Reviews by Kim

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Homer & Langley
by E.L. Doctorow
Good, but not great (10/18/2009)
Historical fiction should offer a new perspective on real-life events or people, adding details created by the author to supplement what is known and factual. I felt like Doctorow didn’t do enough of that. The book, to me, felt a bit too “light,” with too little included that wasn’t part of the historical record. It was entertaining enough, but I didn’t feel like I had a better understanding of the brothers’ situation or point of view by the book’s end.
The Girl Who Played with Fire
by Stieg Larsson
Better than the first in the series (10/18/2009)
This, the second book in the series, is more engaging than the first, and fans of the series will definitely enjoy learning more about its protagonist, Lisbeth Sanders. Far more of the plot revolves around her than it did in the first book, and the story also moves along at a faster clip, with few slow spots (if any). I did think the plot was a bit silly at times – lots of coincidental meetings, people just happening to be in the right place at the right time, over-the-top violence, characters who are one-dimensional, etc. Normally I’d consider these fatal flaws in a novel, but in this one, it somehow seems to work. It requires considerable suspension of disbelief, but it’s a fun book – if you don’t look at it too closely.
The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Perfect historical fiction! (10/18/2009)
What an amazing book. It should be required reading for everyone too young to remember the racial injustice and turmoil of the 1960s. In addition to simply having something important to say, The Help is exceptionally well-written. All the characters are three-dimensional, even the minor ones, and everything about it feels agonizingly real. My only complaint is that it ended too soon; I wasn’t ready to leave the marvelous women at this book’s core.
The Giver
by Lois Lowry
Interesting view of a dystopian future (10/11/2009)
I read this book in celebration of Banned Book Week (2009-09-26 through 2009-10/03). I'm not entirely sure why it would have been a challenged novel, as the future it paints is so distant that I personally believe children in its intended age group would be unlikely to find it disturbing, but then again, I'm not a parent.

One of the more interesting aspects of the novel is the way the reader is initially led to believe the characters live in a utopia; only gradually is it revealed what they've given up to achieve peace and order. It's a vivid, unforgettable book.
The plot is not overly original (see "Logan's Run," for example), but Lowry's re-imagining of it breathes new life into the story.
Day After Night
by Anita Diamant
Good, but not great. (10/11/2009)
Anita Diamant's latest is a fast read and I found it reasonably enjoyable, but I left it feeling oddly disappointed. I thought she could have done so much more with her characters and with the history behind the events in her book. The book's four main heroines are somewhat flat and nearly interchangable. I think it's great that Diamant is bringing attention to a little-known event in world history, but for a richer understanding of it I'd point readers to the Leon Uris novel Exodus.
Random Acts of Heroic Love
by Danny Scheinmann
Beautifully written novel in all respects (6/8/2009)
The chapters that follow Moritz Daniecki’s WWI exploits are marvelous historical fiction. They’re rich in detail without bogging down. His story is the more entertaining one, something like the story of Odysseus - without the gods and monsters (although some he met along the way were rather inhuman, now that I think about it). Less exciting but far more moving is Leo Deakin’s struggle with the death of his love. His pain and guilt are palpable, and his search for meaning feels incredibly real. The author does a fantastic job of balancing the two stories and weaving them together at the end. It’s a very well-written novel that took me through a whole range of emotions, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
Ghostwalk
by Rebecca Stott
Good, but not great. (6/5/2009)
The author started with an obvious passion for the 17th century, and her extensive research into the period is evident. There are parts of this novel that seem like they could have been the kernel of the author’s Ph.D. thesis. She layers a rather spooky ghost story on top of her historical musings, and I feel like these two strata of the plot work particularly well. She then throws in sub-plots about the protagonist’s extramarital affair, a radical animal-rights group, modern-day murders, conspiracies between arms dealers, pharmaceutical companies and researchers… and it just becomes too much. All these extra threads are distracting, don’t really go with the core mystery and serve only to confuse. The book’s basic core is quite involving, but the addition of all that extraneous stuff gets in the way. So, while I’m glad I read it, it’s not one I’m actually recommending to friends.
Gone For Good
by Harlan Coben
Fun, exciting read (5/31/2009)
This is the second Harlan Coben novel I've read, but it certainly won’t be the last. I'm finding that he is fast becoming one of my favorite "light" authors. This book, in particular, was intriguing and fast-paced with many unexpected plot twists that kept me amply entertained. It kept me reading late into the night. It’s definitely one I’ll recommend to my reading friends as a terrific book to consider when choosing a novel solely for its entertainment value.
People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
Good historical fiction (5/22/2009)
I really loved the idea of tracing an important book back through history using clues left in its binding. The parts of this novel that focused on the object's past and on the people who had been involved in its handling were excellent and illuminating; it made great historical fiction. Unfortunately, these marvelous scenes are bracketed by the unconvincing modern-day story of the woman charged with restoring the book. Some of actions she takes are ludicrous, her character is unbelievable, and the author’s attempts to draw us into this character’s personal life simply don’t work. I think the book is worth reading, but it’s definitely not perfect.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Good, but not great (5/19/2009)
The biggest problem I had in reading this novel was with the protagonist: 11-year-old Flavia. It seems as if many readers and reviewers really liked this character, but I found her reasoning skills and actions so unrealistic for an 11-year-old that it led me to feel the book was less than stellar. The character is unique, to be sure, and most will either find her very appealing or very irritating (I place myself in the latter category). The mystery itself held together rather nicely, although much of it was painfully obvious long before the book's conclusion. I'll probably read the upcoming sequel, but probably won't seek it out and will wait until it's in paperback.
Beat the Reaper: A Novel
by Josh Bazell
What a ride! (3/1/2009)
Beat the Reaper is a fast, furious, fun roller-coaster ride of a book, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Its protagonist was unique, entertaining, and three-dimensional. I kept waiting for the plot to take some predictable turn, but it never did; I was constantly surprised by the way events unfolded. It was often extremely funny although I felt it maybe got a little ridiculous there toward the end. This one is definitely on my "recommend to friends" list.

