Archive for the ‘EBRPL Book Review’ Category

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Book Review: Good Prose

April 16, 2014

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder & Richard Todd. Reviewed by Louise Hilton. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor and friend Richard Todd offer advice on writing nonfiction in this elegant little book. Letting us know right from the start how fervently they believe in the “power of story and character,” the authors affirm that “the techniques of fiction never belonged exclusively to fiction,” indeed, “no techniques of storytelling are prohibited to the nonfiction writer, only the attempt to pass off inventions as facts.”

Kidder and Todd are formidable talents but present their advice in an accessible and encouraging way. Drawing on their long careers in the field, they urge aspiring writers to believe in the intelligence of the reader and to focus, above all, on the human side of the story: “We think that every piece of writing – whether story or argument or rumination, book or essay or letter home – requires the freshness and precision that convey a distinct human presence.”

Good Prose is the culmination of Kidder and Todd’s decades-long friendship and experience in publishing. The result? Excellent prose. It belongs on every writer’s shelf alongside Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and Stephen King’s On Writing.

*An edited version of this review appeared in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.).

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Comics Review: East of West The Promise

April 9, 2014

East of West Volume 1  by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta. Reviewed by Adam St.Pierre.East_Of_West_Vol1

So after two consecutive reads, I think I’m ready to give reviewing this thing a shot. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta have done something wonderful here mixing serious science fiction, alternate history, and western elements to build a story that could easily garner as much attention as Saga has over the past year or so. The story begins by showing three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, being reborn/reincarnated as children without Death. Once War, Famine, and Conquest realize that Death is not with them they decide they must find and kill him, immediately setting up the conflict that carries throughout the rest of the story arc.

After the reincarnation scene, Hickman and Dragotta piece together what happened from the Civil War to 2066, and how we form the Seven Nations of America. Our protagonist, a Clint Eastwood-like Death dressed entirely in white, is finally shown exacting his brand of bloody vengeance upon all who have wronged him.

What exactly occurred between the Horsemen and a myriad of other questions are introduced very quickly to the reader which can make the story a bit difficult to keep up with at first. The payoff is definitely worth it and the end of the trade seriously leaves you wanting for more. Check out Volume 2 soon!

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Book Review: Empty Mansions

March 31, 2014

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.

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Empty Mansions is the intriguing story of the making of one of the greatest American fortunes, that of mining magnate William Andrews (W. A.) Clark, and the peculiar life of his youngest daughter Huguette. Clark was a self-made man in the grand tradition of the American dream: he went from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to the halls of Congress, amassing a personal fortune in mining (not to mention acquiring an entire railroad and selling the plots of land that would become Las Vegas along the way) to rival that of Rockefeller and the other leading industrialists of the day. Clark remains one of the 50 richest Americans of all time. His reputation eventually marred by accusations of corruption – elected to the U. S. Senate in 1899, Clark lost his seat as a result of voter bribery allegations, only to be reelected the following year and serving a single term starting in 1901 – his name is all but forgotten today, even though his election scandal helped lead to the passage of the 17th Amendment that established direct election of senators.

W. A. Clark spared no expense in building a sumptuous lifestyle for himself and his family, building sprawling estates all over the country (most of which remained empty yet fully staffed for decades in the 20th century, due to Huguette’s reclusive lifestyle, hence the book’s title). Clark instilled a love and appreciation of fine arts in his children, and Huguette remained a lifelong patroness of the arts and an avid collector of Japanese art and dolls in particular. Huguette, born in Paris to Clark and his French second wife, also kept her father’s affinity for all things French.

The crux of Empty Mansions is Huguette’s story. An artistic and loving young woman who married once, briefly, but then withdrew from society upon the deaths of her closest family members, she spent the rest of her adulthood in seclusion, communicating with the outside world via letters, telegrams, and phone calls, her life taking on an almost “Grey Gardens” aspect. Perhaps most shocking of all was her voluntary move to a series of New York City hospitals, where she spent the last 20+ years of her life. Was she preyed upon by her nurses and doctors? Were her lawyers and bankers honest in their handling of her immense fortune? Was Huguette developmentally delayed which would help in explaining some of her childlike behavior?

Authors Dedman and Newell (the latter a distant relation of Huguette’s) draw on impeccable research to present a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into one of the most prominent American families of all time. W. A. Clark’s ascent is a prime example of American can do-ism but also a cautionary tale against the pull of power and greed and what is perhaps best described as obscene wealth. More than that though, Empty Mansions introduces readers to the complex and touching story of the reclusive heiress Huguette Clark.

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Book Review: Man Repeller

February 12, 2014

Man Repeller. Seeking Love. Finding Overalls. by Leandra Medine. Reviewed by Louise Hilton. man-repeller

Leandra Medine is a twenty-something fashion blogger best known for her cheekily named Man Repeller website, lauded as one of Time’s “25 Best Blogs of 2012” and Forbes’s “Top 30 Under 30” the same year for her trendsetting acumen. Her recent debut, Man Repeller. Seeking Love. Finding Overalls., chronicles her major life events, all best remembered by describing what she wore (and yes, that includes some definite sartorial misfires). In chapters such as “The Bermuda Shorts” and “The Lesson of the Harem Pants,” Medine takes us on a hilarious ride from New York to Paris and back.

Sure, her world – that of fashionistas in Manhattan – may be light-years away from the one in which you and I live but Medine comes across as a down-to-earth, lovable goofball. The fact that her writing is exceptional and that she has serious cred in the fashion world make her even more interesting. Overall, it’s a quick, humorous take on relationships and making your way in the world, and her ultimate message – be true to yourself, conventions be damned, and you just might find happiness along the way – is one we could all remind ourselves from time to time.

*An edited version of this review appeared in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.) on 2/09/14.

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Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

January 15, 2014

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.

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The 2013 Newbery Medal, awarded by the American Library Association for the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”, went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and I couldn’t agree more with the decision.

The titular Ivan is a gorilla living in a shopping mall as a sort of roadside attraction.  Ivan has few memories of his early years in the jungle and instead has adapted to his new, human-controlled environment and befriended the elephants in the neighboring cages.  Ivan enjoys watching television and eventually discovers a real passion: art.  He spends days drawing with crayons, etching out sheet after sheet of banana peels, apple cores, and other everyday objects.  I won’t give too much away but Ivan’s artwork gains widespread attention and eventually leads to a better life for his fellow animals and himself.

The story is all the more heart-wrenching when you discover that the novel is based on the true story of a gorilla kept in captivity for twenty-seven years at a shopping center in Washington before finally a public outcry led to his eventual transfer to Zoo Atlanta.

Bolstered by Applegate’s engaging writing style and her brave choice to tell the story in the first person with Ivan himself as narrator, The One and Only Ivan is an exquisite – and important – read. I highly recommend this uplifting story to readers of all ages.

My favorite blurb about the book comes from author Gary Schmidt: “In cheering for Ivan and his friends, we cheer for our own humanity, and our own possibilities.  Read this.”  Indeed.

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