A young man, out to try his luck by searching for gold in 1800s New Zealand, stumbles into a secret meeting when he goes to relax in his hotel's bar.A young man, out to try his luck by searching for gold in 1800s New Zealand, stumbles into a secret meeting when he goes to relax in his hotel's bar. 12 men have gathered there, each with a piece of a crime puzzle to share—a prostitute has been accused of attempted suicide, an old hermit has been found dead with a fortune, and the richest man in town has disappeared.
This is probably one of the most carefully crafted books I have ever read. Not only is the criminal conspiracy intricately plotted and ingeniously revealed, and the characters well defined and fleshed out with clear motives and personalities, but Catton uses the zodiac and star charts to inform each character's interaction with another, as well as made chapter lengths mimic the size of the moon, waning away to just brief interactions or dialogue.
I easily got caught up in the book's mysteries and conspiracies, each chapter revealing another link or secret. I probably stayed up an hour later than usual over many an evening while reading the book, just to have a few more clues revealed. But Catton's elaborate plotting and astrological conceit didn't always work in her favor. Sometimes I could feel her organization more than anything else; she seemed so focused on adhering to the motions of the sky, that she didn't include any deeper meanings or themes beyond that. Too, the last tenth of the book felt a little redundant, revealing the backstory a second time, apparently just to complete her book's self-imposed format. There were also some mysteries that she seems to hint have magical explanations—which felt out of place in the gritty realism of rest of the book—as well as times where she holds back an answer, chapter after chapter, and, because of her book's forced organization, only hints at a solution when it comes time to reveal it.
Still, I couldn't put it down, and I admire Catton's ambition in creating a book so cleverly plotted and organized with a great cast of characters; for those reasons I bumped the book up to 4 stars. I would be curious to see what she writes next....more
A super-short murder mystery on the moons of Jupiter—the book was on sale at Amazon, so I figured, What do I have to lose?
Well, the book wasn't particA super-short murder mystery on the moons of Jupiter—the book was on sale at Amazon, so I figured, What do I have to lose?
Well, the book wasn't particularly great, just retread gumshoe noir in scifi dressings. The detective, the accused femme fatale, mysterious deaths—they're all there, but they come with no twists or surprises. I wish I could say the author was playing with stereotypes, but it just feels rote. The prose was serviceable, but Allen Steele is no stylist. Ham-fisted literary allusions didn't help.
Steele's talent rests in his ability to create a believable future tech and science knowledge. The spaceships, spacesuits, moonbase, and devices made sense, and Steele addresses space-travel realities such as weightlessness and radiation to give the story a sense of authenticity. It's just too bad the rest felt so lacking....more
This was a well-written little book, at times lovely, at other times brutal. It follows the life of an early 20th century Idaho man as he deals with eThis was a well-written little book, at times lovely, at other times brutal. It follows the life of an early 20th century Idaho man as he deals with employment, strange characters, tragedy, hallucinations, and dreams. For a novella, it covers a lot of ground—an entire life—detailing certain moments of tenderness, strangeness, or pain—a conversation between a man and his wife; the death of a lecherous hobo; the tale of a man shot by his dog; and so on. The prose is very straight-forward, but occasionally wades into lovely, poetic or evocative passages. The scenes of a landscape slowly rebuilding after a massive, all-consuming fire stand out most in my mind.
There are times where the book slips into flaming visions or a nearly unbelievable sequence, and although I found those too to be well written, I sometimes felt them out of place in a book that was otherwise very matter-of-fact. Others have reviewed the book here suggesting symbolism and magical realism, so perhaps a reread is in order. It did feel like reading this book once was not enough. ...more
A very cleverly written book about one of my favorite topics with a fair amount of elegance and information to boot. My mother gave this book to me laA very cleverly written book about one of my favorite topics with a fair amount of elegance and information to boot. My mother gave this book to me last Christmas (in a package, already wrapped, so I could open it on on the holiday over Skype) and it's taken me this long to finish it—but not because it was a slog. Instead, I read it slowly to savor it like my nephew eats a cookie.
