Monday, January 03, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends: Cannonball Read II

For some reason, there was a period last April during which I read but didn't really do too many reviews. Additionally, once I got to Iraq, I didn't exactly get around to reviewing all the novels I read. The following are some mini-reviews for books that I read during the CBR II period, but never did full reviews on I'm a bit of a completionist.

Book 102: The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

To be honest, I can't remember this novel all too well - it was definitely a page turner, I enjoyed seeing how all the intrigue fit together, but I also had the final part of the trilogy in my apartment for ages without ever picking it up. "The Bad Thing" was finally resolved though it seemed like it had been built up so much for the one and a half novels that it was actually much tamer than what I'd imagined.

Book 103: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark

I had heard so much about this book that I was nervous I would be the odd one out that didn't like it. It was much more leisurely than I expected. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, it wasn't exactly a page turner per se. By that I simply mean, that it was always pleasant to return to the novel but I wasn't in such a hurry to find out what happened next that I spent all nighters trying to finish it. I also was surprised by how long it took for Jonathan Strange to even appear as a character. While the novel is about magic in England, and presents an alternate history of the world, Clark manages to bring several genres together - it is reminiscent of Jane Austen and her novels of manners that are really about so much more, and Clark certainly has a light touch that makes her characters seem rather absurd on occasion.

Books 104 and 105: Captain's Fury and Princeps' Fury (Books 4&5 of The Codex Alera)

Captain's Fury by Jim Butcher, Princeps' Fury by Jim Butcher

I quite enjoyed these parts of the Codex Alera. Tavi finally discovers the truth behind his parents (i.e. that his aunt is his mother, and he is the heir to the throne), and ends the war between the Alerans and Canim. In fifth book of the series, Tavi travels to Canim with his new allies to help them fight the Vord/see how their country has fared against this threat. While Tavi is there, Alera must fight the Vord in their own land as well with great losses. As usual, Butcher's heroes face impossible circumstances, make strange partners and alliances, and somehow prevail against all odds.

Book 106: In a Perfect World

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

I picked this one up after reading this review (this is another one of those novels I finished back in April/May time frame). In a way, it is tells a very similar story - a new stepmother tries to find her place in her new husband's family. However, it gets more complicated due to a plague that leaves Giselle with only her new children, separated from her husband. She grows as a person, and also gains insights into her husband's interactions with women. The plague and separation may have excelerated certain things, but by the end, he is the least important member of the family even if he was the original connection.

Book 107: Drugs, Sex and Cocoa Puffs

Drugs, Sex and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

As with most essay collections, there were a few in here that were absolutely hilarious, and made the book worth it, and then some filler. The three I still remember were the first one where he discusses Lloyd of Say Anything and how that movie has ruined dating (since I saw Say Anything once but didn't really get the big deal about Llyod, I was amused - I know Llyod has quite a few fans), his essay on playing Sims, and finally, his discussion of soccer vs. Little League philosophies. I'll definitely pick up another one of these when I get around to it, and a friend of mine picked up the collection as well after I told him to check out the Lloyd essay the next time he was at a bookstore.

Book 108: Mockingjay

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

From what I've gathered, reactions to the concluding volume of The Hunger Games trilogy were mixed. Some people, my dad included, felt the first novel of the series was the strongest, and that the final novel had too many scenes that took place too far from the action. While I can understand the frustration of Katniss not being in the middle of the action during the revolution, I feel like it makes sense within the novel and the series. In the whole series, Katniss has found herself being played, and turned into something - a symbol of defiance against the Capitol, the Mockingjay - even during the rebellion, this continues. I definitely disagreed with some of the decisions Katniss made, but for the most part, I enjoyed seeing the political side of a revolution much more than seeing the actual battles. I'm sure everyone has heard about the heartbreaking ending, and it definitely wasn't what I'd been expecting. Both the beginning and the end of the novel demonstrate Katniss in a rather broken state. Absolutely great trilogy, and an example of very well-done young adult fiction.

Book 109: The Vagrants

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

I can't say I enjoyed this novel. I definitely understand why it was acclaimed and won literary prizes, but it was just thoroughly depressing. None of the characters were very likable with the exception of an old married beggar couple. The characters that seem like good people at the beginning have total breakdowns by the end, and I felt such pity for the young country boy whose parents decided to bring him back to the city. This novel takes place after the Cultural Revolution, before Tianmen Square and demonstrates the changing society in China as well as the accompanying confusion. Neighbors, friends and family can't trust each other, and no one quite knows what the future of the country looks like - after all the Cultural Revolution quickly faced backlash, and the novel begins with the execution of a former student leader of the Cultural Revolution. As I said, I understand what the author was trying to say, and given how depressing this novel was, I'd say she succeeded. Still, I don't think I'd recommend this novel to someone casually interested in China and Communism - it's hard to get emotionally invested in many of the characters since they are all so flawed, and really don't seem to be very good people. Even the people that were trying to do the right thing, such as the radio broadcaster, seemed so disconnected from reality and too idealistic for their own good.

1 comment:

denesteak said...

Re: "The Bad Thing" was finally resolved though it seemed like it had been built up so much for the one and a half novels that it was actually much tamer than what I'd imagined.

I only read that first book, and that was exactly how I felt about the whole mystery. (SPOILER FOR ANYONE WHO HASN'T READ IT) You know it's not a good thing when you get to the part about the dad killing woman and raping his own children and you think, "Wait... that's it??" I was just so impatient by the reveal. (END SPOILER)

Needless to say, I did not pick up the other two.