Review: Child of God

Child of GodChild of God by Cormac McCarthy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliantly dark. I don't know how McCarthy gets to the part of himself where a story like this lays waiting, but I'm very glad he gets there. (And very glad for the people who live around him that he's able to get back from that place.)

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Review: Final Arguments

Final ArgumentsFinal Arguments by Clifford Irving

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent courtroom mystery, with better use of supporting characters than most. The Florida setting was interesting, especially with the details offered about their legal system and their use of capital punishment at the time the book was written.

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Review: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's BerlinIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four stars because this book went a long way towards answering my "How was it possible?" question about Hitler's rise to power. Larson really sticks to his source material in this book, so much so that it's not the story of Ambassador Dodd's family as it is the story of Dodd and his daughter. They left diaries, journals and letters about their stay in Berlin in the early 30's, while the wife and son apparently left very little paper trail. Certainly they witnessed as much, maybe more, of the personal and public side of the Nazi party, but in this story they're ghosts of the family, mentioned only when they move through the very documentative Dodd and Martha. But that's a small quibble, along with the weirdly casual chapter titles that don't always match the chapter contents.

Larson balances a critical "who knew what when" with personable account of people who didn't have the benefit of hindsight. Dodd and his daughter, like most guests in a new and exciting situation, wanted to like their hosts. They wanted to believe that people in general will do the right thing, that people in general are good. When their personal experiences, time after time, proved that wasn't the case, one claims to have joined the opposition and the other left the constraints of public office to speak to a wider audience. Whether their end actions had any effect isn't the point of the book, but what they saw (and did, especially in the case of Martha) provides a quick, easy to read view of life in Berlin when Hitler was laying his foundation for what was to come.

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Review: 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America

2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So many good plot devices, wasted on such weak characters! "Near future" science-fiction is a risky setting for any writer because so much of that future has arrived between the first draft and publication. It's likely to appeal to a wider audience, however, more like mainstream fiction because it's easy to imagine a world only 20 or 30 years into the future, and Brooks got lucky with only a few events happening in the real world that change how the reader sees his story. The central theme, "be careful what you wish for" in the guise of curing cancer, it very intriguing. The earthquake that flattens Los Angeles is written purely from the POV a native, in that the rest of the country almost ceases to exist once that happens. It's when you get to the characters, whether it be back story, arc, or even simply the dialog that the book becomes flat and boring. Flawed characters are interesting only if there flaws are interesting - Brooks' character are so run of the mill in their motivations that you knew everything about them as soon as they were introduced, in no small part because Brooks tells you everything about them. They don't grow, they don't change in ways that you couldn't predict long before it happens, they're warm bodies to fill out empty spaces between some decent exposition.

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Review: The Sparrow

The SparrowThe Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely brilliant first contact science fiction! Russell's background as an anthropologist brings history into the future when small group of human beings travel to meet some newly discovered neighbors. Funded and partially manned by the Jesuits, the story draws on what has happened in the past when one type of civilization attempted to learn without changing another - it never works out well for both groups. Told in a beginning vs the end meets in the middle manner, the story may seem to drag at the beginning, but every bit of back story is needed to reach what turns out to be an ending that doesn't seem like science fiction at all.

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