Posts Tagged ‘cbr3’

Cannonball 23: First Meetings: In the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card

First Meetings: In the EnderverseFirst Meetings: In the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Back when I was working my first real job as a receptionist for a small local homebuilder, one of my coworkers gave me a book that she said I just had to read. It was science fiction, and despite never having read any sci-fi, I chalked it up to books for geeks who were so engrossed in their own arrogance that they didn’t have time to develop any literary taste. But she was a nice lady, and so enthusiastic, so I read it just to humor her.

The book was Ender’s Game, and I’ve since devoured all of Orson Scott Card’s books about the Enderverse, as it’s so geekily called.

A friend of mine lent me First Meetings: In the Enderverse, and it was a nice look into how the character of Ender came into being, but it didn’t have the same weight as Card’s books about Ender.

The book is a compilation of four short stories arranged in chronological order. The first, “The Polish Boy,” is about Ender’s father, John Paul, and his Roman Catholic Polish family. There are parts that foreshadow his eventual openness to having a Third child (Ender, of course) in a day and age when most families were limited to two children.

“Teacher’s Pest” describes how John Paul meets and woos Theresa, who will eventually become Ender’s mother, and how the Intergalactic Fleet (IF) had a hand in arranging their meeting.

“Ender’s Game” takes us through the tail end of the novel by the same name, and how Ender ends the Bugger War.

“Investment Counselor” tells of how Ender first meets Jane, his artificial intelligence investment counselor, and how he becomes a speaker for the dead.

Perhaps because they’re short stories, you don’t really get too deep into the new characters introduced in these books. But they make for an entertaining read, even if they’re not as gripping as Ender’s Game.

If you simply can’t get enough of Ender, then reading First Meetings might be just the thing to take the edge off.

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Cannonball #21: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first went to check this book out of the library, I was surprised to find it in the Teen section. I’d seen the movie, and I though that some of the subject matter was a little mature for teens.

But after reading it, I can kind of understand why it was in the Teen section of my library. Some of the scenes are, in my opinion, not appropriate for teens, but the writing had an oddly YA vibe to it.

If you don’t know the premise of the book itself, then maybe you ought to put the book down and watch TV for an hour a day to get caught up on the world of pop culture. A nameless insomniac meets a mysterious guy named Tyler Durden, and they start a secret club in which men beat each other within an inch of their lives in order to vent their daily frustrations. Through his friendship with Tyler, his life gets a lot more exciting: he participates in fights, and starts getting the respect he’s always wanted from his association with Tyler. But hanging with Tyler has a price, and, after a while, the protagonist begins to wonder if Tyler isn’t taking things too far.

Fight Club

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden and Edward Norton as The Narrator in the film version of the book. If you didn't recognize the image immediately, go get yourself an infusion of pop culture, STAT.

The premise of the book is certainly intriguing. The writing, to me anyway, had a definite YA flavor to it, but it was an engaging read, and the characters were all fascinating. The major plot twist was certainly groundbreaking in its time, and the book is well-paced and well-conceived.

But I do feel the need to close by saying that Chuck Palahniuk is a total arrogant tool. In the edition of the book I got from the library, there was an afterword from the author. The entire afterword could basically be summarized as follows:

“People claim that I stole this idea, but I totally didn’t because I am an original genius and anyone who disagrees is in denial. My ideas are so fresh and original, and I can’t believe how influential I am! I am so relevant, and my ideas are shaping our culture. I am important, people, so don’t you dare imply that I am anything but a literary genius that deserves your awe. Bow before me, peasants.”

So, I liked the book, but I totally hate the author after that ridiculous, self-important afterword.

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Cannonball 17: Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman

Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles BeganMaus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume of Maus covers a lot of ground. It talks about Vladek’s time at Auschwitz. It talks about the author’s fears for the future of his relationship with his father — and his guilt over not wanting to have to take care of an ailing man who has suffered so much, but is unrelenting in his demands of his grown son.

Spiegelman paints a vivid picture of the horrors of a death camp, although these horrors are mitigated a bit by the cartoonishness of the animal characters. I don’t know if I’d be able to stomach them otherwise. His father suffered through horrors that I can’t even begin to imagine, no matter how many times I watch “Band of Brothers” and “Schindler’s List.”

