Reviews in Brief
Bah. If I put these off any longer, I’d have a kazillion books needing to be reviewed. So here are my brief opinions. If you want summaries, go to Amazon.
Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd. Although there isn’t too much known about Merian, naturalist and artist of the late 1600s, Todd does a good job at filling in the spaces. The biographer doesn’t merely focus on Merian’s life (interesting that she escaped her husband by going into a religious commune–divorce was not the thing to do back then–even though there was evidence that Merian wasn’t that religious). There’s also the context of the times to consider: the concept of metamorphosis–which had intrigued Merian her entire life–was closely tied to debunking some of the scientific theories of the day like preformation and spontaneous generation. Too bad the stuffy (ahem, male) scientists after her derided her for being commercialist (well, she had to sell off some of her scientific specimens to get food on the table) and fanciful (actually, a lot of her sketchbooks were “modified” by future artists who thought the new pictures would sell better). Really interesting reading on both scientific and feminist standpoints–highly recommended.
Mountains So Sublime by Terry Abraham. It’s a postcard sized book filled with old photographs, paintings, and drawings as well as excerpts of letters from 19th century British travelers to the Rockies. The thing I liked the best about this little book are the travelers’ descriptions–lush, vivid, a language lover’s dream. I didn’t pay very much attention to Abraham’s analysis (there is such thing as too much analysis) but he did have one important point. These British travelers were still steeped into the class system, and they viewed the “equal” American like British lower middle class. Through this lens their opinion, that Americans were crass in their industrial drive and myopic to the land around them, was much less out of any environmentalist attitude but more their own bias that certain people were better than others.
Night Life by Elizabeth Guest. Vampires in Vegas. This plotline has been done before, so ho-hum, right? Well, not exactly. Guest has managed to weave in vampire and Egyptian mythology to make a fresh concept. Unfortunately, this book suffered from an almost completely random side character cameo, a last minute villain, and an abrupt ending. I wonder if the author was forced to cut down on some stuff…
100 Words To Make You Sound Smart edited by Susan Spitz et al. I’m not sure this even qualifies as a book. It’s more like a word list. A word list that brings to mind 11th grade vocabulary tests. They say these words will make you sound smart and not pretentious. I don’t think so. There were some words which I have a special fondness for (byzantine, scintillating) yet others that would make most speakers sound like they’re trying too hard (spartan, sycophant, philistine, narcissist). And then there are the words which I hope some people never learn (boondoggle) because like schadenfreude and kerfuffle it could be thrown into public overuse and misuse. My advice: use this for SAT prep, not for everyday conversation.
The River Knows by Amanda Quick. There was enough (perhaps heavy-handed) foreshadowing that anyone could tell who the bad guys were in this Victorian romantic suspense, but that didn’t stop me from reading it. The major problem I had with this novel is that I felt this sense of detachment between the main characters and the mystery they were trying to solve. Maybe it was because the psychological angst each of them were dealing with seemed a bit over the top. Or maybe it’s just Quick’s sly way of saying that the Victorians were an overwrought bunch. Anyways, the dialogue had me chuckling because the author was obviously making fun of genre assumptions and conventions.
The Demon You Know by Christine Warren. After the first two books of the series (She’s No Faerie Princess and Wolf at the Door) I was expecting another fun read. But, no. I found the heroine to be really, really, really annoying. I think it was this whole Catholic guilt thing she had going on. I mean, come on. Do all Catholics have this guilt complex? And the ending–a little too convenient.
Enslave Me Sweetly by Gena Showalter. You’d think that with aliens and secret agents, you’d have something resembling the X-files, but this is more like a thriller starring characters with strange skin colors. It was okay for about two-thirds of the way through the book–I can sort of buy into the scenario that two agents are trying to break up a sex slavery ring while (futilely) fighting their attraction for each other–but then it gets weird. For some reason, it put me into mind of Piers Anthony without the puns (which still isn’t necessarily a good thing). Jarring, to say the least.