A compelling corrective which demonstrates the ways in which modern Western claims (particularly by academics and secularists) about the impending "de...moreA compelling corrective which demonstrates the ways in which modern Western claims (particularly by academics and secularists) about the impending "death" of Christianity are in fact based on ethnocentrism and cultural myopia. Such claims, as Jenkins demonstrates, fail to take into account the explosive growth of Christianity in Africa, Latin America and Asia over the last few decades -- growth which is generally ignored because it is occuring among peoples whom claimants (perhaps subconsciously) view as unimportant, insignificant or unworthy of consideration, and because it involves forms of Christianity which the claimants do not even bother to take into account. And growth which I myself have witnessed.
Jenkins proposes: that Christianity will eventually shift from a religion centered in the global West and North to a religion centered in the "global South"; that while Islam may eventually emerge as the dominant religion of Europe, the continuous stream of Latin-American, African and Asian immigrants into the United States and Canada will likely lead to a sort of "re-Christianization" of those nations (rather than the secularization predicted by academics); and that just as the shift from the Near/Middle East and Mediterranean regions to Europe and Russia changed the nature of Christian credo and praxis, Christianity's nature will eventually be determined by the people of the global South.
A fascinating read, and amazingly thorough. Highly recommended. (less)
FIRST REVIEW: Everyone has sung the praises of this book to me -- as well as those of Vonnegut in general -- for as long as I have been aware of readi...moreFIRST REVIEW: Everyone has sung the praises of this book to me -- as well as those of Vonnegut in general -- for as long as I have been aware of reading. However I found both it and Vonnegut tiresome and excessively labored. He tries SO HARD to be hip and quirky and ironic, but the humor (such as it is) and the commentary (such as it is) just wind up feeling like dated relics of their time. The book has not aged well. It lacks the timeless feel of great literature, and doesn't even function for me on a nostalgic level. I think the only genuinely original and creative aspect of this book that I recall was the description of the aliens. Otherwise it was a complete waste of my time and brain cells.
SECOND REVIEW: Nope. This book is the literary equivalent of easy, empty calories and heartburn disguised as a full four-course Italian meal. This book is so convinced of its own cleverness and depth and meaningfulness, but is utterly lacking in all three. The aliens, while neat, also turn much of this into a less-ambitious Stranger in a Strange Land -- and while i have many complaints about Heinlein's manifesto-cum-sci-fi-novel, i cannot deny that it is ambitious. The characters here are weak and thin; the pacing is dreadfully slow (making a tiny book feel as long as "Stranger" actually was); and the "messages", such as they were, are hollow, smug and facile. The fact that this lost both the Hugo and the Nebula to The Left Hand of Darkness proves that there is some justice in the world. This book is literary Frito pie -- but without the seductive tastiness of that dish.(less)
A wild, weird look into the history of the Marx Brothers (and more especially the making and impact of "Duck Soup" ((and even more especially into the...moreA wild, weird look into the history of the Marx Brothers (and more especially the making and impact of "Duck Soup" ((and even more especially into the thoughts and feelings of Roy Blount Jr. on the same)) ) written almost as a stream of consciousness exploration. Dangerous to start reading before bedtime, because now I don't want to stop!(less)
This book would best be read in conjunction with Garrett's "The Demise of the Devil" because many of the theories which he begins this book by assumin...moreThis book would best be read in conjunction with Garrett's "The Demise of the Devil" because many of the theories which he begins this book by assuming or laying out, she dismantles handily.
All told, I found this book relatively unhelpful and excessively dogmatic in its approach to Jewish-Christian relations in the first few centuries. A lot of show but very little substance. I can't recommend it. Those considering reading it should instead turn to Shaye Cohen's far superior "From the Maccabees to the Mishnah".(less)
In which Superman takes a good hard look at the world and thinks "I can fix this! What good are my powers if I only use them for violence?" Only to di...moreIn which Superman takes a good hard look at the world and thinks "I can fix this! What good are my powers if I only use them for violence?" Only to discover that even a Man of Steel, however mighty and pure-hearted, is powerless before humanity's commitment to self-destruction. This volume actually felt like an implicit criticism of the "big gesture" style of charity, the sort of humanitarian aid that is impressive and flashy and makes for good copy and poll numbers, but which amounts to no more than applying a band-aid to a victim of dismemberment. The ultimate message is that we have to help ourselves, because we're the ones doing ourselves the most harm, and all the miracles in the world won't stop us from ruining each other's lives if we really want to.
