Tuesday, November 15, 2011

# 52 Looking For Alaska by John Green

Now that is a manic pixie dream girl. Miles Halter is leaving his suburban Florida high school to go to boarding school in Alabama. Why? He says it is to seek "the Great Perhaps", Francois Rabelais' last words (whom I do NOT know). Miles is a little odd. He loves reading biographies and memorizes famous people's last words. He was friendless in his old school, and that might be the reason he was so eager to seek the Great Perhaps.

Going to Culver Creek seems to have been a great idea, since ha actually gained some friends there. His roommate, and the aforementioned manic pixie dream girl, Alaska. They have fun and play pranks, fall in love and do boarding school stuff, but tragedy is just around the corner. After the tragedy, the story shifts showing how the kids, especially Miles handles it. Things are learned about themselves, they grow up a little.

This is usually described as YA but the themes and details are very adult. Perhaps it is YA because it is a coming of age story. It's not an unusual concept really. Weird, or socially maladjusted, loner kid meets friends, or a girl, who helps them grow up. But John Green tells the story in a charming way. The first part is mostly light hearted but the second part is painful and real. I liked it, I really did. It wasn't life changing, but I definitely liked it.

I liked it.

# 51 Jubilee City by Joe Andoe

actual review date: January 5, 2011

Joe Andoe is an artist. I learned that only after reading his memoir. Joe Andoe grew up in Tulsa Oklahoma and his early years were full of sex drugs and rock and roll. I gathered from the book that this was fairly normal in their area. So yeah. In his early years, he was aimless, with nary an art book or ambition is sight. It is not until after he has worked a few manual jobs that he decided to study art in college. He moves to New York, gets married, has kids, becomes a successful artist, and divorces. All with a lot of drinking, drugs and fighting.

His life is not told in a linear manner like most memoirs but in short vignettes that gives more of a feel than actual facts. From what I read, I mostly liked him despite his recklessness and irresponsibility. He is sort of an anomaly I guess in that he is not the typical art student, artsy type. He was just a regular joe who found out that he could do good art and the he kinda liked it. Twas ok.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

# 50 Cherry by Mary Karr

actual review date: January 5, 2o11

I have not read the Liar's Club, nor was I even aware that there was a prequel to this book. The said prequel, I gathered, tells the story of Karr's girlhood. In this book, the author talks about her early girlhood and teens. Her sexual blossoming and foray into drugs and aimlessness.

The first part of the story is told in standard memoir forma, in past tense and in the first person. As Karr grows older and gets more into drugs, the narrative shifts, and Karr becomes an observer of her former self. But it also gets hazier and more fragmented. I mean, that's how I felt when I was reading it, as if I was also doing the whole drugs thing.

Though her story has some tragedies and her life was a bit complicated, it wasn't really scandalous and all that. I thought it was a good portrait of a not so typical girl growing up in the 70's. The storytelling was hazy and surreal. Perhaps, because of this, I cannot really remember the details that well, but I do remember the feeling.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

#49 In the Woods by Tana French

One day, near the end of summer, Adam Ryan is found in the woods with scratches on his back and blood pooled in his sneakers. His two best friend whom he had been spending the whole summer hanging out with in the woods are gone, never to be found. Not even their bodies. Adam is near catatonic and remembers nothing of the events that happened that day.

Twelve years later, Adam has reinvented himself as Rob Ryan, a detective assigned to the murder squad. He has managed to transform himself into a polished gentleman with a "BBC accent" (don't have BBC, don't know the accent, but I think I get what she's trying to say). His life is pretty good, owing to a great partner, the awesome Cassie Maddox. Things are going pretty great until a case of a murdered 1 year old girl emerges, killed at the very same woods Ryan once lost his friends. The case, with its many complications, slowly rocks Ryan's carefully constructed world and friendship.

The main mystery itself, the murder of the little girl, is not really that clever or complicated. If one looks really hard, lots of clues are dropped about what really happened. But the mystery itself is not what makes the book. The depth of characterization of Rob and Cassie is really good. The book is told in the first person by Ryan and of course, you have to decide if he is a reliable narrator or not. His friendship with Cassie is really interesting and you root for their friendship. But Ryan is a damaged soul, and things do NOT turn out all ok.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The writing is quite beautiful, especially for a mystery. The characters really stuck with me and I liked them and rooted for them despite their obvious faults.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#48 - Born to Rock by Gordon Korman

I must be in a hurry to finish CBR, I have been reading YA non-stop. Well, the first 4 was a series so I guess that makes it a little better. This is just some random book I picked up at a used bookstore, it sounded interesting. YA rock and roll fiction.

Leo Caraway is a typical Type A achiever. Young Republican, Harvard bound, scholarship holder. But he is not some douchebag asshole, he is just a good hardworking kid, who just wants to do well in life. And he's not actually that typical. His bestfriend is an abrasive punk/goth girl, and he finds out, his biological father is actually King Maggot (or is he?), vox for one of the most influential punk bands in history (book history). When he loses his scholarship (due to him basically being a good guy and doing the right thing), he decides to find his father and try to get some harvard tuition money out of him.

What happens next is a madcap adventure, with him serving as a roadie in Purge's reunion tour. The situation is at times awesome and at times horrible. But it leads to some bonding time with his father and some sexy time with the bestfriend. He, in typical YA fashion, learns something about his parentage, the world, and most importantly himself.

I liked the way the paternity issue was resolved. I think it was unusual and deliciously bittersweet. On the whole though, I though it was just an ok read. Nothing special really. I am just a sucker for "rock and roll" books, but this one was not that inspiring. Not horrible but sort of bland.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

# 47 - Ms. Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

X-men, Victorian edition (actually, 1940, but the pictures feel more Victorian). Present day, Jacob is a typical disaffected youth, pharmacy heir, and loner. Poor little rich kid he was. However, his close relationship with this peculiar grandfather proves a gateway to fantastical adventures. His grandfather always had weird stories (and even weirder photographs) for Jacob, which unfortunately, as Jacob becomes older seems more and more like just his grandfather's fantastical imagination.

His grandfather's death, though, leads Jacob to see the horrible monsters his grandfather has long been afraid of, and to learn that the stories may be true after all.

So there are kids with superpowers, time travelling and whatnot. It was an ok book but came eay below my expectations considering the creepy pictures. I was really expecting something a bit darker and deeper and creepier. Not so much the standard fantasy/adventure that this book was. The plot, as well as the monsters, just seemed a bit childish to me. Well, this is after all a YA book, so maybe, as noted in my Uglies review, I am too old for YA. I hope not.

But the pictures! Man, the pictures are the best part of the book, as well as how the author managed to make stories around the picture. That was cool, yeah.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

# 43, 44, 45 and 46 - Uglies, Pretties, Specials and Extras by Scott Westerfeld

I read the series in the course of 2 days, when I was taking my MCLE (Mandatory Continuing Legal Education), that's two 9-hour days of lectures which are supposedly updates, but really was more like a review. I am not ashamed to admit that I love YA, and I am very proud that I like sci-fi. I was not initially drawn to these books which were ubiquitous in out local bookstore chain. I just seemed too glossy, like Gossip Girls or Vampire Diaries, only with extra sci-fi. But., I read a lot of positive reviews so I decided to try it out.

