Much-anticipated “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” by Paolini is Rather Plain – Partial Review

Early pages of derivative plot forego author’s penchant for character in effort to set up something bigger

Growing up almost as much a fan of Christopher Paolini’s first novel Eragon as I was of Harry Potter, his long-gestating sci-fi project, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars (TSIASOS), was destined to join my to-read pile. img_20200610_234000As part of a Shelf Awareness promotion I was afforded the opportunity to read a partial galley of Paolini’s new book ahead of its wide release date on September 15, 2020. I was giddy with excitement, especially considering that the full novel is listed at nearly 900 pages on Amazon. For weeks I contemplated how much of the story I would get to read before anyone else.

Come to find, the partial galley I received was only 157 pages of the finished manuscript, which was just enough to meet the protagonist of TSIASOS, Kira Návarez, and witness the initial days following her first contact with an alien species.

You see, Kira is a xenobiologist working for one of Earth’s colonization corporations. Her job is to get shipped out among the stars to identify, catalog, and prepare new worlds for the human species. She finds it rewarding, if tedious, but she’s also willing to leave her job behind if it means setting down some roots. That is until the last day of her mission on the planet Adrasteia when a biological anomaly on the planet’s surface requires her to make an investigative trip. At the site of the anomaly she finds an alien relic and, more importantly, an alien.

Cue quarantine.

Sadly, Paolini doesn’t seem to tread any new sci-fi ground in the early pages of his newest novel. The plot of every first contact film and book plays out as Kira is put into isolation. The isolation methods weren’t perfect because of extenuating circumstances (which also happens to be the literal name of one of the interplanetary ships), so further complications arise and Kira is subjected to tests and study, during which time she realizes that her contact with the alien (forthwith called “xeno”) has affected her in surprising ways.

The saving grace behind Paolini’s rehashing of existing tropes is that he resolves the isolation, tests, and fear of the xeno fairly quickly so that he can introduce the reader to the greater story: one that involves the threat of another, far more advanced alien species known only as “graspers” and their strange connection to the xeno Kira encountered on Adra.

However, while speed helps to move past cliched plot points, it also results in an unfavorable number of stilted dialogue moments and exposition dumps, which is highly uncharacteristic of Paolini’s writing. Throughout his Inheritance Cycle, one can actually read Paolini mature as a writer (the first entry came out when he was 18, and the last when he was 27). Across his first four novels he develops an innate aptitude for knowing when to “show” something to his readers instead of “tell” them about it. His characters from Eragon had tangible personalities and shared witty, uncertain, or humorous conversations, supplemented by thoroughly described, evocative settings. The characters of Kira and her colleagues in TSIASOS are flat. Even when they show emotion, the reactions at best lack nuance or at worst seem to be almost entirely nonsensical. The setting descriptions of TSIASOS sometimes retain the flair of Eragon—for example, an early description of Adra and its massive gas giant neighbor—but for the most part descriptions are rushed and barely sufficient to orient the reader. This is especially true when discussing the technologies of Kira’s reality. Acronyms like “FTL” (faster than light) and terms like “Markov drive” (a type of faster than light engine) are important to the plot, but they come without definition and sometimes without context. Whether this lack of immersive writing is a product of Paolini trying to tell the story similar to how a scientist might observe events or whether it’s a necessity due to the length of the novel has yet to be seen.

So much still needs consideration because, again, the partial galley only included 157 pages. Perhaps it’s unfair to weigh TSIASOS against the Eragon books, especially when I’ve only read a fraction of the former. Eragon was a story played out over four novels, right? And it was fantasy, not sci-fi.

Yet, even as I contemplate whether the two should be compared due to differences in form and genre, I’m struck by their similarities in structure. Both begin with a young protagonist who discovers a unique and powerful object: Eragon discovers a dragon egg and Kira discovers an alien relic/xeno. That powerful object results in a loss—that I won’t spoil here for either book—, followed by the realization that strange and powerful beings seek the powerful object. I find these parallels in plot points to be rather discouraging.

