Five Star Books

I thought it would be interesting to go through the books I’ve given a five-star rating. I use Goodreads mainly to encourage and track my goal of reading at least 50 books a year, so it is just a way to encourage myself to keep reading and not fall into a slump. Reading is relaxing and restorative for me, and sometimes I need to remind myself that it relieves stress and read regularly to keep myself balanced.

When going through my list of books I’ve given five stars to on Goodreads, I was surprised at how many made the cut. I typically follow the rating system of three stars means I liked it, four stars means I really liked it, and five stars means I loved it. I think I’ve given one two star rating, and I have never given a one star rating. This is because I often won’t finish a book I don’t like and I always look at a book objectively and won’t let one bad thing ruin the entire work. I also rate the book right after finishing so my feelings about it are fresh, which I hope gives a more accurate rating about how I felt about the book.

Anyway, here is the list of books I’ve given five stars to throughout my use of Goodreads. Some of these are representative of a series, so I may love the series as a whole while not necessarily giving all individual books five stars.

Howl’s Moving Castle was my introduction to the work of Diana Wynne Jones. It remains my favorite Studio Ghibli film and is a great novel I look forward to reading to my children.

Magician is the first book of The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E. Feist. I first read this in high school and loved it. I only read the primary saga and a few books that followed, so I have not read the entirety of the (I believe) still growing series.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs is the start of the John Carter of Mars series. I read the initial trilogy after seeing the 2012 movie that I enjoyed despite it being considered a failure. The movie doubled as a celebration of 100 years since the first book was published. It also was the only reason I learned about the books. There are 11 in total and I read book four and part of five but failed to remain interested at the time. Overall, it is a great, earlier scifi series that influenced much of the scifi that became popular later on.

On Writing is a much loved book about the craft of writing, but it also gives an autobiographical insight into Stephen King. I haven’t read this one in a while, so I may need to return to it and read it with more experienced eyes. I will likely enjoy it that much more.

The Queen’s Gambit is a more recent read. Written by Walter Tevis and turned into a mini-series by Netflix (how I first discovered it), I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it was adapted extremely well.

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is the only series I wrote a corresponding series of posts about. I essentially wrote about each book as I read it, all 15 in the series, and discussed what surprised me and what I predicted would come next. It is a great series for fans of fantasy. I did give two of the 15 books five stars.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve been a huge fan of this series since I first read these books when I was quite young. I’ve only read the series two or three times and it has been a long time since my last readthrough. I’ve been meaning to re-read it.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I read this well after the big craze when the movie came out. I picked it up at the annual book sale of our local library. It was surprisingly good. I have yet to see the movie though.

Our Story Begins is a collection of short stories by Tobias Wolff whom I admire as a writer. He is able to create such intimately human moments in his stories that exemplifies the art itself.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This book I first discovered by the trailer for the movie. The trailer intrigued me so I read the book which allowed me to better understand and appreciate the movie when it came out. A lot of people were confused by the movie which is understandable given how it intertwines several storylines across a vast timeline. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Little Prince by Antione de Saint-Exupery is a fantastic little book that I came to as an adult. I’m curious if I would have loved it as a child but I think I appreciate it more as an adult.

The Name of the Wind is the first book of The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the sequel A Wise Man’s Fear. The third, and I believe final, book of the series is rumored to be released this year. Pat read the prologue of The Doors of Stone for a charity event earlier this year so it may very well be released later this year or early next year. I also gave the peripheral novella five stars as well. Titled A Slow Regard for Silent Things, the novella is a week in the life of the character Auri from the series. I think this may be the only series that has five stars from me for each book (the three mentioned here).

Harry Potter is a series I grew up with and have enjoyed for a long time. I haven’t read the series in quite some time, but ironically my least favorite book when I was younger turned out to be one of my favorite movie in the series. This series was one that I can vividly remember getting the next book the day it released. I gave a few books in this series five stars.

The Stranger by Albert Camus was a novel I read in college and enjoyed more than I thought I would. It was my first reading of Camus. I need to read more of his work but have only read one other book, The Myth of Sisyphus. 

