Monthly Archives: February 2016

* 1/2 All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


I will easily predict that All the Light We Cannot See will delight book clubs for months and years to come, and I will readily admit that the plot is finely honed and grabs the reader’s emotional attachment.

But. Do we need yet another book about WWII (I griped about WWI recently)? Isn’t a book that stars both a blind (French) teenage girl and a savant orphaned (German) teenage boy just a little too sentimental? Of course, the German boy loathes the Nazis, let’s make sure that all the proper feelings are displayed here. Of course the girl’s family is in the Resistance (the very bad neighbor is collaborating, but everyone else seems to also be in the Resistance!) And there is a completely insane plot about a lost jewel, with a curse attached to its possession, that seems almost completely irrelevant to the rest of the story.

What irked me the most were the caricatural and incorrect details. No scientist in an official museum would have a glass of wine in his office on a workday afternoon. At the nearby cafe, perhaps, but not in the office. Sandwiches are not, and certainly were not in the 40s, a proper lunch in France. And it’s not just the French details that beggar belief. How could an isolated orphan teach himself physics? It took me hundreds of pages to recover from these early stumbles and get back into the story.

A reassuring novel that tells us that good people and good and bad people are bad, in a moving way.

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*** Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart


In Girl Waits with Gun, three sisters take on (unknowingly, at first) a rich business owner who hit their buggy, in the early 20th century. They will be on the receiving end of threats, arson attempts, and bullets, although helped by the local sheriff. It’s a delightful adventure full of period details, and that never takes itself too seriously, and meanwhile the story of the sisters unspools to neatly parallel the drama. Fun!

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* A Strange Business by James Hamilton


A Strange Business: Art, Culture, and Commerce in Nineteenth Century London talks about the artists, their patrons, and all the craftsmen and business people that made the practice and commerce of art possible in the United Kingdom during the 19th century. The author starts off with a painfully assembled foursome, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Turner, and Faraday, but does not seem to do much with them (although they obviously make repeated appearances in the various chapters of the book, which focus on various aspects of the art business). He also has some difficulty showing that what happened in London art circles at that time was any more than the normal benefits of wealth in making it possible for artists to thrive. There are a few interesting comments, such as when he points out that both artists and the nouveaux-riches who so wanted to appear cultured often came from the same, unhealthy backgrounds. But otherwise I found the book a little dry, full of dull correspondence and bills for various works of art and art supplies.

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*** Kid Moses by Mark Thornton


In an even tone, Kid Moses tells the story of Moses, a young child who lives in Tanzania, orphaned and homeless. He gets beaten up, gets a job, spends some time in a cushy orphanage, escapes with his best friend, and generally makes his own way through life.

It’s sad. And we know, hope, pray, that he will make it. Quite a feat of writing from a child’s point of view.

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** Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis


Beyond the fun title and good cover art, Adventures in Human Being: A Grand Tour from the Cranium to the Calcaneum is nothing more than a memoir by a British physician, who has had interesting experiences in various settings, from a family physician to ERs, to Antarctica, but the stories are not extraordinary. I liked that he brings the mundane behind-the-scenes reality to life, such as the anesthesiologist doing a crossword puzzle during surgery (I always wondered if they did not get bored — apparently, they do). He  can connect the experiences to art and to literature with great ease. And, of course, he is able to connect with his patients very lovingly. Maybe that would be the way to select a good doctor, pick one who writes?

 

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*** Suspicious Minds by Rob Brotherton


The author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories has a surprising revelation: we are wired to seek and believe in conspiracy theories. We want to think that nothing is an accident, we like to construct narratives, and people who are naturally open and curious are more likely to believe them, while people who are underdogs embrace them.

With many examples and a lively narrative, it’s an enjoyable book to read.

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** 1/2 The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres


The Dust That Falls from Dreams is the story of three well-to-do families throughout WWI.  It is carefully arranged, with modern young women who want to free themselves from tradition (and find it much easier to do that under the peculiar circumstances of the war), brave young Americans, and a daredevil French pilot who loves his mother – and I found the combination of the tidily contrived plot and the sadly familiar WWI stories  a bit of a bore. That said, the author manages to create vivid characters, in particular a devoted father hiding under an apparently businesslike  entrepreneur, and supplies abundant witticisms served by the daughters to her mother about the changing times.

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