Overall Satisfaction: ★ Intellectual Satisfaction: ★ Emotional Satisfaction: ★ Bechdel Test: Pass Johnson Test: Pass Will I read more by this author? Maybe...moreOverall Satisfaction: ★ Intellectual Satisfaction: ★ Emotional Satisfaction: ★ Bechdel Test: Pass Johnson Test: Pass Will I read more by this author? Maybe. Definitely not with this translator.
I loved Andreas Eschbach’s previous novel, The Carpet Makers, currently his only other novel translated into English. It was very much an idea-driven science fiction novel, old-fashioned in a very good way, fitting nicely in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov. And the translation by Doryl Jensen was superb, the prose clear and spare and elegant in a way that made the eventual mystery reveal more powerful.
Unfortunately, I could not even finish Lord of All Things.
It is a much more modern novel. The Carpet Makers was episodic, each chapter essentially a short story of its own where the connection between them was simply that each story brought the narrative a little closer to the big reveal of the ending. Lord of All Things, on the other hand, is a continuous narrative, following Hiroshi Kato’s life from his childhood in Japan to his college years at MIT to what I assume will be his adult life as one of the world’s leading robotics experts.
The Carpet Makers’ strength was Eschbach’s (and Jensen’s) skill with building atmosphere, and with dispensing clues to the central mystery one by one at exactly the right pace to keep the dramatic tension rising. The strengths required by the story Lord of All Things seems to be telling are very different – this novel needs Hiroshi, at the very least, to be a compelling character, a character with charisma (for the reader, if not necessarily for the other characters around him). And with the number of words devoted to setting each scene it also really needs a writer with the gift of capturing a sense of place, the specific details that make it the French Ambassador’s compound in Tokyo or an MIT frat house instead of just a generic place where rich people live or place where college students get drunk. And for me, Eschbach failed at both of these elements, failed so miserably that I could not stand to read more than 160 pages of the 647 page novel.
Overall Satisfaction: ★★★★★ Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★★★ Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★★ Read this for: The themes. Don't read this for: The plot. Bechde...moreOverall Satisfaction: ★★★★★ Intellectual Satisfaction: ★★★★★ Emotional Satisfaction: ★★★★★ Read this for: The themes. Don't read this for: The plot. Bechdel Test: Pass Johnson Test: Fail Books I was reminded of: Just the rest of Valente's work. Will I read more by this author? Of course!
I really, really liked The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. But much though I liked it, I could tell it was never going to be my favorite of Catherynne Valente's works, and after rereading it and then reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There I remained firm in that belief. Much though I adored Valente's world-building, much though I relished Valente's ever-muscular prose, much though I delighted in Valente's unexpected bits of poignancy, there was still a simplicity of outlook at the core of both books that kept me slightly at a distance. In both books, no matter how sympathetic Valente made the villains, September was still able to draw a very clear line: this is right and this wrong, and this is a thing I could never do, no matter how hurt I might be.
It is an outlook I understand in books aimed at children and teenagers but which, as an adult, I find. . . somehow inaccessible. It is not relaxing to me, as I assume it is for other people; instead I find it very slightly invalidating.
So while I expected to enjoy The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, I did not expect to be greatly moved by it. . .
I was disappointed in the first book of Balogh's Survivor's Club series -- it was uneven, and spent so much time setting up the series that the two le...moreI was disappointed in the first book of Balogh's Survivor's Club series -- it was uneven, and spent so much time setting up the series that the two leads got short shrift. This is a much stronger entry -- the leads here are just plain likeable, incredibly sweet, and I would happily read another 300+ pages of them setting up house because they are just so engaging together on the page. There was very little of the "oh, woe is me, will he/she ever love me as I love him/her?" angst, and I was grateful because it was making me far too happy to simply read about them being happy.
