Kim M. (Eucalia) - Reviews

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2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 83
Review Date: 2/27/2006
Helpful Score: 1


Reading this book was like reading a 300-page short story. It was a wonderful story with impressive insight into the future (I kept having to remind myself this was written in the 60's), but at the same time ideas were only lightly touched upon and plot elements came and went with very little development. Overall a quick and easy read with interesting ideas that I quite enjoyed. I look forward to reading the sequels.


About a Boy
About a Boy
Author: Nick Hornby
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 140
Review Date: 10/8/2009
Helpful Score: 2


This is the story of Will, 36, a man who knows more about being a child than being an adult, and Marcus, 12, a boy who knows more about being an adult than being a child. This is the story of their unlikely relationship and how they each help the other to live a fuller, happier life. Definitely cute, definitely well-written, and definitely an easy read. I'd recommend this for anyone in the mood for a mental break.


The Accidental Time Machine
The Accidental Time Machine
Author: Joe Haldeman
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 31
Review Date: 10/12/2008


This book somehow just didn't do it for me. The story started out with a lot of potential. A graduate assistant at MIT builds a machine that's supposed to do something fairly mundane, but he discovers that because of some error he made the machine actually travels through time. He sets off trying to figure out how and why this is happening. Except the story kind of falls apart halfway through. It gets out of hand and ridiculous and boring. This book really isn't worth your time to read.


Anathem
Anathem
Author: Neal Stephenson
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 34
Review Date: 4/18/2009
Helpful Score: 4


This is set on a world parallel to ours in which, thousands of years ago, all the smart people were ostracized from the rest of society. They went to live in non-religious convents where they live very simply, but are free to pursue their own thoughts and projects and only occasionally interact with the outside world. Children from the outside who display signs of too much intelligence are brought to these convents to live. All proceeds as normal for thousands of years until all over the world something strange is seen through observatory telescopes. To tell more of the plot would be impossible without spoilers. As the plot progresses though, the reader's understanding of what has already occurred also evolves in a very interesting way.

This book has a vocabulary all it's own (there's a 20-page glossary at the end that includes entries such as my personal favorite "hypotrochian transquaestiation") along with an entirely new kind of science. A large portion of this novel actually consists of characters discussing theoretical science. As such, it takes some persistence to get into--I wasn't hooked until about 140 pages in. For the most part, this book rocks! The author's ability to create all the intricacies of this world, to maintain a sufficient interest level for over 900 pages and to keep the complexity of the plot increasing as it goes is astounding. I love a book that makes me think and to work a little while I'm reading. This is definitely such a book.

However, I do have a few bones to pick. For starters, the complicated theories and discussions of the characters may have been a little over the top and may have bogged down the story a bit. I also didn't particularly care for the ending. I didn't quite understand how what happened could have happened the way it did (which I can't explain without spoilers). There was also a thread of romance running throughout the story that I felt fell flat. I would've liked to have seen this either developed a little more or eliminated entirely.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone with persistence who enjoys spec fic!


The Android's Dream
The Android's Dream
Author: John Scalzi
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 74
Review Date: 7/4/2009
Helpful Score: 1


It took me a couple of chapters to get into this, but once I did, it was a lot of fun. This is a comedy-action-adventure story, kind of along the lines of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but not quite so goofy. This is set a couple hundred years in the future where aliens abound but Earth is still pretty low in the interstellar pecking order. Long story short, a specific and rare breed of sheep that only lives on Earth is essential to keeping the peace between Earth and a neighboring interstellar power. The race is on to find and control one of these sheep. Very entertaining and fun. My only complaint really is with the editing. This book is chock full of typos and missing/extra words. Was somebody in too much of a hurry to get this published to bother with proofreading?


Await Your Reply
Await Your Reply
Author: Dan Chaon
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 45
Review Date: 1/21/2010
Helpful Score: 5


Through this novel we follow three main characters in three distinct stories. One is a man in search of his missing twin brother, another is a girl who has runaway with her high school history teacher, and the last is a young man who discovers his life has been a lie and sets out to reinvent himself. The interesting part of this novel is trying to figure out how these stories are connected. The stories are not necessarily told in chronological order and as the reader works their way through the chapters they discover clues. While trying to unravel this mystery was fun, the stories themselves were not necessarily compelling. I also felt that the ending was wrapped up just a bit too neatly. Suddenly, in the last chapter we switch to the point of view of a character we haven't heard from before and everything is laid out for us. It's too bad because I felt that this was the most interesting character in the book and hearing from him more often might have made for a much more interesting story. Over all this was an enjoyable read which I would recommend, but there is definitely room for improvement in this author's writing.


