Friday, October 30, 2015

Illywhacker

This is a Booker Prize finalist from the 1980s, and I am left to wonder if maybe it doesn't age very well.  I think it's supposed to be a grand statement about the spirit and character of Australia, with comedy and tragedy and everything in between and everything a little fantastical, too.  

The general theme, i.e., lies and their value and what they say about the people who tell them and listen to them, is very intriguing.  Unfortunately, a lot of the book doesn't really address it.  You read on and on about improbable people doing improbable things in improbable ways, and then before you know it everyone's living in cages in a pet store.  No, really.  Maybe every 20 pages or so, you get a quick little flash of really insightful or beautiful text that you can't tie to the rest of it.  The balance is off, for me.  Or maybe it's just that I am not familiar enough with Australia to get all of the in jokes.

This is the only Peter Carey book I have read to date, but I get the impression that several of his other titles might have been a better place to start.  I also cannot tell you how much I dislike the cover.

Final call:

This book actually might be right up a lot of people's alleys, especially if those alleys are very literary and enjoy world fiction particularly, so don't write it off on my account.     

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Diamond Age

I .... just don't know about this one.  The premise sounds beyond promising:  a young girl (ok, street urchin) in the future gets her hands on a smartbook programmed to essentially raise said child to be subversive, and before you know it, the entire world's in trouble.  

But the execution is a bit off.  Instead of getting tighter, the story spins off into weird subplots.  Poor Hackworth, always hapless, and disappearing from his family for ten years.  Sort of.  Miranda's in the story, then she's out of it sort of, then she's suddenly the key to it all.  And here's a sentence I never thought I'd have reason to type: the sexually transmitted data plot line was a huge turn off in a book about raising young girls.  It just didn't fit the mood or style and reaaalllllly slowed down the story. 

Sometimes books go astray by going for a big picture at the end, and giving no closure for the characters we've loved the entire book.  The Diamond Age is the exact opposite.  Just a few pages from the end of this looooooonng saga, we're still hearing incredibly specific details about how characters are fighting in the street.  Then, the book ends.  It's so bogged down in the minutia that I have no idea how the large scale competition between the Feed and the Seed is actually going to shake down.  Worse, I have no idea whether Hackworth is helping the Seed or not, or whether it's even a good thing.  

Gah!

Final call:

I can't give a book with this much humor and imagination less than four stars, but it probably deserves three. 









Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Brooklyn Bones

I don't think I've read a book by someone I've known, however meager the acquaintance, excepting academic books.  But here's one. I have to say, I expect the worst from genre mystery books these days, and Brooklyn Bones is solid.  It avoids a lot of traps.

Erica is our main character, and she has her head on strait.  The relationship between Erica and her daughter is really sweet, even if it fraught with teenage angst, and Erica always acts for her daughter first.  Really the only criticism I have is that the mystery seems to coalesce around Erica and then resolve itself without much action by Erica herself.  I'm not even sure that's a criticism.  It's just different from other mysteries.  But that's how I think Brooklyn Bones stays true - a lot of books veer off course because the hero/heroine has to take nonsensical or contrived actions to move the plot forward, and here Stein finds other ways to get to the end.  

This is definitely not hard-boiled, or even much of a thriller, per se.  But it is a nice, quick read of the cozy variety.

Final call: 

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Years of Rice and Salt

Somehow, I read a synopsis of this book somewhere, and bought it, and read the back of it, and still managed to not realize what the book was about!

I thought it looked at how life in Africa might have proceeded if European colonization had not occurred.  And yes, that is a part of it, albeit a very small part.  I missed the whole let's rewrite global history as if the Plague breakouts in the 1300s had killed almost everyone Western Europe, instead of only one third of them.  And I definitely had no idea about the strong Buddhist bent to the plot.  Not that any of that is a bad thing, but I rarely go into a book so off course as to what I was about to read!  

This one lies pretty solidly in that grand science fiction tradition of using alternate worlds and/or histories to question how society operates.  The author is compared to James Michener, too, since both have written epic fictionalized histories that follow generations (not quite generations in this case, but the effect is similar). I realized that it's been quite a while since I've read something in either of those veins.

So, this one was hot and cold for me.  There were parts that were frankly just beautiful, but more and bigger parts were a slog.  I had 15 pages left last night to finish this entire 700+ page book and couldn't do it.  That, like, never happens.  Some of the issue comes from the difficulties of covering so much time relatively quickly - the pace gets very uneven.  Some of it comes from the extended discussions, which were really mini-lectures, on the fabric of religion and civilization, although actually many times those were interesting to me.  

There are 10 books, I most liked Awake to Emptiness and The Widow Kang.  For a long time I thought the book's title had no specific meaning, but Widow Kang has a wonderful explanation.  The discussion of reincarnation in the last few pages of the book is both amazing and wickedly clever.     