I certainly won’t make my final verdict on To Sleep in a Sea of Stars just yet. There is still plenty more to read of Kira Návarez when her full story is released in September. For now I will continue to wait and wonder whether or not Christopher Paolini turns out to be a one-trick pony.

*I did not receive compensation or promotion in exchange for this review.


Redundant Middle and Far-Fetched Ending Make “The Breakdown” Disappointing Thriller

B.A. Paris writes her second novel with means and motive in mind, but gives little thought to proper characterization

Considered to be “One of the Most Anticipated Thriller Novels of 2017” by Bustle, the second novel from bestselling author B.A. Paris was a tough one for me to read.

The BreakdownThe Breakdown opens on Cass Anderson, a schoolteacher who lives in a small hamlet near the wood, on a stormy night as she’s driving home. She takes the shortcut home through the wood despite promising her husband Matthew that she wouldn’t, but she soon realizes how lucky she was to not have crashed in the treacherous conditions. Someone smarter than her had pulled over in a layby to await help or wait out the storm. It isn’t until the next day Cass hears on the news that the car she’d seen had been driven by her new friend Jane – and that the woman had been murdered.

Cass feels incredible guilt at not having stopped to help Jane because then she’d still be alive. Or perhaps, she wonders, would the killer have gotten them both?

It’s this horrible thought that makes Cass grow anxious and suspicious of everything around her. Her anxiety leads to stress, which leads to forgetfulness. Or is the forgetfulness actually the result of early-onset dementia, just like her mother? She can’t tell her husband because she’d promised him she wouldn’t take the shortcut home and she’d never told him about her family history of dementia. So she must figure it out alone if she’s in danger. The only problem is she might not even be able to trust herself.

It sounds interesting, but I’m sorry to say it’s not.

The first twenty pages offer a premise that quickly outstays its welcome. By page fifty I felt like I was being beaten over the head with the same three things: a woman was murdered, Cass feels guilty and anxious, Cass is having increasing lapses in memory. B.A. Paris wants the reader to know that something is very wrong, but once the answer of “early-onset dementia” (EOD) is presented, I literally scoffed.

The memory alone might have suggested EOD, but coupled with the anxiety and paranoia Cass begins exhibiting in regards to the murder I started guessing schizophrenia. In fact, the idea of debilitating mental illness had become so engrained in my mind—thanks to the incessant reminders provided by the author—that after the first hundred pages I half expected the murderer to be Cass.

And then everything about the murder stops. The focus of the novel narrows to Cass and the apparent decline of her mind. The silent calls continue, but Cass stops referencing back to the murder. Her desire to see the killer caught evaporates. Every situation from page 100 forward is meant to detract from the reliability of our narrator. It’s effective, but once again so infuriatingly redundant and not at all what I expect in a thriller.

When the twist finally came—in glorious deus ex machina fashion—I craved the excitement promised by a “psychological thriller” so much that I stayed up reading into the early morning. I tore through the end of the book that had taken me over a month to get even halfway through, and then I set aside the book and got angry. Of course, I can’t tell you why without spoiling the story, but suffice to say that even though everything is laid out and explained, the reader had no chance of figuring out the far-fetched ending.

Half the fun of thrillers and mysteries is the process of putting the clues together for yourself, but only knowing the truth when the protagonist does, or beating yourself up for not having seen it sooner. I reacted by wanting to beat up B.A. Paris for making it impossible. She had the means and motive developed, but the characterization was absent. There were no early hidden hints of whom it might be, only the verdict in the final pages.

Thankfully The Breakdown is easy summer fare. The prose is fluid enough, even if the characters weren’t. Most of the time I felt like I was reading template characters, albeit with only mildly cliché dialogue. It could easily be devoured over the course of a weekend vacation.

But why would you want to?

Books, D&D Podcast, Film

A Week of (Relative) Rest in Lieu of “Atomic Blonde”

Film Score: TBD

I’d originally planned on posting a review of Atomic Blonde this week, but I decided to take some time off from film to work on other projects instead. So if you see Charlize Theron kicking butt this weekend — or if you want to comment on any other movies — leave a message in the comments below!

