Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “perpetualintern”

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #14: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

After A Game of Thrones, I was feeling pretty burned out on all the violence and the crazy complexity of George R. R. Martin’s writing.  Plus, 1000+ pages books don’t lend themselves to “52 books in 52 weeks” so it took me a few months to pick up A Clash of Kings.  The impetus for finally doing it was watching the first season of Game of Thrones after hearing about it endlessly on Pajiba.  I had to somehow amuse myself while waiting for the second season to come out on DVD.

Thus, I delved into A Clash of Kings.  I actually liked this book better than the first, mostly because I had some connection with the characters and was invested in their fates.  It took me a really long time to start caring about them in the first book.  For those that haven’t finished A Game of Thrones, obviously there are spoilers ahead.  The second book is basically about the chaos that insues as multiple men make claims on the throne.  Robert’s brothers Renly and Stannis both believe they deserve it, Joffery is already in King’s Landing and people believe he is Robert’s real son, and Robb Stark decides that he will take the throne by force.  Characters are murdered, double-crossed, killed in battle, fall in love, etc. etc.

My biggest complaint is that it’s as if Martin is actually TRYING to piss people off so much that they put down the books.  There was one moment in the book where I actually did walk away and refused to pick it back up for a few days because I was so angry about who he had killed off (I don’t want to spoil anything but those who have read it probably know which part I’m talking about).  I did eventually come back to it, and now I’m reading A Storm of Swords, but I honestly don’t think I would be continuing with the series if I weren’t enjoying the HBO show so much.

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #13: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I took the advice of all the other Cannonballers on here and picked up this lovely little novel.  It was a quick read but one that managed to accomplish a lot.  The characters were complex and sweet and the relationships were heartbreaking and real.

I won’t spend much time rehashing the plot since there have already been so many reviews.  Hazel is a cancer patient whose lung cancer has gone into retreat, though she must tug around an oxygen tank at all times and her cancer threatens to come back at any moment.  She attends a support group for other cancer kids where she meets the handsome Augustus, a charismatic guy with bone cancer in full remission.  The book follows their relationship through friendship and the bloom of first love.  At the same time, Hazel is obsessed with a book about a young woman with cancer and she uses the novel like a security blanket.  Together, she and Augustus embark on a journey to meet the reclusive author of the book.

I have to say I didn’t love this book as much as the other Cannonballers, though I did enjoy it.  The relationship that spoke to me the most was actually that of Hazel with her mother.  Hazel knows that her cancer will eventually kill her.  She struggles the get her mother to say “WHEN you die” as opposed to “IF you die” and worries so much about her mother’s identity after she’s gone.  Their relationship was honest and real and heartbreaking.  Overall, this book was a good read, and I could see it being great for young adults.

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 review #12: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I always cite The Great Gatsby as one of my favorite books of all time.  But the truth is, I hadn’t read it since high school.  My battered copy has made it through every move and onto every bookshelf, but I only had a vague recollection of the plot.  I only remembered loving the language and being enthralled by the world Fitzgerald created.  After watching the preview of the new movie on Pajiba, I decided to dust off my copy.  My high school handwritten notes about color and allusions and character development only added to the nostalgia.

I loved this book just as much as I did years ago.  For those who never had this as required high school reading, this is the story of the enigmatic Jay Gatsby and his undying love for a woman named Daisy.  More than that, however, it is about a certain class of America in the 1920s, rich and irresponsible and directionless.  It maps out the descent into darkness all the characters face as they betray each other until the inevitable tragic conclusion.

Fitzgerald’s writing is like music.  He painstakenly chooses every word for its ability to create a perfectly atmospheric setting of 1920s Long Island that reflects the juxtaposition between the beauty of money and a life of privledge and the depression of love lost, betrayal, and unspoken unhappiness.  I think it’s safe to say it remains one of my favorite books, and Fitzgerald remains one of my favorite writers.

