Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “animals”

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review Supplement (#s 27-43)

In all of my reading and writing it would be easy to say that I’m thinking too much about books that are meant to be little dollops of entertainment. That may well be true, books may just be meant as minor diversions for over-stimulated minds. But through the past year I realized how the various reading role models I have had in my life taught me how to read, how to love reading and how to use reading to think.

So, after I finished my half-cannonball back in August I kept right on reading and thinking. Balancing all that work with the job I’m paid to do was a little difficult and I only just finished reviews for all of the books read in that span. Rather than reprinting some or all of those reviews here, I wanted to give any readers of this site access to my other site where they can read the complete reviews of various books that might interest you. (If you or someone you know–particularly an administrator–believe this is in someway a misuse of the Cannonball Read site, I sincerely apologize and will remove it ASAP.) Take a look, click around and see what you think of everything else I managed to read this year.

All reviews (plus other older reviews and fancy blog style shenanigans at The Scruffy Rube

Post 1 Book Club Books:

#27–The Unbearable Bookclub for Unsinkable Girls, by Julie Shumacher (2 stars)

#28–Frozen by Mary Casanova (3 stars)

#29–Matched by Allie Condie (2 stars)

#29.5–The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon) (2 stars)

#30–A Strange Place to Call Home by Marilyn Singer (illustrations by Ed Young) (4 stars)

Post 2: Mock Caldecott Award Candidates

#30.25–Oh No, by Candace Flemming (illustrations by Eric Rohman) (4 stars)

#30.5–Words Set me Free, by Lisa Cline-Ransome (illustrations by James E. Ransome) (4 stars)

#30.75–House Held up By Trees, by Ted Koosner (illustrations by Jon Klassen) (2 stars)

#31–Extra Yarn, by Mac Bennett (illustrations by Jon Klassen) (5 stars)

Post 3: Mock Newberry Award Candidates

#32–Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis (3 stars)

#33–Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood (1 star)

#34–The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate (4 stars)

#35–Wonder, by RJ Palacio (5 stars)

Post 4: Mock Printz Award Candidates

#36–Never Fall Down, by Patricia McCormick (4 stars)

#37–Code Name: Verity, by Elizabeth Fein (1 star)

#38–Year of the Beasts, by Cecil Castelluci (art by Nate Powell) (5 stars)

#39–Every Day, by David Levithan (4 stars)

Post 5: Books with lessons of the year

#40–Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (5 stars)

#41–Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor (5 stars)

#42–A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster (5 stars)

#43–Cinder, by Marissa Meyer (5 stars)

Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #15: Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Ugh, I’m so behind. I finished Life of Pi at least a month ago now, so please bear with me as I try to remember my impressions of it. As I’m sure we’re all aware, there is a film adaptation of the novel due out around Thanksgiving, and I’m sure that it will be visually stunning, although judging from the trailers I think that they’ve made a fair amount of changes to the story. Not that one can blame them, entirely: Tom Hanks couldn’t even manage to hold interest all by himself on screen for a full movie. Perhaps what he needed was a tiger for a co-star…

Life of Pi tells of the extraordinary adventure of Pi Patel, who survived a shipwreck and spent nearly 300 days aboard a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean. Now, lots of people survive a shipwreck, and, if the lifeboat is well-stocked, maybe a year wouldn’t be that big a deal. But, you see, the ship that sank was not only carrying Pi and his family, but also numerous animals bound for zoos in North America. Initially, Pi is not the only survivor: he is joined in the lifeboat by a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and Bengal tiger. Needless to say, it’s not very long before Pi and the tiger are the last ones standing. The story, according to a friend of Pi’s, will “make you believe in God,” but really it’s a testament to Pi’s faith, knowledge, ingenuity, and will to survive.

Parts of the novel are stronger than others. There’s the theological bit, which makes up the entire first part of the story, before Pi ever sets foot on a ship. Pi’s Indian, so he’s technically Hindu, but, as a child, he finds himself drawn to Christianity and Islam as well. What this has to do with the coming ordeal is never really made clear, and in fact, might as well have been a different story about a different person. The adventure story is the second part, and it’s pretty much riveting. If, like me, you grew up on books like Island of the Blue Dolphins or My Side of the Mountain, reading descriptions of the various means Pi uses to stay alive is interesting stuff. Running throughout the story is what must’ve accounted for mountains of zoological research on Martel’s part. Pi’s father is a zookeeper, and he himself becomes a zoologist, so there’s a great deal of in-depth information about the world of animals. It’s all quite interesting, but again, sometimes it gives one the notion of somehow reading two or three books at once.

Martel’s writing is excellent, and Pi’s narrative voice is at once simplistic and intelligent, so the story (once it really gets going) is a joy to read. The line between fantasy and what is conceivably real seems to be balanced at all times. I will say that perhaps Martel likes to hear himself talk just a wee bit, but in the final analysis I guess I liked hearing him talk too. The images conjured up are vivid and sometimes graphic. Pi’s predicament, while fantastical, is told in such a measured tone that if one cannot exactly imagine being in his shoes, one is still extremely invested in the outcome. By the time I reached the final chapters, I had swung from boredom (part I) to anticipation (part II) and was closing in on satisfaction.