Dune by Frank Herbert has become a favorite of mine. I have only read this first book in the series but I loved it as a standalone novel. The recent film adaptation was great and I look forward to “Part 2” which I think is releasing next year.

Triple Zero by Karen Traviss is the second book of the Republic Commando series of the Star Wars universe. I read a lot of Star Wars books when I was younger and this series was my favorite. There was a Republic Commando video game I also really liked. The story focuses on a few squads of clone commandos and delves into what these clones lives were like. They were mentally 10 years old in 20-year-old bodies and created to fight a galactic war. There is a lot of cool things in this series aside from it being part of the Star Wars universe.

Catching Fire is the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I enjoyed this trilogy and the second book was my favorite.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a great book. The film adaptation was great and understandably changed quite a bit of the story while keeping the overall main story thread the same. I read Ready Player Two when it was released and enjoyed it also, but not as much as this first book.

Fullmetal Alchemist is a manga series by Hiromu Arakawa. I first encountered this series as the anime adaptation and was swept up into the lives of the Elric brothers. I read the series this year and the “redo” of the anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is a faithful adaptation to the series and is fantastic. This story is incredible overall and will always get five stars from me.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins was a happy surprise for me when I read it last year. I consider this book a hidden treasure since I haven’t come across many people discussing it.

Norse Mythology with this being Neil Gaiman’s retelling of several Norse myths. I am a fan of mythologies and the Norse myths are my favorite. It is an added bonus that Neil wrote a version and narrated it himself. Definitely worth a listen/read.

Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida is a manga series I first encountered via the anime adaptation as well. There is a lot I enjoyed in the series that was omitted in the adaptation and overall I have a fascination with the series despite some shortcomings. It almost didn’t make this list but it is one of those series that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Network Effect is a novel that is part of The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I enjoy this series immensely for many reasons. This novel ironically is a “side quest” of the series which is currently comprised of five novellas. Murderbot is a great character and the universe they inhabit is both chilling yet hopeful for humans.

Art Matters is a little book by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell. This little book is a great, quick read about why art is important and that we should “make good art” if we feel so inclined. I recommend giving this a read (should only take an hour at the most) just to get the message and inspiration that pours from this tiny volume.

That is my list of books I’ve given five stars to as of this date. Many I have not read in some time but I think I would still enjoy them if/when I give them a re-read. Perhaps some of these may become favorites of yours if they aren’t already. Perhaps you disliked several on this list that I enjoyed which is absolutely valid as reading is subjective. Regardless, I hope you find something fun to read.

Happy Reading.

The Sandman

Sandman and the Endless

Sandman and the Endless by Jim Lee & Jeremy Roberts

I have to admit that The Sandman was an interesting journey to say the least. I haven’t read many comics (despite knowing many comic characters and stories [no, not just Marvel ones]), but it is a unique medium that is worth looking into if you have been hesitant to do so. Of course, there are tons of stories within the medium and you simply need to find one you are interested in. I decided to begin Sandman for various reasons: I’ve heard friends talk about it, I’ve seen it show up several times in circles of interest, and one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, wrote it. Granted, a comic is a product of much collaboration and creation and each contributor deserves their due. Some contributors changed throughout the series, but here are those who created the first issue titled “Sleep of the Just”: Neil Gaiman (writer), Sam Kieth & Mike Dringenberg (artists), Todd Klein (letters), Daniel Vozzo (colors), Art Young (assistant editor), and Karen Berger (editor).

I acquired the Omnibus Editions Continue reading

Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood coverIt has been over a month since my last recommendation. This is partly due to my reading slump and other demands on my time, but today I am recommending a story that is one I consider top-tier. This is the manga series Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I first discovered this story via the anime adaptation which has two versions (which I will discuss shortly), but first let’s begin with a quick blurb to see if this is the type of story you are interested in.

“In an alchemical ritual gone wrong, Edward Elric lost his arm and leg, and his brother Alphonse became nothing but a soul in a suit of armor. Their journey to restore their bodies through the power of the Philosopher’s Stone begins here.”

