Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club

Author: Duncan Whitehead 
Title: The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club

Description: Every afternoon at 4, the Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club (Heidi, Carla, and Cindy, all ladies of a certain age) convenes in the park to gossip about the neighbors and drink. As the novel opens, the fourth member of the club lies dying of cancer, while Carla and Cindy both set their caps at the soon-to-be widower, Elliott. Meanwhile, the ladies agree that the old man who brings his dog every afternoon needs to be reminded to use the Poopa Scoopa, that Tom & Heidi, Cindy’s next-door neighbors are both good looking enough to be models, and that it’s not quite right for Doug, a British expat, to have retired while his wife continues to work.  Oh, and did I mention the hit man lurking in the park?
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Plot: There are some pretty wild coincidences as events move toward their conclusion. No one would accuse Whitehead of not keeping the story moving; in fact, sometimes it jumps around a little too much.
Characters: None of the characters are too appealing; they are all pretty nasty, once you get to know much about them. Oddly enough, as well, there is no main character. All of the characters share the spotlight pretty evenly.
Writing style: The unbelievable coincidences and actions of some of the characters stretched my credulity, though I’m pretty sure Whitehead didn’t intend the novel to be realistic.
Audience: Mystery readers, I guess. The blurb made it sound like chick lit, but it’s not.
Wrap-up: This is a bizarre little book, which I finished in about 24 hours, so I guess it’s a bizarre little page-turner. 3.5/5*

Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: A World I Never Made

Author: James LePore
Title: A World I Never Made

Description: American Pat Nolan is called to Paris to identify his daughter’s body. When he arrives, he realizes that nothing is as is seems. Nolan joins forces with French policewoman Catherine to track down what really happened to his daughter. Meanwhile, flashbacks follow Nolan’s daughter, Megan, as she heads down the path that leads to her destruction.
Review source: This book was offered for free on kindle.
Plot: There were several plot twists that caught me by surprise, and the action never stopped. Both threads of the story kept me interested.
Characters: Pat and Megan both have their share of angst – that we’re told about quite a bit. The love story seems to be a bit facile. I guess I mean to say that it’s rare that both plot and character are topnotch. In this book, I’d say character suffers in contrast to plot. But it’s not bad.
Writing style: Taut, quick-moving, but not confusing.
Audience: It’s a thriller.
Wrap-up: I enjoyed this book quite a lot and was engrossed up to the end. 4/5*. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

Author: D.T. Max
Title: Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

Description: Max did not know Wallace, but he has used his writings and interviews with friends, relatives, and acquaintances to piece together this biography.   
Writing style: I would say this is a pretty even-handed treatment. Wallace’s deep depression and substance abuse—and later attempts at recovery—are dealt with frankly but not sensationally. The author mostly sticks to the facts he has unearthed and leaves speculation about Wallace’s motives or thoughts out of the book, as he should.
Audience: Anyone who is a fan of Wallace or interested in literature or biography. It’s also a pretty good portrait of someone who is trying desperately to live a full life while hampered by severe mental illness.
Major ideas: There’s a lot here about fiction as it was developing in the last three decades or so, and a lot about living with mental illness. Too much about either for me to try to encapsulate in a sentence.
Wrap-up: A well-done portrait of a true genius who left us too soon. 4/5*

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: The Secret Life of Pronouns

Author: James W. Pennebaker
Title: The Secret Life of Pronouns: What our Words Say about Us
Description: Pennebaker and his colleagues have developed computer analysis routines that analyze our words—our tweets, our writing, our conversations, the speeches of politicians, and so on. He found that what we have thought are telling clues to what someone says are not necessarily the most important indicators. The title refers to the use of personal pronouns, chiefly “I,” “you,” and “we,” which can hold some of the greatest influence in our speech.
Writing style: The book is pretty well written for an account of many academic studies (I liked it better than Ariely’s book, for example), but that’s still what it is. Again, the correlation of types of speech to what they indicated gets confusing by the end of the book.
Audience: Anyone with an interest in language and language use.
Major ideas: Unconscious indicators like use of pronouns, positive words, action words, and so on give away a lot. It’s probably asking too much for us to be able to always be conscious of these types of words in our own speech, or that of those with whom we are having a conversation, but he does provide a website that can analyze our tweets.
Wrap-up: This was an interesting read that made me much more aware of the subtle clues I give in my written and spoken communication. 3/5*.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: The Storytelling Animal

