Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “heathpie”

heathpie’s #CBR4 Review #3 – The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History weaves an unbelievable, yet surprisingly believable, tale of a group of undergraduate students, bound together by their knowledge and interest of Greek language and literature, their unflinching self-superiority, and later, the murder of one of their own.

Even though the crime is revealed in the prologue, this is a mystery novel. On top of that, however, it is very much a tragedy – a Greek tragedy – from the start, and its brilliance smolders as we learn more and more about the whys rather than the hows.

Richard Papen is a transfer to Hampden College in Vermont, escaping the banality of his California life and his uninterested family. A Greek scholar, he is dismayed to learn that the only professor of Classical Studies has closed his courses to all but a few hand-selected students.

Soon, however, Richard slowly works his way into their elite circle, at part by accident, but mostly due to the drive of his overwhelming curiosity. The group is small – only five students – but they intrigue and captivate Richard. Henry: brilliant and wealthy; Francis: closeted yet confident; the twins, Charles and Camilla: secretive; and the doomed Bunny: boisterous, with secrets of his own.

And there is the professor who brought them together – Julian – who they call by his first name (of course). A bit of a celebrity in the academic world as well as the “real” world, Julian seems to encourage his students to isolate themselves and push their studies and experiences to new heights. His character is one of the most important in the book, yet probably the least is known about him in the end.

The plot twists and turns as Richard is brought deeper into the confidences of the circle’s members, and we – along with him – slowly come to the realization that things have gotten really weird.

As I devoured this story, there were moments where I was completely transported to this small town in Vermont, sitting in class with the group, preparing dinner with them at the twins’ apartment, studying with Richard in his small dormitory room, and even drinking the weekend away at Francis’s aunt’s house in the country. Tartt is an exceptional writer to accomplish this at so many points throughout the novel.

The main reason that I selected this book – and was even aware of its existence – was because it was mentioned in a review of a second season episode of “True Blood.” Without those reviews (from the incomparable Jacob of Television Without Pity), I don’t know that I would have understood what was happening on that guilty pleasure of a show, and later, what was really happening in History.

I understand that The Secret History made quite a splash upon publication and it spent weeks and weeks on the best seller lists. It really is quite a feat for a first novel, and it is a major accomplishment. The only frustration I had was not with the content or the storyline – Tartt quotes ancient and modern texts at times, and they are not always translated into English. I enrolled in the bare minimum of required language courses (Spanish, hola!) to get out of college, so when I was unable to understand those quotes, I really wondered what I was missing – especially since Tartt rarely seemed to include passages in this novel that I would deem unnecessary.

All in all, a fantastic, satisfying read.


heathpie’s #CBR4 Review #2 – The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Arthur Kipps is a young London lawyer sent to Crythin Gifford, a small town far from the comfort and familiarity of London, to attend the funeral of a long-time client of his firm. Mystery surrounds the family and the ancestral house and lands, so much so that the locals will speak nothing of it and seem to pity Arthur’s assignment. Before long, Arthur is besieged by terrifying images and sounds, and a mysterious woman in black, old-fashioned clothing seems to be stalking him.

Crythin Gifford, picturesque with flat lands and salt marshes, is not as welcoming as the brash young lawyer expects. When explaining to those he encounters that he must spend time at Eel Marsh House, the home of his deceased client, Mrs. Alice Drablow, to sort her files, he receives little more than pained silences and shocked expressions. He brushes his feelings of uneasiness aside as local tales and makes arrangements to spend a few nights at the house.

I don’t think that I took a breath throughout the entire second half of the novel. Hill writes so descriptively and beautifully, and that style continued as she painted a haunting tale of madness, allowing the reader to be swept away to Godforsaken Crythin Gifford. The characters are developed and interesting, and the story never falters.  The final twist was not altogether a surprise, but it was definitely a shock.

A wonderful, proper ghost story.

Heathpie’s #CBR-IV Review #1 – How to Defeat Your Own Clone by Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D. Johnson

In full disclosure, I should probably tell you that I wouldn’t have even considered reading this book if I hadn’t known the author from college, because science is really not my cup of tea. And Kyle is not just brilliant, he’s hilarious. I remember bonding with him freshman year over our love for “The State” and how we couldn’t believe that it wasn’t yet on VHS. (Yes, VHS.) So for science (ick) I knew that it couldn’t be too painful.

Terrifyingly informative and absolutely hilarious, How to Defeat Your Own Clone is a preparative guide for the future. And it’s a pretty great book. When the first page of the prologue had me laughing, I knew that I was in for a treat. The main takeaway here is not that cloning and biological advances could happen, it’s that they will happen.

Ahem. They already are.

As an aside (and if asides bother you, don’t read this book. There are many asides), I was not a fan of science. Were you like me, doodling in your notebook during chemistry, never really understanding those things called “moles,” and hoping to God that the next lab assignment wouldn’t have you reaching for a fire extinguisher? Well, that was definitely me, so the premise of this book was a bit off-putting. I thought, “Do I have the brains for this book?”

Answer: ten year-olds have the brains for this book. Well, brainy ten year-old brains. It is so well-articulated that the layperson should have no trouble with the scientific prose. It is written in such an intelligent way that the non-intelligent will feel brilliant!

Kurpinski and his co-author, Terry Johnson, have written an informative, interesting, entertaining book. They stick to the facts, but offer real-world examples to help the lay person understand all those science-y type words. For example, in the first chapter entitled, “Cloning and You,” the reader learns about viruses:

“A virus is a lot like an unwanted house guest. Some don’t seem so bad at first, like the guy who crashes for the weekend on your pull-out sofa bed. The first night he’s passed out and appears relatively harmless. But two days later he’s still hanging around, and the next thing you know he’s overloaded your washing machine and flooded the basement. In the virus world, these seemingly unassuming little visitors incorporate their genetic material into a host genome and may lay dormant for years before causing any noticeable problems such as AIDS. Other viruses are more like the ultimate party crasher who barges in uninvited, messes with all your stuff, and moves on when the booze dries up – except that the virus makes thousands of copies of itself and they all set fire to your house on the way out.”

One of my favorite chapters is “Common Misconceptions About Cloning and Biotechnology [Popular Culture is a Poor Teacher]” which explores and debunks the myths about cloning and the like that we gleaned from science fiction movies and books. Would your clone have a soul? Would it be able to harvest your thoughts and memories? And most importantly, would your clone be… evil? All of these questions are answered!

You will also learn what is needed to clone yourself (or what someone else needs to clone you). Be warned: they don’t need much. Because “…complex organisms don’t exist as a single cell, but they start as one…” that is all that is needed to start building your clone.

Something important to keep in mind is that because clones will most likely have to be built from scratch and inserted into someone’s uterus (for the time being, of course), the clone will always be younger than you. But in case science discovers a way to create your clone just as you exist today, remember that the whole nature vs. nurture thing will eventually be your clone’s undoing.

I’ll leave you with the authors’ careful words of warning: “In the end, your genome can be copied, but the precise series of cellular events that built you cannot, and that just might be enough to spot a rogue clone.”

At 180 pages, How to Defeat Your Own Clone is a quick, fun read. Now I’m off to put my retinal scan on file before my clone beats me to it.

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