That was taken from the back of volume one of the deluxe edition. There are 18 volumes included in the deluxe edition and 27 in the original version (the deluxe editions combine the 27 into 18 hardcover volumes).

I hope this caught your interest, because as I stated above, this story is incredible. The Elric brothers are alchemists. Alchemy, for a simple explanation, could be equated to magic. The entire system centers on the Law of Equivalent Exchange. For example, by using the right alchemical formula, an alchemist could change water into hydrogen by removing the oxygen. The correct materials are present. They can change the chemical and/or physical makeup of things with alchemy but only if the materials are present. Alchemy cannot therefore create something from nothing. Except perhaps with the Philosopher’s Stone.

Though I recently read the manga series for the first time, I did watch the 2003 adaptation Fullmetal Alchemist and the 2009 adaptation titled Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The reason two versions exist isn’t simply that the latter is a remake. The first was adapted while the manga was still being written and the show went on past the published material and thus took creative liberties to conclude the series resulting is quite a few differences from the source material. The 2009 adaptation is more accurate as the series had been completed and it therefore stayed true to the source material. This is perhaps why I believe it to be the better version.

What I like about this series is the blend of comedy, drama, ethics, morality, and the questions of what it means to be human and what is the value of a human life. It covers topics such as genocide, so this series does delve into some heavy areas and there are some impactful moments, one of which stands out as a forever “too soon” reference within the fandom. If you’ve read or watched this series, then you likely know what I am referring to.

The series is rich with interesting characters both good and bad. I would even dare to call it timeless due to the nature of the worldbuilding and the fact it centers on those questions that humanity will always be considering despite the fact no concrete answer will ever be possible.

If you’ve never heard of this series, then I hope you look into it either by reading or watching. I of course recommend print format but also the 2009 adaptation if you want to watch it. Both versions are currently available on Netflix. In the spirit of Equivalent Exchange. I thank you for reading my post and I hope you got something from it that you find as valuable as the time spent reading it.

Happy Reading.

A Note on Recent Adaptations

I previously posted about a few film and television adaptations I was excited to see that were all based on books I had read. I wanted to follow up about those adaptations and have a little discussion about adaptations in general from a the viewpoint of a fan of the original work.

DuneFirst, I absolutely enjoyed the film adaptation of Dune. I thought the film followed the book pretty well even though it has been a few years since I had read it. I am excited for the second movie that should wrap up the content of the first book. I hear rumors that there may even be a chance for a third movie that I assume would delve into a few of the sequels. I am okay with that of course. The story, and the adaptation, is great and having to wait an additional year to see it was worth it in my opinion.

Next, The Wheel of Time as adapted into a television series by Amazon. I read this series a few years ago. It is a huge series at 15 books (including the prequel) with an average book length of approximately 800 pages. It is one of the longest series I have read and I enjoyed it immensely.

Wheel of Time' Recap Season 1 Episode 3 — Questing Party Splits Up | TVLineThe fans are split on this one and reasonably so. The television series finished the first season in December and it consisted of 8 episodes. Those 8 episodes covered a lot of ground but changed nearly all aspects of the story aside from the characters themselves and the core story meaning the general events are in the show but the details are altered or omitted entirely which I think is what many hardcore fans dislike. I understand the issues they take with the adaptation, but I stand more in agreement with the same hardcore fans who are simply thrilled to see their favorite series on screen. Am I bothered by the many changes and implicit disregard for detail? Of course, but not to the extent that I would review-bomb the show or hope that they cancel it altogether. I think that is ridiculous. You don’t have to continue watching a show if you don’t like it, but why would you go out of your way to complain or bash a show that others do enjoy. Especially at the very beginning of the series.

I’ll admit, the changes and progression of the story did seem lacking to me, but I still want to watch it. I may be less excited to watch it, but the production is top-notch and seeing some of the cities and monsters and magic that are within this story is simply awesome.

