Friday, October 30, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 75

Possible spoilers!

Dead Until Dark is the first in the series of Sookie Stackhouse novels, the basis for the HBO series True Blood. Since I don't have HBO, and since the book is always better than the movie (or TV show, I'd assume), I thought I'd check this one out. Here's the description:

"Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn't get out much. Not because she's not pretty. She is. It's just that, well, Sookie has this sort of 'disability.' She can read minds. And that doesn't make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He's tall, dark and handsome - and Sookie can't hear a workd he's thinking. He's exactly the type of guy she's been waiting for all here life...
"But Bill has a disability of his own: He's a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of - big surprise - murder. And when one of Sookie's coworkers is killed, she fears she's next..."

Here's the problem: I've already read the Twilight series. I couldn't get past the good vampire vs. the bad vampires, and the bar owner having his own supernatural secret... well, it was just too much like the Cullens versus the baddies and little Jacob being a werewolf. Are there no more original ideas?

I enjoyed this book. It think it's more accessible than Twilight. It's more down-home, and if possible in a vampire book, more realistic. Yes, Bill the vampire glows, just like Edward Cullen, but it sseems natural and not over-blown. And there are honest-to-goodness sex scenes! None of the longing crap (or the written version of a fade-to-black) - no, Bill takes Sookie and makes her a woman. Good times.

It's also a murder mystery - who killed all the slightly trashy girls? Was it Bill? Some other bad vampire? Sookie's brother Jason? I didn't see the answer coming.

I would read more of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, but probably only in a pinch, like if I'd left my real book behind and was at the airport.

I could have done without the subtle product placement (isn't Nike a brand name?)

Dead Until Dark - B

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cannonball Read - YEAR TWO

To all my friends and loved ones:

You know you've been impressed with all the reading that I've been doing this year. You should be - I'm awesome! And maybe you've been saying to yourself, You know, I wish I had joined in on that, but gosh, 100 books in a year is an awful lot.

Well, friends, I'm here to tell you about Cannonball Read 2: Electric Bookaloo. The rules have changed. Books still need to be over 200 pages long, no graphic novels, short story or essay collections must contain at least six stories/essays. But this year, the book total has dropped to 52 books. That's one book a week. So join in the fun!

One other requirement: you've gotta have a blog, and you've gotta post reviews. Oh no, you cry! I don't know how! Just ask me, I'll help you.

Literacy, people!

Officially, Cannonball Read Year 2 begins Sunday, November 1 (click here for all the official info). But since I started on January 1, 2009, I'm starting year 2 on January 1, 2010. So that means, to keep up with the rest of the gang, I have to read my 52 books in nine months. Challenge!

Cannonball Read - A+

Cannonball Read - Book 74

Thank goodness for the Cannonball Read. I am reading all sorts of books that I've seen for years and have thought, "Oh, I really should read that," but something more compelling always came along. But now, with my trusty library card in hand and a goal almost within reach, I'm finally getting around to it.
Book 74 is Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff (which came out in 2004). Sheff is a writer by trade, so it's a good book - but not a very good story. Perhaps it's the nature of the story being told: an addicted kid mayb be compelling, but it's certainly not uplifting. And here's the part where I'm going to sound hateful: it was really repetitive. Nic, the son, relapses a couple times. OK, that's sad. But how many ways can the dad say "I was in agony. I worried. I wanted him to get better. He called me and he was high?" It was a pageturner, but not in a good way - I was just waiting for the next new thing, instead of the next description of the agony or the high phone call.

Beautiful Boy - B-

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 73

Wendy Wasserstein wrote one of my favorite plays, The Heidi Chronicles; I didn't know she had written this novel, Elements of Style, but I saw it at the library and grabbed it. Here's the book jacket description:

"From the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author of the essay collection Shiksa Goddess ("Utterly delicious" - Judith Thurman), a dazzling debut novel, a comedy about New York's urban gentry living in a post-0/11 world - the arbiters of fashion and the doyennes of charity balls; about the rich and the nouveau rich(er), the glamorous and the desperate to be.
"We meet Francesca Weissman, the Upper East Side pediatrician rated number one by Manhattan magazine, who takes us into the upper strata of privilege and aspiration (she's originally from Queens with a father in hosiery; life on the fringes of glittering New York is fine with her)... Samantha Acton, thoroughbred descendant of the Van Rensselaers and the Carnegies, who defines the social order in the great tradition of Mrs. Astor and Babe Paley... Judy Tremont from Modesto, California, daughter of a cop - her life's work, her obsession, is New York society and its richest families... Barry Santorini, Republican, moviemaker, winner of twelve Oscars, and his wife, the Italian supermarket heiress and former media rep for Giorgio Armani... and many more.
"As Elements of Style opens out, we see a madcap mosaic of the social lives and mores of twenty-first-century Manhattan - of romance, work, family, and friendship. Satiric, fierce, touching - and deliciously Wasserstein."

