I don't exactly know how to describe this collection of short stories. I'm leaning heavily towards "crap," but I think "wasted potential" might be a bI don't exactly know how to describe this collection of short stories. I'm leaning heavily towards "crap," but I think "wasted potential" might be a better (or at least more productive) way to put it.
Here's what Russell does right. First, she has clearly mastered the artistry of writing. Her words are well chosen, sentences well constructed, and her writing is very pretty and evocative. She also has really interesting ideas. I read this for a book club, and when we discussed it and summarized the stories we repeatedly found ourselves saying, "Well it sounds like a great story the way I describe it!"
The problem is the execution. Most of the stories felt flat and/or relatively pointless. Not that they didn't have a message, per se, but that they didn't bring that message to any kind of fruition. You're often left thinking "This story is trying to say something about [theme]...I'm just not sure what."
I think this happens because a lot of the stories don't really have endings. Some ambiguity in a story is fine (in fact I prefer it), but too much just feels lazy.
As far as the specific stories, I thought "Reeling for the Empire" and "The Barn at the End of Our Term" were the most satisfying, structurally. I felt like I got the point, and although they ended ambiguously, I had enough to complete the story on my own.
I thought "The New Veterans" had a TON of potential, but got bogged down in itself. "Vampires" was boring, "Antarctic Tailgating" was totally worthless, and the rest were merely blah. I'd rather have seen Russell focus on one or two of her crazy ideas and really enrich them (because a lot of the pieces are there, they just don't ever come together in one single story). It makes me wonder if I'd like her novel, but frankly, after reading these stories, I'm reluctant to give her another shot....more
I really enjoyed Goon Squad. It took me a few chapters to decide that I really liked it, and it lost me just a bit at the end, but overall I thought iI really enjoyed Goon Squad. It took me a few chapters to decide that I really liked it, and it lost me just a bit at the end, but overall I thought it was a great read.
I’ll start with a few words about the structure. Each chapter is told from a different point of view. I think (though I didn’t go back to verify this) that by the time a character narrates a story, we have at least briefly met him/her. However, the narrator may not have played much of a role at all in previous chapters (or at least not in a way that had yet become evident). The chronology is also non-linear, so one chapter may be 20 years before/after the previous one.
Generally, I thought this was well executed. The book fell somewhere in the twilight between a novel and a collection of short stories, and I think the structure allowed Egan to play with the themes (discussed more below) in a subtler, more potent way. My only real complaint is that because a narrator often didn’t become a major character until her chapter, I hadn’t previously known to pay much attention to her and so couldn’t always remember who she was or how she related to the story.
There is also one chapter written completely as a powerpoint presentation. My initial reaction was that it was gimmicky and uninteresting, but I quickly changed my mind. I was impressed with how engaging and expressive Egan was able to be in this format, and while it may still be gimmicky, it was actually one of my favorite chapters.
The main themes of the book – and in my opinion, its real strong points – were relationships, and the decisions/turning points in our lives. The decisions theme (mostly people struggling to figure out what to do at important junctures) really benefits from the structure of the book, because we might travel back in time with a character and see some of the events that formed him and led to his later decision making. I am self-admittedly a sucker for this kind of story (i.e. what little decision now might impact the rest of my life).
All kinds of relationships are explored in “Goon Squad” – friendships, marriage/cheating, siblings, parent/child. Egan writes group dynamics well, but my favorite was her treatment of the parent/child relationships. I think she captured the struggle that parents feel between selfishness (do what I want) and selflessness (do what’s best for my child), with some successes and failures along the way.
My biggest complaint was the last chapter. It took place in the future, and I just didn’t think was as well executed as the rest of the book. While it still dealt with the same themes, it also felt to me like more of a social critique. In addition to feeling a bit out of place, I just thought Egan got away from her strengths, so present throughout the other chapters....more
I thought The Gold Bug was a lot of fun. Even though I had never read it, it felt nostalgic - like it was the kind of short story that should have beeI thought The Gold Bug was a lot of fun. Even though I had never read it, it felt nostalgic - like it was the kind of short story that should have been in one of my old grade school textbooks.
