The format of this book is pretty original. The main character, Charlie, is writing very personal letters to someone he doesn't know. It starts out during the summer break between grade school and high school, and is set in the early 1990's. He tells the person he's writing to that he's writing to them because he knows they are the kind of person who wouldn't sleep with someone at a party just because they could, and because he knows somehow that they will understand him and not judge. He tells the unknown person the details of his life, starting with a story about his closest friend committing suicide. He talks about starting high school and how he is ok with not having any friends, even though he would like to have some. He also talks about his English teacher taking a special interest in him and giving him extra assignments that the other kids don't have. This leads him into talking about his analysis of the books he reads. I love that part of this book. Then he randomly meets 2 people that change his life. This could be just like some cheesy 80's high school movie, but it's not. Sure there is the normal 'boy pines for girl that is waaay out of his league', but there's more, and you might not even realize it until the end. First, there's a bit of mystery about why Charlie is the way he is, but because we can only see things from his point of view it's hard to get a handle on exactly what it is. Then there is the depth of the character. He is complicated, yet easy to understand. We can all relate to the crazy stuff we all did in high school, and how it felt to be in the in-between phase of life. We can also understand the desire to be liked and have friends, while still trying to figure out who we are. But what makes this all together different from any teen book or movie is the end. It is not all wrapped up for you. That is to say, the boy doesn't get the girl and they don't live happily ever after. Or do they? You'll just have to figure that out for yourself.
GRRM can write!!! This book is much more poetic and beautifully written than the GoT series. I can understand why some fans of GoT wouldn't like this one as much, though. The pacing is slower and it's not as epic. If one had never read or seen Game of Thrones, this book would stand on its own.
But we all know that he can write. That's not what I want to discuss in this review. Rather, I want to talk about the most important character in the whole book. The Mississippi. Some authors use location in the background as a superfluous anchor to give perspective, while others use it as a full blown character with a life and personality of its own. When done properly, it's magic!
Some reviewers have likened this book to Mark Twain's treatment of the Mississippi, but I would disagree somewhat. Mark Twain was undoubtably a fantastic writer, and an all around interesting guy. But he was writing about a place and time he had seen. He grew up on the river and new all of its secrets. GRRM grew up near the ocean, and now lives in the southwest, far, far away from that beautiful scary river. In addition, he wrote about a time that none of us can remember. That, to me, is what makes this book something all together different than Mark Twain's Mississippi. The ability to make the river come alive, to speak of it as if you were there, as if it were important to you, when it is so far away from your own reality...now that's amazing.
I have written about the Mississippi as a literary character before in my review of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Most people who read that book did not see the glaring flaws that I did because they don't have a point of reference. I grew up on the Mississippi, with a tributary running through my backyard. The river is life, and sometimes death, to the people who live close to it. And its history is everywhere. The shores are dotted with vacant, decaying towns that disappeared along with all the steamboats. Most of the people who still live along its banks are there because their ancestors came from somewhere else on a steamboat, got off in a remote place and decided to make a go of it.
Perhaps this book hit home for me a little more because I recognized nearly every place that was mentioned in it. In fact, he wrote about my hometown twice, and made it sound lovely. I wish I could have seen it back then, before Big Gulps, double cheeseburger and Wal-Mart.
"Cape Girardeau was a haughty town perched up on it's bluffs..."
Also, Ron Donachie did a pretty good job getting though the place names. He almost got them right. They do a weird thing with vowel sounds and syllable emphasis there that's confusing to most people. (Example: Cairo = Kaaay-ro, New Madrid = New Maaad-rid)
I'm afraid this review might go a bit negative, so I want to begin by saying, I didn't hate it. That being said, there are many glaring flaws that are difficult to overlook.
First, I imagine writing about the past is bothersome and time consuming. You would have to know what technologies were available in different years. This book covers over 100 years, but the author made the past and present sound the same. It was particularly obvious in the parts about the journal. A personal journal written 100 years ago is going to sound much more formal than one written today. But these had a more conversational tone, as is found in modern writing.
The characters are inconsistent and confusing. Other reviewers (on Amazon) have described them as cardboard cut-outs. They do not progress or grow in any way throughout the book. And the love story...ugh. It was as if he just threw that in there because he felt like that's what people expect.
I realize that it's already a rather long book, but I feel that the author could have taken a little more time with developing the plot and characters. People will stick to a long book if it's good.
There were also parts that were clearly taken straight out of Wikipedia. Just cut and paste. Not even reworded. (Explanation of Toba Catastrophe, for example.)
This book felt like someone trying to tell you about a really good dream they had. "I found myself in this building I'd never been in. There were people there that I didn't know. They asked me to follow them. I did, but I don't remember why. Then I was flying over the Grand Canyon because I needed to go rescue my Grandma from the alligator people." Yep. That's almost exactly what this book was like.