Unfortunately, where in The Proposal Balogh simply descended to didactic speechifying on the nature of trauma and recovery, here I felt she was almost offensive in her handling of Vincent's blindness. In scene after scene she hammered home how he wasn't letting his disability limit him, or affect his outlook, which is all well and good, except for the ". . . like all those other disabled people" that seemed implied after every sentence. In that context, the focus on Vincent's good nature seemed to veer too far towards "inspiration porn" for my taste.(less)
The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, the penultimate novel in Stephanie Laurens' massive twenty-two novel Cynster series, is immensely satisfying, both for...moreThe Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, the penultimate novel in Stephanie Laurens' massive twenty-two novel Cynster series, is immensely satisfying, both for itself and for the way it concludes the series. Laurens has her formula, as all prolific romance authors do - strong-willed men with a strong protective streak matched with strong-willed women adept at wielding the power appropriate to their station and gender, engaging in courtship that is as much battle as dance - and that formula is on fine display here. It is overly long in the middle and her descriptions are (in my opinion) too flowery and poetic, but those failings are also common to Laurens' style. What was surprising about this book was how dark the resolution to the B-plot was - though murder attempts on the principle couple are fairly common in both this series and the Regency romance genre in general, the emotional impact of who the villain was and how the villain was dealt with surprised me, and made the final sex scene feel just a bit off. But the epilogue, which brought back the entire Cynster clan for their annual family reunion, hammered home (heavy-handedly, but in a good way) the way that the series has always joyfully embraced the idea of families being more than the sum of their parts. It is a deeply optimistic series, and reading this novel just made me want to go back and reread the first (Devil's Bride) again.(less)
I received a copy of the ARC through GoodReads First Reads program, which means the photography was all in black and white, so I cannot judge it entir...moreI received a copy of the ARC through GoodReads First Reads program, which means the photography was all in black and white, so I cannot judge it entirely accurately.
The first half of the book is made up of mostly Alex Harris' photography. Harris has a good eye for nature photography -- the landscape photos were stunning, even in black and white, finding a stark beauty in the woodlands and swamps surrounding Mobile. Unfortunately, I found his photographs of the people of Mobile rather underwhelming -- they showed everyday people doing everyday things, but there was nothing striking about the photographs themselves and the stories behind the photographs (which Harris devoted a fair amount of text to explaining) were fairly banal and sometimes heavy-handed. But as I said, my copy of the book is in black and white, so it is possible the photographs are more effective in the finished product.
The text in the first half of the book is written by Harris, and he is an unfortunately bland essayist. As noted, much of the text is devoted to simply explaining the photographs; unfortunately, Harris brings nothing to the explanations that I could not glean from the photographs themselves. The rest of the text is Harris' thoughts on Edward O. Wilson and the process of making the book; again, Harris brings nothing to the table that I could not gather for myself through implication and Google.
The second half of the book is mostly text by Wilson, with just a few of Harris' pictures. It is by far the stronger half, because Wilson is a much more engaging writer. His text comprises a history of Mobile, from the first deadly contact between Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto and Chief Tascalusa (the highest ranking chief from the native Mississippi mound-building culture in the area), through American acquisition and the blossoming of a slave-based agricultural economy, all the way to the present day and its still-simmering but much improved racial relations. Wilson also keeps a strong focus on how the natural world shaped historical events and Mobilian culture and a fairly clear-eyed look at the way both the natural world and the cultural history of exploitation of non-white peoples have shaped his own personal history and attitudes.
Wilson takes his own privilege as a white man to heart -- unlike many writers, he acknowledges that he cannot know firsthand the experience of being black in Mobile, and so the sections addressing race in modern Mobile have his own thoughts but also prominently feature interviews and quotes from black Mobilians. I was very pleased to see the way he handled that issue, but wish that he had brought a similar appreciation to gender; both Mobile's history and his family's history as he relates them are overwhelmingly male.
So overall, I was pleased but not tremendously impressed by this book. The photography, the driving force behind its format as an expensive coffee-table book, seemed rather a mixed bag; Wilson's portion of the text was both informative and fun to read but had a significant blind spot; and the rest of the text actively detracted from my enjoyment. Were this a standard hardcover book made up of just Wilson's text and the best of Harris's photographs I would recommend it strongly; as is, it was still worthwhile but a bit of a disappointment.(less)