The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi is the second book in the Old Man’s War universe. A strong sci-fi book that falls short of its predecessor but manages to bring up interesting ideas about identity and choice. The audio narrator that I listened to was William Dufries and he is once again outstanding.
4/5 17/25 total score
Type of Story: Science Fiction that is light on hard science and more space opera.
– Fun narrative that opened up many possibilities early on.
– A larger expansion of the Old Man’s War universe with more information about the aliens and the Colonial Defense Force.
– Some strong elements of philosophical ideas like choice and identity.
– Change in main character from the first Old Man’s War book that isn’t as engaging.
– The point of view changes more in this book than the previous.
Similar Books/Media: This is going out on a limb a little bit but I saw some similarities between this and Battlestar Galactica, the newest version.
Plot – 4(Strong)
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi is set in the same world as Old Man’s War but follows a completely different main character, Jared Dirac. Jared Dirac is a new Ghost Brigade soldier that was a failed experiment after they attempted to put the consciousness of a traitor, named Boutin, into Dirac’s body. The consciousness did not take and Dirac ended up being a brand new human with his own consciousness. Dirac becomes a Ghost Brigade and goes on multiple missions with his squadron while being watched carefully in case the consciousness of the traitor comes out. At this point there are just so many opportunities to go anywhere with this narrative and I love it.
Jane Sagan, a character from the previous Old Man’s War novel is in charge of Dirac and when he starts to show signs of remembering things of Boutin’s life, she believes Dirac is a liability. When Boutin is found still helping the CDF’s enemies, Dirac might be the only person that can save the entire universe from all out war.
The Ghost Brigades is a solid narrative that gets more involved in the political and military aspects of the universe because we are mostly around the Special Forces Unit of the CDF. There is a lot less mystery in this book than Old Man’s War because we are dealing with people that know more about what is going on in the universe, however, there are still plenty of secrets to go around. Scalzi expands his Old Man’s War universe by adding more alien species and a more complex weaving between the races and the wars that are happening.
The best part of the plot is the unknowing aspect of what will happen when Dirac’s subconscious of the traitor becomes a part of who he is. Will Dirac become a traitor himself or is he a completely different individual than the man he was copied from? Also, what makes up someone’s conscious, is it just their memories, or is there something more to it?
Characters – 3(Fine)
Jared Dirac is no John Perry but he is still a good enough main character. It took me awhile to like him because at the beginning of the novel he is like a new child. Over time he grew on me and his struggle with who he is was pretty fascinating.
Jane Sagan is back from Old Man’s War but she is a more no nonsense type of character than she was in the previous novel. She has a lot of responsibility now and she takes that responsibility seriously. All of Jared’s squad mates have their own little personalities that entertain.
Boutin is an interesting antagonist because of his relation to Jared. His actions and motivations are clear to the reader and the reader gets to make an important decision if the way he views the world is correct or not.
Setting/World Building – 4(Strong)
The Old Man’s War setting continues to be strong. All of the alien races have such diversity that learning about them each is a lot of fun. The way that the CDF and the Special Forces get along and interact with each other is a strong component to this novel. The universe that Scalzi creates is unlike anything else that I have read because of the transfer of consciousnesses by the CDF. My favorite part of the world that Scalzi has created is figuring out what role the humans are playing in the universe. There are times when the humans are seen as the true antagonists but the reader really doesn’t know.
Writing – 3(Fine)
Scalzi brings his fast-paced writing into The Ghost Brigades but also puts in his classic Scalzi interjections about philosophy and ideas. I felt that this book in particular didn’t bridge the gap as well as previous books he has written with the transition between narrative and dialogue talking about ideas.
I felt that the beginning of The Ghost Brigades could have been stronger. It took me some time to become engaged with this story because the beginning was mostly shown through the eyes of random characters. Once Dirac was created, the story picked up, and became much more interesting. I felt that the Kynan beginning was a little long.
William Dufries does an impeccable job narrating this audio book. He gives character and personality to everyone. You can tell that he read the book, decided on how he was going to approach each scene, and made an effort to give life to each and every character.