But, as with his first volume, he doesn’t pull any punches with his father, either. It can be easy to almost deify Holocaust survivors, to think of them all as saints. It kind of reminds me of how, in the days right after 9/11, everyone kept calling the people who had died “heroes.” For the most part, they weren’t any different from anyone else on the street; they didn’t volunteer to die in this tragedy. They were mostly normal people with normal lives, and, had they survived, they would still occasionally have fought with their spouses and snapped at their children and ignored bums asking for change like most of the rest of us.

Vladek survived a terrible ordeal, and what happened to him should never happen to anyone. But he wasn’t a perfect person going into it, and he wasn’t perfect coming out of it, either.

cosby show

Obviously, Vladek didn't grow up watching "The Cosby Show."

Spiegelman describes one instance in which he and his wife pick up a hitchhiker on the side of the road. The hitchhiker is African-American, and Vladek is stupefied by what he sees as their foolishness. After all, this “shvartzer” (a Yiddish slur) could steal their money or their groceries! Art and his wife are horrified by Vladek’s racism, but when they try to point out that it’s tantamount to the German’s views on the Jews, Vladek just can’t see it.

It reminds me of an episode from my youth. Tom Bradley had just been re-elected as the mayor of Los Angeles. He was the first (and, to date, the only) African-American mayor of LA, and our teachers in school used the opportunity to teach us that anyone could be anything they wanted to be, no matter what their race. When I excitedly told my dad about it later that night, he said that he didn’t like Tom Bradley. When I asked why, he simply replied, “Because he’s black.”

Having been taught at school that racism was bad, I was shocked to discover that my father, when it came to civil rights, was one of the bad guys. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the reason because my dad was racist was because he owned a market in the ghetto of Long Beach, and that most of the people who stole from the store were African-American and Latino. That was his only experience with other minorities; he disliked black people the way I dislke hipsters. He’d just never met a nice one.

hipster kitty

It wasn’t right, but I couldn’t say that, had my parents not bought a house in the nicer parts of Long Beach so that I could go to the district’s better schools, which taught that all people are created equal, regardless of the color of their skin, I wouldn’t be a racist myself. I didn’t agree, but I understood why.

And Here My Troubles Began is a worthy successor to My Father Bleeds History. It continues to explore all of the themes and tell all of the stories that Spiegelman set up in the first volume. My only nitpick was that the ending was a bit abrupt.

But, I guess, when a story’s over, it’s over.

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Cannonball 16: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds HistoryMaus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first heard the premise of Maus, my interest was immediately piqued.

Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, was a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The graphic novel (the only one ever to win a Pulitzer, by the way) tells his father’s story of survival, depicting the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. The Gentile Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, and the French are frogs (cute one, Spiegelman).

I expected it to be a standard, harrowing tale of torment, starvation, brutality, and survival, but I got a lot more than I bargained for. Spiegelman not only tells his father’s story, but his own. Vladek’s story is told in the context of his son’s research. Art wants to write a comic about his father’s life during WWII, but it’s impossible for his research not to affect him because his subject is his father. His father is not perfect; he fights with his wife, constantly comparing her to his first wife (Vladek remarried after Art’s mother, Anja, took her own life), expects Art to help him do stuff around the house without asking first, and complains to his son about everything.

Spiegelman is brutally honest in his portrayal of his relationship with his father. When Art is so easily annoyed by his father’s pack-rat tendencies and miserliness, I can totally relate. Like Art, I grew up in the United States. We weren’t rich, but we never starved, and we never knew what it was to go without the basic comforts of life. But my parents lived through the Korean War, and saving random odds and ends helped them to survive.

hoarder

Okay, so my kitchen isn't quite this bad, but only because I'm vigilant about putting things away and throwing stuff out when my parents aren't looking.

I get annoyed with my parents for saving useless containers and using them as Tupperware, despite the fact that our cabinets are overflowing with actual Tupperware. I hate that there’s so much clutter and useless junk in our house. I recently noticed that my mother still keeps old Happy Meal toys in a curio cabinet in our living room. I hate that she gets so mad when I throw a pickle jar into the recycle bin after I finish all the pickles.

But I have no idea what it’s like to lose out on extra food for later because I don’t have anything to carry it in. I don’t know what it’s like to lose something and regret it because it’s not possible for me to buy a replacement. I change my clothes every day; I don’t know what it’s like to wear every article of clothing I own and still be cold.

