Saturday, June 27, 2009

what's your point?

A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Review: I think I would have liked this book better if I'd known what the message was supposed to be. That successive generations are bound by an ancestor's acts, either to repeat it or react against it? Or the opposite, as seems to be what happens here: just because your mother/grandmother/great-grandmother/great-great-grandmother (as we move through the generations) starved herself in the name of suffrage, that has absolutely no bearing on your own tendency toward activism. As vignettes of the lives of 5 individual women, these stories are good, compellingly written, and all that. As a thesis, this book doesn't quite hold together.

Monday, June 22, 2009

don't go there

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: non-fiction, history
Review: Some books that describe a particular place in vivid detail make you really want to visit that place. This is not one of those books. The lush descriptions of the deadly flora and fauna of the rainforest made me perfectly happy to enjoy it all from a distance. But the same descriptions make Roosevelt and his fellow explorers very real, and gave me a good appreciation for the dangers they faced and the risks they took.

very subtle

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: This is a very subtle book. Told in the first person, DeMille's protagonist draws conclusions from what looks at first like very little evidence, but explanations later in the book always had me nodding my head and agreeing that it all makes perfect sense when you put it that way. In the hands of a less-skilled author, I would have found this very technique very annoying, but DeMille made it all work very well. I was very impressed.

Add to that overall good writing, including a narrator who tells his story in a very likable chatty voice (even if said narrator isn't himself always a likable character), a really interesting take on the Mafia, and a story that has some interesting twists and turns, and it all comes out to quite a good book.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

not just what happened

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction, YA
Review: One good thing about this book is the particular aptness of its title. The book is not just about what happened, but about what Evie saw (or what she allowed herself to see), and yes, how she lied about both what happened and what she saw.

Not to worry, though, there are plenty of other good things about this book. It’s a good story, for one thing, and engagingly told. Evie is a well-written character. Her level of denial in parts of the book is a bit frustrating, but Blundell writes this aspect of her character, as well as how it changes, very realistically.

I have two fairly small criticisms: first, I'm not sure why Blundell chose to set this book in the early fall. Maybe so the timing of the hurricane would be more realistic? The problem is that by having Evie's family's sudden jaunt to Florida take place at the beginning of September, Evie misses the start of school, which nobody seems to care very much about (although there are a few mentions of how she's supposed to be studying on her own in Florida). Second, post-WWII slang is dispensed so judiciously as to seem forced. Either people use slang, or they don't. But even I must admit that these are nitpicky criticisms, and fade in comparison to the story itself.