Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Public Domain Books, n.d. (originally published 1922); 311 pages

Classic Rinehart here: mistaken identity, amnesia, public scandal, mysterious deaths, true love, and changed lives. In some ways this was like a Grace Livingston Hill novel, except without the exceedingly legalistic religiosity. The ending was not quite fulfilling. It ended exactly the way I wanted it too, but rather abruptly and without details or flourish.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Book Review: Dangerous Days

Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Public Domain Books, n.d. (originally published 1919); 335 pages

Available as a free Kindle ebook.

I started Dangerous Days expecting it to be like other Rinehart novels I've read: a light, fluffy mystery with a bit of romance. Instead I got a commentary on modern society (modern as of 1919, although many of the points still apply today). The book is set just before the entry of America into World War I and focuses on the Spencer family. Clayton Spencer owns a munitions factory and makes good money shipping weapons to the Allies in Europe, while his wife Natalie spends the money almost as fast as he can earn it. Their adult son, Graham, has a job at the factory, but spends much of his time running with a "fast" set and flirting with his secretary. On the outside, the Spencers have a perfect life, but inside they are falling apart as individuals and as a family. Clayton is married to his work and neglects his wife and son. Natalie is shallow and immature and keeps her son tied fast to the figurative apron strings. Graham does not care for hard work and just wants to play and pursue pretty women.

Everything changes when America enters World War I. Graham wants to join the army and fight, but his mother exacts a promise that he will never go to war, because she is terrified that she would lose him forever--either through death or because he would become an independent man who no longer relies on his mother. Clayton, on the other hand, wants Graham to join the army because he sees how Natalie has infantilized their son and he wants Graham to get away from his mother's influence and from a romance with a woman of weak character. In response to the stresses on their marriage, Clayton pursues a widowed friend, while Natalie takes up with her interior designer. In the end, Graham goes to war, marries a good woman, and becomes a mature adult, while one of his parents tries to heal their broken marriage and the other does not.

Dangerous Days is a wonderful, amazing book. Rinehart documents in great detail the slow destruction of a marriage and the results of poor parenting on a child. She emphasizes that honor, virtue, and love are important in every facet of life and that in relationships there is no room for selfishness. The entire book is simply beautiful in the explication of what love looks like and how loving people should behave. The history depicted in the book is also fascinating, particularly since Rinehart wrote the book just two years after the period in which it is set.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review: The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013 (ARC); 366 pages

Note: I received this book as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviews program.

The Drunken Botanist is essentially an encyclopedia of the most common and interesting plants used to make alcoholic beverages, covering history, botany, zymology, and the culinary arts. However, the entries are far more interesting than your typical reference guide, making this a highly-readable book. Stewart opens with a section on the plants used to make alcohol, from grains like barley and rye to fruits such as grapes and apples and even vegetables such as potatoes. The second section covers the herbs, spices, and other plant material used to flavor alcohol, including commonly-recognized fruits such as oranges and lemons as well as lesser known plants such as mauby and quandong. Finally, the third section covers common garnishes. The book is also full of recipes featuring the beverages and plants mentioned in each section. The historical stories that Stewart tells are fascinating, as is the information on the production of alcoholic beverages.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Harcourt, Inc., 2007 (originally published 1973); 414 pages

(Sorry this is so long. The book made me mad.)

I've long held to the belief that the book is always better than the movie. Always. Well, thanks to William Goldman, I'm going to change to the book is generally better than the movie in most cases. Essentially, I like the film The Princess Bride so much that I've saved the book for a while now, because I knew, due to the aforementioned rule, that the book had to be brilliant. The basic plot was quite good, but the writing style really ruined the book.

Goldman starts the book an introduction (which may be only in the 30th anniversary edition; I'm not sure)about how his almost illiterate father read this story to him when he was a kid, and then when he was an adult and in the hospital and dying, his wife read him this book and it saved his life, and then when he gave the book to his son, his son hated it, and that's when Goldman realized that his father had edited the book, because Morgenstern had actually written a political satire, but Goldman's father skipped all the lengthy, boring, historio-political parts. And so Goldman edited the original book into its current form so that everybody could read it and love it as much as he does. When I finished the introduction, I thought, "Aw, that was a nice story about his father and stuff." And then I think, "Wait, but Goldman really wrote this, I mean he made up the story and pretended it's an abridgment. So what's all this stuff about his father?" So essentially, that whole long story about his father, his wife, and his son is all made up. Goldman doesn't even have a son. That kind of lost me right there, because who writes a fake introduction with that much detail (and believe me, it's very detailed)? On the other hand, Goldman writes very convincingly. I knew that really he's the author of the story, and I still believed the story about his father.

So onward to the actual story, which is more or less just like the movie, with a bit more background on all the characters, the sort of background that it's not convenient to give in movies without being boring. So I'm not going to give a plot summary, because if you've seen the movie, you know all about it, and if you haven't seen the movie, you should. In the book, however, Goldman inserts many, many, many fake editorial comments--not footnotes, but actual bracketed comments in the text. At the worst points, he's got at least one comment per page. It totally interrupts the narrative flow and makes the book difficult to read. It's not at all like the dialogue between the boy and the grandfather in the movie, which is just cute. (Another reason the movie is better--it has Peter Falk.)

Finally, as a note, this isn't exactly a children's book--there are several violent/disturbing scenes, some swearing, and some totally unnecessary racial epithets.

And so, that's my review. Now go watch the movie.