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I found listening to the first two Reacher novels soothing, Child's sparse, almost documentary-style prose with its focus on facts and street names and physical routines, combined with McClain's calm but never dull voice, create a rhythm that I enjoy.
I also like the idea that Reacher is the competent but detached alpha male who will punish evil-doers and save the beautiful woman, even though we all know he won't stay with her.
"Tripwire" is darker and more serious than its predecessors. The serious side of the book allows for the fact that when drifting becomes a conscious choice, it is a rejection of the world that suggests something is broken. It presents the possibility of Reacher staying with the girl and even having somewhere of his own for them both to stay. It asks the question whether Reacher can do that and still stay Reacher. All good stuff that makes Reacher more real.
The darker side of the book spoiled it for me. The evil-doer in this book gets off on inflicting humiliation and pain. The pain mostly takes place "off camera", for which I was grateful but the humiliation is described in great detail. It is convincing and completely repulsive. It's not gratuitous. It drives the story and it is not glorified but it left me feeling angry and soiled and degraded by my own voyeurism.
This is a tribute to Child's writing but it violated the expectations I came to the book with and filled my head with things I'd rather not give house room to.
I'll try one more Reacher book, but if this focus on the anatomy of evil continues, I will look for my entertainment elsewhere.
It turns out that you can no more judge a book by its title than by its cover.
I'd been put off reading the Lily Bard books because the combination of Lily Bard and the word "Shakespeare" in the title of each novel reminded me of the twee and sugar-coated Aurora Teagarden books, which I had not enjoyed.
I'm glad I overcame my prejudices and listened to the first Lily Bard novel.
There is nothing sugar-coated here. Lily Bard is a survivor. Her old life has been stolen from her. She regards her current life as successful if she gets through each day quietly, without attracting any attention.
Lily is strong, focused, observant but tight-lipped. She earns her living cleaning houses in the small town of Shakespeare. She comes alive when she is practising Karate. partly because of the joy of doing something so demanding well and partly because it stands between her and any future threat to make her a victim.
Her life changes when, walking off her insomnia in the middle of the night, she notices somebody using her garbage can cart to dump a body. Despite her best efforts to protect the anonymous life she's built, events and her own strong will, pull Lily deeper into solving the murder, even at the cost of revealing her own past.
The plot of "Shakespeare's Landlord" works as a conventional "whodunnit" mystery. Two things raise the book well above the average for this genre. The fist is that Lily Bard is a wonderful creation: strong but vulnerable, proud but wanting to stay in the background, curious but discrete, and afraid but brave. She seemed real to me. A woman to be admired, whether there is a mystery to solve or not. The second is Charlaine Harris' prose: she does not waste a word, does not indulge in extravagant descriptions, but the result is still a rich evocation of people and the town they live in.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
"A Discovery Of Witches" has a strong sense of place and how people live in them, even though the places are disparate - academic life in Oxford, long-established aristocracy in a Château in rural France, an old Family home in Madison New York.
The creatures in the book - witches, vampires, demons, - are deftly redefined to create something new, intriguing and satisfyingly plausible.
The pace is leisurely without being plodding. Deborah Harkness understands that for the action of the book to mean anything, we have to care about the people as people. She takes the time to show us what they care about, how they live and who they love. She is writing a trilogy and she isn't inclined to rush anything. She knows that those of us who devour these things love the details as much if not more than the action.
I thought the start of the book was particularly strong. I was completely engaged with the life of Diana Bishop, a Yale History Professor doing research on Alchemical texts in the in the Bodleian library and spending her spare time rowing and running to burn off her endless energy. It's not easy to write about sitting in a library, reading and taking notes, and make it interesting, but Deborah Harkness pulls it off. This is clearly a world and a place she is at home with and the authenticity of it her descriptions provides the book with a solid base of reality which all good fantasy needs.
The book is salted with historical references and literary quotations that feel right and which demonstrate the insatiable curiosity that drives Diana Bishop's passion for history.
Deborah Harkness has a good ear for dialogue and a good understanding of the differences between how the British and the Americans use English. Jennifer Ikeda rises to the challenge of delivering the wide range of male and female voices and accents (with the exception of Glaswegian which came out too Edinburgh for me) and carried me along effortlessly in the story.
