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January 30, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | January 30, 2009 |

Publishers Note: Because the Cannonball Read is tightening up dramatically (or at least as dramatic as a book reading competition can be), today I give you three reviews from, currently, the three leaders in the Cannonball Read: Prisco (40 books read), Sophia (40 books read) and Marra Alane, who has 37 books reviewed, but may actually have more read).

The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice. Reviewed by Marra Alane.

Topping out at over 1000 pages, Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour has the distinction of being the longest book I’ve read so far, and also the book that I could least get into. Seriously, the next five or so books I’m about to land a review on I didn’t remotely enjoy, which sucks when you consider that over the last two weeks I’ve read over 3000 pages, and enjoyed approximately 17 of them.

Oh, and the sex. My god, the sex. There’s a lot of it. None particularly bizarre (although my definition of bizarre may differ from yours, as most of the dirty parts are with a ghost), but still, Jesus Christ. It’s enough to make me blush. I’m also always worried that someone is reading over my shoulder on the train during these parts, and is going to think I’m a freak or a degenerate.

Anypeeninvag, the Mayfair witches are some badass occulty types haunted by the spirit Lasher, who haunts with the women of the family for four generations by getting it on with them. Rowan Mayfair and her sexy boyfriend/husband are left with the task of solving the mystery of Lasher, and thus the mystery of her family, which includes a cast of characters both fascinatingly written and fascinatingly dull.

Apparently, this is one of Anne Rice’s best novels. Which I can understand, because it’s epic and far-reaching, covering a couple of continents and several generations, and its got some really great prose, even if it never captured my interest. For my own enjoyment, though, I have to say that maybe Rice isn’t my cup of tea. I never really understood what gothic novels were all about, and after this, I still don’t really get it. OK, so a bunch of people fuck ghosts and shit. That’s not really interesting.

For more of Marra Alane’s reviews, check out her blog.

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink. Reviewed by Sophia.

I picked up The Reader by Bernhard Schlink after seeing another Cannonball Reader review of the novel. German is technically my second language, so if I had been truly ambitious, I would have read it in German. Fortunately for me, I’m not that motivated and the English version was just fine. And now that I read it, I’m not quite sure what I thought of it. The Reader is definitely a thought-provoking and powerful story that touches on questions of morality, blame, and atonement. I appreciated that it was well-written, and I was glad I read it, but it doesn’t quite make my favorites list.

The story is told from the point of view of Michael Berg and begins when he is a fifteen-year-old boy living in Germany. When he is sick on his way home from school, Hanna Schmitz, a thirty-six year old woman, helps him. Once Michael has recovered he returns to Hanna to thank her for her help, and from there a sexual relationship develops. Later in Michael Berg’s life he finds himself a spectator to her trial for murder. This book is pretty short and it’s probably best that you know as little as possible before reading it, so you can view the characters without any preconceptions, but the relationship and the trial constitute pretty much the whole plot.

I appreciated how Schlink managed to tell such a straight, simple story with so many layers of gray and questions of morality. Although it might be easy to simply condemn Hanna for sexually preying on a fifteen-year-old, I could sense there was a story and force behind her actions that did not excuse her behavior but might have explained it. This is even more explicit during the trial, in what I thought was the strongest section of the book. Hanna is on trial for a horrible crime and she is probably guilty. But at the same time she is weak and naive and losing because she was a part of a system that she couldn’t avoid. And now that the system has changed she doesn’t know how to work within it, and she’s become a scapegoat despite the real guilt of many others. You can’t help but feel sorry for her. Some of Hanna’s worst actions were her failure to act, and what makes this book even more intriguing is that Michael Berg, the other defendants, the other witnesses, and a large section of society in this novel, are also guilty of failing to act.

The third section of the book I did not find quite as powerful as the second section. Maybe I just didn’t connect enough with the characters to really care about them, but it’s probably the third section that keeps this book from being one of my top favorites even though it is so well-written. I’d definitely recommend it, though, and I hope the movie does it justice.

For more of Sophia’s reviews, check out her blog.

A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin. Reviewed by Brian Prisco.

My God, this series just keeps getting better. It’s a wonderful blend of political and fantasy, and this part of the series leans a little harder on the fantasy aspect. It’s such an epic story, spanning a vast cast of characters scattered throughout. Brothers and sisters scattered by a war, allegiances forged and broken. It’s pretty outstanding stuff.

(This might get a tad spoilery from this point on, and I cannot recommend highly enough this series and think that everyone ought to just go out and snatch up book 1 right now, A Game of Thrones. They’re in the works to make it into a series for HBO, and frankly, it’s the only thing I can see potentially filling the hole in our hearts left by the departure of “Battlestar Galactica” and “The Wire.” It’s that fucking epic and entertaining. And even if stories of dungeons and dragons and dorks give you the howling fantods, I think this might have enough steel and intrigue to perk your interest. So skip the rest of this review, and realize that Book 2 keeps the story as fierce as Book 1. Go on now. Get thee to the bookstore.)

After the events of the first novel, and the death of the King, four different factions have declared themselves the rightful heir to the empire: Stannis Baratheon and his new found god, the Lord of Light; Renly, his younger and more charismatic brother, allied with the Knight of Flowers, champion of the kingdom; Robb Stark, the son of the slain Eddard Stark, and more likely than not the hero we’re supposed to root for; and the sinister Malfoyesque Joffrey Lannister, a shit in one of the finest families of sheer villainy ever to grace the written page. Seriously, I’ve never wished an entire family such heinous demise since the O’Doyles.

The four forces waging the epic game of Risk with each other would be enough meat to satisfy the most voracious reader, but there’s more. We’ve got Daenerys, who is the Mother of Dragons — who’s storyline gets the most insane and fantasyish. She has three dragons that she cares for, traveling among nomad horselords. She wishes to overtake the Seven Kingdoms as the rightful heir to the throne, so she’s amassing an army and her dragons. Plus, we’ve got yet another sniveling shit trying to gain honor and become a king himself. Not to mention the fact that barbarian wildlings living in the frozen north are apparently gathering a secret magic to lay siege to the lands below the Wall and destroy everything.

Each storyline is phenomenal, and the characters, good and bad alike, are so much fucking fun to follow. What works so well is the infighting: particularly amongst the villains. The Lannisters are a soap opera Springerfest, and watching the chess match play out in King’s Landing is easily the best part of the novel. Cersei versus Tyrion is why you read novels. Each of the Stark children have a serious thread to play out, though some get more short shrift than others.

Martin has promised seven or eight novels, but there are only two more written, so I’m taking my time, savoring each hearty 1000 page tome. The saddest part, though is truly with each one of the Song of Ice and Fire novels I read, the worse the Robert Jordan novels seem.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / The Cannonball Leaders

Books | January 30, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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