February 27, 2009 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Books | February 27, 2009 |


Cannonballer Genny (also Rusty) officially pulled off the victory in this month’s Cannonball 5K. She read 5 books of over 400 pages in 11 days. Congrats, Genny. You are a winner!

Here are the five books she read and her reviews:

Lucky You, by Carl Hiaasen.

The only thing that Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen suffers from is an abundance of characters. They’re all important, and they all have a role to play and are each individually fleshed out, but so few of them actually interact directly with one another that it can be very difficult to keep track of who’s who and what part they have in the overall story.

That said, Lucky You is an otherwise fun caper novel, with certain dark overtones in the conclusion of some character’s parts. Conceptually, it seems like a much darker novel than it turned out to be; a woman wins half of a lottery jackpot, the other half is won by a duo of inept white supremacists who track the woman down and beat her to a pulp before stealing her lottery ticket. The woman (named JoLayne Lucks) enlists the help of a newspaper reporter sent to cover her story to track the men down and get her ticket back, never knowing that they have the other ticket as well. Along the way the supremacists bully random civilians, kidnap a hooters waitress, and torch an innocent man’s car. Also, the reporter’s house is blown up with the individual conspiring to blow up the house in it. The more depressing aspects of the book are reined in by the introduction of the kind of crazy that only Florida seems able to provide (like the woman who worships an oil stain on a highway because she says it’s the image of Christ) but because of some of the more lighthearted side plots the book overall whips you back and forth emotionally.

Despite it’s overload of characters, Lucky You is a fun read with a happy ending for the good guys and fittingly gruesome endings for the bad guys.

Peter and the Shadow Thieves , by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.

Peter and the Shadow Thieves picks up only a few months after the events in Peter and the Starcatchers and takes the action from Mollusk Island (now called Never Land, naturally) to London. Along the way we meet another character who will become essential to the known Peter Pan myth, George Darling, as a friend of the girl Peter has a crush on, Molly. It’s not hard to see how that situation might turn out in the end.

Peter returns to London to help Molly keep the starstuff recovered in the first novel from a creature which is eerily similar to the Dementors of Harry Potter. Lord Ombra, the Shadow Thief of titular reference, is an ethereal creature who steals souls by taking people’s shadows. Peter and Molly (and later George) make their way through London and eventually into the British country side by outwitting Lord Ombra and his minions. There is action, danger, gun fire, magic, and the bad guys end up chased off into the night by wolves.

Like the first book, Peter and the Shadow Thieves is a pretty quick read with short simple chapters. The one storyline I wish had been cut was the story back on the island concerning Captain Hook and the remaining “lost boys” that had absolutely nothing to do with the A Plot. Also, there’s a point in the narrative where Peter meets J.M Barrie which is one of my least favorite literary devices (I stopped reading the Dark Tower series the moment Roland met Stephen King). There’s already a fictionalized account of how J.M Barrie got the idea for Peter Pan laid out in the movie Finding Neverland that was far less ham handed. Overall though, it’s a good continuation of the story that began in Peter and the Starcatchers and as there’s evidently more books coming in the series, it lays good ground work for future novels.

The Choiring of the Trees, by Donald Harrington.

The Choiring of the Trees by Donald Harrington is a straightforward book with confusing parts. It is the straightforward story of an innocent man named Nail Chism sentenced to death for the rape of a teenaged girl. The story starts with his first stay of execution and works both backwards and forwards to tell the story of his life leading up to his time in prison, and the story of his life after that first stayed execution. Also central to the story is Viridis Monday, a newspaper illustrator who takes an interest in Nail and his case and works to get him pardoned.

The story is set in the Ozarks in 1914 and the novel reads more or less historically accurate. The only thing that grated on me in terms of veracity was that while Viridis was in Paris studying art, she meets with some people who she identifies only by first name, but who are obviously Pablo Picasso and other notable early 20th century artists. I know they were there, I’m just not sure how taken they’d be by a woman from Arkansas with fair to good artistic talent.

