Do you like intense survivalist novels with a hint of SciFi/fantasy, but you're sick of zombies, vampires, and post-apocalyptic hellscapes? Then thisDo you like intense survivalist novels with a hint of SciFi/fantasy, but you're sick of zombies, vampires, and post-apocalyptic hellscapes? Then this is the book for you! 700+ pages of briskly moving plot, quality character development, thoughtful historical details, and a good mix of quietly creepy moments and all-out action sequences. Perfect book for a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon. (Unless you're prone to nightmares. Then try it on a cold, snowy Sunday morning.)...more
I think this book was written for anyone who gave Twilight a try and thought, "Well, I really like the dull, whiny female protagonist and trudging fanI think this book was written for anyone who gave Twilight a try and thought, "Well, I really like the dull, whiny female protagonist and trudging fantasy love story, but I wish there had been more digressions into literary theory."
Okay, that's a little harsh. I suppose it's my own shortcoming that I find teenage protagonists borderline unbearable with all their emoting.
Maybe a more serious problem with the fantasy gimmick is how delicately you have to handle the premise in your mind. So the characters in the book Delilah is reading are literally real (or maybe literarirly real hahaha) and have to act out what's happening on the page whenever the book is read. But...it's hard to figure out how that actually means. Maybe my imagination isn't what it used to be, but it wasn't like Toy Story or something fun where, yay, toys come to life when no one's around and they all have thoughts and feelings of their own.
Instead, the characters in the book are being played by actors (I guess?) who are doomed to live out the same scenes over and over. One character tries to make contact with the reader and together they start experimenting on how to get Oliver out of the book and into the Delilah's real world. The idea sounds clever, but I ended up spending a lot of time thinking "that doesn't make any sense" as we learn about the book world, or when the two attempt to cross between worlds.
So on a non-weighted scale, I'd give this one two stars. For a YA book, it's probably three stars, because it does raise some interesting questions about how much control an author has over her work, and maybe, if you want to take it this far, you could use it as an spring board into the "do we have free will" discussion that stops being fun after sophomore year. ...more
If you're missing Downton Abbey (soapy elements and all), this book would be a good choice. It's set in the same time period as Downton Abbey and hitsIf you're missing Downton Abbey (soapy elements and all), this book would be a good choice. It's set in the same time period as Downton Abbey and hits the same historical events: Titanic, WWI, flu epidemic, etc. And they share themes that I suppose any story about the early 1910s-1920s would - how families cope with the war and what happens when all the wounded soldiers return, how class lines began to blur, and how women's roles in society change. I almost always enjoy those types of plots.
What I didn't enjoy so much in the story was the excessive use of manufactured suspense. For example (minor spoilers), we have the main character announcing "I will be leaving to board the Titanic at exactly 10:00! I am so excited for its maiden voyage! I hope nothing happens to stop me at 9:59!" (paraphrased, but barely.) And of course something stops her at 9:59. That kind of thing happens again and again, someone rushing to deliver a vital message moments before a life-changing decision is made, or a character misses an important phone call by mere moments. Since the story focuses on relationships, work, school, and the daily grind, it seems unnatural to squeeze in so many attempts at nail biting moments.
And I had to mention, for a story about a publishing company, with a skilled editor as the main character, there sure were a lot of typos in this book.
Overall, it's fun and thought-provoking, but certainly not perfect. I'll probably take a break before grabbing the next book in the series. Maybe next time I have a long layover. ...more
Another possible dystopia for humanity to worry about: a scientist accidentally discovers the cure for aging, and most everyone chooses to stop the agAnother possible dystopia for humanity to worry about: a scientist accidentally discovers the cure for aging, and most everyone chooses to stop the aging process in their mid 20s to early 30s. You can still die from violence, starvation, or disease, but you have youth and vitality on your side from your cure date forward.
I thought the broader implications of a world without aging were more interesting than the protagonist's daily life, but that's just a personal preference. I tend to skim sections about gun fights with roving gangs of cannibals, in this book or any dystopian lit. (Seriously, why so many roving gangs of cannibals in the near future?) But there's plenty to think about, at varying levels of seriousness. Sports records: obsolete. Retirement: a thing of the past, because you have the potential to live forever, right? Marriage: Now that "forever" could mean just that, people start backing away from the whole idea. Babies: So many. If you have the cure at age 30, you could potentially have babies forever. And if your kids have the cure at age 30, they can have babies forever. Soon you end up with giant families of kids and grandkids and great grandkids, all the same age. (Or with grandchildren "outgrowing" their grandparents.)