One thing I will say, it is definitely a fast read, and a compulsive one. Or maybe I was really bored in the aforementioned 2 9-hour days. Well, anyway, I did finish it in 18 hours, more or less, so that's something.

The story was interesting, but also a bit implausible (yes, I know it's sci fi). So in the far future, humanity has retreated to enclosed (but not, like, heavily guarded. or is it?) cities where everyone is turned pretty on their 16th birthday. At least, that's the case in the city our heroine, Tally Youngblood lives. She is a normal teenager, feeling grossly ugly and super excited to turn pretty. But things get interesting when she meets a rebellious friend and learns that there is a different life outside of the city walls and that turning pretty might not just be a physical thing. The first three books focus on Tally's story of being an ugly, turning pretty, and then becoming special. The fourth volume, extras, is a stand-along story with new characters and Tally and the gang showing up in the middle of the book.

Did I like it? It was ok. Not so much. It was a bit too YA for me. Although it dealt with issues which are good to think over and discuss with kids, it was too obvious for me. Like, kids, you are beautiful just the way you are! Kids, what is peace without freedom?! And everything was too pat sometimes. And as I said, I found the premise itself a bit unbelievable, as in, I cannot believe that that is one of the possible roads humanity might be taking. Extras, is a little more based on the present world where worth is ranked through how popular one is, and everyone is followed around by their own personal news feed. Sounds more like the present, yeah?

I got interested though, in the mythology of how the world got to be the way it was. I enjoy the big picture much better that the interpersonal drama of the characters.

All in all, it was ok. I didn't hate it. Just a normal YA book. Maybe I was spoiled on amazing YA that a pretty good one seems just ok to me. Or maybe I'm too old for this shit.

Friday, September 30, 2011

#42 Room by Emma Donoghue

actual review date: January 3, 2011

Jack is a normal 5 year old. If not slightly more precocious. He plays, reads books and watches TV. However, the world as he knows it is just a tiny room with a bathroom and sink. Everything is a proper noun, since that is the only one of these things that he has ever seen. Jack lives in this room because his mother had been abducted by a very bad man. He was actually born in the very same room. It is all he knows. You would think that a book narrated by a 5 year old would be unbelievably precocious or on the opposite side of the scale, too juvenile, but the author gets just the right tone for the narrator.

Jack is naive but also wise in his ways. His Ma is the only person he knows and she is a remarkable one at that. The first part of the book takes place inside Room, but the second part shifts and takes place Outside.

The book is interesting in that it shows not only what captivity might feel like but how difficult it might be to be Outside. The Mom is not the typical saintly (though she is an amazing woman) victim.

In short, yes, iut deserved all the hype. I really liked this book.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#41 Touching the Void by Joe Simpson

This is a short and quite straightforward recounting of a climb that very nearly turned disastrous. Well, it was actually disastrous, but the author, with a little luck and a lot of determination was able to survive. It is, essentially a survival story and a story about the triumph of the human spirit.

Joe Simpson and his friend Simon Yates made an attempt to climb a previously unclimed West face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. They were able to reach the summit and things were going relatively well until Simpson fell and broke his tibia. Yates then had to tie him to a rope and lower him down the mountain. However, Yates, unable to see far ahead, lowered Simpson into a cliff. Faced with no other choice but to cut off the rope or be carried down himself, Yates cut the rope connecting to Simpson and sent him to his presumably certain death. However, Simpson dragged and hopped his way back to their base camp, through grinding pain, fatigue, thirst and hunger. He arrived just hours before Yates, thinking that he was a goner for sure, was set to pack up their camp.

The story is fast moving, and even though you know Simpson survives (duh), very thrilling. It is excruciating to read. It feels very painful. And you are left with admiration for Simpson's will to live. And more, the experience did not stop him from climbing again.

I used to do some mountain climbing, but my country being tropical, it is all fairly chill. It is very fun and challenging and just awesome to be on top of the world. Having said that, I would never ever climb in high altitude. It just seems so dangerous and I'm not sure I've got it in me. But yeah, the book. It's good. Exciting and inspiring.

# 40 The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

During the 14th century, during the time that the Catholic church was divided about the controversy of Apostolic poverty, Franciscan friar William of Baskerville , with his an accompanying novice, Adso of Melk, travelled to a monastery in Italy, namely to attend a talk between the two sides of the controversy. However, once there, some suspicious deaths prompt the abbott to ask assistance from William, him being known to have superior intellect, in solving such murders.

The book is primarily a mystery, but is much more than that. William and Adso quite obviously reference Sherlock Holmes and Watson. William uses deductive reasoning to solve stuff. It also has extensive discussions about theology, the afore mentioned issue on Apostolic poverty, the different Catholic orders at the time, and the two popes. It paints a great picture of the Catholic Church, its policies, its politics and beliefs during the medieval period. It actually led me to want to learn more about that topic. As a mystery, it also works pretty wall. It is absorbing, puzzling and quite thrilling at times.

Overall, a great book which I loved and will probably join the prestigious ranks of one of my favourites. hah.

Monday, August 22, 2011

# 39 One Day by David Nicholls

actual review date: January 3, 2011

I must admit I find it a little weird that the younger sister was able to read this book before I did. I mean, I'm supposed to be the cool one, aren't I? I must admit thought, that I was clueless about this book until all the Anne Hathaway brouhaha.

The format of the novel is a novelty. Em and Dex first get together on their graduation day, July 15, 1988. They spend some time together but it doesn't really blossom into a full-fledged relationship. We then revisit these two people, Em and Dex every year, on the same date, to see where they are with their lives. Sometime they are together, sometimes apart, sometimes Em is up, sometimes Dex is. It just tells us about these peoples lives through their relationship with each other. With the added bonus of the will they won't they question.

The book lives and dies by the two main characters. When we first meet Em, she is idealistic, feminist and wants to change the world. Dex is old money, is happy with his priviledged existence. He is as shallow as shallow gets while she is desperately trying to find a deeper meaning. Somehow, they do make a special connection that spans their lifetime. As they grow older, they grow (or stagnate or regress). I didn't especially like the either of them but I loved their relationship and how despite all the bullshit, they were there. Although it can be said that Em was the better person and that she made Dex better, brought out the goodness in him.

The whole premise could be so chick-lit, and the twist positively Nick Sparks-ian (oops spoiler) but its not. There's a matter of factness, a grounded-ness to the story. There is an examination of class and status. This is life. Dark shit happens. People you love will disappoint you, you will be disappoint yourself. Sometimes you find yourself and your love. Sometimes you lose them. It was good,

Friday, July 22, 2011

# 38 A Dance With Dragons - GRR Martin

People who have not read the first four book need not (and probably will not) read this review. It is impossible to read this book without reading the first four books of this projected seven book series. Those who have read through all four book probably already have a good idea (and probably love) about how GRR writes and how the world of ASOIAF works.

