I'm having a hard time rating this book, because my enjoyment level varied so much during the reading of it.
The beginning of the book is gri3.5 stars?
I'm having a hard time rating this book, because my enjoyment level varied so much during the reading of it.
The beginning of the book is grim and even gruesome, and the language is a slight barrier to entry (more on both these aspects later). After the first major turn in the story (after the magic starts), I enjoyed it more and more. It was unusual -- dare I say original? -- beautiful, and strange. I loved the girl characters, and the primal appeal of the Bear archetype. There were some parts that dragged toward the end of this middle section, but it was very engaging in general. Here and later, I think the pacing suffered from the long scope of the book (years, even decades.)
After the main conflict resolution, the story seemed somewhat uneven. There were parts about the characters' growth and changes which were quite deft and interesting, but with three protagonists' lives unfolding in third person and sections from other characters inserted in first person, it sometimes felt aimless and lacking in narrative drive. However, I cared about the characters and wanted to know how their lives progressed.
The language throughout the book is a little unusual, with the first-person sections especially repurposing words. "She suddenlied" for "she said suddenly", or "intimated" for "was intimate with" (she may spell or notate these differently than I have, as I listened to the audiobook.) This worked to an extent to create a sense of difference and archaism, but it occasionally seemed forced and created a barrier to understanding. Certainly the dialect and word use in the initial, grimmest sections were rather heavy going.
Despite its flaws, the book has beautiful characters and motifs, strange and striking images that seem to come from forgotten fairy tales, and an unusual, haunting world. It has powerful themes of survival, healing, love and freedom. However, I wouldn't recommend it as a light read, or for anyone who's triggered by sexual violence.
Audiobook notes: The female reader, who does most of the reading, did a beautiful job and had a lovely, perfect accent. The male reader seemed a little hammy (as he has on other audiobooks I've heard) and didn't make the odd verbiage any easier to swallow. Section breaks in the third person narrative were either read or edited too close together, so be prepared for shifts in focus, place and time with not even a pause for breath! Lastly, if you have an old, decrepit CD player, the short tracks on the CDs may cause it to hang. I solved this by digging up a discman with skip protection -- it had no trouble at all.
That concludes my review, but I have a few thoughts and questions, below.
Turn aside now, dear reader, if you don't want spoilers about the first few chapters.
I am not a habitual reader of modern YA fiction. I've heard that it deals with plenty of harsh subjects, and when I was 12-18, I read mostly adult fiction. But I was powerfully affected as a teenager by much less detailed rape scenes than those in Tender Morsels. A gang rape Mercedes Lackey described in one matter-of-fact sentence gave me dry heaves when I was twelve (and I still remember the sentence, all these years later.) Those here are not graphic, but they are evocative -- the dialogue attributed to the rapists, the way the character describes her experiences -- and the situations are detailed. On the one hand, I admire the really meaningful themes of survival and recovery from trauma that are masterfully rendered in this book. On the other hand, I wonder how this is received by the "young adult" readership*.
The sexual abuse is introduced within the first chapter or two of the book, along with some really disturbing descriptions of the girl's miscarriage. It only gets more and more disturbing. Are young readers going to keep going through all that pain and degradation? I understand why it's there, on multiple levels, but I was surprised at the detail and at how front-loaded it was. I know I have YA authors and YA readers among my friends: do you have any input on this?
Feminist sidenote: This story does an amazing job of defining rape culture, partly by negation.
*Obviously, some people in the age range have personal experience of sexual abuse and assault. But that's hardly a guarantee they want to read about it, and I'd expect a good proportion of those readers to be put off or triggered by the content, which means they wouldn't get to all the good stuff about healing and growing. ...more
Attempted to listen to the audiobook on insistence of Mom. By the time I found a broken tape, I was already looking for an excuse to stop listening. DAttempted to listen to the audiobook on insistence of Mom. By the time I found a broken tape, I was already looking for an excuse to stop listening. Despite some beautiful descriptions and notions, I found the male characters two-dimensional, some of the female protagonists' views and actions very grating, and some chapters far too given to summarization and explication to sustain my involvement....more
Fabulous political intrigue and the very satisfactory conclusion of a long-sustained narrative conflict. While much of the middle of the book is conceFabulous political intrigue and the very satisfactory conclusion of a long-sustained narrative conflict. While much of the middle of the book is concerned with Maturin's machinations in the Sultanate of Pulo Prabang, there are also some exciting nautical occurrences in the then largely uncharted South China Sea....more
This series has been disappointing for me in general. We Shall Not Sleep shares some of the small, consistent flaws of the whole -- overuse of the samThis series has been disappointing for me in general. We Shall Not Sleep shares some of the small, consistent flaws of the whole -- overuse of the same details to establish place and atmosphere, overwrought characters -- but has some others as well.
This book takes place at the end of World War I, and I found various characters' extreme prescience hard to credit -- their easy predictions about the European economy and the probability of Germany becoming belligerent again struck me as anachronistically accurate. There's also a sort of plot discontinuity at one point where one character is cleared of suspicion and another is elevated to prime suspect all at once, in summary rather than in scene. It's never made clear why this one character, out of a group of men with similar characteristics and a shared alibi, is considered the obvious culprit (besides that it drives the plot).
The end struck me as discordant with the values of the whole, and I was left with the impression that the peace talks were going to be hunky-dory -- no sense of the punitive sanctions that would in fact burden and embitter Germany and set the stage for Hitler's rise to power.
The book contains a decent mystery and was interesting enough to finish -- especially after having invested time in the whole series -- but I really don't recommend it or this series. If you want a good historical mystery, pick up the author's Pitt or Monk books....more
Use of Weapons is a challenging book to read, and a book that challenges by nature: it's about war, the necessity of it, the uses of it, and4.5 stars
Use of Weapons is a challenging book to read, and a book that challenges by nature: it's about war, the necessity of it, the uses of it, and the sorts of people it creates and requires. It's memorable, exciting, and packs an emotional punch.
