**spoiler alert** A brilliant conception for a story is diminished by amateur prose, poor logic and internal consistency, lack of exploration of the d**spoiler alert** A brilliant conception for a story is diminished by amateur prose, poor logic and internal consistency, lack of exploration of the deep philosophical vistas the writer apparently accidently opens, and a failure to recognize what constitutes the central conflicts and story arcs of the story. Hint to the author: this isn't a story about killing a monster. The difference between this being a fun book, and something like The Hobbit, is Tolkien knew that slaying the dragon was only tangential to the story's real emotional arc. From the perspective of what the story is actually about, killing the monster is a necessary act for Jacob, only because it represents him coming into the maturity he needs to be able to resolve the stories major conflicts.
A major problem for me with the book, is that the writing is on a 5th grade level and the characters act and think much like young children. Yet, to go with this cluelessness we have a book that is filled with harsh and crude language. This makes it very hard to decide who the story is pitched at. I've tagged this book 'young-adult', but the truth is that it's really a children's book with a bunch of profanity thrown in to give it a sort of superficial maturity. The book is probably best enjoyed by 5th or 6th graders, as they will overlook the protagonists exceedingly slow grasp of the situation and the excess of telling and not showing, the lack of emotional maturity, or philosophical depth. But at the same time, the brutal language and occasional graphic gore demands an older reader, capable of filtering and testing what they read. So this is a book for precocious 10 year olds, or intellectually stunted adults? I'm not entirely sure. Suffice to say that I was left wanting a lot more, and at the same time left wanting a more sensitively told story if this was to be children's literature.
By wanting more I mean the major emotional arcs of the transfer of Emma's love from Abraham to Jacob, surely a serious subject, is brought up in full seriousness, but then ignored. The rift between Jacob and Abraham, and between Jacob and his father, and between his father and his grandfather, is never really healed satisfactorily. Bronwyn's attachment to her brother is given more closure than anything that the major protagonist of the story is involved in, and even that isn't given enough time - being mentioned only as a sort of coda without dialogue.
It's a first novel, and it shows. The book is filled with little lost opportunities to tie threads together or give greater meaning to earlier scenes, or simply make a scene actually work logically and visually. Why spend a lengthy scene taking photographs of Emma on your phone, only to ignore that later on when the question of evidence becomes of paramount importance to the story? Either the story needs to be pared down, or some more serious adult conversations need to occur. And again, to contrast with Tolkien, why spend so much time killing monsters on stage, and then relegate the far more important and emotionally impactful story of resolving the fissure between father and son to off screen events? And for that matter, how did the 'breathing tube' work? Why don't Jacob and Abraham meet, both leaving the loop on the morning of September 4, 1940? Why do the villagers not remember the children escaping, given that they never really seek to hide their departure the way the internal logic of the story demands? How many children are there: a great many, as implied by pictures in the photo album and the descriptions of the school when Jacob finds it, or just ten, as is stated at the end of the story when he leaves it?
I enjoyed the story, and I'll likely read the next one, but given the high conception of the story, I've rarely read a novel more in need and more obviously in need of having passed through the hands of an experienced author or editor, before being returned to the new author for a final revision. ...more
I'm the arrogant sort of person who when I rate a book think that there is some objective element to my rating, and that I'm not merely rating how mucI'm the arrogant sort of person who when I rate a book think that there is some objective element to my rating, and that I'm not merely rating how much I personally enjoyed the book, but also on some level how worthy the book is of enjoyment and how much quality was exercised in the crafting of the book from the level of the individual sentence on up to its grand conceptions and story arc. You might say that in rating a book, my expectation is that everyone else will enjoy the book to within +/- a star of what I rated it, depending on how much the material personally appealed to you and how much - for whatever reasons - you were willing to overlook the books evident flaws. Otherwise, if I did not in fact believe this, whatever would be the reason for rating a book, for if my rating was wholly subjective it would do you no good whatsoever.
Mary Roach's book "Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War" and similar books challenge those presumptions somewhat, in that I don't think a simple one dimensional rating system can in this case predict how much the book will be enjoyed. While for me the book was largely, "Meh" and parts of it were grating, that's because the book is pitched at a target audience that just falls outside of anything that would be a sweet spot for me.
What's Roach is writing is essentially a primer on basic science and engineering, organized around one of the most interesting fields of basic research in the world today - America's high tech war machine. In an academic world too often focused more on publishing results than doing good work, much less doing anything hard and then managing to repeat it, the Defense Department could care less about how much you publish or where you publish, just so long as you give them tangible solutions. It's research wing DARPA is continually at the forefront of progress. Yet for all this, it's also not just interested in fighting the next war, but also the next and the next, and so very interested in the basic research that may lead to great advances way down the line.
