Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book #38: "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend" by Christopher Moore

Read it. As soon as possible.

It's a complete riot. The premise is this: the titular character, Biff, has been brought back from the dead in the year 2000 so he could write a gospel about Jesus' life up until he turned 33 and became famous--pretty much everything that's missing from the Bible.

Turns out that Jesus (or Joshua in the book) had a pretty exciting life before all that other good stuff he did in the New Testament. Him and Levi Who is Called Biff go on a quest to find the three Wise Men who came to witness Joshua's birth, so that maybe they'll give Joshua some advice as to how to become the Messiah. They end up wandering around for 16 years, learning about other ancient religions in Persia, India and Tibet. Then they get back and things get back to what we already know happened. Only, of course, we never got the whole story before.

It's so much fun to read. Biff is the kind of friend I think we all have, an impulsive, sex-crazed smartass who is weak of flesh but fiercely loyal to Joshua. Joshua is also hilarious: Moore makes him completely human and approachable. While he does recite some prophetic wise sayings, he also gets frustrated easily and becomes fluent in sarcasm and creative swearing. He has a great sense of humor even while carrying around the huge responsibility that is being God's only son. Their friendship is at the core of the story and what makes it so great--they're both different but constantly play off each other, and their exchanges are just so damn fun and smart that the story only gets bogged down when the two aren't alone together.

The book is a bit slow towards the start, so it's really when they leave Jerusalem that thins get really good. There's elements of the supernatural sprinkled here and there--they battle demons and Joshua manages to make himself invisible. It's incredibly funny, but also dark and somber in spots, which makes for a completely engrossing read. There's genuinely touching scenes, and the ending (which we all know, really) had me in tears because of the incredible journey the two made together. The best thing, though, is that they're just two guys, one of whom just happens to be the Messiah. They have fun together, they argue, they call each other names and feel embarrassed of one another. They're just two great friends.

I can't recommend it enough. It may take a bit to get used to the anachronisms (of language, mostly, and it's just so damn funny that you don't mind it after a while). Moore is a great writer, and he clearly loves his characters and the story.

And it's worth reading for two things that I loved more than anything in the book(and I loved just about the entire thing): One, the scenes between Biff and the Angel. The latter becomes obsessed with modern television, specially soap operas. The second is the scene where Joshua resurrects Lazarus--just to give you a taste, he refuses to come out of the cave because he's "All icky".

I'm still laughing at that.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Books 33-37: "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R.R. Martin

It'd be exhausting to write full, separate reviews for these books (and I think, exhausting to read as well), so here's a spoiler-free super fast review of the series for you. I'm lazy, you're lazy, it all works out!

Let me get this out of the way: This is, far and above, the best fantasy series I've read since Lord of the Rings. Granted, I'm not that much of a fantasy buff, so I might be talking nonsense, but I think most of the crazies would agree: This series kicks all kinds of ass. It has an amazing, fascinating world, fantastic characters, political intrigue, complicated plots, romances, blood feuds, vicious battles, carnage galore, ghosts, zombies, dragons, dwarves--everything. It's a massive story, each book easily 1000 pages, but the only problem with that is how much your hands will hurt from lugging them around after you've been unable to stop reading for 8 hours straight.

They get a little bogged down under their own weight from time to time, but the one thing to know about these books is that they'll always get back up to full speed. Pick one up and you won't be able to stop. But beware: George R.R. Martin took 6 years between writing books 4 and 5, and who knows when he'll be able to finish the last two books in the series. I tried to be strong and not read them until he was done writing them, but then HBO came out with the show and it looked amazing with the swords and fighting and the Sean Bean and I HAD to read.

Now, if you're wondering whether to read the books or watch the show first? I'd go with the former. Sure, you'll miss out on being shocked by the ending, but I think it'll be easier to keep the characters straight, and it's definitely worth it to watch the actors bring the characters to life.

A few more quick tips:

1) Don't get too attached to anyone. This man is not afraid to kill off everyone and everything in sight.
2) It's graphic, violent and sometimes more than a little crude. This isn't a series for the faint of heart.
3) Seriously, set aside a weekend or two and tell everyone you know that you will be unavailable for a few days. Once you start, you won't be able to stop.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book #32: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Remember last time, when I told you the books that left me feeling like one giant ball of sadness, almost drowning in dramatic sobs and tears? This was one of them. In fact, I don't think I have ever cried this hard at a book of fiction before. Just thinking about it makes me feel like crying. I don't think I'd ever read a book more beautiful, unique and heartbreaking.

The most fascinating thing about the book, and what helps make it so unique and powerful is that it's narrated by Death. He (or It, I think) is an omniscent observer, who has decided to tell us the heartbreaking story of a young girl named Liesel, who lives in Germany during World War 2. After losing her mother and brother, she is adopted by two Germans, Hans and Rosa Bubermann . Her adoptive father is quiet but strong, her mother rough around the edges, but it's clear that they love each other, and Liesel, very much.

One night the local Nazis stage a book burning, and Liesel, fascinated and confused, sneaks in and steals one of the books about to be burned. It becomes her greatest treasure, and she becomes The Book Thief. A while later a knock comes in the middle of the night and Liesel must share in another secret: a runaway Jew named Max has come to ask the Hubermanns for a hiding place, and they take him in despite the great danger he represents for them

We see the events of the war unfold around the family, slowly and distantly at first, but becoming more and more real as the war progresses, right to their front door during the Allies' bombing of Germany. They're affected right from the start, when Liesel's father tries to join the Nazi party to protect his family, and when Liesel's best friend Rudy joins the Nazi Youth. It's a different, harrowing perspective and I was grateful for it.

The voice of Death is Zusak's greatest accomplishment in this book. Death is detached, seemingly emotionless at times, but there is a great, eternal sadness to the character. The writing is simple but incredibly beautiful and at times almost poetic.Every now and then a simple phrase would just break my heart.

I can't even find the proper words to describe how much this book moved me, and I'm afraid that the review isn't doing it justice. Even now I still feel the power of the story, and it's been a while since I read it. Almost as soon as I was done (after I finished sobbing my heart out, that is) I wanted to read it all over again. It's by far one of the best books I have ever read, and one that I'll recommend to everyone I know. I'll recommend they get a box of tissues to go with it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Book #31: "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

There are very few books that have made me cry. I can count them on one hand: The Time Traveler's Wife, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and The Book Thief. Now I have to add The Color Purple to the list, because this book slayed me.

This is the story of Celie and her sister, told through diary entries and letters to each other. Celie is a poor black girl who has always had a miserable life-- abused as a child, then married off to an abusive, violent husband after her father gets her pregnant and then gives away her children. Her sister, Nettie, moves in with them, but it doesn't last long- the husband tries to rape her and her sister must run away, so Celie loses the only thing in her life that she cares about. From then on she writes letters to her sister, detailing her miserable, lonely life, not even knowing whether her sister is alive or not.

Celie is an incredibly powerful narrator. She doesn't wallow in her sadness, but tells her story in a sadly detached way, detailing the miseries of her life while also hoping that there is something in the future for her. Her life slowly begins to change, once her husband's lover, Shug Avery, comes into her life. Shug is her complete opposite--powerful, independent, a force of nature who doesn't take shit from anyone and reduces Mister to nothing. At first Celie resents her, but slowly they become friends (and lovers) and Celie finally begins to love herself, and thus begins to shine.

It's this aspect of the book that got me. Celie starts out as miserable a character as I've ever read, but her transformation into her own person is incredibly touching and powerful. This is a book about women overcoming obstacles by relying on themselves and other women. There's an impressive cast of female characters, all vastly different but united in their shared desire to become more than their situations allow them to be.

I loved this book. Celie's voice is so strong and the story is touching and memorable. I was crying, both from sharing Celie's heartbreak, but also because of how much she manages to overcome and change. Read this. It's hard, and sometimes brutal to read sometimes, but it's also an incredibly good read.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book #30: "Little Children" by Tom Perotta

The first thing to know about this book is that the title refers not to actual children, but to full-grown people who act in ways that make them no better than children. Greedy, selfish, pouting children. This is a book about rich suburbanites who are profoundly unhappy, and the sometimes stupid things they do to try and change this. It's stark and unforgiving, but also sympathetic. And one hell of a read.

