Friday, August 15, 2008


The Other Boleyn Girl -- Philippa Gregory
Gregory's is best known for her historical fiction based on English Renaissance women, and The Other Boleyn Girl is probably the most popular of those works. It chronicles the young adult life of Mary Boleyn, sister to the infamous Anne Boleyn and lover to King Henry VIII as well as mother to two of his children. The novel offers an interesting perspective into the heady madness of Henry's court as well as an unusual portrayal of a more cruelly calculating Anne Boleyn than readers may have previously encountered. But the pacing is an excruciating crawl through the weeks and months of Mary's, and then Anne's, courtship with the Tudor king. Worse, Gregory proves why so many books have been written about the ambitious Anne and so few about "the other" Boleyn: Mary comes across as weak-willed and pouty rather than as a heroine you want to root for.
Final Verdict: **1/2

The Last Lecture -- Randy Pausch
This slim volume received a considerable amount of press during the spring and summer of 2008, especially after Pausch finally succumbed to pancreatic cancer in late July. The book is based on a lecture Pausch gave at Carnegie Mellon; the "last lecture" tradition is popular on many college campuses and usually involves retiring faculty taking a final opportunity to share something with the student body one last time. For Pausch, this opportunity (which paved the way for his bestselling book) was also a way for him to create a lasting legacy for his three young children -- he knew that they wouldn't be able to understand, or appreciate, the words of wisdom he wanted to impart until much later, and the recording of his lecture along with an expanded print version would be his last gift to them. The book is a touching account of a life well lived, and there are many beautiful thoughts and pieces of advice to ponder. But the book doesn't hit home for those of us who didn't know Pausch intimately; "fatherly wisdom" only sticks with you if it comes from your own father, and many of the stories and anecdotes will fade from a reader's mind quickly because of the lack of personal connection. The book cover tells us specifically that Pausch is a professor from Carnegie Mellon in an attempt to give the pages inside more gravitas -- and this is precisely why, though lovely and heartwarming, the book will be forgotten in a few years: we tend to only value the advice given to us by people close to us, whether they have fancy titles or not.
Final Verdict: **1/2

Prior Bad Acts -- Tami Hoag
Hoag currently lives in Malibu, but grew up in small town Minnesota, so several of her novels are set in and around the Twin Cities. Prior Bad Acts centers on a trial for a man suspected of one of the most gruesome killings any Minneapolis resident can remember ever happening in Prairie Home Companion Land. To accompany the horror of those murders, Hoag introduces some impossibly hard-boiled detectives and a cast of characters with enough deep, dark, dangerous secrets to fill several episodes of daytime talk shows. Hoag becomes so obsessed with the noir-ish aspects of her novel, in fact, that the mystery behind the deaths becomes an afterthought and the ending becomes entirely predictable as early as 200 pages before the end. Unfortunately, the filthy language and graphic violence of the rest of the book just makes the lack of a puzzle to solve all the more disappointing.
Final Verdict: *1/2

No comments:

Post a Comment