ADWD starts off a little before the last book ends. Same as the other books, it follows several different storyline, some which converge, some which do not.

We follow the difficulties Dany, who having conquered Mereen, has in ruling it. In the North, Stannis has declared himself King and is residing hanging out at the wall with his Red Priestess. Jon Snow, is of course there, and we follow his triumphs and difficulties. There is also Tyrion who we follow in his adventures. Cat of the Canals aka Arya is present, Davos, Asha ad other familiar characters also make appearances. There are, however some new faces. Two mysterious princes, and the pitiful Reek. But that is as far as I will go plotwise. One of the best things about ASOIAF is the plot and it is best to go in completely unspoiled and really go along with the twists and turns.

I don't know if it is heightened expectations, but this installment for me, moved a little slower than the previous ones. Or maybe I am just too eager to know the final outcome of this whole thing, because, you know.. GRR, old, 7 books...haha. But it was also fun just going along with the adventure. I found that there was not a single POV that I was bored in, unlike in the other books (Iron Islands. ugh.). I find that this installment expands the universe even more and shows more fantastical elements. I like how the plot is going. I have accepted that the path towards the end is not a straight line but has many exciting detours and scenic routes. The writing is mostly the same GRR writing. People died, or did they? People had sex. People plotted and killed. People were being human in a fantasy world.

I may not be the most objective reviewer for this book though. I love love love this series. And I cannot wait for The Winds of Winter. Pretty please GRR!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

# 37 Charity Girls by Michael Lowenthal

actual review date: January 3, 2011

World War I. Frieda ran away from home because her bi-atch mom wants to marry her off to a man twice her age. She works at a high end department store and her salary is barely enough to feed her and keep a roof over her head, but she's happy. She's happy because she thinks she's free from her mother's judgment and control. She is living her own life and thinking for herself. Her friends are "charity girls", not quite prostitutes but girls who use their looks and womanly wiles to get material things.

Frieda isn't one of those girls though. She is a romantic who believes in true love, and that, turns to be her downfall. An encounter with a handsome soldier leads to her being imprisoned for immorality, having been infected with an STD. Along the way, she is subjected to a great many degradations but manages to keep herself upbeat and hopeful, and still fighting.

The book is actually based on true happening during WWI about many girls being imprisoned just for looking slutty or some other equally stupid reasons, in an over zealous fight agains immorality and venereal disease. The author paints a picture of that era very well and you can almost see it in you mind. The book is essentially a portrait of that period in time, of that peculiar bump in history.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

# 36 The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The author defines the tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." The book basically looks into the phenomenon of fads and how and why it happens. The author posits that a product, idea or message spread like a virus. First, a virus will go around the population all chill-like, until it reaches a critical mass, or a tipping point, and becomes a full blown epedemic.

Gladwell theorizes that there are three very important things that make a so called "social epedemic". Thing which I shall not be discussing right at this very moment because I am lazy (and really, it's in wiki).

Some of the thoughts are obvious really, common sense. We all know that it's because of some cool people wearing high waist jeans or something that makes it spread. But what I found most interesting about the book was not really his theory, which I don't think is really on point all the time, but the examples given on successful products. Its just interesting reading about how stuff became popular. So yeah, I don't think the science or the theories are really all that, but I like the way its written and there are some interesting stories. GOod was to pass a few hours.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

# 35 Fall On You Knees by Ann-Marie Macdonald

Fall on your knees elicits some pretty uncomfortable feelings. It can get you thinking that an incestuous pedophile who mistreats his wife maybe isn't so bad after all. And that a little girl who was abused and mistreated is a little shit.

At the start of the 20th century, James Piper moves to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to build a life for himself. He elopes with and marries a child-woman (13 years old) from a wealth Lebanese family. They have children and life happens. Only this life isn't a happy one. James quickly becomes repulsed by his wife whom he barely knows, and poor Materia operates in a haze of confusion.

The book is a long family epic telling the story of three generations of the Piper family. THere are, of course, secrets. Dark ones. There is incest, prostitution, abuse, and death. It takes us from the coal mining town in Cape Breton to the jazz crazy streets of New York.

The book deals with some uncomfortable questions about love, sexual abuse, pedophilia and forgiveness. It is a dark book and it puts its characters through hell. While the book was a page turner, I did not enjoy it very much because I absolutely detested one of the characters, one of Piper's daughters. I mean, sure she became that way because of the shit she want through, but she was so fucking annoying and basically hurt people who never did anything to her. I mean, I know its supposed to be some deep psychological things and the effects of her battered psyche or whatever. But just NO.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

# 34 - Perfume The Story of A Murderer by Patrick Suskind

I had been itching to read this book, thinking it was going to be sort of like a serial killer mystery. Well, it was not so.

Grenouille was born in the filthiest and smelliest place in France during the the something hundreds (18th century). He was not supposed to live, but he did. However, there was something peculiar about him. People were uncomfortable being around him.

Grenouille has two amazing things about him, his extra strong sense of smell and his own lack of scent. His strong sense of gave him an almost superpower in that he did not even need his eyes so see. He could determine different people and even things through his nose. HIs lack of sense, on the other hand, led to him being outcast by other people. People instinctively and subconsciously felt that something was "off" with him and as a result, nobody wanted to have anything to do with him. He did not feel any love or attachment to anybody, just an all consuming passion for different scents. He Grenouille was a sociopathic monster with one very strong obsession. This obsession would lead him to apprentice at one of the city's most famous perfumier, to be a hermit and keep himself away from people for years, and finally, to kill young women to distill their perfect, intoxicating scents.

The final act is weird and shocking and just perfect. Grenouille is a contemptible cold sociopath, a monster truly. Although he is all that, there are times that at best, you feel sorry for him, but definitely, you sort of understand his motivations. He is not motivated by any malice. It's just the way he is and his all consuming obsession. In fact, it is most probably his obsession and desire to be loved that leads him to his atrocious acts. The author writes very well descriptively. The sights and especially the scents are so so vividly described that you can actually smell it.

It was an enjoyable, thought provoking, original and weird book. I loved it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

# 33 Portrait In Sepia by Isabel Allende

I read so much Isabel Allende when I was younger, it's not even funny. I was drawn, I guess to her strong female characters who endured so much but still held strong and never lost their capacity to love. Her stories are long family sagas, with eccentric and truly memorable characters.

This book is no different. Narrated by Aurora del Valle, it tells not only of her life but that of her parents and her grandparents. The bastard daughter of the Matias de Santa Cruz y del Valle, she spent the first five years of her life with her maternal grandparents Eliza Sommers and Tao Chi'en, since her mother, the most beautiful girl in Dan Francisco died giving birth to her.

When she is 5 years old, Eliza hands her over to her paternal grandmother, Paulina del Valle, who takes her in an introduces her to a whole different life. They then transfer to Chile, where she grows up and matures.

The book tells Aurora's story with the backdrop of war (apparently, the Pacific War and the Chilean Civil War). I know nothing about those wars and very little about Chile, to be honest, and it was fun to learn a little bit about the country, which, like most Latin American countries, seems remarkably similar to my little Pacific archipelago.