Atomic Blonde

If you’d like to hear about some of the other projects/thoughts on my plate, continue reading. In addition to some things I’m hoping I’ll get to share with you soon, I’ve got a big announcement that I’m very excited about.

Upcoming Book Reviews

For a blog that touts its film AND book reviews, it’s been sorely lacking in book reviews. I’d mentioned last week that I don’t give my reviewed books a rating because I become invested in them — both bad and good.

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris is one of those less than stellar books in which I’ve invested a significant amount of time. I started it almost 2 months ago as an Advanced Reader Copy, and though the prose is easy enough to read, the premise got worn out so quickly that I dreaded sitting down to read it. So the days have stretched on, and still I haven’t finished it. Even though I want to finish it, if only so I can give a thorough review. So expect One of the Most Highly Anticipated Thriller Novels of 2017 by Bustle” to be my next review.

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein will be after that. I got my Advance Reader Copy a little late (two days after public release), but ever since I heard about this sci-fi novel set in 2147, where teleportation is a common means of travel, I’ve been eagerly anticipating its release. It might just be enough to help me finish The Breakdown.

“Art” You Not Entertained?

I also spent a little time earlier this week revisiting my art skills. Every week I get together with some friends of mine to play Dungeons & Dragons 5e, but one of our group was called up for military tour with the Army. He was always the one making sure we were going to meet each week and he really enjoyed playing.

Yesterday was his birthday, and though we couldn’t celebrate with him, we made him a care package and each member of the D&D group tossed in a card. I wanted to give him something special, so I drew his RPG character.

Tim the Enchanter.png

Tim the Enchanter is a tiefling wizard inspired by the character of the same name from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I couldn’t remember all the details of my buddy’s D&D version, but I thought I’d make him happy-go-lucky with sparklers instead of a fireball for a Dungeons & Dragons-themed birthday card.

Which I think fits with our group as a whole. As I say, my friends and I get together every week to play Dungeons & Dragons. We’ve been doing it for over a year now and we have so much fun playing that sometimes we wind up doubled over from laughter. More than once we’ve considered recording ourselves just so we can have it to playback our nonsense.

But we’ve decided to take it one step further…

Which Brings us to the BIG Announcement…

My D&D group will soon be launching a Live Play 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Podcast!

PHB Podcast Logo

I’ve really come to enjoy podcasts as a medium over the past few years with shows like The Joe Rogan Experience or The Dollop. But when my group and I found out there was a market for D&D, we decided to try our hand at our own brand of podcasting.

We’re still testing the waters and figuring out what works/what doesn’t. So we’re recording test episodes as we finish up our current campaign. Look for those to be posted once a week starting next Tuesday!

Again, we’re still testing the waters. Please give us feedback so that when we officially launch, the ball will already be rolling.

TL;DR – I’ve got The Breakdown and The Punch Escrow book reviews coming soon, I drew a tiefling for my Army buddy, and my D&D group is launching a podcast!

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the weekend.

Books, Film, Uncategorized

How to Use My Reviews

Happy Monday!

I know I didn’t post a review this past week, and even though that might have been a bummer for everyone, I thought it might be better to write a post explaining how (and why) I rate the way I do.

After five films reviewed, I figured posting a scale would help readers understand my review at a glance:

10 –  So good I’ll be paying to see it in theater twice.
  9 –  Definitely something you should watch in theater.
  8 –  Highly recommend it, but if you miss it in theater not a big deal.
  7 –  I recommend it, but wait to catch this on home video.
  6 –  If it’s on TV or Netflix, it’s not a total waste of time.
  5 –  If you never see it, you won’t be missing out.
  4 –  Not worth your time.
  3 –  Not worth my time.
  2 –  Why was this movie made?
  1 –  I’ll be suing for my money back.

And for those of you who followed me hoping to read more book reviews and wondering what my scale is for those…

I don’t have one.

