Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the category “5 stars – a favorite”

Idgiepug’s CBR#4 Review #58-62: The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Having a 7-year-old and working in a high school, I don’t usually play the “kids today have it so easy” card.  Being a kid is HARD now.  However, modern kids do have one big advantage over those of us who grew up in the 80s, and that is the incredible range and scope of children’s literature.  When I was a kid, I had the Chronicles of Narnia, the Chronicles of Prydain, and a now-out-of-print series called the Seven Citadels, and that was about it for good fantasy series.  There was Tolkien, of course, but not a lot of little kids are ready for Tolkien.  Today’s kids have the Warriors, the Owls of Ga’Hoole, How to Train Your Dragon, Harry Potter (of course), and the list goes on and on.

I recently read the Underland Chronicles, which were very good, but I convinced the little pug to let me read the Chronicles of Prydain to him at bedtime, and I was reminded of how much I love these books.  Reading them again was like meeting up with old friends, and, somewhere around book three, I remembered that one of the outstanding features of these books is that they each contribute an integral piece to the story, unlike some more modern series in which some of the books feel a bit repetitive or, unfortunately, like filler.  For example, even though I really like the Underland stories, in each book, you have the same basic set-up: Gregor goes to the Underland and has to go on some terrible quest.  In the Harry Potter series, each book (except the last) centers on Harry’s return to Hogwarts and eventual showdown with evil.

In Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, however, each novel tells a distinct story that reveals a step in the maturation of Taran, the main character.  In book one, The Book of Three, young Taran is frustrated by his secluded life on a small homestead known as Caer Dallben where he has been raised by a farmer, Coll, and an enchanter, Dallben.  Because he has no title and doesn’t know his parents, Taran complains to Coll who gives him the title Assistant Pig-Keeper because of his work with the enchanter’s oracular pig Hen-Wen.  When Hen-When escapes, Taran takes his new title seriously and dashes off into the forest after her, launching himself on an adventure in which he meets one of Prydain’s greatest warriors; joins a band of companions that includes a hairy, half-man half-beast creature called Gurgi, a king named Fflewdur Flam who prefers barding to ruling, and a lovely and chatty young princess named Eilonwy; and confronts one of the evil henchman of Prydain’s worst bad guy, Arawn.  In the second novel, The Black Cauldron, Taran re-unites with his companions to join a raid on Arawn’s stronghold to re-capture a giant cauldron which Arawn uses to produce deathless warriors known as the cauldron-born.  In The Castle of Llyr, Taran escorts Eilonwy to the Isle of Mona so she can learn to be a lady and discovers his true feelings for her when she is kidnapped.  Taran Wanderer focuses on Taran’s quest to find his parents so that he can, hopefully, ask Eilonwy to marry him when she returns from Mona, but those plans are waylaid when, at the start of the fifth novel, The High King, Taran and his companions learn that the evil Arawn is making his move in an attempt to control Prydain completely.

The last novel in the series won the Newberry Award, and it is the most like a traditional heroic journey tale, which causes some people to unfairly (in my opinion) call the novels a rip-off of Tolkien’s work.  They’re working in the same tradition, but Alexander’s work is obviously geared toward children and is more of a coming-of-age story.  Even though Alexander had a young audience in mind, he’s never condescending.  As I hoped, the books introduced my son to classical fantasy.  He enjoyed them, and I hope, will eventually tackle longer, more elaborate series.

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loveallthis’s #cbr4 reviews 26, 27, 28: Wool Omnibus, First Shift, Second Shift

(cross-posted from my blog.)

My last three reviews of the year! Finished the half-Cannonball. Phew.

26 / Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey

I’ve read a lot of sci-fi. I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction. I’ve read a lot of straight fiction (or what we might call “drama”), suspense, and a few mysteries. Comparatively, the Wool Omnibus (which is a collection of five short novels self-published by the author) is one of the best in its field.

Ten or so thousand people live in an underground “silo,” a cylindrical city bored 150 stories deep into the earth. The air outside will kill you, so criminals sentenced to death are sent outside, to “clean” the sensors that let the silo’s inhabitants know it’s still bad out there. You’ll learn all this in the first five pages, and I really don’t want to tell you more.