I liked the books for its typical Allende-ness, the crazy and sometimes implausible characters, the rambling way a big story is told. Really, just like listening to old family stories. What I didn't like was the lead character. I mean, i didn't DISLIKE her, she just seemed a little bland and I don't know, boring for and Allende character. And not as strong as her other women. I just couldn't get into her.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

# 32 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro's works are quietly tragic. Never Let Me Go and The Remains of The Day seem to be very different, one is almost sci-fi, set in the future or some alternate universe, while the other is set in early 1900 England. But both are quiet and quietly tragic, dealing with wasted lives.

The book follows a butler of the old order, Stevens, as he goes on a rare vacation, a six day drive to visit an old colleague, a housekeeper. On the trip, over, real time happenings only set the stage for reminisces by the old butler on his life if service to Lord Darlington, his time together with Ms. Kenton, the housekeeper, and of his father.

Stevens has served Lord Darlington his whole life, forsaking his own pleasure and indeed, his own life to serve the Lord he so admires. He aspires to acquire the quality which he believes makes a butler GREAT. That of dignity. It is heartbreaking to read that in his quest for that elusive quality, he forgoes love and even family. Oh he is a good person with feelings, but you would never know it from looking at him.

The book tells the story of a lost love, that betwee, Stevens and Ms. Kenton, one that was not even acknowledged. It tells the story of a man stubbornly holding on to ideals that are not applicable in the present world. Of a life spent in service to a man, who, perhaps did not deserve it. Did Stevens go through all that lengths to be prefession in order to avoid living? To avoid loving?

It is a sad story, but it also has hints of humor and a lot of warmth. Really, I just really felt for Stevens and his beloved dignity, and for Ms. Kenton and her lost love.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

#31 - The Only Girl in the Car by Kathy Dobie

Kathy Dobie was a major slut, or so they say. Oh don't get me wrong, she totally had all the hallmarks of slutty behaviour. Provocative clothing, random and frequent sex, no serious relationships. However, I hardly think a 14 year old can ever be truly called a slut. Or any girl or woman for that matter.

Kathy was born the eldest girl in a family of six kids. The family is pretty normal, in fact, just a little bit better than normal. All of the kids have their own chores to do, they go on family picnics and have lively dinner conversations. They are, as happy as a family can be. And Kathy is a good girl. Until she turns 14, and realizes the power her nubile body has over dirty old men (and teenagers).

After a few trysts with older men (and losing her virginity to a 30 something loser), Kathy finds what she thought she needed by hanging out at the local youth center, where a lot of the rougher boys (and girls) hung out. However, she was never a part of the crowd of girls. It was always about her and "her" boys. She thinks she is happy, and thinks she has the genuine affection of the boys that she does stuff with, but an incident with boyS, in a car, opens her eyes and also turns her into an outcast and labelled a slut.

I live in a very Catholic and conservative country. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, my country is the only state outside the Vatican that does not allow divorce. Anyway, point is, I was never a good girl. In fact, I might have been relatively "slutty" in my teens, but I cannot imagine engaging in the level of promiscuous behavior and risk taking that Kathy did. It pains me and worries me that kids are being so unsafe. The author looks into a few things which might have led to her behaviour, but doesn't really dwell on it. She just tells us what she did, how she felt, and how it affected her.

After the incident in the car, she turns her life around in the totally opposite direction, being a sexless, humorless, Ayn Rand fanatic. She never really recovers and becomes herself until she goes off to college and leaves her life behind.

I really liked this coming of age memoir. Her early childhood memories are very warm, especially the part about loving her baby brother so much, and finally having somebody that she could hug and kiss and touch and love so completely. The later parts were heartbreaking, reading about a young girl being sexualized far before she is ready. And how badly some people treated her because she was seen as loose.

What I also could not believe was that, really? Old guys go out of their way to bed a kid who is so obviously a kid? Man, there are a lot of sorta-pedophiles over there.

# 30 The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

I really really liked Chevalier's two other book that I've read, The Girl With the Pearl Earring and Fallen Angels, especially Girl..., although it is a bit too girly for me sometimes. But this one, I found a big fat meh. After I read the book, I found out that this was actually her first book, and I though it made a lot of sense. It had the same pseudo-historical bit as Girl.., and the same sense of alienation of the lead characters, just not as accomplished, with annoying characters and some unbelievable and lazy shit.

The book is divided into alternate chapters, one told in the first person by an American who recently moved to a small French village, and the other, told in the third person about a young woman in 16th century France, living through the rise of the Huguenots and the subsequent persecution thereof. Their story is connected in that the American, Ella Turner, is the descendant of the young Huguenot, Isabelle Turnier.

Isabelle is called La Resseau, after the Virgin Mary that the once Catholics in their village adored, because of her red hair, which the Virgin is said to have. Once the Truth, or Calvinism enters that village, they destroy the Virgin and all remnants of Catholicism and the persecution of Isabelle starts. the book tells the story of her unhappy marriage to Etienne Turnier, and their escape to Switzerland during the Huguenot persecution.

Ella's story on the other hand, tells of her isolation in France, and her quest to know her family's history, as well as her falling out with her American husband and burgeoning love affair with a French librarian.

There is, of course, a surprise discovery, and a dark family secret uncovered at the end. I guess the themes are alienation and how to overcome it. Meh. There are some pseudo-supernatural elements that I found misplaced and off-putting.

In short, no, I really wasn't that impressed with the book. It was a fast read, but I was bored. I found myself really disliking the character of Ella. In our local parlance, she is very OA (overacting). I know that that term is in English but it has a different connotation when used here where I'm at.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

# 29 The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

I have put off reading this book for years and years for the same reason that it took me a long time to read One Hundred Years of Solitude. The opening chapter had a lot of foliage, and for some reason, it put me off these books. And also quite like 100 years, I was bitterly regretting putting of reading this book for so long.

The Poisonwood Bible tells the tale of four sisters and their mother, brought to remote Africa (the Belgian Congo, specifically a small village near the Kwilu River [thanks wiki]) by an authoritarian, righteous and controlling minister of a father. The father goes there to collect souls for the Lord. His wife and daughters go along for lack of any other alternatives.

The book is narrated by the wife, Orleanna and their four daughters, haughty, worldly Rachel; eager to please (her father) tomboy Leah; gifted, silent and handicapped Ada; and the spunky baby Ruth May.

Their father's stubbornness and disregard for any opinions other than his own keeps the family in the Congo even after their Church's withdrawal of support and the political upheavals during that period. Despite the danger and imminent starvation, the family soldiers on, all of the girls growing and developing, while the father clings to his beliefs, never bending, or trying to understand the culture of the people he seeks to convert.

I related most to the earnest and probably idealistic Leah. Throughout the story, she grows the most, from blindly idolizing her father, to realizing his faults and standing up for what she believes. Ada, although I feel like I should like her for she is the most intelligent and aware, I cannot relate to. I don't like her constantly thinking that her sisters are dumber than her (although it probably is true).