And, yet, even though I know (objectively) what my parents suffered through, I still can’t help but think, But the war is over now! and get annoyed that my parents don’t seem to understand that.

Spiegelman sets up a fair bit of tension between his horror at what his father had to endure, his admiration for his father’s survival skills, and his inability to use that understanding of his father’s history to be nicer to him.

The first volume of Maus takes us right to the gates of Auschwitz, and Vladek has already lost a son to the genocide. And it’s not only the way that Spiegelman tells Vladek’s story that’s compelling, but also the way he shows his audience what it took for him to personally get that story to tell it.

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Cannonball 15: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t read many comic books as a kid. Growing up, my parents bought us tons of books to encourage us to read, but they never bought us comic books, which they didn’t think had any educational value. Yes, I’m Asian. Why do you ask?

By the time I as old enough to make my own decisions about reading material, I was too old to be interested in visiting a comic book store. I never did end up getting into comics, although I thoroughly enjoyed watching TV shows and movies adapted from comic books.

As a result of my childhood deprivation of comic books, I was initially leery of graphic novels, thinking of them as glorified comic books.

I read Watchmen a few years ago after hearing so much hype about it. I thought it was overrated, but was able to appreciate the graphic novel as a literary medium.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is my second foray into the world of graphic novels, and it was an interesting one.

The novel opens on an aged Bruce Wayne. He’s fifty-five and retired from his superhero duties. But his life is empty without his crime-fighting, and he’s really just staving off boredom while the city around him goes to seed.

Commissioner James Gordon, his old ally, is retiring, and the new commissioner that they’re bringing in is firmly of the opinion that Batman is a dangerous vigilante who needs to be brought to justice.

In the meantime, the city is being overrun by a gang known as the Mutants, a ruthless group of “droog”-like thugs (think A Clockwork Orange) whose anonymous leader has been making death threats against both Gordon and Batman.

batman and robin

Batman and the new Robin, Carrie Kelly.

Finally fed up with the state of things in Gotham, Wayne suits up. At first he goes it alone, but he’s soon joined by a new Robin: thirteen-year-old Carrie Kelly. He still carries a lot of guilt over the death of Jason Todd, who was killed by the Joker in A Death in the Family (incidentally, one of the two comic books I’d read as a kid. The other was The Death of Superman. I was fascinated by death as a kid).

This graphic novel explored an interesting question: what happens to a superhero when he’s no longer super? The novel dealt with Batman’s aging, as well as with a cynicism borne of having fought crime for so many years to little avail. It explored Batman’s motivations and even brought in familiar characters from other comics from the DC world without making it seem gimmicky.

I do think that graphic novel tend to get a bit cheesy when it comes to introspection, but I suppose it’s par for the medium. I did thoroughly enjoy the story, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Miller’s work.

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Cannonball 14: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Black Swan GreenBlack Swan Green by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyone who’s ever watched Mean Girls knows that there are castes in school, the same way that there are castes in Indian society. There are the Brahmin, the highest caste, which everyone reveres. There are the Untouchables, the lowest caste, which everyone shuns. And then there are some castes in the middle which nobody really cares about unless you’re in one of them.

There aren’t many Brahmin. It’s an honor to be Brahmin, and if everyone were Brahmin, it wouldn’t be as much of an honor. There are plenty of Untouchables, but not so many that they’d overrun India and take it by force.

Most people fall into those obscure, in-between castes, and nobody cares much about them. Or so they might think, at least.

When I was in junior high, I was in that in painful, nameless, in-between caste. I wanted desperately to be popular, but my every effort to win the friendship of the popular kids was summarily rebuffed. Every once in a while, one of them would throw me a bone and be nice to me (sometimes so that I’d let them cheat off me), but it never lasted. I hated life in those days. I felt like a total loser, and I despaired because, in my heart, I believed it was true.

David Mitchell captured the essence of my despair, put it in a thirteen-year-old English boy, threw in a few other hardships, and made a masterpiece.

nicholas hoult

It's like About a Boy, but not as lighthearted.