The thing I am most ambivalent about, is Diana Bishop's relationship with Matthew Clairmont. At points it seems like the (almost too) perfect love affair. At other times Diana seems like a cult member, traumatized into being someone different from her natural self and unquestioningly putting Matthew's interests ahead of her own. Of course, this could be the definition of true love.
At the start of the book, Diana is a strong, independent, successful woman. In the course of her relationship with Matthew, she abandons that independence and although she grows in power, she seems less confident and less able to cope.
Part of what makes "A Discovery of Witches" worth reading is that I'm certain that the ambivalence I'm feeling is intentionally provoked by Deborah Harkness. Diana is a complex character who has been through multiple traumas and who is very far away from normal by anyone's standards. The Diana we meet in Oxford at the start of the book is not the Diana we meet in Madison at the end. One way to read the book is that the first Diana was an artificial construct, built by a woman hiding from her own true nature and refusing to engage with the world around her and that the book describes her journey to discover herself as a witch. Another reading is that the Diana we meet in Oxford had already been crippled by earlier events that keep her solitary and make her subject to anxiety attacks and dependent on strenuous exercise to stay calm. Events in France and in Madison further traumatise Diana and the woman she is at the end of the book is scarred and not fully whole. It's also possible to see the story as a romance where the real meaning of Diana's life IS her relationship with Matthew or to see Matthew as a predator who cannot stop himself from consuming Diana's life by taking control of her and changing who she is.
In my view, this all makes "A Discovery of Witches" an entertaining read.
There are a couple of things in the book that don't work for me. The sensual scenes are too Romance Writers of America for my taste. They lack the vivid reality the rest of the book has. I also the bringing together of creatures in Madison was a little too comfortable to be completely credible.
One thing to be aware of before you buy "A Discovery of Witches": it is not really a free-standing novel. It is book one of a trilogy. If you're not up for reading all three then reading book one will not do much for you.
Max Barry is now one of my "I think I'll read everything he's written" authors.
I've been reading science fiction for decades, so I know how rare it is to come across a book like "Lexicon" which has not just a new ideas, but a clever, well-thought through plot, written by someone who is skilled at dialogue, characterisation and action scenes and who can unfold the story in a way that engages the reader's intellect and emotions.
The basic premise of "Lexicon" is that words have the power to control how we think and behave and that this power can be shaped into a weapon by those with the right skills.
The characters constantly explain how influence and manipulation work: get someone to pay attention to the wrong thing, play on their emotions to shape their perception of good and evil, understand their personality and then pry their psyche apart. Despite this, it took me several chapters to realize that Max Barry had been manipulating me from the first page onwards.He did it by controlling the order in which I received information, who I received it from and the emotional terms used to convey it. At least twice in the novel I had to reset what I thought I knew to be true. Barry didn't cheat. All the information correctly to understand what is going on is there but my own assumptions make me see one thing and read another.
A book that is about weaponising words is likely to appeal to those of us with a recreational addiction to fiction. We KNOW words have power, so we are ripe for the ideas in this novel. If, like me, you've been trained in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), public speaking, influencing skills, psychometric assessment and you read tarot cards and palms as a party trick, then the early parts of this book are frighteningly familiar. The book takes what I know I can do and then asks me to imagine what a motivated person, with REAL talent, no social ties, no inhibitions and the support of an organization with generations of research at their disposal, could achieve.
"Lexicon" is filled with coercion, violence and killing from the first page. Max Barry doesn't pull his punches but he doesn't turn the violence into pornography either. He makes it too real and too repulsive for that.
His main evil-incarnate character is suitably chilling but I could write that off as stereo-type. Elliot and Emily I got to know and like and care about, so what they did, to others, to each other and to themselves had much more impact.
My only niggle with the book is the last chapter. It's not where I would have gone with this. It felt like the kind of thing Hollywood might have changed in the movie version to ensure they stayed firmly in the summer blockbuster segment. But then, I'd never have thought up something as clever and powerful as "Lexicon" in the first place, so I'll go with Barry's judgement.