Before They Are Hanged (First Law, Bk 2)
Before They Are Hanged (First Law, Bk 2)
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 45
Review Date: 10/8/2009


This is the second book in the First Law Trilogy, a swords and sorcery adventure. It picks up right where the The Blade Itself, the first book, left off with no summary whatsoever of what happened in the first book. All of the main characters from the first book reappear in this book, but now they are all flung to various corners of the globe on separate new adventures. There is more sorcery in this book (although still not much) and more monsters (although still not many). There is lots of gore, although less torture. I love the humor here, definitely my kind of humor in my darker moments. If you're in the mood for a raucous adventure, this is a great book for you. If you're in the mood for resolution of that adventure, this is not at all the book for you. Nothing whatsoever is resolved here. I can only assume everything will be resolved in the third and final book, The Last Argument of Kings. I'd definitely recommend this, but you should probably read the first book first.


The Black Company
The Black Company
Author: Glen Cook
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 25
Review Date: 12/24/2007
Helpful Score: 1


When I first started reading this book, I didn't care for it much at all. My initial reaction was to fling it away from me and start something else. The reason for this reaction, I think, was because the writing is somewhat rough and unpolished. Later it became clear (or at least possible) that the writing was supposed to be this way. The story is told in the first-person from the point of view of a soldier-physician in a mercenary army in some fantasy setting. On top of his other duties, he is in charge of writing the Annals, or keeping records of what this mercenary army does, and it turns out that the book you are reading is actually the Annals. Once this is explained so that I couldn't entirely blame the roughness on a young writer's ineptitude, I was able to tolerate the writing style. Or else I just got used to it.

As the story opens, the author writes as though you already know all the background, as though you've been reading hundreds of years worth of the Annals already. I found it hard to understand the politics behind the battles, who was fighting who, and even what each of the characters was supposed to be. Despite this, I managed to get pulled into the story. This story had an entirely unacceptable ending, and although this book didn't distinguish itself much at all, I find that I must read the sequel so I can find out what happens next. Perhaps this feeling will fade.

The most interesting aspect of the book was the main character. He doesn't tell us any of his past besides hinting that it's a bad one, but he seems to be a genuinely good-hearted guy mixed up in a world where everyone else is a scoundrel to the worst degree. Yet he manages to flourish and tell his stories from a somewhat original point of view. Unfortunately, although he cares about the other characters, I could never bring myself to.

Despite all of these drawbacks, this was definitely an action-packed adventure. As long as you're willing to not need to think much and as long as you have no actual desire for any character development or any actual description of a setting, this is not a bad book.


Blindness
Blindness
Author: Jose Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (Translator)
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 237
Review Date: 2/6/2009
Helpful Score: 2


What would happen if over the course of a few weeks everyone in the world went quickly, irrevocably and inexplicably blind? How would we survive? What would become of our society? To what lows would we stoop? It's an interesting and frightening premise. What would you do if one day you found yourself to be the only sighted person left in a world where everyone else has gone blind? The story is powerful and gut-wrenching and well worth the read if you can get over the writing style. But that's a big if. There is a distinct paucity of punctuation in this novel. There are no quotation marks despite many conversations making it sometimes difficult to tell who's speaking, sentences ramble on such that more than four on a page is a rarity, and paragraphs continue for pages--one paragraph I counted took up 14 pages. At first I found this very distracting and I had difficulty paying attention through the monotony of the punctuation-good luck finding a stopping point--but eventually I got used to the writing style. My big questions, though, is: why? What's the point of writing this way? The story also lacks personal identifiers. We never know which city or even what country the story takes place in and no characters are referred to by name, only by designations such as "the boy with the squint" or "the girl with the dark glasses." You'd think that the author would've gotten tired of writing "the old man with the black eyepatch" when "Bob" would have served just as well, but I found this bit of quirkiness to make the story more interesting instead of less. This book was originally written in Portuguese and it was filled with lots of sayings I'd never heard before, which I very much enjoyed. This is a thought-provoking book that I'd recommend to anyone who won't be too put off by the writing style.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Author: Roald Dahl, Joseph Schindelman (Illustrator)
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 112
Review Date: 7/24/2005


It's been nearly 20 years since I first read this book, but I still found it to be very enjoyable!


Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator: The Further Adventures of Charlie Bucket and Willie Wonka, Chocolate-Maker Extraordinary
Review Date: 7/24/2005


I read this book immediately after reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which I quite enjoyed. This book picks up right where the previous one left off, but goes in an entirely different direction. It wasn't nearly as much fun as the first book and I had to actually force myself to finish reading it. Probably children would like it, but this one is nowhere near the caliber of the first book.