Imaginative, thrilling, with well-drawn characters and a compelling world, Wool also happens to fall into one of my favorite sub-genres: The Book in Which the Backstory is the Real Story. I’m such a sucker for it. While spinning a contained narrative that stands well on its own, Howey simultaneously reveals the history of the silo, its inhabitants, and the greater world with exquisite skill.

I recommended this book more in the last couple of months than any other in recent memory. It’s insanely readable.

Five stars. One of my favorites this year.

27 / First Shift – Legacy by Hugh Howey

This series just keeps getting better: prequel slash simultaneous timeline FTW! (See also: Ender’s Shadow.)

If you finished Wool with more questions than answers, like I did, First Shift will do a great job at answering most of those questions and creating a ton more.

A slighter book than Wool, this kicks off the prequel series with style (and quite a bit of action).

Five stars.

28 / Second Shift – Order by Hugh Howey

Darker and twistier. I love it.

Following Wool and First ShiftSecond Shift continues exploring a timeline parallel to the original story to great, cliffhanger-y effect.

Five stars. Can’t wait for the next installment.

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #13: True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo

True Strength coverOK, I admit that I kind of had a crush on Kevin Sorbo during his Hercules: The Legendary Journeys days. I’ve always had a weakness for tall guys with long hair – but, he also seemed like a decent guy when giving interviews. I hadn’t really thought about him in years, but was extremely disappointed to find out recently that he is now into some of the more extreme Christian fundamentalist propaganda. It didn’t seem to fit with his past public image, so I was curious. In looking him up, I discovered that he had a serious illness and had written an autobiographical book about it. “Aha!”, I thought. “That might explain the extreme religious views.”

I was pleased to discover that my online library had the audiobook of  True Strength, narrated by Kevin himself and his wife, Sam Sorbo. I hoped to find an explanation for this fundamentalist approach in this book. I was disappointed in that respect, but really enjoyed and connected with the book in other ways.

We all know we are mortal, but many of us like to forget about that at different times in our lives. Kevin Sorbo probably wasn’t thinking of it too much when he was in peak physical condition and playing the half-god, Hercules on one of the highest rated syndicated television shows in the world in the 1990’s. But, he was was forced to confront that in a sudden, terrifying way. Unknown to all but his closest family, friends and co-workers, at this peak time, Kevin suffered three strokes after an aneurysm in his shoulder caused clots to travel through his body. These resulted not only in damage to his arm, but both long lasting and permanent symptoms such as partial blindness, dizziness, weakness, headaches and ringing in his ears just for starters.

This struck while on hiatus from Hercules, between the 4th and 5th seasons, just after the release of Kull the Conqueror (1997). It was at a crucial point, both in his career and for the continuation of Hercules where a lot of other people depended on Kevin as the star to keep the show going.  Hercules hadn’t yet reached that magic 100 episode number for the best syndication deals. But fortunately, everyone had a little time to figure things out before filming began again – and it took a lot of creative solutions.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hercules, but I still can remember when the writing suddenly changed with Kevin missing in strange ways – like one episode where he had been turned into a pig or was missing altogether. At the time, I was annoyed at the writing. Now, after reading True Strength, I’m amazed they pulled off hiding Kevin’s recovery and disability so well! I found it really interesting to hear about all the little tricks they did to make it look like he was there more than he was and what they used to hide his weakness. He went from doing many of his own stunts to needing a body double to even lift a sword for awhile. He was never able to return to doing even many of the previously easy-to-him stunts.

Besides relating to True Strength as a fan of Hercules and then Andromeda, I very much connected with the personal struggle Kevin went through with his sudden disability…

Read the rest of my review at Loopy Ker’s Life

pyrajane’s review #52: Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

I almost can’t hear myself typing over the sound of FIFTY TWO BOOKS IN 2012!!!

Awwwwwwwwww yeah!

