Tuesday, 21 March 2017

New Reviews Coming Soon

I haven't posted in reviews here in a while because since returning from holiday in Sri Lanka back in January, I've been busy with work. Most of the books I've read have been directly related to work instead of pleasure, and so I haven't reviewed them here. However, as I get more free time I have been reading a bit more and will post some reviews soon.

Friday, 24 February 2017

One Sip at a Time, by Keith Van Sickle

One Sip at a Time is the story of an American couple falling in love with France. It tells the story of their ups and downs as they live on and off in this unique and beautiful part of the world, and attempt - with the usual hiccups, of course - to learn the language.

It is told with a gentle humor, poking fun at the French as well as the American expats themselves. On every page, there is humor of the sort one is accustomed to from reading Bill Bryson or Stephen Clarke.

My criticism, however, would be that the book is told in a large number of vignettes in a chronological order, with some of them just being too short or seemingly just thrown into the mix. I would have preferred a more cohesive narrative, as the author's humor and the story of this couple trying to fit in is really engaging.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Islands in the Stream, by Ernest Hemingway

Islands in the Stream is classic Hemingway - you have your stoic male protagonist, your disarmingly simple prose, your adventure... and even some Nazi-hunting to boot.

The novel is divided into three parts, tackling three periods in the protagonist's life. It is jarring in how it throws tragedy suddenly into the mix, but that's a pretty good representation of life. Thomas Hudson seems very similar to Hemingway, and is probably heavily based upon him, with a bit of his friends thrown into the mix.

This is short, readable novel - probably Hemingway's best posthumously published work. Only in a few places does it feel less than complete. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sarah, by J.T. Leroy

This short novel is written in such an engaging, witty prose that it is a pleasure to read, in spite of its horrific subject matter.

Sarah follows a young boy  through several years of prostitution and substance abuse as he waits to hear from his mother, Sarah - an abusive, drug-addicted prostitute.

The boy, calling himself Sarah, flees their pimp, but soon finds himself working for another, posing as an angel-faced little girl for paedophile clients.

Obviously, the story is harrowing, but it is nonetheless gripping. J.T. Leroy writes with an unbelievable talent for viewing the world through the eyes of child, and is astute at capturing the language and landscape of the American South. 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves begins on what will become Day Zero, or 0.0, as the Earth's moon is destroyed by an "Agent," which we don't learn much about. The moon breaks into pieces and popular scientist, Doc Dubois, (clearly based upon Neil Degrasse Tyson) predicts these parts will fall to Earth in an event two years later, known as "Hard Rain."

Thus, the premise of the first third of the novel is humanity's preparation for its own demise. We're told the Earth will be uninhabitable for ten thousand years, so man takes to space on an expanded version of the ISIS, called Izzy. Then we're taken through the early days of human life in space after seven billion people have been killed by the "Hard Rain." Various catastrophes occur, bringing the human population down to just seven women. Suddenly, for the final third of the book, we're catapulted five thousand years ahead to explore the future, as humans have proliferated once again, only broken into seven races based upon the traits of those surviving women - the titular seven eves. These races are tasked with terraforming Earth as it once again becomes habitable.

The book is densely descriptive and the initial concept is fascinating. It is clear that the author has a solid grasp of physics in space, as the ideas are plausible. Yet this detail can get extremely tedious and overwhelming. Still, most of the book is enjoyable. The final third, however, seems totally unnecessary. Through all the changes in the first two thirds, we have several consistent characters to follow, yet these are all lost as we move into this last section, and it is hard to care about anything that happens without a familiar character. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Redshirts, by John Scalzi

Redshirts begins with a thrilling action scene wherein it appears we are being introduced to the novel's protagonist. Alas, he soon trips, falls, and has his face eaten, causing his death by means of giant worm. It's an hilarious opening to a brilliantly funny book.

Without giving too much away, it follows the bizarre adventures of an apparently doomed crew on a spaceship, who are being picked off in over-the-top death scenes, before they travel through time and perhaps even realities.

I'm not a sci-fi fan (in spite of my recent reading list, but this book blew me away. I read it in a day, which is incredible for someone who reads so slowly. I was simply glued to the screen by the witty writing and ridiculously inventive plot.

Unfortunately, the last 25% of the book drags on, losing the wit in order to wrap everything up across all the timelines, really taking the steam out of an otherwise fantastic story.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

In contrast with the previous book, where action exploded off each page, in Isaac Asimov's Foundation, not a lot of action actually occurs. I'ts all talk, all postulating, all philosophizing. Whereas Ready Player One was dumb but fun, Foundation is dull but thoughtful.

Perhaps "dull" is too harsh. The book is interesting, entertaining even. It's comprised of several stories across many years concerning the rise of a civilization called Foundation on the edge of a declining space empire. The stories feature different sets of characters facing different problems over the course of Foundation's history.

Asimov's vision of the future, 12,000 years from now, isn't particularly inventive... People still smoke cigarettes and dial telephones to talk, and nuclear power is still the hot new technology - the best that advanced civilizations travelling light years across space can somehow muster. Women apparently have no role in this new world. All the characters are male except for a few secretaries and other unimportant roles.

Foundation seems to be Asimov's attempt at transposing his ideas about our world onto another, which I suppose is true of much science fiction. He tackles religion, science, philosophy, government, etc, and plays with them all 12,000 years into the future.