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. D...moreAttempted 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.(less)
Fabulous political intrigue and the very satisfactory conclusion of a long-sustained narrative conflict. While much of the middle of the book is conce...moreFabulous 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.(less)
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 sam...moreThis 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.(less)
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...more4.5 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.)(less)
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 plum...moreThis 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.(less)
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 ("bird...moreI 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.(less)
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 littl...moreTime 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.(less)
A great improvement over the last few in this series. Some of the series's besetting sins persist: florid emotionality, somewhat repetitive descriptio...moreA great improvement over the last few in this series. Some of the series's besetting sins persist: florid emotionality, somewhat repetitive descriptions of the Flanders trenches, et cetera. However, the actual plot, about the suspicious death of a dangerously incompetent officer, is very well done. It brings together many of the characters established throughout the series, as well as presenting the kind of hairy ethical dilemma in which these books revel. Highlights include a trip in a biplane, and a bit of courtroom drama (welcome news to fans of Anne Perry's Monk series and its Old Bailey trials.)
Audiobook note: Narrator still chews the scenery.(less)
This is one of the two best books I've read so far this year, and I doubt it will be dethroned.
The Culture, from which the main character springs, is...moreThis is one of the two best books I've read so far this year, and I doubt it will be dethroned.
The Culture, from which the main character springs, is easy for a science fiction reader to identify with: technologically advanced, socially progressive, inventive and aesthetically pleasing. But it's hard not to see some reflection of our own Earth in the 'barbaric' Empire that the Culture's Player of Games visits. Some of his pecularities, Culturally speaking, make the protagonist seem a bit more like a man of our world and time than of his own. Those ambiguities and similarities are richly plumbed. I found my liking or disliking for the nuanced characters was seldom allowed to set firm, which added to the tension and played off the themes of the book.
The book's slowly building plot is engrossing, the concepts fascinating and epic. It has some cogent yet wildly imaginative settings and intriguing bits of worldbuilding that hint at insights into power, society and politics. It leaves much of this unsaid and unpacked, the plot central and the themes gathered tightly around it. In short, it's beautifully crafted. One of the things I admire about it most is the way it uses language, from the first, to demonstrate attitudes and ways of thinking. An artificial intelligence's tiny physical body is not small enough to fit in your hands, it's small enough to hide in your hands. It is after all not an object, but an entity, sentient and independent-willed. Tiny notes like this are hit throughout the narrative, illustrating the power of language to shape thought before the plot ever touches on that power. It's elegant, challenging, and entertaining. (less)
A classic Brother Cadfael. As ever, Cadfael's easy affection and his unquashable curiosity make him a charming figure, the coziest of cozy detectives....moreA classic Brother Cadfael. As ever, Cadfael's easy affection and his unquashable curiosity make him a charming figure, the coziest of cozy detectives.
Cadfael, however, appears a little less often than average in the pages of this volume, as we follow Sheriff Hugh Beringar and other interested parties around war-torn England, searching for answers. Peters again does a good job of incorporating the larger history of the Stephen vs. Maud civil war into the book. She makes her story arise out of and interlock with those greater events seamlessly.
Notes on audiobook: The narrator did a fine job, but I find it odd that they chose a female narrator for a book with a male protagonist and scarcely any female characters. (less)