Reviews

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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Reviews

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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Biography/Memoir, Reviews

Review: Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I learned a few things about myself while reading Under the Tuscan Sun. I’m not a fan of non-fiction most of the time. I need a story to immerse myself into. What I learned is that that is particularly true for road trips. I thought that Mayes’s unique descriptions of Tuscany would transport me while I was transported to my destination. It didn’t always work but I did find myself seeing my surroundings differently. With more of a writer’s eye, I hope.
Mayes’s descriptive language was transportive. I could smell the fresh earth and all the life it supports; I could see the ultra-saturated colors of the sunflowers, poppies, clothing, and building materials; I could feel the intensity of the summer sun making siesta time so necessary; I could taste all of the incredible dishes made only with fresh local ingredients. And it left me wishing that my seventeen-year-old self had been capable of appreciating all the sensual delights of Italy while I was there.
Under the Tuscan Sun, despite all the descriptions of hard labor Frances and Ed went through to restore Bramasole, left me feeling romantic about Italy, especially the Tuscan and Umbrian regions, and longing to return. To spend long days just exploring the beauty hidden in the details.

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