Recently, Time magazine published a list of the 100 best novels. But the praise of professional critics hardly matters to the book-reviewing readers at Amazon.com. A compilation of the best of the worst… about the best.
The following are excerpts from actual one-star Amazon.com reviews of books from Time’s list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to the present. Some entries have been edited.
Archives for July 2010
A Game of Thrones is the first of the seven planned novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. The book is set in medieval Europe-type fictional land where seasons can last for years, even decades, and follows three story-lines that develop with one another. Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of eight principal characters.
It’s hard for me to describe any of the plot, because so much happens and there are so many characters involved. I was a bit wary to start the book, as it’s not something I would choose for myself (it was recommended to me), but I ended up really enjoying it despite my initial reservations. I was engrossed in the characters early on, and it became a great escape from a monotonous day during downtime at work. I recommend this for anyone who’s willing to take on a little challenge by engulfing themselves in a completely different world for a little while each day, and anyone who’s ready to be introduced to lots of well-developed characters and an intricate plot.
Review Submitted by: Jordan Gaines
Daughter of the Regiment: Memoirs of a Childhood in the Frontier Army, 1879-1898 by Mary Leefe Laurence; edited by Thomas T. Smith is Mary Leefe Laurence’s autobiography of her childhood as the daughter of an infantry officer who served in the U. S. Army from 1862 until 1901. As a child, Ms. Laurence lived at eleven different Army installations, most of them frontier posts in Texas and Kansas. She writes affectionately of her time at each installation, the challenges of moving frequently, and the young officers and enlisted men who coddled her as a child. She corroborates numerous aspects of life in the U.S. Army in the late 1800’s, including the notoriously slow promotion rates for officers and the old Army custom that permitted newly arriving officers to displace a lower-ranking officer’s family from their post quarters simply by virtue of seniority.
Ms. Laurence wrote her manuscript during the mid-1940’s but it languished in oblivion until it was discovered in the early 1990’s by Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Thomas Smith, a U.S. Military Academy history professor who found it while he was rummaging through a stack of documents awaiting cataloging at West Point. Preparing the manuscript for publication was apparently a labor of love for LTC Smith, who, in addition to an excellent introduction, wrote almost 50 pages of highly detailed end notes and a very extensive bibliography. When he corrects or questions some of the factual assertions made by Ms. Laurence, he seems apologetic in doing so.
I generally dislike reading a book with my right index finger constantly sandwiched in the back of the book for end notes, but I would have not recommended this book without them.
In anticipation of watching the HBO mini-series The Pacific, I decided to read Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow and E. B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed, the two WWII combat Marine memoirs on which the series was based. I elected to read Helmet for My Pillow first because Leckie focuses on Marine operations in the Pacific in 1942-44, whereas Sledge focuses on 1944-45.
Leckie enlisted in the US Marine Corps on the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Assigned to the famed 1st Marine Division, he participating in its first three major amphibious operations: Guadalcanal in 1942, Cape Gloucester (New Britain) in 1943-44, and Peleliu in late 1944. In addition to writing about combat operations, Leckie also wrote of boot camp experiences, rest and recreation time in Australia after four months of jungle warfare on Guadalcanal, numerous hospitalizations for malaria and war-related injuries, (he was evacuated from Peleliu after suffering a severe blast concussion), and even his time as a “brig rat.”
Having written sports stories for his local newspaper while he was a teenager, Leckie returned to journalism after the war and worked for the Associated Press and several newspapers. Some of his prose is so rich in imagery that it is evocative of Grantland Rice’s writing. For example, in describing an incident where he came across a hand which was no longer attached to its owner, he wrote,
“The hand is the artisan of the soul. It is the second member of the human trinity of head and heart and hand. A man has no faculty more human than his hand, none more beautiful nor expressive nor productive. To see this hand lying alone, as though contemptuously cast aside, no longer part of a man, no longer his help, was to see war in all its wantonness. . . .”
Those who have never read memoirs of combat in the South Pacific may find themselves appalled by the savagery described in Helmet for My Pillow, yet that was simply the nature of island jungle warfare in WWII. The book’s only weakness is the scarcity of dates, which forces the reader to rely on other sources in order to peg the timing of events.
