Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: First Family by Joseph Ellis

Author: Joseph J. Ellis
Title:  First Family
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2010), Edition: Unabridged
Previously Read by Same Author: American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams, and Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
Summary/Review:

Historian Joseph Ellis explores the relationship of Abigail and John Adams, and how it was effected by the Revolutionary Era, not to mention the effect they had on fomenting revolution.  The main source for this history is their voluminous correspondence which shows that they saw one another as intellectual equals discussing the issues of the day, but also demonstrated a romantic attachment.  While Abigail is the more grounded of the two balancing John’s fiery personality, there are instances where Abigail seems more extreme, such as her support of going to war with France during John’s presidency or her approval of the Alien & Sedition Acts.  Since the book relies so heavily on correspondence, there is more material for the times that they were apart than when they were together and obviously not writing one another.  For the later years after John’s presidency, Ellis relies on the pair’s correspondence with other individuals (including the famed letters to and from Thomas Jefferson), but it loses the intimacy of the earlier parts of the book.  Ellis may have done better to pare the book down just to the years where correspondence between Abigail and John exists rather than attempt the story of their entire lives, but that’s a minor quibble.  This book paints a human portrait of the “venerable” couple from the time of the nation’s birth.
Recommended books: John Adams by David McCullough and Revolutionaries by Jack Rakove.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Author: Erik Larson
TitleIn the Garden of the Beast
Narrator: Stephen Hoye
Publication Info: New York : Random House Audio : Books on Tape, p2011.
Books Read by Same AuthorThe Devil in the White City and Isaac’s Storm

Summary/Review:

This history and biography book explores the rise of the Third Reich from the perspective of one American family.  Specifically that is the family of William E. Dodd, appointed to be ambassador to Germany by Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Dodd and his adult daughter Martha are the main characters of the book.  Dodd initially is supportive of Hitler and shares in some antisemitic beliefs.  Martha, recently separated from her husband, enjoys the social life of Berlin and liaisons with several men including Soviet intelligence operative Boris Vinogradov.  Over time the Dodd’s became more aware of the violence and oppression of the Nazi state, and the ambassador begins to become more vocal in calling on the United States to oppose Hitler’s regime (which in isolationist America proves to be an unpopular stance).  This is an uncomfortable book to read.  The Dodd’s are not very likable people, but then they’re contrasted with Nazis.  No one comes off looking good.  Still this is an interesting glimpse into a troubling time in history.
Rating: ***

Book Reviews: The Left-Handed Hummingbird by Kate Orman

Author: Kate Orman
Title:The Left-Handed Hummingbird
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1993.
Summary/Review:

This Doctor Who novel is epic in scope from contemporary Mexico to the Aztec empire to hippie London in the 60s to the John Lennon assassination to the sinking of Titanic. And yet, this may be the most internal story for the Doctor and his companions.  Their relationship is strained, especially the Doctor and Ace since she’s become something of soldier during her absence from the TARDIS. Worse yet, the Doctor faces an antagonist manifest as an Aztec god who is altering history.  The Doctor’s usual strategy of manipulating people and events fail and we see him at his most defeated. This novel is good in that it’s a rare story that’s set in Latin America in both precolonial and contemporary settings.  The only downside is that like Timewyrm: Exodus  it credits some historical acts of human evil to extraterrestrial influence.  This was the first novel by Kate Orman, who was also the first woman and first Australian to write for the Doctor Who line, and it’s a pretty remarkable achievement in how it reimagines what a Doctor Who story can be.
Favorite Passages:

“Has it ever occurred to you that the reason the sacrifices are made is to dispose of foreign warriors taken captive in battle – and to cause more and more battles to be fought?’”

“‘It’s already written in the book of history,’ he continued. ‘Painted in the records. Nothing I can do or say is going to change it. But there’s something else here, something that isn’t in the book, or wasn’t the last time I visited. Things have changed. Something’s wrong. Someone’s interfering. I need to find a way to read between the lines…’”

“‘Time travel,’ said Bernice, ‘is like banging your head on a brick wall. Only someone keeps moving the bricks.’”

