Book Reviews

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A few great books over the past couple weeks. What have you been reading?

The Absolutely Essential Eloise
by Kay Thompson

I'd heard of Eloise, but had somehow missed the book until now. It's delightful! The little, sassy kiddo runs wild in the Plaza Hotel, where she lives, causing mischief out of boredom. My favorite part, other than the hilarious illustrations, is Eloise's descriptions of the people she's closest to, her nanny, the maid and the hotel manager. She describes their quirks and flaws with the innocence as only a 6-year-old can do. This copy also includes fun extra bits about the author and the creation of the character, which adds to the enjoyment of the book.

The Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler

A classic hard-boiled detective, Marlowe, is hired by a military man to deal with a blackmailer. The General's two daughters, Carmen and Vivian, drive the story. One is a lost soul, constantly getting into trouble; the other is a master manipulator. There's a twisted plot that becomes more complicated as the dead bodies pile up.

I preferred The Maltese Falcon (Humphrey Bogart plays the detective in the film versions of both books) to The Big Sleep. It came out about a decade earlier and I felt more connected to the story and to the detective, Sam Spade. The Big Sleep was an enjoyable read, but it won't stick with me. There were too many jumbled characters, but I do love the noir atmosphere. I recently heard that The Big Lebowski is loosely based on The Big Sleep. I never would have made that connection, but it does have a similar structure.

A Doll's House
by Henrik Ibsen

A woman, Nora, borrows money to save her husband's life without his knowledge. Later, the man she borrowed from blackmails her and she is terrified that her husband will discover what she's done.

Nora is a fascinating character. She is clever and resourceful and at the same time she seems desperate to please her husband, no matter what it takes. She hides her unhappiness from everyone, even herself. She likes to encourage his believe that's she's a frivolous creature.

Her husband, Helmer, is condescending and pious. He has fury-inducing lines like,

"I should not be a man if this womanly helplessness did not just give you a double attractiveness in my eyes."

There marriage is more a playful charade than a partnership. When circumstances push her to step out of her comfort one she finds a strength she didn't realize she had.

Holly's Inbox
by Holly Denham

The book is written in the form of e-mails so it's a very quick read. The plot is very similar to Bridget Jones Diary, which is itself a modern take on Pride and Prejudice. So there's no original plot and the ending is predictable. But the characters are all entertaining, especially Holly's grandma and best friends. It's a fun, light read, exactly what I expected, but definitely forgettable.

by Dave Eggers

This is Egger's first completely nonfiction book since his breakout "Heartbreaking." (What is the What is technically fiction, even though it's a true story). Zeitoun tells the story of a Syrian-American family that lives in New Orleans and their experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Their story is a disturbing, but fascinating one.

Egger's poetic way with words makes the simplest story beautiful and this one is no exception. The details he includes as he introduces you to the Zeitoun family make you quickly connect with them. My only fault with the book is that it became a bit repetitive in the second half, but that's more the fault of the frustrating situation the Zeitouns faced than the writing. I would highly recommend this (along with most of Egger's work). It was an intimate look at both Katrina and the experience of an immigrant in America.

Photo by moi.


Amanda said...

I *am* Eloise. We know this, right?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Yes, we definitely do.