First, let's talk about that last phrase: deliciously Wasserstein. I think that's going to be the name of my next band.

Next, the book cover. OMG! Doesn't it make you want to read it? I judge books by their covers all the time - and you do, too, so don't deny it! It looks like a fancy purse is inside that box, and I for one want to open and see it.

The inside is just as good as the outside. I imagine that Elements of Style is like a grown-up version of the Clique series. Better yet: a fictional version of the Real Housewives of New York City. Except, these characters seem more real that those crazy ladies on that show. It's satire, to be sure, and many elements are over the top (there's a party scene set in an old pantyhose factory, and you should see what these ladies are wearing), but where I don't care about the Real Housewives' struggles to get their kids to the right nursery school or pediatrician, or if they have this season's Birkin bag, I did care about those same trials and tribulations with the characters in this book. And couple of somewhat tragic things happen, but they seem like a sad part of life instead of a complete derailment of a perfect existence.

It's good.

Elements of Style - B+

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 72

Here's the back-of-the-book description for The Bridesmaid by Hailey Abbott:

"After years of watching couples come to blows over ice sculptures, Abby wants no part of the family wedding planning business. She'd rather spend weekends kicking a soccer ball or antagonizing Noah, the cute son of a famous pastry chef - not doing the Electric Slide. Then Abby's barely legal sistr, Carol, does the unthinkable - she announces she's getting married and wants Abby to be her maid of honor. Clearly, Carol has lost her mind. Will Abby soon lose hers?
"So what if Carol turns into Bridezilla? So what if the dresses are hideous? So what if the invitations get messed up? So what if Noah looks extra hot with frosting in his hair? Abby can handle it. After all, it's just one day, right?"

So really, what else do I need to tell you? Jock girl, cute boy she's known since she was a kid, awesome sister turned psycho by wedding planning, slightly sketchy fiance of said sister, and every wedding cliche you can think of - and more than that, every "this is why weddings are bad" cliche you can think of. Yes, we all know you should put the Macarena on your "do not play" list. Yes, we all know that you should not commission a local artisan to create wooden figures of the bride and groom to use as cake toppers. And yes, we all know that most bridesmaids' dresses are unattractive. Do you really need to it us over the head with this, Hailey Abbott?

To be fair, I picked this up from the young adult section at the library yesterday. I think that teenage girls want to read about weddings, warts and all, and I bet a fourteen-year-old would love this.

The Bridesmaid - C

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 71

My dad recommended Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell to me. Not only that, he sent it to me. I was skeptical. My dad's tastes run more towards Louis L'Amour then, say, Augusten Burroughs or Michael Chabon. But it's hard to be choosy when you're thirty books short of your goal with less than three months to finish, so I picked it up a couple days ago and gave it a shot.

Here's the book jacket description:

"Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital. He has a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden. Whether it's a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to launch a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
"Pietro 'Bearclaw' Brnwa is a hit man for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Witness Protection Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he's the last person you want to see in your hospital room.
"Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Jimmy Squillante, is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might - just might - be the same person...
"Now with the mob, the government, and death itself descending on the hospital, Peter has to buy time and do whatever it takes to keep his patients, himself, and his last shot at redemption alive. To get through the next eight hours - and somehow beat the Reaper."

Don't you just love book jacket descriptions? I remained skeptical. It seemed like Beat the Reaper would be just another former-Mob-guy-on-the-run trashy novel, only set in a hospital. Quick and easy, but nothing special.

Sorry, Dad. I shouldn't have doubted you. This book was. Off. The. Chain! For one thing, there are footnotes. Hilarious footnotes. And Peter's voice is over the top, for sure, but completely believable as the hardened doctor trying to do the right thing but save his ass at the same time. The action flips back and forth from the present-day hospital to snapshots of Peter's past (I won't give it away...), which really helped keep me engaged. It's action-packed, to be sure. Some violence takes place within the first, oh, two pages, and it's compelling and funny a little gross, but voyeuristic. And did I mention the footnotes?

Shit gets real around the last ten pages. I've read lots of books that have made my lady parts tense up for one reason or another. But no lie, I was in the fetal position, cringing, while I read the big finale. I could see it. I could feel it. And it wasn't pretty. But it was awesome.

Moral of the story? Listen to your dad.

Beat the Reaper - A

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 70

Short back-of-the-book description for Stiff:

"Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers - some willingly, some unwittingly - have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them."

This. Book. Was. AWESOME. Seriously bad-ass. Funny and gross and totally respectful of the dead - although at times, not so much of the living. But that's what makes it even more awesome. You can't really help what happens to you once you die - but you can control what you do to dead people. Does that make sense? I mean, science has benefited greatly from cadavers, but did you have to go and grave-rob, people of the 18th- and 19th-centuries?

I could probably write a better review, but who needs to read that? Just read the book! Probably one of my top ten favorite non-fiction books of all time, and certainly one of the best this year.

