Thursday, May 27, 2010

Aftershocks Review (William Lavender)

Synopsis: Jessie Wainwright, daughter of a prominent San Francisco physician, is determined to become a doctor herself, despite her father's opinion that the medical field is best left to men. But when a shameful family secret is revealed that undermines everything she stands for, Jessie nearly abandons her dream in order to make things right.

Then, in the midst of Jessie's turmoil, a far bigger disaster strikes - the great earthquake of 1906 - sending shock waves through Jessie's world and propelling her down a path she never would have expected. Amid the havoc and devastation of San Francisco, Jessie struggles to make sense of the blatant intolerance and brutal discrimination that her city harbors toward its Chinese immigrants - even during the worst natural disaster of the century.

As the aftershocks continue to reverberate, Jessie enlists the help of trusted friends, old and new, to help find the answers she has been seeking. Only then will she be able to stand up to her father . . . and at last break through the cultural and racial barriers of her time.

Review: Despite the synopsis, this really isn't a book absolutely filled with the harsh treatment of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. Actually, I was very surprised at how well this topic was blended into the rest of the story; it was very tastefully done. As was everything else in this book. I, at first, was dubious about the writing style - I am not overly fond of third-person narrations. But it did not take long to grow fond of the writing style and characters - especially as Jessie grows from a 14-year-old girl to a young woman. She is irritating, reckless, and naive at first, but she gradually changes and becomes wiser as she becomes older. I was especially pleased with how the author, William Lavender, handled the delicate nature of the "family secret." He did not dance around the subject - which is good, since it is a prominent key to the plotline, - but he did not find it necessary to go into great and unnecessary detail concerning certain aspects of the secret.

My all-time favorite character in Aftershocks was Alan Lundgren. I am always dubious of main male characters; it seems that nowadays authors like to throw an element into their leading male character(s) that is more than slightly annoying. It's been a long time since I've grown as fond of a leading character as I did Alan Lundgren. He was believable - not a perfect, faultless angel, but with flaws which he tried to conquer, and despite his faults, was a very good, decent, and kind person. I've never really liked optimistic characters - they tend to be very annoying, - but Alan's optimism is not.

There was one element to this story that I thought fell short. The earthquake. The aftermath of one of the most famous natural disasters in history was unbelievable. William Lavender did well in describing it and making the Reader see the devastation and danger. But when the earthquake itself hit . . . I barely blinked during that passage. I did not sit up straighter in my chair, nor did my breathing quicken or my fingers turn the book's pages faster. It was there, then it was gone. Almost like a slightly bigger ocean wave washing ashore - one that you might scamper away from, but feel no great alarm if it does happen to wet your feet. It did not have the proper feel of an earthquake, and I've experienced earthquakes before. Even the smallest ones are pretty terrifying.

Aside from that disappointing occurrence (and I was very much looking forward to the earthquake), it was a very interesting and good story. I encourage any who read it to give Jessie a chance - she is trying through the majority of Part One, but she is easier upon the Reader's patience by Part Two. She really does become a likable character, and if that turns out to not be the case, there are plenty others who do turn out to be very likable.Aftershocks by William Lavender will eventually find its way onto my bookshelves.

Star Rating: JJJ

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Leonardo's Shadow Review (Christopher Grey)

1497 Milan. It has been eight years since Giacomo was taken under the wing of the great Leonardo da Vinci. He had no memory of his past or where he came from, but he was quite satisfied to be known simply as Leonardo's servant - until now.

At fifteen, Giocomo's desire to discover his true identity has reached its peak. Leonardo claims to know nothing and wishes his servant would leave such questions alone. Torn between his obligations to his master and his search for the truth, Giocomo is pulled into a whirlwind of events that will threaten not only his own life, but also the fate of the entire city . . .
This isn't just a story about a boy trying to discover his identity - though a good portion of the book is spent on that. This book takes place during the time that Leonardo was painting The Last Supper, so that comes into play a lot as well - as does a few of Leonardo's inventions. It's a fun read for people who are familiar with Leonardo's work and the history surrounding this particular time in history.
That said, time to focus on the negative. I don't particularly like stories that are written in the present tense. It gives books waaaay too much of a movie feel, which detracts from the general splendor of the written word. This book is also written in first person, and I am fond of first person narratives. But there's something in Christopher Grey's first person style that I don't like, and it's not just the fact that it's coupled with present tense. He uses really short phrases a lot, giving the story a very choppy, moment-by-moment feel - again, movie-ish. It really takes away from the story.
And the story is good! It's an interesting read - if not a little too accurate in the way life was in 1497 Milan, and if one can get over some of the sexual hints. There is nothing explicit and nothing ever happens, but it's an element thrown in that gets a little tiring. Throw those things aside and the general writing style, and it's a good read.
Until you get to the end. Let it be known that there are a lot of plotlines running through this story, and they all get tied up. But some of the plotlines - namely, Giocomo's past and the mysterious items he is found being in possession of when Leonardo takes him in - are tied up loosely and leave the Reader disappointed. This isn't a book waiting for a sequel, so the loose-tying of the ends isn't a good element. It just leaves much to be desired.
I found Leonardo's Shadow interesting, but I don't think a copy will ever rest within my library as a permanent resident.

Star Rating: 2/5 (it was ok)