Sunday, June 14, 2009

TSS - Reviews - Sunday shorts

Once again, I have a collection of shorter thoughts about books that I've read, but haven't felt inspired to write full reviews. I didn't dislike any of them - they just didn't strike my fancy the way others have.

Tightrope: Six Centuries of a Jewish Dynasty by Michael Karpin

Synopsis from publisher: The 750-year epic tale of the extraordinary Backenroth family, this is at the same time an engaging, scrupulously researched narrative history of Jewish life since the Middle Ages. Throughout this time span, the Backenroths could be found at some of the most important events in Jewish history: the migration of their community from western to eastern Europe, the creation of the Hasidic movement, the birth of Zionism, and the loss of so many of their family during the Holocaust. As they struggle to survive, the Backenroths marry, find their fortune in oil, and spawn families with last names that are still widely known.

This sweeping family saga is shaped by real people -- talented and creative women and men swept by the dramatic tides of the history into distant regions and complex situations, where they were forced to display resourcefulness and courage in order to survive. Time and time again they slid from prosperity and opulence to profound poverty and distress, and time after time they managed to surmount crises by virtue of their personal abilities, their tenacious belief in their values, and family solidarity.

My thoughts: There was a lot about this book I found extremely interesting - the Backenroths have been players in an amazing amount of history over the past 600 years, and each generation had characters that stood out and grabbed attention. Their story really does mirror the story of the Jewish people, and it was fascinating to trace the history of this remarkable family. My biggest problem was that, in many places, it read much more like a history text than a story. 600 years is a lot of time to cover, and I think the sheer volume of information detracted from the storytelling, making some parts of the book difficult to slog through. It was, however, a very interesting read, and I think history fans could enjoy this one.

Finished: 5/16/09

Source: Wiley publishing

Rating: 7/10

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Synopsis from publisher: Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters. Or at least without questioning them much - if you don't count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her sixty-year-old uncle - who already has six wives - Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family.

My thoughts: This is a Young Adult novel that will clearly hold a lot of appeal for a wide variety of readers. The writing is good, and the main character, Kyra, is an extremely sympathetic and engaging heroine. My problem was I just wanted more - I wanted the author to flesh out the situations and relationships just a bit more, so I could really dig deep into Kyra's life. What's there is good - I just wanted to find more, and so was just a bit disappointed. I think this would be an excellent introduction to the idea of religious cults for someone who hasn't read that much about the subject, and I anticipate it will be a favorite for many readers this year.

Finished: 5/29/09

Source: St. Martin's Press

Rating: 7/10

Palace Circle by Rebecca Dean

Synopsis from publisher: Palace intrigue, romance, and illicit affairs—Rebecca Dean has written a glorious novel that will sweep Philippa Gregory fans off their feet.

Delia Chandler, an eighteen-year-old Southern girl, marries Viscount Ivor Conisborough just before World War II, becoming part of the Windsor court. It’s every girl’s dream come true. But Delia is jolted from her pleasant life when she realizes, after the birth of her two daughters, that Ivor chose her only to bear an heir to his estate. Shortly thereafter, she begins an affair with her husband’s handsome, titled, and frequently scandalous best friend.

When Conisborough is appointed as an adviser to King Fuad of Egypt, Delia exchanges one palace circle for another, far different one. While she sees Egypt as a place of exile, her two daughters regard Egypt as their home. Only when war comes to Cairo—and Delia finally reveals the secret she has kept for so long—can she begin to heal the divisions separating her from those she loves.

Rebecca Dean’s irresistible combination of real events and masterful storytelling will keep readers fascinated until the very last page.

My thoughts: The word that keeps coming to mind when I think of this novel is "fine". It's fine as a romance, fine as light historical fiction, even at the end fine as a pseudo-espionage thriller. It's just not remarkable good at being any of them, and I think that's where the author went wrong. Reading the novel, I found myself wanting more - more character development, more relationship exploration, more historical significance. I think if the author had focused more on any one of the elements, instead of trying to include absolutely everything, she would have had a more substantial, satisfying novel. Instead, what I read was a light, fluffy story that was enjoyable for an afternoon, but probably won't stick with me for much longer than it takes to write this review.

Finished: 6/1/09

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers program

Rating: 7/10


jacketsandcovers said...

I agree about The Chosen One. There's a lot of skimming of details, and I too wanted more information so I could understand Kyra a little bit better.

bermudaonion said...

You've been busy reading. I have The Chosen One and look forward to reading it after all the great reviews. I guess some of the details were left out since it's a YA book.

Amanda said...

The Chosen One looks really interesting. I keep seeing reviews for it and am looking forward to it.

ANovelMenagerie said...

I really enjoyed The Chosen One.

violetcrush said...

I have been wanting to read The Chosen One for some time now. And also Tightrope looks good. Sorry they weren't as good.

Zibilee said...

I read Palace Circle a couple of weeks ago, and felt much the same way as you did. I didn't particularly like it, and found it just too average to be enjoyable. I also had some minor quibbles with character and style. It was definitely not a favorite for me.