I don't have a lot of deep thoughts - it's a fun little mystery tale, of pirates and codes and buried treasure. It's actually a bit more static than that, because it's mostly about after-the-fact explanations and deductive reasoning, but I still found it clever and light (also making it the only Poe tale I've ever read that I'd describe as "light"). That's also part of why I enjoyed it - for the same reason I liked seeing Picasso's non-cubist paintings. You can see Poe playing with the things he does so well - mystery, and suspense, and vivid descriptions - even in the context of a story unlike much of his later work.
Taking The Gold Bug for what it is - a fun little mystery - and not comparing it to some of Poe's more weighty stories, I think it stands up as a very enjoyable read....more
I picked up The Poe Shadow because I had read and really enjoyed The Dante Club. I don't want to do a long comparison of the two (in large part, becauI picked up The Poe Shadow because I had read and really enjoyed The Dante Club. I don't want to do a long comparison of the two (in large part, because I read The Dante Club a few years ago and can't remember enough to give it a proper review), but there is one notable difference that I found disappointing. The horrors described in the original Dante are actually carried out in The Dante Club; this is a huge part of what makes it so much fun to read. I think I was expecting The Poe Shadow to do the same, and it did not. I realize that these are two different books, and so this may be an unfair criticism. That said, Poe is so ripe for this kind of story that it seems like a waste to have passed by that opportunity.
Here, Pearl appears to be mirroring the style of Poe rather than the content. And, to be fair, I think he succeeds fairly well in this endeavor. Certain passages do feel very Poe-esque, such as the scene in which Clark (the protagonist) feels as if he is going insane in his jail cell. Also, since this is a detective story and Pearl basically writes a new version of Poe's detective C. Auguste Dupin, The Poe Shadow obviously has a similar feel to the Dupin tales (particularly The Murders in the Rue Morgue).
That said, I think this is actually as much a negative as a positive. While it further links this story to the original Poe, the Dupin tales tend to be full of exposition and a bit tedious and slow. I don't mean this as a critique of those stories (which I am now rereading), but I do think it makes them a risky source of inspiration. They were original and groundbreaking at the time, but the same devices feel tired and dull compared to the pace and style of today's mysteries.
My other main criticism is that I just don't care about the main character, Clark. His obsession with Poe seems too forced and convenient for me to really buy into it, especially considering what he's willing to sacrifice in pursuit of clearing Poe's name. I also question what he is really after - Clark treats Dupin like a rival who must be stopped at all costs, but I just don't see their work as being that contradictory.
Once again, I'm not sure my review matches my rating. I do think this book warrants 3 stars - Pearl is a good writer, and I was mostly engaged throughout the story. I was just a bit disappointed at some missed opportunities, and the underdevelopment of Clark....more
NOTE: I read an earlier version of this, and there have apparently been edits made before the current version was released. I have not yet had the chaNOTE: I read an earlier version of this, and there have apparently been edits made before the current version was released. I have not yet had the chance to review the new version, so some of these points/critiques may no longer apply. I will try to update as soon as I get a chance to compare the two.
Jesus was a Time Traveler was written and self-published by a friend of mine. This means, of course, that he will see my review. I don’t know if that will change the nature of what or how I write, but I figured it was worth mentioning in the interest of full disclosure. My intent is to treat this review like any other, critiques and all; to do less seems a disservice.
Jesus was a Time Traveler passes my number one test of a book – it made me want to keep turning the page to see what would happen next. It was engaging and I thought the plot was creative and interesting. The basic premise is this – a guy in the future invents a time machine and visits Jesus. He then realizes, because of the quantum computer controlling his time machine, he cannot travel directly back to his own time, but must meander through the fourth dimension on an indirect path home.