So overcrowding quickly becomes an issue. Resources are scarce, living quarters are cramped. The government has to make some tough decisions. What do you do with a prison population that never ages? What does a life sentence mean? What about a violent offender who spends 50 years in prison, but gets out with a cure age of 27?
Or how about the military? If you don't age, can you be sent on endless tours?
The social safety net? Can you collect social security once you reach the actual age of 70, even if your cure age is 22? (No, they decide pretty quickly.)
What about suicide? It goes from illegal to tolerated to encouraged to mandatory in just a few generations.
I liked following how various world governments deal with the cure and its effects. Usually in this type of book, the government eventually dissolves and people are out fending for themselves. While some aspects of society get out of control (see cannibal gangs, above), most places the government continue to exert influence over its citizens. In America, there are tax incentives (passed on to your family) if you commit suicide, while executions remain in the hands of the judicial system. There are plenty of regulations for documenting the voluntary or involuntary end of life proceedings, even in the grimmer years towards the end of the novel. The Chinese and Russian governments use some different tactics, so it's interesting to read how the effects of the cure play out around the world. I almost wish there had been more of it.
Overall, if you're a fan of dystopian near future novels, this one is definitely worth reading. ...more
I feel like I should have a better defense of a two star review, but it's hard to muster more than a shrug for this book. A story about a war should mI feel like I should have a better defense of a two star review, but it's hard to muster more than a shrug for this book. A story about a war should make me want to pick a side. Or present a character or two I could root for.
The positives: the writing is solid - in particular, the descriptions of the Half Made portions of the world are cool, since the laws of physics and nature haven't been completely sorted out. The prologue was quite gripping (almost deceptively so - I feel like I was tricked out of a better book!). And I appreciate an author wanting to avoid too many exposition chapters, and not spend too much time explaining the background of the cause. But I think this veered too far in the other direction. It's hard to care about the Republic, the Gun, the Line, or the First Folk, because you barely understand their motivations and powers.
But, obviously, lots of people like this book (so many five star reviews!), so I'm in the minority. If you're looking to read a Fantasy Western, by all means, give it a shot....more
I think I'd give this 3.5 stars. The novel combines Victorian sensibilities and prose with a dash of SciFi for an enjoyable read. We follow the livesI think I'd give this 3.5 stars. The novel combines Victorian sensibilities and prose with a dash of SciFi for an enjoyable read. We follow the lives of both historical and imagined characters through tragedy, romance, innovation, and plenty of melodrama. While the novel gets off to a slow start, the pacing really picks up for a fun and complex middle section. I wasn't as satisfied by the final act, which introduced a new plot and set of characters that I found to be jarring and, ultimately, disappointing. (Hmmm, turns out this is a hard book to review without getting spoilery. But I guess that's to be expected with themes like "beware unintended consequences" and "humanity is pretty inept at predicting the short or long term future.") ...more
One character in the novel, a storyteller by trade, compares stories to "eels in a wooden crate. They slither over and under each other, but never leaOne character in the novel, a storyteller by trade, compares stories to "eels in a wooden crate. They slither over and under each other, but never leave the tub." This pretty well describes the novel as a whole, which is constructed of long and short stories that wind and weave over 500+ pages. Some stories are epic, spanning many years and miles and generations, ending up far from where they began. Some are short and have clear morals. Some involve magic and fantasy, some are grounded in realism. Some stories are nested within other stories. The stories draw from mythology, legends, fables, and religion. Between the fantastical stories, the narrator explores his own story - how he came to be. He reaches back to the stories of his parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, while also relating events from his childhood in Beirut and college days in California. It's a thorough and lovely look at Osama and his family's storytelling tradition. ...more
A fun, engaging book. I think even those who aren't normally Stephen King readers would enjoy this one. Compelling storyline and just the right levelA fun, engaging book. I think even those who aren't normally Stephen King readers would enjoy this one. Compelling storyline and just the right level of creepiness (as I prefer a quietly unsettling paradox to, say, alien monsters who dine on human souls). ...more
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did, but I was completely absorbed by the intimate collection of stories. How many different ways can aI didn't expect to like this book as much as I did, but I was completely absorbed by the intimate collection of stories. How many different ways can a family suffer during long term deployments? Of course both parties worry about their partner's safety...and fidelity. But even if they're reunited alive and faithful, most couples are barely holding together. Returning from a war zone is jarring, in both good ways (cold beer! clean sheets!) and bad (the shock of American excess). Balancing the now-ingrained military lifestyle with regular family life can be a feat. And wives who missed their husbands every day have also became accustomed to life in their absence. A husband's sudden reappearance is joyful, but life can range from awkward to chaotic as a couple re-learns how to navigate their days together. These stories are a compelling and realistic portrayal of how people manage life during, and after long deployments. ...more
A lovely book that intercuts two stories in one woman's life. The elderly Marina is struggling with Alzheimer's as she prepares for her granddaughter'A lovely book that intercuts two stories in one woman's life. The elderly Marina is struggling with Alzheimer's as she prepares for her granddaughter's wedding, and the young Marina is working to evacuate the Hermitage in Leningrad during World War II. The historical story is stronger - how could it not be? Working days at a time to pack trains full of priceless art, the museum employees are trying to save what they can from impending German attacks. Then, once the art is gone, they hunker down in the museum for protection. During the day, Marina wanders through the empty rooms, trying to remember the museum as it once was. The reader is treated to lush descriptions of both the artwork and the building (and may have to fight the urge to buy a ticket to Russia). As the siege continues, the lack of food and the cramped basement quarters take their toll on Marina's mental state. Her memories of the art grow and morph into hallucinations that she will never entirely shake.
