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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Gerritsen, Tess: Vanish | Main | Truss, Lynne: Talk to the Hand »

Snicket, Lemony: The Penultimate Peril

  

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HarperCollins © 2005, 353 pages [amazon]
3.5 stars

The twelfth--and penultimate--book in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events finds the three Baudelaire orphans arrived at the Hotel Denouement, an enormous building whose rooms are organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. (German poets are gathered in room 831 of the hotel, for example, just as German poetry is labeled 831 in a library.) Disguised as concierges at the hotel, the orphans encounter many of the people, both noble and evil, whose paths they have crossed in previous books--Jerome Squalor and Justice Strauss, Kevin the ambidextrous former circus freak, the ineffectual Mr. Poe, and of course the shiny-eyed and tattooed über-villain Count Olaf.

Regular readers of the series will not be surprised that hope of a happier future is wrested cruelly from the orphans' grasp in the course of the story, so that the book ends in woe.Not very much happens in this installment of the Baudelaires' unhappy tale. The children try as usual to piece together information about their plight while the allegedly noble people around them prove to be at best unhelpful. Regular readers of the series will not be surprised that hope of a happier future is wrested cruelly from the orphans' grasp in the course of the story, so that the book ends in woe. What is new is that Mr. Snicket has injected moral ambiguity into his text. This time around the children, compelled by circumstances in their capacity as faux concierges to perform wicked deeds, find themselves wondering whether they are indeed any more noble than the evil Olaf and his cronies. Their self-doubt, of course, is foolish, and one hopes they will come to accept as much in the final book of the series.

Snicket's writing in this penultimate book remains charming for its verbal play and for the author's occasional injection of his own persona into the narrative. ("One of the advantages of being taciturn is that it is rare for your words to get you into trouble. A taciturn writer, for instance, might produce only one short poem every ten years, which is unlikely to annoy anyone, whereas someone who writes twelve or thirteen books in a relatively short time is likely to find themselves hiding under the coffee table of a notorious villain, holding his breath, hoping nobody at the cocktail party will notice the trembling backgammon set, and wondering, as the ink-stain spreads across the carpeting, if certain literary exercises have been entirely worthwhile.") In this installment, too, Snicket plays with mirror writing, with a few passages written backwards. The book loses points, however, for being perhaps thirty pages too long. Several passages go on far longer than they should, continuing long after the joke has become tiresome. Thus, for example, items submitted as evidence at a trial by various of the series' bit players are itemized ad nauseam:

"'I submit these newspaper articles!' announced the voice of Geraldine Julienne.

'I submit these employment records!' announced Sir."
And the list of submissions, each similarly phrased, drags on for another three pages. Some pruning of this and similar passages would have greatly improved the book. That said, things liven up in the later chapters when Olaf and the Baudelaires engage in some unexpected dialogue.

I await the final chapter of the Baudelaires' saga with considerable interest--hoping that the elusive Lemony will manage to tie up the story's loose ends in some way that does not disappoint, hoping that VFD--the secret organization of noble volunteers who are the good guys in the story--will turn out to have more going for it than a bunch of foolishly named devices, wondering what ever can be in the sugar bowl for which volunteers and villains alike have been searching now for several books. Mostly I am grateful that the author elected to name the penultimate book in his series The Penultimate Peril, so that English-speaking students the world over, as well as their teachers, may embrace that most handy and underused of words, "penultimate", and eschew the ugly, periphrastic expressions--"second to the last," "next to last"--that are so often, and so regrettably, used in its stead.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.