I thought the book was pretty well written. My general test for writing quality is whether or not it becomes distracting. Bonus points for excellent writing that few achieve, but mostly just make sure your words stay out of the way and let the story play itself out. I thought that this book achieved that.
A few small critiques: First, I wasn't entirely sure why the protagonist, Templeton, was British. I wasn’t entirely sure what purpose this served. Also, he was constantly using terms like “Brit” and “Yankees,” or talking about his British-ness – it felt like too much “telling” and not enough “showing.”
I also thought Templeton and Bloomington were a bit static. That said, I did come to like Corcoran’s character quite a bit by the end of the novel. I thought he was better developed, and has a lot of potential. I am encouraged by the teaser that the next book may focus more on his exploits directly.
There were a few areas I thought could have been tightened a bit, but overall I thought Jesus was a Time Traveler was pretty well executed and certainly worth reading....more
A quick disclaimer - first, while I was born in the early '80s, I am probably more a cultural product of the '90s. Second, I am no uber-geek. I am a vA quick disclaimer - first, while I was born in the early '80s, I am probably more a cultural product of the '90s. Second, I am no uber-geek. I am a very casual fan of video games and sci-fi, but don't know any anime, have not played D&D, and have never seen Star Trek. Therefore, I am admittedly only tangentially in what must be the target audience for this book.
Now for the review. I have struggled mightily in deciding whether to rate this at 4 or 5 stars. I actually had it as a 5, but after writing my review decided my rating and description were incongruous, so dropped it to a 4. This book has a few obvious flaws, and for that reason I think it doesn't quite warrant the top rating. That said, I found this book incredibly fun, creative, and engaging.
Ready Player One is full of '80s nostalgia, movie quotes, obscure video game references, and so on. I imagine this is a huge part of the book's success. And I think, at least broadly speaking, it is well executed. By that I mean that there is at least a semi-plausible reason for a book taking place in the mid-21st century to be full of '80s culture. The world has geeked out (by nature of living near-full time in a virtual universe) and there is a huge incentive (winning the game, and with it, billions of dollars) to be knowledgeable of said culture. The references are also generally a lot of fun.
I also think the story itself is generally well-paced, inventive, and fun. The quests that Parzival needs to complete - beating "real life" versions of 2D video games, walkthroughs of movies, etc. - are fun, even if you are not totally familiar with the source material. I didn't know a lot of the references in the book, but I have seen enough John Hughes movies, arcade games, and anime robots to get the gist, and I still enjoyed it. If you are a true geek, I imagine this world sounds like a giant wet dream - not only does all of your anime and video game knowledge matter, it could actually make you rich and famous (and get the girl)!
Here are my few issues with the book. First, it should be said that the writing is okay, but not great. I don't actually have a huge issue with this - I don't think it's setting out to be high literature, and the writing is never so bad as to be distracting.
As far as the '80s stuff, there is just too much, and too much of what's there doesn't serve a purpose. I believe that Halliday (creator of the virtual world and contest) loved his '80s stuff, but he seemed to not have any filter at all (quality or volume). It strikes me as similarly odd that every "gunter" (serious contestants in the game) also seems to love every bit of the '80s. Even those of us who lived through it and love it admit that a lot of this stuff was crap. I do think a movie version could help this - it is much harder for a movie character to simply make lists, with limited exceptions.*
*See, e.g. Schindler; Santa.
My other main problem with the book was that a few too many of the climactic moments relied on a deus ex machina for resolution. Related to this is the encyclopedic knowledge of the '80s possessed by Parzival. Every time he said how many times he had watched a certain movie, beaten a certain video game, or read a certain book, I couldn't help trying to do the mental math and thinking there is no possible way to have completed all of this - and with full recall - in the course of 5 years (since the inception of the contest). This is probably the element of the book I personally found the most distracting.
