While reading this book, it's very hard not to feel overwhelmed. It's not just that the United States faces a single, all-consuming problem; it faces...moreWhile reading this book, it's very hard not to feel overwhelmed. It's not just that the United States faces a single, all-consuming problem; it faces dozens, if not hundreds of them. There's not very much that's going right in America these days; from our failing schools to dismal unemployment rate to crumbling infrastructure, we barely resemble the global super power that confidently dominated world events after WWII. And even if these problems were easy to solve, our current gridlocked political system makes even the smallest change nearly impossible.
It's not always easy to keep up with current events, much less understand the socio-historic causes behind today's crises. Friedman and Mandelbaum do an excellent job getting us up to speed and providing essential background information. They also mostly succeed at taking a centrist stance, leveling criticism at both the right and left. While the book contains more problems than solutions, I certainly don't expect these journalists to solve the country's problems in a 400 page book, and to their credit, there are a few surprisingly good ideas found within. By the end, I still felt overwhelmed, but also highly informed and motivated to contribute to a solution. (less)
Epic, inventive, and haunting. In the future, Earth has already survived one battle with an alien race known as the Buggers, and they're preparing for...moreEpic, inventive, and haunting. In the future, Earth has already survived one battle with an alien race known as the Buggers, and they're preparing for another invasion by sending gifted young children into space to attend Battle School. Ender Wiggin is a 6-year-old boy who will not only be sent to Battle School, but may end up being the savior of the human race.
I've read criticism of this book that accuses Card of writing children like they're adults. I do have to question why he sent children rather than adolescents or young adults on this particular journey; is it a critique of cultures that eschew childhood for military brainwashing, or simply because only children are powerless enough to be roped into this kind of sacrifice against their will? Either way, Ender's young age only lends poignancy to the awful things he must endure, and I don't think it's science fiction that gifted children could lead such psychologically mature and compelling lives.
I've never had much interest in war, battle, or military strategy, but Card writes in such a way that these typically dry subjects come to life, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Ender's training battles. I also appreciated that this book can be read on a variety of levels; YA readers can easily follow the plot, while more mature audiences will undoubtedly be moved by the themes of innocence, sacrifice, genocide, and family that drive the story forward. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series.(less)
I love Ellen. I tape/watch her show everyday after work. It was a quick easy read th...moreCudahy Popular Reading Collection (1st floor) PN 2287 .D358 A3 2011
I love Ellen. I tape/watch her show everyday after work. It was a quick easy read that sounded like her. However, watching her show made me aware of many of the little stories she shared in the book.(less)
Frankly, it's a miracle I gave this two stars, because after the first 50 pages, I was ready to give it 0 stars and a kick across the room. This is my...moreFrankly, it's a miracle I gave this two stars, because after the first 50 pages, I was ready to give it 0 stars and a kick across the room. This is my first experience reading Jen Lancaster, and she comes off VERY poorly at the beginning of this memoir, which details her attempt to watch less reality TV and become more cultured. I thought this sounded like a fairly interesting project, particularly as American culture has become increasingly anti-intellectual. Sadly, Lancaster's attitude to both her project and this book is fairly casual, and I was disappointed that she squandered the opportunity to take a more focused, serious approach.
But as I kept reading, I realized that Jen Lancaster's books aren't supposed to be about serious reflection; they're about observational humor and snark, and by the end of the book, I found myself somewhat charmed by her writing. In real life, she would drive me crazy for a number of reasons, but she's a genuinely warm, funny writer, and I can absolutely see the appeal of her books. I've heard that her previous efforts were a bit more polished, so it's possible that I'll try another -- but in this case, I found myself wanting more substantive content.(less)
Great premise, disappointing follow-through. I'm very surprised that I didn't like this; other reviews praise it for being engrossing, but I found mos...moreGreat premise, disappointing follow-through. I'm very surprised that I didn't like this; other reviews praise it for being engrossing, but I found most of it to be quite dull. Charles Rainier is an English politician and businessman who can't remember a few years of his life due to a WWI head injury. While set at the eve of WWII, most of the book is comprised of flashbacks to Rainier's life, eventually including scenes from his missing years. And, of course, there are women involved -- a cold present-day wife and the promise of an old, fiery romance that Rainier can't quite remember.
