Monday, June 17, 2013

Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen

Review based on ARC.

As a start, the title is misleading. The book implies that every human boy should have a human man, but the book is, in fact, about every "oaf" boy having a human man (which is sometimes a human female man) as a pet. And I think that that statement is incomplete and unfair to the book as well.

In 164 pages, Preston Allen manages to craft a story with depth, emotions, and morals. No words are wasted and no story line drags. Allen interweaves multi-generational stories and breaks off into almost-subplots, and he impressively gives the reader a real sense of the personality and the character of the individuals in the book.

It is an almost everyman kind of story, that is simultaneously a fantasy and a serious, dramatic, "life lesson" kind of book. It is interesting and intriguing. It is almost, but not quite, preachy. It conveys a message firmly and intensely, but inoffensive and loving. 

You get the sense that the author has a great care for humans and their follies, earth and its weaknesses, and the interplay between the two. And yet it is a fantasy, in which giants have humans for pets. And even more, there is a twist.

I cannot say more because at 164 pages, there is too much to ruin. But I greatly enjoyed reading this book (in one sitting), and I would recommend it to ... I think anyone I know. 

For me, while the book was indeed great, it wasn't a 5-star book that blew me away only because it wasn't. It was great. Impressive. Enjoyable. Enlightening. But it did not make me feel like squeezing the book because I was so pleased with it, and it did not make me insist that every single person I know read it. So a VERY strong Four out of 5 stars.

A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon

Review based on ARC.

Like many other readers of this book, I really did want to love it.  I have recently been through Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and Rules of Civility, both of which I thought were really quite great.  And coming away from those and into another book introduced in the same vein -- the glamorization of historical wealth and/or the striving of characters to reach it and the pitfalls along the way -- this one just fell short.

The characters are interesting *enough,* the plot is interesting *enough,* and the writing is certainly good *enough,* it just didn't wrap me up into the stories the way other recently read books did.

So, about this one... The main characters are poor jewish ambitious materially minded Ed Cantowitz and rich disillusioned laid back save-the-world Hugh Shipley.  And of course they become best friends.  And of course they fall for the same girl.  And of course their lives are intertwined, even in ways that are not expected.  And none of that was particularly ground-breaking, nor did I need it to be.  But the story of it all.... well, I need more than just interesting facts and interesting characters.  The story needs to come alive.  And for me, with this one, it had a difficult time of it.  There were moments, certainly, but in the end I didn't really feel for the characters.

The first portion of the book covers Ed and Hugh's first few years as friends at Harvard in the 60s, and it is interesting enough.  The 60s and 70s are such an interesting timeframe.  But Ed and Hugh's differences seem to be at the forefront of Hershon's focus, rather than their friendship and the interesting conversations they could have had, the interesting perspectives they could have gained from one another, or the interesting experiences they could have gained from their friendship.  As someone who has had friends just about as polar opposite from myself as you can get--I know that the relationships have the potential to have depth and interest.

And yes, I know that the times, they were a-different back then, but some things are true about friendships: the differences fade away.  And yes, they resurface from time to time, sometimes in very painful ways, but I felt like Hershon just couldn't get *past* the differences.  I get it, Ed was poor and unprivileged, and Hugh was rich and privileged.  I get it, Hugh was attractive and soft-spoken and Ed was short, stocky, and aggressive.  But they both had a hopeful outlook on life and they both had a love of the "new" and I felt like not enough was done to play up these similarities.

Overall, it was a fine book, and I really enjoyed the story after it changed perspectives to Ed and Hugh's daughters, years later, best friends in boarding school.  Although the transition felt disjointed and awkward, the relationships and their evolution were interesting to me.

In the end, I felt that the book made a great effort, but that the payoff was not as rewarding as I had hoped.  It was a little depressing, a little agressive, and dragged a little at times.  Having it compared to Rules of Civility does Dual Inheritance a disservice.  They have different energies, different focuses, and different purposes.  But I would recommend the book -- to people who want to read something more dense, who are interested in the more depressing sides of lives, and who have the time and energy to devote to a book that covers 5 decades and many characters' lives in about 500 pages.

THREE of five stars.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Review based on ARC.

I was so excited when I won this book.  And then I was even more excited when I read the first 10 pages and realized it.  was gonna be.  awesome.

I was so excited, in fact, that I told anyone who would listen what I was reading, what it was about, and what I thought about it.

Many of my friends said they couldn't wait to read it, and a fair number of those even finished first.
That was the worst part about my experience with this book -- I got SO busy between reading those first 10 pages and reading the last 10 pages that I couldn't just SIT and absorb it all at once.

But that's also one of the things that was so impressive about the book.  During my absences, Zelda and Scott's lives would merely pause, waiting for me to return.  And upon my return, we picked right back up, as if we had not lost any time.. just as you would with an old friend.

This is an impressive historical fiction piece.  Fowler clearly did her research, but so much more impressive is the absolutely believable, perfectly flawed, larger than life and exactly every day life, enraging and endearing characters that Fowler lifted out of the pages of history and put to life, dancing and fighting, drinking and arguing, laughing and crying, right on the pages in front of you.

Not only were the characters fresh and alive and warm and cold and just so tangible, but the writing was insightful as well.  Perhaps Fowler got it wrong.  Maybe Z was more casebook schizophrenic.  Maybe she was straight-up crazy.  Maybe Scott was brilliant and Z just brought him down.  But it didn't matter.  Fowler's story is believable and complete.  Maybe it's not 100% accurate -- I don't believe any of us knows.  But Fowler's story is one that I can accept, that I can believe.  And it certainly felt more likely, more feasible, and more real than other renditions I've heard or read over the years.  In the end, Fowler admits that it's a novelization, but as I walked away from the book, I thought that just maybe, Fowler did actually get it 100% right.  Just maybe...

The only reason this book isn't a 5 star is that there were a few places that dragged.  The story slowed down, and it felt more biographical in a few places than like the telling of a great story.  But overall, I highly recommend. I recommend to people interested in history, in biography, in drama, in Gatsby, in crazy, in feminism, in masochism, in love, in tragedy, and in wonder.  This book has it all.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.