I have one final issue - it's small, and stupid, but it bugged me. (view spoiler)[Parzival installed the exercise lock on his OASIS account so that he could not log in if he had not burned a certain amount of calories that day. He said that after he got in shape he still used the lock because it had become part of his routine. He even says that it is connected to his account, not his location, so he can't bypass it by logging in somewhere else. But after he spends a week at IOI, he logs in to his account from the post office, at the public boutique, and finally from Og's house. Are we to just assume that enough time has passed that the exercise lock is no longer engaged? It's never mentioned! I realize this is one of those small silly things to harp on in a sci-fi story, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. Why wasn't he locked out of his account?! (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is my first Hiaasen, but I doubt it will be my last. This was a fun, quick, quirky read, and it had enough humor and drama to keep my interest thThis is my first Hiaasen, but I doubt it will be my last. This was a fun, quick, quirky read, and it had enough humor and drama to keep my interest throughout.
This genre - pop mystery/thriller - is not one I read a whole lot of, but I probably would if more were like Skinny Dip. This reminded me a lot of one of those dark, zany movies (A Fish Called Wanda, maybe?) - some of the characters were a little too outrageous and one-dimensional, and some of the situations a bit too absurd, but it works because of its tongue-in-cheek approach.
Hiaasen - I think - is trying to expose some of the absurdities of his own genre by playing with them in unconventional ways (for a point of comparison, I saw the same kind of thing in Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods). I have a soft spot for this sort of meta-self-critique. For instance, to be a thriller (at least one that's thrilling), there have to be lots of close calls. That means the protagonist is either very lucky, or the antagonist is very inept. Normally, we don't think about this - in fact, the author probably hopes that we miss/ignore it. Hiaasen, however, in crafting an inept killer, exaggerates this aspect of the character and even has the hapless (attempted) murderer comment on his own futility.
This book isn't perfect, but I don't think it's trying to be, and the result is highly entertaining and irreverent....more
For some reason when reading The Art of Fielding, I kept thinking that it reminded me of A Separate Peace. Before you read too much into this comparisFor some reason when reading The Art of Fielding, I kept thinking that it reminded me of A Separate Peace. Before you read too much into this comparison, you should know that I read A Separate Peace about 13 years ago for a high school class, and remember very little about it. I do think, however, that the comparison is apt insofar as both are boarding school/college "finding yourself" sorts of books (that's a genre, right?). I also think I made the comparison because The Art of Fielding felt like a book that could have been taught in a high school literature course (ignoring, for a moment, the inclusion of a homosexual relationship). And at least to me, that's a compliment - it means I think the book was well written, had interesting characters, and had plenty of well-established themes to explore.
If there is a central theme to the book (other than the more general personal growth and dynamics of relationship type of stuff, which is also present), I would say it is obsession. I suppose that makes sense, because Moby Dick plays a central role in the story, and if I had to guess, parallels the story in many ways (this is the part where I admit I've never read Moby Dick). I enjoy the way Harbach explores the obsessions of the various characters, and even more-so, how the characters have to adapt once the object of their obsession starts to slip from their grasp.
If I had criticism, it would be that the focus on these obsessions can make the characters a bit one-dimensional, or somehow caricatures of the people Harbach set out to write. As a result, I found Pella, and to a lesser degree, Owen, to be the most compelling characters, largely because they were not constrained by any particular obsession but served as outsiders or commentators on the people and events that drove the story. This made them more real to me, as opposed to Henry, or Schwartz, or Affenflight, even though I think the latter were probably intended to be more the protagonists.
Overall, I still think this was a 5-star read. The plot was well constructed, the storylines intertwined in interesting ways, and as I said above, there are compelling themes with enough depth to make this more than "just another book." And of course there is lots of baseball, including multiple St. Louis Cardinals references (albeit sometimes fictional), so what's not to love?...more
This is one of a very few books that I would rate highly but be very hesitant to recommend.Never Let Me Go is hard to describe. For starters, I don'tThis is one of a very few books that I would rate highly but be very hesitant to recommend.Never Let Me Go is hard to describe. For starters, I don't want to say too much about the substance of the plot because as in any dystopian work, I think that the revelation is part of the experience.
