I've read other Bear (Blood Music, and Forge of God many years ago) and remember them fondly, so I was overjoyed when I found his newer material on Audible. However, despite the fact that the central idea is interesting, I was deeply disappointed by Darwin's Children.
First, the science is questionable. Bear gets some minor details about retrotransposons wrong, but what really bugged me was the SHEVA-infected women who become virus factories (a hypothesis that's sure to fail the parsimony test). Finally, Bear seems to believe the Victorian notion that evolution is a progression towards perfection.
Sometimes inconsistencies in Bear's characters are so irritating that they interrupt the flow of the story. For instance, Kaye does nothing by weep in the car outside the house where Stella has been abducted; most mothers would charge in to save their child. And Mitch, who used to be some kind of anthropologist, says that he respects Native Americans so much, he's dug up their sacred gravesites.
In all, this book was either a hurried or sloppy effort that could have been improved with the help of a good editor and fact checker.
To attribute mastery of certain skills solely to myelin is reductionism to the point of absurdity and is not backed up by the research (much of which has yet to be been done). After giving a brief description of myelin and myelination, nothing different that I learned in high school biology 20 years ago, he jumps directly to unsubstantiated claims using only a few quotes from neuroscientists in the field, one of which is "wow", as the bridge.
You can tell this book is targeted less to readers of science popularization and more to the self-help crowd by Coyle's snappy selection of terms like "Ignition" and "Matrix". The music used in the audiobook between chapters provides further evidence.
At times Coyle talks about myelin as if he invented it and was making it available to you as a special offer on late night television for only 14 easy installments of $19.95.
This book is at its best when discussing talent "hotbeds" and the teaching strategies used by master coaches. I would have preferred it to be suplemented by an insightful overview of the current literature written for those with a basic education, as Stephen Pinker does for Linguistics. But instead, Coyle sells a worldview mostly of his own invention.
The choice of narrator can make or break an audiobook. This one is broken.
Mr. Lee sounds like he's had too many previous engagements overdubbing Japanese anime cartoons; he over-enunciates, over-inflects, and generally overacts. The result is so over-the-top that it made me cringe and put aside the audiobook in favor of the printed text after an hour of listening. This was doubly frustrating because I spent two Audible credits on it.
If any of the producers of this audiobook series are reading these reviews: We need more crusty old narrators like Mr. Dotrice, who read the previous three books in the series and Mr. Tull, who narrated all 21 books in Patrick O'Brian's excellent Aubrey/Machurin series. We crave subtle and witty readers who have a deep appreciation of the motivations of characters, not declaimers who can turn even the most sublime prose into bombastic blather.
The reader aside, A Feast for Crows does not meet the high standard set by the previous three books in the series, but it is entertaining and well worth the time.
The publisher's book description and many professional reviews all present this as a novel of ideas. Don't be deceived! It's primarily a suspense novel with the thrilling bits you normally expect in a suspense novel ripped out and replaced by the narrator's musings on cannibalism in Western art, folklore, and history. And, as unlikely as it sounds, this is its main strength.
While these inner stories of desperate adventurers and hungry gods are themselves quite enjoyable, it's the frame story, Katherine's ramblings around the US and (too briefly) in Mexico, that fall flat. The themes that are purported by some reviewers to tie these reflections together are all but absent in the main storyline, where the majority of events center around the narrator meeting a random man, drinking far too much liquor, then blacking out.
All of the characters, save perhaps Katherine, Boris, and Anne, seem motiveless and underdeveloped. Of course, since the reader only sees these characters through the lens of the disturbed, solipsistic narrator, one could argue that this is a purposeful technique used by the author to illustrate Katherine's schizoid lack of affect. Intentional or not, these half-formed secondary characters make for drab reading.
Murray is obviously skilled, and some parts of her story are quite compelling and a bit creepy. However, this book is not a true thriller, since it completely lacks a building tension released by action. Neither is it a novel of ideas, since the only idea that receives rigorous treatment is that some people crave the juicy meat of the long pig. Instead, to its detriment, this book is stuck somewhere in between. In the hands of a less skillful writer this story would have turned out dreadfully. As it is, "A Carnivore's Inquiry" is an entertaining but forgetful read.
I'm probably the only person on Earth that dislikes Stephen King and still manages to read one or two of his books a year. He certainly knows how to craft a page-turner and he shows occasional brilliance in character development, but most of his work is chock-full of ham-fisted imagery, ill-fitting pop culture references, and over-moist sex scenes. That said, "The Gunslinger" is Stephen King at his best with little of the mediocrity that plagues many of his other books.
Roland's relentless pursuit of the man in black echoes events and characters from Browning's Childe Roland. It combines the desperation of Elliott's Waste Land with the imagery and violence of a spaghetti western. But most importantly, it works! The Gunslinger has the gravity of an old myth and is grittily satisfying.
The other Dark Tower books are nowhere near as subtle or well-crafted. Take for example, the asinine antagonist of the third book: a sentient, evil locomotive ("Blaine the Train is a pain"), or the Wizard of Oz rubbish tacked onto the end of the fourth book. These grotesque elements are garish lipstick smeared on a corpse by an over-eager mortician. How can the Roland we have come to know and love in "The Gunslinger" maintain his dignity in the face of such laughable adversities?
If you're a fan of King's early work or even if you've tried later Dark Tower books and disliked them, you should absolutely give this book a listen, but I recommend you avoid later books in the series.
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