What a book!

October 31, 2010

Review: The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in IraqThe Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quick recommendation: I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, that the current armed forces are the most literate soldiery in world history and the volume of war memoirs in the past few years are proof of this.

I heard this author interviewed on NPR and he was very funny, which made me read the book.

The book, of course, wasn’t always funny because it is about war after all. It is funny, sad, heartbreaking, and sometimes inspiring. There are a number of excellent war memoirs, so many you certainly can’t read them all. Be sure to make time for this one.

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July 20, 2010

Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance DaneThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m from New England and I majored in history, so this book seemed right up my alley. My worry with these type of ‘Mystery of History’ books is that ever since The Da Vinci Code hit it really big, a slew of books, some good, some not so good, dealing with long forgotten tomes and mysterious past occurrences have been published (Codex, The Geographer’s Library, The Rule of Four, etc.). I am glad to see these books getting published, as the best-written ones can be very exciting without a submarine or secret decoder ring in sight. Plus I’m a sucker for historical details.

That said, ‘Deliverance Dane’ is OK. It moves a little slow at first, with a little too much description of minor, or unneeded, details. The life of a grad student, I would think, makes for a bit of a dull novel, but understanding some of the academia detailed, I was able to stay with the story. The narration was good, although some of the narrator’s New England accents were a little distracting, but so are New England accents if you didn’t grow up with them, or at least live with them for a while.

The book was interspersed with ‘Interludes’, that flash back to the Salem Witch trials and the toils of the title character and her offspring. I always liked this storytelling device because it allows the author to sneak in some suspense by leaving off the main narrative and freshens things up some. I liked them in this book.

Spoiler coming.

It’s when the book reaches part two that I found it a little more interesting, but I recognize that some readers may not be able to handle the break with the first part. I didn’t think part one did enough to build up the possibility of magic being real for the reader so that when suddenly — Magic! — pops up, that the casual reader wouldn’t just say “What the heck?” and put the book down.

I liked the characters well enough, although when the villain was finally revealed (you kind of know who it will be all along, so waiting to see what Connie, the main character does, is the real suspense), the villain’s villainy didn’t seem all that villainous. But, again, there were no submarines, no tanks, no spycraft.

What I thought was really cool was the author’s postscript, where she talks in more depth about the Salem Witch Trials and brings up the point, as does one of the characters, that the people in 17th century New England believed that witchcraft was being practiced and it was real, as real to them as car theft or murder or reckless driving is to you and me. And she asked herself the question, what if the New Englanders were 100 percent right? What if people were not only practicing witchcraft, but some people actually had the hang of it? And that idea alone made this worth a read (or a listen, in my case).

If you liked: the aforementioned Codex, The Geographer’s Library, The Rule of Four or perhaps The Historian, you might give this a try.

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July 13, 2010

Historical fiction from the Plains (and a pornographic ghost)

The story was basic enough, but I’m not quite sure what the point of all the Custer porn was (yes, I said Custer porn). In fact, Simmons eventually acknowledges that the memories of the ghost inhabiting the main character, Paha Sapa, indeed has “pornographic memories” of the widow (can it really be porn if you’re married consenting adults?), but still doesn’t really explain why it’s even there.

The narrators are good, with careful pronunciation of the many Lakota words, although the quiet whisperiness of the main narrator’s voice can be a little sleep-inducing.

I studied 19th century U.S. history for most of my major, so that helped me keep with it because I love when authors weave their fictional stories into historical events, sometimes with real historical figures. Simmons did this much better in ‘The Terror,’ although that one got a little weird.

June 18, 2010

A suspenseful tale even though you know the ending

I remember reading ‘Day of the Jackal’ one summer during college and, despite some of the dense writing in parts, not being able to put it down. That’s how it felt to read ‘Hellhound On His Trail: The Stalking Of Martin Luther King Jr. And The International Hunt For His Assassin’ by Hampton Sides, except I knew the outcome and there was no dense writing.

Despite knowing the outcome, it was hard to put this book down for the night. The chapters are written like the most engaging of page turners, short and punchy, but the wealth of information is amazing. I am too young to have even been alive when King was shot, so, of course there would be things in here that would be new. But this book took the dry, two-dimensional people we read about in history class and really fleshed them out, made them whole people, all against, a backdrop of events that were rocking America.

Much like the agents and officers working the case, Sides finds some of the smallest of details and puts them in without bogging the story down at all. I also especially liked his reconstruction of quotes and conversations from primary sources instead of reimagining them as they might have occurred.

This is a great and very accessible read of a pivotal moment in U.S. history. Highly recommended, even for summer beach reading.

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