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review 2017-07-26 23:07
All the Birds in the Sky: Or, Science versus Magic, except not really.
All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders

I've been putting off reviewing this book for a while, trying to come up with something new to contribute to what has become a very large conversation. I don't think I'm going to succeed, but I will add my thoughts. Here's the thing: All the Birds in the Sky very swiftly became the "It" book of 2016, and now in 2017 it is up for All The Awards. Many many people love this book. So when I sat down to read it for my book club I had really high expectations. Did the book rise to meet them? In some ways yes and in other ways no.

 

I quite liked that a fair amount of this book put fantasy and science fiction into the same world and made them ideologically opposed. We have the young witch and the young mad scientist, and we stick with them as they grow up and the world falls apart. Both the strength and the weakness of the narrative is that at its core this book is really only about two people. If you manage to invest in these two characters and their relationship then you will likely like this book. However, if you want to see an epic battle between science and magic, or you want to focus in on how the world is falling apart, or even the world-building or other characters, well, you are going to be really disappointed.

 

This is a book that presents a bunch of enormous, epic, sweeping plot points...and then pushes them into the background so they merely serve as the backdrop for a slow-burn romance. Which is honestly something I haven't seen before. I was okay with it, but it was a surprise, and could be really disappointing depending on what you want (or if you strongly dislike the two main characters, which wouldn't be difficult as they can be quite abrasive). The climax of the book felt subtle to me in that the book could have ended in several previous points with equal punch. In many ways it reads like three connected short stories - it has a light touch, close focus, and the bigger plot in the background is overshadowed by a more intimate and close perspective. Again, I didn't particularly mind this, but it was an unexpected choice.

 

Overall I liked All the Birds in the Sky because I was fine with the soft focus and narrowed plot. The side characters were flat and interchangeable, but that didn't hurt my enjoyment since they were so secondary to the focus. The world-building left a lot of questions unanswered, but again, that wasn't the focus. There were some jarring tonal shifts, and the comedy was occasionally bizarrely executed, but I was having fun so I didn't mind that either. Bottom line, I could see reasons to dislike this book, and problems, but I enjoyed myself and the book despite all of them. There's one thing I'm a stick in the mud about though: there were better fantasy/sci-fi books in 2016. I liked this book. I really did. But it was not the end all be all of books in this genre. Worth the read? Absolutely. Worth the hype? Debatable.

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text 2017-07-13 19:00
Nonfiction Science Book Club: My Suggestions
The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug - Thomas Hager
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History - Elizabeth Kolbert
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal - Mary Roach
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness - Sy Montgomery
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries From a Secret World - Peter Wohlleben
Adventures in Human Being (Wellcome) - Gavin Francis
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life - Helen Czerski
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari Dr
The Genius of Birds - Jennifer Ackerman
Herding Hemingway's Cats: Understanding how our genes work - Kat Arney

Just my two cents :). I´m really looking forward to be reading some more non-fiction.

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text 2017-06-25 23:45
Reading progress update: I've read 692 out of 692 pages.
The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough

2nd re-read and it still has not lost anything.

 

A more review-like compilation of thoughts will be forthcoming in a few days.  

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text 2017-06-25 19:56
Reading progress update: I've read 429 out of 692 pages.
The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough

“I can’t see success at the end of the road,” said Archbishop Ralph. “I think the result will be what the result of impartiality always is. No one will like us, and everyone will condemn us.”

“I know that, so does His Holiness. But we can do nothing else. And there is nothing to prevent our praying in private for the speedy downfall of Il Duce and Der Führer, is there?”

“Do you really think there will be war?”

“I cannot see any possibility of avoiding it.”

His Eminence’s cat stalked out of the sunny corner where it had been sleeping, and jumped upon the scarlet shimmering lap a little awkwardly, for it was old.

“Ah, Sheba! Say hello to your old friend Ralph, whom you used to prefer to me.”

The satanic yellow eyes regarded Archbishop Ralph haughtily, and closed. Both men laughed.

Even though this book is mostly known as a romance novel, there is a lot more to it than a soppy love story. I love the discussions of church politics. Now that I have read McCulloch's First Man in Rome, I get a how skilled she was in packing a lot of information into dialogues rather than hitting the reader over the head with long explanations.

So, yeah, soppy love story and all but it also has bite, fun, smarts to it.

 

The only thing right now is that it feels kinda weird reading this at the same time as a book about Pope Francis... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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text 2017-06-25 10:11
Reading progress update: I've read 69 out of 692 pages.
The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough

“Perfection in anything,” she said, “is unbearably dull. Myself, I prefer a touch of imperfection.” He laughed, looking at her in admiration tinged with envy. She was a remarkable woman.

Mary Carson is such a great character. She stands out and I love how McCulloch shows her having fun with Ralph:

So from the pedestal of her age and her position Mary Carson felt quite safe in enjoying Father Ralph; she liked matching her wits against a brain as intelligent as her own, she liked outguessing him because she was never sure she actually did outguess him.

“Getting back to what you were saying about Gilly not being the epicentre of the Archbishop Papal Legate’s map,” she said, settling deeply into her chair, “what do you think would shake that reverend gentleman sufficiently to make Gilly the pivot of his world?”

The priest smiled ruefully. “Impossible to say. A coup of some sort? The sudden saving of a thousand souls, a sudden capacity to heal the lame and the blind . . . But the age of miracles is past.”

“Oh, come now, I doubt that! It’s just that He’s altered His technique. These days He uses money.”

“What a cynic you are! Maybe that’s why I like you so much, Mrs. Carson.”

“My name is Mary. Please call me Mary.” 

 

And, of course, Ralph having a bit fun with Mary Carson:

“At this minute I’m minus a head stockman.”

“Again?”

“Five in the past year. It’s getting hard to find a decent man.”

“Well, rumour hath it you’re not exactly a generous or a considerate employer.”

“Oh, impudent!” she gasped, laughing. “Who bought you a brand new Daimler so you wouldn’t have to ride?”

“Ah, but look how hard I pray for you!”

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