I listened to "Lexicon" as an audiobook, which, I think, made the book even more exciting. Zach Appleman did a splendid job as the rugged, world-weary, Elliot. His American accents are perfect and he at least managed to sound like he'd been to Australia. Heather Corrigan was marvellous at evoking Emily's vulnerability and her strength but her attempts at Australian accents ranged from unconvincing to inappropriately hilarious. Nevertheless, both narrators kept me listening, often on the edge of my seat.
Despite what many of the reviews and much of the marketing says, I don't see Jodi Picoult as Chic Lit. I see her as straightforward Lit. The gap between her and Barbara Kingsolver seems to me to be more one of style than intent. What they both have in common is the ability to get me inside the heads of multiple characters and see the choices that they face in a different light and empathise with them, even if I don't like them.
"Lone Wolf" is structured around two Big Topic: what it means to be in a wolf pack, living in the moment and always to putting the pack first and the ethics of dealing with someone in a persistent vegetative state.
The exploration of these topics was cleverly, and often dramatically, woven into the story, without leaving me feeling that I was being force-fed a lot of research and driven to a particular point of view.
The accuracy of Jodi Picoult's depiction of wolves has been challenged. I think this misses the point. This is a work of fiction that explores the life of Luke, a man who is better able to relate to wolves than to his own family. All the descriptions of wolves are given by Luke, who may or may not be a reliable narrator. How he describes wolf behaviour is important for what it tells me about t Luke, not for its merits as a popular-science manual on wolves.
Picoult uses the Big Topics as vehicles to help us understand what it means to be part of a family led by Luke, the charismatic "Lone Wolf" of the title, who is beloved by strangers, but who will always place his wolves ahead of his family.
We see the impact of Luke on his family from the point of view of Cara, the daughter passionately devoted to her father but guilty about her role in the events that put him in a coma, Edward, the son who walked away from his family because he could not live with who his father had become, Georgie, the ex-wife who finally decided that she could not live with always coming second to Luke's wolves and, indirectly through extracts from Luke's autobiography, describing how he became "the man who lives with wolves".
By using multiple first person accounts, some of which pre-date the main events and some of which recall previous events, Jodi Picoult makes clear that there is no single truth about who a person is or how a family works; that the past can be re-written and the future can be changed but that we remain, always, ourselves.
The message I took from this books was that, unlike a wolf pack, where roles and rules are strongly enforced to place the security of the pack above the welfare of the individual, a human family is a series of choices and willingly made commitments that shape the individuals who live in them. The love between the family members is the strongest force determining the growth that the family enables and the damage that it inflicts.
Jodi Picoult's writing and her decision to have each chapter from a specific character's point of view, already made the voices of the characters very distinct. Recorded Books' decision to cast different actors for each character makes the book stronger and much easier to listen to.
My only quibble with the book is in the, short, last scene, which I don't think fits the rest of the story.
I recommend this book as more than an entertaining read or tear-jerking chic lit. Read it as the literature it is and see whether you think it measures up.
Normally, I finish the books I start, especially when, like this one, they are well written and well narrated.
I made it half way through this put book and put it away in disgust. I didn't want any more of it in my head.
This isn't because I felt too emotionally distraught by experiencing a novel that centres around the death by suicide of five young sisters. There is no empathy for those women in this novel. The young women here are displayed as curiosities, barely distinguishable from one another, alien to the boy/man describing them, important because of the impact they have on the boys who observe them rather than because of any intrinsic worth. They are the thunderstorm the boys stand in. How the boys felt in the rain is what Jeffrey Eugenides is concerned with, not what it means to be a storm.
The book is set in an American White Middle Class suburb in the 1950's and is told, twenty years after the fact, by a man who was a boy at the time of the suicides and who is still sufficiently obsessed by the events to be investigating them, not so much, it seems, to unravel a mystery as to revive the taste of it in his mouth.
Eugenides writes well. This does not endear his novel to me because he chooses to deploy his skill not to write an elegy that gives meaning to the suicides of the young women, but to write an almost masturbatory reminiscence of what it felt like to be a white boy with no first-hand knowledge of girls, lusting and longing for the Lisbon Sisters, without actually being able to see them as people.
