Have to come back to this one -- it was much more technical than I expected, so having it for a week from the library meant I could actually put it in...moreHave to come back to this one -- it was much more technical than I expected, so having it for a week from the library meant I could actually put it into real practice. I'm trying some of the techniques out (the lean, midfoot-striking), especially because I'm interested in bare-foot running and am trying to get more milage in on my Vibram Bilkas. I like what I tried, but would probably have to buy a copy to get any deeper.(less)
Every so often I do this to myself. I pick up an old, "classic" High Fantasy novel because I think it "will be fun" and a throwback to being in middle...moreEvery so often I do this to myself. I pick up an old, "classic" High Fantasy novel because I think it "will be fun" and a throwback to being in middle-school, and then about 100 pages in I can't do it any more. The prose is wooden, the characters cringe-worthy cliches . . . and I still have 800 pages to go. Dear god, when there are so many good books out there, how can I possibly slavishly force my through one of these? These books also remind me that I shouldn't be such a snob by only having a "weird-fiction" shelf, because this clearly belongs on a "Fantasy" shelf.(less)
This review is sort of pointless -- ff you read the first two, you're not going to stop there; if you haven't read them, you obviously shouldn't start...moreThis review is sort of pointless -- ff you read the first two, you're not going to stop there; if you haven't read them, you obviously shouldn't start here.
For me, this book ended the series perfectly. The moral ambiguity continues to become ever more murky, as the book continues its liberal-libertarian themes: all governments are corrupt, all power will be abused, and it is the poor and the powerless who get torn apart by the resulting mechanizations. Collins continues to be realistically brutal to her characters, though by now readers should know better to get attached to anyone -- at all. I've read books where the author's casual cruelty seemed gratuitous, the literary equivalent of the oppression Olympics. Look how much MY characters' lives suck! but here, it never seems gratuitous, just brutally honest. I've talked to friends who found the ending to be disappointing -- to abrupt, too little resolution, too many loose ends -- but I felt it was perfect. How else could such a series end and retain any of the honesty that made me love and respect it so intensely? Life is messy, life doesn't finish with a clear denouement and a nicely learned moral. It just sort of goes on, until it doesn't. (less)
This was an okay, but not remarkable, follow up to the first Hungry Cities book. I wouldn't have abandoned it, but it was my "read aloud to Mulzer bef...moreThis was an okay, but not remarkable, follow up to the first Hungry Cities book. I wouldn't have abandoned it, but it was my "read aloud to Mulzer before bed" book, and with a crazy toddler in our house, I'm finding much less time to read at bed-time to my adult partner than I used to. After renewing this at least a dozen times while it just sat, untouched, on the night stand, eventually someone else requested it, and it had to go back to the library, unfinished. (less)
I might have said this before, but Michael Lewis is such an engaging writer that if he wrote a history of the phone book, I'd read it. With "The Big S...moreI might have said this before, but Michael Lewis is such an engaging writer that if he wrote a history of the phone book, I'd read it. With "The Big Short," Lewis takes the story of a handful of bankers and bonds-traders and turns their trades into a nail-biting ride with the page-turning pace of a thriller. Even though we all know how this ends (badly, stock-market in ruins, Bear-Sterns bankrupt, etc.), it still keeps you on the edge of your seat. It helps that he has an amazing cast of characters to write about, and he manages to turn the "short-sellers," who were very much vilified after the crash, into an unlikely band of anti-heroes crusading against the corruption and collective stupidity of Wall Street. One warning -- Lewis does assume some basic working of the financial crisis. He never really explains what it means to "short" a stock, what "leverage" means when applied to an investment bank, or what a sub-prime mortgage really entails. He does explain the more esoteric financial instruments, like CDOs and credit-default swaps, but those are so obtuse that even though I've read multiple articles and listened to numerous radio programs about them, I still had to keep them juggled in my brain and at times felt almost dizzy trying to keep track of which bank had sold which sub-prime loans to which firm to be repacked into mortgage-backed bonds, then reshuffled as a mezzanine-CDO, and who was buying them, who was buying CDS's on them them, who was shorting them, and who was shorting the firms themselves. But since Lewis gives the impression that the people making up these terms barely understood them, I figure I can give myself a break.(less)
When I was looking for a general over-view of Central American history, it's hard to fault the author for giving me exactly what I asked for, especial...moreWhen I was looking for a general over-view of Central American history, it's hard to fault the author for giving me exactly what I asked for, especially when his forward lays out all the failings and short-comings of the format. Still, I found myself skimming a lot as various decades ran together along with various countries, regimes, revolutions, counter-revolutions, and foreign interventions. As expected, most of the five countries involved share depressingly similar histories, and after a while the strong-men dictators, once-liberal juntas, and agrarian land-reforms are hard to keep apart, and I felt bit dizzy with too many names and dates yet not enough detail about any one movement. I feel I have a bit better understanding of the major themes and trends in Central America over the last two-hundred years, which is basically what I wanted. I was hoping for more on the pre-imperial native history, but the author focuses on Central America as such, and that political-geographical conceit did not even exist until European colonization, so I suppose that makes sense. (less)