And then…the third act. Martel throws the reader a curve ball; a mind trip. Once again it feels like you’re reading a new story, and this time, the end result is disappointing. I’m all for a well-executed twist, but in this case, the ambiguity of it only serves to cheapen the accomplishments of what has come before.  Ultimately, it’s an enjoyable book to read, but it’s a little bit of a bumpy ride, I guess. If the writing itself weren’t so fluid, one might think it was just poor construction, but I think we must assume the shifts are purposeful. The nice thing about ambiguity is that one can choose what to believe in, like Pi himself, who chooses to combine aspects of different beliefs. It’s an accomplished novel; in hindsight, a pleasure to read as well as a thought-provoking journey. 

Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #2: Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

If you are familiar with the band The Decemberists, you are probably aware that they are a folk-tinged indie band, known for detailed story-telling, lyrics that you might need to look up in a dictionary, and themes that are sometimes creepy, macabre, and well, down-right effed up. Now, armed with that knowledge, if I told you that lead singer (and chief songwriter) Colin Meloy had written a YA fantasy novel, you would doubtless come up with some reasonable assumptions; namely that this book would probably be some combination of creepy, macabre, or screwed up, with lots of big words. It turns out, however, that those reasonable assumptions would actually be fairly wrong. I know, right? Go figure.

Prue McKeel is just your average Portland pre-teen: she rides a bike a lot, frequents coffee shops, does yoga, and looks after her baby brother, Mac. Her life ceases to be normal when, during an outing in the park, Mac is abducted by a murder of crows. Yes, the birds. They scoop him and fly away with him, disappearing into the “Impassible Wilderness,” which, as far as anyone in Portland knows, is exactly what it sounds like. When Prue and her classmate Curtis venture into the Wilderness in search of Mac, however, what they find is a another world, one peopled with talking animals, Bandit Kings, and a whole lot of political intrigue. Naturally, our heroes get wrapped up in the goings-on in Wildwood (which is what the residents call it) and find that there is not only more to the Impassible Wilderness than they thought, but that there is also more to them, as well.

This is your standard “normal kid ends up in fantasy-land” kind of book. It has only a few brief instances of anything creepy or macabre, and the vocabulary was, to my way of thinking, nothing terribly strenuous, even for the target audience. The story is pretty slow to get started (Meloy likes to use a lot of words, even if they’re not big, fancy ones) but about halfway through it definitely picks up. The characters are pretty usual; Prue’s plucky and determined, Curtis is the type that stumbles into being a hero, and the various individuals they meet in Wildwood fall along a typical spectrum.  There’s not a great deal of character development, but apparently this is the first in a trilogy (of course; aren’t they all?) so there will be time for that later, perhaps.  I think what I appreciated most about Wildwood, actually, is that it sets up its world very well. It’s a story unto itself, and the story resolves at the end, but there are plenty of unanswered questions and potential for later material. I sort of feel as though you can tell this is a first novel in that it’s a bit clumsy at times, but it certainly has promise. If nothing else, I’m interested to see if Meloy puts enough songs (there are one or two in Wildwood) into the subsequent books to get a full album out of them. Ultimately, I’m as yet undecided on whether or not I will pick up the next book, mainly just because I don’t like committing to series, but I think Meloy has promise.  If he can improve upon his story and his characters, and maybe use a few less words, he might be on to something.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #02: David Sedaris’ Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

I admit from the outset that this book was my holiday gift to myself and I went in planning on loving it. And I do love it, but not the way one loves their favorite pair of shoes or a brand new laptop. I love it like you love a cousin you haven’t seen in a few years but who gave you your first tequila shot when you were severely underage.

Don’t look at me like that, I stand by the analogy.

I love Sedaris’ style. I love his dry wit and the variously interesting ways in which he gets around to the point of his stories. Even though I know there’s likely a twist coming, I rarely if ever am able to call it. I love that his books are generally collections of short stories, something that I don’t always appreciate in other authors. I even like that he is adventurous in style choices. Sometimes his books are memoir, sometimes its first person narrative fiction, and this time it’s a riff on fables.

Yep, fables. Although to be fair Sedaris refers to the book as “A Modest Bestiary”.

And that may be the reason why I am not puppy dog in love with this outing as I have been by previous Sedaris books. Even though the animal protagonists are very obviously based on people who live in the world around us, I couldn’t always invest in them. There are standouts in the book to be sure, but I’d say I was most disappointed by the title pair. There just wasn’t a lot to love in the chapter about a squirrel and a chipmunk’s forbidden love and a misunderstanding about jazz.

 There is quite a bit of social commentary to be had, each new chapter with its new animal protagonists there is a new topic tackled, a new insight aimed for. My favorites include “The Motherless Bear” where an overly needy and selfish bear receives her comeuppance and “The Faithful Setter” following the travails of a dog about town. Certainly I felt the stories got stronger as the book, at a mere 120 pages or so, continued.  Also, the illustrations by Ian Falconer are both adorable and hilarious in equal measure.

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