Honestly, I remember very little about this book which I read 2 years ago. I remember it was kinda sorta OK. I remember they try kill a baby, but inst...moreHonestly, I remember very little about this book which I read 2 years ago. I remember it was kinda sorta OK. I remember they try kill a baby, but instead the main character hurries it away, deep into the wilderness. The ending - whether our heroes live or die, freeze to death or find rescue - is purposely ambiguous.
It's a strangely bleak way to end a children's book - the uneasy ambiguity reminded me of 70s films like Deliverance or The French Connection. The story's over but nothing's resolved. I'm surprised so many of my peers loved it as kids.(less)
Before Umberto Eco wrote Foucalt's Pendulum he wrote The Name of the Rose. In the movie based on the book, Sean Connery's an old monk and Kevin Bacon'...moreBefore Umberto Eco wrote Foucalt's Pendulum he wrote The Name of the Rose. In the movie based on the book, Sean Connery's an old monk and Kevin Bacon's a young monk. They're trying to solve a deadly, ancient mystery! People are dying, but no one understands how. The answer's hidden somewhere in a huge, old library filled with thousands of faded tomes. Never mind what the actual book was like (I never read it and don't intend to!) - the movie was filled with adventure, suspense, and charisma.
This is the experience I sought from Pendulum, but after dragging its dense mass of meandering, baroque language, middle-age terror, and grad-student angst across two continents, I traded its stupefying self to a Thai street vendor for the lusty thrills of Shōgun, by James Clavell.
One day at college, I talked to my oldest friend from home about the book Neuromancer by William Gibson. He said I might like Snow Crash, which was sa...moreOne day at college, I talked to my oldest friend from home about the book Neuromancer by William Gibson. He said I might like Snow Crash, which was same except with more gadgets. I'd say that's a pretty fair description.
Let me stretch my memory back over ten years...the main character is a half-black, half-korean pizza delivery guy who's brilliant with a katana. He befriends a sexually active teen girl who surfs on an anti-gravity skateboard behind cars. She wears an awesome prophylactic. Their enemy is a gregarious, nefarious Texan on a private aircraft carrier who employs a silent giant of an Aleutian who throws deadly shaved glass spears. The U.S. Government is completely emasculated.
Snow Crash is a smart, exuberant adventure packed with good ideas and, well, gadgets. For once, the title of star #4 out of 5 is apt: I "really liked it". (less)
I like the directness of YA fiction. While young adults are old enough to digest adult themes like murder, survival, duplicity, sacrifice, and romanti...moreI like the directness of YA fiction. While young adults are old enough to digest adult themes like murder, survival, duplicity, sacrifice, and romantic confusion, they'll never buy into the pretentious parts of old adult fiction. No Finnegan's Wake bullshit for today's discerning tweens! YA fiction needs to have clearly defined characters traveling a clearly defined story. The Hunger Games does this very well.
Katniss Everdeen uses her expert skill with a bow and arrow to hunt for food for her poor family. When her cute little sister is taken to participate in a national gladiatorial reality show, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Once in the televised wilderness of the game, she allies with Peeta, a boy from her city who is madly in love with her, and befriends Rue, who is a cute little girl just like her sister. To surive, Katniss will need all of her grit, cunning, and skill with the bow.
I burned through this novel in a couple days while traveling up the Mekong into Cambodia. It was a pretty great read - tight plotting, characters with strengths and weaknesses in all the right places, and stakes that kept getting higher. I mean, look at me: I'm a 32 year-old man in SE Asia, I'm on a boat, and I'm tearing up!
My only criticism is with the stupid mind games Katniss plays while navigating her romantic feelings for Peeta - what's for real vs. what's for show (and for the show). But I guess that breathless inner monologue is the way a teen girl thinks.
I don't plan to read the next two books of this trilogy because I think they'll pale in comparison to this compact gem. I'm wary of this mostly because of the last two books of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, which were bloated by the author's colossal hubris, but also because I think the bigger you make a fictional world, the less efficient your story becomes.
