I almost gave up on this book when I realized that there was (view spoiler)[magic (hide spoiler)]. It seemed like cheating -- I loved Broken Harbor foI almost gave up on this book when I realized that there was (view spoiler)[magic (hide spoiler)]. It seemed like cheating -- I loved Broken Harbor for its grittiness and realness and I was worried that would be lost in The Secret Place. But it turned out that for me, the key to really getting Tana French books was embracing the magical realism here. The mental gymnastics I had to do to reach a place where magical realism was okay for me in her books led me to realize that there's a flavor of magical realism in all her books. Not literally, of course, but her books are to traditional murder mysteries the way that magical realism is to traditional fantasy: they aren't about murder, they use crimes as a lens to reflect upon the traits in real life that are difficult to explore in pure "literary" fiction.
And in that context, French is a genius. The Secret Place uses its central mystery to explore the tight friendships of teenage years, and how empowering and close they can be. The four main characters are depicted perfectly, achingly nuanced -- almost like someone that I've known and drifted away from myself. The overall effect was one of extreme, almost overwhelming nostalgia, so much so that the ["br"]>["br"]>...more
I thought this book was going to be dull; the premise, as billed certainly didn't seem that original: a woman alleges a horrible crime. Is she crazy oI thought this book was going to be dull; the premise, as billed certainly didn't seem that original: a woman alleges a horrible crime. Is she crazy or is it a coverup? Probably one of the most cliche plots. In addition, I tend to avoid literary depictions of "crazy" that don't resemble reality -- for example, highly organized improbable thoughts, being presented calmly and rationally. (I'm biting back a long digression here about the history of psychiatry as a tool to discredit women. By the way, the most coherent psychotic episode I've ever witnessed included a patient telling us how groundhogs were equipped with satellites to spy on her -- they're very rarely calm, realistic and difficult to dissect from reality.) But the Farm, while it skirts that cliched territory, avoids it, rather being something much deeper about people, and their relationships to each other.
I first got drawn in in the first chapter. The (ostensible) narrator, Daniel, notes that he hasn't told his parents that he's gay, even though he considers himself close to them, because they tried so hard to create a happy childhood for them and he doesn't want them to doubt that he was happy. This paragraph, a virtual aside, I found so twisted, so illogical and so compelling that I had to read further to find out if it was intentional. The answer is unequivocally yes: this is the world Smith has created for Daniel. A world where people keep relatively benign, mundane secrets from each other for no good reason, except the desire to keep a completely perfect facade. This is one example of money that will come forth in the book and Smith makes it quite clear: the premise of the book -- where either Daniel's mother has either been completely psychotic for about a year, or where Daniel's father is involved in a conspiracy to commit murder and has been for several months, all the while Daniel thinking that they were happily living on a farm -- is only possible in the context where secrets are habitually kept under the guise of emotional "closeness." I thought this had particular relevance to today's age and facebook culture, where people post a carefully curated life and keep their feelings under close wraps.
The bulk of the book, while still officially narrated by Daniel, is really the exposition of his mother, Tilde, her "evidence" for the conspiracy and her story of what has happened. Far from being an over-the-top portrayal of psychosis or the depiction of a completely normal woman taken for insane for no clear reason, Smith's depiction here is nuanced: it's impossible to get through this section without believing that Tilde is extrapolating quite a lot from quite a little and, conversely, without believing that there are at least some goings-on that are not totally on the up-and-up. (view spoiler)[I found out after I read the book that it is based on an autobiographical episode, wherein Smith's mother, who had been living on a farm in Sweden, flew to see him, alleging that his father was involved in a conspiracy, and was declared psychotic. I think the experience and the realism really shows through, here. I loved little touches like the episode where Tilde is mushroom picking and realizes she's got a basket full of leaves instead, and by that point it's so clear she's been hallucinating, but she instead confabulates a story about being gaslight. It's so clear to the reader and so, so sad. (hide spoiler)]
