Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: September

...and I trudge onward with this series...

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson: Really Good/4 Stars
So far I am finding Larsson's series incredibly fun to read. Too bad he died as, for, as well as these initial books are written, he probably would have continued into the mouth dropping realm (well, too bad he died for many more important reasons than my enjoyment, of course!)

As it is, there's not much I can say that others haven't already written. If you like fast-paced crime novels with intriguing characters, join the club and read these books.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman (CD): Solid/Good/3 Stars:
A really sweet book, maybe a bit too sweet, though, IMHO.

CeeCee Honeycutt is a 12 year old girl who hasn't had much of a childhood so far. Her mother, an ex-Southern Belle and beauty pageant queen, is seriously nutso. Her father, some sort of traveling salesman, is never around. No one at school likes CeeCee, mostly because her mother is the laughing stock of their small Ohio town. So, CeeCee reads A LOT and takes some refuge visiting the kind old lady who lives next door.

CeeCee wants her mom to be "saved"; and prays to God (using her mother's pearls as a rosary) to do so. And, she throws in a small prayer for herself, too.

The majority of the book centers around the answer to CeeCee's prayers.

Her mother dies unexpectedly and CeeCee is sent to live with her somewhat eccentric great-Aunt Tootie in Savannah, GA. Once in Savannah, CeeCee becomes acquainted with a group of kind but strong-willed Southern women, white and black, who help her begin a new life where things really aren't so bad after all.

This was a nice enough book; easy to listen to, but, it wrapped up just a bit too compactly; real life just can't be this way! Hey, I've been in Savannah; and, the book is just like the beautiful sections of the lovely historic district; colorful and interesting but at times, just a bit too much.

Some might say, too; yet another book about a white girl and her black mammy (there is a strong African American character in the book who teaches CeeCee a thing or two).

In any case, it was enjoyable enough, as I said. Also, I think it could very well be read by young women (tweens); it's sweetness does almost lend itself more to that genre.

Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell: Solid/Good/3 Stars
This is the first of MANY in the Sharpe series. I really enjoyed Cornwell's Saxon Series so thought I'd try Sharpe. Although I'm not as interested in the historical timeline in the Sharpe series (British/India/Napoleon early 1800s) and the action is pretty damn gory at times, it was an easy enough read and I'll look forward to filling in my dance card with the rest of the series over the next year or so.

And then, there is always the 100 hour TV series, too!

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel (CD): Hated It/1 Star
I'm one of those folks who absolutely LOVED Martel's first novel, "The Life of Pi". I'll admit, it was different and perhaps one of the reasons I so enjoyed it was that I was listening to it on a long road trip from NY to CA (just back from a jaunt to Italy) with my buddies (cats) Nigel and Clyde in tow; thinking about the major changes I was in the process of making in my life. "Pi" provoked even more thoughts about endings and new beginnings and, in my opinion, had one of the best lines ever about the sorrow of losing a friend.

Thus, I had HIGH hopes for this new book of Martel's. I was terribly excited when I first saw it had been released and was just about ready to buy it when I noticed it in the audio book section of the local library. So much the better, considering how much I loved listening to "Pi" (as an aside, the narrator was quite good).

After I finished listening to it, I was initially somewhat unsure how I felt about it. I did something I hardly EVER do after reading a book (and before I "review" it), I Googled it, and, based on the number of hits (and the variety of what was contained), I'd say many other people felt the same way.

This book was nothing what I expected it to be. In fact, most of it made zero sense to me as I was reading it, and, even after everything somewhat falls in place towards the end, I still didn't think it made much sense.

Henry (an author) and his wife (of which we know very little except her name and she eventually becomes pregnant) move from Canada after Henry becomes disillusioned with his writing. They travel for awhile and then settle in an unidentified major metropolitan city (likely NYC; why it remained unidentified is just one of the odd quirks about the story that didn't make sense and didn't matter).

Henry receives in the mail a package containing a short story (about a young man killing animals but eventually becoming a Saint), a scene from
what appears to be a play, and a note asking for his help.

Henry eventually goes to the address on the return label and discovers that it is a taxidermy shop.

He meets the taxidermist, also named Henry but he's always referred to as "The Taxidermist" and finds him to be a highly unlikeable character. Still, Henry gets sucked into this play the The Taxidermist is writing and that he supposedly needs help with.

The play is extremely odd. It's about Beatrice (a donkey) and Virgil (a howler monkey) talking. That's pretty much it. Talking. They are trapped on a stripped shirt (I was thinking, like decals or something...I never quite got the whole shirt thing). They are scared, hungry and have obviously been through some terrible awful ordeal that the refer to as "The Horrors".

Henry tries to understand what, exactly, The Taxidermist is trying to convey with this play but The Taxidermist is fairly taciturn about it all.

This goes on for the majority of the book. The Taxidermist reading to Henry various scenes from the play (never in order; driving Henry nuts because he just wants to get his hands on the thing and read it from beginning to end). He asks Henry for help here or there; "help me describe Beatrice", for example. Or, "help me describe what Virgil's howl sounds like".