Author: Jonathan Gottschall
Title: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Description: Gottschall describes the importance of narrative to humans.
Writing style: Pretty engaging. Gottschall walks the talk—as he understands the importance of story, he makes sure his book has plenty of stories to keep the reader interested and to prove his points.
Audience: This book isn’t as scholarly as the book on Honesty by Ariely or the book on language use by Pennebaker, but it would appeal to the same audience—people who are interested in how language affects the human situation.
Major ideas: Gottschall even ties in the imaginings of the mentally ill and the haphazard narratives in our dreams as he surveys the many ways we are tied to narrative—and how we attempt to create narrative from the most random events.
Wrap-up: I don’t see this book as breaking any ground—narrative theorists are way past this—but for the interested layperson, Gottschall makes a convincing case. 4/5*

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: Zora and Me

Author: Victoria Bond & T.R. Simon
Title: Zora and Me
Description: This is a YA book written in the voice of Zora Neale Hurston’s fictional childhood best friend Carrie. A couple of accidents and a murder have Zora convinced that one of the townspeople of Eatonville is changing into an alligator by night, but Zora’s wise adult friend and Zora’s own curiosity into human nature help her to figure out what really happened.
Review source: ALA
Plot: It takes a little bit to get going, but turns out to be a good plot idea—is it murder or a supernatural creature looking for revenge? Hurston's interest in folklore is evident here, but she ends up playing young detective. 
Characters: The authors portray young Zora as whip-smart and already curious about what goes on in the world outside Eatonville, while her friend is more content to stay at home.
Writing style: There is some really beautiful writing here, as the young protagonists muse about race relations, the nature of community, and what it means to be in relationships with others.
Audience: Grades 7-10, though I really enjoyed it. I’d recommend for anyone interested in Florida literature.
Wrap-up: Worth the read. 4/5*

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: He's Gone

Author: Deb Caletti
Title: He’s Gone
Description: Dani wakes up one morning to find her husband Ian missing from their bed. At first she makes excuses—he went in to work, he’s visiting one of his daughters. But no one knows where he is, he doesn’t come back, and Dani can’t quite remember what happened the night before. As time passes and the search intensifies, Dani spends the time remembering their relationship; begun in adultery, she wonders if the marriage wasn’t somehow stained from the beginning.  
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Plot: The plot is nothing remarkable—Ian has disappeared, and all the possibilities for where he might be are examined, one by one.
Characters: Dani is the first person narrator, and the other characters are those closest to her: Ian, her ex-husband, Mark, her daughter, Ian’s first family, and so on. Dani considers each of these people and their relationships in detail as she reviews the past few years of her life with Ian.
Writing style: Very interior. The book is more of a musing upon marriage than a mystery. Can a relationship that started in infidelity to two spouses ever rise above that level of deception and selfishness to become a true marriage? Or will the partners always wonder if previous infidelity will lead to future betrayal?
Audience: Women’s literature, sort of mystery, but mostly not.
Wrap-up: Unlike some other recently-read material, this book does actually end with a solution to the puzzle, and one that is actually believable. I did, however, wish for an end to the soul-searching a little bit sooner. 3/5*

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: Farther Away: Essays by Jonathan Franzen

Author: Jonathan Franzen
Title: Farther Away: Essays
Description: This is a book of collected essays that really don’t have much to do with one another—they just appear to be what he could get together in order to get to book length. They include a commencement address, a couple of travelogue type pieces, some book reviews, and some miscellaneous pieces.
Writing style: It varies. It’s very strong in the personal pieces—probably most strikingly in the eulogy he gave for David Foster Wallace and in the commencement address. The book reviews and other occasional pieces have a different voice.
Audience: Franzen fans.
Major ideas: One thing I didn’t realize before I read this book was how much Jonathan Franzen is interested in birds. So, somewhat unexpectedly, several of the pieces here speak to the preservation of species that are being hunted or that are losing their habitat.
Wrap-up: A mixed bag. 3/5*