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

AuthorUrsula Le Guin
TitleA Wizard of Earthsea
NarratorHarlan Ellison
Publication Info: San Bruno, CA : Fantastic Audio, p2001. [originally published, 1968]
Summary/Review:

This fantasy novel set in the magical land of Earthsea introduces Ged, a boy whose magical ability shines in a society with numerous witches and practitioners of magic.  After saving his village from an attack, Ged is taken as apprentice by a wise wizard and then sent to wizarding school.  Despite his talent and proclamations that he may become the greatest wizard, Ged is headstrong and impatient and unleashes an evil shadow that follows him around and tries to possess his body.  Ged thus has to face many quests and challenges to learn how to face down the shadow creature and understand himself.  It’s a good novel, and apparently pretty influential as many of the tropes and ideas are picked up by other fantasy novels.  Harlan Ellison’s reading of the audiobook is a dynamic performance that captures Ged’s anger and uncertainty.

Recommended booksThe Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling and Eragon by Christopher Paolini.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Love and War by Paul Cornell

Author: Paul Cornell
TitleLove and War
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1992.

Previously read by same authorTimewyrm: Revelation
Summary/Review:

This is my 3rd Doctor Who New Adventure, and it’s one that has a notably good reputation among diehard Doctor Who fans.  In this story, the Seventh Doctor and Ace – who is grieving over the death of a childhood friend – go to the planet Heaven.  The entire planet is a cemetery for the people of Earth and the Draconians who die in the Dalek Wars.  Ace falls in with a group of Travellers encamped on Heaven, and begins a romance with a young man named Jan.  The Doctor seems to disapprove of Jan, and Ace begins to drift away.  This is only a preamble for an act of betrayal that will push Ace out of the Tardis for good.

Apart from the tragic situation that divides the Doctor and Ace, this novel has a number of interesting attributes.  It introduces the archaeologist Berenice Summerfield who will go on to be a regular companion of the Doctor.  It also features the creepy villains the Hoothi, who are kind of a sentient fungi.  On the downside there’s a whole subplot involving virtual reality in something called Puterspace.  And like Timewyrm: Revelation, the narrative jumps quickly among a large number of characters and stories, making it a challenge to read. All and all, an imaginative and influential Doctor Who story.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Q : a novel by Evan J. Mandery

Author: Evan J. Mandery
Title: Q : a novel
Publication Info: New York, NY : Harper, c2011.
Summary/Review:

An unnamed narrator tells the story of Q, Quentina Elizabeth Deveril, the love of his life.  After meeting, dating, and planning to marry, an older version of the narrator arrives via time travel to tell him that he can’t marry Q.  He takes his elder self’s advice and tries to move on with his life.  But then more and more time traveling future selves arrive, constantly interfering with his life.

This may be the most twee novel I’ve ever read.  It pushed the limits of Poe’s Law, making me wonder if this is the ultimate New York hipster with affectations novel, or just a parody of New York hipster with affectations.  I eventually decided that it’s later, and to its credit parts of this novel are laugh out loud funny. The conclusion is also very satisfying.  But to get to that point – whoa boy – it was tough to not just give up reading.

Recommended booksThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and The Little Book by Selden Edwards.
Rating: **

Book Review: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

AuthorAnthony Horowitz
TitleMoriarty
Narrator: Julian Rhind-Tutt and Derek Jacobi
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio (2014)
Summary/Review:

Horowitz follows up on his authorized Sherlock Holmes novel House of Silk with this mystery set in 1891 immediately after Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarity are believed to have fallen from Reichenbach Falls.  The narrator is Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective who travels to Switzerland seeking American criminal mastermind Clarence Devereux whom he believes will rendez-vous with Moriarity.  In the wake of the supposed deaths of Moriarity and Holmes, Chase joins up with Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones who displays a skill in deductive reasoning. Based on the title, one wonders if Jones is Moriarity in disguise?  Or Holmes in disguise?  I won’t tell.  Chase and Jones return to London to continue the search for Devereux and find themselves pulled into the brutally violent underworld of expatriate American criminals.  It’s a gripping mystery with a lots of twists and turns, and a great companion to the Holmes’ canon.  The performance of Rhind-Tutt and Jacobi on the audiobook is particularly entrancing.

Recommended booksThe New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Martin Harry Greenberg,Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon by Larry Millett, and A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.
Rating: ***1/2

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