Monday, April 27, 2009

good combination

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fantasy, YA
Review: I continue to be impressed with Clare's ability to combine material from other stories into something quite different. She's still borrowing heavily from the Buffy and Star Wars canon, but Clare has brought her trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. The background behind Jace and Clary's supposed siblinghood is revealed, and some explanation is given for the startling abilities Clary exhibits in previous books. Although some of the explanations and resolutions are fairly predictable, the process of getting to them is enjoyable.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

shadow people

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: All the characters in this book seem somewhat shadowy and unformed. This may have been intentional, and done as a metaphor for Lilia's inability to connect with people and places throughout her life, but it made it hard for me to feel engaged with the action. I could almost feel why Lilia felt she couldn't stay in one place for very long, but I couldn't quite get a handle on why Christopher became obsessed with her, why Michaela did what she did, or why Eli took it all so hard.

What saved this book from its somewhat lacking characterization was very compelling writing. I was swept through this book from one short chapter to the other. The action moves easily from present to past and among characters to flesh out the story of what happened to Lilia and what its consequences were.

Friday, April 17, 2009

more Catcher than not

King Dork by Frank Portman
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction, YA
Review: This is the story of what Holden Caulfield would have been like if he hadn't been kicked out out of school, and had gone to public school in California. Despite his protestations about how much he doesn't get the whole Catcher in the Rye thing, Tom is made very much in Holden's image. Tom has a few things going for him over Holden, though. He is willing to interact with some parts of society, and gives more people than just his younger sister the benefit of the doubt, all of which make him a much more tolerable narrator. The other big difference between this book and Catcher is that in this book there's an actual plot. Said plot ranges all over the place, and includes excessive foreshadowing, but at least it's there.

Monday, April 13, 2009

a lot going on

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: Caelum Quirk is not a very sympathetic character. He drinks too much and is generally not very nice to his wife. That's all before his wife survives the Columbine shootings. Unfortunately, his attitude doesn't improve a whole lot afterward. Without giving away too many of the details, it's not until she winds up in jail and he's in the midst of learning about 5 generations worth of family secrets that he starts to act in a more sympathetic manner. It was a bit too late for me, though.

Despite my difficulties with Caelum, I found the book itself to be very readable. Lamb weaves a lot of threads into his story which might have become overwhelming, but in his capable hands everything is resolved very naturally, and with a refreshing lack of pat answers. Lamb might have left a few plot points out of this long book without actually depriving the narrative of anything, but on the whole I was impressed.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

interesting take

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction, YA
Review: Thirteen people are included in Hannah's taped narrative of the events leading up to her suicide. The book is told from the perspective of one of the recipients of her message. However, Asher made an interesting choice in writing this book. Rather than writing the book from the perspective of one of the people who arguably drove Hannah to commit suicide, Asher puts the narrative in the hands of Clay, the one person who Hannah says bears no responsibility at all, but is just incidental to her story. But it makes for an interesting meditation on the repercussions of suicide, which typically focus on the guilt of those left behind. But Hannah herself makes it clear that Clay doesn't really have anything to feel guilty about. The depth of his feelings for her are what drive this book; unfortunately, although I did enjoy the book, this isn't quite enough to pull it off.

Monday, April 6, 2009

not so dark

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fantasy
Review: Yes, this book is kind of dark, but I'm not sure why anyone reading a book about a kid being raised by a cemetery full of ghosts would expect otherwise. But Gaiman's characters are more people than ghosts, which helps lighten things up considerably. In particular, Bod, the child in question, is a very engaging character, and since he seemed ok with his circumstances, I found it hard to argue.

My only complaint about this book is that there's too much going on in the background that is clearly significant to the plot, but is never really explained. In fact, the denouement of the story makes little sense because so little is explained. Some of it becomes clear later, but I would have liked to see some of the explanation given as it occurred, rather than just being hinted at a couple of times.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Jews in the Civil War

All Other Nights by Dara Horn
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: Horn is not subtle about making a point about the irony of Jews in the Confederacy during the Civil War. One of the opening scenes is of a Passover seder celebrating the liberation of Jews from bondage in Egypt being served by black slaves. And although I certainly know more now than I did before about Jews in the Civil War, what I really took from this book was just a good, well-told story.