Stiff - A

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 69

Did I tell you I joined a book club? I did. Aside from the social aspects of being in a group of women, drinking booze and eating party snacks, I like the book club because I don't have to pick ALL the books I'm reading this year. No, I can let someone else pick a book from time to time.

Which leads me to One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. Here's the basic premise: an Indian asks President Grant for one thousand white women (hence the title) in exchange for one thousand horses - and Grant agrees. Ladies looking for a way out of their current bad situation are given the opportunity to join the group traveling to the Indians as the first wave of the trade. Enter May Dodd, formerly locked away in a mental asylum due to her promiscuity. May signs on to travel to Indian Territory, and befriends some outrageous characters along the way. There's Daisy, the scorned Southern belle; Gretchen, the homely, burly Swiss; Susie and Meggie, the swindling Irish twins; Sara, young, lovely and mute; and Phemie, the escaped slave (so not exactly a "white" woman, but you get the idea). These ladies travel by train, then by wagon, out to Indian Territory, where they meet their future husbands and fathers of their children. May is paired with Little Wolf, Sweet Medicine Chief of the tribe, and her life carries on with equal measures of joy and hardship. But maybe May is promiscuous. Did I mention John Bourke, the rugged Army captain May meets at Fort Laramie, on the way out west. May and Bourke have one steamy night that May must revisit only in memory; she grows to love Little Wolf, but her heart often returns to her time with Bourke.

I've gotten carried away. You don't want to know everything, do you? Of course not. You want to read the book. Maybe. It's not a classic, it won't stick with you for weeks on end, but as far as "fluffy" books go, it's solid. Fergus has written some great characters, particulary the supporting characters. May's fellow white women, as well as Little Wolf's other wives, are well thought-out and often quite funny. It did get tedious at times - weather, tipis, peeing outside, etc. I think I'm done with alternative history for a while. But if you're looking for a book for your book club (or reading group, which sounds more illustrious), this is a good pick.

One Thousand White Women - B

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 68

I found this synopsis at Books On Board:

"Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden, disappeared 40 years ago... and her octogenarian uncle is determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

"Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, is hired to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance... and Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age — and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it — assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism... and an unexpected connection between themselves.

"A contagiously exciting, stunningly intelligent novel about society at its most hidden, and about the intimate lives of a brilliantly realized cast of characters, all of them forced to face the darker aspects of their world and of their own lives."

Throughout my Cannonball Read quest, I've been taking a lot of recommendations. Some of them paid off. Others, not so much. Maybe it's that I trust too deeply, or maybe that I want to believe my friends or relatives and I have the same taste in books when really we don't. Or maybe, it's that I end up not buying into the hype. And The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo falls into the latter category.

Don't get me wrong. It's good. REALLY good. Sandwiched between an overly wordy first 40 pages and an interminable final twenty pages is an incredible story about family, revenge, violence, finance, and IKEA. It's a pageturner, folks, and I stayed up way past my bedtime to read one more chapter, or sometimes just one more paragraph. The family at the center of the story is simultaneously twisted and lovable, and the protagonists, Mikael and Lisbeth, were incredibly well-written, to the point that at times, the book seemed like true crime rather than fiction.

But with all that said, it's not as good as people make it out to be. I can't tell you how many people I know have said (or written) to me "Oh my God, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is awesome. Go get it now! Add it to the top of the list!" etc. And yeah, it was good. I just didn't think it was incredible.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - B+

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Cannonball Read - Book 67

Here's the book-jacket synopsis for A Ship Made of Paper by Scott Spencer:

"Daniel Emerson lives with Kate Ellis and is like a father to her daughter, Ruby. But he cannot control his desire for Iris Davenport, the African-American woman whose son is Ruby's best friend. During a freak October blizzard, Daniel is stranded at Iris' house and they begin a sexual liaison that eventually imperils all their relationships, Daniel's profession, their children's well-being, their own race-blindness, and their view of themselves as essentially good people. A Ship Made of Paper captures all the drama, nuance, and helpless intensity of sexual and romantic yearning, and it bears witness to the age-old conflict between the order of the human community and the disorder of desire."

Here's my synopsis: yearning, yearning, yearning. Consummation! Angst, angst, angst. Yawn. But then, an event so shocking that I gasped aloud while I was reading. Which doesn't happen that often. Followed by a "come on, that's the best you could do?" And then yawns until the end.

This was one of those books where I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop - and when it did, it dropped hard. Gruesome (without being graphic) and terrible. But then I just went back to waiting - is Daniel going to choose Kate or Iris? Which one? WHICH ONE!? But instead of being left with a sense of anxiety about it, I just wanted him to hurry up and make up his mind already. And as I mentioned above, there's one more big deal moment near the end, but it's so over the top that it completely removed me from my reading experience. I may have even snorted in derision.

A Ship Made of Paper - B (would have been a B- but I'm telling you, the shocking moment is really shocking)