I picked up Ms. Tuchman's classic account of the first month of World War I because I have an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the Great War. I co...moreI picked up Ms. Tuchman's classic account of the first month of World War I because I have an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the Great War. I consider myself to be a student of history, but I've never really made an effort to learn about the conflict that was both the culmination of so many important historical trends and the seed of the Second World War and the shape of the world since.
When I was looking for a good place to start my exploration of WWI, The Guns of August kept popping up. I'm a fan of accessible military histories (McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom is one of my favorite books, fiction or non-fiction), and Tuchman's opus certainly lived up to its hype. While I did get a little lost in the middle of some of the battles (I don't have a knack for keeping good track of corps and divisions in my head), Tuchman's strength was her ability to humanize the generals and other players on both sides of the conflict. I was able to understand at least part of the why of WWI: why did these individuals make the fateful decisions that would lead to the decimation of an entire generation of Europe's manhood?
The next book I'm going to read is A World Undone by G.J. Meyer; it's supposed to be a popular history of the War written by a former journalist. While I'm looking forward to a more big-picture overview of the period, Tuchman's work succeeded in painting an intimate portrait of the individuals and scenes that defined the descent of the great powers into the trenches.(less)
I hadn't heard of Stephen White until recently, when his name came up in a Denver Post story. I was intrigued by the promise of an accurate depiction...moreI hadn't heard of Stephen White until recently, when his name came up in a Denver Post story. I was intrigued by the promise of an accurate depiction of the story's Colorado setting, and I wasn't disappointed in that aspect. White is a native Boulderite who knows his town and state well, and it's rare to find fiction set in Colorado that's this accurate (the domed football stadium in Clancy's The Sum of All Fears comes to mind).
Unfortunately, the novelty of reading a story set near my home was the most rewarding thing about Privileged Information for me. I'm aware that this is only the first of White's novels starring Alan Gregory, a dashing, crime fighting psychotherapist (talk about projection), but I found Gregory and the cast of supporting characters to be cliched, and I don't know whether it's just White working the kinks out or if the characters really aren't that interesting.
Gregory in particular was a hard character to identify with and have much empathy for. He's having a rough time and "taking a stand" for his patients' privacy, but his long speeches about psychotherapy and ethics (especially the one at the novel's climax) are tiresome and come across as smug and egotistical. In fact, most of the characters in this book come across as pretty self-absorbed, both the good guys and the bad guys. Maybe that's inevitable in a psychotherapy thriller, but I had a hard time caring about it all.
Unfortunately, I'll probably skip the rest of the Alan Gregory novels. While I admire (and somewhat envy) Stephen White's success as a former Colorado native professional-turned full-time novelist, his stuff's just not for me.(less)
Asimov's first book in his acclaimed Foundation trilogy is probably the most challenging to stick with and appreciate. My rating is probably skewed to...moreAsimov's first book in his acclaimed Foundation trilogy is probably the most challenging to stick with and appreciate. My rating is probably skewed to some extent by my inaccurate expectations about the book - I did not know prior to reading it that Foundation was a collection of five short stories spread out over some two-hundred years.
Even when I realized that this was the method Asimov would use to unfold his story, I felt that the first book suffered from this format more than the later two would. As a collection of loosely connected short stories, the book would have been an entertaining read, but as the first volume of an epic science fiction trilogy it's a little thin.
The main character in the series is Hari Seldon, the "psychohistorian" who predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire and put the pieces in place for the rise of a new Empire after 1,000 years. Seldon is presented in this first novel as a founding father figure, but his character is not very well developed. The other characters that appear in each story are even less fully fleshed out, which is disappointing since the potential for deeper character development is definitely there.
Foundation may suffer from its format, but it does a good job of setting up the premise for the series. After reading the first volume, it's hard not to be curious enough about the future of the "Seldon Plan" to dive right into the next volume.(less)
As many other reviewers have said, this book is a departure in style from the earlier books in the series. While I had sympathy for many of the main c...moreAs many other reviewers have said, this book is a departure in style from the earlier books in the series. While I had sympathy for many of the main characters in the book, I found the esoteric philosophical dialogue (which dominates most of the book) tedious and too often impenetrable. I got bogged down trying to understand Herbert's musings, some of which I think may not be understandable.
Aside from the well-drawn characters, I was interested by some of the big themes Herbert explores, but the highlights were overshadowed by the mind-numbing abstract philosophy that made up the bulk of this book.(less)
A few years ago, I was introduced to Orson Scott Card through his Ender's Game series. I thought the first book in the Ender series was as fine a piec...moreA few years ago, I was introduced to Orson Scott Card through his Ender's Game series. I thought the first book in the Ender series was as fine a piece of storytelling as I'd ever read. The subsequent three books were also quite good, but I thought Card's style tended to be too wordy as the series went on. Enchanted was a great story, but Card's penchant for wordiness got in the way of the story a little too often for me.
Enchanted is the story of a young man who, at a young age, happens upon a vision of a real-life Sleeping Beauty in an ancient Ukranian forest. The vision haunts him until he is compelled to return to that spot fifteen years later, when he discovers that the vision is reality. In the familiar Western fairy tale, the story ends when the protagonist kisses the princess and asks her to marry him, but that only occurs in the first tenth or so of this book. The rest of the story tells what happens after the princess is rescued and the heroes battle the evil witch Baba Yaga across space and ten centuries of time. As it turns out, being thrust into the politics of a medieval royal family and its struggles against a malevolent being is gritty business. I am no expert on medieval Slavic culture, but Card's depiction of Katerina's life and village seemed authentic to me. The story is a great exploration of what living in a fairy tale might really be like.
Card's characters are believable and likable, and mature and develop nicely through the story. Even Baba Yaga, the power-hungry villain, is portrayed with complexity and wit. However, the characters' penchant for rambling on to themselves for paragraphs at a time became tiresome. I appreciate Card's attempt to subtly work his worldview (with which I largely agree) into the story, but there were times when it seemed like the burden fell too heavily on the story's characters. A bit more skillful editing, it seems to me, could have tightened up those self-reflecting moments in the story without sacrificing the points Card was trying to make.
Enchanted is an entertaining and quick read that fits somewhere between the fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction genres. I like Card's storytelling ability and I plan to read more of his stories, but there was too much philosophical flab in Enchanted for my taste.(less)