March 2017 books

March 2017 books

The Last American VampireThe Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was looking for a historical nonfiction book and stumbled on this one instead and thought, why not? But I think most history lovers would be bored by it - it only ever recounts the surface level narrative of historical events. You know, the kind of stuff we already know. Quick, name what you can remember about the lost colony of Roanoke! Rasputin's assassination! The Hindenberg! JFK's assassination! Now, all of those things you recalled just off the top of your head? That's the level of detail this book is dealing in. In other words, not much. It wasn't enough for me.

And the addition of vampires makes those events somehow LESS interesting. Think about the events mentioned above. Now add vampires. The end.

So if the history is light, maybe this book is for younger readers? Oh my heavens, no. I had to skip over lots of bloody gore (my fault: I knew what this vampire book was when I picked it up).

Which leaves me with the other possible audience this book is for: people who want a slice of the macabre with their history. In this regard, the book might actually work. Just don't expect to learn anything new.

Oh, and what's with the plot device of (view spoiler) being used literally FOUR times? I mean, (view spoiler)?? Seriously?

One more thing: the narrative conceit of this book really bothered me. I wish the author (the one in the book, not Grahame-Smith) had just streamlined it as third-person omniscient instead of scrabbling about with notes and excerpts and quotes from Henry. I think it's silly when people get persnickety about found-footage movies containing footage that could not have actually been found, but...they've got a point. This is kind of a found-footage book but it knows stuff that it shouldn't. And I couldn't un-notice that.

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The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIAThe Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. It was good, but ultimately I wanted the book to go deeper than it did. I suspect the author had to choose between a narrative style that would gloss over complicated spots but be eminently readable, or a more traditional non-fiction investigative style that would dig deeper but be at risk of turning into a slog. He chose the narrative style, which means that I stayed up late reading The Triple Agent, but had more questions after I finished than before I began.

I mean, the title of the book is literally The Triple Agent, and yet the parts where Balawi (said agent) was drafted into extremism, and then turned by the Jordanian mukhabarat, and then turned AGAIN by al-Qaeda are almost completely obscured. Maybe we just don't KNOW exactly what happened, but that's why I wish Warrick had gone for the investigative approach rather than the narrative one. As it is, at the end of one chapter, Balawi is the CIA's man. And at the beginning of the next, he's al-Qaeda's. For a book in which Balawi is the title character, that is a huge omission.

In an investigative style, there would have been rhetorical space to step back a bit and admit, "we do not know why he turned (and then turned again)," which maybe doesn't make the most compelling basis for a book. But it would also have left space for the follow-up, "...but here are some theories about or evidence for what happened, based on such-and-such authoritative sources that I have exhaustively researched."

And again, I don't doubt that Warrick did said research! I just think in the end, he went for story rather than substance. I learned more about Jennifer Matthews, Elizabeth Hanson, Darren LaBonte, and Sharif Ali bin Zeid in this book than about the al-Qaeda mole who infiltrated the CIA, and for that reason, it's still worth reading. But if you've read Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden or watched Zero Dark Thirty, there will be very little else new to you in this book.

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Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After SerialAdnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I started reading, I said to myself, "really? You already know all of this stuff, do we really need to hear this story again?"

YES. WE DO. There is a reason Serial took the world by storm. The story is simply riveting. And baffling. This book is part review of the basic story, part behind-the-scenes of Serial, and part rehash of Undisclosed. Altogether worth reading.

I was especially impressed with the way Rabia was able to write about her dissatisfaction with certain aspects of Serial and even Sarah Koenig, without coming off as bitter. I suspect that Sarah Koenig could read the passages about herself and be like, "yeah, sounds about right."

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My Super Sweet Sixteenth CenturyMy Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Every once in a while, I get to say this in a book review, and it definitely applies here: there is less to this book than meets the eye. I was hoping for a bit more insight into 16th-century Italy (I know, I know, what was I thinking?), but instead I got all the worst parts of that movie She's the Man - our time-traveling heroine could NOT EVEN with the 16th-century and kept slipping into modern behaviors and language constructions, just like how Amanda Bynes seemed to forget every other second that she was supposed to be pretending to be a boy. It was irritating, and not enough else was going on to keep things interesting.

That said, I will totally give this book to Miriam to read in a few years!

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