A note of warning: The language is very, very profane. I've been known to talk like a truck-driver myself from time-to-time, and even I found the cussing extreme and jarring, particularly in the opening chapter, where pretty much every sentence contained the word "fhead." The language calmed down after the book's opening, but it was still liberally laced with the "f-word." If such language offends you, you should skip this novel.
Tell No One
by Harlan Coben
My first Coban, but not my last! (2/7/2009)
I don't read many mystery-thrillers. There are so many mediocre entries in this genre that I think it's very difficult to find a good one. I was therefore initially disappointed when my book club chose this novel, but I decided to participate regardless. I was so glad that I did! Tell No One was one of the more out & out entertaining novel I've read in quite some time. I truly hated putting it down, and it kept me up late several nights running. I thought it was original, and it certainly had plenty of plot twists to keep me guessing.
War Trash
by Ha Jin
Informational, but lacking emotional depth (2/7/2009)
I enjoyed reading War Trash, in that it was an excellent account of life as a Chinese prisoner of war during the Korean War. Although my father was enlisted in the army during that conflict, I know very little about that period of history. Ha Jin's novel illuminated a small part of the era, and it sparked my interest in learning more. It's well-written and it kept my attention throughout. I was a bit disappointed, however, in the author's inability to draw me in, emotionally - to make me care about the narrator and his companions. It didn't feel enough like the personal account it was intended to be the elderly narrator is relating his experiences during the war years, 40 years or so in his past. I thought the novel was interesting, but not exceptional.
The Terror: A Novel
by Dan Simmons
Excellent, but with weaknesses (2/3/2009)
I'm a huge fan of Dan Simmons' novels. I've read everything he's written some books more than once. There were elements of The Terror that I enjoyed very much, and consider to be far and away some of his best work. This is particularly true of the historical sections. Not only is the subject matter well-researched, but Simmons does a remarkable job of putting the reader right there on the ice with the ships' crews. From a purely historical fiction standpoint, I'd definitely give it five stars.

