Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Val McDermid
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hmmmmmmm. This was an odd book.

I wonder if and how my reaction to this book would have been different if I could remember Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which I read at least 20 years ago. I wonder how much of the oddness of this book is attributable to the original plot and how much is attributable to Val McDermid's update. I am guessing that it is mostly the latter, although I am not sure.

I'm trying to decide if reading this book made me more or less likely to revisit the original. I'm leaning toward less, although curiosity may force it.

I found the characters universally annoying, which makes me think that it is the update that is at fault.

This wasn't a complete waste of time, but it was close.


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Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl

Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the TableComfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In spite of some of the content--including Reichl's extramarital affairs and those of her husband, for example--this was still an enjoyable memoir. This starts where Tender at the Bone left off and covers the beginning of Reichl's career as a restaurant critic. I especially enjoyed the glimpse of the young Wolfgang Puck.
For those who don't know who Reichl is, she has been the restaurant editor, food editor, and critic for the LA Times, critic for the New York Times, and editor of Gourmet magazine. She is a very good writer, bringing the sights and smells of the countries and kitchens that she visited to life, and knowing of the success to come makes reading about her struggles that much more enjoyable.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review: My Family and Other Hazards by June Melby

My Family and Other Hazards: A MemoirMy Family and Other Hazards: A Memoir by June Melby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewers, and was excited when it came.

When June Melby was ten, her school teacher parents decided to buy a miniature golf course in Wisconsin, and to spend their summers living there and running it. This is her memory of those years, looking back as her parents prepare to sell it.

I was a little bit put off by the prologue. Something about the tone and the writing almost made me set it aside. Maybe Melby was channeling a bit too much of her stand-up comic persona. Thank goodness, as she started her hole-by-hole walk through the years and the course, the tone changed. She made us feel the love that she had for her family, even as she let us see how annoying a sister could be. She evoked the beauty of the Wisconsin Chain of Lakes, while letting us feel and smell the damp slime of leaves rotting in a water feature, and of dripping paint in the heat. She described each hole, what it looked like, how to play it, and what aspect of life it evoked for her: time, hope, nostalgia. . . . With each hole she explored a little bit more about the life they led at the course and about herself.

This was a very enjoyable memoir, especially for someone who enjoys Americana, the midwest, and family.

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Review: Perfection by J.L. Spelbring

PerfectionPerfection by J.L. Spelbring
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this book because it was on a couple of alternate history lists and had fairly good ratings. I don't understand the breathless five-star reviews of this book. It is decently written, but not great. The concept-- that Hitler won WWII and that there is a stratified society based on the Aryan ideal along with genetic experimentation attempting to create a superior race--is very interesting. It could have made for a great story. But in this book it was really just the almost unexplored backdrop for a typical dystopian teen romance.

I'm trying to decide if I can really count this as alternate history for a challenge, since that aspect of it was barely more than window dressing.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

The Ghost of the Mary CelesteThe Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book--based loosely around the maritime mystery of the Mary Celeste--was interesting. It was well-written and the story was fairly unique. I love it when a writer can make me suspend disbelief.
Two warnings: The ending will not suffice for those who like everything tied up in a bow, but it suited the story. If you don't like stories told from multiple points of view and in various ways--narrative, article, diary--you might also want to skip this book.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

NefertitiNefertiti by Michelle Moran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read historical fiction I am looking for two things. First, I want to be entertained, or I would have just chosen a non-fiction book. Second, I want to either gain new insights on a place and time that I already know, or become interested in one that I don't. This book passed both tests.

I came to this book completely ignorant about Egypt in this time period, and reading it sent me off to do more research. Because there are so many things that aren't known about the Armana period, Nefertiti, and other parts of the story, Michelle Moran had some latitude in her story-telling. Do I think that her telling is completely accurate? Probably not. But that's why it's historical fiction. I look forward to reading more about the era.

The story, as a story, was good. When I had to put my book down, I wanted to get back to it. The writing wasn't fantastic, but it didn't make me want to throw the book across the room. (Have done it.)

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Review: The Line by J.D. Horn

The Line (Witching Savannah, #1)The Line by J.D. Horn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book about a family of witches in Savannah, Georgia had some good points: There were some interesting elements to the story. The main character was someone that I cared about enough to make me care about the outcome of the story, and some of the other characters were at least interesting.

But the book also had its weaknesses: It felt chaotic, like it didn't quite hang together. The magical elements of the story often felt inconsistent, like the author didn't quite have the world he was writing about figured out. There was almost too much going on; a little editing of story lines could have made it a stronger book. I wasn't surprised to find that the author was male, because in some ways Mercy, the main character, seemed like a caricature of a teenaged girl. (Which was another peeve of mine: Mercy was supposed to be 20, but she read about 16.)

The second installment is due out in June and I may read it to see what happens next and to see if the consistency has improved, or I may not.

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