Archive for April, 2011

29
Apr
11

CR3 #35: Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Grave Secret is the fourth book in Charlaine Harris’s “Harper Connelly” series. Harper was struck by lightning when she was young, and now has the ability to not only sense dead bodies, but to know what killed them. She travels with her former stepbrother/current boyfriend Tolliver, going to whatever clients might request her services. In this book, she and Tolliver return to Texas at the behest of a wealthy ranching family. Unfortunately, Harper senses more than she should, and soon she and Tolliver find their lives in danger. Tied up in all this is their blended family, and the mystery of what happened to Harper’s older sister when she vanished eight years ago.

This book is okay, but it’s frankly a little bit blah. The plot often seemed far-fetched, and hardly ever made use of Harper’s “skills” like the previous novels. Also, a lot of the family dynamics seemed to run off into dead ends. The secondary characters were not as well fleshed-out as they could have been, and it seemed like a lot of the book was spent sitting around in various places waiting for things to happen. Although it provided a lot of back story for Harper and Tolliver, a lot of that seemed either unnecessary or repetitious.

Not to mention that the whole “He used to be my brother and now he’s my boyfriend” things is kinda weird. Luckily, the other characters in the book bring that up nearly every other page so no one can forget.

On the whole, I found this fairly disappointing. Since the overarching mystery of Cameron gets solved in this one, I am guessing this may be the final book in the series. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except a true Harris enthusiast.

28
Apr
11

CR3 #34: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline, like The Deathly Hallows, is a children’s book that is actually slightly inappropriate for children. Although the language is simple and clear, the plot itself is a bit disturbing, and would probably have given me some nightmares as a child.

Coraline is a young girl who moves with her parents to a new house. She spends her time exploring, meeting the eccentric people who share the house with them, and vaguely wishing that her parents had more time and energy to spend with her. Then one day she discovers a door to a parallel world, where her “Other parents” want nothing more to dote on her every moment. Unfortunately, there is something about their black button eyes that Coraline finds disturbing. Pretty soon, she is playing a dangerous game that–if lost–could leave her stuck in the parallel world forever.

The book is a simple, quick read, but I really enjoyed the character of Coraline–she is a smart, capable, and pragmatic child who never became too whiny or annoying. The plot moved along at a good pace, and I never felt like it was dragging. The characters–aside from Coraline–were a little two-dimensional, but I realize that since they are all described from her perspective perhaps they’re meant to be a little flat.

On the whole, this is a cute little book, and would be great for middle-school goth girls.

28
Apr
11

CR3 #33: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Man, was that a ride.

It’s tough to write this review without giving spoilers to the six people out there who have yet to read this but are planning to do so. However, I’ll do my best.

This final book in the Harry Potter series is the most dramatic and the most bloody. It’s basically about the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort, with all the other characters taking up arms on one side or the other. Rowling has done a great job of tying together a lot of small points from the previous books which make the revelations in this one feel genuine. None of that “And poof, he was a hamster the whole time!” bull. Nearly everything that happens has its origins in the other books of the series. Plus, the “Battle of Hogwarts” ranks right up there with the battle of Helm’s Deep as far as fantasy battles go, IMO.

This book is also a LOT darker than I was expecting. There is a lot of death in this one, and it gets pretty emotional. Yes, I might have been that near-thirty-year-old you saw riding through Boston on the T during rush hour, bawling her eyes out. I didn’t even realize how attached I was to these characters, but considering this book in itself is massive, and combined with the other six books I’ve been with them for THOUSANDS of pages, I guess it makes sense. Anyway, although this is technically a children’s book, this is NOT for children. I think this is definitely PG-13.

The only thing I disliked (and I find I disliked it strongly) was the epilogue. It seemed to be slapping a neat bow on to the end of a book that had been dark, twisted, and wrenching. It almost felt like the ending of a fan-fiction–nineteen years in the future, the surviving characters gather with their numerous Children With Significant Names to talk about how wonderfully life turned out and how lucky they all are to be alive. Although I was interested in the lives the characters went on to lead, I found the last chapter frankly a little insulting. It was the only real low point to an otherwise gripping book.