The book deals with a group of people living in a perfectly suburban, affluent neighborhood. The families live the American dream: nice houses, nice children, nice jobs. But they're all wildly unhappy. They all seem to think they have something more coming to them, that they need to be more perfect, or richer, that they don't deserve their problems and why should they have it so hard? In short, they're more child-like than their actual children. They want what they want and will throw a tantrum (or rather, have affairs) when they don't get their way. Like spoiled children, they think they deserve what they want, for no real reason other than they want it.

Though this sounds wildly unpleasant, the characters are sometimes strangely sympathetic. The story focuses mainly on four or five characters and their children: There's Sarah, a sad former-feminist who doesn't seem to quite understand how she ended up a housewife with a daughter she doesn't understand and a husband, Richard, whom she doesn't love. She falls into an affair with Todd, a handsome stay-at-home dad who is married to Kathy, a beautiful professional woman. Sarah and Todd are the more childlike of the group, so dissatisfied with their lives that they try having an affair seemingly just to have something exciting to do. They're surrounded by all the usual people of a small suburban neighborhood--the over-protective soccer moms, the guys who love football, everyone with their little stories and secret miseries. The story of the new neighbor, who happens to be a convicted sexual offender, is particularly affecting.

Reading this book I was equally annoyed and saddened by the characters. They're sometimes infuriating in their childish, selfish ways, but you also get the feeling that there's probably a lot of people out there who feel the same way they do. So the characters all feel very realistic, in a way that feels a little uncomfortable to read sometimes. Perotta doesn't hold back his punches, telling the story in an almost detached, clinical way that just gets to you.

It's not an easy book to read, and the characters might put you off entirely, but it's definitely not a book I'll forget anytime soon. Some scenes just stick with you, and I know I'll look out for more of Perotta's work.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book 28: "One Day" by Dave Nicholls

One Day is the story of the very long and tumultuous friendship of Dexter and Emma. The book begins when they are just finishing college and starting out in the real world, and it goes on to check on them every year for about 20 years on roughly the same day--Dexter's birthday. It's a sweet, fun story about friendship and growing up, and one of the most relatable books I've read recently.

The book begins when Emma and Dexter meet and sort-of hookup at a party after their graduation from college. Dexter is living the dream; he's handsome, rich and a hit with the ladies. Emma is bookish and shy and has had a crush on Dexter for a while. Their hookup is mostly forgettable to him (he likes her enough to be her friend but nothing more), but it means everything to her. After that they part ways, with Dexter becoming almost instantly successful as a TV presenter without working very hard at all, and Emma floundering to find something meaningful to do after college. We check in on them as they go through their 20s, always keeping in touch with each other, with their friendship growing now stronger and then weaker through the years. But they're always there in each other's minds--at first it's Emma who needs Dexter, but eventually Dexter comes to need her even more than she does him.

It's a wonderfully engaging story about friendship and growing up, and though that sounds kind of cliche and cheesy, I think most people of my generation could easily relate to one of the two main characters. Emma's story definitely hit close to my heart--those days as she's trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to do and never feeling quite sure of herself? Yeah, that was me in my early 20s. Hell, I still feel like that sometimes. As for Dexter I could easily think of three or four people I know who are exactly like him: vain, always winning at everything, seemingly perfect but always wanting something more. It was all very easy to relate to.

I mostly really liked this book. There were a few times when the story slowed down a little too much, but I think it fit in with the idea that you're looking at the lives of two very ordinary people, and ordinary lives aren't always that exciting. The best thing about it, though, was how real and sweet the friendship between the two characters was. Sometimes they argue and hurt each other, but it just makes their love for each other stronger, and I think we all have at least one friendship like that. The only part I didn't much care for was the ending, but the least I say about that the better. This is one book where the journey is worth the disappointing destination.

And how's that last sentence for cliched and cheesy?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book 27: "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole

I'll make this a short one. Both because I need to catch up on reviews and because I honestly don't remember much of this book at all. Didn't make much of an impact, to be honest.

I think this ended up on my library list after I asked Pajiba for recommendations on books that were funny. This one was at the top of many lists, so I decided to give it a book. I needed a good laugh after the drearyness of The Road.

Now, it's been a while since I read it, but I don't rememeber it being that funny. I remember a few laugh-out-loud moments, but for the most part the book was just very absurd in its characters and situations. More silly than hilarious, if that makes any sense.

The story centers around the sad adventures of Ignatius J Reilly, a hideous, fat, lazy loser in his 40s who still lives with his miserable mother. He spends his days in his room and refuses to get a job, insisting he's too smart and capable for most mundane occupations. No one understands his genius, so he spends hours writing ridiculous papers and treatises that no one will read. When his mother makes him go out and get a job he ends up trying out several of them, all of which he fails at in ridiculous and somtimes hilarious ways. The story just gets progressively more absurd and ridiculous, and all the characters exist in a bizarre world where everyone is equally insane.

So, if you enjoy absurdist comedy and reading stories that don't make a whole lot of sense, you'll enjoy this. You'll probably crack up several times. I found it a little hard to read. Funny in parts, but on the whole just kind of messy. I guess I like my books to have more of a center that I can hold on to.

I apologize for the half-assed review, but I'm really just wanting to move on to books I actually liked.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book #26: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy


That's the one word I can think of to describe this book. Complete and total bleakness. I don't think I've ever read a work of fiction so completely depressing and hopeless--there's no happy ending and not even a glimmer of hope for one. This is a book to read when you want to feel like you've been kicked in the soul.

The story follows a father and his young son as they make their way through an apocalyptic wasteland. We don't know how long they've been walking, though it must be years and years, as all the son can remember is walking down the road. We don't know where they're going, only that they have a vague hope of reaching the ocean. Everything around them is dead and burned, there's no color, heat or sunshine anywhere, and almost no people. They just walk, and try to avoid anyone who might steal their meager supplies. Every now and then they run into some horrible sights, and the book becomes even more bleak and depressing, which I didn't even think was possible.

McCarthy's writing is as dry and bare as the landscape he describes. It's actually kind of amazing how much he tells you in a few short sentences. There's almost no dialogue or characterization (the characters never even get names), but you still get a full picture of what is going in the story. Some scenes were horrifying not because of what he tells you, but just from what you can imagine from what little he says of it.

This was a very strange, depressing read. On the one hand, the story will leave you feeling a little empty inside (while also wringing your heart for the relationship between the father and son), so maybe you should avoid it because of that. On the other hand, you should read it for the brilliance of the writing alone. I wouldn't ever pick it up again, but I'm glad I did, because it was unlike anything I'd ever read before.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book #24: "Anansi Boys" by Neil Gaiman

Anansi Boys is a spin-off of American Gods, my favorite of Neil Gaiman's books. It follows the two sons of the spider-god Mr. Nancy from the earlier book--twins, one of whom (Spider) has magical powers and leads a life of excess and opulence, the other (Fat Charlie) a sad-sack loser working a bad job and living a painfully mediocre life. The two meet after their father's death, and Spider decides to become a part of Fat Charlie's life, throwing it completely into chaos. He gets Fat Charlie into all kinds of trouble with his job, his girlfriend, and just about everyone he knows, leading Fat Charlie to think of ways to get rid of his magical brother.

If all that sounds cut-and-dry and not very enthusiastic, it's just because I didn't have very strong feelings towards the book. While I loved the bizarre and engaging story of American Gods, all the charm of that book seems to have vanished in this one. I found all of the characters to be shallow and quickly written; each only seemed to have one or two broad traits that never changed through the course of the story. There just didn't seem to be any depth at all, except maybe for the character of Charlie. But even he was such a sad, pathetic loser that I didn't really care for anything that happened to him. Spider, who I think was supposed to be charming and roguish, only came off as obnoxious and stupidly cruel to me. The boss and the girlfriend were bizarre additions; the boss is the villain but seems like a joke, and the girlfriend made so little an impression on me that I was surprised when she showed up again later in the story--I'd actually forgotten that she existed and thought she would just disappear into the background like any minor character.

Sometimes I think I just don't get Neil Gaiman. His stories can be amazing and intricate (like in Neverwhere or American Gods), or they can just fall flat and boring (like in Anansi Boys or Good Omens). Of course, this is just a personal opinion, but I don't share the opinion of my friends that everything he touches is gold. He repeats the plot of Ordinary Person Finds Himself in Extraordinary World over and over again, and for me, it works as often as it fails. I often find myself not even liking the protagonists of his books; it's the stories or the minor characters that win me over. So picking a new book of his is a crapshoot for me, I know I'll either love it or be completely underwhelmed.