In the present story, Marina's memory is also mis-firing. Her short term memory is full of gaps that can make life awkward at best, and dangerous at worst. Her family tries to help, but Marina still has some skill at hiding how bad things have become for her. She can cover for many of her faux pas with surprising ease. However, the world around her is fading and mingling with her past in the Hermitage, and she won't be able to hold herself together much longer.
The two stories work nicely together to make the reader consider the nature of memory, how it can be both powerful and fragile. Overall, this is a thoughtful book and compelling story. ...more
Preachy and abrasive, I imagine this book would only appeal to hard core fans of the End of the World novel. If the following bit of dialogue turns yoPreachy and abrasive, I imagine this book would only appeal to hard core fans of the End of the World novel. If the following bit of dialogue turns you off, please don't attempt to read this book:
"Charlie, Americans were so damn unprepared...we spent a helluva lot of time wringing out hands about global warming and that wasn't even true. Just last week we were worried about basketball playoffs, now men are taking arms over a slice of bread. It reminds me of the Civil War. Also that movie, Independence Day," John interjected coldly.
Okay, no one says that, exactly. But the characters are constantly saying DAMN and HELLUVA, which gets grating, and everyone starts every sentence with the first name of the person their addressing. And they can't say anything without the help of an adverb. Coldly, softly, angrily, tearfully, rashly...pick your favorite.
Worse, everyone's referencing movies, books, and historical tragedies, but with no subtlety or attempt to weave the reference into the story. It's more like HEY THIS IS LIKE THAT TIME IN RUSSIA WHERE PEOPLE WERE STARVING AND FOOD WAS RATIONED BECAUSE NOW PEOPLE ARE STARVING AND FOOD IS RATIONED.
I also got tired of everyone commenting on how much life has changed. JUST LAST MONTH THESE KIDS WERE STUDENTS AND NOW THEY'RE AN ARMY. Fair enough, if it were the only such observation. EXACTLY 42 DAYS AGO THESE PEOPLE WERE EATING BURGERS AND PIZZA AND NOW THEY'RE EATING PANCAKES MADE OUT OF SAWDUST. Uh, okay. Maybe a little more about the sawdust pancakes, and what's happening to the people eating them? No, more melodramatic observations instead? OUR BIGGEST WORRY USED TO BE THAT THE INTERNET WAS SLOW BUT NOW THERE ARE ROVING GANGS OF CANNIBALS. ALSO ALL THE COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS ARE PROBABLY DEAD BECAUSE THEY NEVER PARTICIPATED IN CIVIL WAR REENACTMENTS.
But, as you'll note, I gave this two stars instead of knocking all the way down to one, which I should probably address. There are parts of the book I enjoyed, such as the conference scenes, where the town leaders take turns laying out problems and discussing possible solutions. With disease, shortages, unrest, and a growing influx of refugees, even the smallest, friendliest of towns has plenty to worry about. And the council comes up with decent solutions from limited options - how to deal with food hoarders, for example (no one gets rations cards until their home has been searched for hidden food). Forstchen also provides a neat little demonstration of how seemingly minor injuries, like cuts and scrapes, could become deadly in the new post-medicine world.