A gripping book when you get into it, but a difficult read at first. The chapters vary between non-chronological and often chaotic episodes from the life of warrior-protagonist Zakalwe and the more accessible, easy-to-follow narrative of his Culture contact and handler, Diziet Sma. Diziet's chapters are perhaps less interesting, but give more context clues and reference points for constructing the narrative. That's why I call this book a difficult read: it requires more of your help in constructing itself than the average book. I believe it rewards the effort, and by the middle, I was far more interested in the bizarre and often brutal life of Zakalwe than in the Diziet storyline.
Zakalwe reminds me of a Roger Zelazny hero: competent but self-deprecating, jumping from frying pan to fire and getting burned, bruised and broken in the process. Wise-cracking in the face of death, and escaping, albeit scathed. I found most of the book hard to put down while I read it, and haunting afterwards.
I've only read a few Culture Novels thus far, but this one is part of a pattern I see emerging: protagonists who are outsiders, completely or partly, to the Culture. It's a good way of telling stories around a rather utopian setting. Due to the challenging beginning of this book, my current recommendation is that new Culture Novel readers read Player of Games, my favorite of the books so far (and one of my two favorite books read this year.)...more
This is a quick read and does what it sets out to do well. That's particularly remarkable because it sets out to be an overview of the history of plumThis is a quick read and does what it sets out to do well. That's particularly remarkable because it sets out to be an overview of the history of plumbing from the 6000 BCE Indus Valley civilization onward and a droll personal account of being obsessed with plumbing. (f.t.6k.BCE.I.V.c.o.)
It's informative (did you know toilet rooms at Roman baths had no privacy?), sweeping (what would happen if we used our sewage to make energy instead of spending energy to clean it?), and very funny. It made me chortle at my lunch counter, in fact. And despite the assumptions I've found people draw when I say it's a hilarious book about plumbing ("poo jokes!?") it's not scatological humor -- it's mostly self-deprecation about how obsessed and occasionally foolish the author is. He also, however, has his wisdom, whether in briefly guessing at the roots of scatological humor, or envisioning a healthier, brighter future where we aren't ashamed to talk about toilets and our planet reaps the benefits.
My least favorite parts were the pro- and epilogue, so if you don't like the first few pages, do skip to Chapter 1 and give it another try....more
I am a big fan of Simon Winchester's books in general, but this one I found less enjoyable than his others. There were occasional inaccuracies ("birdI am a big fan of Simon Winchester's books in general, but this one I found less enjoyable than his others. There were occasional inaccuracies ("bird progenitor pterodactyl"? What?) or oversimplifications (sedimentation can't occur without an ocean?) which bothered me, as well as a certain habit of repetition. I am not sure these flaws were more pronounced here so much as his usual sterling qualities had less range for expression.
This is, after all, a fairly straightforward story. Though William Smith's accomplishments shaped the history of geology, his life and career are fashioned on the scale of the personal, the regional. Where Winchester has excelled, in A Crack in the Edge of the World and Krakatoa, in tracking down scores of accounts and sources and using them to fashion a multi-faceted portrait of vast cataclysm, here he has a smaller canvas to paint. He has fewer sources -- Smith's papers and abortive autobiography, his nephew's biography of him -- as well. There is less here for Winchester to thoroughly investigate and vividly imagine for us, and less surprise. Smith's ill fortune and lack of recognition is hardly startling, since it fits into a pattern in the history of the sciences in Britain, as Winchester notes.
I'm glad Winchester wrote this book. It's unfair that Smith's posterity should be confined to those who took Sedimentology and Stratigraphy courses in college, and I was glad to learn more about him than the single day's lecture I remember from that class. It was edifying, well-written and interesting. However, I feel it could have been pruned quite a bit.
Notes on the audiobook: The author narrated his own book, and did it admirably. His accents for quotes -- notably Smith's own Oxfordshire -- were lovely....more
Time has slipped away from me on reviewing this book, so I'll be briefer than I meant.
This is very Dickensish Dickens indeed. He delves into the littlTime has slipped away from me on reviewing this book, so I'll be briefer than I meant.
This is very Dickensish Dickens indeed. He delves into the littlest-known professions of London's economic underbelly, makes endless and intricate mock of the empty hearts and minds of the money- and status-obsessed nouveau riche, weaves a terrifically complicated plot, and engages in all the heart-rending melodrama for which you either hate or love him. He makes some amends here -- Riah, a noble Jewish character unable to escape the stereotypes others lay on him seems a clear apologia for Fagin. Jenny Wren's complex and fallible character may comfort a few who find the saintly Tiny Tim, Dickens's most famous disabled child, hard to take. (Jenny Wren has her twee moments as well: troops of angels visiting her in her worst childhood moments, Boz? Really?)
The story is sprawling, of course, but its central theme is the corrupting effect of money. I found the central story and the characters of the Boffins effective and surprisingly poignant. The nouveau riche storyline, featuring the Veneerings and Lammles, was the least appealing to me. The descriptions of the Veneerings and their doings were so stylized as to occasionally lose focus, I thought, and I found Georgiana Podsnap frustrating to the point of apathy.
This is late Dickens, and while as I say his melodramatic tendencies are in full force, there are more variations in moral fabric, more surprises about people's true natures and capacities, than I feel I find in some of his earlier novels. It's a rich book, full of unhappy love, fierce determination, human folly, and of course startling evocations of Victorian London. It's huge and complicated, but full of memorable images and people. A necessity for Dickens lovers....more