Thursday, July 29, 2010

1912, by James Chace

Some historical periods have me at "hello." Anything covered by Alison Weir is one. America from 1892 to 1920 is another. If there is a reasonably written book covering that era, I'll want to read it. Some of that is my interest in the policies, some of it is my interest in the personalities. I have a man-crush on William Howard Taft that I can't quit. The Taft-Roosevelt dynamic in 1912 is fascinating to me. I always feel incredibly sad when I read about Taft campaigning against Roosevelt and then confiding to a reporter, "Roosevelt was my closest friend."

From this book I gather that Chace is a big proponent of Eugene Debs's place in history. Sometimes it feels like he is over-stating his case. Sure, Debs was a candidate with nationwide appeal, but he was never a serious contender for the presidency. He ran far behind Taft, who was a distant third as it was.

I had never read much about Woodrow Wilson or Debs before, so those parts of this book were intriguing. The messianic campaign of Roosevelt was interesting. The serious character flaws of Wilson were fascinating.

Rating: six out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ginger Pye, by Eleanor Estes

I read this book to our kids because it's a Newbery winner about dogs. Given their love of Darrel and Sally Odgers's Jack Russell books, and Patricia Finney's I, Jack books, I figured we'd give it a whirl.

Uncle Benny stole the show. Get rid of Rachel and Jerry (especially Jerry!) and triple the Uncle Benny dosage and my kids would love it even more.

One thing I couldn't figure out was how much of the narrator's poor narration was the result of Estes intentionally narrating in a child-like style (e.g.: with every mention of Sam Doody including an introduction to who he is), and how much was just the result of poor writing. One thing I could figure out was how irritating it was every time Estes used the word "waked." And use it she did, like a rented carpet steamer due back in an hour. I had grown up thinking the past tense of "to wake" is "woke," but Estes kept pushing "waked," several times per chapter.

The moral of the story seemed to be "kids, don't trust your low-income peers," which I'm not really sure I want my kids to learn. After all, I've made them their own low-income peers. But overall, my kids liked the book enough to demand we read the sequel, and I didn't hate it enough to object.

Rating: four out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thursday Next in First Among Sequels, by Jasper Fforde

Firstly, a note about the title: everything on the Internet disagrees if this book is First Among Sequels or Thursday Next. The Library of Congress information on the title page attempts to cut the Gordian knot with the mouthful Thursday Next in First Among Sequels, so that's the title I'll use until I hear otherwise from Jasper Fforde.

The Eyre Affair was rightfully celebrated for its intricate cleverness. Five books later, what was once "intricate cleverness" now is indistinguishable from "boorish obtuseness."

I've lived my life since I read the last book, the title of which currently escapes me (Something Rotten?). If I don't remember the big things, don't write your book assuming I remember the minutia.

The ChronoGuard plotline has swallowed itself. Imagine the end of "Back to the Future III" going back in time and meeting the beginning of "Back to the Future." That's the kind of time enigma we're dealing with here. The wormhole offers decreasing returns to intricateness, and I maintain its first derivative now equals zero.

Thursday's old now, and has to interact with a caricature of herself, which is equal parts funny and annoying. Funny because of the twist on the reader's perception of Thursday from the earlier books; annoying because three main characters are named Thursday, which makes the reading more confusing.

Fforde has more books planned. Without any over-arching plot I'm invested in seeing resolved, I just lack any excitement to read on.

Rating: four and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Princes in the Tower, by Alison Weir

I think Alison Weir and I would get along. Assuming she only writes books about the things that interest her, we have common interests. (Or maybe she just does a good job making her interests interesting to me, but then why did I read Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V?). The only thing that would keep us from being BFF might be my ignorance of how to pronounce her name (Wire? Weer?).

I read her Wars of the Roses in 2005 and liked it a lot. I recently purchased her Eleanor of Aquitaine (although it also might put a strain on our potential friendship, as I bought it at a used book store). The Princes in the Tower has been on my reading list for a long time. At the same time that I read it, my wife got suckered into reading The Daughter of Time. At her book club, most members agreed that I had read the better book.

This book does a good job painting Richard III as a heartless bastard. Actually, since "bastard" back then was a technical term with an actual meaning, let me instead call him a heartless prick. As was nearly everyone else in this period. The book starts out with a nice summary of the various relatives killed by Edward IV. Sure, it's good to be the king, but what Mel Brooks never tells you is that it sucks to be the king's uncle.

The saddest part of the book (aside from the murder of children, I guess) was the part about Princess Elizabeth. My memory of Ian McKellen's "Richard III" led me to believe she was young and hot. While Weir makes sure to mention a foreign ambassador's recollection of her (Elizabeth's) large breasts, she (Weir) also includes plenty of disturbing details of her (Elizabeth's) sexual relationship with her (Elizabeth's) uncle. I guess Elizabeth was as much of a scheming opportunist as her male relatives. In this post-liberation era, it shouldn't surprise anyone that a girl can hold her own with men. It's just so much sadder when the girl is so hot.

Rating: six and a half out of seven giant inflatable monkeys.