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #11: Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz

I have yet to join the public library in my new town, and thus Cannonball Read is becoming an expensive endevour.  I decided to buy a Nook book on sale to save money.  The book was bad enough to drive me to join the library so I would never again have to submit myself to something as terrible as Witches of East End

Witches of East End takes place in a town on Long Island that by some magical property is not on any map, yet the residents who live there (save the 3 witches in a family) are unaware that their homes are impossible to find.  How their extended families come to visit, I’ll never know, but it is one of many things about the book that doesn’t really make sense.  The main characters are the mother and two daughters of a family of witches who have been banned from doing magic because they got themselves burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials.  Apparently they’re immortal and if they’re killed they are just reborn and start all over again.  For no reason at all they decide to buck “the Council” (some sort of high witches delegation, like a Watcher’s Council except not nearly as cool) and start practicing magic again.  A big crazy hole in the universe opens up and they have to fix it, etc. etc.

It’s really not worth going into detail about this book.   There are witches and vampires and gods and goddesses and parallel universes and all sorts of stuff, but since I didn’t care about the characters none of it mattered.  I was appalled to learn that this is one in a series about this family.  I’m not sure how the first book got published, let alone a series of them, but needless to say, I will not be checking out the others.

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

After the magic of The Night Circus, I went on a bit of a magic kick, reading two books in a row that involved it.  The first, The Magicians, was an interesting and amusing read.  The second was not, but I’ll get to that in my next review.

One person described The Magicians as Harry Potter with a lot more sex.  Quentin Coldwater is a Holden Caulfield-type character living in Brooklyn: he’s at the top of his class, headed for Princeton, and yet he’s unhappy with his existence.  In fact, just as I hated The Catcher in the Rye‘s protagonist for his incessant whining and ennui, I kind of couldn’t stand Quentin and his “problems.”  He eventually follows a public garden into the magical world of Brakebills College, the only school for magicians in North America.  There, he learns that he has what it takes to be a magician, but unlike the fun classes of Hogwarts, magic takes a lot of hard work.  He befriends a few other people and eventually they all graduate, which is where the darkness of the book begins.

Harry Potter dealt with Harry, Hermione and Ron right up until high school is over, skipping ahead in an epilogue to address where their lives have taken them.  Grossman addresses the reality of what it must be like to be a 20-something magician, with extreme power, no need to work and no purpose.  Quentin and his friends experiment with drugs, partying, sex and other vices to combat their general sense of worthlessness.

Eventually, striving for purpose, they decide to try and find the mythical world of Fillory. Fillory was first described in a children’s book series, much like the Chronicles of Narnia.  Quentin has always been obsessed with the book and they all figure they will go to the magical world and become kings and queens of the realm.  What they find in Fillory, however, is much darker.

Ultimately, I liked that Grossman’s characters were much more human than those of the Harry Potter series.  They are flawed, they are vulnerable and no one is completely good or completely evil.  They are kids that have been given the world and then left to their own devices to figure out what to do with it.  In that are inherent dangers that each of them must face.

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #8 and #9: Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

So I know I said I was only going to reread the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy because the movie was coming up.  Turns out, I couldn’t stop there.  Just as I was surprised at how rereadable the first installment was, I was just as taken with the second and third books.  I am lumping them together for this review for a couple of reasons.  First, I read them both so quickly I’m honestly not positive where Catching Fire ended and Mockingjay began.  Second, since some people have somehow STILL not read these books, I didn’t want to devote two separate reviews that are full of spoilers.  For those who haven’t read the trilogy, you may merrily skip over this review.

Catching Fire opens with the return of Peeta and Katniss to District 12, their lives forever changed by the Games.  Slowly Katniss begins to realize that there are uprisings beginning in other districts, and she has become a rallying point to the resistance against the Capitol.  As a way to combat this, President Snow announces that the Games that year will feature past victors instead of fresh tributes.  Since there are only three tributes from District 12, Katniss is destined to go back into the arena. Catching Fire is in many ways a typical middle book of a trilogy.  It introduces a slew of new characters and is a tool to move the action towards the inevitable showdown in the Capitol.  Mockingjay is the culmination of the war between the Capitol and the rebels.  Katniss is forced to confront what it means to be the face of the rebel movement while still being used as a pawn by power players on either side of the war.

