This is about the Taiping Rebellion - how one man encountered Christianity, through a series of sickbed visions determined he was the son of God, and...moreThis is about the Taiping Rebellion - how one man encountered Christianity, through a series of sickbed visions determined he was the son of God, and gained thousands of followers and eventually controlled a large region of China.
While I was initially thrown off by Spence's use of the literary present, I eventually got into it. A lot of his focus is on Hong Xiuquan's inner circle of followers (all of whom were given majestic titles such as East King and Wing King) and the power plays between them. A primary tool used by them was claiming to be the voice of God or Jesus. I'm really fascinated by religions that see deity as something so immediate (a basic tenet of the Taiping was that God was corporeal).(less)
I enjoyed this book much more than I did the fifth book in the series, which I thought was kind of plodding at times. That said, this doesn't really c...moreI enjoyed this book much more than I did the fifth book in the series, which I thought was kind of plodding at times. That said, this doesn't really capture the magic and the detailed worldbuilding of the first few books. What I loved about those books was her blending of magic with scientific principles and the loving way she detailed ecosystems and physics and made them fascinating to a very non-science-minded reader like myself. I feel like she didn't continue with that in these latter books, focusing more on alternate worlds (something I feel like I can get in a lot of other fantasy novels).
However, I do love the way the characters have been visibly growing up throughout this series. Nita and Kit have to deal with magic and saving the world, but they also have to deal with families and death and everything that real teenagers go through, also, and I think Duane captures that perfectly.
I don't want to risk spoilers for those who haven't read this or the earlier books in the series, but this book is worth reading alone for any scene with Ponch in it.(less)
This was a real "wasted potential" book. The basic idea was really kind of cool - a dragon has been lying dormant beneath an English village for centu...moreThis was a real "wasted potential" book. The basic idea was really kind of cool - a dragon has been lying dormant beneath an English village for centuries, and periodically people will stumble close to its lair and receive the "gifts of the dragon" (the ability to see auras, pyrokinesis, flight, and telepathy, abilities which manifest themselves gradually). And now the dragon is going to be set free, which sounds very exciting.
The book suffers from so many technical problems that it's hard to enjoy it, though. He has major issues with shifting POV, the characters are 2-dimensional, and the pacing is off. Add to that the fact that there are only two female characters and they're both extremely passive, and I wasn't really a happy camper.
I would recommend picking up the Bartimaus Trilogy, but steering clear of Buried Fire. This is very much an early novel, before he and his editors really worked things out.(less)
I've really enjoyed the growth of Sam Vimes as a character throughout the City Watch books, and seeing where he is in this book is fun - still an iras...moreI've really enjoyed the growth of Sam Vimes as a character throughout the City Watch books, and seeing where he is in this book is fun - still an irascible hardass, but an irascible hardass who puts everything aside to be home at 6pm to read his son a picture book. And everything between Vimes and Vetinari was golden, as usual.
The main plot left me a little cold, as I tend to get with books that wear their themes too much on their sleeves, but there were enough one-liners and comedic moments to keep me happy.
(This review is pretty useless if you aren't already a Discworld reader - if you're not, I suggest picking up Guards, Guards!)(less)
Norwegian Wood is about a young man starting college in Tokyo in the late '60s. He falls in love with Naoko, the former girlfriend of his best friend,...moreNorwegian Wood is about a young man starting college in Tokyo in the late '60s. He falls in love with Naoko, the former girlfriend of his best friend, who had committed suicide at 17 (the friend, not Naoko). While Naoko is dealing with her extensive personal problems, he forms a friendship with a free-thinking girl named Midori.
I've been trying to figure out what I wanted to say about this book for a while now. It's my second Murakami book (the first being Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) and I had very similar reactions to both - I really enjoyed them, but have a hard time saying why.
Characters are normally what make or break a book for me, so I really shouldn't have liked this. Toru, the main character, is pretty much a non-entity to me - I feel like I know absolutely nothing about him. He's very consciously set up as a Nick Carroway (Great Gatsby) figure, and I can't stand Nick. (The boy tells me he's also a Holden Caulfield figure, and that's also explicit in the text, but I've never read Catcher in the Rye.) And at least I just don't care about Toru - with the exception of Midori, I pretty much can't stand everyone else. Naoko is so manipulative and so determined to drag everyone around her down with her, and it kills me that this never dawns on those around her.
There were also a lot of things I don't really know that I can address fully, because I don't have the cultural context. These are issues surrounding gender, sexuality, perceptions of mental illness and difference, that I can't fully engage with due to not being Japanese or having knowledge or experience regarding Japan in the 60's.