Unfortunately, though, there’s much more telling than showing throughout the book. We’re told over and over again how ill-prepared the United States was for the attack, how whiny and pampered all us citizens are, and how all the hippies, peaceniks, and white collar professionals are useless and sure to die soon. It gets tiring.
I guess that puts this book squarely in the “not recommended” category, unless you still have a substantial Y2K stash that you’d like to justify to yourself....more
Justin Cronin excels at building tension, but he’s not so great at figuring out what to with all that tension once it’s bSome minor spoilers, I guess:
Justin Cronin excels at building tension, but he’s not so great at figuring out what to with all that tension once it’s built. The first section is a solid scientific/government disaster set in the near future. Up until *the incident,* it’s a bleak but not dystopian vision of America 20-30 years from now. The characters and their backgrounds are interesting, the vampire-things are just the right level of creepy, and you can’t wait to see what happens next.
So, then the incident happens and we race ahead 90 years. The offspring of a small group of survivors are living in a compound in what was once California. Mostly as compelling as the first section, you start to figure out the rhythms of the daily life of these people who have no idea if they’re the last people on earth. Of course, there are mounting problems in the compound - equipment issues, personal issues, monster issues, and soon the appearance of someone we left behind from act one will threaten to tear apart their makeshift civilization. So far so good.
But, what would be the best part of most novels - a band of eight people sets out across a post-apocalyptic hellscape to save the world - here things start to deteriorate. There’s only eight characters at this point, but they’re mostly bland and interchangeable, and hard to keep track of. Some meaningless love interest stuff is clogging up the background. Occasionally things are pulled back on track - when they meet up with another compound of survivors near Las Vegas, suddenly we get back to the horror element of the story. But, despite some cool plot twists, this eventually devolves into a train/car chase yanked from a screenplay.
The narrative kind of lurches and stumbles along from there. Some people die, some supposedly meaningful goodbyes are said, but you’re just not invested enough in the characters to care. You meet another group of new people that bog everything down. The pacing never picks back up. And there’s just some shoddy storytelling. Like one of the main character’s motivation hinges on the comma placement in his mother’s deathbed statement. Any competent reader will figure the dual meaning long before the hero gets there. And, when you’re getting down toward the last hundred pages, a sudden revelation from another character drops in out of nowhere and veers the story off in a completely uninteresting direction. By page 700, I was pretty much skimming, just willing the whole thing to end....more
The worst place to get fair and balanced reporting is in a pet book written by the pet owner. Everyone thinks their own pet is uniquely intelligent, lThe worst place to get fair and balanced reporting is in a pet book written by the pet owner. Everyone thinks their own pet is uniquely intelligent, loving, intuitive, and attractive. Granted, most people would stop short of claiming their pet solved the Farm Crisis of the 80s, but it would be silly to expect anything other than uncritical praise for Dewey in the book bearing his name.
So even though I had braced myself for a pro-Dewey story, it was still a little hard to read. Not only is Dewey amazing and beautiful, but he also pulled a small town out of an economic crisis, created an emotional bond between sullen teens and their parents, and apparently was the only source of happiness in the life of a severely disabled child. All of this is reported from the author/owner's point of view - no follow up with any of the families Dewey "saved."
In fact, the author's point of view is a problem throughout the book. Between cat stories, Vickie Myron chronicles her own life in the town of Spencer. She's pretty defensive about living in the Midwest, with a "you people who live on the coasts eat our food but YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT US!" attitude coming through the story. If it were a little more light-hearted or subtle, maybe this editorializing could have been easier to take, but it just strikes a contemptuous tone. (And I say this as an Iowan.)
When she's not, say, criticizing mountains, Vicki Myron fills us in on her own personal problems. Her ill health, bad first marriage, and rocky relationship with her daughter keep poking into the narrative. None of this has much to do with Dewey and just seems like a chance for the author to tell her own story, which isn't quite interesting enough to be published on its own.
The oddest part of the book is probably the second to last chapter, where the author decides to cram in all the tragedies in her life that she hadn't previously been able to strong-arm into the previous chapters. It's a dizzying montage of death and illness that, while sad, doesn't add up to anything. I understand that Vicki Myron has struggled in her life, and I'm genuinely sorry for her losses. But I don't think this book was the appropriate place to wring out her emotions. Especially on topics that, by her own admission, her family had asked her not to discuss.
Aside from a few amusing cat anecdotes, this was an uneven book that I would hesitate to recommend even to fans of cats, libraries, and Iowa (such as myself!). ...more