Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cannonball Read #32: Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben

Deal Breaker is a great airport book. I know this because I read it during the trip back to MA from visiting my parents in PA. It was fast-paced and interesting enough to keep me entertained during the seemingly endless delays on the tarmac in Philadelphia, but not too taxing on the brain after an mentally-exhausting day.

The main character is Myron Bolitar, a former athlete (whose pro sports career was cut short by injury) who now makes his living as a small-time sports agent. Along with his friend and coworker the charming and sociopathic Win, Myron has to unravel the mystery of a missing girl before it swallows up a promising young client.

The book was populated with a host of quirky, interesting characters, and Myron's voice is self-deprecating and hilarious. His narration was definitely the high point of the novel, particularly when he describe what's going on. Coben's descriptions are vivid, and I think this would make an excellent movie (I would probably cast The Rock as Bolitar--he seems capable of the right kind of humor needed for the role. Despite my best efforts, the only picture I could get of Win was Corbin Berensen in Major League.) The plot wasn't perfect, but made enough sense not to be totally distracting. Also, although I thought I had the mystery figured out, the ending still surprised me (which is tough--I read/watch a LOT of mysteries.)

On the whole I enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading some of Coben's other Bolitar books. Although reading it will not make you look/feel smarter, it's great as trashy beach/plane/vacation lit.

Cannonball Read #31: Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

The Boyfriend and I watched the film made from Running With Scissors a while ago, and both of us were very disappointed. Much like the movie we were tricked into watching which described itself as a gangster film but turned out to be full of unnecessary ass-raping, this movie was sold as a comedy, and it totally wasn't. Apparently, they took all the really funny bits and put them in the trailer so the film would appear to be a hilarious when really it was just extremely depressing.

The story is of young Augusten Burroughs, who has a crazy mother and distant, alcoholic father. When his parents divorce, his mother has a nervous breakdown and leaves Augusten at the home of her therapist and his wacky family. Augusten is forced to navigate through the maze of dealing with the Finch family (who are all a bit nutty themselves) while trying to decide how he relates to the world and how much he is going allow his life experiences to effect him.

Luckily, the book actually IS funny. Perhaps the difference is that the Augusten in the book is kind of a pompous douchebag and I don't feel nearly as badly for him as I do when he's played by Joseph Cross (who looks fragile, vulnerable, and slightly heartbroken no matter what he's doing.) The Augusten in the book is more cynical than one would suspect, and even the most tragic moments are related with a certain humor. Mind you, the circumstances the kid grew up in (IF you believe his story--which has resulted in several lawsuits and he has admitted was generously exaggerated) are disturbing at best, but he manages to find the dry humor in them.

Frankly, I can't say I exactly ENJOYED Running With Scissors. However, I don't necessarily regret reading it.

The movie, on the other hand, I would not recommend to anyone, despite excellent performances from Cross and from Annette Bening as Augusten's mother.

Cannonball Read #30: The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara

The Last Full Measure is the third in the Shaaras trilogy of the American Civil War (Killer Angels written by father Michael Shaara about the battle of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, Jeff Shaara's book on the beginning of the war) and it details the years following the battle of Gettysburg. The story is told mostly through the eyes of Robert E. Lee, Joshua Laurence Chamberlain, and brings in Ulysses S. Grant, though there are chapters from the perspective of other figures as well.

The book is extremely good, and Shaara tries to be balanced in his depictions of both sides--neither is "good" or "bad," they are just fighting for different things. I enjoy the fact that Shaara makes sure to include maps so the reader can follow the battle lines that are being described. I found that it made the battles much easier to visualize. The writing is wonderful and I felt that each character had his own distinct voice.

I have enjoyed each book in this series, and am looking forward to reading Shaara's other works on the Mexican War, the American Revolution, WWI, and WWII.

Cannonball Read #29: Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917 by Laura M. MacDonald

I didn't really know much about the Halifax explosion at all before reading this book--all I knew was that every year, the people of Nova Scotia send the people of Boston a giant-ass Christmas tree, which we put up on the Common to ooh and ahh over. This informative little piece of literature definitely will make me think next Christmas as I grumble about the traffic jam caused by the tree-lighting ceremony.

In 1917, Halifax NS was a hub of military activity. Many American and Canadian ships leaving for the war in Europe would make Halifax their final destination before departure. There was a thriving economy and a uniquely protected harbor that seemed safe from both weather and enemy submarines. On December 6, a series of errors would lead to a collision between two ships--one a munitions ship stuffed to the brim with TNT, picric acid, and several other high explosives--and the resulting explosion would destroy Halifax and neighboring Dartmouth, killing more than a thousand people and wounding nearly twice that number.

Laura MacDonald's book is obviously carefully researched, and having grown up in the area she has a special perspective on the character of the local people. She starts out by setting the scene, giving some background on the city and introducing the reader to some of the main players. She goes on to describe the events that led to the explosion and everything that came after, including a fairly extensive section on the relief efforts, particularly those taken on by the people of Massachusetts.

It's interesting to read about how this disaster led to changes in how major cities prepared for situations of this nature, and also how this effected the efforts and training of the (at the time) newly formed Red Cross. Also, the resulting changes in medical science--specifically the idea that pediatric surgery was different and required a different skill set than adult surgery (Dr. Ladd, a preeminent Boston surgeon would return from Halifax and put his efforts into creating the pediatric surgical unit at Children's Hospital, which now has a chair named in his honor.)

In all, Curse of the Narrows is a very detailed and very well-written book about an historical event nearly forgotten. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in turn-of-the-century history.