I think what I took away from the trilogy this time was the impression of how dark it is for its intended audience of Young Adult readers.  The violence is quite graphic, the war is very real, the casualties are fierce, and the horrors are vivid.  While I knew that these were YA novels the first time I read them, I was so engrossed in the plot that I didn’t quite stop to consider the intended audience.  I’m not sure how I feel about it.  On one hand, Collins does a good job of capturing the interior monologue of a 16 year old girl in a difficult and often impossible situation.  On the other, the themes of the book are quite mature.  Perhaps that’s why it appeals to such a wide audience.

Regardless, I’ve got my movie tickets for this weekend!

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #7: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

With all of the hype over the new Hunger Games movie, I decided to reread the book.  I had a hard time deciding whether I was going to do this, since rereading books before their movies sometimes just makes me angry at the inconsistencies between the film and its book (see: Harry Potter) and then I’m unable to enjoy the movie for what it is.  After seeing the first shots and previews from the Hunger Games, however, I couldn’t resist.  I was surprised that I got immersed in the book just as much the second time as the first.  I thought that knowing how the book ended would take away the urgency of it, but I was wrong.  I was skeptical that Collins’ writing would hold up for a second read, but I was pleasantly surprised.

For those CBR4 members who have somehow missed this book (although I don’t see how that’s possible), Collins tells the story of a distopic future where nation-states as we know them have ended and North America is divided into Districts in a country called Panem.  These 12 districts are run by an authoritarian “President” Snow, who heads the authoritative district called the Capitol.  There is no wealth distribution and most in the districts are starving or barely scraping by.  The reader learns that the districts are kept this way because of a rebellion against the Capitol years before that was defeated.  To remind the district members of the authority of the Capitol, every year The Hunger Games are held.  These games take tributes (one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district), put them into an arena, and broadcast their fighting until one victor is left alive.

The story follows Katniss Everdeen, the tribute from District 12, and her journey into and through the Games.  Reading the book, I was struck by how much of it is Katniss’ internal monologue.  I have no idea how they’re going to translate this to the screen.  On the flip side, I can’t wait to see how they bring to life the carefully crafted world of the Capitol, the districts and the Games.  I don’t think I was shooting myself in the foot rereading this, and now I’m tempted to reread the next two in the trilogy!

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #6: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I will echo almost everyone else who has reviewed this novel on here so far.  This book is amazing.  I can’t tell enough people about it.  My best friend just downloaded it, I’m texting my mother daily to ask if she has it yet.  I loved it that much.  Rarely does a book completely immerse me from the first sentence, but this one did.   The Night Circus created such a beautiful, intricate dream world with such finely drawn characters that I didn’t want to leave and I feel a bit empty today now that I’ve finished it.  Am I overselling it?  Perhaps, but I don’t think so.

While telling my boss she should pick this up, she asked me what it was about.  I was stumped.  “It’s about this circus that only performs at night, and there’s magic and a love story, and, um….”  I trailed off because there is no good way to explain the premise.  The plot is only one part of the book, because so much of the enjoyment comes from the atmosphere created by Morgenstern’s lush descriptions.  On a basic level, the story is about a challenge between two aging magicians.  They have two protogees that they pit against each other in a battle of illusion.  To stage this ongoing, ephemeral challenge, the two magicians create a circus.  Within this venue, the two illusionists compete in a game they don’t fully understand.  As a consequence, everyone involved in the circus is drawn into their magic and become pawns in a larger game. The circus becomes more elaborate, more mysterious, and more dreamlike as the two compete.

Again, this is simply one part of a larger story.  There are so many beautifully described characters and subplots that a synopsis cannot do it justice.  The circus itself is the main character of the book; Morgenstern’s writing gives it life and I found myself rooting for it just as I would any other character.  Rarely have I found a writer whose descriptions can draw me in the way Morgenstern’s did.  This will remain on my bookshelf for a long time.