This one landed on the latter side for me, and I just didn't like it very much. But I know I'll pick up more of his work, because he's a brilliantly imaginative writer and I want to read what new, bizarre universe he'll come up with next. So, despite the disappointment, I'm not giving up on him just yet.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book #21: "Fool" by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend might be one of the best books I have ever read. So I'd been looking forward to reading more of his work and picked this one up at the library, and though I knew it probably wouldn't be as good as Lamb, I had high hopes for it.

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed.

Moore likes telling famous stories from new, hilarious points of view. Lamb, for example, was the story of Jesus Christ told from the point of view of his best friend, a wise-cracking smartass. Fool is Shakespeare's King Lear told from the point of view of Lear's fool, a wisecracking smartass named Pocket.

King Lear was always my favorite of Shakespeare's tragedies, and while it was a great idea to tell his story through the eyes of a character who ridiculous everyone and everything in sight, there was something lacking in the book for me. For those of you that don't know, King Lear is the story of a vain old king, who instead of naming a single heir to the crown decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters, according to which one says loves him best. Two of his daughters, Goneril and Regan, lie through their teeth and get a good chunk of the kingdom for it. His youngest daughter, Cordelia (who really loves Lear), is honest and ends up not getting anything from her father. Cordelia is banished and pretty soon all hell breaks loose when the remaining daughters and their husbands become greedier and start treating King Lear with derision and contempt. Through all this, Pocket is a detached, sarcastic observer, having sex with everyone in sight and pitting sister against sister and sticking by the king to make his ridiculing remarks about everything the old man does.

So it's a great story as it is, and it's an interesting twist to read the whole gory, dark tale from a humorous point of view. I'm just not sure why it didn't quite work for me. I think a large part of it was that, being a big fan of King Lear, I already knew the story from start to end, so nothing really surprising happened. True, there are additional scenes that Moore made up, and while they're funny on their own, I found myself impatient to get back to the real story. Another problem I had was with the character of Pocket, whom I just didn't like as a narrator. To be fair, I don't think you're supposed to like a lecherous, mean and sarcastic troublemaker, but I don't think I was supposed to dislike him this much. I just felt that there were no real motivation for the things he did, and the frantic pace of the story made it hard for me to get a good idea of who the character was.

That being said, Moore's writing is fast-paced and seriously funny throughout the whole book. It's damn entertaining to read the inappropriate jokes and the anachronistic references sprinkled throughout the book. I just wish there was a bit more meat to the character of Pocket and his story as a whole. It wasn't a bad book by any means, and I enjoyed it for the most part, but it could have been better. I'm still going to read more of his work, but this one wasn't a favorite. Now, do yourselves a favor and read Lamb. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book #20: "Cause Celeb" by Helen Fielding

Helen Fielding is the author of my favorite work of Chick Lit: Bridget Jones' Diary; a book that was an absolute riot to read (and read over again). So I was very curious to see what else she had up her sleeve. Turned out that Cause Celeb was not at all what I expected it to be, both in a good and bad way.

The book stars Rosie Richardson, a single girl with a miserable job and a penchant for falling for bad men. In many ways she's just another Bridget Jones--aside from the Bad Boy obsession, she is awkward in social situations and doesn't have a very high opinion of herself. But unlike Bridget she seems to at least be aware of what her problems are and where they come from, and she actually does things to change them. When her bosses send her to the fictional country of Nambula in Africa for business, her life changes once she realizes that the people there have very real and terrifying problems. She decides to break up with her bad boyfriend and move to Nambula to become a volunteer for a charity that runs a refugee camp. A few years later she returns briefly to England to try and get her boyfriend and his celebrity friends to give money and help save the people of the refugee camp. Hilarity ensues, followed immediately by great sadness and misery.

It's the mix of the two that was a bit confusing to me. On the one hand, Fielding does a great job of mocking the culture of Celebrity Charity, where rich, famous people pretend to "Do Good" by feeling sorry for Africans and giving them some money, all for a little bit of good publicity. Sure, there's some good people with good intentions, but for the most part the celebrities live in a little cocoon that's completely separated from the real world, and when they all travel to Africa they get a bit of a shock at what they see. There's a particular character that's just hilarious and perfect-- a supermodel (clearly supposed to be Naomi Campbell) who insists that she wants to save 'her people' while not being sure who they are and thinking that all they need is some toilet paper. The mockery is hilariously done.

However, when the book suddenly switches from mocking celebrities or detailing the woes of Rosie's love life to trying to convey the misery of the camp or the tragedy of a famine, the book falters. The switches are a little jarring, and it's hard to go from parody back to Very Serious Business. It's like Fielding tried to write a parody mixed in with The Constant Gardener and didn't quite pull off the mix.

But mostly it's a good, fun read . Again, the harsh criticism Fielding gives to Celebrity Charity is pretty hilarious and scathing, and you get the idea that the real situation isn't very far off from the parody. I was expecting a fluffy, funny book, and instead got a scathing look at some very real problems involved with celebrity charity. And I was fairly happy with the result.

Fielding is a very funny, insightful writer, and while she might not hit the right note every single time, the book is worth a read. If only so you can try and guess which real-life celebrities she's really making fun of throughout the story.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Books 15-19, 22-23, 25 and 29: The Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris

Note the First: Well, damn, I've fallen way behind again. Sorry about that. I'm gonna force myself to write at least one review per day, that way maybe I can catch up.

Note the Second: This is a review for the entire The Southern Vampire(aka Sookie Stackhouse) series. I wrote a review of the first book a while ago, and you can read it here. I've tried my best to keep it completely spoiler-free.

Here's the bottom line about Charlaine Harris' "Southern Vampire" series: They are incredibly fun to read. After finishing Dead Reckoning, the last of the books published so far (there are two more to come, I believe), I couldn't wait to go out and recommend the series to everyone I know. That is, everyone I know who enjoys a little bit of fun, fluffy reading or everyone who needs something good to read at the beach. This is a fun, well-written and easy-to-read series about a southern telephatic girl and her adventures with vampires, werewolves, fairies, demons and all other kinds of supernatural beings who are just trying to get at her.

Without spoiling anything, let's just say that Sookie is like many Mary Sues out there--everything happens to her. Every man she meets either wants to kill her, have sex with her, rape her or just hurt her in some way. After first getting involved with Vampire Bill in the first book, Sookie gets drawn in to the intrigues of the world of supernatural beings, mostly because of her own supernatural powers. Each book either continues or introduces new mysteries and characters, building up a complex, interesting world that never seems to be at peace. So it's not all fluff and Sexy Vampire times--some of the things that happen to and around Sookie are dangerous and downright terrifying. The result is that it's always entertaining to read, even hard to put down sometimes.

What really sets this series above other romantic/horror mixes I've read before is that Sookie is a wonderfully likable character. She's independent and strong, and an engaging and funny narrator. She's impulsive, yes, but not in that stupid way that a lot of heroines seem to have in this type of book. There's a reason for everything she does, and she doesn't shy back from violence when it comes to saving herself and those she loves. And best of all, she doesn't waste any time moping around or waiting for someone to come save her--she takes charge of her own life. And I liked that.

It's not a perfect series, however. Harris sometimes gets bogged down in describing the mundane details of Sookie's daily life, as in "I sorted laundry. I put detergent in the laundry. I did a delicates cycle", etc. While this helps make Sookie feel more real and accessible, sometimes you just want her to get on with the story. Fortunately, the books are so easy to read that the payoff is never long in coming, and the little details do help Sookie give a stronger voice as a narrator.

Reviewing the series book by book would be exhausting, and probably useless to most people, so I'll just say that if you start one, you'll want to finish them all. Some of the books are a little slow, some are packed with action--so you can rest assured that things will pick back up eventually. Harris not only creates plots specific to one book but also has larger, overarching plots that cover the entire series and (in some cases) still have to be resolved.

In the end, you could do much worse than this series. Harris is a talented writer who knows what she's writing, and doesn't take herself too seriously. She knows her fans and her audience, and always keeps things moving and fun. She's created a likable heroine and a complex world for her to live in. It's one of the most entertaining "romance" series I've ever read, set in a world where anything could happen--so you get the idea that Harris has any number of cards up her sleeve for future books. Plenty of over-the-top, sexy, and infinitely fun books. I can't wait to read more of them.

