Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three fat books and a skinny one

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a WomanCatherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four stars, but only just.

I was puzzled even as I was fascinated by this book, especially the first half. Where was the discussion of sources, the synthesis of different accounts of this woman's life? Instead, I found an amazingly smooth, utterly readable account of Sophia/Catherine that was informative even as its origins were entirely opaque. There is only one point in the book where a major source and its provenance are openly discussed, and alternative interpretations given. Otherwise, we just take everything at Massie's word.

But it's a very good word, really. The first half of the book is a stellar re-telling of Catherine's life. Once she (spoiler alert! ha ha) becomes empress, the story slows down a bit and moves forward a decade or more in jumps and starts. There is an entire chapter on the French Revolution, for example, that has very little to do with Catherine herself - the focus moves entirely away from her.

I'm making it sound like I liked it less than I did. Very good, just a little puzzling at times, that's all. I would have liked less conjecture accepted as fact and more open discussion of who said what and why. That's just more my style.





Please Ignore Vera DietzPlease Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book reminds me of Before I Fall and (especially) Sweethearts, but I didn't like it as much. Ultimately, I don't think I would recommend this book, for a few reasons:

1. Language
2. Content
3. Stuff being horrible just 'cuz.

If there is something good I take away from this book, it's that THANKS BE TO GOD I escaped high school without going through some of the things poor Vera Dietz did.

Another good thing: flowcharts. This book has some clever ones.

So yeah, if you want to read about a teenage girl putting her life in order, read Before I Fall or Sweethearts instead.



North and SouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second reading November 2012: I picked this up again because I needed a book that was good, but not so good that it would take me away from other responsibilities - in other words, a classic that I had read before. Mostly this fit the bill, except I ended up stealing time to read it more often than I should have. This really is the thinking man's Pride & Prejudice. Love love love.

Quirks noticed on a second reading: the movie is much kinder to Higgins and Bessy and Mary than Gaskell is. They're hardly likable in the book version. Similarly, Mr. Bell makes you laugh in the book but only for the first few pages of his appearance. After that, you kind of wish he would shut up (as do the surrounding characters). In the movie he's much more genial.


First reading 7 July 2010: I had heard such varied opinions of this book I wasn't sure what to make of it. Then I started reading it and I could hardly put it down. I loved it. Sure, Margaret is a little too languid at times, and I learned more than I wanted to about 19th-century trade union practices, but on the whole, amazing. I liked it much better than Wives and Daughters (and I liked that one quite a bit).

I think having seen the BBC miniseries of N&S so many times helped because I had a very strong visualization of all the characters - and they are spot-on loyal to the book.

Anyone who doesn't like Jane Austen but wants to enjoy period literature would probably like this book. It's not as witty as Austen, but its characters are aware of poverty (as in, actual poverty, not, "we only have eight servants" poverty) and social injustice. I really appreciated that extra depth.



Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters, #3)Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By far, my least favorite of the trilogy. I didn't care for the heroine at all and after finishing the book, I felt like large chunks of the story (which happened to be the parts I really didn't like) were completely unnecessary. Plus, the climax was a big old mess. Also, too many people were using the old "oh, it's a prophecy, and the wording isn't clear, so no, I can't tell you what I saw when I looked into the future" excuse. LAME.

That said, it was nice to hang out with the Sevenwaters crowd again. I could see myself re-reading the other two books sometime in the future, but not this one.

3 comments:

Julia - Finding My Way Softly said...

I am always amazed that you find the time and energy to read so much, with two kids, school, work and living in a foreign country. That said, I love your reviews. They have steered me to several books I loved, and talked me out of several I was on the fence about. Keep them coming! (when your schedule allows of course)

Susanne said...

I appreciate your reviews as well. Thanks!

Lisa Lou said...

I liked Before I Fall. More than I thought I would. Good to know that that one is better than Vera Dietz.

Also, have you read To Timbuktu, by Casey Scieszka? She and her boyfriend travel through Asia and Africa teaching English and exploring. It's an illustrated novel, which was fun to read.

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