Friday, February 25, 2011

New York, by Edward Rutherford

Whew, this was a long book to get through! Almost 800 pages, I'm glad I have a Nook rather than toting that thing around. This was an interesting take on history; rather than read a textbook history of America, Rutherford takes the reader through 400 years of New York City's history through fictional characters and stories starting with when the Dutch had control of the island and the Hudson River.

While some sections were difficult to get through, and it was necessary to remember what year I was now reading about, I found it very interesting to learn history through a fiction title. The story follows the many, many generations of the Master family, from the 1600's right up to 2009. Other families and characters come and go, but it's very interesting to see how family dynamic changed, as well as views on politics, society, and the city in general. New York takes the reader on a journey through significant periods in the history of America, such as the American Revolution, Civil War, Great Depression, even the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and it is clear that no matter what was going on in the world, New York continued going to work and trying to survive, much as it does in this day and age. People were diverse from the moment the Dutch settled the island, and their views were just as opposing on any aspect of life (Loyalist vs. Patriots, Pro vs. Anti slavery, hard labor vs. investing/stocks trading, and so on).

The Masters changed immensely from generation to generation, illustrated by young Charlie Master's opposition to the family tradition of going into business and banking. He wanted to live the Bohemian lifestyle throughout the 20's and through the rest of his life! Each of the characters brought to the table a different set of beliefs and ideals, and it was interesting to see the differences in personality between privileged white people and the poor black man, old money and new money, father and son, and so on.

The one downside to this book, besides being 800 pages and taking a month to read, was that the late 20th century was pretty rushed. I would have much rather seen some more dialogue and story about the technological eras of the 1980's and 1990's, than sat through the Revolutionary War for almost half the book. Maybe that's just because I would have been able to point out "I remember that!" but it would have made the ending of the story a little more interesting, in addition to showing that just as much effort went into the recent decades as went into the founding of this country.

Overall, I gave this book a 7/10. It was a very interesting novel, much different from the books I normally read and I was fascinated by this fictional account of one of my favorite cities. The fact that it took me almost a month and a half to read, however, takes away from that a little bit. Less time (and much fewer pages) could have been spent on the 1770's, and the early 20th century, in my opinion anyway. Probably a better idea to read this book over spring break, or any other time than the beginning of my semester though, since I was also pretty distracted by schoolwork.. Ah well, lessons to be learned in planning when I read books!

- Justin

Monday, February 21, 2011

Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities

Do not, I repeat, Do Not read this book unless you have plenty of time to read and reread. Charles Dickens is an excellent writer, but his style is insanely figurative and descriptive; it was often difficult to figure out if something was actually happening or if he was just describing the landscape of the city. That being said, I haven't felt more proud of myself in a while. I finished a true classic, which I haven't even bothered to try in a while. A Tale of Two Cities, if you haven't guessed, takes place during the French Revolution, and follows a small cast of characters as they live their lives in London and Paris. You get to meet Lucie Manette and the venerable, but traumatized, Dr. Alexandre Manette, her father, as well as Mr. Lorry, a close family friend, and Charles Darnay, a man with a dark secret you'll discover by the end of the novel.

The novel opens with Mr. Lorry accompanying Lucie Manette to Paris, where her father, Dr. Manette, has been imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years. His loyal servant Defarge had kept him safe from the trials and tribulations of life on his own, but now Lucie takes her father back to London so he can be recalled to life.

5 years later, France is on the cusp of breaking into civil unrest, and the beginning of the French Revolution. Citizens are outraged by the aristocrats' selfishness and their arrogance, only exposed more so when the Marquis Evremonde runs over a baby in his carriage and simply yells at the townsfolk. His murder by the French revolutionary 'Jacques' incites the townsfolk into revolting against the aristocracy; the guillotine makes her grand entrance into the world as a blade of justice.

Clearly, I'm not prone to giving away the endings of books, so I'm gonna leave the last sections out of this review. I will say that once I started getting into this book, and truly understood what was going on, it picked up and got much more interesting. Dickens is a great writer, perfectly relaying the emotions of poor citizens during such trying times, and describing the landscapes so well I could imagine being in London or Paris in 1775 as well. A Tale of Two Cities gets a 7/10 by me, and I'm looking forward to reading more of his works.

Just keep my warning in mind; if you are not a fan of figurative language, descriptive and flowery prose, and ye olde english, you might want to have a copy of spark notes on hand for this read.