Roach approaches this material from a welcome angle, of looking at the less glamorous less macho programs that aim not to create better means of killing people, but rather solve other equally important basic problems of being human in a battlefield environment. For most of human history, man versus nature was still more lethal and more important on a battlefield than the other tribe with its weapons trying to kill you. Infection, disease, starvation, and exposure to the environment killed more men on most military campaigns than the battles did. Roach puts a lens on the modern Defense department's continuing research into keeping soldiers physically and mentally fit during the hardships and horrors of war, and she does so with a self-deprecating, rapier wit and an outsider's eye for the unusual, the bizarre, and details others might miss.
It could be the making of a book I really enjoy, but the basic problem here is - I already know most of the stuff she covers. For me, the book would have been more interesting had it been taken in one of two directions. Either it would have been more enjoyable for me to focus less on the science, and more on the persons involved in the science and the interesting characters she discovers along the way and the anecdotes about them. This is information I don't have, and some of the biographies she uncovers are interesting in their own right - but she doesn't ever go into these people in any great depth, relying instead on deft caricature to set the stage like a comic book artist or a good Game Master. On the other hand, when she delves into the actual science and engineering, I occasionally discovered something I didn't know before, but then all too quickly she was plowing on to some other topic or providing some basic exposition of another fundamental aspect of the science or engineering problem being discussed. As a result, she never actually went into any one subject with the depth I would have liked.
And all this time she's trying to be a comedian as well, with varying degree of success. Personally, as a near autistic, many of her wry asides just struck me as being mean spirited. She had enough empathy for her audience that I didn't feel like she was treating the reader to a tour through a carnival freak show - "Come see the geeks" - but at times I did feel like she felt her desired audience wouldn't understand her empathy, and she still needed to convince them that she wasn't one of the nerds and that she certainly didn't approve of this whole military thing so that she'll still get invited to parties with the right sort of people in SF. That is to say, some of the humor seemed a bit jarring and out of place, like she was two people - one admiring interviewer and the other hidden one that was laughing at who she was interviewing -and she was better when her asides and jokes were humble.
In short, I'm convinced that for the right sort of person who has never even thought of these sort of things, and who enjoys science even if they don't practice it themselves, or has a narrow field of view and hasn't looked much at the big picture this is a five star book. Mrs. Roach has in effect here done admirable journalism and investigation, and turned obscure but important areas of endeavor into a readable funny work suitable for wide consumption. Despite the three stars, I strongly recommend this book to anyone who doesn't have any interest in the military, or whose interest in either science or the military has been at most casual....more
More of the same, which, isn't as charming the second time through.
In particular, if you are going to write a series, something about your story needsMore of the same, which, isn't as charming the second time through.
In particular, if you are going to write a series, something about your story needs to progress. Either your characters and themes need to grow, or else the scenery needs to change in interesting ways. Too much of this story was a retread of where we were in the previous story. Obviously, a story of this sort doesn't need to be realistic, but it ought to be self-consistent. Sophronia's school girl hijinks seem fairly lame considering the scale and scope of her enemies, and the light hearted innocence is increasingly at odds with the darkness and seriousness of the setting. The ending was disappointing. You don't set up the bad guys as 20th level, then expect the reader to believe the third level kids are outwitting them in ways than seem better suited to Looney Tunes.
Overall, there seems to be too much reluctance to deal with the fact that these little girls are training to be assassins in a setting which plays for keeps, except, apparently, with regards to meddlesome kids. Either stop fussing around with adult themes of murder and the like, or let Sophronia get enough blood on her hands that the reader - and the other characters - are justified in taking her seriously....more
Cleverly done droll absurdities, the occasional witty rapport or retort, lively pacing, and a clear understanding of the needs of a story make up forCleverly done droll absurdities, the occasional witty rapport or retort, lively pacing, and a clear understanding of the needs of a story make up for the stories predictable plot, stock characters, and ambitions as heavy as a meringue pie and as serious as the pie gags that frame the story. ...more
This was left on the kitchen table with a note that read, "A book for Daddy to read", along with a big red heart.
How could you refuse that?
In a nutsheThis was left on the kitchen table with a note that read, "A book for Daddy to read", along with a big red heart.
How could you refuse that?
In a nutshell, it's Stephen King for 5th graders. My rating is probably unfair, given that I'm not really the target audience. Clearly my own 5th grader liked it well enough.
But then again, I'm rarely sure what the target audience for Stephen King is, since he usually reads like "Horror for junior high kids, plus graphic adult themes." Which may explain why I find King at his best is King writing shorter stories for his own children. Still, Stephen at his best is disturbing and this is fairly disturbing, and if your 4th or 5th grader is the sensitive imaginative sort, this might be a bit too disturbing to them.
However, I for one approve of children slaying monsters, and of the horrid plans of the villain being thwarted by bravery and grit, so I wasn't too disturbed to find my kid had developed a taste for ghastly stuff....more