it's clear by every "god's teeth!" and "zounds!" that 'alchemist of souls' was lovingly researched. it tells the story of a down-on-his-luck minor nob...moreit's clear by every "god's teeth!" and "zounds!" that 'alchemist of souls' was lovingly researched. it tells the story of a down-on-his-luck minor nobleman/swashbuckler/body gard and an Elizabethan-era theater company brushing up on a new play as part of a competition to be judged by the skrayling ambassador... and that's about as far as the plot goes. apparently, good queen Bess did in fact marry Dudley, and more unusually, there are some magic-y creatures called skraylings populating the new world right alongside the red man, but none of those situations gets examined in any detail. we the readers are never completely sure what's up with this race of not-humans - they may or may not have fangs or tattoos based on rank/assumed gender, they're sorta england's allies and they have cool healing technology, but they're quite aloof and the alliance could break down at the quirk of an eyebrow. the theater competition worked on so diligently for 3/4 of the novel is apparently only there to introduce an overly broad cast of characters, which includes only one female (dressed as a boy, of course, cuz chicks of the era certainly didn't do so much as go OUTSIDE or anything).
the long and short of this bloated, leisurely paced novel is that Lyle has created a rich and interesting world, and unfortunately spends so long showing us it's little nuances that she forgets to craft a compelling plot.(less)
yet again, Mary Roach looks at a chunk of basic biology from its many weird and wonderful angles, then shares her research findings with you (dear rea...moreyet again, Mary Roach looks at a chunk of basic biology from its many weird and wonderful angles, then shares her research findings with you (dear reader) as a series of witty stories. i don't often read nonfiction, since i typically find the attempt to dramatize dry fact to be a big snooze, but Roach's conversational style is completely engaging, letting her excitement over quirky discoveries shine through the words. in 'gulp', we meet plenty of scientists and doctors both present and infamously past, sifting through the secrets of the GI tract. the language is occasionally hilariously coarse (sometimes you just gotta call shit shit), but more often hilariously anachronistic (nuns in convents of yore calling enemas "clysters"). filled with the kind of fun facts that nobody will want you to trot out at a dinner party (penguins drop their internal temperature when transporting swallowed fish to their chicks so it doesn't spoil or get digested; incubated plain spit generates a truly horrific odor), but that i absolutely love absorbing. if the chapter on "hooping," aka passing things through the hoop, i.e., how prisoners smuggle in cell phones to jail doesn't make you laugh, nothing will.(less)
the 2nd of the 'foreigner' series certainly steps up the action from the 1st installment, but we're still wading through an awful lot of Bren...more3.5 stars
the 2nd of the 'foreigner' series certainly steps up the action from the 1st installment, but we're still wading through an awful lot of Bren's musings and insecurities. kinda hard to sort all that out when working within a society that often considers blunt questions about one's motivations and loyalties to be thoroughly, inappropriately rude, though, so Bren muddles through the best he can. since the series is described as made up of sub-trilogies, and this one ends as unresolved/abruptly as the first, i've gotten the idea now that these 3 books are really more one story split into 3 volumes. and thank goodness i also have the 3rd here.(less)
the anniversary edition calls the foreigner series Cherryh's masterwork, and in rereading this first book, i can see the glimmers of what has the pote...morethe anniversary edition calls the foreigner series Cherryh's masterwork, and in rereading this first book, i can see the glimmers of what has the potential to be pretty amazing... and yet also remember why i stopped there rather than going on to the rest after the first time i read it over a decade ago.
foreigner is a slice out of the life of Bren Cameron, translator to the government of this end of the alien world that a spaceshipful of humans are marooned on. people have been stuck on this planet for a couple of hundred years, and there was already a well developed society there first. these people don't think like humans, don't act like humans, and don't understand plenty of fundamental human concepts...but they look human enough to confuse the attempts to bridge these gaps.
