Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “LurkeyTurkey”

LurkeyTurkey, #CBR4 Review #9: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

Full disclosure: I listened to this on audiobook with the incredibly fun and enthusiastic Nadia May narrating.  She sounds like Julie Andrews a la “Mary Poppins,” and I found myself compelled to listen.  So, there might be a bit of a bias because the narrator was so darn good.

London, 1920-ish.  A body is found naked in a bathtub with nothing to identify him but a pince-nez, much to the confusion and chagrin of the house inhabitants.  Scotland Yard is called in, as is amateur detective, the amusing and charismatic Lord Peter Wimsey.  Across town, a wealthy financier is discovered missing!  Is he the body in the tub, or is there more than meets the eye? 

This book is a delightful “whodunit,” and one of my favorite mysteries in the last few years.  The development of the lead characters, namely Lord Peter and his manservant, Bunter, are wonderful characters: funny, intelligent, and believably invested and understanding of each other.  Lord Peter’s mother, the Duchess, is another wonderful addition to the story, as is Charles Parker, Lord Peter’s “partner in crime.”  The interaction between the characters really does make this book a lot of fun, as do the twists and turns along the way.   

All in all, a fairly delicious mystery for a rainy day.  I would highly recommend the audiobook (obviously), as the British accent was a charming change of scene, and more realistic than the ” ‘ALO, guvnor!” accent I always seem to have in my head when reading Brit Lit.  Good fun, all the way around.

LurkeyTurkey #CBR4, Review #7: The President’s Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth

*This book is a sequel to “Blood Oath.” *

Nathaniel Cade is a 140 year-old vampire, who is, wait for it, tied to the President of the United States through a blood oath.  As such, Cade is required to serve whoever sits in that seat of power and protect the United States against all enemies.   He is, of course, a secret to the large majority of the American people, and fights all things “Other” that are trying to destroy the American way of life. 

Cade and his “handler,” Zach Barrows, a snarky, politically-minded human assigned to aid the vampire, are tracking down “Snakeheads,” reptilian villains capable of shredding human beings with their raptor-sharp claws and razor teeth.  These creatures were formerly human, turned by a virus or infection, which is spread via saliva in bites or wounds of their human prey.  These creatures are terrifying, soulless killers with a seemingly insatiable hunger.

As Cade has been around for 140 years, there are many reveals as to the source of the virus, and more importantly, who is pulling the strings to spread it, and why.  Really it is the search for the puppet master that makes this book interesting.   It’s no “Tinker Tailor,” but the narration does oscillate enough between political intrigue to Urban Fantasy enough to keep the pace up, and the story compelling.

The characters are also more than just cut-out action heroes.  This is an improvement over “Blood Oath” in the development of Cade’s character as he seems less robotic, and Zach Barrows is snippy and manages to bungle up enough to keep him lovably dependent on Cade.  Also included in this novel are the actors of the CIA’s arch-nemesis, The Shadow Company, who are great fun in their nefarious plots and schemes.

Overall, this is a fun book worthy of a sunny day on the beach, or a crappy snowy day with a cuppa tea (which is sadly how I read it).

LurkeyTurkey #CBR4 Review #6, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Allow me to start by saying this is a difficult book to review, in part because it is a personal account of how Ms. Chua raised her own children, and in part because I question whether I am reviewing the book or the philosophy. 

Ms. Chua’s highly contentious book reached American media last year, and the stormy debate that followed was fascinating, heated, and described the author as either a demon or a messiah, depending on the viewpoint.  I have to say, for me, she seems to be a little bit of both.

The book centers on Ms. Chua (a first generation Chinese American), her Jewish husband, and her two daughters, Sophie and Lulu.  Ms. Chua was raised in the “traditional” Chinese style: math drills, absolute obedience to her parents, required lessons in music, outstanding scholastic achievement, incredibly high expectations, and no room for failure.  She went to an Ivy League school for both undergrad and grad school, as did 2 of her sisters, and she became a successful lawyer on Wall Street.  She and her husband started a family, and agreed to raise their children in the same manner, though her husband was raised by much more Western philosophies. 

