Monday, August 13, 2012

CBR IV # 18 - The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken

I didn't like this book. Mostly because the main character is so bloody unappealing.  I don't care if the boy is tall or wise beyond his years, he's still a fuckin boy.  And she is so amazingly emotionally stunted it's not even funny.

So there's this librarian in a small town who's only claim to fame is a boy who wouldn't stop growing up.  Librarian is a typical old maid.  Chilly and unable to form close relationships.  She is fascinated by a boy who is afflicted with gigantism and soon becomes close to him and his family.  The book tells the story of their sort of courtship and the short life of a very tall boy.

Now why did I not like this book?  As I said, it was mostly because of my distaste for the main character, the librarian.  It's actually not so much that she first met the boy when he was just a child, I mean the age disparity is really not that big.  It's more that she does not really have any reasons for her melancholy.  I think this is my failing, but I get very irritated by characters that can have, or do have, everything but is still so... sad. 

I wanted to know more about the boy, but he was never really fleshed out but was more the librarian's ideal of him.  So, no I didn't like it very much.

Monday, July 30, 2012

CBR IV # 21 - The Magicians by Lev Grossman

It is true, The Magicians is sort of like Harry Potter for grown ups.  And a little bit if Narnia in the mix.  It's cynical and grown up and I guess with more realistic elements if you can call it that.

Quentin Coldwater was a  gifted student living in Brooklyn, applying for colleges with his two bestfriends when he suddenly finds himself in a magical school in England.  He takes a rigorous exam and is accepted at Brakebills, the aforementioned school of magic.

The story takes us from his days in the school where he makes some friends, to his graduation and re-entry into the real world, to their entry into the even more magical world of Filory.

Unlike in Harry Potter where there is a truly separate world of magicians with real magician jobs and magician government, the graduates of Braksebill reenter the real world.  They have a trust fund provided by the school, so they don't really work.  They are rudderless and just floating around with so much power and nothing to use it on.

That is until Penny, a weirdo (even for magic school standards) former classmates shows up and says he's found a way to enter a sort of alternate universe, Filory.  Filory was actually a universe written about in a series of books wherein a group of siblings find their way in there.  Like Narnia.  There are magical beings and evil creatures.  So the group starts an adventure in that wonderful, weird land.

Although nothing really happened, I liked the first part, the Harry Potter part better than the Narnia part.    Maybe I was expecting too much.  I mean, I liked it, it was unusual, but I wasn't super wowed by it.  I mean, I haven't even read the second book yet.

CBR IV # 26 - With Your Crooked Heart by Helen Dunmore

This is one of those extremely poetic books where I feel like I'm dreaming when I'm reading.  What I mean is, there's a dreamlike quality to the writing and every little incident is huge and magnified.  Every emotion is felt (or not) and mundane actions become beautiful or grotesque.

Louise is married to Paul, a successful and well to do man.  He didn't start out rich though.  He was a young man who clawed himself from poverty.  He has a much younger brother Johnny who he protects and takes care of.

The story starts off with Louise, feeling beautifully pregnant and naked, living a dream life in a garden paradise in the middle of London.  It would seem like she has everything, rich husband, beautiful flat, and smoldering brother in law (ok maybe not that part).  Well, a few years after that and Louise is a fucked up alcoholic mess.  She's fat, her kid is under the custody of her husband, who has remarried and moved to the country. She is left with nothing really, except drink and the sometime company of Johnny.  She is an absolute mess.

The story moves from Louise to her little girl in the country.  Stuff happens.  Changes are made in their lives and the ending left me feeling a bit confused (like I was dreaming) and inexplicable affected and touched.  I'm not entirely sure what the meaning of the book is, I'm not even sure I like it, but it made me feel weird and sort of sad.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CBR IV # 25 Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood

The book opens with Joan Foster settling in a villa in a small Italian town.  She had just faked her own death, and was nervous and jumpy, wondering whether he has been successful or not.  From this present day, the book takes us back to Joan's childhood.  Her fatness, he overbearing Mother and distant father.  Her only friend was an eccentric aunt who loved her unconditionally.  We then follow her to her teenage years, running away from home, her love affairs, and finally to her life just prior to her fake death.

