Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 66

I'm trying, I'm trying so hard to keep on track with my reading, but I'm falling further and further (farther and farther?) behind. The last two books I've read have been re-reads, in the hopes that I can skim the parts that I remember. And I'm trying to choose short-ish ones, but that only gets me so far when "short-ish" is still 300+ pages. And I spent three hours last night reading - thank you, TV, for nothing good on Tuesdays - but am only about 2/3 of the way through book 67. I'm trying, I'm trying so hard, and I'm not giving up. Can't someone arrange for me to have a three-day weekend where my husband and dog go out of town and leave me here, and I don't have to work, and drop off four 220-page books?

On to Storm Front:

"Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the 'everyday' world is actually full of strange and magical things - and most of them don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a - well, whatever.

"There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when they police bring him in to consult on a grislu double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And that now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get... interesting."

To me, Storm Front is the best of all possible worlds for nerdy boys. There's sex, murder, a hard-ass in a long black duster, and lots and lots of magic. It's like Louis L'amour books for sci-fi nerds. It's not amazing: the magic parts are great, but the murder and crime stuff are sort of weak. But it's fun, and it's funny, and dorks of all ages will eat this shit up.

Storm Front - B-

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 65

Here's a little description for you:

In one of the most acclaimed and original novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

It's tough for me to write a review of this one, because it's really good, and I want people to read it, but basically anything I write will be one big spoiler. It is haunting, for sure, and I've been thinking about it for days. In fact, I read it once before, and couldn't stop thinking about it for days afterwards then, too. And it's creepy. I like to think of this as sci-fi literature, heavy on the -fi and not so much sci-.

My copy has this quote from the Sunday Times on the cover: "A clear frontrunner to be the year's most extraordinary novel." I quite agree.

Never Let Me Go - A-

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 65

I sure wish I'd known about The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter during the last Cannonball Read 5K, when I was supposed to read book set in places that I've lived. The Feast of Love takes place in my current town, and I get a little charge out of reading descriptions of places that I pass every day. It makes me feel part of the in-crowd.

I could pick many adjectives to describe The Feast of Love. Here are a few: Luminous. Lush. Realistic, yet unbelievable. Deep. Sumptuous. Did I mention lush? There's an economy to Baxter's writing, but he doesn't shy away from using big words. I like to think that writers have perfect words at their disposal, and sometimes they use the perfect word, and sometimes they use imperfect words to make the same point, leaving the writing either clunky or overblown. Not Baxter. He makes perfect choices, every time. It's a book about love, that's for sure, but sometimes love isn't awesome. Sometimes it hurts real bad - and that's where The Feast of Love comes in. Good days, bad months, they're all here, and it feels right.

The Feast of Love - B+

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 64

My guess is, a lot of you haven't read The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, so here's the book jacket synopsis:

"It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family's polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

"Soon after Ann Eliza's story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds - a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father's death. And as Ann Eliza's narrative intertwines with that of Jordan's search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith."

Have you ever read Carrie by Stephen King? You know how it pulls from "sources" like courtroom transcripts, letters, academic journals and first-person accounts? The 19th Wife is just like that. It uses different types of writing (letters, academic papers, some IM messages, a Wikipedia entry, along with the narrator's voice) to tell the story. But the big difference between Carrie and The 19th Wife is this:

Carrie is good.

Seriously, The 19th Wife is just not good. It's not written well, partly because of all those literary devices, but mainly because it's just not a good story. It's a morality tale disguised as a murder mystery... but I didn't really care whodunit. And Jordan, the protagonist, isn't really that sympathetic a character. He's gay, which is fine, but he's got this faggy best friend. I mean, really. Why does every "normal" gay man need a faggy best friend who calls everybody Sweetie and Miss Thing? And he's got a dog, too. Now come on. The unconditional love from the dog who rides along in the van (a van, too!) bit is kind of stale. The sections written by Ann Eliza, Brigham's wife, are better - actual historical fiction that feels real. Which, I suppose, is the point of historical fiction. But the tie-in between the historical segments and the current, murder-driven segments never really came together, and overall, the badness outweighed the sort-of goodness.

I could go on - but why? Read Under the Banner of Heaven instead.

The 19th Wife - C-

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 63

I'd only read Water for Elephants once before, so I read it again! Hooray for the re-read.

Water for Elephants is a circus story. You got your midgets, you got your bearded ladies, you got your big tents, you got love triangle between horse boss, sparkly horse rider, and circus vet. Sorry, I'm not really into writing this review. But I do really like the book.

That's all.

Water for Elephants - A-

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 62

The Lightning Thief is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (am I the only one that thinks Percy Jackson and the Olympians sounds like a boy band from the '60s? "Here, with their smash hit "Burnin' Me Up," it's Percy Jackson and the Olympians!") Percy is a young lad who just happens to be a demi-god: one human parent, one parent who's a Greek god. When Percy finds out he's a demi-god, and shit goes pear-shaped, he goes to a summer camp called Half-Blood Hill, where he learns some god skills and sets off on a quest with his two buddies.

Sound familiar?