But listen, that last paragraph is neither here nor there. Read this book. You're going to like it a lot.(less)
I like A Darkness More Than Night because I accept it for what it is - a cheesy, earnest police thriller, a precursor to the grisly procedurals that c...moreI like A Darkness More Than Night because I accept it for what it is - a cheesy, earnest police thriller, a precursor to the grisly procedurals that currently dominate primetime TV. It's packed with fat emotions and docile women, false dilemmas and red herrings, irritable detectives and frail old men. Good times. You deserve to read it in the sun, on a veranda, when you don't have much else to do.(less)
When we last left intrepid journalist Mikael Blomqvist and deadly hacker Lisbeth Salander, they'd solved a 40 year-old crime, a woman-hating man had d...moreWhen we last left intrepid journalist Mikael Blomqvist and deadly hacker Lisbeth Salander, they'd solved a 40 year-old crime, a woman-hating man had died in a car crash, and Lisbeth let her emotional guard down only to have her heart broken.
In this second installment of the Millenium series, author Stieg Larsson begins to flesh out the skeleton of Lisbeth's backstory. She's by far the most compelling character this series has to offer, but for some reason (I can't remember why) she disappears for most of the story. Instead, we follow the author's alter-ego Mikael as he stumbles earnestly forward through the plot.
Being with Mikael for so long was frustrating for me because he comes off as a falsely humble, self-righteous, sanctimonious blowhard. He's also a strangely simple character: everything he does or thinks is basically good, everything he fights so hard for is just, and all his investigative instincts are correct. Mikael's good qualities don't feel earned, however. It's only that all his enemies are some combination of bigoted, cruel, and stupid, so he looks great by comparison.
Mikael's also an unbelievable ladies' man. By that, I mean it's not believable that he could bed the rich, beautiful, and powerful women he does in this series.
Instead of spending hundreds of pages exploring the extended family tree of a faded Swedish industrialist, Played with Fire jumps right into it, and the pace of the story throughout is lively. Unfortunately, this leads to some jarring transitions.
For example, the middle of the book contains a bizarre action/suspense sequence centered around a latin-flavored boxer that spans 2 or 3 chapters. He's a pat character with a tenuous connection to the other characters and the plot, and he pops up as suddenly as he disappears. I couldn't even tell you his name. I wonder why the author didn't just use a character we already know to move us to the next part of the plot.
My main criticism with Stieg Larsson's books also explains why Mikael is such a painful character to follow around for 300 pages. Larsson's heroes are GOOD, and his villains are BAD. There's no gray area. You could even say all of Larsson's women are GOOD, and half of Larsson's men are BAD. Kalle Mikael Blomqvist is the author's alter-ego, so of course we're told he's virtuous, intelligent, and dashing. But he's also deeply boring. It'd be so much better to see him drive drunk, or stalk an ex-wife, or neglect his dog, or feel unease at the lightness of his being.
When Lisbeth finally comes back, she immediately quickens the story and raises the stakes, and the book cruises to an end. Her character is miles better than Mikael. Here's why: she's got a dark, violent past; she lusts for cruel revenge; her action scenes are intelligent and believable (a rarity); she's attractive and possibly sitting somewhere on the autism spectrum; and she's young, so I totally buy her immature emotional life. She's the dark fantasy of sex, violence, and power that we're all attracted to.(less)
When you hover your mouse over the 'My rating' field, this website will define a rating of 5 stars as 'it was amazing.' I give this 5 out of 5 stars,...moreWhen you hover your mouse over the 'My rating' field, this website will define a rating of 5 stars as 'it was amazing.' I give this 5 out of 5 stars, not because it changed my life, but because it was immensely satisfying both while I was turning the pages and after I was done. It's packed with zippy action, a driving plot, and compassionately drawn characters. There's also just the right touch of slower scenes with a certain resonating lyrical beauty.
The windup: Henry Skrimshander is a blank-faced genius shortstop recruited onto the Westish College baseball team by Mike Schwartz, a huge hard-working catcher with terrible knees. Henry's absurdly well-read gay roommate Owen also makes the team. The pitch: The president of the college, Guert (weird name, I know, but it doesn't get in the way) flips from the being the campus's most eligible bachelor to being desperately in love with Owen. Guert's daughter, Pella, crashes in from a high-flying life on the west coast to entangle herself with the other, aforementioned main players. The swing: All the while, the Harpooners' season is coming to life and Henry is closing in on breaking the NCAA record of games without an error. So, home run, basically.