In any case, the book is heartbreaking. Needless to say, their father's choice of keeping them in Africa leads to great tragedy for the family, and shapes their characters and lives. It is obvious that Kingsolver is passionate about the issue of the abuse if Africa by its conquerors, of the disturbance of their natural order. The book can be seen as a story of a family, but it also provides and insight on the history of the Belgian Congo in that period of time, and its effect on the ordinary people living there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

# 28 - Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker

One twisted mothafucker, he is. The only other books of his that I had read were The Great and Secret Show and Cabal and other Short Stories. Those books I quite liked, although I read those in my high school horror novels phase. Cabal had quite a bit of sex and gross stuff, but man did he dial up the ick factor in this one.

Todd Pickett is a Hollywood golden boy, except he's getting just a teensy bit older. Needing to recuperate in secret after a plastic surgery gone horrible wrong, his longtime agent finds him a secluded mansion in an unnamed canyon beside Laurel. But the Canyon isn't really unnamed, it used to be named Coldheart Cayon, and it was the site of decadent parties and orgies, and all manner of sexual perversities. And it was all lead by the Queen, silent film star Katya Lupi, a beautiful but cold and mean woman, dedicated to pleasure. I'm starting to sound like the book jacket, aren't I?

Anyhoo, Todd moves in, weird stuff happens, and different characters come in like his agent and the president of his fan club, excuse me, appreciation society.

What I liked about the book was that the true protagonist wasn't the movie star or his beautiful agent. It was this overweight, obsessive, but also competent, calm, maternal and loving fan. It has themes of redemption and is a cautionary story about addiction, and excess and loneliness. Of Hollywood, actually.

But the ick factor, man, it was icky. Ugh. I mean, I understand why it's there, it is needed in the context of the book, but sometimes it was pointless. I mean, why does *SPOILER. haha* ghost Todd have a perma-hard on before going into the light? huh??!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

# 27 - The Associate by John Grisham

Wow, I haven't read a Grisham book since I was in high school (high school here is from 13 to 16 years old), more than 10 years ago. I think my last was The Partner. To be honest, reading Grisham maybe probably contributed to my desire to be a lawyer, although I have come to realize that practicing law in my little third world is probably worlds different from practicing law as Grisham tells it.

Since my taste in books have changed since I was in high school, I wanted to see if Grisham could still hold my interest the way he did before. The short answer? Yes, definitely. I finished this one in just a few hours. Quick and easy read.

The book is about a graduating Yale law student, Kyle McAvoy, editor of the Yale Law Journal, great grades, promising future. He seemed to be the perfect law grad. Except that he was a bit of a party animal in college, and may have been part of a rape scandal. This bit of darkness in his past us then used by ruthless blackmailers who try to get him to steal information from a huge law firm. Kyle was idealistic, wanting to work in public service for a few years before whoring himself out to a huge law firm. But the blackmail forces him to accept a grueling job as an associate in the biggest law firm in the country.

An so it goes, the story of his blackmail, surveillance, counter-surveillance, and eventually, his extraction from the messy situation. Outside of the basic plot, the book explores such matters such as how it sucks to work in a huge cold law firm, concerned only with billable hours. Huh. I wish I billed by the hour.

The other thing that I guess struck me most is the part about the rape itself. Being a woman, I would think that rape is black and white, but is it possible that otherwise nice young men can commit a rape without knowing it?

Oh well, that discussion is one too serious for a John Grisham book review. Bottom line, he can still make me turn the pages. The writing is serviceable. However, when I finished reading, it didn't leave me satisfied and not just because they don't capture, or even know the bad guys. Maybe I have outgrown him.

Friday, May 20, 2011

#26 Summerland by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's foray into the YA genre turns into an ode to baseball, and you know, how it's a metaphor for life (no, I don't understand why. we don't play baseball here), and how playing it literally, saved the world from Armageddon.

Ethen Feld lives in a drizzly and dreary island obsessed with baseball. Unfortunately, he is horrible at it, the worst player anyone has ever seen. Then he gets recruited by a worlds-jumping creature to save Summerland, and save the worlds as they know it.

In the book, the universe is a giant tree, with four huge branches. One is the world as we know it, The Middling, then there's the Winterlands, Summerlands and the Gleaming. Cayote is plotting to bring down the tree, or put an end to the universe, by poisoning the well from which the tree universe gets nourishment.

Of course, Ethen Feld and his merry band of misfits (his bestfriend, a yeti, a ferisher, a changeling, a tiny dwarf.. you get the drift) travel and jump from world to world trying to catch up to Cayote and prevent him from ending life. This is done, of course, through baseball.

The book is a charming blend of Norse, Native American and North American mythology (those are all I recognized). It is quirky to the max with lots of amusing details and characters. Sometimes, I feel like it gets weighed down by all the quirk and the extraneous details. And like most children's fantasy, things just seem to fall into place. Sure, there are setbacks, but the protagonists seem to always find the perfect person, or the perfect weapon to escape the scraped they're in.

It is a wonderfully imaginative book, sometimes too much so that it seems sort of silly and random to me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

# 25 Beautiful Boy by David Sheff

I have two beautiful boys. They are 8 and 3 years old. The eight year old is serious and intellectual, while the 3 year old is full of mischief and sunny smiles. My greatest fear (aside from them being future serial killers/mass murderers) is that they might fall into drugs when they get older, and not just experiment, but be an addict.

I've had a lot of experience with drug addicts, as when I was a teen, I couldn't seem to find myself a boyfriends who didn't do drugs. I myself never did drugs, smoked or even liked to drink all that much. It scares me, this drug thing.

This book was sort of peeking into my biggest nightmare. Having an addict boyfriend/husband is ok, you can always leave when you can't take it anymore (at least that's what I did), but what if it's your baby? You can never let go.

David Sheff narrates his son's heartbreaking transformation from a smart, polite, warmhearted beautiful into a underweight, lying, thieving addict. He so vividly describes what it feels like to always be waiting. Waiting for your loved one to come home. That scary scary feeling of not knowing where he is, or even just if he's safe.

I found found David Sheff's reactions to be very believable, if a bit self centered. But, I guess that's the point, because this book is not actually Nic's (his son) story, but his own. Of how he dealt with and lived with having an addict son.

After reading online about the book, I learned that Nic Sheff wrote a memoir about his side of the addiction coin. And I was surprised to see that it was a book I have seen a million times at my favourite local bookstore, and have always thought of buying. I actually thought it was fiction. And as usual, once I have decided that I am going to buy the book, I haven't seen any copies since. Sigh.

Monday, May 9, 2011

# 24 World War Z by Max Brooks

Again, blame the sloooow internet connection at the office leaving me with no other way to goof off that to re read my ebooks. I really liked, no actually, love this book the first time I read it, and the second time was no different.

This book is written as an oral history, collected around 10 years after the great Zombie Wars, or World War Z. The Zombie outbreak started in China, quickly spreading all over the world. The book tells the story of the zombie outbreak from that initial outbreak, through its spread, its peak, and finally, its suppression, through the testimonials of people who played a part in the events.

