A fast, super-engrossing, tightly-plotted read. I'm a pretty trusting reader most of the time, but I'm also pretty good about "calling it" on how bookA fast, super-engrossing, tightly-plotted read. I'm a pretty trusting reader most of the time, but I'm also pretty good about "calling it" on how books will end. In this case, I played right into Gillian Flynn's hands, and was surprised at every turn. Very fun!...more
From reading various reviews, and even Gilbert's own comments, I know that a lot of people measured COMMITTED by a yardstick set by "Eat, Pray, Love"From reading various reviews, and even Gilbert's own comments, I know that a lot of people measured COMMITTED by a yardstick set by "Eat, Pray, Love" and felt that it fell short. Fact is, I liked it more. I'm generally not a huge fan of nonfiction, and will choose memoir over actual social science when given the choice. Gilbert packed her book-length essay on her decision to ultimately choose marriage with a whole bunch of interesting historical, socioeconomic, and political details about the evolution of marriage in the US in particular. And yet, at the end, it's an ultimately romantic meditation on her decision to take a leap of faith and promise to spend the rest of her life with one person. Interestingly enough, I read this shortly before Dan Savage's THE COMMITTMENT; the two books are a similar topic, of course, and I found them to have good synergy. ...more
I know this is currently the hot YA book; I liked the first one well enough, but when I started reading the second one, I realized I was a lot less inI know this is currently the hot YA book; I liked the first one well enough, but when I started reading the second one, I realized I was a lot less invested in the characters than I thought, and have decided not to read book three. ...more
The fact that I read The Shining at all is a tribute to the power of good marketing. I'm a huge fan of King's, but have avoided several of his mid-70sThe fact that I read The Shining at all is a tribute to the power of good marketing. I'm a huge fan of King's, but have avoided several of his mid-70s books, including this one -- even though the topic's right up my alley, I've just never wanted to read this. But 2013 was the year that the book's sequel, Dr. Sleep, was released, and in hearing King talk about his reason for writing that book, my interest was pricked. However, all the reviews I read basically said that it was a satisfying stand-alone, but a better sequel, The Shining was on madd sale for Kindle, and I was delayed at an airport for several hours before embarking on a cross-country flight, so... ::shrug:: As the stars show, I liked it: King always does horror well, and this is the mother of all haunted house stories. The things that I wish as a reader were more clearly defined or better explained are the exact things that as a writer, I struggle to define and explain -- so as always, I'm in deep respect for his ability to just get the story onto the page, and worry about logic later. (And the logic mostly works. I just want to know *why* there are so many malignant forces at The Overlook, and what they actually are -- are they actual spirits? Or manifestations of one big bad ghoulie a la Christine?) Like many King tales, it drags a bit in the middle -- I found myself wondering why we had to spend so damn much time at the party and when we were going to get on with the gory stuff. Unlike later monstrously-long King books, the author hasn't quite gotten his style to the point where inertia propels you a few hundred pages past the point where you need to read for plot-driven reasons (one of the things I most enjoyed about Dr. Sleep: a fairly sleep and well-trimmed tale). But again, that's classic King. In his recent interviews, King has been talking about how he felt that the movie adaptation slighted Wendy Torrance; having only read the book, I can imagine how a standard weak female character would frustrate the author -- yes, the story is between Danny and Jack, but Wendy kind of drives the whole thing. The TL;DR: Classic King Fare with a fairly strong female character. Probably best to read with the lights on. ...more
Before the media blitz to promote Dr. Sleep, I'd never read The Shining either -- scrupulously avoided it, in fact. I like King, but something about mBefore the media blitz to promote Dr. Sleep, I'd never read The Shining either -- scrupulously avoided it, in fact. I like King, but something about many of his mid-70s books leaves me cold. But this book sounded particularly intriguing, and several reviews said something along the lines of "can work as a standalone, but is a better sequel." So I sped through The Shining on a cross-country flight and then went straight into Dr. Sleep. First things first: it *can* be a stand-alone, but King relies on your feelings for Danny Torrance to make certain moments hit exactly right. If you don't have a sense of how far the sweet kid from the Overlook Hotel has traveled, well, you know what you're supposed to be feeling, but it might not hit exactly right. I would have liked more of Danny's foreknowledge from the first book to be integrated into the second, but that's not the story King's telling, so... Second, and perhaps most important, reading the two back-to-back made it really clear how far King has come as a storyteller and craftsman over the past 30 years. And it wasn't like he was a slouch