Note the Final: Here are the books in proper order, and next to their number on my own Cannonball List:

Book 1: Dead Until Dark (CB #7)
Book 2: Living Dead in Dallas (CB #15)
Book 3: Club Dead (CB #16)
Book 4: Dead to the World (CB #17)
Book 5: Dead as a Doornail (CB #18)
Book 6: Definitely Dead (CB #19)
Book 7: All Together Dead (CB #22)
Book 8: From Dead to Worse (CB #23)
Book 9: Dead and Gone (CB #25)
Book 10: Dead Reckoning (CB #29)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Book #0.5: "Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin

It's finally happened--I was unable to finish a book. In the two years that I've done the Cannonball Read, I've gotten through some truly terrible books. I've managed, through sheer stubbornness and not a small amount of masochism to finish books that I wanted to set on fire as soon as I was done with them--just to keep another poor soul from reading them. I told myself I'd never leave a book unfinished. I broke that promise with Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin.

It's not even the worst book I've ever read. There's nothing I actively disliked about it. But oh lord, I just didn't care. About any of it! And eventually I realized that I'd started skipping longer and longer passages of the book because of how awfully bored I was of the whole thing, and I decided to just give it up. I'm never going to finish that book. And I feel bad about it.

It came to me with glowing reviews and recommendations from people I trust (it was mentioned quite a few times on Pajiba whenever someone asked for recommendations), so I had really high expectations for it. And it started out well! Seemed like a flowery story set in New York in the early 20th Century, with bits of fantasy and supernatural elements thrown in here and there.

And then it just went nowhere for what felt like an eternity. It introduced characters over 20 pages, and just when you were really getting into their stories, it'd abruptly turn to a NEW character, just completely dismissing the other. Then it'd go on to yet another loooong description of New York--which, yes, Mark Halprin, I get it, New York is magical, now GET ON WITH IT. I couldn't grasp the tone of the book, or figure out where the hell it was planning on going. Just as I'd start to think "Oh, it's the story of Peter Lake falling in love with so and so", the book would abruptly end that plotline and jump into something completely different. And I just hated the whole thing.

So I gave up. I'll probably be told that I should keep reading, that it's a great book and that it all has a purpose in the end. Probably. But I just didn't like the writing, I didn't care for the characters and I couldn't get through another 500 pages to figure out if there was a point to the whole thing.

I'm gonna count it a .5 of a book, because I think I read to the halfway point. I really didn't even think I had this much to say about it, but it turns out I always have a lot to say about anything. Point is: I didn't like it and couldn't finish it. I feel bad about it, but it'll be going back to the library, and I'll remember it as my very first Cannonball defeat.

One last thing: If you liked the book, please tell me why in the comments. I really want to know.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book #14: "Misfortune" by William Stace

I've already mostly forgotten what this book was about. To be fair, I read it almost three weeks ago, but I think it'd be equally fair to say that you don't forget the good books. Even the bad books are memorable in some way; even if they're not exactly pleasant memories. This one was just one forgettable, mediocre book. Something that was hard to remember even when I was reading it, which is honestly just an impressive display of nothingness.

What vague memories I have of it allow me to tell you that it was about a boy who was raised as a girl by his big weirdo of a father. The story was set in England in the 17th Century or so, most of it taking place in a big, boring, empty mansion. The boy, called Rose, was abandoned and later picked up by a very rich nobleman, who for some ridiculous reason decided to bring him up as a girl with the help of his mother's nurse. Rose grows up, has a couple of friends and as he hits his teenage years--well, you can probably guess what happens. All is revealed. Rose runs away and goes on some frankly bizarre and confusing adventures, then comes back and everything is tied up neatly in a big fat bow of Happily Ever After--something about wearing a dress while also having a beard...I don't know. It's not important.

Nothing ever felt important. The story is told by Rose, and, if there's something I've learned while doing the Cannonball is that very, very few people know how to do a good first-person narration. It takes a very good writer to manage the technique, and William Stace just isn't that good, and Rose came off as exceedingly whiny and pathetic a narrator. One who is also rather unlikable. And when you start off with an unlikable main character and you give them nothing good to be surrounded by- no fleshed-out supporting characters, no exciting dialogue, no real plot, not even a good mystery-- you just have a big pile of nothing on your hands.

I can't even get worked up enough to hate it. Stace is not a terrible writer, but he started out with a weak story that never really got going. I confess I spent most of the last quarter of the book skipping large paragraphs of boring, useless exposition in an attempt to just get the book finished. I even put off writing this review for a very long time--the book was so boring that I didn't even want to relieve it long enough to write this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Work, books, family...

Apologies for this place being so quiet lately. But I've had a few things going on that have kept me both from updating and reading in general, which makes me sad in the pants.

First, I got a job! I won't say the company name here, but I'll tell you it's a high-end retail store at a mall here in Dallas. I'm on my third week and so far I'm liking it just fine. It can get pretty hectic sometimes--this week in particular has been rather insane-- but the good thing is that the busier you are, the faster the time goes by. I have a problem with sitting still doing nothing, which just makes long shifts drag by, so keeping busy is a good thing. I do get home exhausted after a long day (specially given that I spent the last three months sitting around doing nothing all day), but my feet are finally getting used to the activity. To top it all off, I'm making good money and I'm able to help with household expenses, which is always nice.

I still want to go for the teaching degree, of course. But given the state of Education in Texas right now, I think I'd better put if off for a while. I think I'll still try to get the certification this year just to have it on hand for when schools start hiring again, but that will have to wait until I'm a little bit more secure at the job. So, it's not an ideal situation, but I have a job and I'm very grateful for that.

Specially because a brutal summer is coming and I want to be able to use the A/C all day without feeling guilty at not being able to afford it. Bwah.

In other news, my older brother's going to be moving to Dallas with his wife, and I couldn't be more excited. They just got married in December and they'll be moving here for school sometime during the summer. I'm ecstatic at having some family nearby, and the fact that we'll both be here will make it a lot easier for the rest of my family to visit us. It'll be fun.

As for my Cannonball, I'm going along at a good pace. I'm on book 22 and not that far behind on my reviews. I decided to lump all of the Sookie Stackhouse books into one giant review, as separate posts would be too repetitive and full of spoilers. I'm on book 8 right now and should be done pretty soon.

That's about it on this end. Nothing terribly exciting, but I'm keeping busy while trying not to melt. It's already hitting 95 here during the day, with lows in the 80s at night. I did not miss you, summer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book #13: "The Constant Gardener" by John Le Carre

John Le Carre is an amazing writer. That was the main thing I got out of this fantastic, thrilling book. I don't know why I'd never read any of his work before, but after this one, I think I'm going to need to pick up more than a few of his books. He has this incredibly simple but elegant way of writing, where the sentences just flow perfectly together and draw you into the story so well that before you know it you've read half the book in just a few hours.

The book (on which the movie was based) takes place in Kenya, where the British High Commission works to aid the impoverished nation. Justin Quayle for for the BHC, and is married to Tessa, a passionate young woman determined to really help the population in Kenya by fighting the corporations that want to make a profit from pretending to help them. At the start of the book (it's not a spoiler, as it happens in the first page), Tessa is found murdered, and Justin begins to investigate the details behind her very suspicious death. He soon finds out that Tessa was involved in uncovering the truth behind the deaths of Kenyans who were using a drug promoted by a rich pharmaceutical company, and that they might be responsible for her death. The story quickly escalates into a dangerous mission for Justin, as he travels around the world trying to find out the truth behind his wife's murder.

It's a great thriller of a story, and Le Carre keeps things moving at a fast pace. The book slows down slightly in the middle as Justin hops to yet another international destination, but it's still a fun read. Le Carre writes some great characters, all with distinct voices and personalities, and you really do end up caring a great deal about Tessa and Justin. The story might be unrealistic at times, but I think that when a thriller is really good, you don't really care that much.

All in all, I loved this book. The writing is a pleasure to read, the mystery is engrossing, and the characters are believable. I don't ask for much more from a thriller, and this one delivered. I highly recommend it.

