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Showing posts from December, 2009

Cannonball Read 2 #15: Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

After that godawful Hercule Poirot novel, I had to put down the Christie for a while. I couldn't quite forgive her for that monstrosity. Then Murder is Easy appeared on my Amazon "recommended" list, and I figured I'd give her another go.

Murder is Easy is the story of Luke Fitzwilliam, a British MP retiring from service and returning to England. During his trip home, he is told a story of serial murder disguised as accidental deaths in an idyllic village. He doesn't believe it, but when the elderly lady who told him the tale turns up dead, he can't resist investigating. He travels to the village, only to be met by a puzzling mystery, eccentric villagers, and a beautiful but contrary young woman. He has to interview everyone, trying to decide whom he suspects--is it the humble country doctor? The occult-obsessed shopkeeper? The shady lawyer? The blustery bull-dog enthusiast? Someone else entirely?--and keep himself from becoming the next victim.

The story moved …

Cannonball Read 2 #14: Hearts In Atlantis by Stephen King

Hearts in Atlantis is a collection of five stories, interconnected by characters and events. The first story, "Low Men in Yellow Coats" is the most "King-like" of the group--is is simultaneously nostalgic and creepy, a combination of the wonder of childhood and the darkness that comes with the loss of innocence. King's descriptions are as whimsical and interesting as ever, although the plot would lose something for anyone who hasn't read the "Gunslinger" novels.

The other four stories continue forward from 1960, watching a cast of characters weave in and out of the action, peripheral perhaps in one story, main characters in the next. The events span the course of 40 years, and the structure sometimes reminds me of IT, in that the characters are still being effected by barely-remembered events that happened in their childhoods.

On the whole I enjoyed the book, though it was not exactly what I expected. I would say it most closely resembles Differe…

Cannonball Read 2 #11 - 13: Sookie Stackhouse 2 - 4 by Charlaine Harris

These darned Sookie Stackhouse book are worse than I first thought--they are NOT like pork rinds, they are like CRACK. I gobbled down three of them during the holidays and found myself raving and drooling until I broke down and ordered #5 - 7.

Sookie's life continues to get weirder--she discovers there are many more supernatural creatures besides vampires in the world, including werewolves, shape-shifters, maenads, fairies, and some she can't even identify. She travels around the south meeting the vampire king of Louisiana, a suicidal vampire, a werewolf biker gang, some religious fanatics, a coven of brutal witches, and even another telepath. She finds dead bodies, gets beaten up, dodges killers, has relationship problems, makes new friends, kicks some ass, and gets more entangled with her boyfriend Vampire Bill's sexy boss Eric than she'd like to be.

Each book is a fun, trashy, roller-coaster ride. The character of Sookie is well-defined, and as you continue through th…

Cannonball Read 2 #10: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

When I got this book, knowing it was written by Mel Brooks's son Max, I expected it to be funny. I started reading, and by the time I realized it was not going to be funny, I was already hooked.

The story of World War Z is written 10 years after "The Zombie War," and the character of the author (separate from the actual author) is travelling around the world gathering first-hand experiences from the war's survivors. He interviews people from all walks of life--doctors, politicians, artists, soldiers, members of the media, and ordinary citizens--about what happened to them and how they survived having the dead rise up to devour the living. He begins with a doctor who sees what may have been "patient zero" in China, then continues around the world, tracking the rising plague and the reactions of the world leaders, the "Great Panic" which occurred once the problem became to large to ignore, suppress, or cover up, through the first battles of the "…

Cannonball Read 2 #9: In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon by Joan Druett

In the Wake of Madness is another entry into my beloved maritime disasters series, though this one isn't necessarily a disaster so much as it is the tale of cruelty, mutiny, and murder on a New England whaling ship.

In 1841, the whaleship Sharon left Fairhaven Massachusetts under the control of Captain Howes Norris. A year later, he was murdered by three Pacific Islanders (who had joined the crew after unprecedented desertions throughout the trip) while the rest of the crew were out whaling. The third mate launched a heroic rescue to re-take the ship from the Islanders, and although that dramatic experience was widely publicized, little was said a the time regarding the reasons behind the murder. Racism at the time, as well as the traditional code of silence among sailors, made the easiest answer--the Pacific Islanders just went crazy because that's what "those people" do--the accepted answer. The author attempts to explain the murder by researching journals written b…

Cannonball Read 2 #8: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark is the first of the SookieStackhouse series, better known as the basis for HBO's show True Blood. I started watching the show earlier this year and became absolutely hooked on it. Dead Until Dark introduces the characters and the world (and is the basis for season 1 of the show.)

Sookie is a waitress in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. She is a pretty girl who lives with her grandmother, and is mostly normal except for the fact that she is telepathic. Being able to read the minds of others has made her life especially complicated, keeping her from being able to date or have any real close friends. In Sookie's world, vampires are real, have just come "out of the coffin" and are trying to join mainstream society. Most of them either drink synthetic blood or feed from willing hosts, however many "normal" people are still fearful or distrusting. One day, a vampire named Bill walks into Merlotte's, the bar where Sookie works, and sets i…

Cannonball Read 2 #7: Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo

This book (obviously) tells the story of the giant wave of molasses that swept through Boston's North End in 1919, destroying everything in its path and killing 21 people. Imagine 2.3 million gallons of molasses suddenly being set free in a bustling urban area...the wave was approximately 25 feet high and completely flattened several nearby buildings as well as taking down a section of the elevated train tracks.

Stephen Puleo clearly researched his work extensively--he takes the reader through the building of the tank (substandard materials, lack of supervision), the historical context of the time (labor unions, World War I, Italian immigrants, anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti), the tank's collapse and the effect on the mid-lower class Italian neighborhood, and finishes with the trial to determine responsibility and damages, which lasted for three years.

There are many interesting facts here (the historical context areas in particular) and it's obvious that Puleo was careful a…

Cannonball Read 2 #6: Under The Dome by Stephen King

Under the Dome tells the story of a small town that one afternoon is suddenly covered by a clear, near impermeable dome. The citizens of Chester's Mill are forced to cope with this situation, which is complicated by drug deals, rape, murder, and political struggle. The main character is Dale Barbara (called Barbie) a former military man who has become a drifter/short-order cook. He has to figure out what to do about the dome while trying to avoid the clutches of a power-hungry local politician.

The scope of this book is pretty large--aside from Barbie there are probably at least another 50 or so distinct characters, including members from both sides of the dome's conflict as well as "extras." It's a lot to keep a handle on, but King does a pretty good job for the most part. I'd say he did a better job with this same task while writing The Stand, but on the whole I wouldn't say it's bad. The main characters are fairly well-drawn, though the villain can…