- Justin

PS, to appease the crew at Barnes & Noble, there will be other posts on my blog as well that aren't book-related. We just have so much fun at work, we need some kind of outlet for it all. I hope you enjoy the stories of life in a bookstore as much as we like creating those stories!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Millenium Series by Stieg Larsson

Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past 8 months has heard of the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, or has heard about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (book OR movie OR forth-coming American movie). His books were written a few years ago before his untimely death, but have been on the best-selling lists for months. I think the third book The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is still on our bestselling fixtures at B&N, and has been since I started working at my current store in June. All three of these books are outstanding and a great read for any mystery/thriller enthusiast, but for the sake of this blog I'm really just going to introduce the first book. At least this way, I can have two other books to write about while I'm reading long novels..

The first thing you should know about this book is to not get frustrated with it. The first 50 pages or so are dense, dry, complicated, and generally boring, but I assure you, once the ball is rolling, it speeds along. The beginning of the book details journalist Mikael Blomkvist's trial for libel, and also introduces the backstory of the dark and troubled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, our story's uncouth heroine. The Swedish names and terms coupled with all the law jargon made it very slow-going indeed. However, after the general backstory is finished, the Vanger mystery finally gets introduced and things finally start happening.

After 40 years of uncertainty, aging Henrik Vanger hires Blomkvist, known for being a thorough investigatory journalist, to solve the disappearance and presumed murder of his beloved niece Harriet once and for all. And so, with the help of Salander, Blomkvist delves into the files and history of the corrupt Vanger clan, seeking to settle the matter once and for all. Who killed Harriet Vanger? Where is her body? Why is her diary full of odd Biblical passage references? As their investigation continues, the scandals keep piling. Nazism, financial and business feuds, and familial abuse all play a part in the journalist's part, while Salander fights her own battles against her state-appointed guardian, and the government she rebels against and despises with every fiber of her being.

This book (and the series) is outstanding, and definitely deserves 9 out of 10 points (the introduction loses a point for being so difficult to get through). It was interesting through and through, and once you get used to the Swedish names and jargon, it's much more understandable (no more glossing through names of characters, street names, and so on). It's no wonder The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is in its 34th week on the bestseller lists; Stieg Larsson is an incredible mystery writer and it's such a shame that he died so young and before his works were so widely acknowledged and embraced.

Stay tuned, as I try to finish the last book in A Tale of Two Cities and New York. If I don't finish one of these books soon, there might be a problem..

- Justin

And one quick sidenote.. Although I don't generally condone seeing movies adapted from novels, the Swedish movie adaptation of this book is insanely good. Just keep the subtitles on, and make sure you see the Swedish version with Noomi Rapace rather than the forthcoming Americanized version!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Worst Case by James Patterson

Well, after almost 2 weeks of reading, I've finally finished one of my three current books (hopefully I finish the other two soon, but we'll see about that). James Patterson is one of those writers that you can really read in one sitting if you try; his style of writing is very quick and easy, not too much to really think about. Worst Case is the third novel in Patterson's Michael Bennett Series, which follows Detective Bennett through the crime-ridden streets of New York. I can already say that I like this series better than his more well known Alex Cross series, because while they're written almost the exact same way (twists and turns every time you think the criminal is going to get caught), I know the layout of NYC much better than I do Washington DC, which is where the Cross series takes place. That being said, onto the review of Bennett's story.

The story opens up with a college freshman being kidnapped by a man who questions him on moral topics, such as the quality of life for the factory workers who manufactured his iPod, and is evidently angered by the teen's ignorance of the world's problems and his happy rich little life. He kills this teen, and after leading the police via telephone to his body, kidnaps another rich teen and repeats this process. It turns out, this man (I won't give names away just yet) is angered that these kids are growing up sheltered and supported by their incredibly wealthy parents, and gives them a life-or-death exam to see if they're morally worthy of inheriting their fortunes, and keeping their lives. Michael Bennett and his FBI partner Emily Parker must race the clock to save these teens' lives, and to prevent more kidnappings and 'exam's from taking place.

I enjoyed this book, and it definitely deserves the 7.5/10 I'm scoring it as. That being said, I'm getting a little tired of Patterson's predictability. I've read about half of the Cross series, and I find it amusing yet tiring that almost each novel has a new female partner being introduced as a potential love interest for the main character. Cross has had several, and while this is my first Bennett novel (and it is in fact the third in the series), he seems to attract his fair share of the opposite sex as well. Will these guys settle down, or do I just have to get used to women coming in, helping with the case, and then being killed off by the end of the novel? And no, I assure you that Emily Parker doesn't get killed off (yet). I certainly hope she sticks around for at least most of Tick Tock, the fourth book in this series, but with Patterson, the odds are definitely against her.

I like this book, but if you're looking for a standalone book that's not part of a series, I would look into Patterson's other works (The Postcard Killers and Private were both pretty good books); they seem a little less predictable than his Cross and Bennett series, anyway..

That's all for now, I'll hopefully finish A Tale of Two Cities or New York sometime soon. If not, look for a post by the end of next week anyway; I'll put one up for a book I've read within the past few months.

- Justin