Monday, May 25, 2009

downright uplifting

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: non-fiction
Review: Greg Mortenson has unquestionably achieved something great in his quest to build schools for children in poor and remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. And this book is unquestionably a great way to learn about Mortenson and his efforts. David Oliver Relin is to be credited with making not just Greg and his work accessible to readers, but also the myriad people and some of the complex politics of central Asia. Relin meshes anecdotes about mountain climbing, fundraising, and actually building schools into a seamless story. This story, dealing as it does with poverty, war, and serious lack of opportunity, could have been very depressing, but Mortenson's goal, coupled with Relin's writing, make it actually a very hopeful one that is enjoyable to read.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

not as effective as it should have been

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction, YA
Review: Doctorow had all the right ideas in writing this book. Through his fictionalized account of a terrorist attack on San Francisco's Bay Bridge and BART system, and the resultant crackdown on the city by the Department of Homeland Security, Doctorow tries to paint a picture of what can happen when the zeal for security bests protection for civil liberties.

Unfortunately, his excellent point is drowned out by his heavy-handed sermonizing. Anyone reading this book will probably already understand the danger of protecting America by taking away civil liberties, so Doctorow is preaching to the choir to begin with. To hammer in his message so emphatically is somewhat insulting to his readers' intelligence. More subtlety would have made this both a better book as well as a more effective one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The Gemma Doyle Trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) by Libba Bray
Genre: fantasy, YA
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Review: Gemma Doyle is the worst kind of unreliable narrator. It's not that she herself is untrustworthy, but that throughout this trilogy, she can't figure out who to trust. As a result, the reader never knows who to trust, or what the rules are for "realms" or for the magic that inhabits them. This is problematic if one agrees (which I do) with the general rule for fantasy writing that the rules for the world that the author has created must be clear and consistent. If neither the reader nor the narrator know the rules or who to trust, the story doesn't hang together very well. At least, it doesn't in this case. Some of the people we initially think are friends become enemies, and then some become friends again, and it is never through actual shifting loyalties, but because Gemma doesn't ask the right questions and rarely takes the time to think things through the reader is never quite sure who's on what side. So although she's the only clearly identified "good guy" in the story, I couldn't help but wish she acted more like the heroine she's supposed to be.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

beyond her years

Looking After Pigeon by Maud Carol Markson
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: Judging from the title of this book, Pigeon needs looking after. Unfortunately, although Pigeon is 5 years old when the events of the book take place, far too much of the adult Pigeon who's telling the story creeps in. The result is a somewhat unevenly precocious 5 year old, who hardly seems to need any looking after. Far too often, I found myself saying "there's no way a 5 year old would understand that!" but then saying "if she understood that so easily, why can't she understand this?" Not only did this interfere with my reading of the book, but it made it hard to develop any sympathy for Pigeon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

seeking royalty

Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess by Jerramy Fine
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: memoir
Review: It must be kind of strange to read a book about how someone organized their entire early life around the idea of meeting and marrying you. But I doubt that Peter Phillips (currently eleventh in line for the British throne) has read this book anyway. And Jerramy Fine has written this book with such grace and humor that if he did read it, he would probably find himself captivated by her adventures rather than embarrassed by being the focus of them.

The one flaw of this book is that the end comes too soon! Once Jerramy is able to find closure on her royal aspirations, we jump straight to her current successful relationship. But how did she find her wonderful boyfriend? I wanted more of the success story after hearing all of the woes.

Overall, though, this was a highly enjoyable and fun read.

Friday, May 1, 2009

predictable and repetitive

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: Jodi Picoult has once again written a book in response to which there are no easy answers. It's a great story, well-told, and both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking in a way that only Picoult can pull off. Unfortunately, it's also more than a little predictable and way too similar to her earlier book, My Sister's Keeper.