back in the day -- but it's a wiser, more empathetic writer at the helm now. (Also, a rarity for King works: this story is sleek and tightly edited -- 530 pages on my Kindle, which is super-short for King...and it doesn't lag in the middle like most of his books. Win!). I admit that my liking the "new" King comes with bias: as a modern fan, I know King wrote entire sections of The Shining in alcoholic oblivion. And given that, Dr. Sleep is a much more hopeful tale: The Shining focuses on a man who struggles with drink and knows it's a futile one; Dr. Sleep's main character struggles, too, but he ultimately feels that he has the tools to win the battle. I appreciated reading the two books back to back, to compare King's differing styles and see clearly how much he's grown over the years, but of the two, Dr. Sleep is definitely my favorite. Fan of macabre tales though I am, I admit to being an optimist as well. ...more
My father's general rule of thumb is that you can rate the quality of a book by the first sentence alone. This one I read, snorted, re-read, and thenMy father's general rule of thumb is that you can rate the quality of a book by the first sentence alone. This one I read, snorted, re-read, and then picked up the phone to call my dad and share it with him. His response: "has potential." Ed Kennedy has potential too. Not overt, and not that he's actually using it at the start of the book, but he's a good guy, our Ed. He's 19, but lied about his age to get a job as a cabdriver. He adores his dog, The Doorman, even though the animal stinks to high heaven. He's loyal to his father's memory, though his ma claims that he was no good. And he's devoted to his friends, even though they're a bunch of half-alive punks just like him. Like Zusak's The Book Thief (haven't read it? Go. Go now.), this book has strong hints of magical realism. We never know exactly who sends Ed a series of playing cards, each containing a coded instruction. What happens when our hero follows the directions on the cards is the story of how Ed finally figures out how to live. The story doesn't have the sheer, jaw-dropping power of The Book Thief, but it made me smile, and laugh, and simply stop reading for a few moments to trace my eyes back over particularly lovely sets of phrases. Zusak is a wordsmith with a particularly lovely sense of character; by the end of the book, I'd fallen in madly in love with Ed and his messed up, unimpressive, singularly lonely life. If you can't tell, I highly recommend this book. It's a fast read, but a good one. Enjoy!...more
Trudy Ederle's place in history is often overlooked. I come from a family of open-water swimmers. I have friends who have done solo crossings, and I mTrudy Ederle's place in history is often overlooked. I come from a family of open-water swimmers. I have friends who have done solo crossings, and I myself participated in a successful relay swim across the Channel in 2007. And yet, I only vaguely knew about Trudy Ederle. My dad has long asserted that Lynne Cox (who, in 1972, finally displaced Trudy as the youngest female swimmer to make the crossing) was the one who revolutionized open-water swimming by using the Australian Crawl rather than the Trudgeon. My mom regularly confuses Ederle with Florence Chadwick, who set a speed record in 1953. In many ways, the post-Crossing section of this book reads like a tragedy -- explaining how the recipient of America's first ticker-tape parade quickly lost any chance to capitalize on her hard work, and died mostly-forgotten. But most of this book is a celebration. A celebration of an era where women started to come into their own, a sport came into its own, and the promise of possibility was so thick in the air that you could taste it. The author has adopted in Ederle not just a hero, but a symbol -- a girl who swam the Channel freestyle, and revolutionized a sport (prevailing wisdom at the time was that "Australian Crawl" was too taxing of a stroke for more than a few hundred yards; these days, the only reason someone would complete an open-water swim by some other method is for the publicity possibilities). Her pluck, strength, and talent shine in those passages, and the excitement that drives the writing is quite intoxicating. This is an extremely well-researched work; appreciation of historical context aside, I loved the interesting tidbits that Stout peppered throughout -- for example, Johnny Weissmuller was one of the few swimmers during the early 20s who was perhaps more unbeatable than Ederle (the two never went head to head because of prevailing social mores at the time, but they often headlined at the same swim meets)...a few chapters later, while detailing their trip to the 1924 Paris Olympics, you discover that the reason that name sounds so familiar is that Weissmuller later starred as Tarzan in the classic films. Who'd have known? The reader encounters historical context, social commentary, and interesting trivia page after page after page. Even when the tale veers away from Ederle herself (as it often does, in the earlier, context-setting, chapters) the information being shared is so intriguing that you want to keep reading. As a participant in the sport that Ederle revolutionized, I really appreciated this book. But I also enjoyed it as a feminist, a history buff, and a person who just likes a tightly-plotted, fast-paced read. It was all of these things, and worth a look.
