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Reviews Written by
frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

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Law of Averages
Law of Averages
by Frederick Barthelme
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.16
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.14

4.0 out of 5 stars Minimalist anthology., Dec 21 2003
This review is from: Law of Averages (Paperback)
I haven't read any of Barthelme's novels, but have read some of his essays in the past. After reading this collection of stories, I keep thinking about a line of his (which I'm sure I'm misremembering)-- something about the best part of writing fiction being the collaboration with the reader. That's a line that can seem like a throwaway until you read Barthelme's stories. These are stories that are only robust when I as reader give them my own history to put into context and revisit.
Unfortunately, the collection was uneven to my eye. There are books of short stories which when grouped together still read like a book. This one doesn't-- it reads like an anthology. Several of the stories are so close in mood and characters that they read like versions of each other and several characters literally reappear in what clearly aren't linked stories-- a distraction when you encounter them a second time.
Barthelme is often described as an unapologetic minimalist, and it was great to read his beautifully chiselled and stripped-down prose.
You see the risk of this minimalism in some of the stories that don't quite work. All we have of the characters are their surfaces and sometimes it seems like the story leaves them at 'quirky', without giving it any depth. But when the stories work well (for instance, in the amazing story "Driver") then they work very powerfully indeed.

Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown
Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown
by Maureen Waller
Edition: Hardcover
20 used & new from CDN$ 3.02

3.0 out of 5 stars How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is., Dec 13 2003
Ungrateful Daughters treats the last days of the house of Stuart as seen through the perspectives of the major characters: James II, Mary of Modena, Mary II, William of Orange, and Queen Anne. It begins essentially with the restoration and ends with the handover of power to the Hanovers.
The material is absorbing and the book was seemingly quite well-researched. However, for me, much of the pleasure was spoiled by Waller's organisation and tone. The narrative is not linear, but shifts with the perspectives of the different players. I found the effect jarring and occasionally confusing. I also heard more than I wanted of Waller's opinions about the people involved (particularly Queen Anne).
It's funny that I'm willing to forgive a history writer like Mitford her harsh asides, but I wasn't willing to forgive Waller. I found her judgements heavy-handed and they made me suspicious of how (and from what perspective) she was telling the story. Too bad-- because it's a really great story.
This shouldn't discourage others from reading the book-- it's still a good use of time and a book that I'm going to keep in my collection.

He Was Her Man: A Samantha Adams Mystery
He Was Her Man: A Samantha Adams Mystery
by Sarah Shankman
Edition: Paperback
24 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Fun enough, but missing something., Dec 7 2003
I think that this is my first Samantha Adams mystery, and I should say that it isn't bad. If you'd like a quick-read mystery with snappy dialogue and a few laughs thrown in, then this is a good book for you.
Personally, while I enjoyed it, I found it at least a little bit too slick and too glib. I felt like the con man element could have been developed out a little bit more (I liked it-- I felt frustrated when it didn't pan out). And unfortunatly the ending felt a little bit too slick.
I'll probably read others in the series if I get a chance, but I'm unlikely to buy them new.

Luck in the Shadows: The Nightrunner Series, Book I
Luck in the Shadows: The Nightrunner Series, Book I
by Lynn Flewelling
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.54
66 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting beginning., Dec 7 2003
It seems like people tend to either really love or hate this book. Not me-- I found myself coming down firmly in the middle.
I liked the take on the orphaned prodigy. I liked the characters and the adventure. I found the plot a little bit less and the political landscape felt a bit abbreviated, if not actually derivative. Perhaps the worst thing of all, the book slipped very quickly from my mind. I had to actually work to recall what it was that I had read.
I'm curious to see what's going to happen in the next book in the series, and I may rethink my judgement after that. We'll see.

Kisscut
Kisscut
by Karin Slaughter
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
59 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Better than it deserves to be., Dec 7 2003
This review is from: Kisscut (Mass Market Paperback)
I was uneasy after I read Slaughter's first novel, Blindsighted. As much as I found it very strong, I also felt like it leaned too much on some particularly shocking and sensational elements of the crimes to provide its bite.
Unfortunately, instead of making me feel better about Slaughter, Kisscut seems to me a step in the wrong direction.
Be aware before you read this book-- it deals in an explicit way with incest, child pornography, genital mutilation, and violence towards children. It's not for the faint of heart, nor for young readers.
I found the plot points stretched rather thin here, and again I felt like the book strayed rather too close to exploitation of its subjects rather than exploration.
This said, Slaughter is a really strong writer. The characters are very well written, the details of their emotional responses are well-conceived and usually felt to me right on. Lena may be a bit tiresome as a character, but she also makes real sense, particularly coming off the events in Blindsighted.
I'd like to see what happens if Slaughter takes her obvious talents and applies them to less sensationalist material.

