Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the category “4 stars – a great book”

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #47 – A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

Book 4 – the War of the Kings is pretty much over, since pretty much all the “kings” are dead. Stannis is still alive, but he’s gone North to help out Jon Snow, the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.  He’s made it back from north of the Wall, without most of his troops, who were decimated by the White Walkers (who aren’t very nice).

Our main characters are scattered all over Westeros and the East, everyone running away from or after pretty much everyone else. Most people want to kill the other ones, even some of the ones that are already dead (after a fashion). This is the book where I started to really lose track of everyone – not only because everyone was so scattered, but because Martin keeps adding more and more characters. He may have deleted some (I won’t say killed, see above), but it’s not a case of 1-out, 1-in here. In fact, some thought to be long dead may be alive, and may be making their way back to Westeros.

See? It hardly makes sense, and yet it’s still freaking compelling storytelling.

 

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Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #46 – A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

Oh lordy, these books just keep getting longer and more complicated. I know there are lists of the whos and the whats in the back of each book, but even that runs into dozens of pages and there’s really no way to keep track. I have no idea how Martin does it. Or if he does it.

The war of the kings is still going on, although there aren’t as many kings as there were at the start. The civil war is destroying the whole country, but none of the “kings” seems to give a crap. Mance Rayder is in the North, and “the king beyond the wall,” so I guess that’s one more king. Oh, and Daenerys is trying to work her way back to Westeros and claim her crown. Seriously, what’s so special about this place that everyone wants to rule it?

Jamie Lannister was a captive of the Starks, and Catelyn strikes a deal to trade him for her daughters. That doesn’t sit well with her son Rob, as well as a bunch of other people. Regardless, Jamie heads toward King’s Landing in the custody of Brienne of Tarth. He’s not great company, but as they travel, they come to grudgingly respect each other. And there’s so much more. There’s the Brotherhood Without Banners, which gets interesting later. There’s Harrenhal, which is awful. Oh, and there’s the Red Wedding.

This book marked a massive turning point in the series. It was already clear that Martin has no mercy – not for women, children, or noble people. I was so pissed when it ended, for a number of reasons. But, of course, there was the next book.

 

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #45 – A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Oh yes, the kings, they do clash. Not just Robert’s son Joffrey (don’t get me started) and Ned Stark’s son Rob. Oh no.  There are Robert’s brothers: Stannis, the rigid, conservative, weirdo who rules some islands or something; and Renly, whose claim to the throne makes no sense at all. Oh, and then there’s Balon Greyjoy, some random who rules some other islands.  His son Theon was raised (hostaged?) by Ned Stark after Ned and Robert squished Balon’s rebellion.

And let’s not forget Daenerys Targaryen, recently widowed and the mother of three baby dragons (just go with it). And the guys at the wall in the North (the last thing beyond civilization and whatever scary things are up there) head over the wall to deal with the scary wildlings and whatnot.

After Ned is murdered, his elder daughter (Sansa) is pretty much trapped with the Lannisters, and his younger daughter Arya escaped with the help of a Night’s Watch man and pretending to be a boy. Ned’s widow Catelyn gets involved in the war, and trying to work some diplomacy between all the putative kings. That doesn’t work out, and she ends up on the run with Brienne, a really big chick.  Theon Greyjoy turns against the Starks and takes Winterfell, mostly because his sister is more a man than he is.

Anyway, when this book ends, Stannis tries to take King’s Landing, but is outsmarted by Tyrion Lannister and most of his army (navy) is wiped out (again, Tyrion kicks ass, and is totally shit on by everyone but Jamie and kinda Sansa). Daenerys wanders the desert and then burns the shit out of Quarth, Jon Snow goes undercover, and I’m sure there’s a bunch more stuff.  I think I’m going to have to re-read all of these before the next book comes out.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #44 – A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Oh boy, where to start?  This epic saga is epic and sagacious (yeah, I know, just humour me).  We’ve got the Starks in the North, with Ned and the gang being all kinds of noble and cool, including his bastard (his?) John Snow.  Ned’s friends with the king of all the lands, fatass Robert, who’s married to a not-nice lady named Cersei, who’s fucking her twin Jaime. All of the king’s kids are actually Jaime’s, but no one seems to notice or care that they look nothing like him.