Sounds fantastic, right? Unfortunately, the book needs a shocking amount of editing; it is filled with tangents, superfluous characters, and a lot of talk about the state of England during and between the World Wars. Perhaps it's my fault for wanting to concentrate on the personal drama rather than the sociopolitical context, but I found myself frequently impatient, wading through pages about England when I *really* just wanted to concentrate on Rainier and his amnesia. I hear there's a terrific movie version available; perhaps I'll like that better.(less)
I adored this book. I was initially uninterested, because I've read other books set at a circus and have had my fill of tawdry characters and behind-t...moreI adored this book. I was initially uninterested, because I've read other books set at a circus and have had my fill of tawdry characters and behind-the-scenes dysfunction. But the Night Circus is unlike anything you've ever heard of -- (literally) magical, dreamlike, elegant, heartbreaking. While some of the characters are a bit two-dimensional, the leads are vibrant and compelling, and there's a love story that gave me chills. Perhaps I was simply in the mood for an old-fashioned romance, and others will find the book a bit too earnest, but I can't imagine not falling under its spell. (less)
Really, I should just copy and paste my review of The Magicians into this space; I have the same complains about the sequel that I did about the first...moreReally, I should just copy and paste my review of The Magicians into this space; I have the same complains about the sequel that I did about the first installment. In a nutshell: creative, engrossing book with very little heart or warmth.
Quentin and his friends are now the Kings and Queens of Fillory, but because presiding over a magical kingdom isn't enough for Quentin, he goes in search of adventure and basically threatens the future of magic. As his story unfolds, we also go back in time a few years and discover how Julia, Quentin's high school crush, got herself into magic (and Fillory) by using a very different path. Predictably, these paths eventually collide, and Julia's personal experience becomes a critical tool in saving the future of magic.
Lev Grossman is gifted in so many ways -- his pacing is wonderful, his prose makes me laugh out loud on a regular basis. But there's something so cold and dank and inhuman about the whole enterprise, the characters and their relationships and the spirit behind the story. I know this is supposed to be Harry Potter for adults, but J. K. Rowling managed to go to some pretty dark places while maintaining the warmth and integrity of her characters. I didn't feel attached to a single person in The Magician King; the characters are not only unlikable but kind of soulless. The plot was exciting enough to keep me reading, but again, I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth on the final page. (less)
Do you enjoy video games, adventure quests, and 80s nostalgia? I'm actually not a huge fan of ANY of those things, and I still had a great time readin...moreDo you enjoy video games, adventure quests, and 80s nostalgia? I'm actually not a huge fan of ANY of those things, and I still had a great time reading this book. In a word, this book is FUN -- a treasure hunt of epic proportions with likable characters, loathsome villains, and plenty of surprises along the way. While Cline tips his toe into the waters of social commentary, his attempts are somewhat heavy-handed, and the plot-driven sections are much more effective. While it's not very creative to deem a sci-fi book "imaginative," I can't think of a more apt description -- Cline has not only created a dystopian future America set in 2044, but a new virtual reality called the Oasis with its own intriguing characters, landscapes, feuds, and rules. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, and hope a sequel is in the works to see what happens to Parzival and his friends.(less)
In 1968, a disabled woman and a deaf man escape from a mental institution; the pair arrives with a newborn baby in tow on the doorstep of a widow's fa...moreIn 1968, a disabled woman and a deaf man escape from a mental institution; the pair arrives with a newborn baby in tow on the doorstep of a widow's farmhouse. The authorities catch up with Lynnie and Homan, but not before the widow quietly hides the baby in her attic at the request of the terrified new mother. The rest of the book explores how these characters' lives diverge and reunite over the span of decades.
Simon treats each of her characters with respect and compassion, regardless of their respective disabilities. Each has a rich inner life, and I particularly liked her handling of Homan, who speaks a sign language no one understands and is therefore assumed to be profoundly handicapped. (Can you imagine the sheer frustration of being unable to communicate the fact that you are mentally sound?)