PS: The movie is also pretty great. But so very, very depressing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book #12: "Lisey's Story" by Stephen King

Oh, Stephen King, I wish I knew how to quit you. Even when you give me this bizarre, often-irritating mess of a book, I still find things to like about it. And I know I'll still read whatever you write, even when I (and pretty much the entire world) have a feeling that maybe you should have stopped a long time ago.

Lisey's Story is a strange soup made up of a confusing mix of the ingredients Stephen King loves and that we long-time readers are all too familiar with: There's the story told from a lonely woman's perspective; a woman who is so normal she's almost dull. The dead husband, who (of course) was a famous author. Their loving relationship and his dark past. The Maine setting. And as always, a sprinkling of the supernatural--in this case, a very convenient parallel world that only very special people can travel in and out of with relative ease. As usual with King, most of the ingredients work for most of the book, up until the end when they start to go a little stale.

Lisey is a fairly dull woman who lost her husband, Scott (a famous writer), a couple of years ago. She's finally going through his effects after being pushed to it by former peers of her husband who want any unwritten material he might have left behind. As she goes through his papers, she finds herself reliving moments in their life, including some very dark memories that she has blocked out of her mind. She then discovers that before his death, Scott left behind a trail of objects and papers that would take her further and further back into his very dark past and make her remember all those suppressed memories. It's like a miserable scavenger hunt, that Scott calls a 'bool' for some unexplained reason (more on this later). Lisey follows along, mostly because she doesn't have much of anything else to do.

It's actually all pretty interesting stuff to read--up until the point where King's train goes off the believable trail and crashes into that damned parallel world that he's so fond of. I would try to explain the parallel world here, but it would spoil the story for those who might consider reading it. And to be perfectly honest, it just doesn't make much sense at all. It actually ends up seeming like nothing more than a convenient device that makes plot points easy to resolve--as if King couldn't think of a good way for Lisey to solve her problems. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and sometimes the story veers into outright silly territory because of it.

One of the things I've always loved about King is that he writes believable, relatable characters. He's great at giving his characters a voice, so that you feel like you know them after only a few pages. Often, he does this by giving the characters cutesy little sayings like the kind your elderly aunt uses, and it works pretty well most of the time. But in this case, I just found this irritating. It's true that married couples often use cute little nicknames for things, little in-jokes that only the two can understand, and I get that using them in a story is a good way to draw a realistic couple. But Lisey and Scott are just ridiculous. Every damned thing has a cute little nickname, and I just found myself thinking that I would probably hate the living guts out of Scott if I ever met him. Sure, it might be cute between the two of you, but I don't want to hear the stupid little name you have for going to the toilet. No one does. Keep that stuff to yourself.

The weird thing is, I don't remember disliking the book this much while I was reading it. I know that the nickname thing did irritate me, and that the parallel universe seemed ridiculous as I read. But Lisey's actual trip back through her memories is actually a pretty good read--it's just that it's sprinkled throughout with all these annoying little details that take you away from the story, and that, when you think about them at the end, make you realize that the book was kind of a mess. And I haven't even gone into the superfluous subplots (Lisey's sister, the psychotic fan) because they seem to be part of a completely different story. I feel that, had King stuck to the one story of Lisey and Scott (and maybe a better version of the parallel world) the book would have been infinitely better. But, as is usual with him, he just has to keep adding more and more elements to the book, so that it ends up being a bloated, unappetizing mess. In the end, I liked some of it. Most of it I didn't, and once again I got the feeling that it could have been a better book if he had spent a little more time on it. One of King's problems is that he writes so much that a lot of his books don't read like he's put a lot of effort into them. And this was one of those.

So, unless you're a die-hard fan of Stephen King like I am, I'd recommend skipping this book. We die-hards will indulge him in all his weirdnesses and continue to read him even after he irritates us, but someone else might not be so kind. While I go "oh, another parallel universe? OK, then" someone else might just think the whole thing is ridiculous and stop reading the book. And that would probably be a smart move in this case. At least you'll be spared the disappointment.

It's not a very healthy relationship, mine and King's. But I can't quit it. There's always the hope of something better coming along the way, even if I have to put up with a lot of crap along the way.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Hot Post: Figgy's New Crushes

I've given my blog over to my 15 year old self today, who, to be perfectly honest, is within 2 seconds of Normal Me at any given time, ready to take over at the mere sight of a really pretty boy on my TV. As I said over in the Twitterverse: I sincerely hope I never get too old to stop getting crushes on random male celebrities. What do you want from me? I'm allowed to like the pretty! MrFig told me so*. Plus, I need a distraction from waiting around and being stressed and dammit, it's my party and I'll objectify if I want to.

*I gather this from the fact that he just narrows his eyes and shakes his head when I point out how cute so-and-so is. I wonder if he'll read this and shake his head some more. Hi, honey!

Today's post is testament to the fact that my crushes are easily interchangeable, depending mostly on what my thirty-second attention span is focusing on at that moment. I mean, there's always the Unshakable Freebies (Eric Bana, Sean Bean, Christian Bale), but some crushes fade as they leave my screen, like Naveen Andrews or Reynaldo Giannechini. What can I tell you? My love, like life, is fickle. A leaf turning in the wind, drifting down the stream--

Oh god, shut up and show us some hot mens. Alright. Here we go.

1. Kyle Chandler

Hey, have you watched Friday Night Lights yet? Why the hell not? Don't be an idiot like I was for so long and stay away from one of the best shows of all time because you think it's just about football. Because it SO is not. It's brilliantly written and acted, and I've never seen such realistic portrayals of people and relationships before. It's amazing and you should all watch it. Plus, there's Taylor Kitsch goodness.

And look at that pretty, pretty smile!

Ooh, Kyle Chandler. One manly clench of that jaw, one look at that bristling head of hair and I'm a puddle of goo. He wears shorts and sneakers and still looks incredibly good. And he's got a voice to melt butter. Oh, Coach. You and your magnificent head of hair make my life happier.

Speaking of magnificent heads of hair...

2. Adam Scott

OK, this one's a little bit different for me. He's almost the complete opposite of my type--he's short, really skinny, and kinda weird looking. I mean, he has a giant head. And his hair makes him look like a hedgehog. But damn, this guy's got something that makes me giggle like a 15 year old.

Lemme give ya a little eyebrow

It's partly the fact that he's incredibly funny (speaking of shows you should watch, have you tried Party Down or Parks and Recreation? Because you seriously should) and has these incredible reactions to everything, and then he has this great voice, and the eyebrows, and just... HE IS SO DAMN CUTE:

And hedgehog like...

*Ahem* Yeah, I really can't get any more eloquent than that. I think this is a guy you need to watch act to get his appeal, though damn, he's cute in photos, too. He's quickly shot up my list of favorites, and I'll never tell anyone just how many times I've watched both of his shows lately. Over and over and over again. I have a problem.

Now, on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, we have...

3. Chris Hemsworth

Or as I like to call him: The Hemsworth that matters. The first time I looked at this dude I dismissed him as too pretty for my tastes. He's a former model and looks it, in those cheesy little poses. And then...oh, my.

I'm not even gonna beat around the bush on this one (*giggletitterIamagiantidiot*): the guy is huge. A mountain of a man. I mean, he's playing freakin' Thor, for crying out loud. And what with my complete obsession with any movie featuring superheroes, and, well, this:

And this:

The hammer is his...oh, shut up soon can I get tickets?

Speaking of movies I can't wait to see...

4. Richard Armitage

This sexy-voiced Brit first came to my attention after a friend recommended I watch the mini-series North and South, one of those dark-and-gloomy British period pieces. I loved it. He spent a lot of time brooding. In an incredibly sexy manner, of course:



His upcoming film? The Hobbit. Yeah, that one. Alas, he'll probably be all covered up in hair and many layers of clothes, so we won't get to see him like this:

Hey, PJ? I have an awesome idea for the Thorin character...


Well, that's it for now. I hope you enjoyed looking as much as I enjoyed putting this damned thing together.

May we never stop liking to look at the pretty men.

Friday, March 11, 2011

All my Cannonball 1 Reviews

This is more for my own benefit than anything else, but I thought this would be a handy post to refer to when I mention books I've read in the past. These are all the reviews I wrote for the first Cannonball, way back in '08 and '09. It's funny to see how I started out strong with the reviews, then got to around 40 books and I totally deflated. But, in my defense, that was around the time of the coup in Honduras and the nightmare with getting my visa, and writing book reviews was the farthest thing from my mind. Then I just read and read and let the reviews pile up, then just never got around to writing the last 50 or so. How embarrassing. One good thing that might come of this is that I've learned a lesson and won't let the reviews wait too long.