The other thing that I'll note, is in the genre of Shocking Family Secrets! which I usually avoid, because it's usually one of three secrets anyway (affair! homosexuality! abuse!) The Farm built up this shocking secret, about how Tilde, while she claims to lime and respect her parents, ran away and hasn't spoken to them since she was sixteen. And I was convinced that it would be a canonical secret, and it wasn't and indeed, I was shocked: (view spoiler)[Tilde had a best friend, Freja, who believed in trolls, and they tried to run away together, but it failed and afterwards Freja denied she'd ever been friends with Tilde, and then died under suspicious circumstances. And Tilde ran away because she knew that her parents that she killed Freja, even though she didn't. I finished this section and it was chilling -- this idea of "they don't believe me, I'm going to run away from the country forever and never look back" was so beyond the norm and so beyond what I expected, and it really established the tone for the stakes of Tilde's narrative. If I could nest spoilers I would, because once I worked through the matryoshka doll of this secret to find a classic family secret at the middle (Tilde's narrative, in which nests the imputed murder of Freja/Tilde's first psychotic break, in which nests Tilde's father's first story about Freja being imaginary, in which nests Tilde's abuse at her father's hands) I was already sufficiently impressed with the delicate psychology that Smith worked to be impressed (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm still processing how I felt about this book. Don't mistake five stars to signify enjoyment, rather it's respect: Gillian Flynn is doing somethingI'm still processing how I felt about this book. Don't mistake five stars to signify enjoyment, rather it's respect: Gillian Flynn is doing something different. As far as I can tell, she's doing something different and creative and she's the best in her genre. I've never experienced anything quite like it.
Do I like it? I mean, I guess. I mean, kind of. I mean, I definitely wouldn't torture myself by rereading this book. I found it compulsive reading. Literally -- I would try to put it down, but I would keep thinking about it, about the characters, about the atmosphere, until I just had to pick it up and read more. It was the most disturbing thing I've ever read. You know how, when you're a tween/young teenager, and you and your friends tell gross out stories, because you've realized that the world can be dark and you're trying to figure out the boundaries? This book reads like this. Think of the most disturbing thing you can possibly think of, and that's this book.
On the one hand, that takes all the suspense out of the book, because you know the twist and turn to literally every mystery. On the other, there is all this tension as you read thinking: "Flynn cannot possibly be going there, right?" (view spoiler)[I was mostly relieved when Camille and Amma went home to Chicago, because I thought: thank goodness I was wrong and Adora was the killer, not Amma. And then I was a little disturbed that I came up with a more morbid ending than Flynn did. And then the final twist happened. And then the teeth went into the dollhouse, which was even more gruesome than I could have imagined (hide spoiler)]
But honestly, I don't read anything just for the gross-out factor, psychological horror or the other type, so there's another reason that I stuck with this book, besides that it made me feel physically ill the way no other novel has succeeded. And that is, Flynn has something really interesting to say about female villains. Sharp Objects is an apt title -- Flynn explores the weapons that women, socialized out of traditional violence, use against themselves and each other and the deep damage that everyone involved sustains as a result. There are literal sharp objects: the knives that Camille uses to cut, girls who scratch with their nails, women and girls who bit, scissors that one of the victims once used to stab someone; and infinite metaphorical sharp objects.
(view spoiler)[ Flynn had said in interviews that Gone Girl was the book in which she explored feminism by exploring female villains, but I didn't buy it when I read Gone Girl: Amy was too stereotypically evil and stereotypically female and I felt like it was derivative. But in Sharp Objects, Flynn clearly succeeds (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
To get it out of the way: this book is not for people who think that books should only feature likeable people. (This review is not for people who thiTo get it out of the way: this book is not for people who think that books should only feature likeable people. (This review is not for people who think that books should only feature likeable people; this reviewer is not for people who think that books should only feature likeable people.) But if you're like me and you like unlikeable people in your books, you'll like this book.
I was thrilled by the first part of this book: unreliable narration is one of my favorite literary techniques; unreliable narration being used to make the narrators look good is even more fun and a pair of unreliable narrators each distorting the narration in their favor was compelling reading that went beyond the normal tenets of mystery novels to speak to the distance between who we are and who we want to be. In this first part, both Nick and Amy, taking turns narrating are both completely unlikeable and completely relatable. One of the parts that sticks out from here: Amy complaining that she's mad at Nick but she doesn't want to be mad so she ends up even madder because she's mad that now he made her mad. Chilling: clearly terribly emotionally manipulative, but at the same time I think most people can relate to that feeling where you had planned on handling a difficult situation calmly and maturely and it doesn't end up that way and the spiral that ensues. I like that by the end of part one, it was really clear to me that my two major suspects in Amy's disappearance were the narrators and one of them knew something that they weren't telling. It was clever and novel.