Ned gets dragged to work for the king, and brings his daughters with him for some ridiculous reason. Ned’s not stupid, but he’s so freaking honest and noble that it makes him do so very many stupid things. His elder daughter is a vapid tween who cares for nothing but boys and clothes (and is betrothed to the heir apparent, little bitch Joffrey); his other daughter is a total badass who knows which end of a sword to stick people with. Oh, and I almost forgot Tyrion Lannister. What was I thinking? One of the best characters across literature, not just this genre stuff.  I also almost forgot about the Targaryens, brother and sister who may or may not be heir to the throne of Westeros. She gets basically sold to a barbarian by her nasty brother (seems like a lot of the royals in this series are a bunch of loonies). Long horse rides and dragons may be involved.

There is no way to encompass everything that happens in this book (and the subsequent books) – no. freaking. way. That’s why it’s taking Martin so long to write these bastards. One thing that I like, that I’m sure makes his job easier, is that each chapter is written from a different character’s point of view.  I think he could work on a character, figure out his/her through-line, and write a good chunk of the book without having to worry about continuity. At least that’s how I’d approach it.

Anyway, this book ends with Ned’s beheading; civil war; stuff at the wall up North (long story, scary stuff up north, maybe the end of civilization, all kinds of crap); dragons being born; things in the Aerie; and with Ned’s son being declared “King in the North.” I’m just glad that I found this series way after the first 5 books had been published, because I needed to dive right into the next one.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #87 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick

I am almost ashamed to admit that this is the first Philip K Dick book that I’ve read.  I’d always meant to read him, but somehow or another had never gotten around to it.  And then, I decided to make a project out of reading The City & The City and New York Trilogy by reading a lot of crime novels and somehow that extended to reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  (And then, because I’m nothing if not thorough, watching all three available versions of Blade Runner, which is, of course, based on this book.)

I found this book unputdownable.  It was heartbreaking, intelligent and mysterious (unlike so many science fiction writers, Dick spares his readers long-winded explanations on Why Things Are This Way or How Things Work).  Although both the book and the movie had a haunting quality, I found Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep stayed with me more.  The addition of the Mercerism subplot and the complex feelings the characters in this world feel towards animals really made an impression on me.  There’s something really heartbreaking about Deckard’s yearning for a real animal to take care of in place of his electric sheep.  Both Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep question what makes a human real, but the book is able to explore these ideas in more depth.  I loved it.  I can’t wait to read more.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #86 Dial H (issues 1-6) by China Miéville

Right now DC Comics is revamping their entire line of comic book series as the New 52.  Of course, when they tapped China Miéville this project, he took on a series I’d never even heard of: Dial H for Hero.  In Dial H, Nelson, an ordinary, over-weight man, sees a friend being beaten by thugs in an alley and uses an old phone booth to call for help.  After dialing h, Nelson is turned into Boy Chimney and uses his superhero powers to defeat the thugs and get his friend to hospital.  Once he has returned to himself, Nelson is fascinated by the mystery of the dial and returns many times to use the old phone booth, each time being transformed into a random superhero for a short period of time.  Much of the fun of this series is just how very random each superhero is.  Miéville obviously had a lot of fun creating them.  Along the way, Miéville uses the random transformations to comment on superheroes.  An entire issue is devoted to just how racist and sexist superhero costumes can be, and Nelson begins to have problems keeping track of himself amid the superhero personalities he momentarily possesses.

The first six issues of Dial H (available in trade paperback form as Dial H, Vol. 1: Into You) are a delightful, hilarious, entertaining and thought-provoking romp.  I can’t wait to read more in the series.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #85 The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

I read The Metamorphosis in one sitting.  I did this not just because it’s short (a novella rather than a novel), because I literally couldn’t put it down.  It is such an astonishing work of fiction that I feel completely unequal to the task of writing about it.  We all know the scenario of the Metamorphosis even if we haven’t read it.  Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover that he has become a large, verminous bug.  (According to Wikipedia, he is not a cockroach, as I once thought, because he has the wrong number of legs.)  I read this novella in high school and I remembered being delighted with it then, and being surprised at how laugh out loud funny it was in moments.  On revisiting the book, I was astonished and entranced by how Kafka grounds his surreal concept in the utmost reality.  Samsa’s situation is described with an immediacy with an awareness of the physical realities of what it would be like to be a giant bug, that are extraordinary.  In classic tales of metamorphosis, one never is concerned with the practical problems of sudden transformation, we never really find out what it’s like for Arachne to be transformed into a spider.  But Samsa is not a larger than life mortal who dares to challenge the gods.  He is an ordinary man with ordinary concerns, living with an ordinary family, and reading a story of transformation that is written in such a pragmatic, realistic way is absolutely mind-boggling.  Really an amazing achievement.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #84 Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

