Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “classics”

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)

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CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR4 Reviews 32-38: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

*Audiobook Review*

***This is my FOURTH attempt to write this review.  I have become paralyzed with fear that I cannot do justice to this amazing series.  Feel free to criticize, you can’t write anything worse than I have already thought.***

Since I am incredibly behind on my reviews, I’m doing one giant review of the series.  Shut up.  I need to spend more time reading and less time agonizing over reviews if I’m going to make it to 52 books.

I used to be obsessed with the Harry Potter books.  I read and re-read the first four books during that horrendous three-year wait between books four and five.  I was at midnight book parties for the last 3 books, and my first knitting project was an attempt at a Gryffindor scarf.  It was terrible, because I couldn’t knit very well and I was using cheap-o scratchy yarn.  I watched the movies, and I was relatively pleased with the first three.  Then they started turning 700+ page books into 2 1/2 hour movies, and the perfectionist in me reared her ugly head.  I was increasingly disappointed by what seemed to be glaring omissions in the films (S.P.E.W. anybody?).  I never even watched the last 3 films.

Lately I have had a Harry Potter renaissance.  I re-read all of the books, watched all eight of the movies, and even blasted my way through both Lego Harry Potter video games (which are the video game version of crack, by the way).  This was my fourth (maybe fifth?) re-read of some of these books, and even knowing what happens, they are as engrossing as ever.  I still get a little teary when certain characters are killed.  I still hate Delores Umbridge with the fire of a thousand suns.  The twelve-year-old me still identifies with Hermione Granger, and I still want a Hippogriff for a pet.

These books are credited with getting kids to learn that reading is fun. They are classics that will hopefully be read and re-read for generations.  Finishing the series is depressing, because I won’t be able to have any more adventures with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  If you haven’t read these books yet, there is nothing I can say to convince you.  Just don’t make the mistake most adults make in assuming that because these books are written for children that they are childish.  These books have some very adult themes, and some of them are downright dark.  Characters die.  Characters that you love.  Your favorite characters will die FOR NO DAMN GOOD REASON.

*Audio-specific portion of the review*

Jim Dale’s narration is nothing short of amazing.  When he reads Hagrid, you think that Hagrid is there reading his part.  His Professor McGonagall was amazing as well.  These are wonderful for a car trip, or just listening while you clean around the house.  Probably the best-read audiobooks I have ever listened to!

*Coda*

I forced my roommate to watch the movies since he had never seen Harry Potter anything before.  I previously tried to get him into fantasy with Game of Thrones, but he hated all of the characters. Here’s the exchange we had after watching Prisoner of Azkaban.

“Do you like Harry Potter better than Game of Thrones?”

“Game of Thrones is like Harry Potter, if everyone was in Slytherin.”

 

There is nothing I can write that can top that.

 

5/5 Stars

 

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #23 The Scarlet Pimpernel

Few characters have the heroic cache that The Scarlet Pimpernel does, heck I first heard about the character when I was about 7 and watching Looney Tunes.

As time has gone on, I’ve seen and heard a lot more about the mythical and dashing: Scarlet Pimpernel. So when I found a tattered copy of the original 1905 novel by the Baroness Orczy, I was excited to give it a shot and see how the reputation stacked up to reality.

It’s a lot of fun to immerse yourself in the giddy fantasy of a swashbuckling hero. Kids do it every day, I did it, my brothers did it, I’d wager some kid is doing it right now. A lot of that same glee is apparent in the first pages of The Scarlet Pimpernel. As a mysterious hero scampers about the French countryside rescuing French aristocrats before the Reign of Terror’s guillotine can dispatch them. The tales of his derring-do are legendary throughout the sympathetic English nobility.

As the novel continues that’s pretty much all we hear of the Pimpernel: tales. As the Reign of Terror’s agents attempt to get at the hero through a former revolutionary ally now living among English nobility, we hear stories about his genius. As the trap is set and evaded and set again and evaded again…we hear about it, but never see it. And as the action builds to a potentially riveting climax, we hear about the events…but don’t see them happen.

Imagination and legend were good enough to turn The Scarlet Pimpernel into the prototype for all the  swashbucklers who would come after. But after a century worth of his successors, the story’s aren’t enough any more. After all, few kids dream of being the Scarlet Pimpernel any more (besides, why duel with real sabres when light sabres make that cool vwing sound?), and for the record, if the Pimpernel was secretly a cartoon duck, that might be a worthy twist.