I spent a full day trying to think of a good way to structure a rating system for books and came to the conclusion it’s better not to have one. When I watch film, I either like it or I don’t. There are very few instances where I dislike a film but appreciate the art behind it (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one).

With literature, I can easily think of a dozen books that I did not enjoy reading but still appreciated the author’s style or tone or character development. I don’t have the same level of objectiveness for novels as I do for film. It takes me two hours to consume a movie. It takes me two weeks to properly absorb a book for critique. I become invested in what I’m reading. The best I can do is write out my thoughts and let others decide if the book will be worth their time.

So whether you’re looking for film or book reviews, I hope this post helps you to understand my process a bit. Thank you to all of my readers and followers. Your feedback and comments are always welcome and they certainly make my work feel meaningful.


Have a good week everyone!


Underwhelming “Rebirth” is Poor Paulo Coehlo Imitation

Kamal Ravikant preaches lofty ideals, but his writing stunts message

Even though it’s typically not my literary genre of choice, I was excited to receive an ARC of Rebirth: A Fable of Love, Forgiveness, and Following Your Heart by Kamal Ravikant. Having been likened to Paulo Coehlo, of whom I am a fan, I thought I’d enjoy the novel. I kept it in a prominent place on my bookshelf for three months before I could finally sit down with it.


Just like my expectations, the prologue held plenty of promise. I thought I’d found a kindred spirit in the main character of Amit, a twenty-something med student unsure of his life’s path and taken with wanderlust. I could feel the distant uncertainty of how to react as Amit scattered his estranged father’s ashes into the Ganges. And I understood, in the absence of any other purpose, the inevitability of following an Italian tourist’s suggestion to hike the Camino de Santiago because “everyone finds themselves on the Camino.” A 550-mile pilgrimage across Spain would certainly offer plenty of time to examine one’s flaws and correct them. Unfortunately for Rebirth, the pilgrimage also lays bare all its flaws.

Unlike Coehlo, whose novels Rebith is likened to, Ravikant does not have the ability to produce a fable. During the fourth day on the trail, Amit narrates, “I feel like Don Quixote, sans Sancho, horse, or lance.” It’s exactly how Ravikant’s novel reads: like Don Quixote reaching for his lofty idealism minus the tools that even allow him the opportunity. The prose has no nuance—the prologue’s narration I’d interpreted as distant uncertainty turns out to actually just be status quo. The dialogue is stilted and unnatural. All conflict, even the core conflict of Amit’s father dying, is glossed over so that nothing resonates. It’s just not possible to write a “timeless” fable if all the pieces don’t fit.

Still, Ravikant tries. To his credit, he understands that the relationships Amit forms on the Camino are the most important part of the story. He gives us Loïc, a friendly Frenchman, who describes the “magic, mon ami” of jumping without knowing because “then your wings grow.” There is also Kat, whose stories and soft, albeit talkative, presence are the best elements of the novel. She teaches Amit how to answer the question of “what next?” after sprouting wings, because it’s not just about staying alive, but about living.

However, even though each pilgrim’s story relates to Amit, Ravikant never takes the time to give the reader proper insight into Amit’s processing of the information. He should be the story’s grounding, allowing readers to see themselves in him. Instead, each new pilgrim’s story reads less like a confluence of ideas and more like a series of parables. Couple that with how every pilgrim seems to speak only in inspirational quotes, and suddenly Rebirth feels more like a sermon than a novel. It lacks subtlety, tediously contemplating symbols that don’t matter (i.e. a lonely ham leg) and shamelessly promoting anything that was originally clever (i.e. the presence of wind during Amit’s revelations). There’s no room left for the reader’s interpretation.

I had wanted this book to be better. I was able to find, perhaps in desperation, a few gems such as Kat hidden in its pages and an overall message of loving life and one another that I can support, but they weren’t enough to salvage a story that was a poor attempt to imitate Paulo Coehlo’s fables and, at best, an underwhelming novel.