Joan is a girls of multiple personalities.  She was a fat girl, a secret writer of Gothic romances, a kinda dumb housewife, a kept woman, and adulterer, and authoress of an intriguing feminist book.  She switches easily from personality to personality, creating personas both innocently and calculatingly at the same time.

The book is not really a thriller about a woman faking her death.  It may seem high concept at first, but really, it is just a story about a woman.

The first book I read of Atwood was the Handmaiden's Tale.  I've noticed that the books by her which I enjoy the most are those with a sci-fi premise.  This book is more along the lines of Cat's Eye and the Robber Bride.  It's good, but i prefer her other works.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

CBR IV # 24 - Double Fudge by Judy Blume

No, this is not a kiddie Cannonball.   I'm not sure if this is eligible, but either way, I'm reviewing it.  The Fudge series by Judy Blume holds a special place in me and my 9 year old kid's heart.  Almost four years ago, elder son got a brand new baby brother.  By the time the baby was  a toddler, it was clear that he was going to be a handful.  He constantly tested his big brother's patience.  I decided to read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing with my elder son.  He loved it so much.  Peter was so him in that he is mostly well behaved and logical, while Fudge is so much like the younger brother in being adorably mischievous.  After that, I bought him all the Fudge books but he's been reading them by himself. I decided to read this last book (so far) in the series in order to catch up with the Hatcher kids.

In this book, Fudge is going crazy for money!   Jimmy Fargo is moving, and the Hatchers find some family.  When the Hatchers go on a field trip to Washington to teach Fudge about money, they end up finding the other Hatchers, i.e. some crazy ass relatives.  The relatives come over to New York for a visit and, as usual, hi jinks and misadventure abounds!

As in the other Fudge books, it's not so much plot as just following this lovable family as they grow.  It is funny and touching, and at time profound.  Kids love it (well mine did) and the rents won't be so bored either.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

CBR IV # 23 The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

This story seemed a bit familiar and upon further research, I figured out that I have actually read the short story/novella this book was based on.  I love my sci-fi with a vengeance and Asimov has been the one to really turn me on to the genre.  I love Asimov, I do.

This book, as I've mentioned is based on the short story, The Bi-Centennial Man by the same author (and then it was made into the movie of the same name starring Robin Williams.  huh.).  This book I guess expands and gives more detail to the journey of Andrew Smith, the robot who wanted to be a real boy. 

Andrew was conceived to be an ordinary household robot given to a prominent family on Earth. However, he was made in the early years of robot manufacturing and so his positronic brain allowed for some surprises.  It started with an unusual ability for woodcarving, which almost seemed to be art, a very human endeavor.  Over the years and with the support of his human masters, Andrew freed himself and slowly transformed himself, or maybe developed himself more and more towards humanity. But will he become truly human?  And who shall decide who is truly human?

As is normal in Asimov books, there is no shooting of space lasers flying ships or scary aliens.  There is very little action, just a narration of Andrew's long life.  Aside from being good story, it, as is usual delves into some philosophical matters like as is obvious, what makes us truly human?  Can one transcend what one is originally created for (and is) and still be authentic to what he strives to be or now is?  

I also found it fun to read a robot book that still takes place on earth and very soon after it became mainstream.  It's like reading a little bit of history. Of course, even the earliest robots were subject to the three laws.  It was fun to see how robotics developed and how humanity spread first to the moon and to the other planets.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

CBR IV # 22 - The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Kids with cancer always bring out the tears. But far from being a Lifetime movie, this book doesn't feel like it's actively trying to hurt your heart, it just does.

16 year old Hazel is a career cancer patient. The question is not if she'll die but when. This has turned her into a bit of a recluse, spending her time reading and watching shitty reality shows. She doesn't want to inflict herself on other people, knowing she'll soon be leaving. But the cancer support group brings an unexpected hottie, Augustus Waters, who is a survivor. They form an instant connection and soon form a strong bond. Oh, they are in love.

