Review: Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman

Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman
Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman by Mark Cohen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Started reading this last night. Hmm. The introduction and first chapters are quirkily written. Insular. At least as of these early pages, Cohen is writing for the reader who is a fan and already in the know. ( I am a fan!) It is difficult to imagine a reader with a passing acquaintance with Allan Sherman’s works (maybe “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah) feeling inspired or encouraged to continue and figure out what Cohen is talking about. I will, though, because the works of Allan Sherman shaped my childhood (and also some of my early parenting!) and, because I’ve already put in for a day off from work so I can go to the author’s presentation at the JCA on December 4th. (Will I want my copy signed?)

Okay, at the half-way mark, I need to revise my opinion. Perhaps the early chapters are so angry because Sherman himself was angry? Once the narrative reaches California and his recording success begins, Cohen’s writing changes; Sherman is still a less than stellar father and husband with little business savvy, but the reader does get to sense the excitement of Jewish humor finding its moment in America. You can feel the laughter in the live audiences.

To be fair, Cohen is detailing the man as he was, as well as a specific time in American show business and comedy. The comedy parts are fun, and the biography parts are not.

My brain nearly exploded to learn that Allan Sherman and Mel Brooks appeared on a game show together. Dork fangirl moment! If I can find a recording of it, I might plotz (but in a good way)!

Note: I am ever so grateful to my love for making the investment in My Son, the Box, several years ago. For a certain kind of wife, there is no better anniversary gift! The best antidote to Sherman’s sad end is to pop in those CDs and belt out a little “Seltzer Boy” or “Old King Louie” at the very top of your lungs.

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Review: Invisible Things

Invisible Things
Invisible Things by Jenny Davidson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

SPOILERS

Off to a clunky start with too much straight out explaining what happened in book one. No complaints, though, as I already knew I did not like Davidson’s writing style. Why did I bother to pick up this book? Because, in spite of the bad writing, there’s a story here. Though Sophie started out as a candidate for cool girl protagonist and has seemed younger an more ineffectual as her story progresses, I still can’t shake wanting to know what happens to her. I also can’t help thinking that I might like Davidson, herself, as a person.

There is less science in Invisible Things than in The Explosionist, and less emphasis on alternate world building. The focus is on the love story, the coming war and, disappointingly and, truly, maddeningly lamely, Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen. The Snow Queen, really? The conclusion to this ambitious, alternate universe, scientifically interesting tale is the hurt feelings of an unacknowledged love child who retreats to her palace in the north? Davidson starts with such promise — strong women characters, even, and ends with insidious and violent misogyny, an alternate history that still leads to Europe’s persecution of the Jews in the 30s, and the world on the brink of nuclear war due the hurty feelings of a pretty woman. Feh and feh.

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Review: Desire Lines

Desire Lines
Desire Lines by Jack Gantos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jack Gantos spoke at the Eric Carle Museum last week, he talked of this book and moved me. I knew I needed to read it.

It is unsettling to take in Gantos’ trademark vivid and off-kilter observations and descriptive passages and have none of them make you laugh.

Desire lines are the paths we make straight to what we want the most, regardless of the rules or roads. Desire Lines is a devastating example of the power of bullies and our own ability to take ourselves directly down the wrong paths towards the futures we don’t want. It is about wrestling with conscience and coming up wrong.

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Review: The Betrayal of Maggie Blair

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair
The Betrayal of Maggie Blair by Elizabeth Laird
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first I thought this might be yet another run of the mill ‘persecuted-for-witchcraft’ tale. How glad I am that there’s more to it than that!

Laird’s book gives the reader a good sense of Scotland’s geography and living conditions along the coast and in the cities in the seventeenth century. I had never heard of the Covenanters before, or the ‘Killing Time.’ (I think I’m still a little confused and need to read up a bit more.) The characters could all be real people: none are wholly good or bad, but a mix of both with individual moralities and politics.

Though this is in many ways a YA book, there are repeated references to adultery and to the sex trade. Laird does not hide the frequency with women are propositioned, threatened, and use favors to secure their survival. It’s a fact of history. Readers should be aware and choose whether to read or give to their teens as fits their own comfort.

I very much enjoyed Maggie’s growing into her self and into her personal power. She makes the cool girl protagonists shelf!

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Review: The Explosionist

The Explosionist
The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Davidison has created quite a world here, including enough early steampunk plot points for several books: a unified Europe, a Civil War won by the American south, hydrogen engines with drinking water as their only by-product, a terrorist plot, Stepford wife-ish compulsory national service for ‘pretty-enough’ girls, transistor radios and telegraph machines that channel the voices of the dead, and more. It builds slowly, becoming more and more exciting until . . . it ends. No resolution, incomplete explanations, not even a clear picture of what is going on or why, other than a minister’s wish that Scotland go to war and a great aunt’s willingness to sacrifice all for patriotism. I’ll have to read the sequel to find out, and that bugs me a bunch. You know I think of splitting one story into 2 books for the sake of have a ‘series’ to be a cheap and annoying publishing ploy. I will revise to more stars if the sequel fills in some of the gaps. Davidson is definitely creative.

Note: Special fondness for the concept of the eyeball of the newly dead recording an image of the last person seen while alive. This was also recently on Dr. Who.

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