 

Layout 1I liked this book very quickly and realized it was going to be hard to review.  Trying to describe the plot is either going to simplify it and not do it justice or will cause people to make a confused face and back away slowly.

It is so good!

Instead of plot, I’m going to talk about characters.  And a little bit of plot.

Clicky McClick Click over to my blog for a look at a book that has no business working and does so beautifully.  Love and math.  Logic and emotion.  A wonderful book.

 

Oh, and did I mention that this is book 52?

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #28 – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

I had to re-read this book after seeing the movie. I’d read it back in high school or college, when I was going through a heavy spy-novel phase.  Like you do.  I thought I knew the story, but was totally lost during the movie, so it clearly needed another read.  While the book and the story were very much of their time (Cold War, that is), the story itself still holds up.

George Smiley is a veteran spy, a man who blends in to the background almost too effectively. His wife is cheating on him, and there’s a mole so high up in his organization that the entire network is in danger. Smiley has to investigate behind the scenes – investigate his friends, colleagues, the men who drove him out of the organization, and one of whom may be sleeping with Smiley’s wife.

The story is told in various parallel narratives:  Smiley’s investigation; the story of Ricky Tarr, who first brings the story about the mole to Smiley; and the story of Jim Prideaux, who is now in hiding after being captured as a result of the mole’s activities.

There is a lot to follow, but it’s all so well-written and engrossing that it’s easy to keep up with all of the threads until they all tie up into a neat bow at the very end.  Now I need to go back and re-watch the movie to make sure I really did get it.  Regardless, I recommend both the book and the movie, especially if you go for the spy stuff.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #25 – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

I often feel like Alice.  Most days, actually.  I’m afraid it’s more to do with what I do for a living, which is an awful lot like a caucus race. Just running and running in circles, getting nowhere, and yet somehow expecting things to be different.  Trying to dry off, but getting swamped with waves just at the wrong time.

Alice is bored with real life and her lessons, and wishes everything was nonsense.  Her trip down the rabbit hole teaches her that while a little nonsense now and then (is cherished by the wisest men) is all right, nonsense all the time can be scary and confounding.

Alice tries to make sense of her surroundings and the beings she encounters, while growing and shrinking randomly depending on what she eats and drinks. She gets some good advice, especially from the Cheshire Cat (if you don’t care where you’re going, then it doesn’t much matter which way you go – you’ll get somewhere so long as you go on long enough).

Of course this is a favorite, it has been since I was a little girl. I can’t wait until my little one is old enough to sit still for a reading. Until then, I’ll continue to amuse myself with it.

“Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
“No, I give it up,” Alice replied: “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter”

Because Poe wrote on both.  Yup, that’s it.

Alli’s #CBR4 Review #52 – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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So I have finally done it, on my third try I finally managed to read 52 books in a year. I am glad that I chose Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” to finish off with, it was a great read, one that I couldn’t wait to get back to reading and one that I was sad that it had to end as well. I have already bought a couple more of Flynn’s books for my kindle app and I am looking forward to reading them for CBRV next year.
Ok, so I just had to read this book after reading all the buzz about it on the CBR4 blog. Everyone promised me an engaging page turner with plot twists, intrigue and some fear mixed into the batter as well. I was not disappointed. It is definitely the type of book that you want to go in unspoiled as there are some twists and turns and it is way more fun if you go in blind.

Read the rest on my blog

CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR4 Review #48: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Somehow, I had never even heard of this book until last year’s Cannonball Read.  The premise is intriguing.  In the not-too-distant future, a Puritanical religious group has overthrown the United States and formed the Republic of Gilead.  Women are no longer allowed to read, and are divided into classes based on their ability to breed.  The main character, Offred, is a Handmaid.  Basically she is the mistress of a powerful Commander and once a month she has to have sex with him while laying in the arms of his wife.  If a child is born, the Commander and his wife will keep it, and she will be sent to a new household and attempt to do it again. Sex is strictly for procreation.  There is no romance, and certainly no illicit love affairs.  There are public executions, and the bodies of priests, nuns, and doctors are left to rot along the town walls.