Bren spends a good portion of this story being drug around like a piece of luggage, lamenting his failure of total understanding of what's going on. my younger self was bored in places with Bren's lack of action and the time he spends contemplating the situation he's in rather than doing something about it. my older self is intrigued by the glimpses of a truly alien society, one that others misguidedly think humans can understand if only we have the right words, while failing to note the basic biological differences in hardwiring and response. it's a very neat idea to contemplate the wrongheadedness that this other being, that's just a bit taller and a bit darker, walks likes us and talks like us, so must have the same desires and drives if only you can find the right word to explain it.
the pacing is still a little slow, and Bren is an object as much as a character here, but the abrupt, unresolved ending has me jumping straight to that long-neglected 2nd story.(less)
the first half of Grant's now Hugo-nominated novel starts off as the best sort of sci-fi. it's not all about flashy gadgets as an excuse for a big spe...morethe first half of Grant's now Hugo-nominated novel starts off as the best sort of sci-fi. it's not all about flashy gadgets as an excuse for a big special effects budget, but instead a big "what if" exploring how the world changes when world-changing technology arrives. based on "the hygeine theory," which says that the reason we're afflicted with a rising count of allergy and autoimmune diseases is because our immune systems are all dangerously bored in our modern sterile world, 'parasite' proposes the titular solution. soon, everyone in the developed world is sporting their own gene-spliced Intestinal Bodyguard (tm) tapeworm, which secretes regulated insulin to diabetics, provides reliable birth control without the pill, or calms the symptoms of anaphylactics. the expensive infrastructure to deal with daily pill-popping simply no longer exists out of lack of necessity.
and then, instead of exploring WHY this change is interesting, after setting up this richly-imagined world, Grant goes with the whole mad scientist "we did it because we can!!!" thing, and this veers off into being a horror novel instead. and hey, who doesn't love a solid thriller now and then? well, apparently, me, if the science behind it swerves so sharply from interesting to WTF. apparently, 'round about page 261, the background researcher got fired, because we have only misused buzzwords instead of the actual science concepts from the first half. given that i'm a research scientist myself, this will likely drive me far, far more bonkers than it would the average bear, and i'd be willing to roll my eyes and continue a suspension of disbelief if the main character then did something other than let circumstance and side characters push her into being in a plot. i consider it a major failing when i can see the huge plot twist from 200 pages away, since i'm most typically surprised by everything. but when the big reveal happens halfway through, and everyone looks at the main character to see if she's gonna figure it out, then they all shrug and go on until it dawns on her that (effectively) soylent green is people on the very last page? sheesh, girl, now you just look like a dim bulb next to all the far more fascinating mad scientists.(less)
the overly-pithily titled 'vicious' takes equal parts 'flatliners' and 'xmen' and a shaky-cam found-footage movie about phenomena just outside the nor...morethe overly-pithily titled 'vicious' takes equal parts 'flatliners' and 'xmen' and a shaky-cam found-footage movie about phenomena just outside the norm of experience and mooshes them all together into an incredibly compellingly written revenge tale. see, some pre-med students come up with a theory on how "ExtraOrdinary" people get made, then set out to test the EO theory, then everything goes wrong. each of these people is somehow burnt by the other, leaving a morass of righteous resentment to fester during the jail time. nobody here is lily-white, nobody here is moustache-twirling evil, and Schwab has a hell of a lot more poise and chutzpah than you'd expect from someone writing their first "adult" book. a baroquely gothic cover doesn't quite capture the mood here, but it is lovely.
this is now the nth time that amazon has told me that i'll really like a book, only i've never heard of the author so i leave it by the wayside, and then when someone else recommends it, POW. apparently, i should listen to amazon more in the first place since they know me so well? (less)
an incredibly elegantly-written book (Beagle turns beautiful metaphors over and over), 'a fine and private place' has infintely more poise than you'd...morean incredibly elegantly-written book (Beagle turns beautiful metaphors over and over), 'a fine and private place' has infintely more poise than you'd expect from a first work of anyone's, let alone an author so young when he wrote it. it's a gently funny, gently sad musing on withdrawing from life and letting the world pass you by until it's time to be of the living again. if you're in the mood for something this delicate, it's very likely a 5-star read. if you end up appreciating it only for technical accomplishment, though, without a connection to the characters or story, I can't love it. (less)