An interesting narrative killed off by its own bluster.



If an inflated ego and unbridled machismo were all it took to write well, Pelton (The World’s Most Dangerous Places, not reviewed) would unseat Shakespeare.

Pelton lives an extreme lifestyle: he travels to Afghanistan, Borneo, and Algeria and hangs out with guerrilla groups. He dances with headhunters in Sarawak, survives a plane crash in Kalimantan, and plays with pirates on the Sulu Sea. The leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army thinks Pelton is a mercenary hired to kill him. Such stories would have to be told by Henry Kissinger to lose their innate excitement, but Pelton nevertheless destroys his narrative through his super-smug and self-congratulatory authorial stance. Comparing himself to figures no less epic than Hercules and Odysseus, he seems to have swallowed his own self-aggrandizing public-relations blitz, meanwhile dropping weighty existential melodrama (“I feel I am someone from his past and he is someone in my future”), outlandish exaggeration (“I will learn this hard African French or I will not survive”), and jaw-dropping clichés (“There is knowledge beyond books out here”) within the space of two paragraphs. All this blustering and posturing distracts incessantly from quieter narrative moments: the descriptions of his troubled childhood, his education at “the toughest boys school in North America,” his early years working in advertising, and his troubled relationship with his mother are related in a straightforward and affecting manner. Unfortunately, though, Pelton’s “Adventurist” persona returns. When one reads such lines as “Then she met me, someone who had the uncanny ability to not only read her mind but tell her what she was thinking and who she was,” it becomes difficult to keep a straight face.

An interesting narrative killed off by its own bluster.

Pub Date: June 20, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-49567-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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