Saturday, August 25, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful Ruins is the story of the relationship between a hotel proprietor in a tiny remote village on the coast of Italy and an American actress working on the set of the film Cleopatra in the sixties. It is also about the lives of the people who surround the Italian and the American. It's about love, but more than that it's about the way circumstances can redirect our lives in unexpected ways.

This is the type of book I love. It has a number of complex and interesting plots that go their separate ways, but affect each other as they unravel. The book is like a waterfall. Its story runs downhill until it is almost finished then everything comes together at once. The pace is amazing.

Beautiful Ruins is filled with interesting characters, some of whom are fictional portrayals of celebrities the readers will know. All of the characters are intricate. We can feel what they feel, recognize their weaknesses, and understand their decisions—even when we disagree with them. The title applies to the settings, the stories, and the personalities.

There is true affection between Dee Moray and Pasquale, but what they learn from each other and how that affects the rest of their lives is as important as their emotions. The book is written in a non-linear style, but there is still tremendous suspense. It is a great read.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest (Millennium, #3)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest is the third book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. If you liked the other two and can keep reading through a slow beginning, I think you'll enjoy this one as well.

In the first half of the novel Larsson rehashes information from his other two books and spends too much time describing the Swedish legal system. Also, Larsson's most interesting character, Lisbeth Salander, is mostly ignored while she recovers from being shot in the head and buried alive in the last book. (A certain amount of suspension of disbelief is important for readers of any of the Millennium books.) The book only becomes interesting when the story includes Salander.

There are a couple of secondary plots that do not contribute much to the story. The first one has to do with a stalker and the second with an unethical business man. Those two story lines eventually help Erika Berger make an important decision, but that appears to be the only reason Larsson included them. He could have come up with a shorter and more relevant way to do that.

The short blurbs Larsson included on Amazon warriors seem superfluous and condescending to his strong female characters.

The book keeps going past the point when it should have ended. Larsson had a character from the second novel that he hadn't dealt with, so I suppose that's why he kept on writing. But once again he could have come up with a shorter way to resolve that issue.

But when the story reached the courtroom scene, I couldn't put the book down. I can't help but appreciate any novel that can keep me turning the pages as well as this one did.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Crime and Punishment Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky is a classic Russian novel I decided to cross off my “should have read in high school” list. It is, by today’s standards, wordy, but I expect wordiness in nineteenth century literature and I enjoy getting into characters with detail and depth.

Crime and Punishment is primarily the story of a young student named Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, who kills an old pawnbroker and her sister for a variety of reasons. He is quite poor and becomes desperate when he learns that his sister, Avdotya Romanovna, is engaged to marry a wealthy man. Raskolnikov believes his sister is marrying someone unworthy of her for money and plans to help her family, including him, through their difficult financial situation. He thinks of the murder as an act that will rid the world of an unethical individual, but I saw this more as a rationalization than a reason for the crime. All this happens early in the story. The book is, for the most part, the story of his psychological reaction to his crime.

Although the book centers on the murder of the pawnbroker, it is not the only moral issue covered. The novel includes the story of a drunk, Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, who dies, leaving his family in a desperate situation — Semyon’s daughter, Sofia Semyonovna Marmeladova , who turns to prostitution to help support her family — and Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, Avdotya’s former fiancé who attempts to frame Sofia Marmeladova for a theft she hadn’t committed. All these stories show events that present moral conflicts, even if the actions were not technically illegal in nineteenth century Russia. And there is also, Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigaïlov, a wealthy, former employer of Avdotya who apparently murdered his wife, Marfa Petrovna Svidrigaïlova. So the plot covers more than one crime and more than one punishment.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys classics and likes to read psychological studies of human behavior. As with Tolstoy’s work, the names can be a little confusing. There are a number of internet sites including Wikipedia that can help keep the characters straight.

Steve Lindahl - Author of Motherless Soul

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mockingjay is the only book in the Hunger Games trilogy that doesn't center on the heroine’s (Katniss’) struggles in the games. By this time she is fighting her real enemy, the government that created the games. It follows that this book loses some of what makes the other two unique, but Mockingjay is still an exciting read and an interesting commentary on the various ways governments control their populations.

The first two books told the story of a society with an economic system structured to funnel money away from the workers, making them dependent on the central government. The games were designed to intimidate the population by reminding them of the power that government held over them. This book presents another government (in district thirteen) that controls its people through laws designed to emphasis the society over the individual. The comparison of capitalism vs. communism is clear and powerful. These books are allegories.

The books are also adventure stories and in Mockingjay there are some changes in the way the adventure is handled. Katniss’ archery skill is so great, one could argue that she is a superhero in the first two novels. In the third, that skill is deemphasized. Katniss contributes to the fight against the Capitol by becoming a symbol of the resistance. Her most important skill is her ability to encourage others to fight rather than her own combat abilities. Or course, the leaders of the resistance cannot keep Katniss away from the frontline because she hates what the Capitol has done to the people she loves. There are plenty of action scenes.

The love triangle relationship Katniss has with Gale and Peeta continues in this book with Gale playing a bigger role and Peeta, who is being held by the enemy, kept in the background. The relationships seem to be propelled more by circumstances and less by emotions in this book. I saw that other reviewers complained about that fact, but in the end I was satisfied with the way things worked out.

On its own, Mockingjay would not work as well as the other two books, but along with them it creates an excellent story that is fun, poignant, and has a powerful message.

Steve Lindahl - Author of Motherless Soul

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