Starts out very stilted, as if King is working out some stiff muscles as he gets back into the unique dialect and description style featured in his Da...moreStarts out very stilted, as if King is working out some stiff muscles as he gets back into the unique dialect and description style featured in his Dark Tower books. Improves as it goes along. The book is like a mini Cloud Atlas, featuring three stories contained like Russian nesting dolls. The central story is by far the longest, and also the best -- King's Midworld is really the star of it, and he proves still quite capable of absorbing you into a kind of dark fairytale reminiscent of Eyes of the Dragon. The Skin Walker story could've been much longer and better, and the "present day" bookends were almost unnecessary. Still, nice to see the characters again!(less)
Survive! is not exactly the type of book you read for fun ... but it was a fun read, if that makes any sense. It outlines a lot of good, no-nonsense t...moreSurvive! is not exactly the type of book you read for fun ... but it was a fun read, if that makes any sense. It outlines a lot of good, no-nonsense tactics for surviving if you become trapped in a variety of harsh wilderness environments. I'm a fan of Les Stroud's television shows, and I think he and his editor did a good job of translating some of his sense of humor and easy-going persona to the book. I doubt that I'll ever have to use any of the information found in Survive! ... but I'm glad to have read it just in case.(less)
Justin Cronin's "The Passage" is a complex novel that at, over the course of its reading, left me at times enthralled and at other times enraged. I th...moreJustin Cronin's "The Passage" is a complex novel that at, over the course of its reading, left me at times enthralled and at other times enraged. I think that's a good thing, but if you ask me tomorrow, I may have changed my mind again.
What I can say about the book is that it's a sweeping sci-fi/fantasy epic that fits very nicely into a long and proud tradition of novels in which their author gleefully destroys most of humanity and then sets about telling us what happens in the aftermath. I've seen it compared to Stephen King's The Stand, and the comparisons are warranted. There is a long and utterly engrossing set-up to the end of the world, which eventually happens with remarkable speed. King spent more time dealing with the actual apocalypse part of his post-apocalyptic world than Cronin does, but considering the heft of the book as it is, it's perhaps for the best that Cronin literally skips over the 90 years or so between "when the bad stuff happens" and when the story picks back up.
The similarities continue throughout. There's a group of traveling friends, and not one but two old, black ladies who like to talk about God. There's a pregnancy and a divorce of sorts. There's a bad guy who is drawing others to him. There's a big showdown at the end and a pronounced denoument. Throught the book, people die. Most of them die badly. There's a lot of The Stand in here, yes. But to call the book a copy or even highly derivative would be an outright lie. It stands as its own work, one with is intriguing and exciting, pulse-pounding at times, sad or uplifting at others. There are characters to hate and love, although I never found myself hating and loving them quite so much as I have with some other books.
As a fellow author of "vampire books" (though my vampires are apples to Cronin's oranges), I love what he's done with the myth. In fact, the first 300 pages of the book, give or take, are nearly flawless. Cronin paints a portrait of a near-future United States that is hyper realistic, bound up in protocol inspired by fear over continued terrorist attacks, with states mistrusting each other and the federal government operating in many clandestine ways to get what it wants. You can SEE this world, you can feel it, because it's not so improbable. You become caught up in the story and the characters immediately, and you spend much of the time waiting for The Virals (as they become known) to break lose. You know it's coming and that it's going to be bad. Cronin doesn't disappoint here.
To say that the story shifts gears at this point is an understatement. It's something more akin to parking the car, getting out, and switching to an entirely different vehicle. Yes, it still takes place in the same world, with the same problems and even a few of the same characters, but in the 90-year shift the story also moves more out of the realm of Science Fiction and into that of Fantasy. I don't have an inherent problem with this, but I did find the shift jarring. I also found the sudden introduction of more than a dozen new characters a bit overwhelming at first, though in the end you figure out who's who, and you are properly outraged at the times you're supposed to be, when the heroes are being held up by people who don't understand that, damn it, they're the heroes and they're right.
The problems I had with the book, the things that threw me out of reading mode and made me frustrated, all happened in the second half and were mostly small issues. For one thing, Cronin is guilty of the extremely modern belief that all human beings immediately lose whoever they were before, at the moment they hear they are having a baby (or in extreme cases, at the moment of the baby's birth), and instead become dedicated only to the existence of that child. For another, I'm tired of old women who love God. I don't find any comfort in the idea of predestination or "God's Will" and I don't find characters who do to be particularly sympathetic.
I also had extreme issue with one decision a primary character makes, late in the novel, not even so much because I didn't like the decision, but because it's given barely an ounce of explanation and is a pretty clear setup for a later event. It felt like the character was only doing it because the story needed her to. If you're going to have the cavalry show up, you need a reason for why it wasn't there in the first place, and this reason seemed flimsy. The character in question supposedly has her reasons, but they're never given (or barely so), so the decision she makes seems amazingly arbitrary.
