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
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
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
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
This book was simply delicious in every way possible. I loved the first book in the series, but felt hesitant about the rest of the series: sometimesThis book was simply delicious in every way possible. I loved the first book in the series, but felt hesitant about the rest of the series: sometimes a great first book is every good idea that the author had, and the rest of the series merely tries to scramble along on the coat tails. Moreover, one of the things that I loved about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was its depiction of childhood, and I worried it couldn't be continued in a sustainable way and also have the heroine grow.
I should have put more faith in Catherynne M. Valente. First of all: I am insane with jealousy over her imagination. Every page of The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland... was just as inventive as the page before, and it all seemed to flow effortlessly. We met characters that I never would have thought of: a beautifully inventive family of coffee and tea people, and turquoise kangaroos that wear their memories in pouches, and allusions to classic mythology that seem Just Right, only no one's ever thought of them before, like Valente's take on the minotaur, and what seems like it will one day be classic mythology, like Queer, Questing and Quiet Physicks and in between are beautifully depicted characters, who are neither deeply inventive, nor cleverly allusive so much as they are wonderfully depicted, almost real people, who are flawed, and brave and everything else I could ever ask for.
One of the things I love about Valente, as mentioned above, is her depiction of childhood. Her depiction of young adulthood/early teen years is just as spot on. She treats it with Valente whimsy, talking about how September has a Heart, but it is new and raw. And underneath the whimsy she is just so spot-on about the ways that Right and Wrong feel so intense in those early years, and how raw betrayal feels, because you aren't emotionally scarred down from years of them same yet. It's a magical combination of lovely prose and deep insight. I love how it flows clearly from her depiction of child September.
I can't review this book properly without talking about the shadows. I loved this plot: that Fairyland needed its shadows in order to have magic, but the shadows needed to be free and not have to do the bidding of their person. I felt the moral tug in both directions, and I loved that September felt equally torn. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that I worried that it was going to end uncomfortably: I felt like Valente had set up an unsolvable quandary and that any solution would either be morally offensive or seem like a deus ex machina to the beautifully set up puzzle. Again, I need to learn to have faith: Valente did not disappoint.
Although these are young adult books, they are challenging in terms of the morals they present, both in the world-savingly large, and in the romantically-inclined small and they examine teen-years in a way that I'm not sure I would have tolerated from up-close. I think that they are books that absolutely should be read in adult years, but I think there is probably much to be enjoyed here by young readers as well. I know I plan on reading them to my daughter early and often. But before that: must read book #3. Preferably right now. ...more
So, let's start off by being fair: 1) I would never had even looked twice at this book had it not been by Michael Chabon. 2) I had idly wondered, in mSo, let's start off by being fair: 1) I would never had even looked twice at this book had it not been by Michael Chabon. 2) I had idly wondered, in my revery at The Yiddish Policemen's Union how people who weren't me and didn't share my passions reacted to the book. And now I have an answer. This book is ostensibly about lay midwives, jazz music and blaxploitation films. I can't quite figure out how to put how I feel about lay midwives into a sentence that is polite enough for social media and does not horribly side track this review, so let's let that suffice. I certainly don't hate music, but I'm just not one of those people who *gets* music, you know? Like, I wish I did and I respect people who are into music, but Chabon goes on and on about a piece, or whatever, and my eyes glaze and I skip several paragraphs and he's still going on and I have no idea what he's talking about, and if we're truly being honest here (because hey, why not?) I really don't know why anyone would buy a record in 2014 anyway so the fact that there are COMPETING record stores seems ridiculously anachronistic, but again, I don't *get* music, so what do I know? And finally, I've never had an opinion on blaxploitation films (although I strongly recommend going down the rabbit hole and wikipedia-ing blaxploitation, and that finding the legions of other subgenres ending in -ploitation.) So the idea that I would read and enjoy a book about lay midwives, jazz and blaxploitation was already on flimsy ground. And let me also say, that I certainly don't believe that there are certain topics that are verboten based on race or sex or religion. But then, let's pretend to ourselves for a second that we're Michael Chabon, and we're famous for writing books about bi-curious geeky Jewish boys and we start a book about a bi-curious geeky Jewish boy, who happens to be into Jazz and then we end up also writing about blaxploitation and then before you know it, there are a couple of Black characters and then all of a sudden you're knee-deep in racial tension. So there's a few of things you can do: you could back out until you're back on safe territory; you can do a lot of researching or you can decide to forge ahead, gunsblazing, and write about racial relations. Chabon clearly decided to do that latter, and while I will continue to sing his praises for writing uncomfortable truths and borderline offensively accurate portrayals of the Jewish community, as a Jewish woman reading a book by a Jewish author, I was pretty unsettled by him (attempting to) do the same with the African American community. And intersectionality was definitely problematic: in an entire book on Jewish-Back relations there were two female Black characters: An afro-touting, impossibly skinny, impossibly sexy, aged sex symbol/film star and a perpetually hungry, perpetually angry, perpetually pregnant woman. Not that the Black men were portrayed that much better: they inevitably abandoned their children and were to a one portrayed as violent, cheating and irresponsible. Also, his conclusion seemed to be that White people (of whom there are no non-Jews in the book) and Black people are too different and want things that are too different and any partnership, or indeed real friendship is doomed to fail.