Offred finds a carving inside her closet that was left by the previous Handmaid.  It says, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” which means “Don’t let the bastards get you down”.  The previous Handmaid must not have heeded her own advice, because she hung herself.  This story is bleak, but it is engrossing.  I couldn’t put this one down.  This one is a classic for a reason.

I read a lot of post-apocalyptic or dystopian books this year: Mockingjay, World War Z and Robopocalypse.  However, this was by far the most terrifying.  In a society where women who have been raped are forced to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds to get an abortion, or doctors have the right to not tell the mother if her pregnancy may kill her, this story doesn’t seem too farfetched.

5/5 Stars

CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR Review #47: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

“You’ll find that the only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that’s hardly worth the effort.”

 Milo is a young boy who is bored by everything in his life.  One day, he comes home and finds a mysterious package.  Inside is a miniature tollbooth and a map.  He gets into his play car, drives through the tollbooth, and suddenly finds himself in the kingdom of Wisdom.  He visits the city of Dictionopolis where words are of the utmost importance.  Then he travels to the city of Digitopolis where numbers reign supreme.  The two cities have been feuding over which is more important.  Nothing has been right in Wisdom since the Princesses Rhyme and Reason were banished.  Milo is sent on a hero’s quest to restore Rhyme and Reason.

I loved this book as a child, but I think I appreciate it more as an adult.  I definitely get more of the puns and the metaphors.  There is an island named Conclusions that you can only get to by jumping.  The people in Dictionopolis literally eat their words.

I can’t tell you how many times I read this book as a child.  The Phantom Tollbooth was originally published in 1961 and the story still stands up.  It is truly timeless.  It is difficult to review a book that is so widely revered.  As I have said before, I suck at articulating why I like something.  If I think something is terrible, I can tell you in excruciating detail why.  It has taken me 2 months to write this review.  If you have somehow managed to make it this far in your life, you still owe it to yourself to pick it up.  Don’t dismiss it as “just for kids”.  You would be doing the book and yourself a disservice.

5/5 Stars

Idgiepug’s CBR#4 Reviews #53-57: The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

I picked up the first book of Suzanne Collins’ Underland Chronicles series to see if it would be good for my son.  My husband and I sometimes struggle to find him good, engaging books that are at his reading level but that don’t contain material or ideas that are too mature for him.  I read The Hunger Games trilogy a couple of years ago and loved it, but it’s too violent and dark for the little guy, so I thought I’d try this series.  I’ll admit upfront here that I fell for these novels completely and became almost obsessed with them, even sending my husband out to the library to pick up the next book in the series as I finished one of them.  I don’t like to judge books this way, but I think I liked this series even better than the The Hunger Games.

The main character of these books is Gregor, a regular kid who finds a secret underground city called Regalia where he is considered the “warrior” named in several prophecies by the founder of Regalia.  In each novel of the series, Gregor returns to Regalia to fulfill yet another prophecy.  Each adventure in the Underland leaves Gregor mentally scarred and grief-stricken for those friends and comrades he loses along the way.  He cares about the Regalians, especially Luna, the young queen, but he is also concerned about his mother who suffers terribly whenever he disappears into the Underland.  Of course, Gregor continues helping the Regalians, but the final book delves more deeply into the choices both he and other characters have to make and examines the consequences of their decisions in a much more serious way than the previous novels of the series.  In the end, Collins manages to bring the fantasy series to a believable and satisfying conclusion without falling into the trap of “happily ever after.”

I’d heard good reviews of this series, but I was still surprised by how quickly these novels drew me into Gregor’s world.  I felt as though I couldn’t put them down until I’d finished them all.  There are many similarities between these novels and Collins’ more famous trilogy, especially the themes of children being sacrificed by their elders and the horrors of war, but these books are geared for younger readers and therefore are not quite as dark.  My son, hearing that there were giant rats and cockroaches featured throughout the novels, was a bit hesitant to try them, but I think he will love them in a couple of years when he gets over his fear.  I would highly recommend them to young readers who are old enough not to have rat-filled nightmares and older people who want a quick and exciting adventure series to read

 

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