The second and third parts of the book are just less interesting. The narration stops being unreliable ((view spoiler)[except for maybe Amy's relationship with Desi -- I was definitely skeptical of her depiction (hide spoiler)]) and I found the solution to the mystery less interesting: sociopaths are the stuff of fiction but for a novel that is trying to be gritty and show compellingly, realistically flawed characters, true absolutely-no-empathy-do-whatever's-in-my-best-interest sociopathy really has no place (I decided not to spoiler tag this: I don't think it actually gives anything away.) I wanted the culprit in Amy's disappearance to be, like the first part of the book, a flawed but ultimately relatable person.
Overall, I'm glad I read it; it probably deserves the hype for trying some very cool and original ideas in terms of narration, and I'll be interested in reading Flynn's other work.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Yes, it is quite inventive: with carriageless horses and many types of magic. Yes, there is some interesting central plot about Fairyland stealing tithes from other worlds. There is a simply lovely introduction about the concept of history.
But I was hoping for more backstory on Mallow, maybe even dating back to the Maud days, and overall, I just don't think that the short story format is well-suited for fairyland, which I enjoy because of the perception of a vast, rich world. ...more
It's been a week of disappointing sequels in my life. Not that the Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two isn't good. It's good, it'sIt's been a week of disappointing sequels in my life. Not that the Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two isn't good. It's good, it's just the two prior novels are Oh My Goodness, turn cartwheels, no scoring system goes high enough, amazing. And The Girl Who Soared is good. Maybe even very good, but no better.
Valente's previous works have been a patchwork of disparate settings and characters all loosely bound together in service of a plot, and somehow it just seems to work. Here, the settings are just as magical: a lizard made up of coins guards a cash register that determines your occupation, a whelk has made its shell into a city fueled by its love, acrobats made of paper fold and unfold as they do tricks, and an entire world made up of photographic negatives feature (sadly, while much is discussed about the city of Orrery, which is an Orrery and has every type of "-scope" imaginable, we spend very little time there.) But the threads tying them together feel looser. Zooming from one place to another felt organic and natural in the earlier books. Here it feels frenetic, and I found myself having trouble following why this or that was happening.
Similarly, the other Fairyland books center around themes of Coming of Age and particularly issues of adolescence, in a way that is central, but not overbearing. Here the central theme -- how one develops an identity and how volitional that identity is -- is equally universal and equally foundational to the book, but its inclusion feels more heavy-handed.
I certainly enjoyed the book, and I certainly will keep reading the series, but just as certainly, it pales by comparison. ...more
It's very rare for me to read books knowing nothing about them, and even rarer for me to buy books I've never heard of. But I was walking home from taIt's very rare for me to read books knowing nothing about them, and even rarer for me to buy books I've never heard of. But I was walking home from taking my pediatrics boards (which I passed, by the way...) and I passed by a used bookstore. So I thought to myself: "I deserve to go poke around the bookstore. I just took a huge test." And then I saw this book, and the cover drew me in, so I, of course, decided that I deserved to buy a book, too. I'm really glad I did -- this book is excellent!
Did you think Carolyn Keene was a real person? I did -- I remember fighting with my mother about it when I was a kid. Maybe you're less naive than I and realized that even if Carolyn Keene was a person, she wasn't still writing the Nancy Drew books. But it turns out, that not only was Carolyn Keene never a real person, she, Laura Lee Hope, Franklin Dixon and dozens of others were all the figments of the imagination of the same man, Edward Stratemeyer.
This is the story of Edward Stratemeyer and the evolution of pulp fiction for children. Wonderfully, this is also the story of Edward's oldest daughter, Harriet, who took over his estate, as well as the story of Mildred Wirt, the main ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew books. Why is this such a wonderful happenstance? Because this always this book to also be the story of how two strong-willed independent women went to college and held down serious jobs long before that was acceptable. Rehak explores the state of education for women in the 1920's and follows the growth and turns of these two women and their relationship from their college years to their deaths in their 90's.
