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.