Heart & Mind Factor – 3(Fine)
The mind factor played a role in The Ghost Brigade. The question that was the center of the entire story was, “what makes up who we are?” We are what we experience and not just our memories. We must have the tactile experience to anchor our memories because without the bookmarks in our head, we are nothing. We are the sum of all our experiences and even if we think exactly like someone else, our experiences in life is what creates individuals. Two identical twins are basically the same person when they are born but over time they become separate individuals.
Also Scalzi wants us to look at choice in The Ghost Brigades. No matter what our surroundings, background, or experience is, we have a choice as to what we will do.
Recommendation: I recommend The Ghost Brigades to anyone looking to continue reading Old Man’s War and I also feel that this book can be a stand alone too. If you want to read something about a consciousness being put into another person and if the new consciousness will be anything like the original, then check this book out. The action sequences in this story are better than what were in Old Man’s War too.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is an excellent historical fiction novel with sympathetic characters that the reader grows to love.
4/5 20/25 possible score
Type of Story: Historical fiction set during World War II set in France and Germany that shows both sides of the conflict.
– Strong characterization that shows the strength of the human spirit during a backdrop of intolerance and hatred.
– A narrative that strengthens the characters and the reader’s connection to them.
– Doerr’s love for the technical aspect of the war, when it comes to the use of radios, is surprisingly interesting, as well as the interest in oceanography by Marie-Laure
– Overwriting at times during descriptions. Adjectives galore.
– The format of the novel takes some time to get used to and may not be for everyone.
Similar Books/Media: Empire of the Sun movie is probably the most similar thing I can think of that I am familiar with.
Plot – 4(Strong)
All The Light We Cannot See is a story following two main children during World War II. The children become teenagers and enter the war in their own way. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl from Paris that has to evacuate the city with her father and move to the town of Saint-Malo to live with her great uncle. Marie-Laure’s father worked at the Paris museum and is given a valuable diamond to look after but it is unknown if the diamond is a fake or the real thing. When Marie-Laure’s father disappears and the Germans occupy the town of Saint-Malo, Marie-Laure must be brave and help her uncle relay messages against the Germans. All the while a German gemologist is trying to find the missing diamond.
Werner is the other main character and he is a German boy that falls in love with science and radio equipment. He leaves his sister behind that he loves very much and joins the German school for gifted children that is being used to train the children for the army. Werner progresses in his studies and learns how to triangulate where rogue radio signals are coming from and his squad roams around Europe looking for these enemy signals. Werner happens upon a signal in Saint-Malo of the house where Marie-Laure lives.
The narrative spans a 10 year period and the absolute highlight of this narrative is the change in both the characters and the world around them. Marie-Laure’s world comes crashing down almost immediately when the war starts but she is a precocious and intelligent little girl that is not held back by the fact that she can’t see. Werner is a poor German boy at the start of the story and he sees a chance for him to create a better life for him and his sister when he gets into the special school. Germany is starting to thrive at the start of the war and the propaganda that the German’s are telling these kids sound perfectly fine to them. Over the years though, the truth starts to reveal itself to Werner, and he wonders if they are the good guys or not.
The plot with the diamond is something extra to add more tension and mystery to the narrative. It was a little bit of an after-thought for me as it wasn’t the reason I kept reading. The reason I kept reading was because I wanted to see what happened with Marie-Laure and Werner.
Characters – 5(Very Strong)
I absolutely loved the characters in this story. Marie-Laure captured me from the very beginning. Her intelligence and determination was so admirable during such times of crisis that I couldn’t help but love her character. Werner really has a heart of gold but he doesn’t see the evil that lurks in his country until much later in the novel. I find it extremely fascinating how the German people themselves could stand by the Nazi party and Hitler during World War II but after reading the sheer amount of propaganda that was just in this book, I can better understand it. I was looking at Germany through the eyes of Werner and I can understand how these young Hitler youths could believe what they believed.
All of the secondary characters were not just an after thought but extremely important to the story. Marie-Laure’s father, Daniel LeBlanc, her uncle, Etienne, and the live in, Madam Manec were all such great characters. Etienne and Marie-Laure’s relationship was something I found special and touching. Werner’s sister Jutta was beyond her years in wisdom. Volkheimer, Werner’s captain was a puzzling character that I still don’t really know how I feel about. The only character I didn’t care for much was Von Rumpel, the gemology, just because I don’t think he was given enough page time for me to fully understand his character.
