Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Uncommonly Disappointing

An Uncommon Education: A NovelAn Uncommon Education: A Novel by Elizabeth Percer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This started out so promisingly, with sweetly tender descriptions of a girl's childhood intentions (to become a doctor and make artificial hearts to help people who, like her dad, had weak ones) and first love (an adopted Jewish boy with a predilection for sketching yellow birds). But once the boy moved away and the girl went off to Wellesley, I just sortof got lost. Too many indistinguishable female characters in the Shakespearean club and a roommate who faded out of the story contributed to a general sense of aimlessness in the narrative. I actually kept half-expecting the girl to have a lesbian love affair at her all-girls college, but apparently her only undergrad tryst was a one-night stand with a masked, and apparently rather unattractive, visiting professor-- an encounter that felt more than a little squicky, but for all its oddness doesn't seem to have much importance to the story.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Laugh Very Hard About Being a Woman

How to Be a WomanHow to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this both entertaining and thought-provoking, which is a pretty great combination. I knock off a star only because a few of the Britishisms were over my head, so I think a little more effort could have been undertaken to translate or explain certain things for the American market.

But on the whole, Caitlin Moran is fierce, funny, unafraid to make fun of herself, but also eager to pass along actual life lessons by doing so. The best part is, those life lessons don't sound preachy or cliché or dull; they ring with common sense and reasonableness.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Discovery of a Paranormal Romance I Actually Enjoyed

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For starters, I don't really consider myself a fan of the paranormal romance genre. That said, I think this has got to be about as good as the genre gets.

Why? It's smart. The male romantic lead is not some sparkly tween who pouts his way around high school. Instead, he's an incredibly well-educated scientist who has used his centuries on Earth to accumulate a vast store of knowledge, and it was this character that made me realize how little I've appreciated the usefulness of a vampire character in historical fiction. He didn't study the Crusades, he was actually a part of them. He has a book personally dedicated to him by Christopher Marlowe. He owns old manuscripts that no modern historian has seen.

And so, I totally get why a witch-historian who specializes in alchemical texts would find him irresistible. This is an academics' romance, for people who find libraries sexy and would prefer their men's secrets involve ancient texts and wax seals instead of grey silk ties and BDSM-lite fetishes.

I would describe this book as having strong overtones of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon-- except the magical world is a little more magical (not just witches, but vampires and daemons to boot)-- with a healthy dose of The Da Vinci Code-esque literary mystery. In short, it's well-researched historical fiction with an imaginative plot and a dash of romance. Frankly, the actual romance was my least favorite part of this book, but it didn't distract much from my bibliophilic excitement. You can tell the author is a professor, but I like that. If people were reading this kind of stuff instead of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey pablum, I would be much less ashamed of the New York Times bestseller list.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Broker Learns Broken Italian

The BrokerThe Broker by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think maybe John Grisham bought some Rosetta Stone software to try to learn Italian, got frustrated with it, and then spent the rest of the day imagining a situation in which someone would actually be motivated to learn Italian quickly.  Presto: you have The Broker, in which a felon is pardoned and whisked off to Italy in a sort of ersatz witness-protection operation, where his life depends on passing for a native Italian.  There are pages and pages and pages of description of his Italian lessons and his motivation to learn (he keeps making the tutor start lessons earlier and earlier), and we're inside his head as he recites the Italian word for everything in his apartment.

Now, I like languages and occasionally mumbled some of the words out loud to myself while reading just to test my Italian accent, so I enjoyed the weird preoccupation with learning Italian.  However, you have to admit it's a bizarrely academic preoccupation for a run-for-your-life thriller--especially when, in the context of the story, it's wholly unnecessary to the point of being unbelievable.  Surely if the point is for this American guy to blend in while in hiding, you'd stash him in... Canada, Australia, England?  You know, where the language skills he already has will be useful?  And since it turns out that the US government is just waiting to see whether the Russians, the Chinese, or the Israelis will find and kill the fugitive first, I don't understand why they would bother paying a tutor a full-time salary to teach the guy flawless Italian.  So I'm back to where I started: all I can figure is that Grisham really wanted to write a story about learning to speak Italian.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Murder in Need of a Proofreader

Murder Most Frothy (Coffeehouse Mystery, #4)Murder Most Frothy by Cleo Coyle
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Okay. I like coffee. I like mysteries, and I don't expect them to be great works of literature except in exceptional circumstances. I like the main character of this series, and the plot was okay. But.

I do expect someone to have edited these books before they're published. Even the mass-market paperbacks. Even the cozy mysteries.  Especially the books of a "national bestselling author" being published by a division of Penguin Publishing.  Please, could you put 0.00001% of your profits toward hiring someone like me to read your books before you publish them?

Why? Well... I've gathered a few examples.
  • Page 4 [the first page of chapter one!]: "sterling-sliver serving trays overflowed with flutes of obscenely expensive champagne"
  • Page 9: "Out here, sterling sliver serving trays . . . overflowed with seemingly endless rounds of seafood canapes"
Gotta love how the "sliver" is consistent but the hyphenation is not.  Also, apparently trays overflow.  That's just what they do.  Every time.

But seriously, Cleo, put "sliver" on your list of Ctrl-F's to check before publication.  I do it with "pubic" and "trail" when I write legal briefs, because hey, spellcheck doesn't know that I meant "public" and "trial," but I do.  And, importantly, I would be embarrassed if I accidentally argued that a trail for my client would be against pubic interest.  You also should be embarrassed to have sliver serving trays in your book -- twice!
  • Page 17: "I believe he's been shirking work every since!"
I shirk work every since I get, too.
  • Page 68: "Millions of dollars and thousands of employees livelihoods are at stake."
I know it's just a missing apostrophe, but it is still ungrammatical and irritating.  There's also a reference to some "ex-Masaad" agents on the same page.  I think she meant "ex-Mossad," since that's how it was spelled earlier in the book, and, you know, the Mossad is actually a real thing.   Even spellcheck should have caught that one, no?
  • Page 140: "I invited David here tonight . . . to wheedle an invitation to sample his dessert parings for myself."
I am pretty sure David does not serve apple peels and potato skins for dessert.
  • Page 241 (during the big "I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!" speech): "Jim snorted. 'You give me undo credit, pal.'"
Argh.  I actually snorted myself, in due disbelief.