The pace of Never Let Me Go is fairly slow and not all that much happens. But I think that is essential to the mood of the book, which is one long slow reveal of the characters' lives - and fates. As many have commented, the narrator also takes an unnervingly disconnected and dispassionate tone when describing fairly weighty topics. This may be off-putting for some, but I thought it worked well. This isn't a dystopia world that will scare you to death, but rather a reality that makes you subtly uncomfortable - and the narrator's tone reflects this.
I actually think the book itself describes the experience the best. At some point, it is posited by the characters that perhaps those in the know have always been dropping hints to the children but at times when they are just slightly too young to understand them, so that one day they will know everything and simply feel like they've been aware of the truth all along. This is almost exactly what Ishiguro does to you as the reader.
In sum, I liked this book. It is well written, and provocative. This is not the most exhilarating read, but leads to interesting reflection....more
I hardly ever re-read books, and yet I keep coming back to "Night." This was my third or fourth reading, and rather than getting stale, the story seemI hardly ever re-read books, and yet I keep coming back to "Night." This was my third or fourth reading, and rather than getting stale, the story seems to get richer and more intense with every time through. It has been a few years since I last read "Night," and the first time since visiting Auschwitz.
It is without hyperbole that I say I truly believe this is one of the greatest books that I have ever read. The language is simple, the story direct, but no fewer words have ever said so much.
"I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions." I believe "Night" works so well because Elie Wiesel isn't looking for answers to the Holocaust; rather, he is searching for the right questions. It is in this way that Wiesel compares himself to Job: "I did not deny God's existence, but I doubted his infinite justice." But there are two significant differences between Job and Wiesel: first, Job was given a response from God (however unsatisfactory), and second, Job received back all that had been taken from him. Wiesel received neither, and this is what makes the narrative so poignant.
"Night" is an account of the Holocaust, but it simultaneously manages to be something much more and something elegantly less. At its grandest, "Night" is the ultimate tale of humanity, and of what we become when our humanity is stripped away. At its core, however, it is simply the story of a young boy and the parallel struggles he encounters in his relationship with his father and with his God. "Night" contains no answers, but it certainly poses the most beautiful - and the most haunting - of questions....more
I read this right after Through the Looking-Glass (I know, I did them out of order), and my feelings about both are fairly similar, so I recommend thaI read this right after Through the Looking-Glass (I know, I did them out of order), and my feelings about both are fairly similar, so I recommend that review for more details).
The strengths of "Alice" were pretty much the same as those in "Looking Glass" - wordplay, logic, poetry. Again, Carroll tends to use the same tricks repeatedly, but I was generally impressed with the execution. I thought the chapter with the Mock Turtle was particularly strong, and actually made me smile a few times with the silly puns (e.g. porpoise).
That said, I enjoyed this a bit less than "Through the Looking Glass," so I gave it one less star. Some of that may be attributed to the fact that I read it second, and so the motifs became a bit too repetitive. However, I also found it to be a bit more meandering than "Looking Glass," which I thought had a better, sharper pace. This was still a fun, quick read, and I imagine I'll give it another shot after a bit more time has passed....more
I had never read a book on my iPad, but have been wanting to try it as an e-reader for some time. I chose "Through the Looking Glass" because (1) it wI had never read a book on my iPad, but have been wanting to try it as an e-reader for some time. I chose "Through the Looking Glass" because (1) it was free, (2) it was short, and (3) it was on my [long] list of classics I wanted to read but never had. The result was a 4-star experience all around (both for the book, and reading on the iPad).