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #62 The Spell Sword by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Up until this summer, The Spell Sword was one of the few Darkover novels that I’d never read.  Some of the other books I have read but do not own, yet this novel haunted me like some elusive magical creature.  Thanks to one of our amazing local bookstores, Cover to Cover books, I not only own The Spell Sword, I have read a missing piece of the Darkover saga for the first time.

The Spell Sword is the story of Terran Andrew Carr and his adventures in the Hellers mountains of Darkover after his survey plane crashes, killing everyone else and leaving him stranded in the barren wilderness.  He is urged not to give up by visions of a mysterious young woman who seems to speak to him telepathically, pleading for help.  Is she real or some accident-induced hallucination?  Will he discover his true destiny far from his own home or return to the safety and familiarity of the Terran Zone?

Discover why this book was so enjoyable by reading the rest of my review on my blog.

Sonk’s #CBR Review #7: The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola

The book has a lot going on, so it’s hard to give a concise plot summary. Basically, the action takes place in a small town in the South of France at the beginning of the Second Empire under Napoleon III. The main conflict of the novel is that between the Royalists and the Republicans; characters fall on both sides of the divide, and are motivated primarily by their political interests and desire to enact change in the country in one direction or the other. These political interests are closely connected with social climbing and greed; thus the novel can be seen as a meditation on ambition and the desire for power. There’s a lot of political discussion, some romance, and quite a bit of intrigue and scandal–these characters, and some of the plotlines, would not be out of place in a contemporary soap opera.

Read the rest of my view on my blog.

Katie’s #24 Review #CBR4: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth is a “novel of manners” or a novel which focuses on social customs, often the customs surrounding marriage (think Jane Austen, for example).    This particular novel focuses on high society in New York during the early 1900′s, a setting very familiar to the author, and was intended to highlight what she saw as the complete lack of anything worthwhile in that society.  However, as the forward to my version pointed out, what still draws people to this book today is mostly the character of Lily Bart.  Throughout the book we follow Lily’s attempts to marry for money, culminating in her fall from society when she is accused of being a man’s mistress.

Read more here…

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #38: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Like most people, it seems, I saw the trailers for Andrew Stanton’s John Carter adaptation and thought it looked stupid. And this is coming from a person who LOVES science fiction, especially of the pulpy kind (more often than not, the stupider it is, the more I love it), and who knew the history and importance of the John Carter name in relation to all kinds of sci-fi since its initial publication. The dismissal of this film has been written about by many people in the last couple of months, but the consensus seems to be that the marketing campaign for the film was completely botched, and that because the marketing failed to capitalize on the movie’s strengths and legacies, it thus failed to appeal to the very people who would have loved it, had their butts been in those seats during the opening two weeks. Because of this, John Carter* seems doomed to go down as one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Which is a shame, because after reading that Vulture article I linked to above, I was consumed with curiosity about the film and went out to see it the very next day. No surprise, I loved it.

*As an aside, I can’t help but feel that it is extremely stupid that they cut the title from the originally proposed John Carter of Mars (although the film actually ends by adding the words “of Mars” to the title) to simply John Carter. I read somewhere that they were trying to avoid comparisons to the box office bomb Mars Needs Moms, but this is obviously a move both ironic and stupid, as I’m sure it led many people to wonder why they would ever care about that doctor guy from ER jumping around in some desert.

Extremely long story short, my love of the film (which was cheesy and romantic and spectacular in all the best ways) influenced me to finally seek out the source material, which had been on my radar for quite some time as one of the foundational texts of pulp and fantastical sci-fi. There are eleven novels in Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom books (the first three of which were adapted by Stanton for the film), and the first of these is A Princess of Mars. A Princess of Mars chronicles John Carter’s first year on Mars: how he came to be there in the first place; his capture by the green men of Mars, a warrior race called Tharks; the exceptional physical abilities given to him by the light Martian gravity; his romance with the titular Martian princess Dejah Thoris; and his ultimate acceptance into the culture and lifestyle of Mars, which becomes his home. The novel is actually framed as a manuscript given to “the author” by his uncle, who proclaims his story to be true.

It was a bit strange going from the film to the text, as one of the things Stanton did was update the story a bit for modern audiences (clarifying some of the science, as it was almost a hundred years out of date, modifying problematic racial constructs, and editing a bit here and there for story and content), and weirdly, I like the film’s version* better. The novel does that weird first person POV thing that older novels sometimes do where the narrator tells exactly what happened in an almost clinical detail (sort of like a travelogue), and poetical images and character moments are somewhat rare. (It reminds me very strongly of the writing of H. Rider Haggard, a Victorian adventure writer who set most of his stories in Africa.) Some parts were pretty wacky in terms of Burroughs’ understanding of science, but overall I was surprised at how well most of it has held up. The power of Burroughs’ story (and imagination) makes it easy to overlook most of its faults.