Anyway. There's some good stuff in here, and I had fun putting the list together and reading through some reviews. I like how I go from High-Fallutin' Intellectual Wannabe to Cussing Like a Pirate and Not Really Trying from one review to the next. I'm nothing if not inconsistent.

1. "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger

2. "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer

3. "Why Girls Are Weird" by Pamela Ribon

4. "Everything's Eventual" by Stephen King

5. "Embers" by Sandor Marai

6. "The Witch of Portobello" by Paolo Coelho

7. "On Writing" by Stephen King

8. "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini

9. "Night Sins" by Tami Hoag

10. "Guilty As Sin" by Tami Hoag

11. "How to Get Lost" by Amanda Eyre Ward

12. "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham

13. "The First Wives' Club" by Olivia Goldsmith

14. "The Testament" by John Grisham

15. "The Rescue" by Nicholas Sparks

16. "When the Wind Blows" by James Patterson

17. "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" by Gregory Maguire

18. "The Partner" by John Grisham

19. "Hannibal" by Thomas Harris

20. "Marie Antoinette" by Hilaire Belloc

21. "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt

22. "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen

23. "Ain't Gonna be the Same Fool Twice" by April Sinclair

24. "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire

25. "Cry Wolf" by Tami Hoag

26. "Teacher Man" by Frank McCourt

27. "Tiburcio Carias Andino" by Mario Argueta

28. "The Golden Compass" by Phillip Pullman

29. "The Subtle Knife" by Phillip Pullman

30. "The Amber Spyglass" by Phillip Pullman

31. "Black Hawk Down" by Mark Bowden

32. "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen

33. "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by DH Lawrence

34. "Walking the Bible" by Bruce Feiler

35. "The House of Spirits" by Isabel Allende

36. "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon

37. "Dragonfly in Amber" by Diana Gabaldon

38. "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris

39. "High Fidelity" by Nick Hornby

40. "Voyager" by Diana Gabaldon

41. "Bridget Jones's Diary" by Helen Fielding

42. "Drums of Autumn" by Diana Gabaldon

43. "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card

44. "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" by Helen Fielding

45. "The Talisman" by Stephen King and Peter Straub

46. "Rainbow Six" by Tom Clancy

47. "The Godfather" by Mario Puzo

48. "The Fiery Cross" by Diana Gabaldon

49. "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers

50. "The Godfather Returns" by Mark Winegardner

51. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by JK Rowling

52. "The Street Lawyer" by John Grisham

53. "From a Buick 8" by Stephen King

54. "A Breath of Snow and Ashes" by Diana Gabaldon

55. "Airs Above Ground" by Mary Stewart

56. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" by JK Rowling

57. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" by JK Rowling

58. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

59. "Jurassic Park" by Michael Crichton

60. "Smith of Wooton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham" by JRR Tolkien

61. "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

62. "Son of a Witch" by Gregory Maguire

63. "The Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas

64. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" by JK Rowling

65. "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini

66. "Sex and the City" by Candace Bushnell

67. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by JK Rowling

68. "The Outsiders" by S. E. Hilton

69. "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman

70. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

71. "Rage" by Stephen King

72. "The Long Walk" by Stephen King

73. "The Restaurant at the end of the Universe" by Douglas Adams

74. "Roadwork" by Stephen King

75. "The Running Man" by Stephen King

76. "Life, the Universe and Everything" by Douglas Adams

77. :So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish" by Douglas Adams

78. "Persuasion" by Jane Austen

79. "Mostly Harmles" by Douglas Adams

80. "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman

81. "Fire and Hemlock" by Diana Wynne Jones

82. "The Stand" by Stephen King

83. "The Man in the Iron Mask" by Alexandre Dumas

84. "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes

85. "Dolores Claiborne" by Stephen King

86. "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan 'Hack Job' Brown

87. "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold

88. "Dracula" by Bram Stoker

89. "The Langoliers" by Stephen King

90. "The Library Policeman" by Stephen King

91. "To the Nines" by Janet Evanovich

92. " Day of the Triffids" by John Wyndham

93. "The Catcher in the Rye" by JD Salinger

94. "The Stranger" by Albert Camus

95. "Cuentos de Eva Luna" by Isabel Allende

96. "Desperation" by Stephen King

97. "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

98. "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote

99. "Airframe" by Michael Crichton

100. The Brethren by John Grisham

Conclusions: I read a lot of crap there at the end, just desperately trying to make it to 100. But I did! Even if some of the books barely fit the rules. I hope to do much better this year.

Book #11: "The Ministry of Special Cases" by Nathan Englander

If there's anything I hate more than reading a bad book, it's to be disappointed by a book I thought would be good. I came into this one with high hopes, as I had heard nothing but good things about it-funny, tragic, original, etc- and I could not have been more disappointed. I'm still not sure how I got through this plodding, miserable and depressing read, but it must have been a combination of stubbornness and of my dislike for leaving any book unfinished.

The story is set in Argentina in the 1970s, during a military dictatorship; a particularly dark time in the country's history. Kaddish Poznan is Jewish, the son of a prostitute, and he specializes in erasing the names off tombs in the Jewish cemetery; specifically, the closed-off section that houses the tombs of pimps and prostitutes. He is paid to do this by wealthy Jews who don't want to be associated with their darker pasts. He's reluctantly assisted by his son, Pato, a young college student with communist leanings. His wife, Lilian, works as a secretary and dotes on their son.

One day their son disappears for seemingly no reason at all. His disappearance takes over all of Lilian's life, as she spends days and days at the Ministry of Special Cases, a bizarre building that's a bureaucratic nightmare, where people are made to wait outside in the sun for hours and days just for a turn to talk to someone who can't help them. Kaddish, less optimistic than his wife, is pretty sure their son is dead.

And I just didn't give a damn about any of it. Aside from the terrible flashbacks of Honduran bureaucracy brought up by the scenes at the Ministry, this whole book just washed over me and left me feeling completely and utterly bored. None of it ever connected; not the characters or their terrible tragedy, not the setting, nothing at all. Which was just surprising to me, because I thought that I'd readily connect to a book that deals with a story that was repeated all through Latin America in the 70s and 80s--my parents lived through this, and still I didn't give a damn what happened to any of these characters!

It's hard for me to remember why all I felt for this book was an overwhelming sense of apathy. I think a big part of it was that the characters didn't feel like real people to me. They were like ghosts, and for all that Englander documents Lilian's misery, it just felt so clinical to me. Lilian and Kaddish felt like they lived in completely different worlds, which I suppose was the point (they never connect to each other), but to me they felt like characters in two completely different stories. I never felt that the two were even remotely connected. Pato is just a sketch of a character, and it was hard to grasp just what the character was like, or why I should care about him.

The writing felt dry and heartless to me. Scenes were disjointed and there didn't seem to be a running thread through the whole thing. I think we were supposed to feel the same sense of confusion and isolation that Lilian felt in her search for her son, but I don't think we were supposed to feel completely outside of it, to the point where you just stop caring about the whole thing.

I don't know if this will make much sense to anyone, but to me, the book felt like a bad Spanish-to-English translation of a better book. It felt as if the words didn't quite fit, as if they would maybe have more of an impact in a different language; as if it had been written by a very dry, very bad translator. The words just didn't fit the story. I really hate that I can't explain it any better than that, but maybe it'll make some sense to someone.

I came into this with high expectations, and they were dashed pretty quickly. I kept expecting the story to pick up, for the writing to get smoother, to start caring about the characters. But that never happened. Though there are scenes of graphic violence and what I guess is supposed to be terrible sadness, I never felt anything but apathetic towards this book. I didn't hate it; I just didn't care.

I guess they can't all be winners. I'm just annoyed that this one wasn't.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book #10: "Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl" by Tracy Quan

Oh, sweet Jeebus on a cracker, what a terrible turd of a book this was. Let me tell you the many, many ways in which this book quickly launched itself to the very top of my Trash list.