There were some points that were spot on.  Ms. Chua believes that having fun doing something is directly related to being good at that thing.  To become good at it, practice is required, which is not fun.  To become truly excellent at it, a LOT of perfect practice is required.  Eventually, with all this practice, you will be incredible at said thing, and it will eventually become fun.  Math drills, classical piano and violin lessons, etc. will be fun if you are good enough at them.  And anything less than perfection is not an option.  

I will give credit to the author in that she seems to be perfectly candid about her life, and her parenting style.  She discusses the conflict between living in America and raising children in the “Chinese” way.  She discusses the successes and the failures, the family dramas, and her personal demons with a sense of passion and humor.  For these reasons I tip my hat to her.  But she is also a snob.  She looks down on Western parenting, holds playdates and sleepovers in utter contempt, and essentially describes anyone not ascribing to her parenting method as simpering morons.  I think these opinions were the cause for much of the vitriol aimed at her- people felt she was attacking their parenting histories and behaviors, and finding them wanting. 

As to the parenting model itself, I don’t know what to say.  I am not a parent yet, but I can see arguments to be made on both sides.  I believe in teaching work ethic, discipline in the home, and excellence in academics and whatever other interest one pursues.  What I have a fundamental problem with is the product that comes out of a childhood full of math drills, 6-7 hours of piano practice per day, and high pressure to achieve the highest grades on every test.  What kind of adult comes from that environment?  Will they be able to make decisions and adapt to new environments?  Will they be able to think in a non-linear way and be an innovative force?  Will they continue down this path without the constant badgering and hovering of a parent?  I don’t know.  

I’ve read the reports about American students vs. Indian/Chinese/really anyone else, and they terrify me.  I read blogs about ass hat children bitching about how they got a car, but not an iPad2 for Christmas, and it angers me.  But is this the answer?  Or is there a better way to have the best of all these possible worlds? 

I simply don’t know, but I am going to do a lot of thinking before siring any children.  Perhaps this is the best kind of book for that reason- no easy answers, just a lot of hard questions.

LurkeyTurkey #CBR4, Review #5, Reamde by Neal Stephenson

 I would very much encourage you all to become blind when seeing synopses of this book- it will do you no good.  It would be a waste of time to read them, and no matter what you think you will find yourself walking into, it will be wrong.

That being said, let me tell you is this one hell of a good book.  It started in one direction, that being of a character portrait of a well-to-do man in his early fifties, seemingly lost in a fog of rather tenuous connections to emotions and people in his life.  It started as an evaluation of what it is to be an American male, and a Midwesterner, and more specifically, an Iowan.

And then the action began.  And it just didn’t let up for nearly 1000 pages, and not at all in the direction I thought it would.  The plot twists and turns, the development of characters, the interconnectedness of  it all was mind-boggling.  And I don’t have an easily boggled mind.  (Not that I would admit to, in any case.)

This is not a book to be picked up and set aside lightly- it will grab your brain and not let go until it is all over.  I listened to this one on audiobook as well (what? I have a long commute to work on public transit, back off!  It counts, mswas said so.), and the narrator, Malcom Hillgartner, did the author proud.  He enriched the story, and didn’t detract from it, which makes me a very happy girl.

So, bottom line: grab this book.  Don’t be intimidated by its size, just do it.  You’ll be happy that you did.

LurkeyTurkey #CBR4 Review #4: Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

 

“But rituals turn us all into fucking idiots. Like those birds that sleep with their heads facing backwards because their ancestors slept with their heads under their wings. Plutarch says that carrying new wives across thresholds is stupid because we don’t remember that it refers to the rape of the Sabine women-and that’s fucking Plutarch, two thousand years ago. We still draw the Reaper with a scythe. We should draw him driving a John Deere for Archer Daniels Midland.”

