Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Like many young girls, I was given a copy of Little Women as a gift.  Lousia May Alcott's perfect roman a clef about growing up in genteel poverty during the Civil War has been universally adored by generations of young readers, and despite the drastic social changes that have taken place in the intervening years, Jo March's struggle for independence and freedom from the conventions of society still resonates with many young women struggling to find their way in a complex and often confusing world.

So it was with great excitement that I picked up a copy of The Lost Summer of Lousia May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees at a local discount store.  I had read glowing reviews of the book on many of the blogs that I follow, and I anticipated feeling just as taken with the fictionalized account of one youthful summer as all of those bloggers had been. While many authors over the years have used primary historical documents to write fictionalized accounts of the lives of real people, this book seemed to promise some kind of new insight into a hidden chapter of Miss Alcott's life.

The Lost Summer recounts the events of one summer when Louisa was 20.  She and her family go to stay in the house of a friend of their father's in Walpole, Massachusetts.  Her father Bronson Alcott, was a philosopher who was friends with many of the important intellectuals of the mid 1800s-Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Thoreau, and others.  Unfortunately for his family, he believed that working for money would sully his mind, and as a result the Alcott family lived off of the generosity of their friends and family, as well as whatever money the girls could bring in doing piecework or working as tutors and companions.  Louisa meets Joseph Singer, a young man trying to manage his father's shop during the older man's long illness.  There is an instant attraction between Joseph and Louisa, but he is already pledged to another girl, and she longs for the independence to write.  Despite never wanting to marry, Louisa feels herself falling in love with Singer, bonding as they do over Walt Whitman's recently released Leaves of Grass.

Reading the author's note, it becomes obvious that there is actually no historical evidence that Louisa had a love affair as a young girl the year her family lived in Walpole.  The entire affair is completely from the imagination of  McNees.  Which would have been fine, if the story of their love had been as gripping and tragic as some of those rhapsodizing bloggers seemed to find it.  My problem with it was that it didn't seem realistic at all.  They meet, make eyes at each other, read a few poems, and are suddenly consumed with an unquenchable love for each other.  Maybe it's a function of my age, but I just didn't buy the "love at first sight" thing.  Infatuation, yes.  Physical desire, sure.  But full-on, can't-live-without-you love?  Sorry, I just didn't get it.  As a result, while the book is very well written and I enjoyed McNees' descriptions of New England life in the 1850s, I can only say, "meh".

Monday, September 12, 2011

Queen of Sorcery, David Eddings

So a couple of weeks ago I posted a review of Pawn of Prophecy, the first book in David Edding's Belgariad series.  I talked about how it was a well-written fantasy series, with well-developed characters and well-paced action.  All the typical archetypes are there-the sorcerer, the witch, the warriors, the rogue.  It is an enjoyable journey in a sometimes dark fantastical world.

I just finished the second book in the series, that chronicles the further travels of Belgarath, Polgara, and Garion and their allies on their search for the orb.  As for my review of said book-I can only say...

ditto.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Egyptian, Layton Green

Last year I reviewed Layton Green's first novel,  The Summoner.  In it, Green introduces us to Dominic Grey, a former member of the US diplomatic services security.  While stationed in Zimbabwe, Grey is drawn into the mysterious disappearance of a US diplomat, and its connection to a ju-ju priest who seems to be able to do the impossible.  This year I was lucky enough to be asked to review his next book, The Egyptian.


When I reviewed Green's first book, I said that while I thought there were some pacing and exposition issues, I was excited to see where Grey's story went as the series continues.  I was not disappointed.  Green has taken Grey out of the Diplomatic Security Service-which I think allows for more flexibility in storylines over time-and has him working with Professor Viktor Radek investigating cults and mysterious, seemingly magical events around the globe.  In The Egyptian, Radek and Grey are called in by a biomedical company to recover stolen research into a life extension product that could literally make humans almost immortal.  But all is not what it seems-when Grey and an investigative reporter begin to uncover the location of the stolen research, they witness the slaughter of a team of scientists, which leads them to believe that the biotech company is somehow behind the violence.  Drawn by their investigation to Egypt, they discover an ancient cult intent on controlling who is bestowed eternal life.

One of my favorite phrases for someone who seems to be feeling at the top of their game is "in the pocket".  Green has found his groove with this series, and The Egyptian felt much more "in the pocket" that The Summoner.  While there is less about Grey's back story in this book, there is enough to keep you interested in him as a character.  The story moves from America to Europe to a lost oasis in the Sahara, making for a lot of globe-trotting action.  The information about the immortality cult, and the science behind anti-aging, was presented in such a way that I felt like I learned a lot without being lectured at, and it was well-placed in the overall arc of the story.  I am so glad that this series is shaping up the way it is...smart thrillers for people who like their action with some cognitive stimulation!

Thanks for Layton for giving me an advanced preview copy.  You can get it in Kindle or Nook version from his website, www.laytongreen.com.