However, as I said, I did like this book a lot. Midori is funny and sweet and really every scene that had her in it was golden. The pacing was perfect - just the right amount of odd scenes interspersed with great explicative conversations. A little too much of Toru sitting around contemplating how he does the same thing all the time (which is primarily sitting around contemplating how he does the same thing all the time), but it rang true with the rest of the book's driving themes. (less)
This was a really fun, light read. The basic premise is familiar: the ex-con trying to go straight, but he ends up getting pulled back for one huge jo...moreThis was a really fun, light read. The basic premise is familiar: the ex-con trying to go straight, but he ends up getting pulled back for one huge job - in this instance, to bail out his 25-year old son who owes big money to Russian gangsters. It's a funny book, with the self-deprecating first-person narration (think Janet Evanovich) and great one-liners.
I really enjoyed the structure of the book - he alternates story chapters with ones in which the narrator educates us on classic cons and basic elements of cons, with really heavy bits of foreshadowing so we can figure out what's going on as the job develops.
Like I said, fun, light reading. The characters are enjoyable enough and it's fast-paced and I, at least, found myself constantly curious about where things were going. (The basic twists were made pretty obvious from the beginning, but there are definitely enough small twists to keep you guessing.) If you're looking for something the next time you need some airport reading, this is a good option.(less)
This is a very solid biography of Galileo, with an added focus on his relationship with his eldest daughter, who spent most of her life in a Florentin...moreThis is a very solid biography of Galileo, with an added focus on his relationship with his eldest daughter, who spent most of her life in a Florentine convent. The book is tied together with translations of her many letters to him (sadly, his letters to her have been lost - thought to have been destroyed by the Mother Superior after her death).
I really enjoyed this, both for her clear writing style, and for the focus on Suor Maria Celeste. We get the "great man" style of biography with the parts about Galileo - a really fascinating figure to me - and we also get a story about an intelligent woman in a period we don't have a lot of female biographies from. The parts about daily life in a convent were really interesting to me as a look into a historically female-run society.
The author's thesis seems to center on tearing down the popular idea of Galileo as an intellectual bad boy taking on the Catholic church head-on, submitting instead a view of him as a devout Catholic who didn't see a necessary confrontation between faith and science. This is a thesis I can totally support, but I feel like Sobel sometimes sacrifices scholarship for readability, in that a lot of her assertions aren't cited. There is an extensive bibliography in the back of the book, but that isn't necessarily helpful for the more casual reader. There were points where I wasn't sure where history ended and the author's inferences began, and some footnotes would have really served to clear that up for me.(less)
I really enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid. On rereading, I discovered that I had definitely forgotten the way Christian symbols and metaphor...moreI really enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid. On rereading, I discovered that I had definitely forgotten the way Christian symbols and metaphors kind of beat you over the head in this book. It and A Wind in the Door (which, like the other three books in this omnibus, I had never read before), could definitely benefit from some subtlety. Both books are fun, but also frustrating.
A Swiftly Tilting Planet really made up for this, though. The symbolism and overarching themes are balanced by an awesome story. I love the way the time travel elements are used, and the common threads among the generations Charles Wallace visits and their ties to mythology are handled really well. I also felt like the message of " 'gifted' people are a completely separate species from the rest of humanity and will never be accepted by 'normal' people" was tempered in this story.
When I started reading Many Waters, I had a real "what the hell" reaction when I realized what the primary story was going to be about. But I really enjoyed it. The twins are fun characters and more accessible than Meg and Charles Wallace ever are, to me at least. Her treatments of the seraphim and the nephilim really appealed to me, and I thought she dealt well with issues of puberty and sexuality here.
Overall, I really enjoyed the second two books and I really liked seeing the development of writing style and themes over the course of many books and much time.(less)
**spoiler alert** This is an immensely silly book, and I mean that in a positive way. It lacks what gravitas there was in the first book, and instead...more**spoiler alert** This is an immensely silly book, and I mean that in a positive way. It lacks what gravitas there was in the first book, and instead we get Jack sneaking out of France in a bear skin, hiding out from tax collectors on his newly commissioned chimera ship, and boarding ships while his own ship is beached. My only complaint is the storyline that involves Jack and Stephen passive aggressively fighting over the same woman - it just shouldn't have happened.(less)
I don't know if it's me or Juliet Marillier who had changed. Either way, I was really disappointed in this book, the sequel to The Dark Mirror, which...moreI don't know if it's me or Juliet Marillier who had changed. Either way, I was really disappointed in this book, the sequel to The Dark Mirror, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The narrative was completely weighed down by melodrama and clunky exposition.(less)
Ellroy's a fair stylist, but this book left a lot to be desired. I felt like there was too much of a confluence between the characters' issues and the...moreEllroy's a fair stylist, but this book left a lot to be desired. I felt like there was too much of a confluence between the characters' issues and the author's - and that was before reading the afterword in which Ellroy details his issues.(less)
I read this to improve my Italian, and would recommend it to anyone hoping to do the same. I really liked this edition of it because Perella's notes r...moreI read this to improve my Italian, and would recommend it to anyone hoping to do the same. I really liked this edition of it because Perella's notes really helped with some of the wacky 19th century Florentine.