ADDENDUM: I might be the only person left who genuinely likes Superman. I don't mean one of the plethora of rebooted Supermen -- the angsty teens, the "social justice" shills, the hip be-ponytailed hunks -- so cynically crafted to appeal to our current obsessions with anti-heroes and seeing white knights dragged through the muck. I mean Superman the big blue "Boy Scout", the old-fashioned champion of truth, justice and the American Way. You know: the Superman that every writer now either wants to kill off or to "re-imagine" to make him more "relevant" (and therefore less timeless). I like that Superman. I like him all the more as a relic of an older time, a time when we weren't quite so sarcastic and smug and self-satisfied with our own oxymoronic Manichaean moral relativism. I like Superman as a character who embodies a certain set of old American values, and I like him even more as a character who constantly finds himself sneered at and mocked and challenged and treated as irrelevant because he's a true believer in an America we no longer wish to be. The tragic hero, the virtuous champion -- that's the Superman I like and whose adventures I'm always happy to follow.(less)
A visceral, powerful debut novel which moves along at an impressive clip. I finished it in less than 24 hours...but wow.
I do not know why the publisher made the decision to present this as a YA novel because it was obviously not intended as such (EDIT: and Wells has said so on the "Writing Excuses" podcast he shares with Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler). The attention to detail is remarkable and a bit overwhelming at points -- the opening scene in which he lovingly assists his mother in the family-run mortuary, for instance, or the scene in which... Well, there's one scene about 90% of the way through the book which just does not seem like the sort of thing anyone should be recommending to kids. I'm still sort of in shock.
A good book, better than some of his others. It's almost like he took Elantris and refined the core concepts, then added in some elements from Tigana...moreA good book, better than some of his others. It's almost like he took Elantris and refined the core concepts, then added in some elements from Tigana (I was reading the two at the same time and honestly started getting them confused). Unfortunately, the magic-system is never fully realized, the ending (as in so many Sanderson books) is weak, and the setting is barely explored (it takes place in a jungle, but they only ever refer to that in passing!). 3 stars, but it could have been so much better!(less)
It's her first book, apparently, so the writing and characterization can get a little rough, and I honestly...moreNot bad. I'd definitely like to read more.
It's her first book, apparently, so the writing and characterization can get a little rough, and I honestly don't think she knows how to write men. The TWO female characters seem to embody only bad female archetypes, while the various male characters...er...embody the remaining female archetypes; the males ALL seemed to be about one heartbeat away from either kissing each other, scratching each others' eyes out, or putting their hair up in curlers and having a pillow-fight. It was really odd and clearly wasn't deliberate, so I'm hoping she learned to write both sexes better in the subsequent volumes. The fact that they all seem to be about males does fill me with a nameless dread, however.
Also, the constant politicking and framing of certain characters for crimes they had not committed got old VERY quickly. It happens about ten times throughout the novel, and by about the fifth time I was sick of it. After that, I started finding it hilarious. The race-hatred which under-girds the characters' willingness to believe lies about the framed parties is definitely a feature worth exploring and, to her credit, she does manage to show it FAR more than tell it. But again, after the fifth time it started to just feel silly.
In the end, though, I did think it was a neat little book. The pacing was brisk, the setting was interesting, the author's own voice was unobtrusive, and I'm willing to cut her some slack because it's her first novel. I'll pick up the second in the series soon.(less)
Okay. It was never easy for Stony Mayhall. He was born a poor zombie child. He remembered the days, sittin' in the basement with his family, diggin' a...moreOkay. It was never easy for Stony Mayhall. He was born a poor zombie child. He remembered the days, sittin' in the basement with his family, diggin' and readin' over in Iowa...
(Apologies to Steve Martin)
Seriously though, this is an incredible bildungsroman about a boy born dead named John "Stony" Mayhall who grows up in an alternate version of America in which John Romero's 1968 film was actually a documentary. For unknown reasons, the dead rise in the Eastern US, hungering for human flesh and spreading their infection by bite. The military finally puts down the living dead, but a single mother named Wanda discovers the frozen corpse of a girl in a snowstorm; the girl died clutching her dead newborn...her living dead newborn. Wanda decides to secretly raise the child alongside her three daughters, trying to keep him from learning the truth about his "people". What follows is quite possibly the finest zombie novel I've ever read. (less)
I honestly do not understand why this series was so beloved. I found it dull and derivative, with inferior art-work and unremarkable writing. I tried...moreI honestly do not understand why this series was so beloved. I found it dull and derivative, with inferior art-work and unremarkable writing. I tried reading several volumes, but not a one of them reached above a "1 star" rating, and I've long since forgotten which they were. My advice: give this one a pass and move on to something better, like "The Sandman", "Persepolis" or "The Unwritten".