For the most part, Simon avoids becoming overly sentimental or saccharine, though the ending is a bit too Nicholas Sparks for my taste. The first half of the book is the strongest, and the entire novel is worth a read for Homan's incredible story. (less)
A solid, if somewhat unusual, ending to a most enjoyable trilogy. In the first two books, Mikael and Salander were at the center of the action; here,...moreA solid, if somewhat unusual, ending to a most enjoyable trilogy. In the first two books, Mikael and Salander were at the center of the action; here, the long-suffering lead characters are rewarded for their persistence as a whole host of secondary characters crawl out of the woodwork to join their crusade. If the first two books were about personal vendettas, #3 is about a villain that's so vast, so institutionalized, and so invisible that defeating it seems impossible. This is a story about a group of unlikely allies banding together to fight an ominous organization, so if you were hoping for 600 pages devoted to Lisbeth, you will be disappointed.
I do have a few complaints; as in the first book, Larsson has a bad habit of writing long, dry tangents related to Swedish government and finance. Relevant though the history of the Swedish secret police may be, the book comes to a standstill more than once. There are some truly exciting moments in the finale, but the very ending of the book was somewhat anti-climactic.
As much as I missed spending every page with Blomkvist or Salander, I'm glad that Larsson fleshed out a few of his supporting players, particularly Erika Berger. Berger gets a meaty role in this installment, and I liked how her seemingly unrelated story became intertwined with the main plot. It was also nice to spend significant time with a female character so radically different than Lisbeth. (less)
Despite some shrewd observations and compelling scenes, this book is terribly overwritten and morose. It's also overcrowded; if the story could have f...moreDespite some shrewd observations and compelling scenes, this book is terribly overwritten and morose. It's also overcrowded; if the story could have focused solely on Lena and Charlie, a struggling married couple with financial problems and a sick baby, perhaps Edgarian could have created an emotional center to ground the rest of the characters. Instead, we get saddled with Lena's obscenely rich aunt, uncle, and extended family; her former lover; myriad business associates; a family wedding; a failed business venture involving a surgical robot; and endless references to the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Even worse is the dialogue, which tries too hard to be literary and instead sounds stilted and overwrought. I have to admit falling in love with Lena and Charlie's young son, Theo, and the scenes that revolve around their family were the only reason I finished this. So much potential, but ultimately disappointing.(less)
In this third installment of the Flavia de Luce series, Alan Bradley seems to have perfected the formula for these books. There are three major thread...moreIn this third installment of the Flavia de Luce series, Alan Bradley seems to have perfected the formula for these books. There are three major threads: a murder mystery, the ongoing familial drama at Buckshaw, and Flavia's personal development as an 11 year old on the cusp of young adulthood. Flavia narrates the series with (sometimes false) bravado and an acid tongue, so it's quite remarkable that Bradley can subtly imply that even as she flounces around the English countryside acting like an impudent child, Miss de Luce is beginning to understand the adult world and its complicated emotions and dramas.
As with most mystery series, I am more interested in the characters than the details of the mystery, and I really enjoyed the focus on Colonel de Luce's financial problems, as well as Flavia's growing attachment to her deceased mother. That said, the mystery -- involving a Gypsy caravan, a dead baby, and an old religious sect -- was quite inventive, and the last 30 pages or so kept me at the edge of my seat. I hope there's a #4 in the works! (less)
I have to assume that I wasn't in the right frame of mind to read this; it's the only explanation I can come up with as to why I didn't love this book...moreI have to assume that I wasn't in the right frame of mind to read this; it's the only explanation I can come up with as to why I didn't love this book. Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors, and this book had so many elements that I usually love: a female protagonist, an escapist adventure, thoughtful prose, complicated maternal relationships, and vivid characterizations. Part of the story even takes place in Minnesota, my beloved home state! And yet, I felt very detached as I made my way through the story. It was only in the last 20 pages or so that I felt any emotional connection to the characters, but the feeling was wasted as Patchett glosses over the most exciting part of the story and rushes to a conclusion. Considering how much I adore Bel Canto and The Magician's Assistant, this was disappointing indeed.(less)
If you had to prove to someone that you were a real human being and not just a convincing fake, how would you do so? And what does this question tell...moreIf you had to prove to someone that you were a real human being and not just a convincing fake, how would you do so? And what does this question tell us about what it means to be human, as well as to be 'real'? Author Brian Christian meanders through fields as widespread as linguistics, poetry, artificial intelligence, and philosophy in a quest to win a contest against a computer for who can seem the most human. Readable, funny, and thought-provoking, The Most Human Human will fascinate you - as much for the intriguing detours as for the main concept. (less)