There was so much I loved about this book -- the opening chapter being one of them! And Batman! Amazing. I'm not quite sure why I'm not rating it higheThere was so much I loved about this book -- the opening chapter being one of them! And Batman! Amazing. I'm not quite sure why I'm not rating it higher than "I liked it." Because, I did like it. I might even recommend it to a select few friends. But I'm probably not going to read it a second or third time....more
I read this book this month as part of my 12/12/12 TBR challenge: 12 books in 12 months that have languished for a year or more in my “TBR” (To Be ReaI read this book this month as part of my 12/12/12 TBR challenge: 12 books in 12 months that have languished for a year or more in my “TBR” (To Be Read) pile. The bullet on this one is that I’m glad the challenge made me finally read it, for a variety of reasons. It’s thought-provoking and educational (in a good way)...definitely worth a read if you’re interested in mid-20th century history, the history of medicine, or investigative journalistic techniques.
I was first drawn to “Annie’s Ghosts” while shopping for my mom’s birthday a few years back because it’s a non-fiction exploration into a piece of family history that’s eerily familiar. Author Steve Luxenberg was an adult when he discovered that his mother -- who had always identified as an only child -- had had a sister.
In a similar revelation, my mother was in college before she discovered that her paternal grandmother hadn’t died when my grandfather was three, as family history had always held.
Luxenberg’s aunt died when he was nine; my great-grandmother died when my mom was eight. My grandfather -- her son -- only learned of her existence presence a year or two earlier, and my mom believes they might have even met once. Both women -- Luxenberg’s aunt, my great-grandmother -- had spent about 40 years, from the mid-1920s to early 60s, in mental institutions within the United States.
Determined to learn about the aunt he never knew, Steve Luxenberg digs into old court and medical files, and pieces together a history of mental illness and treatment in the mid-20th century. The book is not a dry treatise on the history of medicine, though; the tale is of his quest, and he shares every aspect of it with the reader in such a way that you feel like you’re looking over his shoulder, experiencing the excitement of each new discovery along with him.
And it truly is a voyage of discovery. Along the way, Luxenberg uncovers several other family secrets: how his father snuck into the US; how a paternal aunt had escaped the Nazi slaughter at Radziwillow in Ukraine; a brush with mental illness on the other side of the family. The stories are all vivid portraits of American life in a second-generation immigrant family of the mid-century, but more interesting is the way that each time, Luxenberg brings it back to his mother, re-examining the events with a new sense of how her unique perspective and desire to keep the secret must have informed her actions -- sane, sensible, or irrational -- for the rest of her life.
My great-grandmother has always been a figure of mystery to me. Who was she? What did they think plagued her? Did she love her husband? Her children? Did she miss them when she was put away -- or was she even aware enough to notice? I picked up this book for the first time hoping for some sort of insight into these things; of course, I didn’t find it. Luxenberg can only postulate about what his mother’s sister must have felt; his extrapolations are based upon sporadic medical records and their shift over time, combined with interviews with retired doctors from the hospital where she was housed, and a lot of research into the standard of care regarding the mentally ill in the mid-century. One of the most shocking things I discovered was that, by the end of the depression, the hospital where Annie Cohen (Luxenberg’s aunt) lived was so overcrowded that 45 women lived in a ward meant for 18, 140 were in a ward meant for 100, and patients literally were sleeping on the floors. It’s no wonder Annie Cohen -- and Minnie Schuster -- disappeared beneath a crush of humanity. And yet, each of those thousands of patients were people...at the least, someone’s child. But also, sisters, aunts, and mothers. Annie Cohen was buried next to her parents, but thousands of patients are in unmarked graves behind the hospital where she spent her adult life.