I love zombie fiction as much as the next Pajiban but I really liked this fresh take in the genre. While most zombie fic focus on a group of survivors, this one is huge in scope, essentially imagining how the world would react in the event of such a catastrophe. I love that it is so realistic, looking at the conditions, politics and general views of a country or group of people, and just trying to see how they would cope.

It was exciting and heartbreaking at the same time, really a lot like those documentaries you would see on National Geographic about WW II or something. Except that the enemies are zombies instead of Nazis. And maybe some zombie nazis.

Again, could not recommend this book enough. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer, with more voices.

Friday, May 6, 2011

# 23 - The Reunion by Sue Walker

Seven teens meet and spend a few months at a progressive adolescent psychiatric unit. Twenty-seven years later, most of them are living their own mostly successful lives, trying their damnedest to forget that they were ever mental cases, studiously avoiding contact with each other. That is, until a phone call comes for Innes, the last teenager to join that batch of patients. Innes ignored the phone call, despite Isabella being one of her closest friends at the Unit. A few days later, Isabella is found dead, supposedly by suicide. Innes finds out that another patient, Danny has also recently died by drowning, and another almost died by a fire and is now semi comatose.

Innes, sensing a connection between the deaths, investigate the mystery of why her co-patients at the Unit are dying. The narrative goes back and forth between the present and 1977. There is also a narrative that is chronologically behind the "main character's" point of view.

Naturally, the kids are hiding a secret, a dark, huge and stomach clenching secret. Innes is actually the most out of the loop out of all of the former former patients. I guess this was necessary to make her not guilty of what the others did, but it was weird to have a main character not really have anything to do with the happenings, except that she knew the people.

The book is suspenseful and fast moving and fairly unpredictable. There were some twists that I did not anticipate. It attempted to flesh out normally "evil" characters, like the former teen sex offender, which I almost felt sympathy for. However, the secret was truly horrible, made me queasy, and totally erased all the sympathy I might have had for the characters involved.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

#22 Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore

Of the Chris Moore bibliography, my enjoyment has been varied. I loved (as most people do), Lamb. I really liked A Dirty Job. I liked Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck. I flat out HATED The Stupidest Angel. This book was somewhere in the like category.

Samson Hunts Alone grew up in an Indian Reservation, however, an potentially prison-inducing incident had him leaving the reservation and making a new life for himself. He grows up neglecting his Indianess and cultivating and molding himself into the ultimate saleseman, able to transform himself into anything needed to cinch a sale. Things go awry when he meets a pretty, if a little flight, girl and an Indian guy seems to be following him everywhere. Things quickly go madcap, Chris Moore style and hijinks and adventure abound.

Like I said, it's typical Christopher, funny, but I occasionally find the humor too trying hard. Supernatural elements, the works. It was just ok. Aaaand I'm starting to sound like Randy Jackson.

#21 The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman brings back memories of a clique of girls in college who fancied themselves intellectual bookworms when actually, they read mostly Nicholas Sparks, Anita Shreve, Dean Koontz, and of course, Alice Hoffman. I've read my share of these books and even enjoyed some of them, but those girls seem to take these books soo seriously.

This one is typical Alice Hoffman, women, flowers blooming, magic, and of course, love. The women of the Sparrow family come to acquire powers on their 13th birthday. They have always lived in the the oldest house in Unity, apart form the rest of the people. Jenny got away from all that, but came back with her daughter and learns stuff and finds love, of course.

It's the usual magical realism and flowery descriptions. I find most Alice Hoffman books to be too girly and life affirming and perfect. This is one of those books. Everything ends up ok and all their spirits are uplifted and they would all have found themselves and their true love. Not my cup of tea. Nope.

Friday, April 15, 2011

# 20 - Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This books brings about a lot of conflicting emotions for me. But one thing is for sure, book Alexander Supertramp is waaaay less annoying then movie Alexander. I don't know why, but I really really find Emile Hirsch super annoying. Whew. Now that I've got that out of my system, let me go ahead with my review.

Jon Krakauer, as usual, really knows how to tell a story. Mormons, Everest, idealistic kid, all become page turners. This story is about young Christopher McCandless. Smart, upper middle class family who seemed to love him, bright future. But there's something unusual about him. Finishing college was just something he did to complete his familial obligations. After college, he left home, disappeared of the face of the earth, gradually casting off all his worldly belongings to tramp all around Ameica. Hitchhiking and walking, all to meet his ultimate goal of staying in Alaska alone.

Krakauer makes a mostly positive portrayal of McCandless. The people who he meets with and has relationships along the way seem to like and admire, and even love him. He was a nice, friendly and personable boy. He has deep ideologies and philosophies about how he wanted to live a life out of the ordinary. But he was also naive, unprepared and selfish. This ultimately lead to his death by starvation in the Alaskan not so wilderness.

In that sense, that is why i feel so conflicted about him. I mean, I get it. Why he did it. I feel the urge all the time to just leave it all behind and just live how I want to. To experience life, the road and the wild. But also being a family woman, I know that I could never do what he did to my family. It really was very selfish. Not just to his family but to all the people he met along the road who came to love him. It's not just himself he's hurting but all these other people.

Whatever one's feeling of McCandless is, the book wa undoubtedly interesting and compelling and makes you think about what you want to do and to what extent you would do it.

# 19 - Escape Routes for Beginners by Kira Cochrane

actual review date: 12/27/2011

Rita Mae is a 13 year old living in a prison island with her Dad who is a prison guard. Her hair has been bleached blonde by her mother since she was a baby to disguise her Hispanic heritage. There is basically nothing for her on the island and she dreams daily of escaping to Hollywood.

The book basically the story of three generations of girls in Rita Mae's family. Her grandmother was the daughter of Hispanic immigrants who wanted to become a star, but instead was installed in a Hollywood brothel. Her daughter, Rita Mae's mother, was a desperate social climber who plotted and manipulated to marry the son of a rich man (Rita's dad). When the husband failed to live up to her expectations, she became bitter and hateful.

The story is darkly comic, and really sad. It seems like Rita Mae has no one who really loves her enough to fight for her, or take care of her properly. I had qualms about what she did at the end because her dad seemed like a sadsack character, but ultimately, she was the child and she deserved to be taken care of.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

# 18 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This book sure is hella different from the first David Mitchell that I read, Black Swan Green. But I found it just as absorbing. Cloud Atlas, though, is definitely a more complex book, if only for the unusual structure of the book. There are six stories, each one except for the last, interrupted somewhere in the middle of the narrative. The story is picked up again later on in the book. Each chapter is mirrored in the second half of the book.

Another unusual thing about the book is that when a story is interrupted and another story started, the main character of the proceeding story is seen reading or watching the previous story. Each story is told in a different style or genre. There is apocalyptic sci fi, dystopian sci fi, the typical mainstream thriller, and others. While the stories are connected in some themes, the stories can actually be read separately as novellas. In fact, some stories I responded to much better than the others.

