Tag Archives: book reviews

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (unabridged audiobook read by Davina Porter; 32.5 hrs on 28 discs): Claire is vacationing in Scotland with her husband Frank in 1945 when suddenly she is transported 200 years into the past. This is more historical romance than science fiction, and a lot of it is quite unsettling: graphic violence, corporal punishment of children and spouses alike, and lots and lots of sex, much of it very rough. The homosexual characters are all pedophiles, sadists, and/or rapists. I did, however, really enjoy the glimpse of ordinary life in the 1740s, the witch trials, and the comparison of medical practices between the 18th and 20th centuries. I may actually give the second book in the series a try, as the ending of this one implies it may have more to do with actual time travel, changing history, and the like. This book is mostly about Claire’s relationship with Jamie, an intriguing Scotsman whose fate seems intertwined with her own. Which is fine, as far as that goes, but don’t come into this expecting a science fiction tale. That said, if you’re a sucker for 18th century Highlands romance, this is not to be missed.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson: In 1900, one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history leveled the city of Galveston, Texas. This story is as much about the weather as it is about the troubled beginnings of the National Weather Bureau and turn-of-the-century American culture in general. The tale is intricately woven and exquisitely detailed, blunt and unflinchingly tragic but never gratuitous. It’s fascinating and maddening and hard to put down. I wish my edition had photographs in it, especially since the text makes so many references to them, but to be honest I was able to picture most of it in my mind without any trouble. This was written before Katrina; I wonder how it would have been different after, with that so fresh in the mind for comparison. Anyone with an interest in severe weather or the time period would get quite a lot out of this one. Lucky for me, I happen to have an interest in both.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb

Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb: I have no idea how much of this “highly autobiographical” work is supposed to be true, so I’m going to treat it like a novel. Amelie is a Belgian woman living in Japan in the early 1980s. Rinri, a Japanese man close to her age, comes to her for French lessons, and soon they begin dating. It’s clear from the beginning that while Amelie likes Rinri very much, she harbors no romantic feelings for him. His personality is actually not very well defined; he seems to exist mostly in reaction to her antics. The whole situation is rather awkward and their inevitable split is heartbreaking. I did enjoy Amelie’s somewhat spiritual adventures in mountain climbing, and her experiences with Japanese culture were charmingly familiar, but as a romance I found it largely disappointing. I don’t like finishing a book disliking the main character, but up until that point it was kind of nice.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (unabridged audiobook read by Emily Gray; 12 hrs on 10 discs): It’s the far future, and our narrator is Krina, a sort of being we might consider to be somewhere between an android and a clone. It’s several thousand years in the future, and almost nothing is familiar to someone from the 21st century, from the extreme genetic modifications to the spaceship planets to the monetary system. In fact, I felt like there was too much going on here. I like extensive world-building, especially in science fiction, but I had a lot of trouble keeping up. It didn’t help that many of the differences between Krina’s world and our own were explained in lengthy essays on the different speeds of money, financial fraud, semi-autonomous clones, mermaids, and bats, rather than as a natural part of the plot. Had the people been physically familiar with a crazy economic system (I never quite got the hang of slow money); or barely humanoid cyborg clones living on a planet without needing to organize their economy around slower-than-light space travel; or the plot focused mainly on the interactions between clones, their originals, copied soul chips, and the tricky ethics thereof; or the characters had been either bat-humans or insurance pirates but not both; or even just focusing on the underused Church of the Fragile, a cult dedicated to humans without any physical modifications — any of those alone could have been fascinating. All of them stuffed into a single novel got in the way of the story. I had a lot of trouble following what was going on and keeping the characters straight. There is surely a very specific audience who would love this sort of ultra-exotic science fiction, but I prefer my story/concept balance to be tipped just a little bit further toward the former.

A note on the audio: Gray is a splendid reader, but this was a little strange for me because the audiobook I finished just before this was also read by her, but completely different (one of Jasper Fforde’s delightfully silly Thursday Next novels), so it took me a while to get accustomed to the new crop of characters using her voice.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg

Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg: I first discovered Goldberg in a college creative writing class that used Writing Down the Bones as a textbook. I instantly fell in love with her gentle-yet-firm “just write it” philosophy. I read several of her other writing books and her novel, but am only now getting to her autobiographical works. Here, she talks mostly about her life as a Buddhist and her relationship with her teacher while she lived in Minnesota. It’s actually a really interesting glimpse into a life that is so completely foreign to me. I’ve never lived in a hippie neighborhood or taught sixth graders or spent entire days in meditation or even ever visited the parts of New Mexico, Minnesota, and New York where Goldberg lived. This is certainly not an exciting book by any stretch of the imagination, but I really enjoyed joining Goldberg on this quiet journey from childhood through love and loss until finally finding her true home.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (unabridged audiobook read by Emily Gray; 12.75 hrs on 11 discs): Several years have passed since we last checked in with Thursday Next, and now she is the mother of three children, the eldest a despondent teen. SpecOps was disbanded and she swore off the book world, but still works as both a literary detective and for Jurisfiction in secret. Her latest assignment for the latter is training the latest recruit: herself. That is, herself as portrayed in the novels based on her life. Meanwhile, Pride and Prejudice is on the verge of being turned into a reality show, highly dangerous cheeses are being traded on the black market, and time travel may not actually have been invented after all. In short, it’s the same sort of silliness we’ve come to expect from this series, though for some reason it felt kind of lacking compared to previous installments. I think not enough was resolved, with too many elements tossed in, presumably to be dealt with in future books. I don’t need each book in a series to stand on its own, but several scenes felt like they should have been delayed until the book in which they are actually addressed. Of course, this all means I’ll probably read the next book as soon as possible, just to find out how it all turns out. If it all turns out in the next book, anyway – the Minotaur’s been hanging out, unresolved, for two books and over a decade in story years now, so my hopes for imminent and thorough resolution are not high.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon by Max Barry: Words are powerful. Wil is kidnapped in an airport bathroom for surviving something he can’t remember a year before in the remote Australian town of Broken Hill. He and his kidnappers are then pursued by murderous people who seem to be acting through some will not their own. Meanwhile, a young woman named Emily is taken in to a secret school where she learns the power of certain syllables to control people. There’s a lot of suspense, a lot of uncertainty as to who can be trusted. I really enjoyed it, even if “deadly words” premise felt a little unbelievable. I’ve already read Jennifer Government; now I think I’ll have to pick up some of Barry’s other works.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins (unabridged audiobook read by Paul Boehmer; 6.5 hrs on 6 discs): When cockroaches abscond with his baby sister, Gregor once again finds himself in the Underland, once again risking life and limb to fulfill a prophecy. Mostly this book was just okay. While I can see my younger self enjoying this, as an adult I found the prophecy angle far less interesting than it tried to be. Yes, the prophecy will come true but not in the way you expect it to. That’s just how it always go. And I’d be more forgiving except that that’s exactly what happened in the previous book in this series. I guess if you adored the first book and want that all over again, then you’ll like this one. As for me, I think I’ll be giving the rest of the series a miss.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Gregor The Overlander by Suzanne Collins (unabridged audiobook read by Paul Boehmer; 6.5 hrs on 6 discs): This is sort of Alice in Wonderland for urban kids. When Gregor and his baby sister Boots fall through a grate in the laundry room, they find themselves in an amazing world of pale-skinned but normal-sized humans who live among enormous bats, rats, cockroaches, and spiders. Gregor soon learns that this is where his father went when he went missing more than two years prior, and immediately sets off on a quest to find him. Coincidentally, this all matches up with an old prophecy, the fulfillment of which drives much of the story. It was a decent adventure story and I plan on reading the next book in the series, but the world itself didn’t grab me as much as I’d expected it to. I had a lot of trouble picturing the surroundings for some reason. I did, however, appreciate the way a bunch of relatively overused story elements (underground cities, prophecies, rescues) came together in surprising ways. I liked how you could never be quite sure who to believe. Hopefully the next one is similarly unpredictable.

A note on the audio: Boehmer read the “geographic voices” quotes in Don’t Know Much about Geography by Kenneth C. Davis, which I wouldn’t have even noticed except that I just listened to it. Just a strange coincidence.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde (unabridged audiobook read by Emily Gray; 12.75 hrs on 11 discs): With every book I’ve read in this series, I’ve said the same thing: this was fun but I doubt I’ll continue on with the series. Well, this is the fourth book and I give up. I’m going to keep reading Thursday Next books because they’re absolutely ridiculous and they make me laugh. This time around, Thursday is back in the real world, where she has to deal with fictional would-be dictators, semi-dead presidents, a husband who may not actually exist, violent cricket matches, 13th century mystics, a perpetually dithering Hamlet, and – most daunting of all – motherhood. The whole thing is just marvelous. My favorite part was “Avoid the Question Time,” which is pretty much what all political interviews and debates actually are but won’t admit it. Nothing is too outlandish to show up in these stories, and I can’t wait for the next book.

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