Our protagonist, Nancy Chan, is a high-end call-girl. She has always wanted to be a prostitute (um...ok, whatever), and at 20 something she's raking in the money by having sex with creepy, rich, old guys. She is also -oh, no! the conundrum!- engaged to a rich, incredibly bland dude (more like a cardboard cutout for all the personality he has) and is being pressured by her ditzy friend to join a group that promotes the rights of sex-workers.

That should least kind of fun to read, wouldn't you think? After all, the cover quoted "Cosmopolitan" (oh that bastion of high literature and fun, fun times!) saying that it was "chock full of dirty secrets!" (or some shit like that), so you really shouldn't expect more than a bunch of dirty sex scenes and fun in the high life of sex with balding men in their 60s! The cover had a BUTT on it! How could we go wrong in our pursuit of a mindlessly fun book to read quickly in boring moments? HOW!

By doing every single thing that you could possibly do wrong in writing a book. First: Make your book into a "diary", because God knows that shit isn't done to death, especially in chick-lit. Hey, it worked for Bridget Jones, and how hard can it be? Start by making your protagonist into an insufferable, spineless, whiny little victim who goes to the therapist a lot to whine about her stupid little problems that she could easily get out of if she had even the slightest bit of self-respect. Then, have her pepper her journal entries with inane little asides, a lot of "dirty" words (Oh, my! she said "pussy"! How naughty!) and a lot of boring stories about having sex with disgusting old men who want to have sex with young girls and pay to do it in fancy hotels in between business meetings. Have her friends be walking, reprehensible female stereotypes of the worst sort (Allison is ditzy! Jasmine is a total power slut! Her fiance's sister is a bitch because she's got a powerful job!) , and add a fiance who seems to be a complete fuckwit who somehow hasn't discovered that his fiance is a prostitute. Add to it a painfully boring subplot involving a bunch of bra-burning feminist stereotypes, a lot of seriously pathetic 'dramatic' moments (oh, no! she forgot to bring condoms! WHAT IS SHE TO DO!) and you have just one big painful insult to not only women and prostitutes, but to the entire world and very existence of books.

Just...holy hell, this book was irritating. Worse, it was boring. It starts off with one of those stupid little sex scenes that seem to have been written by a 15 year old girl who isn't quite sure how sex works but thinks that saying 'pussy' and 'cock' and 'whore' a lot immediately makes something titillating. But, no. It's just boring. You might as well be reading a recipe book for all the excitement that's in it. Nothing even remotely exciting happens to this chick, but somehow she does nothing but whine about how difficult her life is, mostly because she has incredibly stupid friends. I wanted to take this girl aside and just tell it plain to her face: If something in your life is giving you shit, get the fuck rid of it. If your friend is a pain in the ass who makes you do things you don't want to do, and she irritates the hell out of you, why are you friends with her? If you are conflicted about keeping your whoring life secret from your fiance, whom you don't really seem to have any real connection with, why don't you either tell him or break it off? You, young lady, are a spineless coward and need to get your life straight. It's not that fucking hard.

I'm devoting way too much time to this book, and I know it. But like I said in my last entry, when you hate something, you can pretty easily think of a million different reasons why you hated it. Believe me, I could keep going on and on with this, but suffice it to say that this book was a waste of my time and a perfect 99 cents. I could have bought a cup of tea with that money, and it would have been an infinitely more entertaining exercise. I could use it as a doorstop and it would serve a better purpose than as literature.

Oh, here's a fun tidbit I found out after I read the book. Apparently, Tracy Quan started this whole turd of a 'series' by writing it as a column for Salon, she's a former call-girl herself and probably most of the book was written from experience. Thanks, wikipedia. Now I have an even bigger reason to dislike this woman--you have all this wealth of probably great stories in your life, and this is what you chose to unleash on the world? Maybe you could have been better off selling your stories to someone who could actually write a sentence without sounding like a whiny teenager. Because, lady, your book sucked.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book #9: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon

If I've discovered one thing in the course of reading and reviewing books for the Cannonball, this is it: It's much, much harder to review a great book than a bad one. It's so much easier to list all the wrongs of a bad book, to make the review humorous or to rain insults down on an incompetent author. But reviewing a good book? That's always difficult.

This was a great book. It's a story told from the point of view of Christopher Boone, a 15 year old with Asperger's syndrome. He is great at mathematics and very logical, but has little to no social skills and has trouble communicating with anyone he is not familiar with. He lives with his father, a simple man who sometimes loses his temper when he can't understand what Christopher wants.

The story begins with Christopher finding his neighbor's dog dead in the garden. Due to his love of detective stories (because of their use of logic) he decides to investigate the dog's death and find out who killed it. But he runs into trouble when people get angry or bothered by his inquiries, so much so that his father forbids him to continue the investigation. But Christopher, who has trouble understanding people's motivations and non-specific requests, finds a way around his father's orders and continues to investigate. Along the way he finds out some unpleasant things about his father and decides to run away, which throws him into a completely unknown and very confusing world as he tries to find his way around.

It's one of those stories where the things that happen to a protagonist may not be that spectacular or exciting, but because the character is so different and lives in his own little world, just going down an unknown street is an epic adventure. Christopher's voice is so strong that you get completely immersed in his story, feeling his terror at what we would consider every day things, like taking the train or having a conversation with a stranger.

In short, Haddon does a terrific job of showing the workings of Christopher's mind; how he uses his condition to work out problems, in ways that most of us wouldn't even begin to think of. It's hard to say exactly why this book is so great--it's just the way the character is written, the humor of the writing, and how you feel sympathetic of the character without feeling sorry for him. I read that Haddon based Christopher on people he knew who suffered from similar conditions to the character's, and it helped me to appreciate that Haddon doesn't consider his character as inferior, just different. And so, it's a different book from anything I've ever read, and I'm glad I finally decided to read it after many years of having people recommend it to me.

See? That was probably grossly incoherent. It's just damned hard to really explain that "I loved it, but it's hard to describe exactly why--you should just read it" feeling. Specially when any description of the story doesn't really do it justice. So I'll conclude by just saying this: It's a great book. You should read it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book #8: "Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill

What a great book this was. I've had people recommend it to me for ages; a lot of people going with the "He's like his dad...but BETTER!" line of encouragement. Well, I'm glad I listened.

Joe Hill is Stephen King's second son, and as much as I'm tempted to compare his writing to his father's (of whom I am a big fan, as you probably know) I think it would be doing him a disservice. Based on this book, I think his writing stands alone.

Heart-Shaped Box is a ghost story, and probably the best one I've ever read. The protagonist is Judas Coyne, a retired heavy-metal star who now lives in an isolated farm, his only company a cheery assistant and his current lady-friend, whom he calls Georgia (because it's easier if he doesn't call her by her real name). He has a bizarre collection of morbid objects--including a real snuff film-- and when someone informs him that a real ghost is being sold on e-bay, he buys it immediately, if only because it sounds pretty cool. The ghost (of a woman's deceased father) is "sent" in the suit the man was buried in, and soon Coyne starts seeing the old man around his house. At first he seems harmless, but it becomes increasingly clear that both the sender and the ghost don't have the best of intentions towards Coyne. After some pretty terrifying stuff starts to happen, Coyne and Georgia decide to track down the sender as a ways of getting rid of the ghost, and things get progressively weirder and more dangerous.

I don't want to give too many details as to that "terrifying stuff" (as I so eloquently put it), as it's definitely something you should be surprised by. I confess I don't read a lot of ghost stories, but I've never heard of a ghost being quite this terrifying and evil before. The best way I can put it is that it creeped me the hell out, so much so that I couldn't quite walk around the apartment at night without feeling completely disturbed. It's the kind of book that gets under your skin, and even now (almost three weeks after I finished it) I still feel slightly perturbed at the idea of this ghost following me everywhere.

The writing is well paced and lacking in any unnecessary embellishments, and Hill creates a great feeling of tension and suspense all through the book. Judas Coyne is not exactly a sympathetic character, and sometimes it's hard to get a hold of him as a person, but it works because you're not exactly sure what he's going to do or say next. He's a stranger, and that works really well in the context of the story, as we slowly learn more about him but still don't know him at all. And still, it's a powerful story, one that lingers in your brain, It makes you care about what's happening and it's never boring.