I think it's amazing that Mitchell writes so effectively across genres, and in different, but very believable voices. The book also invites analysis, in trying to find out what themes tie these stories together, and what this book is really about.

I would definitely recommend this book, I loved it, and it strengthens my desire to read even more David Mitchell.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

# 17 - A Game of Thrones by G.R.R. Martin

Blame the crappy internet connection at the office for my rereading of A Game of Thrones. With the usual procrastinating tool unavailable, I had to turn to other means of indulging myself while at the office. (Don't worry kids, I still finish my pleadings and go to hearings and stuff..) As it turns out, ASOIAF are the only ebooks that I have in my laptop, so I decided to read the series again during my downtimes at the office. Perfect timing for a reread really, considering the upcoming HBO adaptation. Which I am super excited about!!! 10 more days!!!!

Damn you GRR for having the the power to break my heart time and time again! Damn you for making me forget all my deadlines once I start reading your damn books. Damn you for making me fall in love with honorable characters who absolutely DO NOT deserve what they get. This is a reread, what else can I say? I loved it the first time, and I loved it again the second time.

For those who do not know, A Game of Thrones is an ongoing fantasy series. But its not really fantasy. The Kingdom of Westeros were once different kingdoms, but were brought together by the Targaryen who invaded from Old Valyria using their powerful dragons. But that was ancient history and Westeros is now ruled by King Robert Baratheon, who, along with Ned Stark, overthrew the mad King, last Targaryen to rule the Kingdom.

The main story follows Ned Stark and his family as his life changes from being Lord or Winterfell, the farflung and northernmost province of the Kingdom, to becoming the King's Hand. There are also other storylines as well of different characters.

The book is complex, and truly epic in scope. It is gritty, and as realistic as a fantasy novel can be. It is NOT black and white. It is shocking and heartbreaking. It's really great.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

# 16 The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O' Farrell

Iris Lockheart is surprised to receive a letter and phone call from a mental asylum, informing her that she has an aunt who was committed and that budget cuts have her with no place to go. Iris is a modern gal. Owner of a vintage clothing shop, has an affair with a married man and a very close relationship with her stepbrother. Her mother has Alzheimer's and is in a nursing home. Life is pretty full for Iris, but she goes to the mental institution to see her unknown aunt and in a fit of sympathy, decides to take her home with her. That aunt is the titular Esme Lennox.

As in most cases of family members being in an asylum, there are secrets. Deep dark ones that affect Iris and can explain her lack of knowledge of Esme.

The book is told in 3 voices. One is in the present time telling of Iris' story. The other is a narrator telling of episodes from the young life of Esme Lennox. The last is the inner monologue of Iris' mad mother, Esme's sister. The voices are confusing at first but one is finally able to make out some sense and piece together the horrific story of Esme Lennox. Throughout the book, there is a certain amount of uncertainty and suspense, actually. Was Esme a crazy ass old lady who was going to stab Iris to death? Or was she a victim. The reader soon knows, and it is a haunting and sad answer.

Monday, March 28, 2011

# 15 Notes on A Scandal by Zoe Heller

Barbara Covett is one weird duck. She is writing an account after the fact of a scandal, one she is closely associated with. But in writing about the incident, she is clearly writing more and more about herself. Barbara Covett is a lonely spinster teacher. No close friends or love interest or family in sight. She develops an unlikely friendship with the new pottery teacher, Sheba Hart, a well-off, kind of ditzy, and glamorous (for Barbara anyway) woman. Sheba is ill equipped for the rough and tumble school she is teaching in and falls into an affair with her 17 year old student. Barbara, though she initially did not know about the affair, soon does and therein lies the story.

But the story is not really about the affair or Shebe. It is all about Barbara and her need for closeness which unfortunately manifests in a creepy and stalkery manner. It wasn't like she was evil mastermind plotting Sheba's downfall, but it was much more subtle than that, and you don't really know if she meant to do the things she did out of malice or was just carried away... Anyway, although it is undeniable that she was creepy, I felt so sad for her and the long stretch of nothingness which was her life. The scandal gave her something she had been looking for, someone who needs her and who will stay with her. Forever. So yeah, she's pretty creepy.

# 14 Bonk by Mary Roach

actual review date - 12/22/11

I read this book so long ago, I must admit, the facts that I've read about here have mostly flown out of my head. I have horrible retention when it comes to non-fiction. But what does stick with me is that it was fun, funny and flippant. Mary Roach has a way of making any subject matter (whether it be the dead as in Stiff, or sex as in this case) fun to read about.

I have this friend who tells the most awesome and strange stories about her experiences. It is sometimes so absurd that you have to wonder if she is not stretching the truth a bit to make it more interesting. But no, it's just the way she l0oks at the world. She thinks everything is amusing and interesting and it translated to how she talks about her experiences. Reading this book gave me that sort of feeling. It felt like Roach delving into the world of sex research was a big adventure. I mean, sex research in itself would seem to be pretty interesting but the author makes it even more so.

Basically, though I may have forgotten most of the fact that I learned, I do vividly remember that it was a really funny and quirky book which kept me interested throughout.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

# 13 - Savage Grace by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson

Family biography, true crime, horror story. This is the story of the Baeklands, a rich and prominent American family. The elder Baekland made his fortune by inventing Bakelite, a popular plastic.

Leo Baekland was a grandson of the original Baekland. He was, like his father, a bit eccentric and got into all sorts of hobbies, instead, of just, you know, working. He got married to a beautiful "actress" Barbara Daly, and from there flows their tragic tale.

They were living the life of social butterflies, flitting around Europe, hosting parties, and hanging out with famous people. They also son, Anthony, who they took around with them in their travels.

The family relationship was tumultuous to say the least. There were loud fights, adulterous relations, and possible incest. Finally, Leo Baekland left his family for his mistress, who was supposedly Anthony's ex girlfriend. Naturally, the story ends in tragedy for all involved.

The story us told through the statements of friends and relatives of the family, and even Leo Baekland himself. While reading, I kept asking myself, wow, are they really that articulate, even poetic at times? I guess it's possible, the circle being mostly rich socialites and artists. But I didn't really find that way of telling the story successful. It was a bit repetitive with different people saying the same thing over and over again. I mean, a story that juicy (murder, incest, adultery, homosexuality, CRAY-CRAY), should be anything but boring, but it really was, in some parts.

Plus, maybe I'm dense or whatever, but I really didn't really feel that I had an understanding or insight into the psyche of the subjects. I don't know. But what I do know is that they were supremely fucked up. It was a bit scary in a way, because when one has children, as I do, we always imagine what would happen if our kids end up as fucked up as the kids in the news. It was extra scary for me because I do see a little of myself in Barbara. Not the incest, obvs, but just that I am slightly (ok more) domineering and very intense at times, and a bit cold at times. I am trying really hard not to bring that kind of stuff to my kids, but its scary, just the same.

