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The Cloud Atlas
The Cloud Atlas
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $1.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Attention -- This is "THE cloud atlas" by Callahan not "Cloud Atlas" by Mitchell., April 30, 2016
This review is from: The Cloud Atlas (Kindle Edition)
Bears repeating -- this is not "Cloud Atlas" by Mitchell. This is "THE Cloud Atlas" by Callahan.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 2, 2016 6:04 AM PDT

The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel
The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel
by Melanie Benjamin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.47
95 used & new from $11.66

4.0 out of 5 stars A story from a time before "rich" was a four-letter word, April 25, 2016
Honestly, the world of fashion is lost on me. I don't like jewelry or perfume or the latest styles -- I'm more into the fashion of the 1940s if anything. These swans of Fifth Avenue are beyond my comprehension. Still, Melanie Benjamin manages to make these icons -- I know they're icons because we're told that over and over throughout the book, by the swans themselves as well as the people around them -- something like human beings who performed a tight-rope walk in the Big Top of society, New York City. I can appreciate the effort that goes into always being perfect under a microscope. Benjamin makes the shift of POV from one character to another smooth and clear and it's effective, getting us into the thoughts of the characters to not just understand but to feel their motivations. I can't speak to the veracity of Benjamin's writing on that score, who knows what these people were feeling, but the research on the facts seems sound -- in fact, I found myself constantly jumping to the Web to find pictures of the people and places or Wikipedia for info on the times. I don't mean to suggest that Benjamin plagiarized when I say that the book often matched what I found on the Web. Benjamin brought all the parts together so that reading the book was like walking through a hologram of the scenes, a virtual reality of NYC in the 1950s. The nice thing about that is I didn't have to get dressed up and have people critique my flaws. If I have a criticism it's that at times the writing was repetitious, telling us once again how tiring it was to be a swan. And I'm sure some readers will recoil at the idea of sympathizing with these .5-percenters -- for really, I think these people are different than even your average one-percenter -- but Benjamin doesn't ask us to feel for the "poor little rich girl" but rather the lonely, unloved woman even if she is rich as Croesus. And then there's Truman Capote, but he's more the yeast that makes this story rise above expectation. It's really all about the swans.

On the Move: A Life
On the Move: A Life
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A deceptively accessible genius, April 25, 2016
The difference between what I thought I knew about Oliver Sacks and what I learned about him from this book could fill, well, a book. I'd heard him interviewed but had never read anything he'd written. I could hear his voice in "On the Move" and it's a gentle, comforting voice even when he's telling rather shocking tales of his youth. He has something in common with a hero of mine, Richard Feynman, in that both had immense talents and intellects that were driven by an unbridled curiosity, taking them to all sorts of fields of study and science. They both soared easily into the unknown and both were generous in allowing us mere mortals a chance to share their wonder and to pretend, for a moment, that we too could fly. It's reassuring to know that at least a few times in human history such beings lived among us.

Yes, I'd recommend this book.

Notes from a Small Island
Notes from a Small Island
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Warning: Laugh-out-loud funny, March 20, 2016
Bryson's sense of humor is right up my funny bone. There were times reading this book I laughed so hard I literally cried. Tough, when you're lying in bed reading and trying not to wake up the sleeper next to you. This is such a fun book and my only regret is that I couldn't make the trip with him.

The Second Duchess
The Second Duchess
by Elizabeth Loupas
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.48
118 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars What a pleasant surprise, January 26, 2016
This review is from: The Second Duchess (Paperback)
I'm surprised I liked this book so much. Considering the cover (I know, I know, you can't judge a book yada yada yada) with its hint of romance in Renaissance Italy, I figured this would be a "one or two chapters and then give up" kind of read. But no, there's some weight to this story, a murder mystery to be solved, a smart, likable imperfect main character, and some nice atmospheric details to boot.

It's tough to make a character from that era relatable to modern readers without giving up some authenticity and there were times the dialog didn't ring true to me. Likewise, a pitfall of historical novels is that the author wants to show the reader how detailed the research was -- we get details about the food, clothes and surroundings from the character's point of view that would normally have gone unnoticed. Imagine, for instance, you traveled back in time and met this character and she was walking you around in a kind of orientation. She wouldn't point out her marten fur unless it was unusual to her. Or the reference to what she ate, the repetitive noting of the wine or the sugared whatever -- gad they ate a lot of sugar! -- it just wouldn't come up if this character's story was told to an audience of her peers. And that of course is what writers like Loupas have to juggle -- making historical events feel authentic while still connecting to a contemporary reader. We're not reading the novel in the language of the time and place so right off we're removed from an authentic experience. The trick is not to draw any more attention to that inherently dissonant tone of the story and to my ear there are moments when Loupas does.

Still, this was readable and enjoyable and I'm ready to read another by this author.

The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel
The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $11.99

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars AKA: Little Bookshop of Madison County, January 11, 2016
I won't mince words -- This book is awful.

Others have mentioned problems with the translation and that could be part of the reason for the generic descriptions, out-of-place dialogue and distracting idioms but I give full blame to the author.