Like The Princess Bride, it is hard to divorce my feelings about the reading of the book from my cultural familiarity with the story. That said, I am probably less intimately familiar with Carroll's stories than most - I had neither read this nor "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," and although I have seen the Disney animated version of "Alice," it was one time as a child, and I remember little more than the Cheshire Cat. Here is how much I know - I read "Through the Looking Glass" because for some reason I thought it was the original story, not "Wonderland," and I was hoping to read them in order. Part way through the story that seemed wrong, and I looked it up, only then realizing I had the order backwards.
So with all that said, I enjoyed "Through the Looking Glass." It was a fun, quirky read. It made me wonder about the sanity of both Alice and Carroll at times, but it was a fun, carefree sort of befuddlement. It also made me wish I had read this as a child (like Tuck Everlasting), so I could take the crazy with a little more childhood indulgence and a little less adult skepticism. But I mostly found it endearing, particularly given the relatively short length of the story.
My favorite parts were the wordplay and the poetry. In particular, I thought "The Walrus and the Carpenter" was a real highlight. In retrospect, I suppose much of the wordplay was simply multiple variations of the same general trick (playing with homophones), but it wasn't overplayed to the point of getting stale. Coupled with a quick pace and clever interactions - especially for a children's book - I found this to be an enjoyable read....more
I rated this book two stars, but it's probably more like two "meh's." Actually, it should be one star, but I can't bring myself to rate it lower becauI rated this book two stars, but it's probably more like two "meh's." Actually, it should be one star, but I can't bring myself to rate it lower because I knew exactly what I was getting into and have a hard time docking something for delivering pretty much what I expected.
What I expected was vegan propaganda, delivered in a raunchy, no frills style. And that's what I got. I give this book a few stars because there is some decent information throughout, and because it did cause me to think about a few things differently (which is, after all, what any decent book should do).
It also had its share of pitfalls. The "talk like one of the guys" humor came across a bit forced, and while I mentioned that there was some good information, there was also a fair share of "facts" that were clearly pushing the boundaries of accuracy. My biggest complaint was the thing I should have expected most: the totally biased and lopsided framing of the discussion, and dismissiveness of alternative viewpoints. For instance, meat was constantly referred to as "rotting, dying flesh," while vegetables were referred to as crisp, vibrant, etc. Every time this discussion happened, I couldn't help but think that vegetables are also dying and rotting the second you pick them, and a head of lettuce that has gone bad is no less smelly or revolting than meat that has done the same.
I would probably not recommend this book, but if you do decide to read it, know that you're getting exactly what you'd expect (apologies for the circular caveat)....more
I can't say that I've ever encountered a book/movie combination that plays as similarly as does The Princess Bride. This shouldn't be surprising givenI can't say that I've ever encountered a book/movie combination that plays as similarly as does The Princess Bride. This shouldn't be surprising given that Goldman wrote the book and also the screenplay, but it still made for an interesting reading experience. There are obviously some small differences in plot, and the movie forgoes all of the satirical material regarding the "adaptation" of S. Morgernstern's original...but with all that said, there are quite a few entire scenes and bits of dialogue that were lifted directly from the book into the movie.
The recognition alone (and love for the movie) would make this an enjoyable enough read. It doesn't stop there, however. The humor, satire, and wit are even sharper in the book than on screen. I particularly enjoyed the meta jokes, especially those regarding Goldman's (fictional) wife, Helen. By mixing his made up narrative with real details, such as discussion of the film, interactions with Andre the Giant and others, etc, Goldman continuously keeps us guessing as to what, if anything, to believe. He is playing with us - I suppose some may find this frustrating, but I thought it was well executed and seemed to form a nice connection between author and reader.
The other major difference I saw between the book and movie was Goldman's ability to further develop the characters. Westley is actually a bit of a jerk, Buttercup is even more helpless, Humperdink more ruthless, and so on. The character bits I enjoyed the best, however, were Inigo and Fezzik's back-stories. Here are characters who I have known for years, and finally got to take a peak into what makes them tick.
I realize most of this review is in comparison to the movie, but I think it is impossible to read The Princess Bride divorced from this context, and I imagine most others will have the same experience....more