Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “thefatling”

TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #18: America Pacifica by Anna North

I really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately, author Anna North made that pretty difficult.

Set in a near-future dystopia, the story follows Darcy, a first-generation native of America Pacifica, the island where survivors of a sweeping North American Ice Age have decamped in an attempt to rebuild society.  Unfortunately, their founder’s plan to build out the island’s square footage with landfill and power creature comforts with an all-purpose fuel called solvent has resulted in staggering, widespread poverty for most of the population.  Darcy and her mother, Sarah, eke out a sad existence in a squalid apartment in a world where even a shower costs two dollars.

Scarred by mysterious events in her past, Sarah has sequestered her daughter in a world not much bigger than their shared home and severely curtailed her relationships.  Sarah is Darcy’s whole world, and when Sarah disappears, Darcy sets out on a journey to find her, uncovering America Pacifica’s seedy underbelly and her own inner resolve, blah blah zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #16: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I didn’t like The Year of the Flood quite as much as I liked Oryx and Crake, but it’s an excellent second book for Atwood’s Maddadam trilogy (she’s writing the third right now, as she informed CBR and myself on Twitter.  Swoon).  I do appreciate that rather than a straight sequel, Atwood chose to tell stories that run concurrent with the events of Oryx and Crake.  This time there are two POV characters: Toby, a reluctant member of the God’s Gardeners faith/ecoactivist group, and Ren, and exotic dancer who grew up in the same God’s Gardener group that Toby belonged to.  The action here takes place largely in the near-future pleeblands, economically depressed communities that buttress North America’s hermetically sealed “compounds” reserved for the rich and their scientific research teams.

Both Crake/Glenn and Snowman/Jimmy from the first novel show up periodically throughout the story, but this one belongs to the women.  Atwood expands on the themes of desensitizing sexual commodification she broached in Oryx and Crake by exploring Toby’s victimization at the hands of a sadistic employer and the way the specter of her rape impacts her life.  Saddled with a pretty horrific mother who joined the God’s Gardeners to be with her lover, Ren grows into adulthood with a split consciousness—aware of the material excesses of her world, and yet disconnected from the faith that more or less raised her.  Atwood handles the idea of sexual victimization gently and with pathos—there are no squicky, highly detailed rape scenes that could be confused with titillation, and when Ren chooses to become a trapeze dancer at a high-end sex club, neither she nor Atwood think she has anything to apologize for.

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TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #15: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

I’m going to wax philosophical here.  This wasn’t my favorite Atwood book (it was really just a stopgap solution while I waited for The Year of the Flood to arrive at my library), but I so enjoyed the experience of reading it that my lack of enthusiasm for the content didn’t negatively affect my overall view of the book.

In part, it’s just an extension of my lifelong obsession with words.  As a kid, I’d read pretty much anything that was within reach.  I’ve become a bit more discerning as I’ve gotten older, but in general, the rule still stands that if it can be read, I will read it.

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TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #14: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood, despite the fact that I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin.  It’s rare to come across a writer who can build worlds and characters equally well, and her lyrical writing style is absolutely gorgeous.  Every time I read one of Atwood’s novels, I am deeply affected, and Oryx and Crake is no exception.

Set in the post-apocalyptic near future, narrator Snowman eases the reader into the new normal—salvaging for food, water, and shelter in the absence of other humans, with only the strange, alien Children of Crake for company.  In flashbacks, Snowman recalls how the world came to be in its present state, going back to his childhood as “Jimmy,” his close friendship with scientific wunderkind Crake, and their mutual obsession with a young girl they once spotted on a pornographic website.  Atwood does a really admirable job of extrapolating the online entertainment and technology of the early aughts (when the book was written) into a nasty, amoral web of consumer exploitation that consumes the entirety of North America (and, we are to understand, the world at large).

I ripped through this book in about four hours total.  It’s a really compelling read, and Atwood manages to keep the tension in both the past and present storylines ratcheted up high throughout, and Snowman’s overall arc is very well done.  He changes gradually and without self-awareness, which is very refreshing.  I also really liked Atwood’s handling of a male protagonist, since I’ve only read her female protagonists.  Her voice is believable as a man’s, but is also a unique take on the male perspective.  I’m really looking forward to reading Atwood’s 2009 followup, The Year of the Flood, as soon as I can get my hands on it.

TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #10 #11 #12 #13: The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman/John Ney Reiber*

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My Vertigo tarot deck recently reminded me that I’d been meaning to read The Books of Magic for quite some time (due to some BoM artwork on the cards, my tarot isn’t actually psychic or anything).  I’m only four volumes in, and apparently my local library doesn’t have the fifth book.  I’m really on the fence about continuing with the series.  It hasn’t held up anywhere near the standard of Gaiman’s Sandman series, either in story or artwork, and I’m not willing to spend money on the next book in the series.

The Books of Magic follows Tim Hunter, a bespectacled young boy who lives with his negligent father.  His mother died in a car accident years before, and the accident appears to have been caused by his father, who drinks and watches television to avoid dealing with life.  One day, Tim is visited by a mysterious foursome–John Constantine, the Stranger, Dr. Occult, and Mr. E–who tell him that he has a lot of magical potential.  They take him on a journey through time, space, and magical history, ostensibly to allow him to choose an ordinary life or a life of magic, though of course he chose a life of magic by agreeing to the tour.  The first volume’s artwork is beautiful, but the story is labyrinthine and slight when all is said and done.

