California Literary Review

Fiction Reviews

Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

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May 28th, 2011

It is the daily struggle of life that blights the lives of Russell’s protagonists. Ill-health and empty wallets are a greater danger than a Cheyenne raid. For Doc Holliday, the enemy is tuberculosis, a cruel, cunning disease that truly consumes him, body and — steadily, stealthily — soul. During a brief period of remission, Doc rides out to the surrounding prairie and experiences an epiphany of what life, during a good spell, can offer.

Book Review: Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

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May 16th, 2011

The title refers to the new female embodiment aspired to by the main character Anjali Bose – the modern woman working as one of India’s burgeoning number of call-center agents “bearing hope and energy that is infectious.” This modern woman has abandoned the sari for American blue jeans, hangs out at Starbucks, shops at upscale stores, and commutes around town by motorcycle.

Book Review: The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories by Joan Aiken

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April 18th, 2011

The pieces in this collection are tight knots or loose koans—sweet little puzzles. Told with the disarming guilelessness of parables, Aiken’s stories slip the apparent structure of their bounds at the last moment. For example, “The Monkey’s Wedding,” while describing the scrabble for the eponymously named painting, also explores the open-ended drama of a fractured family.

Book Review: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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February 1st, 2011

The passing of Swamplandia!, a crass, hokey “hicksville” where live chickens are suspended from wires to get the gators to leap for their supper, hardly merits more than a moment of regret. But Russell’s evocation of the disintegration of the Bigtree clan is profoundly moving. Arms linked together, Ava, Kiwi and Ossie embrace “in a panic of love.” The mutual devotion of the Bigtree children is as heartfelt a tribute to steadfast family bonds as the ordeal of the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath or the Finch children in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Book Review: Heartstone: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery by C.J. Sansom

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January 27th, 2011

Matthew Shardlake the lawyer and his friend Dr. Guy Malton represent the arrival of the professional classes. Landless but educated, open-minded, progressive and paid by the case, they bear a striking resemblance to the heroes of many modern thrillers.

Book Review: Destiny and Desire by Carlos Fuentes

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January 13th, 2011

A decapitated head washes ashore near the Mexican resort city of Acapulco. A young man, Josué, whose head it once was, uses this grisly episode to recount how he came to lose it. A more dramatic curtain raiser for a novel can scarcely be imagined.

Book Review: The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

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January 6th, 2011

There is a telling scene in the novel, when Conan Doyle visits the theatre managed by Stoker and is snubbed by the celebrated actress Ellen Terry, who is wearing a black armband to mourn the death of Sherlock Holmes. “The world does not need Arthur Conan Doyle,” Stoker declares. “The world needs Sherlock Holmes.”

Book Review: The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards

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January 4th, 2011

If anything can be said with certainty about our fickle reading public, it is that they will warmly welcome a finely-wrought family tale. It would seem that we all relish revelations of the darkest secrets in the early histories of our kinfolk. So it came as little surprise in 2006 when a young unknown, Kim Edwards, swept us up altogether with her debut family novel.

Book Review: Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

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December 21st, 2010

Whatever her faults, you can’t criticise Patricia Cornwell for sticking in a rut. Port Mortuary, her latest novel about the forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta, uses a new narrative device to explore fresh plot territory. But the resulting book is exceptionally difficult to like.

Book Review: Nemesis by Philip Roth

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November 18th, 2010

Weequahic has been particularly hard-hit by the summer’s polio epidemic. Bucky, stuck supervising his school playground’s summer programs for kids, is forced to watch in horror as his students randomly sicken and die.

Book Review: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

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October 18th, 2010

Pasternak ranges the individualism of Zhivago against the heartless society that is being erected by the Bolsheviks on the grave of Tsarist Russia. Where Zhivago questions his every deed from the standpoint of conscience, left-wing leaders like Lara’s husband, Pasha Antipov, who styles himself as Strelnikov or “Shooter,” kill without blinking or thinking.

Book Review: Gauntlgrym: Neverwinter, Book 1 by R. A. Salvatore

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October 18th, 2010

One thing is clear: Salvatore is moving Drizzt ahead toward a new point in his life. He’s darker, more brooding, and full of a latent rage that threatens to explode at any time. This isn’t the same paladin-like Drizzt of previous books–he’s been damaged. Badly.

Book Review: The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

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October 5th, 2010

Bernard Cornwell, who has written a masterful novel about Agincourt, tackles the American Revolution and its realities in his new work, The Fort. You won’t find any shellacked heroes here. His patriots range from the committed few to the mercenary many and include a host of men who have been shanghaied (“Impressed” was the term of the day) into serving their country involuntarily.

Book Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

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September 21st, 2010

To label How to Live Safely as a human comedy is a bit of a stretch since many of the major characters are not human at all. These include TAMMY, a computer system with a “kind of sexy” curvilinear pixel configuration and low self-esteem, Phil, a software system copied from Microsoft Middle Manager 3.0 and Ed, a non-existent dog who is a “weird ontological entity that produces unconditional slobbery loyal affection.”

Book Review: The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago

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September 15th, 2010

Saramago’s ability to wring delightful dialogue out of his characters will charm just about anybody. The compassion and love for a flawed humanity he brings to his work is much too rare in a literary world and broader society that seem to devalue these qualities at a time when they are desperately needed.

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