Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Reviews: Aurorarama, Dodger and The World Without You

Book reviews:

Dodger by Terry Pratchett: I listened to this on my car stereo, because Stephen Briggs always does a great job with Pratchett's books. Dodger is something of a slight, non-Discworld novel. Pratchett's recent novels seem a little light on plot but still full of the humor he is famous for. This young-adult title seems to be stand-alone, although he seems to hint that Dodger could be the start of a series. A tosher (scavenger in the London sewers) nicknamed Dodger comes to the aid of a damsel in distress and finds himself catapulted into high society through the intervention of Charles Dickens. The problem here is that Dodger never really is in enough hot water to keep tension up, except for one scene toward the end, in which a villain is too easily overcome. (Another inkling that a follow-up is planned.) But for young people interested in Victorian London, Pratchett offers a colorful overview of the dirty but fascinating city. (British book challenge.)

Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat: I had seen a good review of this title a couple of years ago and put it on my to-read list. I finally got around to reading it after borrowing it from the Jacksonville State library. The novel takes place in an invented city of New Venice, built in the Arctic Circle. An enlightened patrician who runs the city's greenhouses and a disreputable professor at the college find themselves on a converging course to thwart the plans of the cabal that runs the city even as a mysterious dirigible hangs over the city. Magic, native peoples and magic are involved, as Valtat tries to create a steampunk-style world. I liked the structure of this imaginary place, but the narrative wavers quite a bit, and the book has a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes. There's a sequel out, but I don't know I'm involved enough in this universe to read it.

The World Without You by Joshua Henken: Henken attempts to portray in some depth a large Jewish family grieving over the death of the brother, who was kidnapped and killed in Baghdad covering the Iraq War. Three sisters gather to be with their parents in Lenox, Mass., at their summer home, as does the widow of the brother. They are marking the one-year anniversary of the brother's death with the unveiling of a tombstone. Although the novel begins in some depth, as it probes the mother and father's impending breakup and the sister Noelle's Orthodox life in Israel (she fled the United States and has a husband and four children), about half the characters (two sisters and the father) really don't stand out in this narrative. They have too little to do. The real drama here is among the widow, the third Orthodox sister and the mother, but the other characters get in the way. Also, the novel has a weird way of dealing with the body of the dead brother (who in some ways is the most vivid character, coming across as a rowdy, playful and curious journalist); at some points it seems the body was intact, and at others it was identifiable only through dental records. I do praise Henkin for sending the beloved brother, Leo, to Wesleyan, however, and many of the details -- in-line skating through Lenox, playing tennis in a downpour, the facts behind how Leo and his wife, Thisbe, met -- are quite engrossing. But the novel lays there when the other sisters or father are involved.

1 comment:

Irene Jennings said...

Dodger is a great book that takes place in the 1900's. Full of action, Dodger is a must read. Dodger is a sewer boy. Smart and fast, he witnesses a woman being abused and saves her. But no good deed goes unpunished, and Britain is endangered by his action. Learn about pet shipping Florida sepcialists