17
Sep
13

CBR5 #5: Constable for Life: Chronicles of a Canadian Mountie by Chuck Bertrand

This is a charming little book that The Boyfriend picked up for me while on a business trip to Vancouver. He apparently stumbled upon the author doing a signing, and managed to get a signed copy with a nice dedication for me.

Chuck Bertrand’s voice is pleasant, and he tells stories from his career in the RCMP that vary from humorous to heartbreaking. I really enjoyed this, and felt that Bertrand seems to be the kind of law enforcement officer that everyone hopes for–dedicated to protecting and serving, but with a healthy of dose of humor and common sense.

Although not to everyone’s taste, I found this a quick and sweet read.

20
Mar
13

CBR5 #4: The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

Aaaaand we’re back to horror stories.

 Bet you didn’t see that coming, huh?

The House Next Door is the tale of Colquitt Kennedy and her husband Walter, a very WASPy, fairly average couple. They live in an upscale neighborhood in the South, the kind of place where everyone knows each other, and most know one another’s business, though they’re usually too polite to mention it. One day, someone buys the long-empty lot next to the Kennedys and begins to build a new house. As you may have inferred from the title of the book, the house has some issues.

 This isn’t really a gory tale–there are no madmen with chainsaws or bleeding walls or be-tentacled monstrosities. Saw IV it is not. This is a story of anticipation, anxiety, fear, and destruction. Colquitt figures out pretty quickly that something isn’t right, then must struggle for the length of the book to decide what she might be able to do about it, if anything.

 I’m a little torn about this book. On one hand, there is a lot of great description, the main character’s voice is really likable, and there are some genuinely spooky bits–I was annoyed every time I had to put the book down. On the other hand, there were also a few things that I really didn’t like. First, there was a bit too much resistance from the secondary characters. It’s a common flaw in horror books–the scientist insisting that zombies can’t possibly exist as one shambles up behind her, the man is telling the curiously pale fellow who never shows his teeth when he smiles that vampires are an old wives’ tale–but there comes a point where you just want the supporting characters to GET ON BOARD ALREADY AND LET’S MOVE ON! The other thing I didn’t really like was that although there was some vague hint at the end of the book about the source of the trouble, it wasn’t really explained. Some people like that vagueness, since it allows them to fill in their own explanations. I don’t. One of my favorite parts of horror books is when the characters do the research and figure out exactly what’s happening, and that didn’t really occur here.

 On the whole, this book was still more good than bad, and it’s a great atmospheric horror story.

13
Feb
13

CBR5 #3: Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts

I wanted to like this book. I really did. In my attempts to read things that are not all dripping gore and supernatural monsters, I picked out a nice little selection from Oprah’s book club. I figured that the story sounded slightly intriguing, and the reviews seemed pretty good.

 By the time I got half-way through, I was praying that a zombie horde would crash through town, eating nearly all the characters and laying waste to the country-side. Sadly, that did not happen.

 Novalee Nation is seventeen years old and seven months pregnant when the novel opens, traveling west with her boyfriend Willy-Jack. They stop at a Wal-Mart in a small town in Oklahoma, and while Novalee is in the bathroom, Willy-Jack drives away. So what does Novalee decide to do? The only thing she can do–move into the Wal-Mart! She meets some quirkly, lovable small-town residents who eventually become her friends. The book covers several years of her life, and all the wonderful, valuable lessons she learns about friendship and love and strength and independence. A few serious and/or sad things happen, but mostly they flash by quickly and are basically forgotten shortly after they’re revealed. Then the book has the audacity not to tie everything together in a neat bow at the end. Really, you’re going to lead me prancing through every cliche in the chick-lit genre, and then not bother to at least satisfy me with the traditional happy-ever-after cliche? That just seems mean and unnecessary.

