Sunday, October 28, 2012

show, don't tell

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: As a reader, I never really understood the writer's maxim to "show, not tell".  I always thought, "I'm being told a story, so what's the big deal?"  Until now.  Now, I get it.

This book is about Ben, Helen, and their adopted daughter Sara.  In the first part of the book, Dee does a fair job of showing us that Ben and Helen's marriage has fallen apart and the events that bring about its actual end.  We are shown how the marriage is dissolved and how Helen has to learn again how to support herself, and now her 12 year old daughter.  So far, so good.

Dee starts to get into trouble when Helen and Sara move to Manhattan.  Helen becomes more involved with the PR firm she now works for and Sara starts attending a new school.  Sara tells us that her mother has basically started letting her raise herself.  But, aside from the fact that Sara must order dinner for herself and her mother most nights, and that she becomes very devious about skipping both school and the after-school activities she's supposed to be participating in, we aren't ever shown what Helen has done to make Sara fling the accusations at her that she finally does.  Combine that with Sara being a generally unlikeable character to begin with, and the sections involving her are fairly unreadable.

All of which makes me wonder why Dee included Sara's plot-line to begin with.  The much more interesting aspect of this book is Helen's new job and her views on (and success with) apologies.  The title suggests that this was supposed to be the main story of the book, but it gets very little space.  Instead, Helen's supposed talent becomes something else that we are told, without really being shown how or why it works or is important to the overall story.  This is a shame, because a focus on apologies and how they impact public relations would have made a much better story.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

better and better

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: In my review of Winston Churchill's Secretary, the first of the Maggie Hope books, I said that the series showed promise as MacNeal settled into her talents as a writer.  With this second installment, MacNeal is certainly starting to live up to that promise.  Although some of the language is still a bit clunky (and there are far too many mentions of birds), the story itself flows much more smoothly than it did in the first book and MacNeal takes fewer shortcuts to get her characters in and out of situations.

Newly installed with MI-5, Maggie Hope is placed at Windsor Castle at Christmas in 1940.  Posing as Princess Elizabeth's math tutor, she is really there to ferret out a possible plot against the future queen's life.  Descriptions of life at Windsor Castle during this period are well-done, and glimpses of historical personages are clearly well-researched.  Once again, MacNeal does an excellent job bringing to life a fascinating aspect of Britain during WWII, while at the same time allowing Maggie to grow as a character and as a spy.  I look forward to reading more!

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.