Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two Quick Ones

For the first time, I borrowed a couple of library books on my Kindle. I got 'em through the portentiously-named Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium, but it was fairly easy (you borrow it, and then you can either download the book from Amazon or connect your Kindle to wi-fi and it automatically downloads). The big problem right now is that I've heard that some of the biggest publishers haven't signed on with the Kindle borrowing system so you'll still have to borrow a lot of physical books.

Anyway, the two I borrowed fit the parameters of what I talk about here (yes, believe it or not, I do occasionally read things that aren't quite right for this blog), so here's a couple of quickies...

I'd heard a few things about Steve Berry's books, and finally read his first. It's not great...it's very much in the paperback-thriller mold, with some very by-the-numbers plot elements and underdeveloped characters, but at the same time, it is pretty interesting for its delving into the real-life mystery surrounding the Amber Room, a room-sized art installation of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors. It had stood in the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg but was seized by the Nazis (as part of their looting of art treasures across Europe) and disappeared after WWII.  It's been reconstructed based on what's known of the original design but people still search for the original.

Basically, the story is of a woman whose concentration-camp survivor father dies, leaving her a clue to the location of the Amber Room. She goes off in search of it, with her ex-husband following, and two hired killers working for ruthless and unscrupulous art collectors watching.

The Amber Room, before WWII
Berry's passion for art and history shines through, and sometimes I wondered if he wouldn't be better off doing nonfiction. He manages to fit in a lot of real-life detail about the Amber Room, as well as the Nazi rationale for looting art treasures, that for all its drawbacks as art, The Amber Room is actually a rather informative read. I read it in a few days; it went down easily and smoothly, and if I waited any longer to review it, I probably would have forgotten much about it aside from Berry's research.

The other...ugh...

I only got about a quarter of the way into Dracula the Un-Dead it before I was sorely tempted to throw my Kindle across the room in disgust. I hated this book! It purports to be a sequel to the original Stoker novel but is more of a sequel to Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, which itself sets up to be the original novel before suddenly veering into Dark Shadows territory and having nothing to do with Stoker's creation. Mina is now in love with Drac, Harker is a bitter alcoholic, Seward a drug-addled loser, Holmwood an ineffectual coward, and Van Helsing has gone insane and become a vampire himself. I checked up on stuff and yeah, it turns out it makes Drac himself into the good guy. Ugh. If you're going to write a sequel to a classic novel, don't freaking rewrite it!

Plus it's just got such a flat, unengaging writing style; there's no real zest or zing to it. It just lies there, like the steak you thawed two days ago but forgot to cook and are now afraid to even look at.

So...read Steve Berry's The Amber Room if you have a taste for art history and are in the mood for an easy read; avoid Dracula the Un-Dead at all costs.

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