Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2005), Kazuo Ishiguro. Paperback, 304 pages.

Awards: Short list for Booker Prize, The Alex Award.

Summary: Students at a special boarding school gradually discover what sets them apart from the rest of humanity. For a more detailed summary, click here.

First Sentences: 
My name is Kathy H. I'm thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer for over eleven years. that sounds long enough, I know, but actually they want me to go on for another eight months, until the end of this year.
     Maybe the volume had been turned up by whoever had been using it last, I don't know. But it was much louder than I usually had it and that was probably why I didn't hear her before I did. Or maybe I'd just got complacent by then. Anyway, what I was doing was swaying about slowly in time to the song, holding an imaginary baby to my breast. In fact, to make it all the more embarrassing, it was one of those times I'd grabbed a pillow to stand in for the baby, and I was doing this slow dance, my eyes closed, singing along softly each time those lines came around again:

     "Oh baby, baby, never let me go . . ."

     The song was almost over when something made me realise I wasn't alone, and I opened my eyes to find myself staring at Madame framed in the doorway.

     I froze in shock. Then within a second or two, I began to feel a new kind of alarm, because I could see there was something strange about the situation. The door was almost half open -- it was a sort of rule we couldn't close dorm doors completely except for when we were sleeping -- but Madame hadn't nearly come up to the threshold. She was out in the corridor, standing very still, her head angled to one side to give her a view of what I was doing inside. And the odd thing was she was crying. It might even have been one of her sobs that had come through the song to jerk me out of my dream.


Writing Quality: 7/10

Depth of Concept: 9/10

Rounded Characters: 8/10

Well-Developed World: 7/10

Page Turner: 7/10

Kept Me Thinking: 9/10

Overall Recommendation: 9/10

Friday, June 22, 2012

On being slightly more helpful than unhelpful: An Amazon reviews update

So, it's been just a little over a month since the post in which I listed my stats for my reviews on Amazon. Since some people seem to find stats interesting (I do myself) I decided I'd follow up and let y'all know how things look now.

I currently have 42 out of 77 helpful votes, which puts my "helpful" percentage at about 55 %. This is about two percentage points higher than it was a month ago, when I had 29/54 helpful votes. So, that means either that people find my reviews very mediocre, and so I'm getting a score right in the middle, or that my reviews are polarizing, and that there's a very slim majority who like my reviews, and a very large minority who kind of want to kick my butt. But I'm growing more helpful with time, which is a good thing, right?

On an even more positive note, my review for Harry Potter gained one positive vote! 1 out of 9 people found that review helpful, which puts those who think the review was a bit of a waste at only about 90 %. I'm working my way up, baby!

So, let me just be clear that I'm in no way offended by a poor percentage on Amazon, or generally by people who disagree with me. I just think it's kind of interesting to follow the stats, and consider what that means about the people who come across my reviews, and what that might say about the larger population. Also, I especially enjoy detailed criticisms of my reviews, as those really get me thinking about whether I can justify them, or whether I need to revise them. Thanks to all of you who offer qualifications to some of my more outlandish assertions!

Anyway, here are the stats as they stand now. The title links to the review on this blog. The "votes" link goes to its page on Amazon, where you can sometimes find entertaining and disgruntled comments:

Eragon: 2/2 helpful votes

Moby Dick: 1/1 helpful votes

Twilight: 3/4 helpful votes

The Hunger Games: 5/7 helpful votes

Wizard's First Rule: 12/17 helpful votes

Ender's Game: 2/3 helpful votes

Red Mars: 2/3 helpful votes

A Game of Thrones: 6/10 helpful votes

The Fellowship of the Ring: 3/7 helpful votes

The Eye of the World: 3/8 helpful votes

The Graveyard Book: 1/3 helpful votes

The Road: 1/3 helpful votes

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: 1/9 helpful votes

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: No votes yet

Heavy Time and Hellburner (Also printed together as Devil to the Belt): No votes yet

Night Watch: No votes yet

The Sword of Shannara: No votes yet

The Once and Future King: No votes yet

The Mote in God's Eye: No votes yet

In addition to my faintly increasing helpfulness, you may be interested to know that my post on 1001 Books to Read Before You Die is almost twice as visited as any other review. Other posts rounding out my top 5 popular posts are: The Hunger Games, On offending fans and being wrong, A Game of Thrones, and Ender's Game.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2011), Seth Grahame-Smith. Paperback, 352 pages.

Summary: Abraham Lincoln's secret history as a vampire hunter is revealed in a series of personal journals. For a more detailed summary, click here.

First Sentences:
I was still bleeding . . . my hands shaking. As far as I knew, he was still here -- watching me. Somewhere, across a vast gulf of space, a television was on. A man was speaking about unity.
     By sunrise, Crowley had dragged most of his fellow settlers into the woods. He'd been left no alternative. Explaining a plague was easy. Almost as easy as explaining a man falling from a crow's nest, or a girl jumping overboard, or a fisherman being attacked by savages. But screams in the night, followed by the disappearance of four men, a woman, and an infant? That he couldn't explain. They would question him. Discover him. And that, he couldn't have. One by one, he dragged their battered bodies away. Of his 112 fellow settlers, only one had been spared his wrath.

     Crowley had hesitated to kill Virginia Dare. A baby that he had personally delivered? The first English soul born in the New world? These things had sentimental value. Besides, she would have no memory of what had happened here, and a young female companion might prove useful in the lonely years to come.