If you liked the first Percy Jackson book, the second is more of the same, and just as well done. Perhaps a little better even; I always like the seco...moreIf you liked the first Percy Jackson book, the second is more of the same, and just as well done. Perhaps a little better even; I always like the second and third books in long serials like this, simply because you already know the world, and don't need all the preamble setting up character, premises, the world, etc. The book moves quickly, and I think the references to mythology that are subtle jokes thrown in from time to time are even more clever than the in the first book. Its also nice to see the villainous Clairisse rounded out a bit.(less)
I lost track of how many times I laughed out loud while reading this. TMBS is one of those YA books that perfectly strikes the balance between being e...moreI lost track of how many times I laughed out loud while reading this. TMBS is one of those YA books that perfectly strikes the balance between being engaging for kids and adults a like, and is peppered with the sort of intelligent, witty phrasings that make it a joy for those of us who no longer put the "Y" in "YA", without ever becoming forced overly self-conscious. The characters are fantastic, a wonderful blend of original and cliched archetypes -- Professor X and the X-Men, only with standardized test-scores as mutant powers. (less)
If you didn't enjoy the bleak, punishing violence of "The Hunger Games," don't bother picking up "Catching Fire," as Collins takes the bleakness and d...moreIf you didn't enjoy the bleak, punishing violence of "The Hunger Games," don't bother picking up "Catching Fire," as Collins takes the bleakness and despair to entire new heights. If, on the other hand, you are like me and you thought that the first book was one of the best and most insightful young adult novels you've ever read, the second book is possibly even better. Since it's a sequel I won't say too much, but as readers we get greater insight into the rest of the world, and the scope and strategy is taken beyond the Arena and into the wider political world. (less)
One of the best Young Adult books I've read in a while, but then it won countless awards last year, so you don't just have to trust me on this one. St...moreOne of the best Young Adult books I've read in a while, but then it won countless awards last year, so you don't just have to trust me on this one. Stead mixes a wonderfully empathetic take on a young girl and her singe-mother with just a tough of science-fiction, but does it in a way that it works utterly convincingly. No gimmick here, just a fantastic book. And if you happen to have lived on Manhattans upper-west side at any point, Steads familiarity with the streets and neighborhoods is an added bonus.(less)
I would actually give this three and a half starts, if I could, because its better than a three but is missing just a little punch and originality th...more I would actually give this three and a half starts, if I could, because its better than a three but is missing just a little punch and originality that would earn it a four.
Let me get the negative out of the way. The shape of this books really boots the "form" in "formulaic," and borrows shamelessly from Harry Potter (of course, Harry Potter borrowed shamelessly from other works itself, so its not a hanging offense). The trio of main characters are our hero Percy, a good, honorable young man who has trouble with authority figures and a knack for getting himself into trouble; his best friend/side-kick, who is good-hearted and accident prone, yet who somehow comes through when needed most; and a "brainiac" girl who is a responsible goody-two-shoes, but still tags along and sides with the hero when it comes down to it. Harry, Ron, Hermione, anyone? And the hero discovers he is a "half-blood" (half god, half human), then gets whisked off to a magical camp where they divide the campers up into houses based on who their divine parent is. Hogwarts with canoe races.
Then there's the occasional factual lapses, which don't harm the story but were highly distracting -- our hero's get on a Grey Hound bus at a bus stop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which doesn't exist. He battles a monster on the observation deck of the St. Louis Arch and looks directly down into the Mississippi; while the arch is quite near the Mississippi, it is still nearly 500 feet away. There are a few other examples, none of which are serious, but just show a laziness on the part of the author.
However, all of that is just what keeps the book from being brilliant -- as it is, its still very good. The pacing is very fast, with just enough poignancy to keep it personal and even moving at times. Of course, the real question is how the book deals with mythology -- so often popular fiction takes on the classical mythos is tepid and sanitized at best, completely inaccurate and dreadfully boring at worst (hello, Disney's Hercules). Riordan adapts myths for the modern setting perfectly. He gets the facts, names, and stories right, and not just the big ones, but he throws in a lot of minor tales and demigods for good measure. More importantly, he really gets the tone right -- the gods are powerful and exciting, but also petty, jealous beings. Not evil (even Ares and Hades, who are utterly unlikeable), but rather indifferent to mankind as they go about their own self-centered divine lives. At times the author has to awkwardly force mythological ignorance on the characters to help build suspense (would a kid who knows that Hephaestus was married to Aphrodite, but she was having an affair with Ares really not be suspicious of a veiled woman who runs a "lawn ornament" business selling eerily lifelike statues?), but its fun to play guess-the-mythological-reference. I always worry that kids reading modern takes on myths will come away with a jumbled, confused understanding of the source material, but not only will this get young readers interested in myths, they'll know a lot more about the Greek gods than most adults.
I suppose the bottom line is that I'm all ready reading book two.(less)