*I will be honest with you here and admit that a large part of this bias PROBABLY has to do with the fact that I am now completely in love with Taylor Kitsch and think he is gorgeous and wonderful to look at and I want my DNA to be with his DNA forever.

I’m rating this 3.5 stars for now, mostly because it took me so long to get through. The beginning is gripping, and once Dejah Thoris comes into play some good character and action stuff starts happening, and then it kind of rockets until the end. The first 1/3 of the novel, however, is mostly concentrated on giving Carter’s anthropological observations about Thark culture, which is kind of interesting, but extremely less so than other things that I can think of (I think Burroughs wasted some opportunity here to really make Carter a sympathetic character by not playing up the fish out of water aspect enough — this is something the film does very well). I also think I had a hard time with it because I was reading it on the Kindle app on my phone, and e-books are REALLY not my thing. I like paper, the way it smells and feels, and the way that the physicality of actual printed books helps me connect to the story. It was hard for me to motivate myself to pick up my phone to finish reading when I have so many lovely printed books at my disposal, and I’m sure reading it so protractedly like that didn’t help my enjoyment of the actual story.

Anyway, moral of the story: John Carter is a good movie. Please rent it when it comes out on DVD.

[Cross-posted to Goodreads.]

Jelinas’ #CBR4 Review #27: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

isabella and catherine

Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan) teaches Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) about friendship, but not in a good way.

The first time I read Northanger Abbey, I didn’t care for it much. But the second time around, I realized that the focus was friendship, and not romance, and I liked it better.

Gabe3886’s #CBR4 review 3 – The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy by Dante AlighieriThis review represents a change in direction of my reading for a title, and delves into the classic text by Dante Alighieri where he embarks on a journey through the different levels of hell, and describes in vivid detail the underworld and the punishment which awaits the sinners who end up there.  After hearing so much about the classics, and The Divine Comedy, I was curious to see what all the fuss is about and decided to give this one a go.  This particular copy was given an introduction by a scholar of the text, and lead into the actual poem itself which had references to a bibliography in the back to help other scholars to understand the book.

Yes, I did say this is a poem.

To read the full review of this book, visit the post on my website.

This book isn’t the best book out there, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I might had I had an interest in classic texts, but there is a good story within the pages none the less.

Coming soon, there’s another Andy McNab book, and the first in the Clive Cussler series starring Dirk Pitt

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 13: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

This is me slowly making me way through the venerable science fiction classics! Stranger in a Strange Land is about a human of Terran origins who was raised on Mars, and his return to Earth. The plot is really simple; it’s mostly the Man from Mars — Valentine Michael Smith — re-acclimating to our society and, eventually, teaching some of his Martian ways to other humans who are willing to learn.

The novel is much more character-driven than plot driven, and the differences between Michael’s perspectives and abilities vs. ours comprise the impetus for most of the character arcs. As Mike adapts to Earth via the instruction and guidance of his companions, they adapt to his customs as well. Eventually, by the end, Mike’s gospel reaches many more people outside of what was, initially, a rather tight group of people who initially enabled his freedom on Earth.

It’s my understanding that, at the time of its publication in the early 1960’s, this was a pretty controversial novel. It’s easy to see why, as it lampoons religion and includes very favorable portrayals of polyamory and group sex. There is some pretty heavy philosophizin’, too, that justifies its position on these topics. All in all, it made for an interesting read, and in many cases was pretty ahead of its time.

In other cases, though, it is pretty pointedly indicative of when it was written. The imagined universe here, unfortunately, despite all of the liberties it takes with sexual relationships, delivers a pretty disappointing facsimilie of  heteronormative 1950’s gender roles. Where some science fiction novels enjoy their ability to challenge social roles, and others deftly side-step them, this one seems to rather revel in its sexism and homophobia. Expect all of the men to be experts in everything, and always delivering their expertise to the women, whose responses are primarily “That’s interesting, dear. Can I pour you a drink?” And for all of the pontificating about brotherly love, and eschewing modesty, and sharing everything and loving everyone and deeply understanding and empathizing with everyone on a molecular and spiritual level, sex — the pinnacle of understanding each other — only happens between men and women. Also, brace yourself for when one of the female characters says “Nine times out of ten, when a woman is raped, it’s her fault.” It’s, as I said, disappointing.

Still, this is a classic, and as far as sci-fi goes, it’s nice to see a venture into character study. I’d still recommend this one overall, with the caveat that there is some potentially upsetting cognitive dissonance with regard to the gender and sexuality content.

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