UPDATE: Upon reading many of the reviews I think I understand a little better the root of this series' popularity. It's got swear words! It's got brutal and unnecessary violence! It's got racist & homophobic epithets! It's got an insultingly-streotypical portrayal of the American South/West/SouthWest that is rivaled only by the Family Guy episode "Boys Do Cry"! It's got insulting portrayals of religion, religious people, and religious figures! Oh how DARING! In short, it's a lazy, crass appeal to the adolescent. It's the sort of thing a High School student would write/draw, believing their ideas to be SO original, but which even small children would recognized as tired, cliched and lowest-common-denominator-approved. Again, if you're looking for a thoughtful examination of the supposed themes (religion, America, etc.), check out "The Sandman", or Michael Moorcock's "Von Bek" stories.(less)
This book contains more racism than I remember, in large part because as a boy i didn't know what many of the terms meant.
ACTUAL REVIEW TAKEN FROM MY...moreThis book contains more racism than I remember, in large part because as a boy i didn't know what many of the terms meant.
ACTUAL REVIEW TAKEN FROM MY COMMENT ON BIRDBRIAN'S REVIEW: 'I'm not sure if I completely misread this book (which I am now re-reading after a couple of decades), but I always thought that the point of Tom Sawyer was to highlight what a jackass boys can be. As a kid I always took this book as a sort of darkly comic cautionary tale, the way so many "trickster" legends are. Tom Sawyer goes around screwing people over, nearly getting himself and others killed, and then in the end everything works out to his advantage so he remains convinced that life will always be that way -- but we, the readers, get to chuckle and say "Yeah, keep on grinning, Tom. You'll get yours in the end." Kind of like "Don Giovanni" or, perhaps more appropriately, Coyote.'(less)
This volume represented a new shift in the "Jack of Fables" series. For better or worse, the chocolate of "Fables" has gotten into the peanut butter o...moreThis volume represented a new shift in the "Jack of Fables" series. For better or worse, the chocolate of "Fables" has gotten into the peanut butter of "Jack", as demonstrated by the fact that half this volume is actually about Jack of the Tales' son by Lumi (aka: The Snow Queen) as he struggles to come to terms with the discovery that his mother is evil and his father is a narcissistic scumbag. Despite what the cover seems to indicate, Lumi herself does not make an appearance (in fact, none of the characters/creatures depicted in the cover appear, aside from Jack Frost himself), but one of Geppetto's final creations does and he becomes young Jack Frost's faithful sidekick. There's still a strain of metafictional content as young Jack contemplates and tries to fit into the heroic mold, and his adventures are more lighthearted than what we're accustomed to in a proper "Fables" story, but there's a good deal more action and soul-searching than one expects to find in a simple "Jack of Fables" story. Add to that the fact that young Jack and his sidekick are both actually likable and it seems like the dawning of a brand new day for the often-annoying "Jack of Fables" title.
However, there's plenty of original-recipe Jack in there too, as he undergoes a mysterious transformation (or it WOULD have been mysterious if the back-cover summary of the TPB hadn't spoiled it for us) and Gary does his best to stick by his rapidly-changing friend. Gary is a lovable character, and that's because he's supposed to be, but it's the genuine (if poorly-articulated) affection which Jack of the Tales feels for his "lil buddy" that really sells the Jack/Gary dynamic. Also, there's a scene in this volume which seems to suggest that either Kevin Thorn or Mr. Revise might not be as "banished" as they appeared to have been at the end of "The Great Fables Crossover"...A scene which may alter not only the friendship between Jack & Gary but the natures of both characters forever!
