Looking back at what I've been blogging about, I seem to have been on a Doctor Who kick these last few months. Not surprising seeing as the 50th anniversary materials are finally making their way to this side of the pond. And that could be why I finally picked up this book.
Originally a set of blog posts, this is the result of an experiment in watching all the old classic Doctor Who episodes together - a couple of English folk who also happen to be married. Apparently, it isn't the blog simply printed out and bound together, but contains additional bits of information about the couple, Neil's and Sue's past, etc.
While not great literature, it was engaging for someone who's made their way through the classic series to the Sixth Doctor. Meaning, I'm not just anyone off the street. Many of the descriptions and comments in this book definitely made more sense to me simply because I've sat through a large majority of the classic Who episodes already. (Yes, I had to go count for the purposes of this post: I've seen 428 classic episodes to date. Zowie.) Meaning, only someone who's watched a lot of the classic series knows how amusing it is to see the BBC indicating a horrible space disease using green spray-painted bubble wrap.
If for no other reason, I recommend the book because of Sue's excellent names for each of the doctors. While they're fantastic for the classic doctors, I actually like her names for the new series doctors even better. Eccleston is "The Hard One," Tennant is "My Third Husband," and - the best of them all - Smith is "The Pipsqueak." Spot on, my good woman.(less)
As fascinating as it was to read a book about pilots in the RAF during World War II, I do wish the author had recognized the difficulties inherent in spewing large batches of data about planes and codes and airports at her readers. Without advancing the story at the same time.
I'll say right off the bat that the last 1/4 of this book moves very, very quickly. The plot twists were achieved persuasively, and there were scenes that did make me tear up, they were so emotional. However, the artificiality of telling a story via a batch of letters makes it a risky endeavor for any author. You have to be very, very good at what you do to pull that off. (Although I can think of at least 3 more books that have done that recently, so maybe it's commonly done now...?)
In the end, the essential boring-ness of the entire first half of the novel makes it way too much of a slow burn. It's war after all - how about some activity? When the friends start describing their fears for the fourth darn time, I was really ready to move on. I can't recommend skipping to the back 1/4 of the book unless you have read at least the first 30%, so it's a bit of a conundrum. I'll stick with not recommending it, sadly.(less)
I read this because it was highly recommended. In the end, I think it's not a book to put on your bedside table. It's a book to read almost at one sitting.
There are so many characters in here, and they weave and dance around the main "protagonist" rapidly and in varying frequencies within the text. I got discouraged because I couldn't keep anybody straight by the time I was 2/3 of the way through. In an almost real sense, it's a ride - so if you just read along as if it is you'll likely be better off. Details, schmeetails.
I've been told, however, that I really didn't get it. That while this may be billed as a fantasy novel, it's really about a very bad man (at his core) and the way he intends to disappear from the world, so the law can't get him any longer. Y'know, if that's the case, then I understand zippo about all the hijinks. I mean, why bother creating this level of fantastic detail if it's all intended to be hooey? Why not just write a crime novel?
Also - yup, this is one of the books I was thinking of that is written in the form of letters to other people. Geez, it's going to be refreshing to read something written in the 3rd person.(less)
Now I understand why Jeannette Walls' parents were so nuts. If I'm remembering correctly from The Glass Castle, Walls' parents were undeniably negligent towards their brood, not recognizing their need for anything tangible - the very definition of selfish.
In this story - and Walls calls it a novel even though it is based on a very real person - we are getting a biography of her grandmother, her mother's mother. A great deal of the story is focused on explaining why Lily Casey Smith was so headstrong, so alternative, so proto-feminist. And it's these characteristics that become such a huge part of her daughter, Walls' mother.
It's both funny and disturbing to read that Lily never washed anybody's clothes on the ranch. They'd just wear them inside out when they were too dirty on the outside. (Holy cats.) And washing jeans was considered sacrilege - the shinier they got, the better they were. (Holy mackerel.) In this day and age, it's hard to read this without your jaw dropping to the floor. This is one of many examples showing that Lily never followed convention, didn't care for rules, and thought walloping kids was the way to keep them in line. How could she not consider that this would leak down to her kids?