In conclusion, if this had just been a book about privileged, Jewish, Julius Jaffe, who writes Lovecraftian poetry, and his questionably unrequited love for Titus Joyner, obsessed with Blaxploitation and trying to come in to his own after a troubled childhood, and it was done respectfully, without stereotypes and the other 95% were jettisoned, I would have read the heck out of it. As was, an extremely poor showing by one of my favorite authors....more
I thought this book was beneath me: I could give an hour lecture on the problems facing the women's right movement today; this book was for women whoI thought this book was beneath me: I could give an hour lecture on the problems facing the women's right movement today; this book was for women who didn't even know that they're feminists.
For years, as a woman doctor, I shied away from Women in Medicine groups, because having been a female computer scientist and facing the very overt sexism that occurs in the C.S. world, I thought that there was nothing to complain about in medicine. But the further I got in medicine, especially once I had my daughter, I realize all of the subtle ways that its there: the encouragement to leave before you leave; the lack of high-powered female mentors, and the overall relative dearth of women in leadership and highly academic positions. So I joined a national committee on women in medicine and science and at the same time I read this book.
And it's amazing. Sheryl Sandberg gives easy language for the problems I know we face: "sit at the table" for the confidence issues that professional women have; "lean in" and "don't leave before you leave" for the self-selection that occurs. She talks about the seductive message the feminism's work is done that leads to increasing amounts of this subversive sexism (which is the temporal equivalent of the same illusion I fell under switch from C.S. to medicine.) She addresses the hard issues: the linguist quirks that make women seem less confident and the social norms that prevent women from being assertive, both of which put women into a damned if you do/damned if you don't position.
But this is not just a book on contextualization. Sandberg gives concrete advice to women that is useful for women in all fields. She focuses on helping women become top business officers, but its helpful advice to anyone. And she does this without ignoring the importance of being a parent for women who want to parent -- and I think this part gets lost among the rhetoric for a lot of people. One of my close friends hates this book, because she says that Sandberg doesn't believe in the importance of mothering, but that's not a correct assertion. Sandberg spends many pages talking about how she decided to take from 5:30-bedtime off from work (offline, off everything) almost all nights because that's what's right for her family. She talks about a woman who joined the Biden administration but on the condition that she goes home for dinner every single night. This is advice on how to set your priorities and then make them happen -- dropping the hysteria that comes from assuming that in order to be successful, you have to make sacrifices on someone else's terms.
Sandberg makes it clear that you can't "have it all," but you can choose what you get to have, and I think that's the best message possible. ...more
I'll be honest - I didn't expect to like this book at all. I half hate-read Fizzy McFizz's totally obnoxious blog: A Cartoon Guide to Being a Doctor,I'll be honest - I didn't expect to like this book at all. I half hate-read Fizzy McFizz's totally obnoxious blog: A Cartoon Guide to Being a Doctor, because she is just so self-pitying, especially about residency. I went into this knowing that this was a semi-fictionalized account of Fizzy's intern year and expected the same over the top, self-pitying whining about a pretty normal internship. I've got to say, this was more enjoyable than I expected, and on the nose about many aspects of medical training: it had the intern who always seems to manage to do less work than everyone else (and yet still complains about it), the cruel senior resident who seems to be enjoy being mean and you wonder how she can possibly also be a mom (my equivalent senior resident made me cry when I was an intern...more than once), the way that there is a culture to how to do everything (in my program it's four-colored pens, rather than sticky notes), and how bad things happen only to the nicest patients. Overall, it was kind of fun and not nearly as obnoxious as expected....more
Nussbaum succeeds at her goal here: to write a book about characters with disabilities, who have personalities beyond their disabilities, interact witNussbaum succeeds at her goal here: to write a book about characters with disabilities, who have personalities beyond their disabilities, interact with each other and with characters who are able-bodied. The characters are fully fleshed out and interesting, realistic characters.
But this absolutely comes off as a political piece. It is certainly enjoyable in its own right, but it is impossible to read without thinking of it as a piece about disability-rights, criticizing institutions (which, I agree with in spirit, but also agree that there are nuances to the discussion not fully elucidated here.) and discussing discrimination, over-utilization of intelligence and personality testing and casting a cynical eye over seemingly all parties involved in providing care to those with disabilities.
Perhaps the best part of the book is that Nussbaum portrays even most of her villains as human, simply ignorant or over-worked or otherwise preoccupied. She does have a few truly irredeemable characters, but by and large, especially for a piece trying to make a statement, this is done well -- an invitation to dialogue. ...more