Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Reviews

Doc: A Novel
By Mary Doria Russell
Random House, 2011. 394 pgs. Fiction.

The need to fight for life began at birth for John Henry Holliday who immerged into this world with a cleft palate, which at that time was almost a death sentence for a newborn. His uncle, a gifted surgeon was able to repair much of the deformity, and his mother spent months feeding him with a dropper and years helping him to speak well enough that few knew he had ever struggled. While he was still young, his mother died of tuberculosis and left her only son with the same disease. His TB would eventually force him to move from his home to the dry, clean air of the Wild West. He would eventually become famous for his involvement in a brief shootout at the O.K. Corral and generations would know him by his nickname, Doc Holliday.

Doc is historical fiction at its finest. Russell paints a realistic and vibrant portrait of an educated man forced to live in a wild frontier. Doc Holliday is a great hero in his own story and while Russell doesn’t sensationalize the myths that are associated with his life and deeds, he is still clearly a larger-than-life character along with Wyatt and Morgan Earp, Miss Kate, and other key players who inhabited Dodge City. Readers will appreciate Russell’s humor and beautiful writing style along with Doc’s adventurous and courageous spirit.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
By Karl Marlantes
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010. 600 pgs. Fiction.

The horrors of war are brought alive through the story of young Lieutenant Waino Mallas as he joins Bravo Company deep in the jungles of war torn Vietnam. Mallas joins the Marines hoping to distinguish himself and launch his hoped for political career. But the realities of the controversial conflict almost immediately make him question the wisdom of his enlistment. Wild jungle animals, disease, malnutrition, jungle rot, leaches, not to mention the opposing forces all endanger the lives of Bravo Company marines. However, the internal dangers of the conflict become nearly as deadly as Mallas faces misinformed and dangerously ambitious officers as well as violent racial aggression.

This is an extremely powerful novelization of a conflict that has not been portrayed often in fiction. It’s a stunning debut effort for Marlantes who spent ten years writing it using his own ex-marine experiences. He pulls no punches as he describes the violence and trauma faced by soldiers at war. Readers should expect a great deal of gritty language along with an amazing and eye opening story that won’t be forgotten soon.

22 Britannia Road
By Amanda Hodgkinson
Viking, 2011. 323 pgs. Historical Fiction.

World War II stories abound in recent literature, but 22 Britannia Road tells of the personal aftermath the conflict visited upon those who survived. Silvana and Janusz fell in love, married, and welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world just as Germany took control of their Hungarian homeland and they were forced to part. Years later, they reunite in a small home on Britannia Road in England. But too much has happened during their separation to allow them to pick up where they left off. The scars and secrets they carry will eventually rise to the surface and the love they once had for each other may not be strong enough to keep their family from falling apart.

Despite my own struggle to relate to these characters, 22 Britannia Road is a great historical novel. It illuminates the heroic efforts required by that generation to live the lives they fought for so desperately. Living through war is only half the story. For those who remained, peace would require equal acts of bravery and resolve.

Smokin’ Seventeen
By Janet Evanovich
Bantam Books, 2011. 308 pgs. Mystery.

Stephanie Plum has a serious problem. She is in love with two men. One is Trenton police detective Joe Morelli. The other is mysterious security expert Ranger. Both men have undeniable attractions and both relationships contain possibly insurmountable obstacles. But Stephanie is determined to find out what her heart wants and she may possibly have time to make a decision if it weren’t for all the people who are trying to kill her, not to mention the dead bodies that keep appearing with gift tags addressed to her. Add to that an unfortunate curse placed on Stephanie by Morelli’s crazy grandmother and you are set for another fantastic mystery in this hilarious series.

This is one of those guilty pleasures I just can’t seem to resist. I love Stephanie. I love Lula. I love Grandma Mazer. I even love Mooner. However, the past few books have left me a little disenchanted with the love triangle. Stephanie just seems to waffle back and forth between the two men and it seemed to be getting a bit stale. Smokin’ Seventeen broke that trend and I felt that the plotline was able to progress without actually progressing …a difficult thing to manage as has been demonstrated by innumerable series both in print and on TV. I am, once again, looking forward to Evanovich’s next Plum mystery.

1 comment:

Mary Ann said...

When I read your amazing reviews, doesn't that count as reading fine literature?!