I look forward to reading more of Joe Hill's work, because this book just blew me away. And just because someone might ask, I can't really say if he's better or worse than his father. I know Stephen King's work too well and I like it too much to make comparisons. They might write in vaguely the same genre, but their writing styles are completely different. And that's a good thing for both of them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Figgy's Favorites: RomComs Edition

I think you all know by now that despite my Tough-Talkin', Hatin' exterior, I'm kind of a big softie inside. So, while I despise everything related to Valentine's Day (except for the cheap chocolate tomorrow), I figured this was a good a time as any to write this list.

You should also know that I love Romantic Comedies. I watch them obsessively. All of them - hell, I've watched everything Kate Hudson has ever made (so now you know why I hate her), just because I want to find the gems amongst the piles of crap that Hollywood produces year after year.

These are the gems. They're the movies I'll sit and watch over and over again, the ones who'll get me all blubbery and grinning like a fool every single time I watch them. They may not be cinematic genius--most of them riddled with the same cliches as the bad ones-- but they make me happy.

For all intents and purposes I'm using this basic definition of a RomCom: A comedy centered and revolving around a love story. I like this definition because it gives me a more narrow field to work with, and because it excludes a lot of comedies that just happen to have a romance in them but that I wouldn't classify as RomComs. Some examples of this are Shaun of the Dead or High Fidelity; two great movies, but not RomComs to me. I know some people might not like that definition, but it works for me. So: Comedy and a love story at the center.

1. Bridget Jones' Diary

Best Moments: The confession, of course. The birthday scene (that look he gives her across the table? Sweet jeebus) and of course, the kiss at the end. That kiss. Ooh, honey pass me the fan.

Best Assets: Zellwegger whom I will always love for this movie alone, Colin Firth's accent and sexy stares, Hugh Grant being deliciously evil, Bridget's Parents (Slugworth and Madame Pomfrey!), Gaius Baltar as the gay friend, the soundtrack.

Best Line(s):
"Wait a minute...nice boys don't kiss like that."
"Oh, yes, they fucking do.

Dumb Thing To Get Over (But that you can get over pretty easily): Trying to make us believe that Bridget Jones is fat. But the whole point of the character is that she thinks she's fat but isn't.

2.The Truth About Cats and Dogs:

Best Moments: The conversations between the girls, the visit to the department store, the photo session, and of course, the phone conversation. Gets me all oogly every single time.

Best Assets: Janeane Garofalo at her most awesome, Ben Chaplin's accent, the dog, Uma Thurman being thoroughly likable for the first time ever.

Stupid Thing to Get Over: The ridiculous premise, the idea that Janeane Garofalo isn't as beautiful (if not more) than Uma Thurman.

Best Line(s):
"What's wrong, Abby?"
"Nothing that a rooftop and an AK-47 won't fix"

3. While You Were Sleeping:

Best Moments: The scene where she first meets the family, the Christmas dinner, the wedding, the first visit to the apartment.

Best Assets: Sandra Bullock at her most adorable, Joe Junior, Bill Pullman looking like a sexy carpenter, Peter Gallagher's insane eyebrows, the entire, ridiculously lovable family.

Stupid Thing to Get Over: The lie is pretty flimsy, but works perfectly. Also that anyone would fall in love with Peter Gallagher and his eyebrows.

Best Line(s):
"I'd say that she gets under your skin as soon as you meet her. She drives you so nuts you don't know whether to hug her or, or just really arm wrestle her. She would go all the way to Europe just to get a stamp in her passport. I don't know if that amounts to insanity, or just being really, really... likable. "

4.Bringing Up Baby:
[Note: I suppose this would fit in better under the "Slapstick Comedy" genre, but I'm putting it on here because I can.]

Best Moments: Oh, all of them. The whole movie is a succession of hilarious scenes and brilliant moments. If forced to pick one, I'd say the whole scene at the restaurant.

Best Assets: Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Need I say more? Well, the leopards are pretty great, and Hepburn's wardrobe is amazing. George the dog is great.

Stupid Thing to Ignore: If you're really picky, the Walking Irish Stereotype can be a bit much for some people.

Best Lines:
"Now it isn't that I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you, but - well, there haven't been any quiet moments

5.Sleepless in Seattle:

Best Moments: the entire radio conversation at the start, Meg Ryan and Rosie O'Donnell watching An Affair to Remember, then Rita Wilson describing it, the guys "crying" over The Dirty Dozen.

Best Assets: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, both completely sweet and believable, the fact that this movie manages to convey chemistry between the two of them without them ever talking to each other, the kid who plays Jonah, the whole supporting cast (Rita Wilson, Rosie O'Donnell, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman, David Hyde Pierce).

Stupid Thing You Need to Ignore: Jonah somehow manages to fly from Seattle to NYC way too easily. Things were more relaxed in the 90s, but not that relaxed.

Best Line:
"You don't want to fall in love. You want to fall in love in a movie

6.Four Weddings and a Funeral:

Best Moments: All of the weddings, Rowan Atkinson as the priest, the girl learns sign language for the deaf boy, the final scene, John Hannah reading the poem at the funeral.

Best Assets: Hugh Grant as his most stammery, John Hannah and Simon Callow, Kristin Scott Thomas, the horrible wedding clothes, the pretty scenery, and Duckface.

Stupid Thing You Need to Ignore: Andy McDowell.

Best Line:
"In the words of David Cassidy in fact, eh, while he was still with the Partridge family..."I think I love you,"

7. When Harry Met Sally

Best Moments: The first conversation in the car, the conversation during Casablanca, the double date, the grand speech at the end.

Best Assets: Meg Ryan's hair, Billy Crystal's line delivery, Carrie Fisher, the horrible 80s wardrobe, the chemistry between Crystal and Ryan.

Stupid Thing You Need to Ignore: Billy Crystal is not a pretty man.

Best Line:
"I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

8.Love, Actually:
[I know a lot of people hate this one...but a lot of people hate fun, too.]

Best Moments: Laura Linney finally kisses her gorgeous man, Andrew Lincoln with the boards, every scene with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant dances, Colin Firth in a pond again, every scene with Bill Nighy.

Best Assets: an incredible cast. Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Liam Neeson. That girl who sings "All I want for Christmas".

Stupid Thing You Need to Ignore: I don't like the storyline with the kid, or the Colin-goes-to-the-US, or the way the Laura Linney story ends. But everything else is pretty great.

Best Line:
"-Well, I was worried. I thought it would be something worse.
-Worse than the total agony of being in love?"

9.10 Things I Hate About You:

Best Moments: Heath Ledger sings (see above), the party (and the bit with the swings), the prom, Joseph Gordon Levitt tries to recruit Heath Ledger.

Best Assets: the cast, including Heath Ledger at his sexiest, Joseph Gordon Levitt being adorable (though he does nothing for me), Julia Stiles being great, the dad, the gorgeous location, Allison FRAKKIN Janney.

Stupid Thing You Need to Ignore: The stupid bet, because it's formulaic. But it's pretty easy to forget that it even exists sometimes.

Best Line:
"-Where did you come from? Planet "Loser"?
-As opposed to Planet "Look At Me, Look At Me"?

10.Ever After

Best Moments: the gypsies, the scene at the library, the bit with the ruins, the ball...hell, every scene that the two have together is quite wonderful.

Best Assets: Drew Barrymore's at her most lovable self, Dougray Scott managing to look hot even while wearing a giant cup, Angelica Houston, the beautiful locations, the couple that plays the King and Queen.

Stupid Thing You Need to Ignore: Leonardo da Vinci. It's so dumb it's kind of hilarious.

Best Line:
"-It is not fair, sire. You have found my weakness, but I have yet to learn yours.
-But I should think it was quite obvious.

11.The Matchmaker
[Yep, Janeane Garofalo again. I love her so much]

Best Moments: the singing contest, the pretend family fools the Senator, the whole trip to the Inishmore.

Best Assets: Janeane Garofalo, all of those delightful Irish accents, the scenery, Dennis Leary.

Stupid thing you need to ignore: The sex scene is terribly unsatisfying.''

Best Line:
"-Is being an idiot like being high all the time?
-No, it's like being constantly right."


Honorable Mentions:
-You've Got Mail
-The Philadelphia Story
-It Happened One Night
-The Wedding Singer

So, there you go. Hope you get around to watching the ones you haven't seen. And please, be kind in the comments. Remember that these are my personal choices, and I never claim to have flawless taste. So add your own, or fight me if you must.