This graphic novel tells the story of the rivalry between paleontologists O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope during the gilded age, when dinosaurs werThis graphic novel tells the story of the rivalry between paleontologists O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope during the gilded age, when dinosaurs were still a fairly new thing and the bone beds out west were just being discovered. Both men compete to find and name the most dinosaurs, as well as discredit each other's work. As the battle rages on, paleoartist Charles R. Knight (he's the one who did the dinosaur murals in the Field Museum) tries to produce the most accurate representations he can. [As it turns out, Cope is all for Knight's work as it makes the dinosaurs come alive in the public's eye. Marsh on the other hand felt that the public had no business seeing fossils or paintings of the living things.:]
The artwork is simple, stripped down and clear. (The cover art was by Mark Schultz, who's old-school illustration style is not representative of the style inside.) The writing is nice, and there are a few great lines. The creators provide several pages at the end explaining what was "fact" and what was "fiction" in their retelling of this true rivalry.
Still, the book never really amounts to more than what it is: a comic about rivalry and paleontology in the late 1800s. And that's fine....more
This was okay. A nice story, but not much to chew on. I had hoped for more, but I think this was Gaiman's 1st novel, so maybe I need to try American GThis was okay. A nice story, but not much to chew on. I had hoped for more, but I think this was Gaiman's 1st novel, so maybe I need to try American Gods and then decide what I think of him as a writer. ...more
A young man takes a few days off of work to catch beetles by the seaside. As the day turns to dusk, he asks a local from the nearest village if there'A young man takes a few days off of work to catch beetles by the seaside. As the day turns to dusk, he asks a local from the nearest village if there's a place he can stay for the night. The man guides him to a sand pit; a shack sits at its bottom. The insect-collector thinks he's just there for the night, but it soon becomes clear that the villagers have no intent on letting him leave the hole. He's stuck there with a kind, but quiet, young woman and forced to dig at the always shifting sand.
I have to say that what this book most reminded me of was a Twilight Zone episode. I don't mean a particular episode, but it had the same kind of feel—an ordinary person finding themselves in a weird situation that seems to defy logic. The author really did an excellent job of describing the young man's thoughts—outlining every train of thinking as he realizes his predicament, plans escapes, tries to understand the woman, tries to analyze the sand and how it works. The situation may be unbelievable, but the thoughts were not. Often, as I read the book, a question would pop in my head—"Well, what if...?"—and it usually would be answered a page or so later.
The prose itself is very visceral and detailed. You're never allowed to forget how pervasive the sand is, how oppressive the environment is, and how the character's bodies react to it, how much of their life becomes trying to maintain sanity, cleanliness, and health with sand sifting and blowing everywhere.
Symbolic and philosophical asides dapple the story but don't overwhelm it. I thought the writing was a perfect balance of mood, plot, and philosophy. Four stars may be a bit generous, as there were times the man's situation just felt depressing and I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep reading. But on the whole, it was very well done. I will be seeking out more books by this author.
(Murakami fans may be interested to know that Abe is one of his inspirations.)...more
Calvino takes different aspects of human nature, urban planning, fears and dreams, or existence itself, and builds an entire city on the foundation ofCalvino takes different aspects of human nature, urban planning, fears and dreams, or existence itself, and builds an entire city on the foundation of that idea. These are the cities Marco Polo describes to the emperor, Kublai Khan.
There's a lot of cities described here (all with women's names). At first I found them whimsical and without much gravity, but as the book progressed, the descriptions seemed to take a more substantive turn—sometimes going dark, sometimes curious. I found I liked the book more and more the deeper I read. ...more
Well written; informative and witty. Lerner spends the 1st half of this helpful book describing writer personalities she frequently encountered whileWell written; informative and witty. Lerner spends the 1st half of this helpful book describing writer personalities she frequently encountered while working as an editor. Here she mentions quirks she notes as getting in the way of writing and suggests how to overcome them. The 2nd half of the book describes the steps that authors, editors, and other publishing industry workers take to make a manuscript a book. An honest peek into the world of bookmaking that was also great fun to read!...more
A nice little graphic novel that begins as three disparate stories with similar themes (that of a person trying to not be themselves). Eventually theA nice little graphic novel that begins as three disparate stories with similar themes (that of a person trying to not be themselves). Eventually the three stories combine to reveal that they all were connected. It has a very autobiographical feel, mainly brought on by one of the stories being told in first person. But it becomes clear that, as true as some of the stories are, this is fiction. (Which was kind of nice. I have a feeling a lot of what happened in the 1st person childhood part was based on the author's actual life, but fantasy elements about the Monkey King keep this from being the ho-hum, self-pitying autobiographical comic I hate.)
The drawing was crisp and clear, sometimes seemingly over-simplified, but always attractive and easy to read. It's a good book that just verges on 4 stars, but it fell short in being as complicated or thought-provoking as I would have liked. (Then again, this is a children's book, so its audience would need a less complex story.) Good read....more