 Novalee has a voice very similar to that of Sookie Stackhouse, though Sookie (while not especially bright) seems like a Fulbright scholar compared to Novalee. I get the whole “simple southern girl” thing, but there are several occasions when Novalee is just plain stupid. Poor and southern does not equal stupid, dammit. I did like a few of the supporting characters, though most of them were basically animated caricatures. Friend who is always dieting, and always getting knocked up and then abandoned! Noble elderly black man who points Novalee on the path to her future! Feisty grandma figure! I actually would have liked to a see a lot more of those characters, and find out what made them tick, instead of focusing on how they served Novalee’s life. But no! And periodically,without warning, we drop in on Willy-Jack (a character I could happily have left in chapter one, never to be seen again) just to see how life is gut-punching him as a karmic punishment for the way he treated Novalee.

I hope Wal-Mart paid the author a nice chunk of change for all the favorable product placement. The Wal-Mart in my home town would not be nearly as friendly as this fictional one (also, it’d be hard to live in because where I’m from, Wal-Mart doesn’t close at night.)

 And the damn woman names her daughter Americus. Americus Nation. I almost through the book across the bus at that point, but I didn’t because those other bus passengers didn’t deserve to be punished for a fictional character’s poor decisions.

 Once again, I wish I could like this. It’s not an offensive book. It’s just good-heartedly dumb. I’ll probably watch the movie if I see it available on Netflix Streaming or OnDemand because I am a glutton for punishment.

25
Jan
13

CBR5 #2: The World According to Garp by John Irving

While my obsession with horror books is not over (sorry Mum!) there will be a brief respite from them for a while.

 

The World According to Garp is the story of T. S. Garp. It begins with the life of his mother Jenny Fields, and the way that she became a feminist icon, and continues to follow Garp’s life through the twists and turns of becoming a husband, father, writer, and unwilling icon in his own right. I thought I might like this, since I fell in love with Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire, but instead it was a struggle just to finish it. I hated dogmatic matron Jenny Fields. I hated whiny, indecisive, anxiety-ridden Garp. I hated Garp’s puling, dissatisfied wife Helen. I hated the Ellen Jamesians (a group of women who cut their own tongues out to represent the struggle of young rape victim Ellen James). I did like Ellen James herself (partly due to her own hatred of the Ellen Jamesians), though my favorite character was Garp’s friend Roberta Muldoon, transgendered former football player.

In general, I felt like the book dragged on forever, detailing the often melodramatic lives of a bunch of people I didn’t like. Unlike Hotel New Hampshire, which I wished were a thousand pages longer, I kept looking at Garp and thinking “Still? There are still SO MANY pages left?” The parts I liked the most were the bits of Garp’s “writing,” and his short story about the family who travel the world rating hotels brought a flicker of recognition and enjoyment (the family might as well have been the Berrys, though instead of running hotels they visit them) it all went back to Garp eventually. Unfortunately.

I suspect that this is one of those books that people either love or hate. I’m sure there are a lot of people who adore it–several of my friends seem to be quite fond of it–but it left me completely cold.

16
Jan
13

CBR5 #1: Jane Slayre by Sherri Browning Erwin (with Charlotte Bronte)

It’s a new year and time for a new Cannonball Read! I didn’t manage to finish last year–I got SO CLOSE and then somehow pooped out at the end–but I am getting back on the horse to try and complete all 52 reviews this year. For any of you who might be interested, learn about the CBR here. Although I haven’t always been successful, the CBR is a great motivator to keep making blog entries. If my tags are to be believed, I have written reviews for 261 books since I started, which is not too shabby.

Anyway, enough with that and on to the first review!

I must first say that I really like the original Jane Eyre. It’s a great story with an original and interesting heroine who was waaaay ahead of her time.

That said, the story is distinctly lacking in vampires.

Sherri Browning Erwin has solved that minor problem in Jane Slayre. Now, instead of just being terrible people, her aunt and cousins are vampires! And the school she goes to isn’t just miserable and run by a cold-hearted Christian fundamentalist–it’s also crawling with zombies! And let’s not even discuss what Mr. Rochester has got hiding in his attic!

Although this could have become rather stupid, it was actually pretty well done. The horror elements were layered on to the original tale without overwhelming it. It was a bit like a hidden picture puzzle for me, watching where the elements of Bronte’s story were woven in, and trying to predict how they would effect the story of the unloved-orphan-turned-vampire-slayer.