Clearly I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who hasn’t read the series. However, for anyone who might have gotten bored at book five and given up, I highly recommend you get books six and seven–they are totally worth it.

21
Apr
11

CR3 #32: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

I have an embarrassing confession to make: I LOVE the Disney version of The Three Musketeers. I love it, even though fully 1/2 of the leads are potentially violent children of Hollywood with multiple arrests and a history of substance abuse. I love it even though the actor playing the main character has all the charm and personality of a mung bean. I love it even though there are endless sword fights and yet no one ever loses a single drop of blood, even after being run through. The whole thing is an adorable fairy tale. I always assumed that it is totally historically inaccurate, and figured that it probably deviated from the plot of the book somewhat, because that is how Disney does things. Little did I know…

The main characters–who are named D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis–meet when D’Artagnan arrives in town and accidentally agrees to a duel with each of the other on the same day. There are international plots and a dark lady involved. The Cardinal Richelieu is very shady.

Here is where the similarities end.

The novel is a complex story full of intrigue, plotting, and murder. It is also a humorous tale of friendship, struggle, and doing almost anything for money. The characters are distinct, though sometimes leaning toward caricature. The plot for the most part moves along, though there are several sections that drag–it’s a tough transition to go from murder plots and kidnappings into three chapters about how the musketeers scammed money to pay for more horses. However, the characters were entertaining enough to keep me reading until the main plot picked up again.

This book was more challenging–on a purely literary note–that most of what I’ve been reading for the past several years. Dumas’s language and sentence structure is decidedly early 19th century, which meant there were passages I had to read more than once to understand–a true rarity for me. It was nice to be reading some “classic literature” though, and as far as that goes, the plot and characters were a lot more fun and relateable than, say, Melville or Hawthorne (IMHO).

I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to read something classic, but has a hard time with some of the more preachy or stately works. This is definitely a rollicking adventure story.

14
Apr
11

CR3 #31: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

I know, I know. I am waaaaay behind on this whole Harry Potter thing. Both my parents have managed to finish the entire series at least once (I’m pretty sure my Dad has read them all half a dozen times) and I am just now getting around to it. I am, like, five years behind the rest of civilization. I KNOW. Here’s how it happened: in the summer of 2003, when I was living by myself, recovering from the departure of The Sacred Cow and The Prancing Prince, I was quite depressed and didn’t leave my house for about two weeks. During that time, my sub-letter loaned me the first five Harry Potter books, which I read over the course of about 3 days. I love the first four, but the fifth? I kind of hated Order of the Phoenix. There was not enough Hogwarts and far too much of Harry’s self-absorbed whinging. I thought about pre-ordering book 6, but then wasn’t sure if I could take another 500 pages of “Booody-hoo, why must I be special? Woe is me, this is all so annoying for ME, the marvelous, talented, and oh-so righteous Harry Potter!” I decided I’d wait. And then…somehow…nearly 8 years passed. The other day, I was flipping through the channels and saw that Half-Blood Prince was available on OnDemand, and I had a sudden desire to watch it. However, I didn’t want to be one of those people who just watches the movie, so I went ahead and ordered the book.

I am so glad I did! I remember now what I enjoyed so much about the first four books in the series. The plot continues without a lot of dragging, and it is interesting to get more of Voldemort’s back story. Another great thing is that Ron and Hermione are back front and center, which is great, as they are my favorite characters. Harry is still self-absorbed, self-righteous, and whiny, but at least he has calmed down somewhat, and also has begun to recognize that behavior in himself. There are many side characters, and nearly all are intriguing, funny, or endearing. Rowling deftly weaves a story of good, evil, betrayal, and intrigue into typical high school hijinks like first girlfriends and sports rivalries. There are some surprising revelations, and from this point on, no character is safe. On the whole, it’s a fun story and I’m glad I finally relented and decided to read it.

Of course, now I MUST get hold of book seven — I went to a bookstore and tried to buy a copy, and they tried to charge me THIRTY-SEVEN DOLLARS for it! I guess I will have to wait for my used copy ($4) to arrive from Amazon before I can find out how the saga ends!

