Capsule Book Reviews: June and July 2012

I have read a lot in the past few weeks. Chalk that up to 1) having completed graduate school and 2) being unemployed. For perhaps the first time, I’m actually ahead of schedule in terms of finishing 50 books this year!

However, I wasn’t really feeling up to writing longer reviews for various reasons. Instead, I’m going to try out some capsule reviews. I figure it’s better to only write one or two sentences about a book I’ve read than struggle to write a full review and end up with nothing at all! (The titles are linked to the books’ GoodReads pages, in case you’d like to read others’ thoughts!)

Room, by Emma Donoghue: It feels sort of weird to say I enjoyed a book about a woman kidnapped and held in a room for seven years, during which time she has a child who grows up thinking the room is a world unto itself, but I did. The voice of Jack, the child, ranges from sweetly innocent to precocious to angry, but the narrative device never feels stale. Despite what I felt were a few missteps in the latter half of the book, this was a well-done novel and it’s definitely earned all of its critical praise. Four out of five stars.

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt: I can appreciate a good send-up of a genre, but for some reason, this didn’t work for me. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. There were some flashes of brilliance, such as the brothers’ encounter with a mysterious old woman, but I suppose I wanted a more concrete/less meandering storyline. Three out of five stars.

The Murder of the Century, by Paul Collins: I was actually much more interested in the yellow journalism side of this story as compared to the murder-mystery aspect. Learning about Pulitzer and Hearst and the general newspaper arena in the early 1900s was really engaging, and really informative. If you’re a fan of Newsies, you’ll probably like this. A solid three out of five stars.

Honky, by Dalton Conley: A thoughtful memoir of growing up poor in the New York projects in the 1960s and ’70s, and the experience of being the only white child in class. I found some parts a bit problematic, including Conley’s parents’  thoughts about race (like “not seeing race”) but overall, I really enjoyed his musings. I don’t often say this, but I want to reread this one. (Also, during a job interview, I was asked what I was currently reading…and it happened to be this book…and my mind blanked on any other book I’ve read, ever. So I got to say “honky” to a roomful of white people.) Four out of five stars.

Judgement Ridge, by Mitchell Zuckoff: While the main story here is fascinating in a trainwreck kind of way (basically, two local teenagers murder two Dartmouth professors), it was absolutely smothered by the thick layer of detail Zuckoff applied. The meaningless details–what food was served at the Dartmouth graduation the year of the murder investigation, for example–just bogged down the action and drew out what was a fairly straightforward story. I think Zuckoff’s journalist instinct to use every note he took about the case did not serve him well here. Two out of five stars.

The Killer of Little Shepherds, by Douglas Starr: LOVED IT. Perhaps one of the best true crime books I’ve ever read. It not only follows the story of a French serial killer/rapist active in the late 1800s, but also the development and use of forensic science in catching criminals. Both parts of the story are extremely interesting, and were woven together seamlessly by Starr. Five out of five stars.


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