Among fantasy books in which people are born endowed with magical talent, this book takes a different angle. (Ha, get it? Angle.) Geometric objects are the key to unlocking magic in this world, and I liked the story enough to read the next book in the series.
This is the story of a wealthy heiress who shunned the spotlight and used her vast resources to maintain the illusions that kept her delicate psychology intact. The Clarks were the Kardashians of their day: famous for being famous, the minutiae of their lives scrutinized by the media. People are as interested to find out what happened to Huguette Clark as they would be if Kourtney or Kim Kardashian suddenly decided to hide from the public eye for decades.
I have three criticisms of the book: First, in an effort to connect far-flung events and explain why Huguette Clark became a recluse, the book suffers from too many time jumps that don't really add much to the story.
Second, the quotes from people who knew Huguette don't add much to the story, either. It's possible that, working from historical documents, the author didn't have much choice in regard to quotes. But even the people she interviewed in person come across as not having anything interesting to say.
Last, too much of the story focuses on the early life of Huguette's father, his first wife, and the children from that marriage. The book doesn't really find its stride until well over halfway through, when it begins to examine the forces in Huguette's young adult life that drove her to become a recluse.
In summary: this book had the opportunity to delve into Huguette's unusual psychology, and the psychology of recluses in general. There are hints throughout of psychological analyses, but no real focus on them. So, ultimately, the book left me disappointed.
This is an excellent book, and it's hard to review without giving spoilers. It's a story about how crafty people can lead a double life by playing others for fools. But, even more, it's a story about how truly crafty people can actually fool themselves about the double life they are already living.
Gretchen Moll adds something special to the narration, not just because she's good at giving personality to the different characters, male and female (and she is). The TV characters she plays in Life on Mars and Boardwalk Empire inform her reading here, but her performance is different enough to keep things interesting.
In short, it's a great book, well-narrated. I highly recommend it, especially for book clubs, where readers will have a lot to discuss afterwards!
I started reading this book because I wanted to understand why my home state of Ohio is so important in American elections. As it turns out, Ohio mixes three distinct "nations": Midland, Appalachia, and Yankee, which accounts for the wildly diverging politics of different parts of the state. In that sense, Ohio really is a microcosm of a large swath of the United States.
Thanks to this book, I have a much better grasp of the foundations of the Republican and Democratic parties. Certain contradictions in behavior now make much more sense.
The latter portion of the book serves as an excellent primer for the political forces that will shape the 2016 presidential election. It also suggests why American politics is currently stagnating.
For that reason, I would call it a good companion book to "Maxwell's Demon and the Golden Apple" by Randall L. Schweller, which discusses the importance of chaos in energizing a political system (but is not yet available in audio).
If you laid out the books "The Tipping Point," "We Are Anonymous" and "Freakonomics," this book would neatly fill the empty space among them. While "Reinventing Discovery" details specific examples of how the Internet is enabling new forms of scientific collaboration today, it draws attention to the cultural aspects of our networked existence, and this is where I found the book most interesting. With so many people willing to participate in large, networked endeavors, maybe we really are on the cusp of finding new ways to fund and perform scientific research. I wish I could read the sequel that's going to come out decades from now, explaining how all these trends played out.
I'm a fan of Dr. E., and I've "attended" her live webcasts at Sounds True. I could listen to her voice for hours and hours (and come to think of it, I guess I have!). Here, Dr. E. delves into the issue of why we sometimes sabotage ourselves and how we might begin to change this behavior. This book is on par with the rest of her work, and though it is short, every time I listen to it, I pick up on something I missed the last time. I recommend it for repeat listens.
I'm a fan of the Showtime series and listened to this book (upon which the show is based) following season one. First: the narration is not that bad. The occasional mispronunciations and fatigue in Ms. Barton's voice were slightly distracting, but her reading is pleasant enough. Second: the book gives a deeper background on Virginia Johnson's motivations, and—assuming the series follows the book in season two—I now think I better understand why some of the show's subplots exist. I heard little of William Masters' voice in the book; Mr. Maier interviewed Johnson in person, and had to rely on Masters' unpublished autobiography and other people's interviews for the doctor's perspective. A potential spoiler for the show...so stop reading now if you don't want to know... ... ... is that Johnson denies that Masters ever had a low sperm count. Of course, the show may veer away from the book any number of ways, but I enjoyed reading it and comparing the two.
I really struggled with how to rate this title, because the basic elements of the story are truly spectacular. I'm not giving anything away by saying that the book tells two parallel stories, one set in the Middle Ages and one set in modern times. Both stories connect very well, and every subplot is there for a reason, so it's clear that Connie Willis thought this book through carefully before she wrote it.
That said, I have two problems with the book. First, it could have been about one third shorter. Certain conversations happen again and again, and little plot development results from them. And Willis offers a little too much detail about the daily activities of people working in a modern hospital and a Medieval household.
Second, about half of the characters are intensely annoying. I suppose that lends an element of realism to the story, but so many of the characters are so annoying that I felt myself getting frustrated with the story.
A somewhat related word about the narrator: Jenny Sterlin was very good at conveying just how annoying those annoying characters were. She also does men's voices quite well. But she struggles with speaking in an American accent.
In sum, I've liked other of Connie Willis' books, and I didn't dislike this one enough to stop reading her work.
I started listening to "On What Grounds" with very low expectations. I was interested in exploring fiction in the mystery sub-genre where activities such as crafts or cooking propel the plot. I've read books where knitting is the focus, and jewelry making, and baking, and now this. Sadly, I have found the writing in some of the others to be lacking. In this one, however, the cafe was central to the plot and the descriptions and dialog were rich and authentic. It stands out from the others in this genre, and I plan to read more of the series.
This book grabbed me from the very beginning, and did not let me go. Driving home and listening in the car, I missed the turn for my house! It's not a mystery... We know from the beginning who the killer is, and how he gets away with murder. The question is, will our heroine figure it out in time to save herself and the people she loves? Lauren Beukes created many different characters for the book, and tells the story from each one's point of view. Coming from a less-skilled author, the frequent changes in time and place and point of view could be confusing, but not here. Perhaps the use of multiple narrators helped—and the narrators were all very good—but this is some seriously good writing! I highly recommend this book.
The author seems to have lived some kind of magical life in which he's done amazing things that most people wouldn't attempt, all without negative consequences. Good for him, really! But I would have liked to have some advice for people like me who want to bring some less dramatic forms of non-conformity into their lives.
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