11
Apr
11

CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It’s a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much–the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was–I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend’s suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives–the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their connections to punish the men who have treated them poorly.

The book is much darker than the movie–the husbands are terrible people, but then again so are most of the society people the women meet. The worst is their dead friend Cynthia’s husband Gil, and the wives vow that he will pay for the way he drove Cynthia to her death. He plays a much larger part in the book, and is closely connected with the other three husbands. The wives are all complex characters with their own strengths and flaws. Annie is a reserved housewife, who has spent most the past sixteen years devoted to a daughter with Down’s syndrome. She dreams of being a writer, but gave up her ideals when she married her husband Aaron. Now, Aaron has left Annie to marry her former therapist. Brenda is an Italian-Jewish woman who fills the void in her life with food now that her husband–an appliance salesman and local TV celebrity–has left her for a young gallery owner. Elise, the last member of the group, is an aging actress from a very wealthy family. Her repressive upbringing combines with the difficulties of being an aging woman in Hollywood and the desertion of her husband Bill to lead to drinking and bad choices. All three women realize that beyond taking revenge on their former husbands, they also need to take charge of their own lives.

On the whole I liked the book–the punishments for the husbands were more brutal (though not as creative) as in the movie, but seeing the men getting what they deserved was definitely satisfying. The women were also multi-dimensional, and not just harpies out for revenge. The side characters were definitely amusing–including a gay interior decorator who learned English watching Desi Arnaz, a crusading SEC investigator, a naive paparazzo, and the other eccentric members of New York’s high society–and lent a certain amount of variety to the proceedings. This is definitely “chick lit,” but it’s at least both well-written and not insulting to women of intelligence.

08
Apr
11

CR3 #29: We Who Are Alive and Remain by Marcus Brotherton

This book is a companion piece of sorts to Stephen Ambrose’s incredible work Band of Brothers. Basically, it is the combined recollections of several more soldiers who served in the 101st paratroopers but were not featured in Ambrose’s book. It begins with each man’s background, then moves through his training, into his combat experiences, and finishes with a little bit about their lives after the war. There are also three chapters written by the children of men who passed away before the books were written.

As much as I wanted to like this book, I really was somewhat unimpressed. My lack of interest had little to do with the actual content–each man had some amazing, touching, impressive recollections–and more with how the book was arranged. Each chapter had a section by each man revolving around a particular topic, like training, or a specific campaign of the war. For example, the chapter on training was particularly confusing, since it spanned nearly two years–most of these men were replacement soldiers, so they did not train at the same time or in the same places. The author did not tie the stories together, but simply organized them exactly as the men told them. There is no real context or objective fact, since it is solely the subjective views of a small group of soldiers. Another issue is the chapters written by the deceased soldiers’ families–it’s nice to hear how great their fathers were, but since none of the men had been particularly forthcoming (if at all) about their war experiences, those chapters–while touching–are basically “my father was a great man who didn’t like to talk about the war.”

Although it might be considered unfair to compare this work to Band of Brothers, I find it perfectly reasonable, since it was written as a reaction. One of the main problems is that while some of the soldiers vehemently disagree on the way some incidents were portrayed in the original book and mini-series (for instance there is much debate on whether drill instructor Sobel was the unstable martinet he was portrayed as by Ambrose), there are no facts or evidence, only personal opinions. Ambrose’s book combines the men’s memories with solid research, which lends him more credibility.

On the positive side, the men interviewed by Brotherton are all very interesting people, and they have some great stories to tell. There are many humorous anecdotes, including untold stories about the men featured in Band of Brothers. There are also some very poignant sections, including the reactions of the men who had a hand in liberating concentration camps. In my opinion, the author’s work interviewing these veterans is amazing–they all have such interesting views, and I’m glad the time was taken to record their stories. The content in the book is definitely interesting and worth reading, but it is just sorely lacking as far as broader context is concerned. Only someone who already knows WW2 history will be able to follow a lot of the events.

This is not a bad book for those who really enjoyed Band of Brothers and are interested in hearing about those events from a slightly different perspective. However, it is a very poor stand-alone book, since it is lacking in facts and context as well as making constant references to Ambrose’s superior work.