Thursday, March 19, 2009

SF Chronicle Reviews

I wrote up some reviews for the Chronicle--I'm not sure if they're going to include the review or just the recommendations, but here they are:

Blindspot: A Novel
By Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore

Blindspot is a masterpiece of teamwork. Kamensky and Lepore, both history professors, have brought alive pre-Revolutionary Boston in the most charming way imaginable: the tale of Stewart Jameson, exiled Scottish portraitist, and Fannie Easton, fallen-socialite-turned-apprentice. As Fannie Easton—or, as she comes to be known, Francis Weston—struggles to make sense of her new situation, Jameson finds himself caught up in the politics of colonial Boston. What begins as a comedy of errors, with Jameson experiencing torment over his feelings for the young male apprentice and Fannie confiding similar feelings to her only remaining friend, becomes something darker when a murder is committed in the very house where they are painting a portrait. Not quite a mystery, not quite a comedy, and not quite a romance, Blindspot will keep you guessing (and laughing) from beginning to end. Kamensky and Lepore have “pinned” the vernacular of the time, providing a wealth of wit and dirty jokes. Their research is unrivaled, and it is the small details that make the setting come alive. This is the most entertaining historical novel I’ve ever read.

Cutting for Stone: A Novel
By Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone is a gripping, gritty, heartbreakingly beautiful tale of twin brothers raised in an Ethiopian mission hospital. Marion and Shiva find themselves orphaned when their mother dies in childbirth and their father flees the scene. They are raised by the doctors and nurses of Missing Hospital, who watch the boys grow and become doctors amidst the political turmoil of Ethiopia in the 1960’s and 70’s. Finally Marion flees to New York, where he finishes his residency in an underfunded and understaffed hospital. Spanning decades and continents, Cutting for Stone is a powerful drama of love, passion, and personal demons.

City of Thieves: A Novel
By David Benioff

From the moment you begin City of Thieves to the moment you turn the last page, the modern world ceases to exist. You will find yourself in Leningrad, desperate and under siege. There you will witness young Lev Beniov’s arrest for looting a German paratrooper’s corpse and his subsequent mission: to find a dozen eggs or be sentenced to death. As Lev and his comrade Kolya struggle through the starving city and the surrounding countryside, they are forced to grow up and face harsh realities. City of Thieves is filled with the keen observations and naïveté of a teenage boy who sees too much. It is also a funny, poignant account of the way we all face adulthood: with a mixture of apprehension and abandon that, in Lev, is both endearing and a little bit sad.

The Monsters of Templeton
By Lauren Groff

Wilhelmina “Willie” Upton runs home to her mother in Templeton, New York on the same day that a strange creature goes belly-up in Templeton’s lake. Willie hasn’t lived at home in years, but a grave judgment error has forced her to leave her PhD program temporarily. Once home, Willie attempts to put the pieces of her life back together while readjusting to life with her mother. When she discovers that her father—who had remained a mystery for her whole life—lives right here in town, Willie embarks on a quest to discover his identity by tracing the lineages of the great men of Templeton. The Monsters of Templeton is an exquisitely written first novel whose characters come alive on the page. Complete with historical vignettes, hijacked charter planes, and an American Loch Ness Monster, this is a must-read for fans of literary fiction.

Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body
By Jennifer Ackerman

In Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream, Jennifer Ackerman looks at the many processes that are regulated by the body’s internal clock. In language that is accessible and entertaining, she takes a typical day in the life of your body, from the moment you wake up until bedtime. She answers questions that we all ask: how many calories can I burn by fidgeting in my chair? Under what circumstances am I more likely to get drunk off a single cocktail? Why doesn’t my alarm clock wake me up some mornings? Ackerman’s research is impeccable and her writing is engaging. This book will give you a lot to think about, and a lot to talk about.

The Monster of Florence
By Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi

This is the story of a real-life Jessica Fletcher: Douglas Preston, a popular thriller author, moves to Florence to write his latest bestseller. Within a few days of his arrival, however, he discovers that his country property was the site of a brutal murder in the 1980’s. Naturally, Preston decides to investigate the string of unsolved murders that plagued Florence for years, and that are attributed to a Jack the Ripper-type character called the Monster of Florence. Preston teams up with Mario Spezi, a Florentine investigative journalist, and the two men begin to reopen the investigation. The Monster of Florence is more than just the account of a string of murders. It is an outsider’s view of Italian police politics, the aristocracy and the mafia, the Italian judicial system, and a historic city with old roots. Though it is non-fiction, this book reads like fast-paced fiction.

The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
By Benjamin Wallace

The world’s most expensive bottle of wine was a 1787 Chateau Lafite, supposedly owned at one time by Thomas Jefferson. It was auctioned off by Christie’s and sold for $156,000. But the mystery surrounding the bottle of wine lasted far longer than the wine itself; after its authenticity was called into question, an odd investigation began. Had Jefferson ever owned the bottle at all? Was it truly a 1787 Lafite? Where did it even come from? Wallace expertly weaves the tale of this strange set of circumstances, and the various players involved. The Billionaire’s Vinegar will keep you enthralled from the first page to the last, even if you aren’t a wine lover.

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