The era itself, including its racism and its sexual repression, is presented with unquestioning love. There seems to be more regret in the author's mind for the loss of a time when nice families raked leaves off their lawns in the Fall than there is for the death of any or all of the Lisbon sisters.
The adult narrator, recalling his own reactions as a boy, seems to long for a time when girls were a mystery and boys spent hours talking to each other about what it might be like to touch them.
The book seemed to me to be steeped in a repressed but deeply felt homoeroticism. The description of Trip Fontaine and his encounter with Lux Lisbon is a good example of this. Trip is described with a tenderness and admiration, bordering on love, both as a beautiful youth and as a middle-aged man, wrecked by drug use. Lux, in her short, frenzied, assault on Trip, is presented as a threat, an unleashed animal, something alien and dangerous and far from human.
The longer I listened to this well written, well narrated book, the more I was repulsed by its nostalgia for ignorance and its voyeuristic delight in treating women as an alien, not quite human, species.
Like all good story tellers, Eugenides is a skilled manipulator. He uses the passive, unquestioning, but articulate romanticism of the narrator to lull the reader into an uncritical assessment of this world and the people in it. He dresses his book with literary allusions, from character names that are amusingly descriptive, through selected quotations from poetry, to a stylistic nod at Steinbeck, and he sets this all back far enough in time that the use of tinted lenses to view the world is seen as appropriate.
Unfortunately, I am repelled by this particular manipulation. It is at best hollow and uncritical and at worst sets out to eulogize a male view of the world that I despise.
O.K., so he's a Pulitzer Prize winner. That wasn't my decision. Putting his book away halfway through was. Life is too short to spend on well expressed ideas that curdle the soul.
When I read "Spiders's Bite", the first book in this series. last September I thought the series showed promise because, Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin of the title, was refreshingly amoral and because Lauren Fortgang's narration brought the book alive.
"Web of Lies" has some good things going for it - if it hadn't I would never have made it to the end of the book because it also has a lot of things wrong with it.
There is a basis for a really good series here. The characters continue to develop. We learn more about them through well-handled back-story and by seeing how they behave under physical and moral pressure. Estep makes sure that Gina Blanco is not one-dimensional, giving us just enough reasons to care about her to want her to win and to explain the loyalty others show her, while making her just broken enough to do the violent things that are asked of her.
The cast of characters continues from the previous novel and new ones are introduced that you know you will enjoy learning more about. The goody-two-shoes Detective male interest of the first novel gets what he deserves.
There is clearly a book-spanning story arc and it's intriguing enough for me to want to see how it plays out.
The plot for the novel, a basic "Magnificent Seven" set up, is well handled and has enough sub-plots to keep me interested and it's set in spectacular places that are well described.
The dialogue works well. The actions scenes and the violence are convincing and engaging without being pornographic and the magic has enough constraints and consistency to make it convincing.
So what could possibly go wrong?
Estep's editor seems to have been asleep at the wheel. There are number of times when passages giving back story are repeated, sometimes word for word, a few chapters apart. It was like listening again and again to a "Previously, on Elemental Assassin" segment designed for readers who either haven't been paying attention or suffer from short-term memory loss. I can tell you without any reference to the text that Gin was with Fletcher for seventeen years, that's she's been an assassin for seventeen years, that she has a rune on her hand: "a small circle with eight radiating lines, a spider rune, the symbol for patience." because they are repeated so often they are almost a chorus.
It's natural for authors to repeat themselves from one scene to another, including use the same words. Its the editors job to find and eliminate these repetitions.
A good editor would also have prevented Estep from over-using phrases like "I looked at him with my grey eyes" After the third time I was wondering if Gin either had eyes of another colour that she could have used instead or was able to use something other than her eyes to look at people.
A good editor would have corrected the grammar, at least to the point of getting endings and tenses right.
A good editor would have prevented Gin Blanco from going "Mmmmm" EVERY time she sees Detective Doright.
I was left wondering if this book had an editor at all.
My experience of the book was then worsened by the audiobook production standards.
