This was a great story. Hard to believe it is really a kid's book. Seems thoroughly adult to me. Lots of sly sarcastic jokes. What really made this book great though was the great narrator. He brought all the characters to life and really added to the excitement.
First, the positive. This books feels remarkably modern considering it was written in 1949. There are a few racists and sexist statements, but overall, this book could take place now. I read that it is one of the first of the "disaster" style books, so I guess historically it is interesting.
I would not classify this as science fiction, which I thought it was. It takes place in "the present" and there is no fictional technology or anything (just the killer plague).
The negative: I am 2 hours from the end of this audio book and I don't know if I can finish it. God it's dragged on for sooooo long. Let me warn you - the first five hours or so has NO dialogue. It is just the main character ruminating. He is a self-described loner, but I'd go further and say he borders on being a sociopath. He has almost no emotional response to anything in the book, other than feeling fear a few times. When other characters finally appear, he routinely refers to them as stupid dull people, constantly disparaging them even after they've been with each other for decades. I know main characters don't have to be likable, but we are stuck in Ish's head and he is an ass. What's worse is that we have to hear him debate things over and over in his mind, often repeating himself even in the same paragraph. Hmm, my son joey is smart. The rest of the group is stupid. I should teach them to read. But they are too stupid. But I could teach joey. He is smart. Smarter than the rest of these idiots. They will never learn to read. OKAY. I get it.
The narrator does a good job of trying to bring this material to life, but he can't save it. (Don't bother with this book, it is not worth the time)
There are very few books that I wished I hadn't read, but this series falls into that category.
I'll try to make this short, and what I wished someone had told me before I started book one. I was uneasy with the plot line of kids killing other kids for the entertainment of a debauched population, but I hoped that the violence would be PG since this was a teen book. Not the case. If you like constant graphic gratuitous violence, you'll love this! The mutilations and deaths start right away, and build and build throughout the series. By book three everyone is getting shot and burned and beaten and tortured and killed. Awesome!
The main character is self-centered and emotionally stunted and does not develop at all in the course of the books. I'm embarrassed that I kept reading to find out what happened. Really not worth it.
There are very few books that I wished I hadn't read, but this series falls into that category.
When I started the book, I felt a little uneasy about the premise–kids killing other kids for the entertainment of a debauched population–but a friend recommended it so I gave it a try. I was hoping that since this was a "teen" book I could expect the violence to be a bit subdued but I was dead wrong about that. Blood, gore, torture, etc. are all described in great detail. Characters are put in situations that defy logic so that they can be killed or injured.
The main character is emotionally stunted from the get go, and lacks empathy for any other character. She doesn't develop at all over the course of the series, and by book three I was sick of her constant self-centered whining. I mean, seriously, this is a country at war and it sounds like half the population is decimated. EVERYONE is having a bad time!
The author doesn't bring the same attention to describing loving relationships that she does to describing violence, which is really frustrating. The one person the main character definitely loves, her sister, is almost invisible in this last book. There were plenty of opportunities for them to have sweet moments, like when they are together for days in a bunker, but that didn't happen. I feel I don't know Prim at all.
Perhaps all this violence and lack of love is cathartic for teens? I dunno. I feel like the author created a bunch of characters then threw them in a box with razor blades and shook them hard. I was a sucker for wanting to find out what happens in the end...but I'd "undo" this read if I could.
There is a lot of good information in here about how people live in North Korea, but the stories are all anecdotal–the information gathered from people now living in South Korea. The author seems to have spent little time in North Korea herself. In order to give the stories immediacy, she adds all kinds of florid prose and descriptions that I am sure are not the words the people telling her the stories used. For instance, I'd be hard pressed to talk about a high school romance and recall that warm wind ruffled my hair, leaves blew around my feet, yet she has her source, a middle-aged woman, recount this level of detail. As does everyone. No one is ever scared...they lay huddled beneath thin blankets quivering in terror. That is fine for fiction but in a non-fiction book it rings false. Ms. Demick should have done a fiction book where she could show off her writing skills instead of putting words in the mouths of "ordinary" people.
Really fun listen. I wouldn't call this a "teen" book by any means. The main character is teen-aged, but he basically lives an adult life. Well written, well read, good pace.
If you like Morgan's other books, you'll like this. He's filling in the back history of the world in his Kovacs books. The people who don't like this book are offended by parts of it. If you're easily offended, you shouldn't be reading his stuff anyway.
If you pick any random spot in the Nanny Diaries and listen for 10 minutes, you'll be entertained and want to hear more. The problem - these well written little scenes never go anywhere. They are tame little views into upper east side life and the life of a middle-class student working to support herself. The student/nanny (named, annoyingly, Nan) is good-hearted, the rich mother is mean, her husband, thoughtless and career-driven, and nothing changes during the course of the book. Zero character development. Don't expect a comedy as the trailers for the movie version of the book suggest. Its just cranky people bitching about their lives. Nan comes across as faintly masochistic for sticking around and by the time the end of the book shuffles around, you'll be ready to have her gone from your life.
Afghanistan was the last stop in the author's 20 months of walking through India, Pakistan, and other countries. I haven't read his other books, which I expect might be quite good, but I get the impression that he was a little burned out when he got to Afghanistan, and just wanted to be done.
The fact that he did this trip in the dead of winter, through the snow, soaking wet, cold, pressing on while he was tired and had diarrhea, never really resting, probably did not leave him a lot of extra creative energy to observe and interact.
I think that many details that we as readers would find interesting and exotic were commonplace to him and he barely bothers to mention them. The place did not come alive for me through his words. Also, it seemed the country didn't measure up to some of the other places he'd been. He filled in with anecdotes of other places and had lots of details of the exploits of an ancient emperor. I am interested in history, but this was such micro detail (how they spent the night in a certain cave) I didn't feel it added to my understanding.
I did learn about Afghanistan, but this information could have been in a good article in the Economist, and didn't need 8 hours. This author is talented, but needs some perspective and fresh eyes.
It really pains me to give this book only two stars. It really is well-written and clever, but its academic style ends up making the book feel like a lecture on an exciting subject by a dull pedantic professor.
The author gives extremely complicated explanations and details about characters or objects that appear only briefly in the novel. I get that she is trying to create a rich, deep world, and the first few times she did this I found it amusing and fun. After 8 hours of listening, I began to cringe every time the narrator said "footnote...". You can't skip the footnotes like you could if it was a paper book. You can expect things like "Jonathan picked up a broom to sweep the floor...footnote one...the broom had an interesting history. It was made from wood from a forest at the edge of the property that..." blah blah blah. I made up that example but you find things like that, and just want to cry out, for gods sake just let the man sweep the floor and get on with it!
If you love the Artemis Fowl books, you'll be a little disappointed. Colfer creates an interesting world - a near-future corporate and lawyer-dominated society, and describes it in good detail. The characters too are interesting and well written. The one weak point, in my opinion, is the invisible blue creatures that are forced on to center stage. After creating such a gritty urban world with tons of real problems, any one of which would be enough to motivate vigilantes to fight for justice, the addition of a fantasy-esque creature feels forced. After all, this is a place where orphans are used to test new products - till they die at a young age! Maybe this is a transition book for Colfer, from kids fairy books to a more "Blade Runner" adult world, and he will shake off the remnant fantasy creatures next time.
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