Setting – 4(Strong)
The setting is great. War torn France just comes to life with Doerr’s description. Saint-Malo captured my interest but the house at 4 Vauborel lane captured my heart. That single building was amazing to me with its 6 floors and spiral staircase, the cellar that Marie-Laure hid in and the attic that was hidden by a large wardrobe behind secret panels, Marie-Laure’s room with all her shells lined up and the replica of the city on the floor, were all just great to me. Werner’s Germany was also a big reason why I loved the setting. I could really tell a difference between the Germany at the start of the story and the one that was there at the end.
Writing – 3(Fine)
The most divisive part of All The Light We Cannot See is Anthony Doerr’s writing of the book. The entire book is split into small sections, some only last a page, while others last up to 6. Each section is a jump in point of view to another character. At first it is difficult to get into because this pov jump makes it hard to connect with the narrative. After awhile though, you get used to it, and it almost becomes something that you like. Also, the time period in this novel jumps around to tell a complete story and to also have tension. The tension comes from telling the present story, where our characters are in a dangerous situation, then jump back in time to tell the story of the two children growing up and making their way to the present story. This will not work for every reader and some readers might find it off-putting. Lastly, Doerr uses way too many adjectives to describe things that just aren’t that important to the story or the characters. He does an amazing job at describing the world of sound and touch that Marie-Laure is surrounded by and the many cities that are in the story but small minuscule things are given too much attention. I did not like the scene with the Russians and the woman near the end of the story because it was unneeded.
Heart and Mind – 4(Strong)
This story got a hold of my heart and did not let go. I really liked Marie-Laure a lot and I felt anxiety at times while reading because she was in danger. This book also stimulated me intellectually because it made me challenge my thoughts on the Germans that served in the Nazi army and how difficult it must have been for them to know what they were doing was wrong.
Recommendation: I recommend All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr to anyone that likes historical fiction that is centered around great characters. Doerr’s writing might not be for everyone but I did not mind it much. If you can look pass the different format and are interested in reading a book that is about two children growing up during the worst war in history then you will enjoy this book.
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami is an achievement in connecting the emotional crumbling of unrequited love with self-loathing loneliness.
2/5 Rescored from a 3, only ok.
Type of Story: Contemporary fiction with emphasis on connecting to the reader emotionally. Some surrealism.
– Explanations of emotions that the characters are feeling are well written.
– Unique characters
– Beautiful prose that has a strong element of emotion.
– Reader empathizes with the characters easily because of the circumstances the characters find themselves in are highly relatable.
– Magical realism is used in the narrative to bring up ideas to the reader but adds very little to the narrative.
– The story is secondary to the “messages” that the book is trying to relay.
Similar Books/Media: The unrequited love portion reminded me a little bit of The Great Gatsby between Daisy and Gatsby. Possibly 500 Days of Summer, one of my favorite movies, is similar in the fact that the main male character, Tom, in 500 Days of Summer created his entire identity around Summer and Sumire does the same in Sputnik Sweetheart.
Plot – 2(Weak)
Sputnik Sweetheart is the story of three individuals that love each other but not in the way that each of them want them to. K, our narrator, is in love with his closest friend Sumire. They have an intimate relationship of telling each other everything but while Sumire just considers him a friend, K wants to have a romantic relationship with Sumire. Sumire, a writer, on the other hand, falls in love with a woman that is 17 years older than her named Miu. This is the first time Sumire has had feelings towards someone of the same sex. Miu likes Sumire but the thought of a romantic relationship with anyone at all is not an option for her. Things come to a head when Sumire disappears on an island and Miu calls K to come help try to find her.
Sputnik Sweetheart centers around these relationships that just aren’t happening. It is interesting in the beginning because we are unsure what will happen with these three very unique individuals. Murakami does a great job of detailing the emotions that each of these characters feel and it is the highlight of this book. The plot was great and I was really invested into this book until the last quarter of the book.
