important for everyone to consider. From this book, it’s obvious that Eddie Rake made a bigger impact than he could have ever imagined. A town gathers together at the passing of a legend – a man who lives on through the people he has touched.

As far as recommendations go, I’d recommend this to almost anyone old enough to understand the depth of the story and the sports jargon. A few negatives to consider include use of profanity (frequent but not necessarily inappropriate to the context), the football terms that are sometimes hard to visualize, and a seemingly slow start to the story. Other than that, I thought it was a very good book, and since for my personal reviews I’m using a 5-star system, I rate it 5 of 5 stars.