The confusing parts of the story are the following; the titular “choiring of the trees,” apparently some people in the story can hear trees singing sometimes but not others. I’m sure this has some larger symbolic meaning, but I wasn’t a fan of the device overall. Also, the story is not told by Nail, or Viridis, but rather by a young lady who lived in Nail’s town and was friends with the girl he allegedly raped, Latha Bourne. Also, there’s at least one completely explicit statement that Viridis was sexually abused by her father, but despite it being hinted at several other places in the narrative it doesn’t ultimately play any kind of importance in the story. In a way, it feels like it was thrown in as a nod to stereotypes about Ozark life rather than as an integral part of her character.

The Choiring of the Trees is an interesting book with a decent amount of suspense (Nail ends up in the electric chair no less than three times, although given the amount of pages that come after each of those times it’s hard to imagine that any of those attempts would be successful). The reason Nail ends up in jail and falsely accused is because he basically pissed on the wrong person’s shoes, but the efforts to get him cleared of his crime with the efforts of the girl who originally accused him are terrifying in revealing how corrupt the judicial system was at the time. Likewise, the depiction of Arkansas prison life is frightening. I liked this novel and will probably seek out Harington again in the future, but it’s not an easy or fun read overall.

Publisher’s Note: Big ups on reading Harrington, Genny. He’s one of my favorite authors (I used to check books out to him in Arkansas), and I never realized that anyone else had even heard of him.

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe is a book built for comfort, not for speed. It’s a terrible book to pick up if you have engaged in a contest whereby you’re required to read books as quickly as possible, and I am positive that in my haste to get through it (though not that hasty, I averaged about 50 pages a day) I missed some of the nuance and subtlety of the writing. But I have to write a review of it anyway, so nuance and subtlety can wait.

The narrative (because there’s not really a plot, exactly) follows the lives of the Gant family as they make their lives in the early years of the 20th Century in Tennessee. The focus is mainly on the youngest son, Eugene, and his struggle to find himself and develop his intellectual capabilities while dealing with his family. The book follows him literally from birth to his departure for Harvard following his graduation from State University. It follows him through the death of two siblings, his parent’s separation, and his own tragedies and successes. The book is incredibly densely packed with descriptive passages (there’s very little dialogue, even during conversations there are lengthy descriptions of facial expressions or actions the characters are using while having the conversation) but Wolfe’s writing is beautiful.

The book became progressively harder to read as it went on, simply because as Eugene began to reach manhood he became less of a sympathetic character. While children’s anger and resentment can be easy to understand and forgive, the anger and resentment a young man feels towards his family, who have committed no crimes but being themselves, is more difficult to endure. The nature of the later conversations that Eugene has with his family (particularly the ones surrounding his older brother’s death near the end of the novel) are intensely uncomfortable to read and make the reader feel somewhat claustrophobic and trapped right along with Eugene.

Look Homeward, Angel is very similar in topic and structure to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was written around the same time period as well. Angel is longer, and Portrait does have a more difficult narrative, but both deal with the feeling of being trapped by the place where you were born and the struggle to get out and reach one’s potential while also revealing how those early experiences the individuals were so desperate to escape helped shaped their later works.

Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen

Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen is a darkly humorous book that also touches on the grand issues of political corruption, environmental concerns, and the balance of class and trash necessary to run a successful strip club.

Strip Tease starts off with a US Congressman assaulting a fellow strip club patron in an effort to defend the honor of Erin, a dancer. From there it goes on a roller coaster ride of attempted blackmail, murder, and political machinations that end up costing at least 5 people their lives, one man his job, and one cop a lot of off the book time.

I didn’t realize that the book had anything to do with the Demi Moore movie of the same name until I was nearly done the novel, and after reading a bit about the movie that’s apparently a good thing. It seems like it would be impossible to strike the right balance of humor and pathos that is on display in the novel, or to take characters who were played for laughs and reveal their truly dangerous sides without upsetting movie audiences. It’s also apparently easier to sympathize with Erin as she’s written than as Ms.Moore portrayed her in film.

In conclusion, Strip Tease is a fun, quick read but it does have it’s somewhat gruesome parts, including graphic description of topless creamed corn wrestling.

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Genny (also Rusty) Wins the Cannonball 5K

In Superhuman Time / Sophia

Books | February 27, 2009 | Comments ()



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