Where the plot ventures off is when Murakami wants to introduce the idea of a dual identity into the narrative with the use of magical realism. The idea of a dream like world where there is another version of us that gives into desires and does things that are uncharacteristic just didn’t work for me. I felt that the focus on unrequited love and loneliness were fine to carry the entire book without adding identity ideas into the narrative.
The disappearance of Sumire felt as an excuse to just read her writing and to introduce these other themes that Murakami wanted to explore. Her disappearance didn’t amount to much and the reaction by K and Miu annoyed me(lets have dinner before I tell you about what happened to your best friend). I really don’t like plot divergences that are only there for theme or message reasons.
Characters – 3(Fine)
Sumire was the strongest character in the novel because she had the most to say. Her view of the world was unique and her struggle with writing was something that I enjoyed. Her dealing with having feelings for Miu were handled extremely well and because I don’t read a whole lot of lesbian characters I enjoyed watching her deal with her desire towards Miu. I felt a lot of empathy towards Sumire.
K, the narrator, handled his love for Sumire relatively well while still being friends with her. I saw a lot of similarities to K and myself which was interesting.
Miu was a fascinating character that had a lot of mystery surrounding her. Her back story was the start of the divergence that the plot took but her back story itself, not the way it was done, was interesting. I actually felt extremely sorry for Miu after this novel.
Setting – 1(Very Weak)
The setting of Sputnik Sweetheart was not important to Murakami at all. The island in Greece was probably the best setting in the book but it still took such a backseat to everything else. I was hoping for more Japanese culture elements during this book but there just wasn’t much at all. In fact the majority of the book is just them at a coffee shop or at dinner talking.
Writing Style – 4(Strong)
I now understand the appeal of Haruki Murakami, especially to young adults. Where I believe his audience really lies is between the ages of 16-24 where people are trying to battle with ideas of identity and insecurity. Regardless, his prose is great. You don’t really realize how sweeping some of the passages are until you reread them. Even though I am giving this book a 3/5 it is something I might pick up again and reread just because of the special parts. I just wish that the sum of all the parts were as good as the individual special parts.
This is the type of book that people who love this type of literature will go crazy underlining and noting all their favorite lines. For a book that is just a little over 200 pages long, there are quite a few passages that people would love to quote.
Heart and Mind Factor – 4(Strong)
I have to admit that I am an emotional person and this book did register with me emotionally. The heart factor for me was strong because I have been in situations of unrequited love, like most people. This book brought up those instances of rejection and desire back to my mind. What is nice though, is that even though you think of moments in your past that were hurtful while reading this book you get a clearer perspective on those instances of pain to help you accept them more for what they were, two people that care for each other but not love. I can see this book becoming the perfect post breakup book for a lot of readers.
Recommendation: I recommend Sputnik Sweetheart to anyone that enjoys messages, prose, and thematic elements over a strong narrative. If you want to read a book about unrequited love, what loneliness is because of not having love, and musings on identity this might be something you would enjoy. This is a book that you could dissect and get a lot out of if you are into contemporary literature. I enjoyed this enough to try another Murakami book and to possibly revisit Sputnik Sweetheart in the future when I am more used to Murakami’s surrealism and magical realism. I can see a longer book with a stronger plot really being a good read. This was a good break from my usual fantasy books.
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson is intricate high fantasy on a large scale that delivers a world that few other books can match.
Type of Story: High epic fantasy following multiple point of view characters and plot-lines that converge in the end to tell an over-arching story.
– High fantasy with a lot of use of magic. Almost every character has some ability they excel at.
– Intricate world building that is on another level compared to a lot of fantasy titles. The author created an entire world and its history before writing.
– Unexplained mysterious elements that reward a reader that enjoys that sort of thing. This is a book you figure out while reading because the author does not spell things out.
– A cast of characters that all have their own ambitions and desires without putting people into good and evil camps.
– Active gods!
– Almost all the pros can become a con for some readers. Some readers might not want a lot of magic and they might want more direction in their narrative instead of figuring things out.
– There are no proper introductions with a lot of things and this could really throw some readers off.
– Some readers might have a hard time connecting to the characters because at times it just seems like the characters just can do whatever they want without explanation.