For purists, this is probably a book to avoid. Mind you, I don’t think Jane Eyre attracts the same ravening fanboy following as–for example–Lord of the Rings. I’m sure there’s people out there who might find the way Erwin has changed the story offensive. If you’re one of those people…don’t read it. You won’t like it, and no one wants to hear you complain. If you are a person who can see the humor in the idea, and are willing to put aside the idea that this is a corruption of “lit-ra-toor,” then you might just enjoy this.

30
Dec
12

CBR4 #47: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

I’m not sure why it surprised me to find out that the guy who is responsible for Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is a graduate of my alma mater. To be honest, it actually makes perfect sense–that kind of weirdness is one of Emerson’s keystones. In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the author once again turns preconcieved notions on their ears.

This story is about a side of our sixteenth president that is rarely spoken of: his lifelong quest to hunt and destroy vampires. Beginning as a child when a vampire killed his beloved mother, young Abraham trains for what he sees as his life’s purpose: to be a hunter of the undead. He joins up with a moral vampire, who helps him reach his potential and seek out the most ruthless bloodsuckers to slay. He also begins his political career, starting his rise toward the highest office in the land.

In AL:VH, Grahame-Smith takes on a more difficult task. Instead of inserting new things into a pre-existing work, he’s written something entirely new. However, it’s clear that he’s also done some extensive research into the life of Abraham Lincoln. Excluding the vampirey bits, the context surrounding the story is all correct, as far as I know.

It’s an interesting lens through which to view a man who was in real life a hero. The story is well-written, and the character of Lincoln is extremely empathetic.

I haven’t had a chance to see the movie of this yet, though I suspect I’ll probably be disappointed. (I much prefer seeing a movie first, and then discovering the book–it tends to improve on a good experience, rather than make an initially good experience a let-down.)

Last but not least, if what I’ve read of him and his sense of humor is true, I think Abraham Lincoln probably would have found this book just as entertaining as I did.

30
Dec
12

CBR4 #46: The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

There are some books that I read and by the time I’m finished with the final page, the tale is already slipping out of my head. I intellectually know I read it, and if prompted I could probably give a reasonable summary of the action, but that’s about as far as it goes. Then there are other books that stick with me. Books that I find myself thinking about days, weeks, months, or even years later. Books whose characters become like old friends, about whom I find myself thinking at the oddest times.

The Hotel New Hampshire falls into the latter category.

It’s the story of the Berry family, a group of odd ducks led by patriarch Win. Win is a dreamer, who leads his family on an epic journey from rural New Hampshire, to Vienna, to New York City, and back again. The family consists of Win, his wife, his father Iowa Bob (football coach and weight-lifting enthusiast), eldest son Frank (lover of uniforms), spitfire Franny, narrator John (who is in love with his sister), gentle soul Lily, oddball Egg, and flatulent dog Sorrow. They have experiences both comic and tragic, meet a cast of bizarre, fantastical characters, and grow together as a family.

This is the kind of story that makes me wish it were a million pages long so I could know everything that ever happened to the Berrys. Even after I finished it, I found myself thinking of them, imagining the things that occurred outside the edges of the novel. The writing was wonderful, and I loved Irving’s turn of phrase. John’s narrative voice is distinct and likable, even if some of the things he does are disturbing at best.

I managed to find a copy of the 1984 film starring Rob Lowe as John and Jodie Foster as Franny. While it was fairly faithful to the source material, the tone seemed wrong, somehow. It seemed like the director couldn’t decide if it was a broad comedy or a drama or a fairy tale or a mix of genres. I think it would be a great project for Wes Anderson to take on, actually. The Berrys are like a New England version of the Tenenbaums, and Anderson is a master of mixing tones and genres. While it’s maybe a little different than his usual work, I think he could really pull it off. Besides, it’d be nice for him to stretch himself a bit–his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, was disappointing to me in that it felt extremely repetitive and altogether too reminiscent of his earlier works.

On the whole, I’d highly recommend this, though I suspect it may not appeal to everyone–it requires a certain whimsical world view, and an acceptance of some of the wilder aspects of the story.




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