At first, the main character seems like a French Mr. Magoo, with his symbolic name and strange ways. Because he seems cartoonish, I didn't take him or his life seriously. How, for instance, does this little man afford a Paris apartment -- so large that he can wall off a section and never venture in -- as well as a barge docked in the Seine? Why not live on the barge? And when he embarks on his travels I overlooked the reality that such a trip would likely require some overhaul of the ship to make it "sea worthy." But OK, cartoons can get away with such silliness. However, as we follow M. Perdu, it's clear the author does not offer him up for our amusement. Rather, we're to feel for this guy, feel deeply. We're to take his pain seriously, take his affection for the people in his life as honest and true. Gods help us, we're meant to be moved by the Harlequin-esque sex scenes.

While the book starts with what I took to be a clean and direct narrative voice, the writing quickly turns banal, like a poorly-written tourist brochure for France. I'm sure, even if you've never been to Provence, you could come up with the phrases used in "Bookshop": you'd include lavender-scented air, sparkling water, fields of sunflowers, etc. etc. etc. You could rattle that off endlessly. Especially if you're sitting at a cafe table of a small family-run bistro with a freshly baked croissant, sipping an espresso while the warm, comforting, healing breeze from the sparkling Mediterranean wafts your newly tanned face and you stretch your long limbs, which are taking on the honeyed hue of... Yeah, it's very easy, isn't it?

Finally, in the last third of the book, the toughest reading by far, we get something like "Bridges Of Madison County." And like "Bridges", "Bookshop" didn't have a line of narrative or dialog that didn't make me gag. I'll spare you here. Suffice to say that if someone makes a movie of "Bookshop," Ben Stiller should play the lead a la Zoolander because there is no way to pull this off successfully without falling into comedy.

Now, if you liked "Bridges of Madison County," you're in luck! -- you'll gush over this. Yes, I made it through to the last page but for me, it was a miserable slog and I only did it so I could warn others -- I read it so you wouldn't have to.

You're welcome.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 8, 2016 2:03 PM PDT

Half of Paradise
Half of Paradise
by James Lee Burke
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.00
85 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Half of Paradise" is not even half good., December 26, 2015
When fans of an author say that one of that author's books is bad, take heed. It's a warning from a good source. I don't know any other work from Burke, this was my first -- and based on this read I might never read another. This one reads like a writing exercise from a promising writer who, by the way, is heavily influenced by Hemingway (and because his prose is as clear and detailed as Hemingway's I give him two stars). But I think Hemingway gave us a reason to keep reading, something compelled us to care about what happens to his characters. There was nothing about these three men, the central characters of "Half of Paradise," that I gave a hoot about.

So if you want to discover this writer take heed, skip this one. For me, I'm skipping all the others.

Price: $1.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Believe it or not..., September 21, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Fantastik (Kindle Edition)
It's got religious overtones, that's for sure. Like the Bible, "Fantastik" wants the reader to accept the concepts of destiny, blind faith and reincarnation as fact. That's problematic for me but then again, Stephen King gets away with some wild ideas. It's just I wasn't expecting Christian dogma. So now you know. Eyes open.

What's really troubling to me with this book, though, is the generic nature of the story. The characters act, look and sound like stock characters. Let me give it a try:

--- Jake stood with one foot on the bumper of his old truck looking into the distance, thinking about his life since Nam, all the people he'd met, the men he'd got drunk with, the women he'd loved. The smell of dry grass rose up his nostrils as he chewed on a stalk of wheat. "Ya know, Charlie. Life's a funny thing." Charlie glanced over at Jake's weathered face. "I hear ya," he said, grinning knowingly. They shared a comfortable silence as they pondered the world around them and their lives in it.----

There are pages of this and it's as easy as momma's sweet peach pie to write it, like rolling off a log, like.... Gad. There's very little detail or specificity about the lives of the two main characters when it comes to their motivations. At the bottom of it all is why Charlie travels with Jake. In fact halfway through the book, when the two finally meet, we are treated to pages of dialogue in which this question is asked dozens of times. The question keeps coming up but is never satisfactorily answered. It would have been interesting to have some other, plausible, less holy reason for Charlie's actions but no, we're left with blind faith and not much else. And if you don't believe in destiny or faith or acts of gods, this one won't work for you. It didn't for me.

The Girl on the Train: A Novel
The Girl on the Train: A Novel
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Read it before the movie is released!, September 17, 2015
33K reviews -- here's one more. Yes, it's a page-turner and a who-dunnit and well written. It's written from 3 POVs, the main one being the girl on the train. An interesting use of POV since it takes all three to give us the whole picture. Each POV is from a person with major character flaws making them to various degrees unreliable. Don't let the booze-abuse put you off. This is a quick read and very entertaining. And you know there's going to be a movie made of it so read the book and you can compare the book to Hollywood's take.

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Price: $0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A real National Treasure., September 17, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
If you're at all interested in early American history, do yourself a favor and read this. I had to double-check that this wasn't some fictionalized version of Franklin's life. It's far more accessible than I expected and while a few word usages tripped me up, my overall impression is that he was a funny, educated, self-motivated, very talented man with a broad array of abilities. It was like having a chance to sit down and listen to this legendary man chat about his early life. It really is a treat to read.

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