On a more positive note, I really do admire this guy for following his dream of being a writer, and self-publishing his books.
The ideas in the book could have been interesting if the writing hadn't been so amateurish. I'm giving the book three stars because, in the end, I was mildly entertained. And I hate giving one star when you can clearly tell that the author has risked everything to follow a dream.
I wouldn't say I'm new to ACD and SH. I read several of his stories when I was a teenager, during a brief mystery/detective phase. But I am new to Sherlock fan-fiction.
I recently stumbled upon the PBS series Sherlock, and fell in love. (No. Not with Benedict Cumberbatch. Although he does a fantastic job. It's the overall mood I love.) I decided that I needed to know more in order to understand some of the underlying themes. So I read the entire collection. (The Audible version is fantastic!)
There are many great things about Sherlock Holmes, but I believe one of the best things is the scattered and open ended way it was written. ACD left a wide open space for future generations to continue the story. So it makes sense that so many people have taken up the tale.
The stories in this anthology fall all over the spectrum, from very good to bleh. But even the ones I didn't like still have some redeeming aspects. For instance, there are three stories that are narrated by neither Watson nor Holmes. And one of them doesn't have either of them in it. I thought that was particularly clever, even though I didn't care for the story.
The first essay at the end was a little irritating at the start , but I think the message of it was better than the author articulated. I believe we can deduce that no one is truly just one thing. We are all complicated and often contradictory. It did, however, raise some interesting questions about Mary Marston's role in the story.
This was an enjoyable journey into the land of SH fan-fiction. I can't get enough of Sherlock Holmes, so I'm certain it won't be my last.
This is my first Neil Gaiman book. I've avoided him because, like Stephen King, he's a little to dark for me. But I'm out to try new things, and Mr. Gaiman was first on my list.
This book was weird and dark at times, but also fanciful and full of history. I love that the Egyptian Gods of the Underworld are undertakers living in Cairo, Illinois. In fact, that was my second favorite part. It was quite impressive for a few reason. First, Cairo is the most amazing, and scariest place I've ever been. Then, while listening to the book, I kept thinking, Neil Gaiman actually went to Cairo, Illinois while researching places in the U.S. That's impressive because Cairo is like a war zone. Half, or more, of the buildings along the main streets are boarded up and/or falling down, and the side streets look as if they are completely abandoned. And yet, he described it with grace and dignity, the way I've always thought of it.
My most favorite part of the book was the little diatribe delivered by girl Sam. ("I can believe things that are true and things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not.") I feel that it perfectly describes humanity. We are all a bundle of contradictions, but we still muddle through somehow, even though we're all pulling ourselves in so many different directions. To me, it proves that there's no black and white, no right and wrong.
I'm very interested in ancient Gods. They are the forbearers of all modern beliefs. I love the way he gave them all unique and modern personalities. And I love the tiny ball song that Anansi sings!
Also, the narrators are amazing. It was like listening to a play.
I very much enjoyed this book. I'm glad I gave Neil Gaiman a chance.
For anyone who has read my other reviews on Audible, it will come as no surprise when I open this review by saying that I love art. I keep reading fiction about art, hoping that I will come across something lovely, but am usually stuck with a big steaming turd. Not so with this book. It's like 32 hours of Catcher In The Rye with an art twist.
Since it's a very long book, let me break it down a little, starting at the beginning.
The first part, where he talks about his relationship with his mother, is beautiful. I'm the single mother of a little boy (now not so little) and our relationship is very much like the one in the book. It made me a little teary eyed, and I can only hope that my own son thinks of me with such loving tenderness, even though I drag him to all sorts of boring museums that I'm sure he would rather not go to.
After she dies and Theo's future is uncertain, it does get a bit uncomfortable to listen to. But that's what great books do. They make you feel, even if that feeling is unpleasant at times.
Later on, when he's back in NY, he does some rather shady things. I completely understood why he did what he did, how he felt about it and how he coped with his situation. Not only does he have untreated PTSD, but he's also self-medicating. That combination will produce sad outcomes every time.
After he is reunited with a long lost friend, we hear about his past from a different voice and realize what an unreliable narrator we have been listing to up to that point, and it brings into question everything we think we know about Theo and everything else.
The situation with the art is well done. It didn't feel like she was stretching to tell the story. The art work fit into the plot quite well. I loved listening to the characters speak so lovingly of art and antiques. And also being made to understand how owning an illegal/stolen piece of art would be an unbelievable burden and not a great adventure. (It puts me in mind of The Pearl.)
The end is a bit wordy. I still felt like Theo was an unreliable narrator, but maybe a bit less so after unburdening himself of some of his worries.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book.