The Cloud Atlas
The Cloud Atlas
Author: Liam Callanan
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 18
Review Date: 7/13/2008
Helpful Score: 1


I really enjoyed this book. Mainly set during the Japanese bombing of Alaska during World War II, it gives us a glimpse into a time that we don't hear much about. This is mostly told as a story from an old Catholic priest to dying old Yup'ik Eskimo shaman. The main characters lies about his age to join the army where, after proving to be the worst shot ever, he becomes a member of the bomb disarmament squad and is sent to Alaska for a top secret mission. In Alaska, everyone he meets seems to be crazy to varying degrees. The story is filled with insanity, love, spiritualism, violence, and magic, all told through the eyes of innocence. I never knew what was coming next. Great book!


The Cone Gatherers: A Haunting Story of Violence and Love (Canongate Classics)
Review Date: 1/13/2009


This book would be the perfect pick for a book club. The story isn't adventurous or even particularly exciting, but it's chock full of things to think about. It screams for discussion. When I finished the last sentence I just wished I knew someone else in this world who had read it so I could talk about it with them. Woah, what was that about? The main themes are fairly obviously hatred and innocence, but there's so much depth to it. The story is set on a large Scottish estate during WWII. On this estate is a large wood that is slated to be chopped down in the Spring, it's lumber to be used in the war effort. As such, two men have been hired to climb to the top of the trees and collect cones for seed to replace the forest once it has been felled. All the able-bodied men are off at war so the cone-gatherers are a middle-aged rheumatic and his younger brother, a simple-minded hunchbacked dwarf. The cone-gatherers' low station in society along with the younger brother's deformities inspire hatred and love in those around them. This shares many similarities with Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, but is also quite different. The depth is amazing and worth the read just for that. The ending, the fate that awaits innocence, is shocking--perhaps foreseeable, but shocking just the same.


Devices and Desires (Engineer Trilogy, Bk 1)
Devices and Desires (Engineer Trilogy, Bk 1)
Author: K. J. Parker
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 15
Review Date: 2/21/2009
Helpful Score: 4


This is a fantasy novel but there is no magic, there are no mythical creatures, and there is no quest. In fact there aren't really even any heroes or villains. Needless to say, this isn't your typical fantasy novel. The setting is somewhat low-tech--there is no electricity, but otherwise the engineering of the day has worked marvels. One of the world's top engineers has broken a law--a minor infraction really, but still punishable by death. For love of his wife and daughter, he does not submit to the punishment, but instead flees to a poor neighboring country where he can put his engineering skills to use. In an attempt to extradite him and to ensure their engineering secrets aren't leaked, war is waged on a massive scale. Meanwhile, what's this relationship going on between the duke of a third country and the duchess of the poor country? Will the third country become embroiled in the war? This a great story filled with love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, treason, secrets, machinations and epic battles. The pace could've been a little quicker, but for the most part I loved it. When I finished reading this I wanted to start reading the sequel without pause.


Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Author: Vicki Myron
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 540
Review Date: 1/9/2009


For some reason Dewey just didn't do it for me. After recently reading and falling in love with Marley & Me, I was looking forward to reading another animal book. This book, about a kitten thrown down a library book return slot in freezing Iowa who is adopted by the library and spends the next nineteen years living there and changing lives, promised to fill the bill. Unfortunately, I felt no connection to Dewey and little empathy for his librarian narrator. Perhaps it's just because I've never owned a cat, but I just had trouble caring about his finicky diet or even believing some of his antics. My favorite part of this whole novel was the introduction, "Welcome to Iowa," before Dewey even appeared on the scene. My attention span for Dewey was probably more suited to one of the many magazine articles about him that were described in the book instead of for the book itself.


Dragon's Egg
Dragon's Egg
Author: Robert L. Forward
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 8
Review Date: 9/19/2009
Helpful Score: 1


This is qualified as hard sci-fi, although being written in 1980, some of the science is slightly out of date, although not badly. In the not-too-distant future, researchers at Caltech discover a star closer to Earth than any other, located just below the constellation Draco, hence the name Drgon's Egg. It's a neutron star--a collapsed star that is very, very small (about 20km across) and dense and not very bright. A few generations later humans send out a manned spaceship to investigate it more closely. What they discover shocks and amazes them: intelligent life on the surface of the star! Most of the story is told from the point of view of the cheela, the lifeforms on Dragon's Egg. How does life survive in a place with so much gravity that molecules can't even exist? This book is similar to Hal Clement's "Mission of Gravity" (written in 1953) only moreso. A very good read with lots of interesting science (including a 20-page appendix for more details) and lots of ideas to think about long after you're done reading. This book has a sequel, "Starquake," which I look forward to reading.


