Friday, November 29, 2019

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Last year I read Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla and while it was a bit long, and overly technical at some points, it was interesting and stayed with me. My wife read this book for a book club, which reviews some of the same events with the same people, and as we discussed our different perspectives I was often confused by the major differences between the two historical accounts. Then the day came when my wife was chosen to pick a book for the one book club we share (she is in 5 book clubs to my 1) and of course she picks this book.

The picture this book paints of Tesla did not at all match what I knew of him from my previous read. The further I got into it, I knew one thing. One of these books was materially misrepresenting the man, and likely other characters as well, and was not to be trusted.

I made it to the end of this book with a bunch of questions waiting to be asked, and then found the author's note at the end. The one where he enumerates what was fact vs fiction in the book. I was shocked. I didn't realize this was supposed to be a work of fiction. The characters were real people, in a real historically significant event, in real places. He just made up the stuff they said and did, which misrepresents, oh, just about everything. The few facts he randomly strung throughout this narrative were so out of context that they shouldn't be trusted.

This is a great example of how not to write a historical fiction. The reader needs to know up front that it is fiction. Either the character, setting, or plot need to be completely fictional. Then one of those other elements should be as accurate to reality a possible. Most commonly the setting is the historically accurate part, leaving the characters available to be fictionalized, with the plot somewhere in between (Les Miserables?). Or you could have a real character in such a fantastic, outlandish plot that the reader knows fact from fiction (Abraham Lincoln obviously did not spend his time hunting vampires.) Last Days of Night, however, doesn't do this. It's attempt to put real people in real settings, and in plausible plots confuses the reader and misrepresents history. Why not do the rest of the research and just write a history, instead of this full dramatization? State your assumptions and unknowns as you go, in the text of the book, rather than stuffing them at the back of the book where many readers won't bother to read them.

Outside of my chief complaint, I can say that the book is well written and if you sort through the end notes and can separate fact from fiction, there are some good insights into the events covered. But the damage is done. Even with these bright points, I can't recommend this book. It is like propaganda for an unknown cause. Go read Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, or any of the others that Moore cites as sources instead. Don't waste your time on fake history.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland

The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, #1)The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My 6th grade daughter loves this series and I told her I would read a book of her choosing, so here I am. This isn't my normal style, and it's been a while since I read something targeting this age range. My struggle in forming an opinion is mostly from my attempt to account for those 2 facts.

This is a well written juvenile fantasy. I'm not familiar enough with the middle reader market to know exactly, but I think it's target audience is something less than 6th grade, but it's hard to tell. I tried to think of what I was reading in 6th grade and if it was similar, but I had a hard time coming up with anything.

Pros: Solid fantasy plot. Bloody succession war leads to a prophecy about a child (children in this case) that would save the world. The twist: everyone is a dragon. It's well written, and the plot moves along fairly well. Characters have unique traits and histories.

Cons: the personification of dragons is over the top. The have scrolls, manipulate objects such as chains with their claws, and are surrounded by "human" artifacts such as thrones, iron bars, and wires. They have conversations, engage in politics, but it's OK to eat a live animal, or kill another dragon. Sometimes you kill the other dragon by humanely snapping its neck, while other times you bite and claw it to death. It's just strange, strange enough to be distracting.

If I was in grade school, would I keep reading? Probably. But can I say that this is a great book? No, it's good, and I get the appeal, but it's not a classic. The real question: what do I tell my daughter about my opinion of her favorite book?

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have so much to say and yet nothing to say. This book was the product of a random search for an available fantasy audio book from my library, which is all too often the case.

It started as a 1 star read for me. Violent, crude characters and a muddy plot I couldn't follow. What the heck was this all about?

Then it turned into a 3-star. It was still more violent/graphic than I usually choose, but there was a compelling plot developing. I've always liked creative ideas in plot, which is why I'm a fan of Garth Nix stories. I've recently discovered classic mysteries, which has me looking for Agatha Christie recommendations all the time. This dark, violent book somehow also had both of those features. Where was Caroline's Father? If he was dead, who killed him? And how? Were the other adopted children going to kill each other off before we found out the answers to those questions?

Yes, it made it to a 4-star level. This has all the same features as the 3-star phase, but now I HAD TO KNOW what happened next. Some questions were resolved, only to create more questions. You could feel a crescendo building...

Back to 3 stars... while the crescendo was building and I was fully engaged, I started to notice cheesy moments here and there. He was taken down by dogs and almost killed, only to get around and function and think clearly? What? He fought a lion with his bare hands? And then got his back stapled back together and was fine after that? Hmm...

And then... it was over. The crescendo came and died down. The mysteries were solved. The bad guys were vanquished or whatever. But it didn't end. There were, well... relationship issues. What!?!? Emotional turmoil took center stage, while our entire planet and humankind were on a path to self-destruction in the background.

1 star.

The book was over. Find a way to wrap it up and write a sequel or something. Nope, the plot struggled on, gurgling on its own blood as it gasped its last dying breath (everyone dies a bloody, gory death in this book, so it seems fair to give the book itself the same treatment.) And when it was over, I was disappointed by its last gasps. It stayed in 1-star territory.

The writing in this book was inspired. The concept and world building [of the library] was original and amazing. There is so much you could do with it. The talent of this author to take something that wasn't my genre and make me need to keep reading was fantastic. But the end product... not so much. I feel like the right editor could have helped mold the vision of this ending a different direction? Maybe not. I don't know that much about the writing and editing industry, but where there was so much potential, I have to believe that the industry should know how funnel that project to a reasonable ending. But again, I don't know. I do have the freedom, like every other unqualified reader on the internet, to rate it according to my own unqualified opinion, so that's what I've done.