Similar Books/Media: Think Game of Thrones on crack dropped into the middle of the narrative randomly and instead of limiting magic, making everyone a Dragon Ball Z or Bleach character, but in a serious way. All those movies with like a dozen different characters that somehow become connected at the end.
Plot – 4/5(Stong)
At the start of Gardens of the Moon there are about a dozen different plot lines that Erikson is using to introduce his grand vision. The Empire of Malazan is continuing to conquer lands on a continent called Genabackis. The last free city is Darujhistan and the Malazan Empire want this last city but their army has a lot of cracks in it. The main reason the Empire itself has a lot of cracks in it is because many of the conquered territory have men from that territory now serving in the Malazan army. We follow characters that are extremely loyal to Malazan, characters that are only loyal to their company, and characters that want to overthrow the Empire.
Darujhistan has their own problems and conflicts even without Malazan. They have a mage cabal, regular council, and an assassin guild all vying for power in the city. When Malazan makes Darujhistan its next target there are some in Darujhistan that want to take advantage of the situation.
The gods and other immortals want to be involved in this conflict because it gives them something to do and they have things to lose or gain from the possible take over of Darujhistan. The multitude of characters verge upon Darujhistan and eventually all become connected in multiple ways.
The strength of the plot of Gardens of the Moon is taking many different strings of plots to weave them together into a tapestry of cohesion. This is a book that takes you on a journey into the unknown and holds back information to create interest in the reader. I personally loved this aspect of Gardens of the Moon because it always challenged me. I have never looked at a character list and glossary more while reading a book. I’m a big mystery book lover and being in the dark with things is sometimes what you encounter with mystery books so it felt fine to me. I feel like I’m overstating the mystery and challenging aspect because I didn’t really struggle to understand much of it. There are a lot of fights in this book with sorcery being used and tons of assassins.
The characters in Gardens of the Moon are all extremely varied. There are gods, mages, healers, assassins, thieves, monsters, demons, and everything in between. I would feel really bad for the normal every day person in this world because it seemed so many people were extremely exceptional. When every character has abilities and powers it slightly cheapens the outstanding qualities that powerful characters possess.
There are enough fun and really just down-right cool characters in Gardens of the Moon to entertain. In fact, at this point in the Malazan series we aren’t really worried about creating extremely detailed characters with a lot of back-story and emotions just some cool characters to read about. The personalities and backgrounds of the characters will continue to grow over the series.
Setting/World Building – 5/5(Very Strong)
The world building of Gardens of the Moon is immense. Erikson just hits the tip of the iceberg of his Malazan universe with this book. You can tell that he created this entire world before writing the series. This is a great example of such an established setting that the setting can pretty much tell the story. A dozen or more different kinds of magic, about 20 different immortal beings/gods, multiple unique races, a detailed map, and everything has a history.
Writing Style – 3/5(Fine)
Erikson’s writing style in GotM is a limited 3rd person pov that jumps from different povs often. I really didn’t mind the pov jumps that much but I can see how it would bother people. People say he gets better as the series goes on. The dialogue was fine and a strength of the book. I would have liked a little bit more description of characters and the scene. He definitely isn’t a bad writer by any stretch of the imagination but I think as the world building grows and becomes this entity of its own that the writing quality needs to meet that level. His ability to foreshadow and put in small tid-bits of information that relates to other parts of the book is one of his best attributes.
Heart and Mind Factor – 4/5(Strong)
There was not much heart factor in this book for me but there was some mind factor. The mind factor was more me trying to figure things out and unravel this world that Erikson created. I really enjoyed this and I was really happy to do this as a buddy group read because it made things much more clear to me and I focused harder to understand the book to join in on the discussions. At first this book felt like someone dropped a 1,000 piece puzzle on the floor and I had to pick up all the pieces and put the puzzle together. I am really cool with that because I like the challenge.
Recommendation: I recommend Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson to people that place world building above other aspects in their fantasy reading, readers that enjoy stories with multiple threads coming together, and readers that want to figure things out.
I really liked GotM and I was torn between giving it a 5 or a 4 but finally decided on the 4 because I think it can get better. I might edit this review in the future after reading the entire series and give it a 5, who knows. I am very happy I am tackling this series this year.