Maybe most troubling is that I'm not sure what the big picture is.  The book seems to make judgments about particular religions/civilizations, but some of them don't seem correct, even within the context of the book.  But I think I would need more time than I'm willing to commit to untangle everything. 

Final call:
I wouldn't say that this book has broad appeal, but it's also pretty approachable.  If you feel like walking on the philosophical wild side, give it a go.






Monday, August 31, 2015

Jersey Birds

Time for more photos from Forsythe.  We went out to Atlantic City a few weeks ago and of course took the time to drive up to my favorite wildlife refuge, once on Saturday and again on Sunday.


Pine trees and egrets, what a mix.  You don't see the two together a whole lot, but this Great Egret was proud as a peacock up in his perch.  The flexibility in these guys' necks never fails to amaze me.


Birds were somewhat scarce (although scarce for Forsythe means there's still plenty around.)  But maybe two miles down the dikes, we found a huge group of several types of birds in what appeared to be a feeding frenzy.  This is the best shot I could get of it, and it's missing maybe half the birds that were there.


There were:  Double-crested Cormorants, Great and Snowy Egrets, plenty of Laughing and other Gulls, and about 30 Glossy Ibis.


Here's a cormorant close-up, sixteen of them in this shot alone.  It must have been a good day for birds in groups, because about three quarters of the way around the wildlife drive, we came upon this small tree covered in Great and Snowy Egrets.


This is really just about a third of the tree, there were many more birds hanging out in it.  Funny, because we've been going to this refuge for years now, in all seasons, and this is the first time I've really seen any kind of heron hanging out there.


Lastly, a Snowy Egret we found making use of a piling and giving us a very good demonstration of the leg and feet colors that are so distinctively identifiable.  Adults usually have a strong break between the yellow of the feet and the black of the legs, but this one doesn't, so I'm thinking it's a juvenile bird, hatched just this spring.



Sunday, August 30, 2015

Always Time for Middle Creek

The same day we took the butterfly tour at Fort Indiantown Gap, we decided to swing through Middle Creek on the way home.  I like going there on random summer days - it's always beautiful and the crowds are gone.  Plus you just never know what you're going to see!


I love the look of the summery meadows that take over so much of the open ground at Middle Creek in the warm months.  In truth, I was hoping for more butterflies, but they were sparse.  It was a pretty hot day, so maybe that had an effect.  The birds weren't out much, either.


There was a dragonfly, posing semi-nicely on a Common Mullein stalk near Stop #3.  I say semi-nicely because he stayed put for a long time, but never turned his butt away from the camera.  The internet tells me this is probably a Halloween Pennant, which I can see, given the black and orange color scheme.


Another treat to going in summer is that there's a spur road off of the Wildlife Drive that seems to be open only at this time of year.  Back this road, we found a Grasshopper Sparrow with some grub sitting on a fence post.


The spur road ends in a cup-de-sac by a pond and wetlands. Bird activity here was stronger, and there were also two White-Tailed Deer.  They amused me by wading out into the shallows of the pond.  In the meantime, Orioles, Catbirds, Goldfinches, Robins, and more were poking around and flying from bush to reed to tree.  All in all, one of my favorite spots in the Management Area!



Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Reviews: A Blast from the Past

For Christmas of 2005, one of my then coworkers (and a fellow reader) gave me a journal and told me it was to keep track of what I read.  I recently pulled it out, with the intention of adding these into Good Reads as a kind of back up.

I wrote the date I finished, the title, the author, the page numbers, and then a 1-2 sentence review. I diligently logged books from 2006 through July of 2013, when I moved totally to Good Reads.

I thought I'd share some of these reviews; looking back they're hilarious, often in a "what was I thinking" kind of way :)

For example.  My thoughts on Twilight:  "An easy read, but a dumb book.  Like it's written for teenagers by teenagers. Grrrrr."

And, The Harlequin by Laurel K. Hamilton: "Actually not that bad. The psychobabble yapping did not totally dominate the book."

What was my obsession with the word dumb?  Here's The Secret Lives of Doctor's Wives: "A dumb book, but it's entertaining, which is actually pretty good for a dumb book."

I seemed to use the words excellent and incredible overly much.  But what can you do when you read a book like Making Money by Terry Pratchett:  "Excellent as always, and it's hard to say that about a book where the main character's first name is 'Moist!'"

One more, The Secret History by Donna Tartt (a generally well-liked book): "What is the point of great writing about dull people?  How does a genuine bacchanal turn into a yawn???"

I do still wonder about those questions, by the way.

I'm only through 2008, for tagging all the books in Good Reads and entering my reviews, and I can already see how my tastes have changed.  Less paranormal series now, less thrillers, more literary books and more of the classics I never picked up in high school or college.  More books, period.  About 10-15 more per year now!