Unfortunately, Simmons decided to include an element of the fantastic, and that part of the novel completely turned me off. I thought it was overly contrived and unnecessary. He should have had the confidence to allow the book to stand on its own as superior historical fiction; it would have been a stronger novel, in my opinion.
A Map of Home
by Randa Jarrar
Wonderful comingofage novel (1/4/2009)
I think finding a well written coming of age novel that features a female protagonist is a rare event. Most of those I've read in this genre have had a sacharine-sweet lack of realism that has left me less than enthusiastic about the story. A Map of Home, by Randa Jarrar, however, is an exception. Jarrar's heroine, Nidali, narrates her life history with such honesty that I had to constantly remind myself the book wasn't an autobiography. I truly enjoyed this portrait of an average teen in a progressive westernizing Muslim country. It was at once familiar and exotic, and overall very entertaining.
Animal's People: A Novel
by Indra Sinha
My favorite of the year (12/15/2008)
This might be my favorite book of 2008. I found it to be extremely original and very entertaining. The protagonist, Animal, is one of those fictional characters you wish you knew in real life and are reluctant to leave behind once completing the novel. He feels real. He's profane and uncouth, but with a heart of gold and an underlying wisdom that really draws the reader to him.

Unfortunately, this is a book that many people will reject after perusing the first couple of paragraphs, as its style, language and subject matter are radically different that what most readers expect from a novel; its pretty jarring at first. Eight of the twelve members of my book club absolutely hated the book initially, and wouldn't have completed it if they'd picked it up on their own. Eleven out of twelve of us loved it by its conclusion, though, and have been busily passing our copies on to our friends and relatives.
The Story of a Marriage: A Novel
by Andrew Sean Greer
The Story of a Marriage (12/2/2008)
This is certainly a very well-written, involving novel that examines the complexities of love and marriage. Greer's prose is evocative and at times almost poetic. His characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional. I do have to admit, though, that although I enjoyed reading the book very much, there were a couple of plot elements I thought were introduced in an overly contrived manner, causing a disconnect rather than drawing me deeper into the novel.
The Botany of Desire
by Michael Pollan
I found this book fascinating (11/17/2008)
I have to admit I'm truly dismayed by some of the other reviews of this book posted here at Bookbrowse. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I think perhaps Botany of Desire requires a certain curiosity about that world that many of us develop later in life, and that it may simply be above the maturity level of many who have been required to read it. The book itself is both entertaining and informative. It's well-written, and I found that I was able to just breeze through it. It was a recent selection of my book club, and all ten of us enjoyed it immensely. I did find Pollan's thesis -- that plants evolved to appeal to human senses -- interesting but not terribly well backed up. Nevertheless, there's a lot of good stuff here, and I found it was definitely worth my time.
The Wasted Vigil
by Nadeem Aslam
Five stars plus! (11/10/2008)
The Wasted Vigil is without doubt one of the best-written books I’ve read this year. The writing is positively stunning, the imagery so rich the reader has to pause to simply enjoy the picture the author has painted. This book is one to be savored. It also offers exceptional insight into the conflict in Afghanistan. The author sides with none of the warring parties, instead focusing on the innocents caught in the middle of the hostilities. Although it’s probably my favorite book of the year, it won’t appeal to everyone. It’s very slow-paced – even the action scenes are related in an elegiac tone. In addition, it’s not a very happy book; every single character in it is touched at one point or another by deep tragedy. I found that it was definitely worth my time, though, and it’s a book I won’t forget any time soon. I'd give it more than five stars if I could!
The Lazarus Project
by Aleksandar Hemon
Not what I expected (11/10/2008)
I was actually a bit disappointed in this book. I think it’s likely that from the jacket description that I was expecting a historical fiction book that explored the turn-of-the-century life and death of Lazarus Averbuch. It seems as if there’s a really nice skeleton of a tale here that could have been fleshed out. The author instead chose to write mostly about Vladimir Blik, a character much like himself, tying that character’s experiences back to parallel those of Averbuch. Averbuch’s tale isn’t expanded beyond the facts of the case. When one is expecting a certain type of novel but finds that it has morphed into something completely different, it can often lead the reader to feel less than satisfied with the result. The saving grace here is that the writing is absolutely marvelous, if somewhat self-indulgent. I plan to give this book another shot in a year or so, with the properly adjusted expectations.
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