Irregardless of the jaw-dropping scenes, it was remarkable to read about a woman who really followed her heart, no matter what, to get what she wanted most. Because it's Walls, you bet it's well-written and engaging as heck. Enjoy what is really a breath of fresh air.(less)
Talk about compelling. I scarfed this book up, basically reading the last half (of a fairly lengthy book) in one weekend. While I overall was wholly enthralled by this story of a WWII survivor - and what unbelievable situations he survived! - I do have some small issues.
a) It wasn't as great as Seabiscuit. The writing was just as phenomenal, but there was something about how spread out the story was that diluted it just the tiniest bit. Seabiscuit basically had one (okay, three) pivotal events the story was gearing us for. In this book, it's one surprise after another, and because of that it almost felt rushed in places - as if Hillenbrand wanted to get us to a particular point in the narrative sooner, just in case we were getting bored by gory (and I do mean gory) details.
b) Which is my next point - you could make the argument that this is disaster porn. Such unbelievable odds, such strength of purpose, such absolute horror - it's like watching an accident on the side of the road. You simply can't stop looking - or reading. It seems that a lot of non-fiction is just that these days. Are we all just looking for anything that will stir our blood?
c) I wonder if there were instances where more research, or at least more description of her research would have benefited the reader. There were scenes or situations where I wanted to hear more about the other side. Yes, the Japanese in wartime were some of the scariest enemies the world has ever seen. Were they the only ones? Yes, we lost a lot of good men to accidents and the like. Were we the only ones? It felt actually one-sided at times.
Also, I'll repeat what I wrote on my Goodreads review as I was still reading the book, since it's still a main reason I enjoyed this story: "Holy crap. If I'd known that the story of the USS Indianapolis was only one of so, so, so many heartbreaking stories of loss of life during wartime - I mean nearly 36,000 air corps personnel died in NON battle situations in wartime, much less how many died in combat - it's possible I would have been less horrified and awestruck by that story. Rescue of war personnel from water was horribly problematic until mid-1944, and even until the end of the war there was only a 30% chance of success. And sharks? Yes, they were horrible on the USS Indianapolis. They were horrible everywhere else, too."(less)
Gaiman can pull off an ending like very few can. Think about endings - books, movies, whatnot. If there's a particularly poor one - like the guy gets the girl even though he shouldn't, or there's a surprising explosion that kills off everyone you care about and ends the film abruptly, or the last painting in the series of eight doesn't fit the theme in any way - you leave thinking the entire thing you just read or watched or listened to stinks. It doesn't matter if the author of the work did something spectacular throughout - it's the ending that sticks with you.
In this case, Gaiman gives you something beautiful throughout - an achingly heartbreaking and simultaneously loving portrait of a childhood, which is mostly his childhood as I understand it. It has all the fantasy elements you know and love Gaiman for, so no, it isn't really how he grew up! But I believe, as will anyone who reads this, that this is how he lived his childhood in his mind. He has created some truly poignant moments for us that make us want to weep and gnash our teeth, and they are rooted in all our realities, which is why they resonate so well with us.
And that's what I realized over the course of this short volume. Gaiman's strength is in highlighting what matters - through the world he creates to layer on top of the real one - and those are faith, loyalty, sacrifice, affection, and yes, suffering as a means to better things. This is what his ending does. It's not so much a way to wrap up the story as it is to remind us that these are the things that are and should remain important to us. (less)
I knew Rachel Hartman's work way back when she was writing and drawing excellent comics. Comics based in a near-enough-to-truth fantasy world that - it goes without saying - they were real enough to inhabit and fully enjoy. I will admit I was a little surprised that she went the prose-fantasty-fiction route, but am I really? I mean, comics work barely pays the rent. And she is way more than good enough for this new format.
It's insulting to Hartman for me to say I'm also surprised at the quality of this book. I mean, if anyone, I should know better, having enjoyed her comics. So I'll put that in context. It's safe for me to say that I read a lot of fantasy and this creation ranks among the top 20 of those I have ever read. That's how excellent her craft is.
She builds us a dragon world, but nothing pretty and fluffy like that of Pern - something gritty, real and as detailed as anything Sanderson would write. Her characters are believeable, lovable, heartbreakable, and all as intriguing as the next one. So is the world she built and the plot she built around the world. The only thing I was slightly disappointed about was the ending - and you'll see what I mean when you get there.
No surprise - she is planning a next book (I would sure hope so based on how she left us!). It'll be right up there for me with waiting eagerly for the next Sanderson book. (And heck, it won't take as long to get through. Bonus.)(less)
What's most intriguing about this book is how it straddles the line between pretentious and down-to-earth. It's actually both. He gives us his best rendition of someone who's read Derrida and Proust all his life, while at the same time giving us the play-by-play on how he's taking bolts off his International Harvester truck.
I figure this book is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. Because that line is pretty hard to straddle. You can end up looking like a dolt just for trying. However, I am of the opinion that if I'm laughing out loud every 10 pages he's done more than his share of work. I dare anyone to read his diatribes on squirrels ("keeping the buggers in the cross-hairs") and how he fixes the toner in his printer without at least smiling, if not chuckling. He has some real writerly instincts, this guy.
Plus - hey, I'm from the Midwest. I recognize the type of people he's talking about. I understand why you'd kick your dryer into your backyard, plant your garden faithfully each year with such meager hopes, and why you'd hear teenage hoodlums remonstrating each other about manners. We rock, here in the Midwest. And he's reflected all of that so engagingly, so I'll absolutely read more by him.(less)