There are a few other moments like this -- Cronin kills off a character whose name might as well have been "Obvious Choice" at one point -- but I may be stressing the negative too strongly. In the end, the important thing was that whenever I put the book down, I always wanted to pick it up again, and preferably soon. This is the first in a trilogy, and I'm looking forward to the second and third books. They'll probably frustrate me too, but I bet they'll be a lot of fun to read while they're doing it.(less)
What a remarkable writer Cormac McCarthy is. This is the second of his books that I've read, and while it was more difficult to follow than The Road,...moreWhat a remarkable writer Cormac McCarthy is. This is the second of his books that I've read, and while it was more difficult to follow than The Road, it was also a significantly better book (and I really liked The Road!). An unflinching look at the American and Mexcian old west in the pre-Civil-War era, Blood Meridian follows the exploits of a young man who finds himself embroiled in the exploits of the Glanton Gang, a real-life group of scalp-hunters turned outlaws. McCarthy describes scenes of brutal violence and quiet solitude with the same slow, deliberate, biblical prose, and it's up to the reader to make judgements upon the people who he describes. There are bad guys aplenty in the book, but no real good guys, and I appreciated that fact. There are few good guys in real life, and there were even fewer to be found in the desperate places on the edge of the country (and beyond it).
The lack of quotes and general eschewing of punctuation didn't really bother me, but I did have some trouble with the extreme run-on sentences, frequently joined together with "and" over and over ... sometimes by the time I got to the end, I had to go back to the beginning to remember where the sentence started. Still, the book was fascinating and deeply engrossing. McCarthy is a master.(less)
The City & The City is a somewhat difficult book to start, and it evolves into a difficult book to put down. Somew...moreThere is no Orciny ... is there?
The City & The City is a somewhat difficult book to start, and it evolves into a difficult book to put down. Somewhere between the two states you come to realize that you understand the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Quoma, despite the fact that Miéville has gone to great lengths to avoid explaining them in clear language.
I appreciated this. A lot. It would be a difficult feat to describe how two cities can occupy the same physical space even if one was simply aiming for abject description. Miéville instead uses the framework of a crime novel to let you come to understand the two cities, not to mention the semi-sinister entity known only as Breach, in an organic manner. In a way, I think this allows the reader to learn at a more measured pace, rather than trying to digest huge lumps of expository information.
The key to enjoying the book is to worry about the murder mystery first, and the cities second. The information you're looking for will come, by and large, though Miéville chooses to leave great gaps in the reader's knowledge at times (the narrator is not omniscient, and there are many things that he, and thus the reader, will never truly know). Once I stopped worrying about understanding everything, and instead focused on enjoying the story, my overall appreciation for the book grew.
The story's climax is suspenseful, and the book ends in pretty much the only way it really could. Many questions are answered, many more are left open, and Inspector Borlu comes to understand the truth about the cities, and about the shadows claimed by each, by both and by neither.(less)
The word "guide" in the secondary title to this book is an unfortunate choice, as there is really very little in the way of advice or ideas for how to...moreThe word "guide" in the secondary title to this book is an unfortunate choice, as there is really very little in the way of advice or ideas for how to live a rich and fulfilling childfree life. My wife and I have plenty of ideas for this already, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't have been interested in reading suggestions from older couples with more experience.
I thought the first half of the book was quite interesting, as it delved into the various reasons people have for choosing (or accepting) their lack of children. I thought the second half of the book became tremendously repetitive, however. It basically goes over a lot of the same themes from the first half, and spends a bit too much time focusing on why people don't want kids, instead of what they do with their lives instead.
It's an easy read, and I think it might help people who are really struggling with family and/or friends who are pressuring them to have children, but I felt like it could have been more thorough and could definitely have explored more aspects of the childfree lifestyle.(less)
In the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling really begins to embrace the darker tone that she first begins to explore in the Prisoner of Azkaban, and the result...moreIn the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling really begins to embrace the darker tone that she first begins to explore in the Prisoner of Azkaban, and the result is a book that I found more engrossing than any of the first three. I like a little darkness, and I like that Rowling is unafraid to show that Harry exists in a dangerous world where people, both good and bad, are in possession of powers that can be extremely physically punishing to those at the receiving end.
Rowling continues to expand her compelling cast of characters, introducing new students both from within Hogwarts and from two other schools of wizarding, as well as several members of the Ministry of Magic. Two other new characters of note include the highly enjoyable "Mad-eye" Mooney, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and the highly obnoxious Rita Skeeter, an invasive journalist who's not above making up large chunks of her stories.
We also get to hear from many old favorites, not the least of which being Potters' inseparable friends Ron and Hermione, although the former proves at least semi-separable for a while as he battles with jealousy over Harry's constant position in the limelight.
All of this is nice, but kind of expected by now. What's impressive though is the deft way in which Rowling wraps many of these characters' stories together and ties them into the central Goblet of Fire storyline. In this storyline, we learn that (as is par for the course), someone is trying to kill Harry. The assumption of course is that his premature entry into the extremely dangerous Tri-Wizard competition was orchestrated to accomplish this goal, and in a way it was ... but not how Harry or anyone around him expects.
The book culminates with a confrontation that results in the first "on-screen" death of a character in Rowling's universe and sets up some extremely important threads that will carry through the rest of the titles. It's also the first book in the series to end with no indication of who won the house cup (or if it was even given out given the tragic circumstances of the Tri-Wizard competition), and no indication of who won the quiddich cup. I thought it was nice and realistic that these issues - so seemingly important in the earlier books - have taken a back seat to the life and death concerns that Rowling is introducing into the books.
I think this is the best of the Harry Potter books that I've read so far, and I'm looking forward to Order of the Phoenix.(less)