John Green's teenagers always seem impossibly smart. Their conversations deeply philosophical and their words infinitely quotable. Nevertheless, they still theseem like real teenagers somehow. Feeling the stuff that that we felt, just more eloquent, I guess. Hazel, I like her. She's not a manic pixie dream girl like Alaska. She's steady and smart and sarcastic. Augustus seems to good to be true at first but as you get to know him, his cracks show and he turns out to just be this kid. A really good one, but a kid nevertheless. And their love, how can a book with kids with cancer turn out to be anything but a tragedy?

But like I said, the book isn't just a cancer book. It's realistic and thought provoking. Yes, one should prepare their tissues when reading this, but one should also prepare their brain.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

CBR IV # 16 - A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I hated the Invisible Circus. I thought I would love it because of all the hippy 70's stuff, but I truly did not like it. It was so whiny. I only picked this book up because I had heard such good reviews and thought why not give it another try? A few pages in to the book, I thought it would be more of the same. Whiny white women who really have nothing to whine about, when you think about it. But after the first chapter, I started to really get into it.

The book structure.. Going into it, I didn't know what to expect and was initially a bit confused, expecting a more or less conventional narrative like The Invisible Circus. The book is actually thirteen (?) short stories about people who are interconnected. The chapters jump from person to person and from the 70's up to a New York in the near future. Sometimes the connections between the people in the stories are merely passing, a one night stand in one case. In some cases the connection is deep and lifelong. These characters recur throughout the book, and somehow, you get an idea of the arc of their life. Sometimes it takes a little time to orient yourself since the stories aren't chronological, but you end up getting who is who and what happened to whom.

At first, I though it was going to be another whiny white lady book like The Invisible Circus, but I was pleasantly surprised. Egan was very good at writing pretty much horrible people (or maybe just horrible flawed ones) and making them sympathetic. At times they are beaten down by the time and life and you always want them to have some sort of happy ending. It was an interesting read. A bit melancholy, but rightly so.

Monday, March 12, 2012

CBR IV # 15 - Snuff by Chuck Palahiuk

I'm so sorry Chuck, you lost me on this one. I am a huge Chuck Palahniuk fan, but I just couldn't get into this one. It felt very rote and seemed to shock for the sake of shock.

Aging porn star Cassie Wright has set out to break a world record. 600 men in one movie. So 600 men of all sizes and ages wait in the waiting room for their chance to be part of porn history. The story is told through 3 men who are waiting for their turn, referred to by their numbers, 600, 72 and 237, as well as through Cassie's personal assistant Sheila.

Through these characters, we learn how Cassie became a pornstar, that she had a child she had to give away (which she claimed was a boy), what she really plans to achieve (really just a world record) and just random stuff about everything. There is, of course, a sort of twist and the ending is explosive, as per Chuck.

I didn't like the book. I thought it was icky and just pointless. The characters aren't fleshed out and none of them were relateable in any way. I mean, who couldn't relate to the narrator, right? But this one was just full of unlikeable (maybe except for 72) misfits who aren't really that interesting. They are crazy for crazy's sake, for shock value, not to further characterization or plot. The plot itself is pretty thin and just, no. Color me disappointed Chuck. For once, i didn't enjoy what he wrote :(

Monday, March 5, 2012

CBR IV # 14 - Fevre Dream by G.R.R. Martin

After the strain, another vampire novel for me! I have not made a secret my intense love for ASOIAF and naturally, since the next installment is soooo far away, needed another GRR fix.

Abner Marsh is a tugboat captain who has fallen on some hard times. A mysterious stranger, Joshua York, approaches him wanting to invest in his company, but with some very strange and secretive requests. York turns out to be a vampire who needs a boat to unite all vampires for the good of human and vampirekind. They however, run into some trouble when they meet the bloodmaster, Julian, an evil and possible crazy old vampire based in New Orleans.