My only real qualm was Jack Frost's decision, upon learning that his heroism had earned him the right to marry the brave, kind and DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS heroine, to flee as fast as his little magic could take him. Why did he do that? Why would ANYONE do that? I wondered at first if this might not be the first indication that he was gay, but in the very beginning of the subsequent volume he's easily swayed by the...er..."charms" of a comely witch, so that must not have been it. He's not the bounder/cad that his father is, however, and he actually seems more sheltered than "passionate". Was this part of his commitment to being an itinerant hero? If so, couldn't he have stayed married to her and made a home with her in her world, popping off into another world for a spot of heroism the way mundane men commute to work? Couldn't she have come WITH him? It didn't make a lick of sense, but the way the author phrases Jack Frost's explanation leads me to believe that we're actually supposed to understand this decision. Maybe Willingham simply forgot that readers can't read an author's mind?
Overall, I liked this volume a lot. Just enough of original-recipe Jack to maintain continuity but plenty of refreshing Jack Frost to keep me engaged. Had this JUST been about either one, I'm not sure it could've received more than 3 stars, but the mixture merits 4.(less)
A roughly-written but engaging debut novel, an alternate history of the Napoleonic Wars in which dragons exist and enlist in the military of their hos...moreA roughly-written but engaging debut novel, an alternate history of the Napoleonic Wars in which dragons exist and enlist in the military of their host-nations. My copy has a quote on the back from a TIME magazine review likening the book to "Jane Austen playing D&D with Eragon's Christopher Paolini." Hardly. The prose is rough and the pacing is off at times, but they're far better and far more original than Paolini's; and whereas Jane Austen's tales focus on dinner parties and drawing rooms, dances and matchmaking, Novik's focus is on military life and on the inevitable exile from polite society following entry into the unnerving world of the fantastic which here exists alongside the mundane. It is far more like encountering the hybrid offspring of Bernard Cornwell and Anne McCaffrey, with all that that entails.
The book's strongest feature is the author's consistent attempt to present a more realistic presentation of the life of people in a world where dragons are real. Dragon's are not simply magical beings, un-beholden to any natural law; hints are given that there is some natural, evolutionary sense to their physiognomy and biology, and the different breeds of dragons are bred and cross-bred for various traits. British dragons, for instance, because they are native to a much smaller land-mass, tend to be much smaller than dragons from other regions; "Turkish" dragons have been bred specifically for their ability to breath fire, while "Oriental" dragons have been bred for intelligence and grace, and "French" dragons have been bred for size and power. A nation's ability to muster a successful contingent of dragons is entirely dependent on the abundance and character of its dragon-ready food-supply, resulting in even greater importance being placed on the rearing and breeding of livestock. Normal people fear dragons and shun their "handlers", and the fastidious Navy and Army both look upon the comparatively-anarchic "Aerial Corps" with undisguised contempt. Becoming a dragon's "handler" (not merely a rider or a pilot, but the creature's dearest friend and love-object, as domesticated dragons appear to be somewhat symbiotic) is not simple wish-fulfillment, but a life-long commitment which no-one WANTS unless they are a part of the Corps or have been raised to serve in it; dragon "handlers" find themselves necessarily excluded from proper and polite society, incapable of marriage or public office, and bound to spend most of their time in places where their giant companions can fit comfortably (ie: the wilderness. The first third of this book is dedicated to the protagonist's repeated disappointments as, one by one, his plans and ambitions are all annihilated by his sudden and unwelcome selection by a newly-hatched dragon. And though he comes eventually to love his new companion and value him above (nearly) all else, there is always a sense of lingering loss, of regret and loneliness as he is forced to leave behind the promising career and comraderie he found in the King's Navy and consort with the unrefined, undisciplined men (and women!) of His Majesty's Aerial Corps.
Indeed, this is one of Novik's strongest talents -- the ability to present a world in which nothing is quite as simple as fantasy novels are inclined to present them as being. Women are permitted in the Corps, but only reluctantly and because one breed of dragon will only accept female handlers. Dragon-riding is glorious, but requires forsaking all hopes and dreams of a "real" life. Dragons are powerful and variably intelligent, but their strong pair-bond with their handlers makes it all but impossible for them to understand things like patriotism or duty -- they serve only because their handlers serve, and without that bond they might easily become wild and unstoppable predators. Dragons can be charming and loveable, but they are also jealous and resent any attachment which in any way seems to threaten their relationship with their handlers. Surprises abounded within the book, and a final revelation (which at first seemed hokey and cliched) was turned around within the space of a few pages to connect with a plot-point I had previously disregarded and thereby make things more difficult and unpleasant for our protagonists.
A solid three-star book. I am looking forward to seeing how Novik develops as a writer in future volumes, as well as seeing how the characters develop within the world she has created.(less)