I got this book as a Christmas present for my dad, and I was happy that he loved it. But it makes sense - Fielding is all about the lyric beauty of America - its literature, heartland, sport, and spirit of youth.(less)
The one piece of advice from this book I still bring up in conversation is about a person's job. I've probably adapted it quite a bit over the years:...moreThe one piece of advice from this book I still bring up in conversation is about a person's job. I've probably adapted it quite a bit over the years: On a superficial level, it should be something you like doing. On a deeper level, it should be in the service of something you really believe in.
Sounds really clear and true, right? The older I get, however, the more I realize how a pure ideal like this one gets diluted when I have negotiate with reality.
This book is full of advice, but it's seriously undercut by the author's personal troubles. You see, flush with cash from 90's Microsoft stock and a pliant wife, Bo Lozoff opened up a commune of sorts in North Carolina for recent parolees. He turned out to be a horrible leader of his community however, prone to sleeping with the females and flying into rages. When his poor conduct came to light, he shut down his project.
Because I feel this destroys Lozoff's moral authority, I threw this book into the trash and give it one star here. But I'd still like to keep that one ideal.(less)
Cruising through a bookstore or a gag gift store in the early 2000s, this book surely would have caught your eye.
"Zombie Survial Guide?" One eyebrow o...moreCruising through a bookstore or a gag gift store in the early 2000s, this book surely would have caught your eye.
"Zombie Survial Guide?" One eyebrow of yours is arched. "I like this fresh, new idea of treating zombies like they're a real thing. I'm gonna buy this book, and then every subsequent piece of related cultural merch for the next 15 years!"
It looks like a hilarious book, doesn't it? Like it would mock practicality in an absurdist nightmare, listing ridiculous precepts with a straight face.
Based on its marketing and jacket design, I guessed The Zombie Survival Guide was supposed to be funny. But considering the slate of (non-comedic) movies scheduled for this summer, and the author behind one of them, it looks like I guessed wrong.
Mostly I'm shocked someone would invest so much time into fleshing out the dry logistical details of a fantasy. It's like figuring out the resting metabolic rate of a hobbit and the caloric density of lembas bread. Why would you focus on the most boring part of story, unless you have no story to tell? (less)
This book traffics conspiracy theories and half-truths in the service of feeding the interest of people who don't trust establishment. Which is pretty...moreThis book traffics conspiracy theories and half-truths in the service of feeding the interest of people who don't trust establishment. Which is pretty much fine and necessary, I guess, but the problem is that these exposés you can't really take seriously. Case in point: The chapter on the Columbine massacre. I don't think there's any serious debate as to what happened that day, or how many shooters there were. However, the book pulls quotes from articles published in local newspapers the day after the shooting, cherry-picking wildly inaccurate reporting and hysterical quotes from bystanders. But that's all bullshit. There were only two shooters, and it was a tragedy.(less)
Until I read a review online somewhere that referred to this book as Sex in the City set in Italy, I quite liked it. The author brings us to some trul...moreUntil I read a review online somewhere that referred to this book as Sex in the City set in Italy, I quite liked it. The author brings us to some truly exotic situations. The lead-off story is about a woman who buys two Brazilian prostitutes for her husband on his birthday. There's another about an American in a showdown of social mores with poor Africans. However, as you churn through all ten or so stories, you'll be wearied by the sameness: Every protagonist is black, Harvard-educated, proud and dismissive of men. The women start out interesting, but end up quite dull.(less)
I "borrowed" this novel from a girl I no longer talk to, mostly because I liked the title. I almost put it back because of the tired concept - at the...moreI "borrowed" this novel from a girl I no longer talk to, mostly because I liked the title. I almost put it back because of the tired concept - at the time, workplace comedies were ascendant.
After finishing I told two friends I'd give it a 'B' letter grade. But no one's going to read a book that's a 'B.'
Since then I've worked backward through the book, starting from the last page (my favorite), and I'm surprised by how warm the humor is, without being overly precious like a Zadie Smith novel. Joshua is merciful to his characters.
Some aspects of the novel were obviously born from an MFA program - the first-person plural voice, the novel within a novel - but I found the content within these tricks to be totally worth it.