The second volume, Bindings, sees John Ney Reiber taking over for Gaiman in the story department, and the difference is clear.  This is easily the worst of the series so far, involving a convoluted paternity dispute as an excuse to spend time with Death, Gaiman’s most famous creation.  It doesn’t help that in both the first and second volumes, Tim is as petulant and whiny as Order of the Phoenix-era Harry Potter–and I’m not just saying that because both boys have spectacles and pet owls.  He’s still unpleasant in the other collections, but in these two, he’s pretty unbearable.

Summonings, the third volume, is a marked improvement, with the introduction of Molly, Tim’s once and future love interest, a steampunk villain, and a charming succubus named Leah.  Things take a turn for the confusing in Reckonings, the fourth volume, wherein an adult Tim’s dealings with a cynical demon named Barbatos have consequences that reach back through space and time to affect present-day Tim and Molly.

Tim doesn’t appear to actually be going through any magical training, forced to muddle through and learn by trial and error, which is actually an interesting concept.  Unfortunately, the series’ heavy-handed moralizing and confusing timeline haven’t really paid off for me.  I’m invested just enough to be curious about how everything ultimately hangs together, but it looks like the collected volumes don’t actually include the conclusion of the story.  If I happen to find a cheap copy of the next volume, I’ll probably read on, but otherwise I’m sure I’ll manage not knowing what Tim Hunter’s future holds.

*I didn’t include all the artists in my title because it would be super-long, but here are their names:

John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, Paul Johnson, John Ridgeway, Peter Gross, Peter Snejbejerg, Gary Amaro, Dick Giordano.

The Fatling’s #CBR4 Review #8 Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling

I’ve read a few books by female comedians over the years, and Mindy Kaling’s is by far my favorite.  It’s breezy and fun, assertive without feeling hyperdefensive, and a fascinating look at Kaling’s path to becoming a writer for The Office.

Kaling also owns her femininity, which is refreshing, since many female comedy memoirists seem to classify it as a burden or annoyance.  There are the obligatory chapters chronicling Kaling’s obligatory struggle with body image, weight loss, and self-esteem, but she delves in deep rather than tossing them off with a sentence or two.

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The Fatling’s #CBR4 Review #5 The Shooting Party by Isabel Colgate

This book was 100% awful.  At only 197 pages, I assumed it would be a breeze to read, only to find myself mired in a swamp of pronouns without antecedents, two-dimensional characters not even a mother could love, and the dullest plot known to man.  I’m pretty sure it took me three weeks to finish because I could never find any sort of emotional hook to keep me interested.

Isabel Colgate’s The Shooting Party takes place at a shooting party (I know, you’re shocked) on a country estate in Oxfordshire, England during the height of the Edwardian era.  Since my husband and I host a weekly podcast covering Downton Abbey, I figured reading this book might give me more insight into the time period.

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TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #7: Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce

Tamora Pierce does a lovely job here of tying up her Trickster duet.  Duchess Winnamine Balitang, recently widowed, returns to Rajmuat from exile in Tanair with her children Petranne and Elsren, and her stepdaughters Saraiyu and Dovasary.  Also with them is the clever Aly Homewood, charged by the raka god Kyprioth to keep the children alive through the winter, and now promoted from lowly maid to the household’s spymaster.  The household is filled with conspirators working to bring about the overthrow of the luarin regents who rule the Copper Isles

The former crow Nawat has been courting Aly all through the winter, but feels that she doesn’t respect him as a man, and so leaves the capital city to assist in raka revolts on some of the far-flung islands.  Aly works tirelessly with her network of spies to weaken the regents, Prince Rubiyanan and Princess Imajane, with rumor and destabilization of their own spy network.

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TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #6: A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

This was an incredibly tough read.  For some reason, when I pulled A Stolen Life off the shelf at my local library, I subconsciously classified this book with other ghostwritten celebrity memoirs—easy, People magazine four-star review stuff over which I could maintain a certain superior aloofness.

Wrong.  Dead wrong.  I’m ashamed to admit I equated this remarkable book with its trivial, lightweight peers.

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TheFatling’s #CBR4 Review #4: Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce

Trickster’s Choice is an excellent YA fantasy book, and I recommend it very highly.

The story is the first of Tamora Pierce’s Trickster duo and follows sixteen-year-old Aly, whose mother is a famous knight and King’s Champion, while her father is a thief-turned King’s Spymaster.  Though her father has trained her in the art of spycraft, he refuses to allow Aly to join him as an agent due to the dangers inherent to a life of espionage.

Following a spat with her mother, Aly sails away from her home of Pirate’s Swoop in Tortall, but is captured, enslaved, and sold to a noble family in the Copper Isles, a neighboring nation whose native, dark-skinned population (raka) was overthrown by light-skinned intruders (luarin) nearly three centuries ago.  Aly learns that tensions still run high among the two factions, and is herself drawn into the conflict by the Copper Isles’ trickster god, Kyprioth.

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