Do I guess the book succeeds in the sense that it is a cautionary tale (not to go cavorting in Europe and living the rich life. haha), but it didn't succeed in engaging me and making me understand what's behind these mad acts.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

# 12 - The Dead of Summer by Camilla Way

Anita Naidu is half British, half Pakistani, and one whole outcast. She is a lonely lonely child, with her mother just recently dead, and living with a depressed father self-absorbed siblings. She did not fit in anywhere or with anyone. She is an outcast because she is a little bit weird and doesn't really make an effort to be "normal". She finds a ragtag group of friends one hot summer, when she befriends (by default) Denis and his friend, Kyle. These kids are even weirder than her, Denis being a bit slow and Kyle being just plain weird and more than a little creepy.

The book is narrated by Anita to her psychologist seven years after that fateful summer. It was not a coming of age tale. By the end of that summer, three kids had died with Anita as the only survivor and witness to the events.

Anita is quiet and weird and so clearly lonely, unable to make connections easily. The book is very eerie and hypnotic and quick to read. Suffice to say, it has a few twists and turns, although, it was a bit obvious to be honest. But that didn't detract from the creepy beauty of this teenager's narration of a brutal summer.

# 11 American Pastoral by Philip Roth

This is my first Roth book, so I don't really know Nathan Zuckerman. Apparently, he's a recurring character in his books and is considered a stand in for the author in his books. In this book, the story starts with Zuckerman and his hero worship of All American Golden Boy Swede Levov. Zuckerman was friends with the Swede's younger brother when they were kids and the Swede was the guy everyone looked up to, because of his athletic prowess and his all around nice guy-ness.

Zuckerman meets Jerry (the younger brother) at their high school reunion and learns that beneath the seemingly perfect and ordinary life that the Swede led, was an event that destroyed his "perfectness". His daughter, after a pampered childhood, grew up to become a home-grown terrorist, planting a bomb that killed the local doctor. Zuckerman then creates, based on these very basic facts that he knows, the story of Swede Levov, of his perfect normalcy and his eventual downfall.

It is not so much about the crazy-ass daughter and her actions. It's more of how such action affected her parents, their lives. And the hanging question of how the fuck could such a thing happen to such ordinary, upstanding people? How could Jewish businessman and athlete and former Miss New Jersey have given birth and raised such a weird, stuttering, violent and unthinking girl?

I don't know, the book was very American. American dream, American hang-ups. While the prose was engaging and and thought provoking to read, I just thought is was so ragey! And it was so repetitive with the descriptions and exaltations of how awesome the Swede was.

I think that like the Corrections, I was able to enjoy reading the book and think I got it. I just didn't GET it. It didn't resonate with me. I was let a bit let down considering this book is so often called one of the best American books ever.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

# 10 River Rats by Caroline Stevermer

I like YA fiction. I also really like post-apocalyptic fiction. I also really, really like rock n roll. But somehow, this book which combines the three is not really doing it for me.

It's post-apocalyptic America,where the population has been drastically reduced by an event the characters call the Flash, and further so by the pestilence, which kills quickly and terribly. Some cities survive, as well as small pockets of civilization, as do the Wild Boys, a band of kids who live in the infected wastelands, immune to the pestilence.

The River Rats are a group of kids living in a paddle wheel steamboat. Too rebellious to live in cities which must necessarily have a lot of rules in order to survive, but too level headed and organized to be wild boys. They go up and down the Mississippi, delivering mail, providing news and staging rock concerts in exchange for clean food and water. Life is almost routine for these kids (as routine as post-apocalyptic America can be), and they are surviving pretty well as a family. However, they encounter some excitement when they rescue King, an adult being chased by scary big guys,the Lesters, an unsavory family controlling a village. And so starts their adventure. Being chased, held captive and so on...

The story is told from the viewpoint of one of the rats, Tomcat. He is perhaps, the most irresponsible and "wild" of all the rats, but he's a good kid. They all are, actually, acting as family for one another in a world where family is scarce.

It is an exciting adventure story with interesting backdrop. The author's imagination of society after the apocalypse is pretty good with the aforementioned enclaves or good places, as the rats call it, amidst the destruction.

Why didn't I like it? I don't know, it just didn't speak to me. I mean, I don't hate it, I'm just meh about it. I guess it is a pretty good YA adventure, just not for me.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

# 9 - The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

It seemed pretty simple at first. Middle aged guy working a dead end job at Staples (Roger) befriends co-worker, a gothy young adult with no direction (Bethany). So they're both fucked up, Roger, an alcoholic going through divorce and Bethany, just not knowing what to do with herself and her life.

But their friendship is told through letters and journal entries, first between Roger and Bethany, then later on, expanding to include Bethany's mom, Roger's ex wife and their co-workers. Also included are excerpts of a novel that Roger is working on. So there's that element of a novel within a novel, WITHIN a novel, since Roger's novel includes an excerpt of a novel of one of the characters. Confused now?

So the letters and the novel provide insight and some historical background to the characters. The novels within the novel uses aspects and details of the Roger's "real" life. The novel follows the characters as they grow, or have they really grown? What i remember most (since this review is really really late) is that somewhere in the book, someone says that something happens to you, and you think it's going to change you. But it really doesn't. You're still the same person you are before that event. This book could make a case for that particular way of thinking, but I think the characters do change, albeit not through some huge event, but slowly, as like growing up.

This book just follows some people, trying to cope and deal with the modern word. Maybe trying to better themselves a little bit, or at least trying to understand themselves.

It was an entertaining read and I was invested in the characters, even though I usually get irritated at mopey characters, and characters who can't just get over it. Well, these people I actually liked and i wanted them to feel better. The only thing that puzzles me about the novel was the last entry. I thought it was a bit Inception-y, or maybe I'm just dumb. I mean, was it all a novel within a novel, within a novel, within a novel???!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

#8 - The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle

I keep reading the T.C. Boyle writes biting satire but the two books by him that I've read so far (this and Drop City) certainly don't give that impression. Or maybe I just don't get it. Well, I actually enjoyed Drop City very much bit didn't really find it bitingly satirical. I thought it was an earnest and realistic look at all that hippie goodness. But that's another book, one that isn't part of the Cannonball.

I've finished this quite a while ago but only got to writing the review now. Anyway, it's about this young student who got involved with Alfred Kinsey and sex research. AND sex research, if you know what I mean ;) (that's a winkey smile, people!) The books follows John, a sort of bland corn-fed American as he slowly becomes immersed in Kinsey's research and in Kinsey himself. There's a lot of sex between everybody, male and female. The inner circle, was after all, the vanguard of sexual liberation. Sex was merely physical, biological and should be indulged in whenever one felt the urge. But at the same time, the members of the inner circle of researchers had to appear respectable in order to give an appearance of professionalism and to look all scienc-y. The book narrates how this sort of lifestyle affected John's marriage with a girl that he truly truly loved.

I found the book to be a quick read, however, I cannot get over how creepy the Kinsey character was. He was very sexual harassy and controlling of every facet of John's life. Stuff he should have butt out of. That was the actually John's main dilemma, in that Kinsey was his idol, and he would do practically anything that Kinsey asked, sexual or otherwise, while his wife just wanted Kinsey to mind his own goddamn business.

That's bout it.