This book is a collection of short stories, not written together, but chosen because in some way or another they intertwine. The most common theme throughout all the stories is the difficulty of writing. How do you write a new story when everything has already been said? That’s the question that Barth tries to tackle with these stories which consciously show the reader the difficulties of the writing process. The collection also contains some stories that are retellings of classic Greek mythology and literature (such as the Iliad) from different points of view.
I think that these stories are excellently crafted and worth reading, but you have to be prepared to work to get through the story. Barth does everything in his power to break away from the conventional short story and he succeeds. This book is not for everyone, but only for those who are ready to venture into the fun house.
Most of these probably aren’t available in USMAI yet, but worth looking out for.
2010 has already been a strong year for fiction lovers, with new novels by the likes of Joshua Ferris, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Lionel Shriver, Jennifer Egan, and David Mitchell. Meanwhile, publishing houses offered up posthumous works by Ralph Ellison, Robert Walser, and Henry Roth, and the font of Roberto Bolaño fiction continued to flow.
Contrary to the broader scope of most WWII submarine narratives, Alex Kershaw devotes an entire book to the fifth and final patrol of USS TANG (SS-306), one of the most legendary boats in submarine history. Having already accrued a superb war record under skipper LCDR Dick O’Kane, TANG sailed from Pearl Harbor in September 1944 for a patrol in the dangerously shallow waters of the Formosa Strait. En route, she had to battle a typhoon on the surface because she was unable to dive safely. Her greatest challenge ultimately came when one of her own torpedoes malfunctioned during a surface attack against a Japanese convoy. Within 20 seconds of being fired, the torpedo circled back and exploded into TANG’s stern. The blast tossed those who had been on the boat’s bridge into the water. Those still alive in the unflooded forward compartments on the boat found themselves 180 feet underwater.
Kershaw does a masterful job of drawing his readers into the suspenseful hours that followed the explosion. In the most dramatic portion of the book, Kershaw describes the efforts of several of the trapped crew to escape from what would prove to be an iron coffin for those left behind. The handful who made it to the surface alive, as well as some of those who had been on the bridge, were taken prisoner by the Japanese and subjected to torture and starvation for the remainder of the war in the infamous camps at Ofuna and Omori. As Kershaw closes the book with a discussion of the post-war lives of the survivors, one is struck by the brotherhood that bound these men together over the decades.
Escape from the Deep: The Epic Story of A Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew is a somber reminder of the sacrifices of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force in WWII (52 boats are still on eternal patrol). For those interested in this chapter of naval history, I strongly recommend both this book and William Tuohy’s biography of Dick O’Kane (The Bravest Man, 2001).
The Portrait of a Lady tells the story of Isabel Archer, an American, as she travels across Europe. This Europe vs. America is a very common theme for James and Isabel’s character struggles to hold true to her own independent ideals while finding her place in a different country with different people. She meets many people and learns a lot about human nature as she learns about herself and how to deal with the decisions she has made.
This is by no means a fast read, but it is a beautifully crafted book. James truly “weaves” his story together, seamlessly flowing through characters, thoughts, and dialogues. As cliché as that sounds, it is true in James’ work.
Lauren Grey has won the monthly prize drawing for June.
Submit a review in July to be eligible for the our next drawing. Don’t forget prizes are available for all participants who submit a review between June 1 and August 15.
1. Submit one review and win a mini puzzle.
2. Submit three reviews and win a set of postcards.
3. Submit five reviews and win a poster from Unshelved.
4. Submit seven reviews and win a refrigerator magnet.
5. Submit 10 reviews and win a bag of library swag.
6. Monthly prize drawings.
This novel is a modern-day version of Dracula. It tells the story of a vampire invading and destroying a small town in Maine. This was my first Stephen King novel and I was disappointed that it didn’t scare me as much as the author’s name promised. It had some disturbing moments and kept a fairly quick pace but it did not have the terror or horror that I was expecting.
The characters were interesting but some were underdeveloped and at times hard to keep track of; however, I thought he portrayed the eccentricities of a small town in an interesting and believable manner.
The parallels with the original Dracula were subtle and overall woven into the novel well.