Thursday, March 27, 2008

27. "Ragtime" - E.L. Doctorow

I'm not an "el doctoro" fan. The March drove me crazy.

But Ragtime was written in a different style. Set in the early 1900s to 1917, Doctorow uses real people (Houdini, Freud, Henry Ford, J.P Morgan, etc.) to tell a fictional story about one family's experiences with Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a ragtime piano player.

The family, conveniently named Mother, Father, and Mother's Younger Brother, represent the ideals and failures of that time in history when change was occurring so quickly (Ford's assembly line) right before World War I. In fact, it is the automobile that acts as another character in the novel, introducing Houdini to the family as well as initiating the main conflict in the later pages of the book.

My only gripe is the super short sentence structure (say that three times fast), though it fulfilled its purpose in propelling me through the pages. Sheesh, enough alliteration.

4.0 out of 5.0 Ragtimes.

XX. "The King Must Die" - Mary Renault

I've tried to become engaged in this novel about Theseus, but the narrator sounds so spoiled and self-absorbed that there wasn't room in the writing for a reader.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

26. "Sword at Sunset" - Rosemary Sutcliff

Using factual evidence that King Arthur existed, Sutcliff creates a unique take on the old "Knights of the Round Table" theme. In this case, Artos the Bear is the leader of the British High King's army. He battles Romans (called Sea Wolves) and Scottish clansmen, trying to keep Britain's culture alive.

With a heavy lean on old Celtic culture, I adored the details, from the different traditions of separate clans to the unique role of Christianity among pagan gods and goddesses.

Toward the end, however, I became weary of the battles and skimmed the last 60 pages, nodding to myself over my predictions for the grand finale. Overall, it is worth the time, though it could have accomplished more with less.

4.0 out of 5.0 Red Sunsets.

XX. "Quicksilver" - Neal Stephenson

Oh, how I want to put aside grading papers, writing rough drafts, and tending the family for this book. Neal Stephenson had created a rich historical novel that is deep enough for big thinkers and light enough to satisfy fans of the genre.

Personally, I learned more about tidbits from African slavery to Puritans to cellular form in the first 40 pages.

I've been told that it is best to read this book as part of its trilogy, so I'm putting it off until summer. Until then, let me know if you've read it and whether my initial impression is correct.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

25. "Courtesan" - Diane Haeger

In this thick novel, Haegar gives a romanticized account of the relationship between King Henri II of France and his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Their relationship began when he was young; she was twice his age and a recent widow.

The Madame's record of wearing only black and white is a significant, though unintended, theme of the book. Diane is always picked on by others, yet gives only good advice and decent actions.


It seems as if she had no backbone, and to be part of the French court, one must be able to laugh at oneself. She bristled over her role as "courtesan," even though she had more power than the queen. I'm not sure if this is the rose-colored vision of the author or the reality, but for such a hefty book, I longed for a more dramatic telling of historical events.

3.25 out of 5.0 Jakes.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"The flower said I wish I was a tree, the tree said I wish I could be

a different kind of tree, the cat wished that it was a bee." - Kimya Dawson

Writers, enough of this. You are ruining it for the rest of us who are trying to write *true* memoirs.


Now playing: Kimya Dawson & Antsy Pants - Tree Hugger
via FoxyTunes

24. "Witch's Trinity" - Erika Mailman

I hate discovering that other writers/authors are as self-obsessed and egotistical as I am. While checking out information for my reviews, I often find authors' websites where they discuss their penchants for "google alerts." This often scars me and makes me rethink my reviews.

Erika Mailman is a self-proclaimed google alert-ee, so I'll just apologize to her now.

The Witch's Trinity is a well-researched peek into 16th century Germany and the witch trials. In the book's small town, starvation has added another layer to the fear and finger-pointing.

Gude, an elderly grandmother, lives with her son and wicked daughter-in-law. She imagines or dreams that she is consorting with the devil, who is disguised as her former husband. After a close friend is tried and found guilty of being a witch, Gude's lovely DIL starts stirring the shit pot.

If only half of what follows is believable. Gude is a textbook example of the "faulty narrator," but it becomes too distracting, which detracts from the horror and, ultimately, the enjoyment of the rest of the novel.

2.0 out of 5.0 Red Witches.

Friday, March 07, 2008

XX. "The Crimson Petal and the White" - Michel Faber

As if the blanket-statements of 19th century London aren't mundane enough, the author further annoys with a combination of second person narrative and omniscience. You, you, you - I made a deal that I'd try for the 20th page, but 17 seemed enough. You can't stand this book and immediately take it to the window and drop-kick it into the snow.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

23. "The Killer Angels" - Michael Shaara

Are you an American? Over the age of 16? Read this book or I shall be disappointed in you.

The four days of and surrounding the Battle of Gettysburg are told through the eyes of Union and Rebel Major Generals. While fictitious in form, the technique is flawless. This book is about the decisions and how friendships and honor are shown on the battlefield.

In particular, Lawrence Chamberlain is a fascinating figure. At one point he questions, "What if it is you who is wrong after all?" These strong leaders, these men of power were once boys at West Point. Now fighting each other, it is a war of respectful engagement.

Winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this is one of my new favorite books.

4.8 out of 5.0 Blue Martinis.

22. "The Robe" - Lloyd C. Douglas

Marcellus, a Roman tribune, is part of the council that crucifies Jesus. While waiting for the strange man to die, he rolls dice and wins Jesus's robe.

The power of this garment changes Marcellus's life, leading him on a quest for answers to his religious queries. Ultimately, the Robe (as capitalized throughout the novel) causes repercussions when he returns to Rome.

This novel was heavy with philosophical debate, with Marcellus as the inquisitive representative of all humanity. I appreciated that element to the story, but it was the rich detail of slavery and Jewish life that kept my interest.

Curiously, the book begins from the POV of Marcellus's sister, who has no other main role except that of best friend to Diana, the woman Marcellus loves. This is just one example where the writing seemed "off." Douglas was a minister, so that might account for some of the choices he made while creating this work. It also accounts for the heavier hand toward the end of the book - Jesus lives!

For the casual reader, it may prove to be too long to appreciate, but overall it kept my attention. Or it could have been the intoxicating effect of old book smell.

3.5 out of 5.0 Purple Jesus.