Rehak is talented no matter her scope -- her minute details are precise and fascinating, but she is not afraid to expand out to big concepts like feminism, literature for children, gendering of children's literature, etc. and she manages to maintain my interest at each level....more
This book is the ur-nerd tome. There is no pretending: you either are the sort of person who is mathy enough, physics and astronomy-obsessed enough anThis book is the ur-nerd tome. There is no pretending: you either are the sort of person who is mathy enough, physics and astronomy-obsessed enough and all around nerdy enough to find this fun...or you aren't.
To give an example, most days, because I'm busy being a doctor, I spend a lot of time pretending that I'm not a nerd. But recently, I joined a lab where my boss is about as nerdy as I am. So comparing weekend notes, he says: I spent the weekend solving a Rubik's cross. And I said: I spent the weekend reading the new What If XKCD book. I won that competition.
To be honest, I'm not particularly motivated to write much of a review: if you're that nerdy of a person, you've read the webpage version of what-if xkcd and understand the joy that is Fermi Problems (and probably the annoyance that happens after you do a Fermi problem and you spend the rest of the day unable to stop doing Fermi problems), absurd questions about nuclear physics, random statistics and clever stick-figure illustrations.
The key points are these: I religiously read What If XKCD every week, and have read every single one published on the web. The book still had plenty of new things that I had never seen before. There are some extras in the book: one line answers to particularly weird questions. I was anticipating a major drawback of the book to be the loss of hover text and footnotes that appear in the online version; this is replaced by captions and the old-school form of footnotes (i.e. footnotes). However, this is not a great book to read far apart from the internet: it's impossible to get through the whole thing without having strong compulsions to google side questions.
P.S. The worst part of this book is in the acknowledgements when he says he already has an expert on genetics. Note to self: scheme to take out previous genetics expert and become Randall Munroe's personal brilliant geneticist......more
Fortunately, the Milk is a completely adorable, charming slip of a novella with clever & wild illustrations, plenty of time-traveling romping, jusFortunately, the Milk is a completely adorable, charming slip of a novella with clever & wild illustrations, plenty of time-traveling romping, just-in-time saves and the world's smartest, most scientific stegosaurus (who is parenthetically female). It is perfect for putting a smile on anyone's face. ...more
This is a hard review: I'm goodreads friends with the author, so I'm hesitant about what I say here. But this book was...not good.
Let's start with thThis is a hard review: I'm goodreads friends with the author, so I'm hesitant about what I say here. But this book was...not good.
Let's start with the positive: this is a quick read. There are multiple narrators telling intertwining stories about the same period of time from their perspective, which is an interesting narrative device, filling in what seems like a subplot in the first narration. Each of the characters has different flaws, coloring their narrative slightly (although each seems to be a reliable narrator. I think unreliable narration would have added a lot here.)
And the negative: For me, the most difficult was how flimsy the characters were. Each was a very classic stereotype, most to the extent that I have never seen in relief, despite having gone to medical school, residency and fellowship myself and having a facebook feed that is literally full of doctors: one character is girly, obsessed with her long distance boyfriend and not very smart; another is ultra-feminist, but just needs to be laid by a good guy; another is an ultra-gunner who will go out of their way to set back others in the class, even going so far as to (view spoiler)[poison her boyfriend (hide spoiler)]. Another is an insanely rich child of doctors, looking to be a plastic surgeon. Another is A Nice Guy. I just...these aren't characters, they're archetypes. And the one we're supposed to feel the most sympathetic for is the ditzy dumb one, which didn't work out in my life.
The details are also lacking: The rich one? Has a doctor dad and a stay at home mom; the idea that someone could be so filthy rich from having one working parent who was a doctor is kind of hilarious.) The gunner? Wants to go into emergency medicine...at Yale...because (view spoiler)[her father's Parkinson's disease was late to diagnosis (hide spoiler)] you know, that ultra-competitive specialty where you get to focus on making hard diagnoses?