If this kind of brutish and hilarious philosophical insight appeals to you, read on.

Dr. Peter Brown works at a shitty hospital in Manhattan as an intern.  He deals with the crackheads, uninsured, apathetic nursing staff, and a pharma reps with equal amounts disdain and black humor.  The first page opens with him as the intended victim of a mugging, and about 7 f-bombs into the first paragraph I was hooked.

Turns out Dr. Brown has something of a chequered past, and it is between his current state persona of Peter, and his former self Pietro that the story oscillates.  And it is one hell of a ride.

I won’t say much more than that, for fear of giving away some of the shocking scenes, but the story involves the Mafia, Witness Protection, amputations, hit men, and more cussing than you can shake a stick at.  All interspersed with an ADD-type stream of social commentary.  It is a delight, and my favorite airplane/train/public transit book of the year.

Chortle with glee, look upon doctors with suspicion, and gasp with horror at the (no, seriously, not for the feint of heart) gruesome violence.  It’s Moxbane/Dexedrine cocktail for which you’ve been searching.

LurkeyTurkey #CBR4 Review #3, The Countess by Rebecca Johns

  (* I “read” this on audiobook, and the narrator decided to use a “Hungarian” accent throughout.  You are getting the review in the same annoying style, free of charge!  No need to thank me.  *)

Vell, vhere to start?  I suppose it vould be best to say this book did not live up to the hype.  I expected a slightly fantastic account of the female version of Vlad the Impaler.  Not the case.  I felt that I vas sold a bill of goods to a certain extent.  I vanted tales of vitchcraft and vampirism.  I got pages and pages of descriptions about dresses, poor choices in lovers, and a voman trapped in political games of the time. 

The story opens in 1611 vith the Countess Erzsébet Báthory being valled into her castle tower by local masons.  She has been accused of the murder of many young vomen in her employ, heralded as a škrata (vitch), and sentenced solitary confinement until her death. 

The novel is told in several flashbacks via a letter to her son, Pal, who is avay at Court for his education.  She begins vith her childhood as the eldest daughter in the Báthory household and describes the betrothal made betveen her parents and another poverful Hungarian family, her vedding to Ferenc Nádasdy (of said family), children, vidowhood, the management of estates as a voman in the sixteenth century, and her eventual condemnation as a vitch.  The politics at play in the Hungarian Court are interesting, as are the alliances she attempts to make through family and relations following the death of her husband. 

As historical fiction it really vasn’t bad.  Sure, there vas a lot of discussion of her dresses and lace collars, but there vas also quite a bit about the running of her estates, her education, and her attempt to empover herself as a vidow in a fairly conniving society. 

The main problem vas I had read all the accounts of her dastardly deeds, and expected some of the more thrilling aspects of those tales.  Sure, she was a horrible human who would beat her household staff into submission, vhitch frequently meant death for those young women, but the stories about her bathing in their blood and other vitchcraft were not addressed.  She is vritten as a sympathetic character who vas villified by society in a pover play for lands and riches. 

If you go in vith the expectations of a voman who had a very interesting life, you vill be fine.  If you are looking for the more dramatic and horrific aspects, you vill be most disappointed.  And vhile I mock the overabundance/lack of subtlety in the actor’s narration of the book, it did make the Hungarian easier to digest, and much more linguistically appealing than I could have done in my head.

LurkeyTurkey #CBR4 Review #2: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

What a fun, frenzied, super nerdy romper room of a book. I picked this one up in the Chicago airport after Patrick Rothfuss (author of “The Kingkiller Chronicle”), recommended it on his blog AND on the dust jacket. And he was dead-on- this book was frakking awesome.