I know Lauren Fortgang can be a good narrator. I enjoyed her reading "Shadow and Bone" and she made "Spider's Bite" come alive but this time I felt that I was listening to a sight-reading in a rehearsal rather than the finished product: stresses where in the wrong places, she ran out of breath and there were inappropriate, pointless pauses. This all adds up to poor production in my view.
Then there's the sex scene. It's not really a sex scene. It's a "Romance Writer's of America", guaranteed -not-to-offend, scene with all the erotic impact of a cold shower. Lauren Fortgang's decision to read this passage slowly, in what I assume was an effort to inject some passion into the dull prose, had me reaching for the "play at twice normal speed" button on my iPod.
I'm going to stick with the series to find out what happens. I just Jennifer Estep got an editor who can help her make her books as good as I think they could be and a producer who gives the narrator an opportunity to do more than phone in their performance.
There are lots of good things to say about this book: the world is imagined in great detail and well described, it is well plotted, the main character is likeable, brave and compassionate, and the magic system is novel and well thought through. There are storms and babies abandoned on the Abbey steps, and swords and horses, an evil Sheriff, brave young knights, a corrupt King, a rebellion that turns into a war and of course, the fate of the world hangs upon the bravery of a very young girl.
And yet… I couldn’t give myself up to this book.
As a book for young adults, I understand that some of the darker possibilities have to be toned down a bit, but books like “Divergent” and “Written In Red” or “Anna Dressed in Blood” manage to tap into a real sense of evil without having to get the splatter-movie level. “The Wretched of Muirwood” sells evil short. The bad guys are just that: bad guys. They are corrupt and brutal but they have all the reality of a faceless mob-boss in a Batman comic.
And the good guys are SO good, it’s like biting into an over-sweet apple: it sets your teeth on edge.
But the real source of my lack of comfort with this book is the magic system. In this world, magic comes from accessing The Medium. Good Guys, born into the right bloodlines, do this by surrendering themselves to the will of The Medium, closing their mind to doubt and fear and doing what The Medium tells them to. Bad guys use an amulet-based technology to force the Medium to do what THEY want to do. The price they pay for this is a slow but inexorable poisoning of their souls.
In other words, the Good Guys in this are fanatical Jihadists that The Medium uses as magical suicide bombers while the bad guys are trying to level the playing field between themselves and an elite set of families who refuse to share either knowledge or power. I hate everything about this set of ideas.
The fact that this snagged at me badly enough to reduce my enjoyment of the book is. of course. a tribute to the quality of the writing.
I knew with absolute certainty that, if I was in this world, I would be a bad guy. I just hope I’d make a better job of it.
"The Windup Girl" made quite a splash when it came out. It won the Nebula and the Hugo and it was the author's debut novel (although he'd written four previous novels that he couldn't get published).
I bought a copy when it came out in paperback but I struggled so much with all the strange Thai names and words in the first chapter that I put it to one side and somehow it never came back to the top of the reading pile.
When I saw that there was an Audible Frontiers version, read by Jonathan Davis, who did such a good job reading "Theiftaker", I decided to give it another try.
"The Windup Girl" is set in a far future Bangkok and is written from the point of view of five different characters: three men an American from one of the calorie companies that controls the world's food supply, a Malay Chinese refugee who has lost everything, a Thai Captain in the Environment Ministry who passionately defends his country; and two women, a Thai subordinate to the Captain who has her own agenda and a New Person, the Windup Girl of the title, who was manufactured in Japan.,
Jonathan Davis gives each of them a distinctive voice, in the right accent. He performs rather than simply narrating. He clearly studied the text carefully. Every inflection supports the author's meaning. He pronounces the many foreign words and formal titles with an easy familiarity that made me feel part of the landscape. The production standards are high. The music is appropriate. This is a movie for the ear.
The book turned out to be everything I had hoped for. Bacigalupi (the name is Italian and means "kiss of the wolf. I know this because John Irving used it for his main writer character in "One Night At Twisted River". I wonder if he's ever read "The Windup Girl?) has created a plausible future in an exotic (to me) setting. It is a hard world and the main characters all face the same challenge: deciding what they are prepared to do to survive and having to live with the person they become with each survival decision they make.
