Thursday, October 29, 2009

Club Dead by Charlaine Harris

Book #3 in the Sookie Stackhouse Vampire series has taken things from sort of bad to much worse. With an implausible plot (even for a book about vampires) overly-filled with near-death experiences and romantic entanglements - not to mention all the book's typos and our author's use of "close proximity" (I HATE redundancies like this) - Sookie gets absolutely no time to come up for air in the few days covered in this volume.

I'm hoping this is just a glitch in the series and things will slow down just a bit in the fourth book. Being bombarded with "significant" events in rapid fire is no way for a reader to digest what's really going on which means there's no time to really care about the characters and what's happening to them.

Werewolves and shape-shifters are featured more prominently in Club Dead than we've seen them before. Harris is expanding her supernatural community by way of Sookie's latest mission and a trip to Jackson where the famous members-only Club Dead (aka Josephine's) brings together all kinds of "supes." Bill has been kidnapped and Sookie, along with a werewolf protector, must venture into Jackson's vampiric underbelly to locate (and eventually rescue) Bill.

The werewolf has a crush on Sookie. They make out. Eric, the vampire, pops up multiple times. He and Sookie hook up a bit. She also has a really rough encounter with Bill (whose cheated on her.) She doesn't get much of a break from these enamoured men. It actually gets silly - a lot of admiration isn't always good thing. I don't care how hot she is that all the guys want her. Between the kissing and groping, Sookie gets beat up, manhandled, steaked, and nearly dies twice. She's involved in two bar brawls and a hold-up at a gas station. She gets locked in a trunk and picked on by a jealous ex-girlfriend. Poor girl catches absolutely no breaks - I never once felt sorry for her.

This series borders along the lines of escapist entertainments threatening to insult even the mildly intelligent. I know action scene upon action scene works in the movies, but it's not so successful a tool in books. Spelling out all the action detail-by-detail isn't nearly as exciting as Harris seems to think. Her focus on the excitement of what's going on detracts from the development of her characters and the accuracy of her writing. I can only hope HBO does more for its characters in season three of True Blood than Harris did in Club Dead.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Covenant by Naomi Ragen

So I picked up this book originally because I thought it would be some lovely, touching story about a Holocaust-surviving grandmother passing on her worldly wisdom and strength to her struggling granddaughter. Think Amy Tan for Jews. I was looking for a little mush and it was nice that the context of the story was Jewish - something for me to further identify with. I got way more than I bargained for...

The Covenant is an intricate collection of stories being shared around the horrible incident of a father and daughter's kidnapping by terrorists, in Israel. Elise, the wife and mother, is Jewish, living in Israel, and in the middle of a very difficult pregnancy. Not only is she at risk of losing her unborn child, but now her young daughter and husband could be taken from her too. Julia is a Jewish reporter, working for a television network sympathetic to the Arab side of the conflict. She sees herself as anything but a Jew and stops at nothing to get her story. Ismael is Julia's driver, but he also has deep connections to Hamas. He's a terrorist, but not a killer. Then, there's Leah (Elise's grandmother), Esther, Ariana, and Maria - four women who, together, survived Auschwitz. Not all of them are Jewish, but they're members of a lifelong pact to help and support each other no matter what the cost. These four women come together, using all their resources (which turn out to be surprisingly extensive), risking the lives of their own families, to rescue the kidnapped father and daughter. It's almost as if these women survived the Holocaust just so they could build their lives to help out in this moment, with this situation.

With an intense cast of characters whose stories are portrayed evenly and fairly, The Covenant takes a unique approach to discussing the Middle East, Anti-Semitism, and terrorism. You get opinions about the issues from the characters, each one behaving as you would think based on their own experiences, and that's it. You never feel like the author had positioned a character in the novel just so it could take a certain stance and convey the author's opinions. All the characters felt very organic. Personally, I have very strong feelings on these issues but found it very amiable to read a story that didn't take a particular stance. I was able to feel sympathy where I wanted and get angry at those characters that rubbed me the wrong way on my own, without any nudging from the author.

This is an impassioned story, full of violence, fear, and urgency. You get a clear look into the scars left by surviving horrible pain and suffering. You doubt the good of humanity but eventually breathe a sigh of relief knowing that as bad as the whole may get, you can still find people, individuals, willing to do whatever it takes to save a life.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The never ending story

A Small Gripe About Waiting for the Wheel of Time to come to a Conclusion...

I'm a fan of long books. In a more general sense, I'm a fan of long stories with complicated plots and so many characters that it's hard to keep them all straight. I've always liked stories in which you read about the characters for so long that you feel as if they are characters in your own life.

This penchant for reading stories of epic length is what drew me to "The Wheel of Time" in the first place. The books are between 700 and 1,000 pages each and at the time, 1999, there were 8 of them!!! I purchased the first book, and I have since read every book in the series, even purchasing the three most recent releases in hardback.

I have many thoughts and opinions about the story and the characters in it, but what I really want to discuss here is the fact that the last book in the series is now being split into 3 separate books. Effectively moving the release date of the final book to 2011. This particular maneuver irks me immensely, it seems to me that instead of wrapping up the series in one EPIC tome of a book, it is now being split into 3 parts and released a year apart.


The problem I have with this situation is that; I no longer feel nearly as enthusiastic about the series as I once did. When I read the last book that was released, I barely remembered anything about the story, about the characters, the overarching plot, none of it. This is a direct result of how long it's been since I read the previous books. If I had an infinite amount of time, I would happily go back and re-read the previous books. However, when we are talking about 11 books, we're talking about a substantial time commitment just to get 'caught back up.' Friends have sent me website that sum up the books in a very cliff's notes-esqe way, and while these sites are good with the broad strokes, they miss alot of the subtlety and intrigue that you get from actually reading the books.

As I mentioend above, I love long stories, but I want those stories to eventually end, and I want to get the full effect of the ending when it comes, and get the full effect. One day, when I am retired and have may hours a day to fill with reading, I will start the series over again and read it the whole way through without a year-long gap between books, but until that time, I guess I'm stuck reading the books and missing out on most of the subtleties. Well, at least the story actually gets to end.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

How does one sum up a Vonnegut novel? It's nearly impossible to do it justice without spoiling the whole story. Cat's Cradle is either story about humanity's tendency to destroy itself or our compulsion to create things which we can use to destroy ourselves. Simple theme, but how to delve into the plot without giving away all the little quirks in the story that make Vonnegut such an amazing writer?

First, we meet Jonah, or is it John - not entirely sure what his name really is. Anyway, first we meet a reporter who's writing a book about one of the scientists who worked on the atomic bomb. Gathering research for his book takes Jonah on a fact-finding mission that concludes on an island where a new religion, Bokononism, has formed and where the world ends.

Jonah's journey serves as the impetus for the reader to meet Vonnegut's colorful cast of characters. There's the three children of our atomic scientist: an army general, a clarinet player, and a little person who likes to paint. A doctor, a dictator, a beautiful woman who had a thing for feet, a hotel owner, an ambassador and his wife, a die-hard Hoosier, a bicycle manufacturer, and a think-tank director all play a part in this whirlwind story as well. Oh, and of course there's Bokonon, our religious leader whose philosophies are spread throughout the book as the majority of Vonnegut's characters convert.

A lot of mysteries are solved and lot of people die. In the end, the world is changed forever, but in true Vonnegut style the book is still funny and quirky. Tragedy is no match for Vonnegut who takes sad and series and transforms it into an almost absurd story. You get his point - man constantly works toward destruction - but can't help laughing about it, just a little.
I'm a huge Vonnegut fan and Cat's Cradle is right up there with Sirens of Titan and Galapagos.