A Day Late and a Dollar Short
A Day Late and a Dollar Short
by Terry McMillan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
94 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A feel-good book that actually felt good to read., Dec 7 2003
I have a secret soft spot for Terry McMillan's books, even though I have to say that I roundly dislike much of the other books in this category. She writes with an infectious energy, eye for detail, and sense of character that is nearly impossible to dislike. I don't mind the emotional manipulation because it feels well-meant and in the end it's both satisfying and effective. I enjoyed reading this book.
Minor quibbles: while I liked the device of the letters, it was a bit *too* pat; the pacing felt off in the second half of the book-- moved too quickly to its conclusion somehow.

Murder On The Silk Road
Murder On The Silk Road
by Stefanie Matterson
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars I really didn't like the main character., Dec 7 2003
I agree with the reviewers who noted that the book was well-researched, but still unsatisfying. I gave it an extra star precisely for that research, but that shouldn't imply it's worth reading. Because unfortunately, it isn't.
Matteson needs to go back to some basics and learn how to write characters. Charlotte Graham is entirely unbelievable and the plots are incredible, even by cozy standards. As much as I wanted to give her extra points for the clear research efforts, I just couldn't. My credulity as a reader was constantly being strained to the breaking point.
Skip this one, unless you're really bored.

Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr
Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr
by Garth Nix
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
79 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Great series for fantasy readers of all ages., Dec 7 2003
Older readers may be put off by the marketing which puts this fine book in the young adult market, but they shouldn't be. It's strongly written and compelling by any standards and is no more of a children's book than Lord of the Rings.
I didn't find Lirael quite as strong as Sabriel, hence the four stars rather than five. But I'm still going to read the follow-up book as soon as I can.

An Obedient Father
An Obedient Father
by Akhil Sharma
Edition: Paperback
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars No heroes., Dec 5 2003
This review is from: An Obedient Father (Paperback)
I'm not going to argue that this book is pleasant to read, because it isn't. But I'd argue that it's worth reading, maybe even should be read, despite its unpleasant subject matter.
And I suppose that it is worth warning that it is unpleasant. It has fairly explicit descriptions of violence, incest, and poverty. There are probably people who shouldn't read it if they're particularly reactive to those issues.
I wouldn't have imagined that I could see a book like this, which deals with these kinds of issues and still manages to achieve moral ambiguity. Somehow Sharma takes some of the most loaded topics imaginable and still places it in a landscape which is-- if not without blame-- at least without innocence. While Mr. Karan (the father)commits acts that seem to put him beyond the pale, it's hard not to feel yourself sliding into sympathy for him. And while you want to like Anita because of what happens to her, it's awfully hard to do. Meanwhile, the landscape of Indian politics around them (which is a bit hard on the reader, since it assumes that you know something about it) also seems to imply a decided lack of ethical clarity.
I think that it's a very strong book, extremely well written, and thought-provoking if not uplifting.

The Storyteller: A Novel
The Storyteller: A Novel
by Mario Vargas Llosa
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
57 used & new from CDN$ 0.27

4.0 out of 5 stars images of narration, Nov. 30 2003
A Peruvian writer explores his own past when he encounters a picture of a Machiguenga storyteller in an Italian gallery. He believes that ths storyteller in the photograph is not himself Machinguenga, but is instead a friend of his youth, Saul Zuratas.
A story about telling stories, and all the different ways that there are to tell (and receive) stories. From the Kafka parrot, to the narrator's stint as a television producer, to the storyteller's stories themselves, this is a book which struggles with identity and with the real. The character of Saul is notable for his lack of place and his struggle as both a monster and an angel to exist in the world of Peru.
The translation felt smooth, although it was rough enough in places that I was sorry for my inability to read Spanish. It's easy to get a bit lost in the beginning, and the stories of the storytellers seem to have lost at least a little bit in translation-- although at which level of language isn't clear to me.

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