The next biggest problem is the pacing: just as I felt I was getting into each character's story, the narration would switch. And not in a way that built tension and was rising action, just in a way that was disruptive. Ultimately, the book led up to this huge climax, and then we had to hear about the climax from several characters points of view (although to be fair, some of them really helped flesh that part out) and a totally unnecessary epilogue
The pacing was a big deal from the mystery standpoint, too. (view spoiler)[The central mystery? That there was a suicide every year and that's why it was called suicide med and how was this happening? Med students get depressed. The end. Another one of the side mysteries: that bodies got turned upside down and no one knew why? The anatomy professor was running a public tutoring session during which they reviewed the back muscles. Mysterious.... (hide spoiler)]
Finally, a big grief that I have with the book is the sci-fi plotline. It's kind of out of place in what's supposed to be a realistic thriller. It doesn't really relate to anything else going on, and it makes every narrative event including that character seem jarringly out of place and unrelated to the central narration. (view spoiler)[and while a form fruste of conjoined twin manifesting as only a single eye with some attached brain matter seems plausible, the idea that the host twin would lose significant executive control when the conjoined twin was removed does not...the host twin had no apparent conjoining of his brain matter and his brain matter was unaltered. (hide spoiler)]
So overall, a fast light read, without much there there.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm not really sure for whom Seife wrote this book. The majority of people who like math and/or statistics will already be very aware of most of the sI'm not really sure for whom Seife wrote this book. The majority of people who like math and/or statistics will already be very aware of most of the statistical concepts that Seife introduces in his book: significant digits, the importance of looking closely at how axes are labelled, appropriate population sampling and correlation vs. causation. And the people who don't like math won't voluntarily read a book on math. So that leaves...I don't know: people who like math but are bad at it? Middle-schoolers? And unfortunately, this book won't work great for those people either, because rather than using the actual names for the mathematical concepts, like I did, Seife makes up terms so that if this is your first exposure to the concepts, you won't actually be able to communicate about them or google more about them. I think my turning point with Seife was in an appendix about the difference between sensitivity and positive predictive value, where I was originally annoyed that he didn't name-check Bayes and then realized that he also didn't mention sensitivity or positive predictive value in the entire appendix even once! This appendix was literally about how just knowing the sensitivity of a test without knowing the prevalence of disease results in not being able to predict the positive predictive value and he didn't use the names for a single one of those concepts.
I found the latter half of the book more interesting: Seife largely moves away from mathematical concepts and investigates political hijinks, such as the Franken election, Bush v. Gore and gerrymandering. It doesn't really add to numeracy, nor have that many striking examples of "proofiness," (except that humans can't count numbers to 6 digits worth of significant figures, which hopefully most people intuitively know) but it is interesting.
Overall, it's not a bad book. I might give it to a child who was interested in math, but I don't think most adults will enjoy it very much....more
This is like a high-end restaurant's classy, deconstructed version of one's favorite childhood dessert: it hits all the warm and fuzzy notes that a fuThis is like a high-end restaurant's classy, deconstructed version of one's favorite childhood dessert: it hits all the warm and fuzzy notes that a fun, romp-like, young-adult faerie tale should, while also having very worthwhile commentary on such topics as security theatre, the advantages and lack thereof of growing up, and the importance of feeling that you have agency over your own life.
Despite trying to cover some Big Ideas, and despite having some of the best world-building I've ever read, I barely noticed either of those things until I finished, because ultimately, The Girl Who Circumnavigated [etc] is, at it's heart, a faerie tale, and it reads like one: seamless and mythic. I felt wrapped up in the plot and the characters, with some room spared to appreciate the atmosphere. It was just once I finished that I realized how novel the book was. This is the type of book that I'll want to reread over and over again, and I am completely confident that I will find more each time I do.
It's worth noting, as an aside, that Valente's work is also extremely strong from a gender perspective: she has self-sufficient, interesting female characters who have myriad personalities and goals besides romantic ones. And unlike some books that have gotten critical acclaim for strong female characters, The Girl Who [etc] stars characters who break the bookish-eager to please-sidekick mold of female characters: the titular September is brash, nosy and heartless as well as brave, inventive and persistent; her mother is a mechanic.
There are so many other positive things to say: the denouement is clever (and extremely obvious once you know it, but so brave that I never expected it to be true!) and profound and sad, all at once. There is a Wyverary - a mix of a wyvern and a library who knows everything about everything as long as it starts with the letters A-L. There is a soap golem, who of course, has Truth inscribed on her forehead, and is of course, named Lye.
It's like the Phantom Tollbooth crashed into a faerie tale and it is absolutely delicious....more