Black Swan Green is the story of young Jason Taylor. Jason lives in Black Swan Green, a nice neighborhood in Worcestershire. He has a stutter, he’s unpopular in school, he just broke an antique watch of his grandfather’s that his father gave him, and there’s something weird going on between his parents that he just can’t figure out.

Jason’s story is, in many ways, typical. He has some disadvantages: his stutter, his unpopularity, his desperate desire for popularity. He also has a few advantages: his parents are well-off, there are kids even less popular than he is for the popular kids to pick on, he’s not a complete idiot.

And it’s Jason’s averageness that makes him so relatable. Most people have relatively unremarkable upbringings. Our parents had problems and sometimes took them out on us. We fought with our siblings. We got annoyed with our friends. We were tempted to do the wrong thing in order to look cool. And it’s the sincerity of Jason’s reactions to these situations that make the story so compelling.

phoebe prince

Most of us have been tempted to do what Phoebe Prince did at some point.

Mitchell is fair in his portrayal of Jason’s bullies through his eyes. We can feel Jason’s hatred and fear of these boys, but Mitchell also gives us short glimpses of what might make these kids they way they are. Jason, as a kid in the thick of this bullying, doesn’t think that far about it, but the adult reader has to consider it, if only for a moment.

There are several brilliant scenes in the book; the teacher’s class discussion about secrets, Jason’s visit to the House of Mirrors at the carnival, the episode with the gypsies. And there are plenty of laughs to be had, too. It wouldn’t be an accurate depiction of life as a thirteen-year-old boy without a few laughs.

Mitchell’s writing is pitch-perfect. He does an excellent job of communicating Jason’s thoughts to the reader, but still writing beautifully. Sometimes, you have to make your main character a poet in order to write poetically from a first-person point of view.

susie derkins

I used to have Susie Derkins hair, and wear khaki cargo shorts I stole from my brother under a Chicago Bears jersey I found at a garage sale. That was when I was nineteen. Now, try to imagine how much MORE awkward I looked at thirteen, and you'll understand why I didn't post an actual photo here.

This book called my thirteen-year-old self to mind so vividly that it was almost as though I were in the room with myself: hunched over self-consciously, wearing jeans and a Simpsons t-shirt because she didn’t have any sense of style, hair unmercifully permed by her mother, thick glasses made for American noses inevitably slipping down her face, which was screwed into a perpetual frown of dissatisfaction with herself.

This was a girl who, in her desperation not to lose the two more popular friends she had, went along with their cruel decision to ditch a third less popular friend. She wrote a really mean letter to that third girl and never explained herself and never apologized. She signed that letter with her name because she wanted the two friends she had left to be impressed with her courage. She forever regretted knowing that, whenever the third girl looked at her after that, she would always see the decisive signature at the bottom of that heartless note.

When that third girl was finally accepted back into the group, with no explanation and no fanfare, she never could bring herself to apologize for that note.

(Sue Mei, if you’re out there somewhere, I want you to know that I regretted writing that letter the minute I sent it to you, and I’ve been wanting to apologize for it ever since. I hope you can forgive me.)

If I could talk to that ill-adjusted thirteen-year-old girl, I wouldn’t tell her to just suck it up because everyone goes through this phase. I wouldn’t tell hug her and tell her that everything was going to be okay.

I’d just tell her I was sorry for her, and that I always would be, but that these are the things that you have to go through in order to grow up.

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Cannonball 13: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Wonder BoysWonder Boys by Michael Chabon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can’t really put my finger on why I didn’t LOOOOOOOVE this book.

Excellent writing? Check.
Interesting characters? Check.
Laugh-out-loud moments? Check.

But, somehow, it just didn’t strike any real emotional chord with me.

The story is told in first person by Professor Grady Tripp (played by Michael Douglas in the movie). He’s fat, struggling, loves to get high, and just found out that his wife has left him and his mistress is pregnant.

He picks up his editor from the airport, who has picked up a transvestite on the plane. But at a party thrown by the head of the English department (Grady’s boss, and his mistress’ husband), they meet a young student of Grady’s, James Leer. Terry Crabtree, the editor, immediately ditches his tranny date to pursue young James.

Wacky hijinks ensue.