In his appearance on In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, philosopher and writer Roger Scruton, author of An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, sniffed at Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting:  “It’s so badly written that I would call it an unsuccessful attempt to elevate to the level of high culture…  If you compare his ‘scotified’ dialogue with Sir Walter himself you would see how badly written it is.”  In 1993, Trainspotting was longlisted for the Booker Prize.  But, according to Wikipedia, it was rejected from the shortlist for “offending the sensibilities of two judges”.  (The eventual winner was Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha-Ha, which I have not read.)

Whether Roger Scruton and those two Booker judges like it or not, twenty years on Trainspotting is going strong, still in print (what do you want to bet that Roger Scruton’s book is still in print?)  And I think it deserves its accolades and success.  In fact, I disagree with Roger Scruton completely because I think it is a *very* well-written book.  Irvine Welsh captures the speech and culture of a very specific time and place, of a very specific group of people, in such a vivid manner that the reader is completely drawn into it.  One does not have to be a 90s Scottish junkie to identify with the characters or the situations they find themselves in.  I can understand why establishment figures like Roger Scruton and those two Booker judges would find this book disagreeable because it essentially reveals all the ways in which the government and society has failed this group of young people.  And it doesn’t criticize existing social systems in the safe, comfortable, moralizing way that Charles Dickens would.  We are not invited to pity the poor characters.  Instead, we are made to feel we are one of them, to understand why they make the choices they make, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them.  While we are laughing and feeling the exhilaration at some of the madcap antics of Renton and his crew, we are acutely aware of the fact that, had  their circumstances been slightly different, these young men would have been indulging their high spirits in less self-destructive ways, that they could each of them have a better life but they are trapped, by their environment, by habit, by a lack of opportunity, and so their youthful energy and creativity is poured into criminal behavior rather than more constructive pursuits.

I feel as though I could easily write an entire essay on this book but since this is a pocket review, I’m just going to say that this is a really good book, well worth reading.  It’s smart, funny, entertaining and thought-provoking.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #43 – American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I’d read American Gods right around the time it came out, and really enjoyed it. Then Amazon had a deal for the 10th anniversary edition for the Kindle, and I jumped right on it. It was as good as I remember, maybe even better.

There’s too much going on in this story to give a synopsis – but I’ll give it a shot. Our hero is Shadow. He’s leaving prison because his wife died in an accident (giving Shadow’s best friend a beej whilst he was driving). Shadow’s pretty much a man without a country, with the loss of his wife, and his friend, who was supposed to give him a job. As he’s trying to figure out what to do, he’s offered a job by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. They travel around visiting all kinds of odd people – who turn out to be old world gods that were brought over by immigrants generations ago. Each time Shadow met someone new, I had to look him/her up on Wikipedia. There are a lot of gods out there I hadn’t heard of. Since then, I’ve down/uploaded every free book on world myths I can find.  Haven’t read them yet, but maybe for CBR5.

Anyway, Wednesday is gathering the old gods because we nasty horrible Americans have turned to new gods:  TV, computers, stuff like that.  That weakens the old gods, as can be seen by the way they are living now.  There’s going to be a battle between the old gods and the new for (I guess) the soul of America.

Like I said, there’s a ton going on in this story, which follows a number of the old myths, with interruptions by the CIA like new gods and Shadow’s own doubts and derailments. There’s a reason why Gaiman is raised to the level of demi-god himself. The man can spin a yarn. If you haven’t read this book yet, please do, Kindle deal or not.

Jen K’s #CBRIV Review #44: The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Inspired by a true events though much of the novel is conjecture. The Civil War from the perspective of a black woman working as a spy in Richmond. Worth the read, especially for someone who enjoys historical fiction.

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