In the end, Henry finally figures out that The Taxidermist is really an awful person who is writing this play as an allegory to the Holocaust.

The End.

Ok, frankly, I pretty much hated this book but have to allow that there were a few sections that were ok; I gave it a 1 but if I could, it'd be a 1.5.

Other than these few parts, though, I don't think it held together well, there was a lot of disjoint, some things were never explained, some explained overly much. There were some parts that were just horribly disturbing and to what end?

When I finished "Pi" I felt hopeful. When I finished this, I felt sick.

Someone on Google said, "Well, if anything, it'll provide the opportunity for a good discussion".

Maybe, but, really, I don't want to think about it any longer. I'm so glad I didn't waste my money buying it, because, I do believe after reading it, I would have thrown it away.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins (BCS): Totally Awesome/5 Stars
All of the acclaim this book has received is well deserved.

Whether you are a parent of a young adult who has avidly read through this series or whether you just enjoy a fascinating (if extremely disturbing) story expertly told, you should definitely read "The Hunger Games". I can almost guarantee you, if you read it, you'll read the following two in the series (probably in quick succession!)

I personally love reading stories that can be peeled away, layer by intriguing layer, to reveal something even more amazing underneath. Moreover, tales that, after you discuss them with someone else, you discover even more that you didn't on your own, causing you to want to go back and re-read it all over again.

The general concept: It's the future. It's somewhere in what used to be the United States. The country is now organized in Districts (originally 13...which brought to my mind the thirteen original US colonies). Each district is known for some sort of work or trade; e.g., agriculture, electronics, coal mining. In punishment for a prior rebellion, the powerful Capital requires each of the remaining 12 Districts to send two children (a boy and a girl)from their district to compete in the annual Hunger Games. These children are now known as "Tributes".

Think a cross between "Survivor" and "American Idol" (with all the pre-show hype given the kids as they parade around the capital and mentors (prior game winners) assigned to assist them with their strategies) EXCEPT these games are real and deadly. Only one Tribute can win, which means all the others must die. The games take place in an elaborate yet contained arena (devised and designed by game keepers) and watched by the entire country on T.V. Whenever a Tribute is killed, a loud "boom" sounds throughout the arena so the other Tributes know someone has been offed. A hovercraft immediately comes to get the body. Each night at dusk, as the country's anthem is played, images of whomever died that day are shown in the sky so that the remaining tributes know who is left there that they must kill.

Creeping you out yet? It should!

The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to go as a Tribute in place of her much younger little sister, is one of the strongest female characters I've ever read. She's all of 16, and let me tell you, she could whomp all over that Bella Swan from the "Twilight" series (and likely the vamp and dog, too!) The interplay between her and her fellow district Tribute, Peeta, is not your typical girl meets boy love story! It's, as the 12 year old daughter of one of my fellow book club members said (who is NOT interested in love stories yet) "Ok because it's STRATEGIC".

I could go on and on but suffice it to say, this book was one of the best I've read in a long, long time. It felt weird, really, to read something that was so good and yet so terribly disturbing, but, there you have it.

Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond (BCS): Solid/Good/3 stars
As befitting the month, this was my book club's selection for October. I have to say, I think our discussion was one of the best times I've had with this group! My SIL hosted the meeting (and led the discussion). Bless her, she went out and bought as much of the candy written about in the book (and then some) that she could find for us to share. Believe me, a group of women on a collective sugar high are even more raunchy than when drinking a lot of wine (although we had some of that, too).

So, the book. Steve Almond (appropriate name) is a self-acclaimed freak when it comes to candy. His book pretty much details his life-long love of candy (and obsession with it). Being that he is just a few years younger than yours truly, most of the candy (and accompanying candy rages) he writes about are ones I am oh so familiar with.

Including: Making retainers out of cherry Jolly Rancher candy sticks (I don't think they make the sticks any longer); the huge candy display in Sears, the whole Bubble Yum craze (and ensuing urban legends about spider eggs found therein AND that whole Rod Stewart rumor...OMG...I laughed so hard when I read that DH thought I'd cracked my gourd); Zotz, the disgusting taste of purple Neccos (clove; although we decided last night that it may be an adult taste) and pop rocks. BTW, pop rocks were a big hit last night at the meeting.

In addition to his memoir about his personal candy history, Almond visits several candy factories (none of the biggies but most produced candy you'd recognize (assuming you're old enough)) to talk to the owners, operators and those who had the enviable positions of "chocolate engineers".

Almond has a quick, witty (if self-depreciating) style and the book is a fast read (although had it been much longer than its 250 pages, we'd all be fat).

Only negative, really, was a few places where he goes off on a rant on George W. Bush (didn't fit at all within the "story") and his fear that he was dying of cancer of a certain appendage (just didn't seem appropriate).

A fun read; made me nostalgic for those simpler days when candy figured prominently in my universe.

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