I'm sorry, I am horrible at summarizing plot. Anyway, holy vegetarian vampire!! Now this here is a true vegetarian vampire. Joshua York is a vampire who grew up amongst humans, and as such, are sympathetic to us. He does not like to kill for blood, and so , he created a potion that suppresses the blood lust that vampires feel. As I said in previous posts, I am very much interested in the mythology that each author makes for the origin and characteristics of their particular brand of vampires. In this case, the vampires were the same, but also very different to the classical vampire. They died by sunlight and fire and drank blood. That is where the similarity ends. For these vampires aren't contagious! They were born vampires and could not make others like them. They were truly a different specie of animals. I think this is the first time that I've read vampires being imagined that way.

Another unique characteristic with these vampires is that they can actually eat and drink normal food. Their bloodlust only comes approximately once every month and it is only then that they feel the very string urge to drink human blood.

I liked the book because at the start, you are never sure if Joshua is really a vampire or not. You don't know if he is good or evil. Like the good Captain, you are also kept in the dark about the real nature of this stranger. I mean, he eats real food!!

The story is long and it spans many years. I like books like these but some might find it tedious. It really focuses on the friendship and trust between Abner and Joshua, two very different men. Hell, they're not even from the same species.

GRR has once again, failed to disappoint.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

CBR IV # 11, 12, 13 - The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuch Hogan

This here is a trilogy by director Guillermo del Tori and co-author Chuck Hogan (whose work I'm not really familiar with). Perhaps because of this, the book is very visual and cinematic. You can really imagine it happening up on the screen and the pacing feels like a good horror/suspense movie.

The first book, The Strain, sets up the situation. An airplane lands at JFK. All the lights are out and everyone is dead. Infectious disease is the first theory and CDC doctor Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather is assigned to the puzzling (and creepy) case. In other places in the city, the players are being prepared for what is to become, by the second book, a full blown epidemic.

By the second book, most of the characters have met and the origin of the vampires are slowly being revealed, mostly through the scholar Abraham Setrakian, who has tangled with the creatures before in his long life.

The third book is the endgame. What was a vampire novel has now turned post apocalyptic. Humans are farmed for blood and our heroes are fast running out of options to destroy the vampire menace.

As I said, the mythology is what I find most interesting about vampire literature. In this case, vampirism has a biological basis. It is parasitic in nature, and contained in capillary worms that can burrow into a human body. Once it is the bloodstream, it changes the host to make it more hospitable, shedding of necessary things such as hair and fingernails and growing a long stinger which is used as a weapon and as a way of extracting blood from the victim.

However, there is also a mystical side to the story wherein there are 7 ancients, the original vampires, whose blood worms seem to have become sentient and can transfer their consciousness to another body when one is destroyed. They can only be completely destroyed by nuking their birth places.

The series is action packed, exciting and a pretty interesting take on vampires.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

CBR IV # 10 - Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

I have to admit that all I know about cooking (which is admittedly not much), I learned from Top Chef. I also have to admit that Top Chef is where I first saw Anthony Bourdain when he guest judged that one season. I got to know him a little better when I watched the Philippines edition of No Reservations, where he came to our tiny island in the middle of the archipelago and ate "THE BEST PIG EVER!" I'm not sure what my point is, but I think its that I didn't really know that much about him except for a few episodes on TV. I knew he was a chef and that's about it.

Kitchen Confidential is about Bourdain's love affair with the restaurant kitchen. Sure, its a dysfuntional, co-dependent love affair, but he loves it. He tells of how he first experienced food and how he fell into cooking. He is very open with the horrible stuff that they do at restaurants, as well as the horrible stuff that he did. His addictions and his rise and fall and rise again in the restaurant industry.

You learn a lot in the book. There are a lot of tips about eating out and cooking in and it gives you a view of how it might work at the back of the kitchen. It really grossed me out a little bit, to be honest. All that talk of sweat and drugs and skin diseases. Ugh. It presents the kitchen staff as a group of misfits and outcasts. Of course, it would be a bit of a mistake, I think to believe that all kitchens are like Bourdain's. Even he acknowledges at the end that he is presenting the kitchen as he knows it. There might be other kinds of experiences in other restaurants. But one thing is for sure. Cooking is NOT for the weak.