Maybe that’s what it was; the characters were a little too quirky for my tastes. As much as I enjoyed Grady, I couldn’t help but to be reminded at nearly every turn, “THIS IS FICTION! WINK, WINK!!” I could certainly identify Grady’s struggle to follow up his first successful novel with a second novel that was going nowhere fast. But, at the same time, it was hard for me to sympathize completely with him when he keeps making bad decisions while high as a kite.

And the ending seemed a little too neat for me. Meh, I don’t know.

At the end of the day, I still liked the book. I just didn’t love it the way I wanted to, that’s all.

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Cannonball 12: The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1) by Rick Riordan

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is lame.

I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, so I thought I’d get right to the point. In the spectrum of Rick Riordan, there’s the good (e.g. The Battle of the Labyrinth) and the bad (e.g. The Maze of Bones). The Red Pyramid, unfortunately, follows in the vein of Riordan’s contributions to The 39 Clues series.

The plot is pretty standard fantasy fare: two kids find themselves embroiled in a race to save the world. They find that they have mystical powers and that saving the world is their destiny. In this case, the Kane kids find that they are Egyptian royalty descended from the Egyptian gods. Looks like Riordan is trying to take the corner market on EVERY mythology. What’s next? Norse? Indian? Native American?

The story is told from two characters’ points of view: Carter Kane and his sister, Sadie. I don’t generally object to stories being told from multiple points of view (About a Boy, for example, is a great example, although I suppose it isn’t fair to compare Rick Riordan to Nick Hornby), but Riordan’s use of the trope was tired and poorly done.

Okay, so, after their mother died, Sadie was raised in England by her grandparents while Carter went globetrotting with his American archaeologist father. So, of course, whenever we hear the story from Sadie’s point of view, Riordan has to stick in some obligatory English slang because, oh, right, Sadie’s English. But is she English or a bad stereotype? Really, Riordan, could you have been any more ham-fisted with your portrayal of the Brits? They don’t all talk like back-alley chimney sweeps who watch too much BBC America.

chimney sweeps

'ello, guvna!! CHEROO!!!

The other problem I had with the dual points of view was that the voices weren’t exactly distinct. I often read several pages into a chapter and was startled to read that Carter had a crush on Anubis, only to find that this particular chapter was being told from Sadie’s point of view. I just don’t see the point of telling a story from multiple points of view when one will suffice, and adding a second viewpoint won’t enhance the storytelling in any way.

Finally, I’m really starting to get tired of characters in fantasy books who find that they have supernatural powers, and then respond to them with unnatural aplomb. If I find that I can suddenly interpret hieroglyphics despite the fact that I have never studied them, I’m not going to shrink back modestly and keep this information to myself — especially if I just saw my father imprisoned in a golden coffin and swallowed by the ground. I’m going to be, like, “HOLY CRAP, I CAN READ HIEROGLYPHICS!!!” and freak out.

omg

That’s what I disliked most about this book, and I’m finding it more and more often in the genre: the characters reactions to the situations in which they find themselves simply don’t ring true. Their reactions are just so false; it’s a glaring reminder that THIS IS FICTION!! Sure, I know that I’m not likely ever to discover that I’m descended from ancient Egyptian gods, but that doesn’t mean that I want to be reminded at every turn that I’m dunking myself into a work of fiction. No, I want to immerse myself in it, lose myself in that fictional world and, for the time that I’m there, forget that there is any world but the one I’m reading about. It’s hard to do that when the characters are so paper-thin.

Wait, I lied: there is one thing about the book that I dislike even more than the false tone of the characters. It’s the fact that this whole book is supposed to be a transcript of a recording. The book is supposed to be a tape that was left behind for someone to find it, and the reader is supposed to have been meant to find it. While I appreciate Riordan’s attempt to make the reader feel as thought they’re a part of the story, this gag wears thin after the first two chapters.

The Kanes are leaving an urgent message for whoever finds it. They keep prodding at each other to hurry up; the reader is given the impression that they don’t have much time, and that someone may be after them.

So how the heck did they find time to leave 516 pages-worth of transcribed notes?? That’s a pretty long recording. And where the heck did they hide the tapes?? It must have been hidden in, like, the biggest hollow stump of all time.

If I had actually found the tapes and listened to them, the bad guys would have caught up to me and chopped my head off before I was done listening to Tape #1, and the Kane kids would be out of luck.