I don't buy into trends or hype. I don't want to read a book that everyone loved, because honestly, everyone's tastes aren't the same as mine. I like books that challenge, that awe and astound, that push me to think in a way I haven't before. I won't read a book just because it won an award.
That being said, after reading the synopsis of this book, I decided to read it anyway. It sounded new and different. But I was disheartened by all of the negative reviews. Again, I decided to read it anyway. And I'm glad I did.
The characters are rich and well developed. And although there are a lot of them, it's not difficult to keep them all straight because of their individuality.
Something that everyone is talking about is the astrological formula Ms. Catton used. While I agree that it does sound like a creative writing class prompt, I do not consider that a bad thing. What does it matter how you get there? It only matters that what you have when you get there is something you're proud of, and, hopefully, something that people want to read. I think she has been successful on both counts. To me, the astrological aspect didn't matter a great deal over all. That is to say, it neither added nor subtracted from the story.
I'm happy with the time I spent listening to this book. It allowed me to look at a time and place I generally would have to reason to consider.
I have listened to several lectures in this series and loved every one. Not so much this one, though. I keep rereading the title to see if it might give me some indication where I went wrong. But, no. That's no help.
Going into the lecture, I was expecting Professor Novella to instruct us on ways to use the scientific method to think about things in a critical way. That's not what this lecture is about at all. Instead, it is about how to think critically about science.
In the first two or three sessions he does touch on some practical uses of critical thinking, and then again in the final session. The rest of the time he spends talking about scientists who have made mistakes and people who believe in kooky ideas, like cult teachings.
I initially chose this lecture over, say, Important Pharaohs of Egypt, because of something I recently heard on the news. The White House held a press conference to let people know that the government healthcare website was safe and had not been hacked. Normally I don't pay much attention to White House press conferences, but this one struck me because there was no news report before hand to indicate that the website was unsafe. This, therefore, led me to think that this was the result of a logical fallacy. Someone was poisoning the well. Someone who is opposed to government healthcare started a rumor, and people who weren't using their critical thinking skills spread it around, thus causing the White House to address a problem that did not exist.
Because of this, I wanted to know more about how our brains work, and why people let themselves get carried away by things they haven't fully thought through. Not about the drudgery of scientific proof.
There is one thing about this lecture that I did like, however. While I was sitting there listening, trying very hard to learn something new, I realized that my level of critical thinking is above normal. Learning by not learning. Hmm...
I'm not saying this is a bad lecture. It will be very interesting to someone who has never heard this information before. It's very important to learn how to call BS when it needs to be called. But I didn't find this lecture helpful. Perhaps I am just to skeptical about everything already.
I saw Simon Sinek's TED talk two weeks before I started my own business. It greatly influenced the way I thought about my business strategy and how I worded my intent on my website. A few weeks after I had started my business, I saw his book on sale on Audible. Great timing! This book is an extended version of his TED talk.
So far, I have had great success by using his strategy of starting with why. Of course, I've done other things to ensure my companies success, but I always ask myself why I'm making the choices I make. By doing this, it helps keep my on track and focused on my original goals.
This book isn't just about how to be successful in business. It's also I good way to analyze yourself in daily life by keeping in mind why you are doing things and behaving in certain ways. There are a couple parts I keep coming back to. The biggest one is, how we make decisions. I am the sort that makes quick decisions and is usually happy with those choices, even if I find out later that I could have saved money if I had done a little more research. My husband is the kind of person that over-researches every decision and is more dissatisfied because he feels he could have saved even more money if he had taken even longer to research. This used to infuriate me, but now I understand that it is just the difference in the way our minds work.
Like all self-help books, this book will not solve all your problems. But it is informative and insightful. I would recommend it to everyone. Simon Sinek is also a very good narrator and easy to listen to.
Everyone comes into books from different places and at different points in their lives. If I had read this in my early twenties, I would have loved it. That was before I had gone to see the Impressionist's work in its birthplace, before I had taken 3 art history classes, and before I had found my own voice as an artist.
Art history is a fairly dry subject, only interesting to those who truly love art. Therefore, it stands to reason that it's difficult to write a really good art history book, fictitious or not. I know that most real art lovers hate The Da Vinci Code. But you must admit, it had some real entertainment value, even if it was mostly ridiculous. This book didn't even come close to being as thought provoking, or as enjoyable as The DVC. The storyline was formulaic and predictable, the characters were underdeveloped, and the imagined history was silly.
***This part might contain spoilers. You should stop reading here if you don't want to know some specific details.***
The main character, Claire, was a sniveling little brat. Most artists are neurotic, egotistical and self deprecating. Not tattle-telling, whiny nitwits. Her famous artist boyfriend makes a name for himself by passing off her painting as his own, which she encouraged, by the way. Then, when he breaks up with her to go back to his wife, she rats him out. She acts all noble, saying that she just wants the truth to come out. I call BS. If you're going to be spiteful about something, don't make it worse by lying about it. Hold your head high while ruining someone's life and career. At least then you're not a liar and a jerk.
