Review: Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dan Brown’s first book featuring Robert Langdon, Angels & Demons, has many flaws but the critique I’ve seen most often in reviews is about the inaccuracy of the facts contained in the novel. I wouldn’t know about this but to those critics, I say: Why are you looking to fiction when what you are seeking is fact? The role of fiction is not to relate facts but to reveal truths. And, hopefully, to entertain. Despite its many weaknesses, Angels & Demons does both. While the writing style is far from brilliant, the story is compulsively readable and it stays with you long after you’ve put the book down.
That being said, Brown stretched out many scenes far too long, often repeating ideas and feelings. I feel like the novel could have been 200 pages shorter, which would have worked to make the timeline more believable. The final 20 minutes of the countdown, for instance, lasted nearly 100 pages and contained far too much action to be believed. And still the story went on without the famed symbologist, Langdon, making the connection with the most important symbol of all (insert eye roll). As for Langdon himself, I felt that Brown was trying to create some sort of academic James Bond. There was the attractive young woman in distress that he puts his life in danger to help; there is the pointless final scene between them in the hotel room; there is plenty of far-fetched action, and there’s the cheesy dialogue. The dialogue, I believe, is the weakest stylistic aspect of the writing. Mercifully, the story doesn’t require all that much dialogue. My biggest critique, though, is of Brown’s apparent lack of faith in his readers’ intelligence. Often he felt the need to spell out ideas and feelings and actions that frankly were pretty obvious. Either he didn’t believe the reader could figure it out for themselves or he lacked faith in his own ability to make it clear. Either way, his explanations only impeded the flow of the story.
Despite these issues and despite the fact that I figured out who the main bad guy was almost as Robert and Vittoria met him (again, based on the symbol that Robert apparently chose to ignore), Angels & Demons is a face-paced, entertaining read that succeeds in revealing truths and provoking deep thoughts. It may take a mind more open than that of some of the characters to see the truths spoken by both sides of the science vs. religion argument. And it definitely takes an open mind to accept a lot of the far-fetched scenarios in the story.

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Passing on Precious Memories

I recently received an invitation to a baby shower with the most wonderful suggestion. Instead of a card, it said, write a personal message in a children’s book.  I was thrilled when I read that.  I firmly believe that you cannot start building a child’s library too early.  But it also opened a bit of a can of worms where I’m concerned.  By the afternoon that I received the invitation, my shopping cart already had six beloved books in it and I kept thinking of more.  With much difficulty, I narrowed my selection to two books and saved the others for later – my future cousin should expect to get at least one book from me for every Christmas and birthday.  I tried to stick to the classics when coming up with ideas.  Here is part of my original selection:

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein         



A personal favorite



The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright



A staple for any child’s library.


Curious George by H.A. Rey  



Who doesn’t LOVE Curious George?


Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown  



A classic.  I didn’t choose this one because I figured the baby would receive like 10 copies.



The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle     



Another classic for every child’s library.


Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne



That chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff.



The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter     



Any of Potter’s books would do.



One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss



Because Dr. Seuss is essential and the baby’s mother studied marine biology.



Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss 

Morris the Moose by Bernard Wiseman      



Another childhood favorite.  Morris is still funny 30 years later.



The Berenstain Bears by Stan Berenstain



I love the Berenstain Bears but this will probably be better saved for later.



The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Clovis Crawfish and His Friends by Mary Alice Fontenot      



A beloved local author that infuses Cajun French phrases and songs in her works.



ANY of the Little Golden Books

Literally ANY

Poems and Prayers for the Very Young by Martha Alexander



Out of print but a beautiful addition to any child’s library.


Hope is a Handful of Dreams by June Dutton (Illustrated by Susan Perl)

Another favorite from my childhood that is out of print but is timeless for its simple message and Perl’s unique and funny illustrations

Where’s Spot by Eric Hill      



Interactive and adorable but I was afraid that doors and blankets would be ripped out before too long.


If any of you have favorites that you would have added to this list, pass them on.  I would relish more ideas for all of those birthdays and Christmases to come.  

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Review: A Girl’s Best Friend

A Girl's Best Friend
A Girl’s Best Friend by Elizabeth Young

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Though A Girl’s Best Friend is far from being the best British Chick-Lit it is enjoyable. I wanted an easy, breezy read and that’s what I got. The characters are likable but I didn’t love them (well, except for Henry the dog). I didn’t really care too much what happened to them. There were some mildly humorous moments and some touching ones. Nothing spectacular but a decent summer read.

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Review: Victoria

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria has been on my TBR list since I first heard about it, I ended up seeing the Masterpiece series based on (and written by the author of) the novel first. As expected, the two are similar in many ways. There are several differences, however, that in some ways make the book and the television series two different kinds of stories.
For television, some downstairs storylines were added, taking advantage of the popularity of Downton Abbey. Also, the series went further ahead in time than the novel does, exploring Victoria and Albert’s relationship even further than the novel does. Because of this, the series is more of a romance while the novel is a coming-of-age look at the character of Queen Victoria just as she ascends to the throne. The Victoria in this book is a pretty normal teenage/young woman who is still trying to figure out who she is while trying to gain respect as a young queen. Eighteen-year-old Victoria is self-centered, passionate, headstrong, and, after years of isolation and being overly protected, pushes the limits of her new role. Through trial and error that is on display for her country and the world to see, by the end of Victoria, she is just beginning to understand that she isn’t as independent as she’d like to believe and is gradually settling into her monarchy. She has a long way to go yet.
This isn’t to say that the novel doesn’t have its moments of romance. I dare you not to swoon when Albert cuts open his shirt to place her gardenia’s near his heart. But, at its heart, the book is a character study of a typical young woman in extraordinary circumstances. Despite her lofty position, Victoria is relatable and likable and Goodwin’s writing is simple and accessible.

P.s. My new favorite word is Schokoladenseite.

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Review: The Ice-Cream Makers

The Ice-Cream Makers
The Ice-Cream Makers by Ernest van der Kwast

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is really a 2.5 rating. I’m not sure what I expected when I signed up for an advanced copy of The Ice-Cream Makers but what I got wasn’t it. Though Italian culture and the history of the Northern Italian Ice-Cream makers are subjects which should have interested me, I had a difficult time getting into the story of the Talamini family (or is it Calamine? The translator probably changed that for the novel’s U.S. release thanks to the well-known anti-itching lotion.). I don’t know how much of the heart of the story was lost in translation but the form was sort of anecdotal which doesn’t flow well and often confused me since characters from the past and present share the same names.
I did eventually get into the central story of the consequences of the oldest son’s decision not to inherit the ice-cream business leaving his aging parents and younger brother to pick up the slack. The result is a thought-provoking look at evolving family dynamics and the weight of obligation. Every time, though, that I found myself really getting absorbed in the story I was jolted out of it when the narrative jumped back or forward in time or, in one instance, went on a chapter-long discussion of hotels around the world. Most frustratingly, one of these jolts happens at the end of the novel, leaving the reader guessing.

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