The book has a good plot and strong local colour but at its heart it is character driven.The characters do not divide easily into good or bad. They are products of their pasts who, under the extreme pressure of their current circumstances, have to decide what they really value and what they are prepared to sacrifice to get it. Some of the characters are hard to like but all of them feel real and all of them, even the most selfish and fear-driven, won my sympathy.
Bacigalupi is willing to be truly brutal when the story demands it. The sex show that the Windup Girl is forced to perform is graphic and detailed and completely devoid of any trace of eroticism. In a land where keeping face is everything, Bacigalupi show us that this performance is about humiliation, shame and power. One of the characters is forced to make a public apology. Coming from the West this didn't strike me as a big deal. Bacifalupi put me far enough inside the Thai character's head that I was shocked at the vicious, merciless annihilation of the man's pride and identity.
It's a long book, more than nineteen hours of listening, but it seemed to fly by and I regretted reaching the end simply because I had enjoyed it so much.
Read this book if you're in the mood for something thought provoking, difficult but fundamentally human.
What I enjoyed most about this book was the strong sense of place and season - I could almost feel the clean cold of winter and the purging heat of the sauna - and the clarity and credibility of the various candidates for the "he did it" role.
The central character, Cork O'Connor, an white skinned, red haired man with a native American grandmother that seems to give him a foot in both of the communities of Iron Lake, has the makings of a tragic hero - a committed sheriff, a loving husband, a doting father who falls from grace in every way possible when disaster strikes but who remains a good man, albeit one who cheats on his wife. I could not find my way inside this man's head. He seems to be a talented and tenacious investigator but he is not gifted with insight into his own character or that of his wife. Add to this a willingness to buy into the reality of Windigoes and you have someone I found hard to believe in. He is a pizza with way too many toppings.
The book is well plotted. The twists and turns are satisfying and credible and they kept me guessing (although not always caring)
Unfortunately, Kreuger's women are almost cartoons - young, beautiful, forgiving and doomed or strong, silent, fierce but loving or confident, self-absorbed but still loving. I couldn't imagine any of them as real.
He also slaps on foreboding like plaster on a wall.
The two combined turn the death of one of the women characters into an instrument of emotional manipulation of the reader that I found myself resenting.
Perhaps it was a book of its time (first published 1999), I know the subsequent books of the series won prizes. From me this one only won a "What a pity. That was almost a really good book."
This is a book to read when your brain needs a holiday. It's a light, fun, fast, slick, self-referential, tongue-in-cheek (I hope) cocktail of every genre you might be looking for.
We have an alternative earth in which Vampires and Werewolves and Fairies (collectively known as The Powers) dominate the law, the military and the entertainment business.
Our heroine graduated at the top of her law class, yet she shows few signs of being really bright. She gets her first job working for a White Fang (Vampire reference - not Jack London) Law firm. She achieves outcast status amongst her human colleagues because she was fostered in a Vampire home, falls victim to the office sexual predator, falls into an intrigue that pits her against Werewolf mercenaries who try (repeatedly) to kill her. She falls a lot in fact. And most of the time it saves her life or wins her a case. She may not be the world's brightest lawyer but she is supernaturally lucky.
Although she is often brave, taking on Werewolf assassins and chauvinist bosses with equal enthusiasm, she seems a little damaged - very dependent on "Daddy" both her natural father and her Vampire foster-father.
The book is well plotted and slickly written, with good banter, nice pace and well-choreographed action.
Bornikova raises her game as a writer when she is describing anything to do with horses and she manages a surprisingly (but appropriately) repulsive sex scene.
What I've described so far would have been enough for a pleasant read but probably wouldn't have had me looking for the next in the series (isn't everything in a series these days?)
What pushed me into the "OK, I'll try the next one" camp is the feeling that the damage our heroine sustained in her fostered-childhood and the supernatural luck that follows her and the unusual patronage that she receives from the Vampires, point to a longer, more interesting plot arc and to the possibility that our heroine may get past her daddy issues and end up seeking a reckoning with a set of gelding shears. One can but hope.
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