Dreamers of the Day
Dreamers of the Day
Author: Mary Doria Russell
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 17
Review Date: 1/3/2008
Helpful Score: 2


This is the story of Agnes Shanklin, a middle-aged woman from Ohio who has been under the thumb of her mother her entire life. Then, in 1919, the influenza epidemic takes the lives of her entire family and she suddenly finds herself the heiress of a sizable chunk of change and free from any obligations. She decides to take a trip to Egypt, and in 1921 find herself mixed up in the periphery of the Cairo Peace Convention.

Mary Doria Russell, the author of one of my favorite novels, "The Sparrow," is an amazing storyteller, but this book left me unsatisfied. It felt a bit Forrest Gumpish in that Agnes happened to be on the scene for these important historical events. I wasn't able to suspend disbelief enough to accept that a no-name woman from Ohio would be welcomed into the social and political circles of the likes of T.E. Lawrence, Lady Gertrude Bell, and Winston Churchill.

I also felt, reading this book, like I was being preached to--not about God--and it seemed the author made a special point of not making this about God--but about war and peace and how we should all treat each other as equals. We should all let everybody make their own decisions, and we should learn from our mistakes of the past and not continue to make the same mistakes now. A little of this would have been ok, but she was relentless. I felt like she was preaching to the choir and I grew a bit weary of hearing about it.

I also felt that the idea of Agnes telling this from the grave was a little lame. Agnes is Forrest Gump even in purgatory, as she looks down on the earth and discusses war and current events with the likes of Ptolemy XIII, Saint Francis, Napoleon Bonaparte, and George McClellan. This section just seems hokey and random.

Despite all of these things, and despite the fact that the narrator's attention seem to flitter from one subject to the next, I really did enjoy this novel. I was engrossed in the story and didn't want to put it down, wondering what might possibly happen next. Plus, it is a helpful history lesson and a bit of insight into why the Middle East is having the troubles it's having now and why what we're doing now to try to fix it is unlikely to be successful.


East is East
East is East
Author: T. C. Boyle
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 27
Review Date: 9/4/2009
Helpful Score: 1


I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable from the first paragraph to the very last word. It was an easy read and a fun story but still had depth. It's the story of searching for one's identity and place in the world, of prejudice and preconceived notions, of misunderstandings. Hiro Tanaka is born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a white father who abandoned them before he was born. As a half-breed he is never accepted in Japan, so at the age of 20 he decides to get a job as a cook on a ship bound for America, where he has heard they will accept anyone. Unfortunately, things go badly and he ends up jumping ship off the coast of Georgia, finally coming to shore on swampy, confusing Tupelo Island. Meanwhile, Ruth Dershowitz is an aspiring author at an artist's colony on the island struggling to make her mark on the world. Their paths intertwine. I really enjoyed the way the story was told from the points of view of different characters--from the main characters to minor characters to very minor characters--which helped explain all of the misunderstandings and how even though everyone has good intentions, bad situations can still occur. A great story. I'd love to read more by this author.


Einstein's Dreams
Einstein's Dreams
Author: Alan Lightman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 96
Review Date: 7/27/2005
Helpful Score: 3


This book is written by a CalTech graduate and MIT physics professor. It is basically a collection of short stories, except none of the stories actually has a plot. Each story is a fictional dream that a young Einstein had about time. Each dream is set in a different universe in which some aspect of time is slightly different from how we understand it to be and each story is a glimpse into that universe. Most of the stories are actually very interesting in a thought-provoking kind of way.


Eldest (Inheritance, Bk 2)
Eldest (Inheritance, Bk 2)
Author: Christopher Paolini
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 635
Review Date: 3/15/2009
Helpful Score: 1


This is the second novel in a series by a very young author. I wasn't impressed at first that the author had matured much since the first novel, but about halfway through I think I could sense a change. The story is good: this is definitely not a Lord of the Rings copycat (although if I recall correctly the first book may have been). At first it felt like the author was trying too hard. It's ok if he said something, he doesn't always need to aver, assert or pronounce it. He uses "big" words sometimes where they just felt out of place. But halfway through it got better. New characters were added who were very interesting. I liked the way the story was told alternating between Eragon and Roran's points of view. I didn't see the ending coming and it's a doozy. You don't find out why this novel is titled "Eldest" until 40 pages from the end. When you get to the end the story is definitely not finished. This is a good book--not fantastic, but definitely good. I'll be reading the third book soon.


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