At its most basic level, “Annie’s Ghosts” is a plea for visibility and transparency. Pretending that her sister had never existed caused Luxenberg’s mother a large amount of damage; we can only imagine what the isolation and abandonment did for Annie’s already-broad paranoia streak. Today, a family in the same situation would never consider locking a relative away and pretending that they did not exist to such an extent. Time and again, Luxenberg traces stories of his familial tragedies to show the repercussions of secret-keeping. Secrets increase isolation; they don’t allow for healing. Luxenberg’s odyssey to uncover his family’s secrets and bring them to light was an intellectually stimulating, ultimately enjoyable chronicle of his attempts to understand his mother's misguided attempts to put her sister "behind her," and of his own journey towards understanding and accepting the part of his mother that he never knew....more
In my review of "Blackout" -- which is really the first half of the story to which "All Clear" is the conclusion -- I mentioned that the story so farIn my review of "Blackout" -- which is really the first half of the story to which "All Clear" is the conclusion -- I mentioned that the story so far had an epic scope, and I only hoped that the complexity of the setup could be resolved in a satisfying manner.
And the answer to that question is...not quite.
The piece is classic Willis -- filled with good humor, extremely tight plotting, strong doses of philosophy and relativism, well-drawn and lively characters, and genuine affection and respect for the heroism of everyday people of a particular era (I fell in love with Sir Godfrey in these books much as I did with Roche in "The Doomsday Book"). I'll give her this: the woman understands structure like none other. She's a master. And as a result, you come to the end of the story and close the book with a contented sigh, because the STRUCTURE makes you feel like you just reached a satisfying conclusion. It's only upon later reflection that you realize there was a lot of inconsistencies that you overlooked, simply because you were in the hands of a master.
There are places in this book -- this set of books, really, because I gave the flaws of the first book a pass, hoping they'd resolve with the second -- where Willis overreaches. One thing that I've always enjoyed about her books is the way that she doesn't describe the rules of time travel, or of Oxford 2060...but I really think that she needed to set the idea of a "deadline" up more strongly. After all, the law that you can't pass through the same track of time twice is the one that Willis is relying upon to provide much of the tension in Polly's part of the tale -- it needs a more setup than a two-paragraph reference in one of Michael's earliest moments in "Blackout." Much of Polly's action in this second book is driven by her desire to minimize the effect of her approaching deadline on those around her...and because I didn't understand the precise rules that she was trying to follow, her personal decisions seemed arbitrary and unclear for almost the entire story. There's even a point where she says to herself "well, I came through (for an earlier trip, to a later part of WWII) on [date], but my actual deadline is probably much earlier." And I, the reader, was like "wait, what? Why is Willis changing the rules on us at this late date?" It was hard to get invested in a character who seemed to be rewriting her own rules on a regular basis. And ultimately, she was the story's *main* character.
I felt that the team of Earnest, Cecily, et al, also didn't work particularly well -- we were held at arms' length from them, and the story bogged down each time they were introduced. Now I know why we were kept at a distance, but it resulted in my not really caring about them, and, while I now appreciate the dramatic irony of the moment where the two stories finally interacted, as well as its necessity in the greater plot, it seemed like an awful lot of space to devote to something that was ultimately "kind of neat trick."
I think this is especially true when you take into consideration the fact that MAJOR plot points were given very short shrift. Colin doesn't show up until more than 3/4 of the way through the book (oh, come on, if you read part one, you know he has to show up), but when he does, he's presented in such a way that we're expected to react to him as the great hero and savior. I have major problems with his particular plot twist / revelation at the end, which, again, is presented as part of the epic wrap-up: it's pinned on three half-sentences, one reference to hair, and (possibly) a close read of "The Doomsday Book." I call foul. (And, although Willis always leaves her characters as soon as the conflict has been resolved, I'm deeply curious to know what will happen now, in Oxford 2060ish...because "happily ever after," which is what's implied, doesn't hold water with me.)
Still, there were some great moments. Binnie and Alf were lovable monsters the whole way through. Eileen standing at the lions almost made cry. Polly's final scene with Sir Godfrey filled me with joy. Moments like those are why I love Connie Willis.
So, to sum up? I enjoyed the book. I will read it again, certainly. Both of them again, for sure. I think she took on a very brave challenge -- and it might have been a little too much for her, but her struggle to make it work was heroic. And really, that's what this book was about, wasn't it? As an already-strong fan, I applaud this and it makes me appreciate her talents all the more. But if you're new to Willis, I highly recommend starting somewhere else. "The Doomsday Book" or "To Say Nothing of the Dog" are excellent introductions to this world, and once you're immersed, this will be a much more enjoyable experience. ...more