Book Reviews

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Thursday. Here's a batch of reviews from my recent reads. There's a good mix of poetry, short stories, novels and plays. February has taught me that blizzards are very conducive environments for reading.

The Angel's Game
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

It's hard for me to review Zafon's work, because I love it so much. I see the flaws in this novel, it may be a bit too wordy and the plot becomes convoluted in the second half, but I still loved it.

His style of writing just drips with gorgeous descriptions and intimate characters, devious characters and tragic heroes. His gothic tales are so rich I am willing to forgive much that I would fault another author for. Like so many others, I didn't love this book as much as I loved "Shadow of the Wind," but I still loved it.

I was forewarned by other fans not to rush through it, as I was tempted to do. Zafon is an author that should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. His novels are so full of his passion for both Barcelona and reading that I found myself wishing I could wander the city's streets after I put the book down.

If you haven't read "Shadow of the Wind" I would absolutely recommend it. If you have read it and enjoyed it, I would recommend "The Angel's Game." I can't wait to read the next two books in this series.

Black Water
by Joyce Carol Oates
Oates Novella is a chilling fictionalization of the Chappaquiddick incident where senator Ted Kennedy drove into the water and the woman he was with drown while he escaped.

The main character, Kelly, flashes back and forth between her drive with the senator and her past during the story. Kelly is tragically insecure and lacks confidence and that's one of the factors that leads to her demise. The story is well written and truly disturbing when you think about what's actually happening and how it mirrors the real life event.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Roald Dahl

Another classic from Roald Dahl, "Mr. Fox" tells the story of a clever fox that steals from 3 horrible farmers to fee his family. I'm a sucker for anything from Dahl and I love this story, especially the supportive Mrs. Fox.

Glengarry Glen Ross
by David Mamet

This Pulitzer-Prize-winning play is about desperate real estate sales men who will go to any length to make a sale and earn a buck. I feel almost like this could have been a prequel to "Death of a Salesman." The dialogue is sharp and funny. It's a quick read, which I'm sure would be enhanced by seeing the film or seeing it on stage.

Carry On, Jeeves
P.G. Wodehouse

This book contains ten short stories about Bertie Wooster and his wise valet, Jeeves. I've read many of the books from this series, but had somehow missed this one. I loved seeing the first meeting between the two. The rest of the stories all have a similar theme, Bertie manages to get himself into a pickle, the brilliant Jeeves manages to get him out of it. But they are fun to read and Bertie's oblivious nature and Jeeves' patient condescension always make me laugh. You know what you'll get when you read Wodehouse's books on Jeeves and you're never disappointed.

Keats: Selected Poems
by John Keats

This selection includes some of his famous poems, like "Bright Star" and "Ode to a Nightingale." Keats beautiful words still resonate two centuries later. I could swim in a phrase like,

"And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep, In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d." from The Eve of St. Agnes.

His musings on death are all the more poignant because he died when he was only 25. I can't help wondering what he would have written if he'd lived longer.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue
by Edgar Allan Poe

The mystery is short, but Poe's detective, Dupin, unravels the murder of a woman and her daughter in Paris by using his powers of observation. The story is undoubtedly the basis for the modern detective story. The character of Sherlock Holmes, which came decades after Dupin, is incredibly similar.

It's a good mystery, but definitely not one of my favorites from Poe. I tend to like his more macabre tales, which focus more on the darkness within his characters' hearts. But I did love reading a detective story that obviously inspired so many future books.

The Sandman, Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
by Neil Gaiman

I read this is one sitting. The story gripped me from beginning to end. Dream (a.k.a. Morpheus, Death's younger brother) is imprisoned for decades. When he finally escapes he must literally travel to hell and back to get what was stolen from him.

I'm a big Neil Gaiman fan and I loved the story. The illustrations are fascinating and detailed, but they are often too gory for my taste. When reading a book, your imagination will only take you as far as you'll let it. With a graphic novel it's all laid out before you.

I appreciate the art of the book and the plot, but I probably won't continue with the story. I am curious about what Gaiman had in store for the characters in future volumes, but the illustrations were just too much.

Paper Towns
by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen (aka Q) is a high school senior. He's been in love with his neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, since they were kids. One night she appears at his window and they embark on a crazy adventure. They next day he begins to realize she's more of a mystery than ever.

Q's two best friends, Radar and Ben, make interesting sidekicks. Radar is a wonderful character, mellow and reflective. Ben definitely plays the part of the fool, but I tired of him quickly.

One thing I love about Green's writing is the fact that he doesn't treat high schoolers like stupid children. He treats them like the young adults they are, but he also remembers the heightened emotions and drama that goes hand-in-hand with that age.

The meat of the story, and Green's true talent, lies in the discoveries the characters make about themselves and how they see the world. It's not really about a simple high school crush, it's about learning how to truly see people, which is beautiful.

I really loved the book and would recommend it and also Green's "Looking for Alaska."

Photo by moi (one of my reading nooks in an old apartment)


Becca said...

You write such beautiful reviews!

I am not much of a history or political buff apparently because I had no idea that Ted Kennedy did that! What the heck!?! I need to look that up. Sounds like a fascinating story.

I haven't read Shadow of the Wind yet, but I have it on my to-read list. I actually haven't read any Gaiman either, but want to.

I adore Poe. I have read quite a bit of his work.

I have not read John Green yet but have An Abundance of Katherines in the never-ending TBR pile.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Yeah, that Kennedy thing is disturbing.

You should definitely check out both Gaiman and Shadow of the Wind.

In May I am going to Baltimore with a friend and we're going to Poe's grave and home. I'm way too excited about it.