     "He returned from the woods with the baby in his arms. I daresay he was surprised to see me alive -- though barely so -- struggling to keep my feet while I carved the letters 'CRO' into a tree with a knife. My dying effort to expose the identity of my murderer. Of my wife and child's murderer. His shock subsided, Crowley could not help his laughter, for I had unwittingly given him a brilliant idea. Setting the baby down and taking my knife, he carved the word 'Croatoan' onto a nearby post, all the while smiling at the thought of John White massacring scores of unsuspecting natives in retaliation."

Writing Quality: 5/10

Depth of Concept: 5/10

Rounded Characters: 6/10

Well-Developed World: 6/10

Page Turner: 7/10

Kept Me Thinking: 5/10

Overall Recommendation: 5/10

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Review: The Mote in God's Eye

The Mote in God's Eye (1974), Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Paperback, 592 pages.

Summary: A human civilization that spans many worlds and star systems discovers an artifact leading to a mysterious alien society. First contact ensues. For a more detailed summary, click here.

First Sentence:
"Admiral's compliments, and you're to come to his office right away," Midshipman Staley announced.
     "There's air," Whitbread reported. He watched the tell-tales that showed in a mirror just above his eye level. "Did I mention that? I wouldn't want to try breathing it. Normal pressure, oxygen around 18 percent, CO2 about 2 percent, enough helium to register, and --"
     "Helium? That's odd. Just how much?"
     Whitbread switched over to a more sensitive scale and waited for the analyzer to work. "Around 1 percent. Just under."
     "Anything else?"
     "Poisons. SO2, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, ketones, alcohols, and some other stuff that doesn't read out with this suit. The light blinks yellow."
     "Wouldn't kill you fast, then. You could breathe it a while and still get help in time to save your lungs."
     "That's what I thought," Whitbread said uneasily. He began loosening the dogs holding down his faceplate.
     "What does that mean, Whitbread?"
     "Nothing, sir." Jonathan had been doubled over far too long. Every joint and muscle screamed for surcease. He had run out of things to describe in the alien cabin. And the thrice-damned Motie just stood there in its sandals and its faint smile, watching, watching . . .
     Whitbread took a deep breath and held it. He lifted the faceplate against slight pressure, looked the alien in the eye, and screamed all in one breath, "Will you for God's sake turn off that damned force field!" and snapped the faceplate down.


Writing Quality: 6

Depth of Concept: 6

Rounded Characters: 5

Well-Developed World: 7

Page Turner: 8

Kept Me Thinking: 7

Overall Recommendation: 7

Sunday, June 10, 2012

On getting another book review up

So, I'm almost through a review of Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven's novel The Mote in God's Eye, and I'll be getting that up as soon as I can. I'd probably have had it up a couple days ago, but I've been spending a lot of time at my other blog, which has been getting a lot of traffic this week since I just got invited to do my first guest post ever by a site called DadCentric, in honor of Father's Day.

Also, I'm in the middle of reading Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, and I'll get a review of that up next week. Have you seen the previews for it on TV yet? I was in the kitchen feeding my 2-year old when it came up during a commercial, and Addison stopped eating, her jaw dropped, and she said, "Whoa." When I saw what she was looking at, I covered her eyes. I'll teach her more about vampire hunting when she's older.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: Heavy Time & Hellburner

Heavy Time (1992) C. J. Cherryh. Paperback, 336 pages.
Hellburner (1993), C. J. Cherryh. Paperback, 384 pages.

Summary: Decker, a stranded asteroid miner, is rescued by fellow miners, but shadowy interests seem bent on using the lucky survivor to their own ends. For a more detailed summary, click here. After (mostly) recuperating from the psychological trauma of losing his partner and almost himself in a mining accident, Decker is once again hospitalized, this time after what appears to be sabotage during a military exercise. For a more detailed summary, click here.

First Sentences:
It was a lonely place, this remote deep of the Belt, a place where, if things went wrong, they went seriously wrong.
Ben indexed through the motile pictures and the text, the statistics about rainfall and mean average temperature which the Guide cautioned a visitor did not in any sense mean a constant temperature.
     He despised crying. He didn't. He wouldn't. The doctor was getting impatient. He took deep breaths to help him. "Don't give me any shots. I need to figure -- how far is it . . ."
     "Don't distress yourself, Mr. Decker."
     January has thirty-one days. February is 28. March, 12.
     Out there in space. Seventy-one days. She'd have been out of air in 4 hours. Oh, God, . . .
     "Mr. Decker."
     "March has thirty days. Or 31?"
     12 from 31 is 19. Nineteen days in March. April is --
     Thirty days hath September . . . April, June, and November . . .
     The doctor patted his shoulder. One of the orderlies came back.
     "No!" he yelled. "I've almost got it, dammit!"
     They shot him with it anyway. "Be still," they said. "Be still. Don't try to talk now."
     49. They found me on the 21st. 49 and 21. Do you count the 12th twice?
     I'm losing it . . . start again.
     Or can I trust my memory?

Writing Quality: 6/10

Depth of Concept: 6/10

Rounded Characters: 7/10

Well-Developed World: 7/10

Page Turner: 7/10

Kept Me Thinking: 6/10

Overall Recommendation: 7/10