But aside from the actual content of the book, it was a good read. Bourdain's voice is funny and acerbic. Sarcastic and self-depreciating. He knows his good and bad sides and isn't afraid to present all of it. He is quite a personality. Now please come back to Cebu so we can eat delicious pig and drink some San Miguel Beer.

Monday, February 20, 2012

CBR IV # 9 A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

I was reading another book when I saw a review on this book by another Cannonballer. I immediately felt the urge to read this book. Morbid curiosity, I guess. It's just so amazing to me that someone lived through that and it's so far from my life (thank Dog!) that I want to know what that's about. I've read Room, of course, but that's from the view point of the kids. And it's fiction.

Anyway, I'm sure most Americans are familiar with this case. Jaycee Dugard disappeared when she was just 11 years old. She was found 18 years later and it was discovered that she was abducted and kept all that time in a backyard complex of a sick, sick man.

There are harrowing details, of course, which have been reported by the media. The constant sexual abuse, the inadequate living conditions, the two girls born in the backyard and so much more. And it's all really bad, but when I read it, like Jaycee, who goes off into her own world when she is being abused, I also seem to go off and make like its fiction. Otherwise, I would be bawling the whole time. But it's not all about the horrible stuff. One is really amazed by the strength, the stubborn survival streak Jaycee has in her. Really, I can't imagine going through something like that and it not breaking me. Jaycee isn't broken, she is looking towards the future with no hate in her heart.

There is a lot of shit on the internet about how she should have ran away, or shouted, or tried to have contact with her mother through the internet. I used to think that a little bit too. When I read the book, I realized, she was just a little girl when she was taken. It wasn't until after years and years of brainwashing, manipulation and abuse that she was given access to the computer or was taken out of the compound at all. I can totally believe how she would believe that there was nothing outside for her.

The book has interludes or reflections she has in the present day as well as journal entries of her time there. It is really interesting how although she was suppressed (she wasn't allowed to say her name), she was still the same deep inside.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

CBR IV # 8 - Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

If one has read as much Isabel Allende as I have, one comes to expect several things from her. There will be a strong woman, usually passionately in love in a dramatic backdrop of war or poverty. There will be a madwoman, a male semi-villain. There will be birthings and tragedies. But despite knowing all these things, I am rarely not sucked into her world.

This book is set in Saint Domingue before it became independent Haite. The primary character is the slave Zarite and from her story flows a turbulent family saga. There is war, rape, incest, love and dancing. The story follows Zarite and her master from Haiti then to Cuba and New Oleans as they escape the slave revolution.

Like all other Allende's, there really is no plot aside from following the growth, the heartaches, loves and happiness of this family and their friends they treat as family. The master is the villain but his villainy is mild. In fact, he better than most slave owners but not good enough to overcome the ideas ingrained in him that slaves are not human.

I enjoyed this particular book much better that the last Allende I read. The characters and interesting and likable, plus I get to learn stuff about Haiti. It is in many ways, typical and expected, but still engrossing and enjoyable.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

CBR IV # 7 - Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

It was hard for me to separate the book from the movie which I loved. Hard also to tell which one I liked more but I think this is one of those rare times that the movie is as good as the book.

Lonely 13 year old Oskar is a Mama's boy. Lonely and bullied by his peers. He doesn't really have any friends. That is, until he meets Eli, his new neighbor. They form a friendship, a bond. But Eli is like no other little girl. In fact, she's not even a girl. Eli is a 200 year old vampire, stuck at 12 year old. She moves in to Oskar's suburban neighborhood with her "handler" Hakan and quickly causes a whole lot of trouble and dead bodies.

The plot of the movie follows the book very closely. But there are some differences, of course. The characters are more fleshed out, their back stories and inner thoughts stated. There is no need for the guessing of motives here, unlike in the movie. Oskar is less likable her, more weird and violent. Many of the ambiguities in the movie is made clearer. Hakan and Ely's past and motivations.

I also liked that the author took the time to follow some minor characters, such as the local drinking group. It made me care much more about them and their tragic lives. One thing that was totally different in the book is that Hakan turns into a gruesome undead monster. This is also one of the things that I like least. It felt so common horror book which the rest of the book definitely was not.