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #5: My Mercedes is Not for Sale by Jeroen Van Bergeijk

My Mercedes is Not for Sale is a quick little read by a Dutch journalist.  The author’s story  begins in Ouagadougou, the capital of the West African country of Burkina Faso.  While attending his friend’s wedding there, he gets into a Mercedes taxi and notices a sticker for a Dutch football team on the dashboard.  He asks the driver about it, who has no idea where it came from.  Upon researching, Van Berjeijk discovers the auto trade that flows in one direction: old, beat up cars are sent from all over Europe to West Africa, where they are retooled and used.  Of all these cars, the most ubiquitous is the Mercedes 190, a car originally manufactured in the 80s.

Intrigued, he buys a 190 and decides to drive it through the Sahara to West Africa, partially for profit and partially for adventure.  When he returns, he also retraces the roots of his Mercedes, back to its original owner.  His story takes him through Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo and Benin and his narrative recounts the people he meets and the pitfalls of driving a small car across the third largest desert in the world.

Having lived in a small town in Togo for over 2 years, I went into this with a critical eye.  I tend to be impatient with those who say they’ve “experienced Africa” after taking a Safari or staying in a hotel in Accra for a week.  Van Bergeijk’s generalizations of Africa grated on me, as I felt compelled to keep repeating “it’s a continent, not a country!!” at his descriptions of “the Africans” over and over again.  However, it was comforting to read a book about the places I have been, the things I have seen and the challenges that I faced.  Many of his encounters were reminiscent of my own in Ghana, Togo and Benin.  For those that aren’t familiar with the area, this book would be a good read to understand the dichotomy of these countries, which are very poor but globalizing and developing in ways that many do not imagine.  Van Bergeijk does a good job of showing that these countries are moving forward, driven by commerce, innovation and creativity.

PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #4: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was one of the more fascinating reads I’ve had in awhile.  I am in no way a science person.  I dropped it my senior year of high school in favor of a second foreign language, and my science requirement in college was filled by Computer Science 101.  So when my friend suggested I read this book, I was skeptical to pick up what I thought was a “science book.”  However, Rebecca Skloot’s treatment of the story and the family of Henrietta Lacks weaves a narrative that makes the science parts interesting and approachable.

While studying biology in college, Rebecca Skloot often used cells called HeLa to do her work.  HeLa cells are used widely in the scientific community because they were the first human cells that were able to not only live in culture, but to thrive.  They multiply at an incredible rate and can be frozen, preserved and shipped throughout the world.  Today, it is estimated that 50 billion metric tons of HeLa cells exist all over the world and are used to discover new treatments for disease (including the polio vaccine) and to expand scientists’ knowledge of how human cells work.  But what many scientists had never stopped to wonder is where the HeLa cells came from.  Skloot decided to dig into the past of the donor whose cancerous cells were taken from her cervix in the 1950s and thus The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was born.

Skloot spent years delving into the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor woman who died from cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins medical center in Baltimore.  This story is not just about the life (and death) of Henrietta Lacks but of those she left behind: her husband, five children, and numerous grandchildren who were been born since her death.  The family was never told that tissue had been taken from Henrietta’s cervix, and it was taken without her consent.  It wasn’t until years later that her children, who couldn’t even afford health insurance or to see a doctor, began piecing together that HeLa came from their mother and had completely changed the face of science.  Skloot spent months gaining the trust of the children, who had been scammed by so many in the past.  Their lives were full of confusion about what the cells were (for instance, one of her children was convinced that clones of her mother were all over England) because no one had stopped to truly explain how HeLa was being used.  Together, they pieced together the life of Henrietta and the book serves as a memorial to a woman who unknowingly changed the face of cancer and science forever.

The book is difficult to read.  The experiments performed on black patients in the 50s at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere are appalling.  To so many of us who take patient-doctor confidentiality for granted, the way that Henrietta’s medical records were passed around and published is frustrating.  To read about how she and her family were treated is infuriating.  The book raises so many ethical questions: who owns cells once they leave the body? Who is entitled to profit from them?  How is it that Henrietta Lacks’ cells helped cure polio, and yet her family cannot afford a doctor?  It is an important read, not only because all of us who participate in the health care system should know these dilemmas, but also to pay tribute to a woman who unwittingly has helped us all in one way or another.

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