Look, Riordan, I’d appreciate it if you thought your literary gimmicks through before deciding, “Hey, this would make the story more compelling!”

I spent more time on The Kane Chronicles than it deserved (especially if you include the time it took to write up this review, which I won’t, since it was rather cathartic), and I hope that this review will spare you the same ordeal.

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Cannonball 11: The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus #1) by Rick Riordan

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1)The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ahh, here it is: the continuing saga of the half-bloods. I thought the Percy Jackson series was decent, and I did think Rick Riordan found some clever ways to incorporate Greek mythology into a children’s fantasy/adventure series. And I was also ever-so-grateful when he stopped his series at a definitive five instead of dragging it out for ten when it was better told in five.

So when I found out that he was planning a new series that would cross over with the Percy Jackson series, my curiosity was piqued. And I knew that I could count on my buddies JN and BN to lend me the books when they came out.

The Lost Hero is the first installment of The Heroes of Olympus. The hero of our story is not the one who is lost; it’s Jason Grace. He finds himself sitting in the back of a bus, holding hands with his girlfriend, Piper McLean, and joking with his best friend, Leo Valdez. The only problem is that Jason has no idea how he got there or who Piper and Leo are. He can’t remember a thing.

It’s unfortunate that Riordan felt the need to start his book on such a false note because the rest of it was plenty of fun, and filled with adventure. But this was a lame, lame way to start a series.

Look, if I suddenly found myself on a bus with an unexplained case of amnesia, I wouldn’t just sit there and yammer about what to do. I’d FREAK OUT. I’d start go nuts, and I’d certainly draw the attention of whatever authority figures were nearby. And if my boyfriend suddenly couldn’t remember who I was, then I wouldn’t just look crestfallen and try to speculate about ways in which this could have happened. Once again, I’d FREAK OUT. I’d demand that he be taken to a hospital right away so that he would REMEMBER ME. Then, maybe we could go back to holding hands.

jason bourne

Mmm, Bourne.

But, no, the kids on the bus just keep things under wraps until, of course, the monsters show up. Jason (are you sure your last name isn’t Bourne?) seems to instinctively know how to handle himself in battle, and he’s good with his weapon. But not good enough, apparently, because it takes a li’l deus ex machina in the form of Annabeth Chase, a son of Iris named Butch, and some pegasi to get them out of their mess.

As it turns out, Annabeth’s boyfriend, who is none other than Percy Jackson, the hero of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, is missing.

As usual, Riordan drops plenty of broad hints to his reader along the way. By the time that we actually find out the truth about Jason’s heritage, we’re like, “I GET IT. Just spit it out, already!!”

Riordan does a decent job of incorporating mythology into his story; that’s really where the strength of these series lies. Apparently, he decided to write this series because there was still so much mythology that he hadn’t explored in his first series.

This book was a fun li’l adventure, aside from the lame beginning. I’d be willing to read the rest of the series.

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Cannonball 8: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is IlluminatedEverything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn’t really get all the hype over this book.

The story concerns young Jonathan Safran Foer (yes, the main character has the same name as the author), a young American Jew on a quest to uncover his family history in the Ukraine to research a novel he wants to write. Assisting him on this quest are Alex, his translator, Alex’s “blind” grandfather, and his “seeing-eye bitch,” Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr. There are shenanigans. I didn’t think many of them were too terribly interesting.

The parts with Alex narrating were spectacularly hard for me to read. He speaks in this fragmented English, full of malapropisms. I take one look at that page full of hyphens and unreadable English and I have to fight every instinct that urges me to just skip it.

There are flashes of brilliance, however. Foer’s account of the history of Trachimbrod, the shtetl from which Foer’s ancestors are believed to have lived, is often moving and well-told. The story of Brod, Foer’s great-great-great-etc. grandmother, was just so sweet and sad.

But I think the book was way over-hyped for me. People kept talking about how funny it was, and I didn’t laugh once. And people continually rave about how it was such a groundbreaking book and that it would usher in a new era of modern literature and stuff. To me, it just seemed full of cheap gimmicks and self-importance. Ooh, look at what I can do!! I’m inventive! It seemed more a master’s thesis on literary gymnastics than an actual novel.

Overall, my impression of the book was one big “meh.” After reading this one, I can’t say that I was all too eager to read any more Foer. But I did.

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