It seems that I could not avoid making this review into a book vs movie comparison. But this I can say about the book, it is good. A worthwhile read even if you've already seen the movie, there are still some surprises and additional details waiting to be discovered. It is also a very good book in its own. Dark and strange. Like its characters.

CBR IV # 6 - Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

I can't stop reading Malcolm Gladwell (I always mistakenly type Malcolm Macdowell.huh.)! But like in the past few books that I read by him, I wasn't so much interested in the big picture, or the theory he is trying to present. I can't quit reading because the anecdotes are so interesting. The experiments and all those interesting people. Its interesting. Maybe it's because of my background in psychology (well, bachelor of arts) that I find it all so interesting.

So this book is about the snap judgements and the power of thinking without thinking. Says so right there on the cover. It talks about how our initial impressions can be very helpful and how we subconsciously perceive things can result to good decisions. There is of course a downside in which we judge instantaneously based on faulty preconceptions. Therefore, we should train ourselves to be able to distinguish which impressions are useful and which are not.

I think that's what it was about. Like I said, I didn't really pay that much attention to the main thesis, just on the individual anecdotes. What struck with me though, was that to be able to get reliable first impressions, or to be able to think without thinking, you need, like all other things, to practice.

CBR IV # 5 - Fugitives and Refugees bu Chuck Palahiuk

I don't really know why I read this, being from a 3rd world country halfway across the globe, I will probable never get to see Portland, Oregon in the flesh. Then I remembered that I read all Palahniuks I can get my hands on.

Fugitives and Refugees is a guidebook to the weird and interesting in Portland Oregon. Not just places but people and events. I guess Palahniuk really calls Portland home and it shines through in the book. It shows how he loves his weir quirky city.

The book is not comprehensive in the sense that we get a whole picture of Portland. It is Portland as Chuck sees it. There are the descriptions of the interesting places, people and events but there are also snapshots of different times in Chuck's life. Lots of weird stuff like eating a lady's fur coat and and the Santa thingie. There are also recipes, which I totally didn't read.

It a slim book, a fast read. It wasn't mindblowing but it was ok. A photo album of a place I will probably never see.

Friday, January 20, 2012

CBR IV # 3 - Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

This is one of two books that I finished on the last week of 2011. I must admit that I only knew of this book because of the movie (which I haven't seen yet). In fact, I thought that it was a new book, and it was only after I had finished the book and searched online did I know that it was actually published in the 60s.

The Wheelers are a young, beautiful suburban couple who seemingly have all. Nice house, cute kids, enough money. Living the American dream. But things aren't going that well in the Wheeler household. The couple were formerly artistic bohemian types, who somehow settled into suburban life. April was an aspiring actress while Frank was a "thinker" or rather a talker. They feel discontented and trapped and fancy themselves different and a cut above all their other mundane neighbors.

But living in suburbia has gotten to them and they feel that they're missing out on life. And worse, that they are turning into the suburbanites they look down on so much. In a desperate attempt to recapture the carefree feel of their relationship before marriage, April suggests they move to Paris. Frank initially scoffs at the idea but is soon sucked in to the plan. However, april gets pregnant and Frank gets a possible promotion, prompting second thoughts on his part. April, increasingly desperate, performs an abortion on herself with disastrous results (can there really be any other result other than disastrous?).

I don't know if it's just me, but the book felt very modern to me, even it it was set in the 50s. Maybe because the emptiness of suburbia is still a very common theme in art even up to now. Now the characters, they certainly weren't likable. And April is so obviously disturbed like needs professional help level. But I could relate. I'm not artsy by any stretch of the imagination but I used to hang out with that crowd, the musicians and artists. So now that I have a family and have fuckin responsibilities and a job, I sometimes feel like I've been left behind. Like I could be doing so much more. Obviously, not as extreme but I'm sure you guys get what I mean.

So yeah, even if they weren't that likable, I get them. I get what they're feeling. And it's tragic. Thank Dog I'm not.