Welcome to 2044.  The world has gone to shyte, resources are scarce, violence is rampant, and most people escape this reality by jacking into OASIS, a Second Life kind of virtual reality containing thousands of worlds, including sci-verses (there’s a Wheedonverse, y’all!) where you can be anything or anyone you want to be.  Steve Jobs James Halliday, the creator and genius behind OASIS, has died, but not before leaving a Willy Wonka-ish easter egg and riddle, which will award the finder his entire $250 billion fortune and ownership of OASIS.   Years have passed, yet no one can seem to crack the code of this puzzle, and thus the great search for the golden ticket has gone a bit cold.

Enter Wade Watt, an orphan obsessed with OASIS and the ability to escape his grim reality.  As a true Halliday devotee, Wade has immersed himself in Halliday’s favorite books, games, music, and comics- all based in the 1980-2005 time period- and the keys to unlocking the puzzle.  He and his friends, none of whom he has met in person, get together to talk about the competition, quote random 80s movies, and sit around playing Asteroids whenever they aren’t in virtual high school.  They are OASIS prodigies, so deeply ingrained in the Halliday lore and culture that the competition is not just an abstract game to them; it is a way of life, a social and support network, and the means of their emotional connection to “the world.”  Wade stumbles upon the first portion of the solution, his name flies to the High Scorers board, and all hell breaks loose, both in OASIS and the real world.  The game, as they say, is afoot!

Enter stage right, the “Sixers,” a corporate army of OASIS players who are Machiavellian and driven by one principle: the ownership and commercialization of OASIS.  These be the bad guys, and make no mistake, they are evil.  Their corporate coffers allow them nearly endless resources and information at their fingertips, and they are gunning for Wade and his friends.  It soon becomes a frantic race to the final easter egg, possession of the fortune, and control of OASIS.

As a nerd from way back, I love the references (no, more than that, the open love letters) to 80-90s culture- it is truly nostalgia porn- featuring D&D, Rush, Voltron, Star Wars, Firefly, Blade Runner, and the list goes on.  It is particularly fun because these characters fully embrace the purest forms of the culture, without the other pesky real-world problems of that era (particularly the Cold War and bad hair).   If you’re not into all the gaming/music/film homage, this book is still a good frolic, but to truly fall into it, harness your inner nerd and get your geek on.

LurkeyTurkey #CBR4 Review #1: The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt

Well, folks, I come out of my Pajiba lurking to join you in CBR4.   Commence public popping of review writing cherry!

The Sisters Brothers is a compelling, gritty, and almost poetically elegant narrative, as told by Eli Sisters, a henchman in the Oregon Territory circa 1850.  The difficult part of this description is not the plot, nor the characterization, but the utterly bewildering sense that I loved the book- I simply HAD to finish it- but could not really explain why. 

Eli Sisters, and his brother/leader, Charlie, are the kind of gunslingers I didn’t see much of on TV.  They aren’t the heart-o’-gold types of cowboys (a la John Wayne), but more the sons-o’-bitches that surely roamed the Wild West.  They are henchmen and killers “owned” by the Commodore, a Big Boss in Oregon City who calls the shots, orders the deaths of folks, and is really just kind of a gold and power-hoarding bastard.  Charlie is the sociopathic lead of this duo: human life isn’t worth much, gold is worth a lot, women are items to be used, and brandy is to be consumed literally ad nauseum.   Eli is more tenderhearted and introspective, though no humanitarian by any stretch. 

Eli has followed his brother into this life of killing almost by default; Charlie is family, so Eli has his back.  Charlie treats him  poorly- they have the older/younger brother relationship that never matured passed puberty- but it is through Charlie’s interaction with Eli that we see the scenes unfold.  The missteps the two go through to track down their latest prey are a combination of adventure, farce, bleak Western sensibility, humor, and mindless violence.  I realize it doesn’t sound like a combination that could ever work, but somehow it does. 

I’ve heard other folks describe this book as a combination of “True Grit” and every possible written work.  For my money, I would say “True Grit” meets “Brothers Bloom.”  It’s an easy book to fall into, love for a night, and wake up confused by the devoted passion of your liaison, but content with your non-trivial, emotionally alarming, and fun romp.

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