Then there's Aiden. He was her ex-boyfriend's art rep. But now he's the devil on her shoulder, and her lover. Not to say that doesn't happen in the art world. There's plenty of lasciviousness going on. But you know what everyone calls the girl that tries to ruin her ex's career, then gets a show of her very own at his former art rep's gallery, that, oh by the way, she's sleeping with now? You know the word I'm looking for. Anyway, Aiden is so silky smooth that he is an unbelievable character. He owns a successful art gallery, a large historic home decked out in priceless art, he grows his own food in his backyard, he cooks gourmet meals after working all day, and he's thoughtful and considerate. This would send up red flags for almost any woman. The first thing that comes to my mind is serial killer. But maybe I'm being a bit harsh. Maybe he's just a creep.
There are some halfhearted sex scenes thrown in there to appeal to the froo-froo sensibilities of the general female population, that don't add anything to the book. In fact, I was sort of put off by the whole thing. Claire sort of, kind of, puts off his advances, while secretly wanting to rip his clothes off. Then when she finally does give in, it's because he cooked for her, was nice to her, and after being rejected by her, stands with his hand pressed against the window watching her leave. Blech! This is the sort of thing that ruins real romance. If that's what women are told to expect, then they will be forever disappointed with the slob that is sitting on their couch all day, smelling of corn chips and playing X-Box.
Having ripped this book a new one, I suppose I can say something nice to finish off this review. The art. I get it. When I was in art school, I lived in a city with the best free museum in the country. It wasn't like I had never seen really good art before. But then I went to Europe. When I walked into those museums, it was like I had never really breathed before. Sure, somehow I was maintaining enough oxygen in my body to support life. But this was different. It was like my lungs were filled full for the first time ever. Right then and there I knew I could never live another day without the amazing beauty of man's creations surrounding me. And you can tell that the author has had a similar experience through art. She loves it. She loves it so much she just had to write a book about it. Too bad she had to pander to people who don't know what that kind of passion feels like. But a girl's gotta make a living I suppose.
I was so excited when I got the email from Audible about The Great Courses series. I love lectures and there's a lot to choose from in this collection. I was a little bit overwhelmed by the prices, though. So I decided to pick something that I love, but would like to know more about.
As an art student in college, I learned about ancient civilizations through beautiful works they created. But I've always wanted to know more. I want to know what they wore, what they talked about, what they worried about, how they lived and what they held sacred. This lecture promised to tell me all of those things. And it did.
In the first few lectures, Scott MacEachern talks about archeological theory. It's boring and interesting at the same time. It's a tedious topic, but something that I was previously unaware of. He talks about getting away from researching grand structures and, instead, looking at how commoners lived. That's very much what I wanted to know. He also stressed that we make a mistake when we compare ancient cultures to modern. They lived and thought in completely different ways than we do. I'm not sure why, but it's very hard for me to think of it in that way, as I'm sure it is for many others, including those that study such things.
There were some things that I didn't like about this lecture series, and one thing I absolutely loved. First, dislikes. Professor MacEachern is from Canada, so I expected him to say things in a "Canadian" way, and I was willing to overlook it. What bothered me about the way he spoke is that he often used words improperly and in the wrong context. (It's been awhile since I finished listening to these lectures, so I can't think of any specifics.) If you're looking up to someone as an expert, it's disappointing when they misuse grammar in such a fundamental way. Another thing that bothered me is something that has bothered me about other lectures that I've taken in the past. Namely, lack of enthusiasm. One of my art history professors in college was soooo.... boring that no one wanted to take her class. In fact, art is the thing I love most in life, and I could barely stay awake in her class. But, if you spoke to her one on one, her passion for art was clear. She lit up. I've always wondered why people who obviously love what they're talking about, and want you to love it too, can't make the subject more enjoyable. There was a point in this lecture, near the end, when Professor MacEachern got fired up. But it was too, little too late.
Now for what I did love about it. I think that experts are often too certain of themselves and what they think. They present their ideas and things that are currently known as hard, solid fact. But the truth is, facts are relative and constantly changing as we discover new and wonderful things. It's rare and refreshing to hear someone in authority say, "This is what we know right now, but it might change as we research this topic further." I really appreciated that aspect of this lecture.
Overall, I'm satisfied with this lecture series. I learned quite a few things. But, I may wait awhile to listen to another of these lectures. Even though it didn't cost as much as an actual college course, and I could listen to them in my pajamas, they are still rather expensive.
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