Netflix's live-action Cowboy Bebop is canceled - The VergeFans getting upset and throwing tantrums like spoiled children is always a bad look. Which brings me to the next adaptation I want to discuss: Cowboy BebopThis series, produced by Netflix, is a live-action adaptation of an anime that first released in the 1990s. I am a fan of the original series and must admit that I loved the adaptation. Yes, the adaptation is almost entirely different from the original series, but I think it works for a variety of reasons. The first being that the original series is almost more of an anthology than a story-driven series, meaning each episode was it’s own mini-story that involved our main characters. I think the live-action kept (almost) all the characters true to their original personas. It includes a lot of similar mini-plots while alluding to others from the original series. We get more backstory on a few major characters which I liked too. The graphics were top-notch and some of the fight scenes were incredible.

However, so many so-called fans were upset and disliked the show enough that season two was cancelled. There is a petition by fans to have the second season made, and I hope it does get made. I would like to see more. One last note on this one: nearly all live-action adaptations of anime shows have been treated harshly (many for good reason), and this show may be the best live-action adaptation out there.

There are a few more adaptations that I am looking forward to or need to catch up on. For example, I need to watch season two of The Witcher and I am looking forward to watching Amazon’s new show The Rings of Power which is a Lord of the Rings show that will take place presumably well before the original story. Some “fans” have already bashed the show simply because of the title. They know nothing else about it but are already mad simply because of the title. I mean….really?

I guess my main point of this post is that there are too many people complaining about an adaptation not following the source material verbatim or that it is taking too many liberties or isn’t what they wanted and therefore are complaining like they were entitled to get their version of it. Even if it is a quality show on its own. Fandoms can be toxic and can bleed into any medium. All I’m saying is let things be, especially if other fans do enjoy the adaptations. Re-read the book or simply watch the original show again.

Every reader envisions the story, or a character, a bit differently. They make it their own. That is what is great about books. They are a personal experience. If an adaptation doesn’t live up to your specific vision or experience, then let it go and move on. Let the people who do like it enjoy it.

Ryan’s Favorite Reads of 2021

2021 has been an interesting year for reading. I have been extremely busy which cut into my reading time, but you always have to make time for the things you enjoy and which help you recharge your batteries. I can still proudly say I met and passed my goal of 50 books per year. Here are my reading highlights for this past year.

Library at Mount Char book coverThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

This one may be my favorite of the year and I definitely consider it a hidden gem. I’m just glad I jot the name down when I first heard of it. It is a difficult story to explain simply but it is a mystery riddled with science fiction and fantasy elements that leave you wondering at the true nature of the universe. I absolutely loved it.

Tokyo Ghoul Monster Edition Volume 1 CoverTokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida

I was a fan of the show and I must admit the manga series is better (as is typically the case). I say this primarily because the show deviates from or does not include some critical information that would have made it that much better. Overall, this story is one that captures my interest so much I was tempted to write a few essays about the juxtaposition of ghouls and humans living in the same world. To put this one in an easier frame of reference, I would almost name it as a modern day classic of horror in the same vein as Dracula. I’m not even a horror fan but I love this series.

The Queen's Gambit Netflix BannerThe Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

I read this one earlier this year after watching the Netflix adaptation. The show does a really great job of following the story in the book, and I greatly enjoyed the show. You can likely skip the book (sounds blasphemous, I know) if you have seen the show because it follows the story that well.

The Parable of the Sower book coverThe Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

I read this one way back at the beginning of the year. I wanted to read something by Octavia Butler and this did not disappoint. I still want to read more of her work but it will be after I get through a few other books. This one takes place during the decline of civilization, which basically on the brink of entering a post-apocalyptic territory, so it does enter some darker territory. The writing and overall story is incredible though.

MythosMythos by Stephen Fry

Greek mythology is one of–if not–the most popular of world mythologies, and Stephen Fry does an excellent job with his retelling of these myths. He takes things from the very beginning and through to the more well-known stories. He reads the audiobook version which made it even more enjoyable.

Castle in the Air Book CoverCastle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

You an never go wrong with Diana Wynne Jones. This was the companion novel to her other book Howl’s Moving Castle which is a favorite of mine, and this one (though not a sequel and barely tied to the first book) was a magical journey well worth the read.