Percy Jackson certainly feels like the poor man's Harry Potter at times. There's fancy weaponry, and rival cabins, and good guys who betray, and lots of creepy monsters. But unlike the world that J.K. Rowling created, Percy's world is grounded in history - you can go to a reference book and look up Dionysus and Poseidon and Athena, and you'll find things that Rick Riordan has folded into his book. But still. Another boy wonder, the best anyone's seen in a long time, proving his worth but facing gigantic obstacles along the way? It's all been done before.

The Lightning Thief - B-

Cannonball Read - Book 61

I am falling further and further behind in my quest to read one hundred books this year, particularly since I had two three-hour flights this weekend when I could have cranked out two or three books. Instead, I read just one.

But it was so worth it.

Middlesex was fantastic. I mean, seriously awesome. This story of a hermaphroditic Greek-American and his family's struggles and intracacies was wholly engrossing from the first page. And the moment I was done with it, I wanted to start it over, to see what I had missed the first time around. It was funny and painful and shocking and just... just... look, I'm no Jeffrey Eugenides. I can't explain it any better than this: it was outstanding.

Middlesex - A+

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 60

I had never heard of Mount Misery by Samuel Shem, but EJack was giving it away in his moving "sale," and who am I to turn down a free book?
I found this review/synopsis from the School Library Journal at Amazon:
Roy Basch, protagonist of House of God (Dell, 1981), has survived his internship and now begins his three-year training at the aptly named Mount Misery, a posh New England psychiatric hospital. Things get off to an ominous start when his mentor, a renowned therapist in the field of depressive disorders, kills himself. This is just the beginning of a year filled with disaster. Employing gallows humor, Basch and his fellow residents confront bureaucratic nonsense in a manner reminiscent of Richard Hooker's MASH. The tone then becomes more like that of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as patients are assaulted by the cruel words and manipulations of the powerful attendings. Shem's novel confronts some powerful themes - sexual abuse, psychosis, greed, depression, suicide - and counters them with examples of the very best the human spirit has to offer. The field of psychiatry is unflinchingly held under a microscope and its failings, limitations, and successes are relentlessly catalogued. With such ferocious intensity, this lengthy novel will not appeal to all teens, but those who persevere will find that Mount Misery's "Laws" and characters will live on in their imaginations for some time to come.

First of all: if you read that synopsis, and you have a teenager, DON'T LET YOUR KID READ THIS BOOK. Seriously, it is not for kids, not even high schoolers.

Now, on to the rest of my thoughts: I really hope I never have to go to therapy again. No, that's not true. What I mean is, I hope I never have to go to therapy with any of these jokers. So Mount Misery is a satire, right? So probably the characters needed to be over the top, more like caricatures of psychiatrists than real psychiatrists. Well, they were, all of them, even the ones I was supposed to like. I basically couldn't stand the protagonist, Roy, even though I'm sure I was supposed to feel his pain, be with him in the trenches as his patients failed and then failed some more. But I didn't give two shits about this guy. He was a sucker. He took on every problem that his patients had. Working on the depressive wing? He got majorly depressed. Drug and alcohol wing? Developed a leetle problem with phenobarbitol. As a reader, I didn't find this compelling; I found it annoying.

The sex scenes weren't that great, either. And every time the author threw in a naughty word, it felt like it was for shock value, not in a way that someone would actually use said naughty word.

And then... and then... the ending! It got all preachy and enlightened. To that, I say bah. When your protagonist, his wife, and their adopted Chinese baby daughter go to Arizona and he starts working with drunks on the res and she starts taking care of their preschoolers... I mean, are we supposed to believe that in the course of one year, this guy changed so dramastically (that's dramatically and drastically, for those of you paying attention) that now he's all one with the universe? NO.

Mount Misery is out of print. Just an FYI.

Mount Misery - D+

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 59

Remember the Jungle Book? Remember the story of Mowgli, the lost baby who is raised by wolves and a host of other creatures who live in the jungle?

This book is JUST LIKE THAT. Except, instead of a jungle, it's a graveyard.

Here's a synopsis:
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs neither to the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy - an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, the he will come under attack from the man Jack - who has already killed Bod's family...

Neil Gaiman's book is certainly geared toward a younger reader... but a good story's a good story. And this, my friends, is a GREAT story. Gaiman is an incredibly gifted writer, and with the Graveyard Book he's created a fantasy world that's completely believable. It's suspenseful - there's bad people (and non-people) out there, trying to get at Bod. It's funny - Bod, after all, is a little boy, and he gets into little boy mischief (and revenge). It's sad, too - I was surprised to feel tears in my eyes as I wrapped up the last chapter, but they were real tears. I cared about Bod, and about his family, and all the characters in the graveyard.

Rumor has it this is not the last we'll see of Bod, that Gaiman is writing another collection of his stories (much like Kipling did with his second collection of Jungle Book stories). I can't wait.

The Graveyard Book - A

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Close Up Shop

Hey, Michelle Duggar? Sweetie, I think it's time for you to take a little break. I worry for you. 18 kids, and you're having another? Listen, I respect you - you obviously love children, and that's awesome. But you know what? God would probably be just as happy if you ADOPTED a kid and let your hoo-ha rest for a little bit.

And Jim Bob? Dude. Get off of her. Literally. Take her out to dinner, maybe a nice G-rated movie, enjoy some time together without knocking her up.

Read more about it here.

Duggar 19 - C (an average grade, people)