Aside from just helping in my language learning, this was really fun. Collodi's book is satirical and kooky in ways I never would have imagined from latter-day adaptations of it.
I haven't read Perella's translation (printed side-by-side with the Italian) but I did consult it on occasion and it seems to be solid. He seems to really get how funny Collodi is and tries to convey that. Oh, the other great thing about this edition is that all of the first edition illustrations are included throughout the text, and there is an appendix with some later illustrations too. That was a really nice touch.(less)
I really enjoyed this - it's equally about the history of the first three U.S. presidential assassinations (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and about...moreI really enjoyed this - it's equally about the history of the first three U.S. presidential assassinations (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and about Vowell's obsession with those assassinations and the phenomenon of historical tourism. She manages to make the presidents and their assassins into interesting, sometimes charming, characters and the whole book is funny, if you like Vowell's brand of humor (I do).
Her approach to this book is very much about making connections - between the three events in question and between the assassinations and her own experiences and surroundings. This is often a style that works for me, but these connections sometimes feel forced. On the whole, though, she pulls it off.
What most surprised me was that the Garfield section was my favorite. Vowell made the convoluted party controversies surrounding his presidential nomination interesting and coherent, and Garfield himself came across as sort of a darling. He's not a historical figure we learn much about in our high school history courses, and I was glad to read more about him.
Vowell's overwhelming reverence for Lincoln irritates me at times, but I was expecting that after Partly Cloudy Patriot.(less)
This book was really fun and refreshing after the previous two. Other planets, a return to previously explored locations, new fun characters. If this...moreThis book was really fun and refreshing after the previous two. Other planets, a return to previously explored locations, new fun characters. If this had been entirely about Dairine and her kooky alien friends, I would have rated it higher. Sadly, Nita and Kit's vacation in paradise was pretty boring to me.
But there should be rules about ending on big cliffhangers! As in, people either shouldn't do it, or there should be a warning about it beforehand. (i.e. "Reader beware! You will feel all anxious and twitchy if you finish this book and are not immediately able to start the next one." Then I would have been better prepared.)(less)
**spoiler alert** This book was really solid most of the way through - a story about a high school kid with a dream to become a hard-hitting journalis...more**spoiler alert** This book was really solid most of the way through - a story about a high school kid with a dream to become a hard-hitting journalist, who has his dreams crushed and his self-image distorted when confronted with reality. And all written in the great style of Rob Thomas, the creator of Veronica Mars.
I really enjoyed most of it - I liked the main character for some reason, even though he behaved like a selfish ass for most of the book. Also, I'm among the ideal target audience now, as the cultural references are pretty dated, but they are dated from the period when I was in high school, so it worked for me.
However, the book kind of loses direction really badly. It's like Rob Thomas wanted to write two books - one with the plot summary I gave above, and one about an American kid's adventures in Ireland, and he just decided to slap them together. Really sloppily. And I don't mind the fact that it has an ambiguous ending; in fact I'm all for a book in which the cocky teenager learns that he's not quite as smart as he thinks he is, and that the world kind of sucks sometimes. But if we could have come to that conclusion without the weirdly condensed separate novel that is the last 50 pages, that would have been great.(less)
I very much loved the beginning of this book - Duane brings in a lot of half-forgotten characters and places and dropped plot threads and tries to giv...moreI very much loved the beginning of this book - Duane brings in a lot of half-forgotten characters and places and dropped plot threads and tries to give a cohesive picture of the wizarding world and I'm a real sucker for that sort of thing. Over all, this is, for me, the best of the books since book 3.
There are still some serious issues with pacing and the pseudo-Biblical parallels get kind of weird in parts. But I really liked how much this book felt like a change of pace - the books previous have all felt like small-scale personal struggles for the characters, whereas this story was on a much larger scale.
Oh, and near the end of this book we finally get to figure out what the deal with Ponch is, and the payoff is awesome.(less)