Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #21: Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

In short, Silence of the Lambs is the story of a young, ambitious FBI agent-in-training who teams up with a dangerous and psychopathic incarcerated genius in order to stop a serial killer. The book is mostly from the perspective of Clarice Starling, a young woman in the Quantico training program who wants to become a profiler with the FBI. She is sent by Jack Crawford--head of Quantico's profiling program--to speak with famed serial killing psychologist Hannibal Lector, ostensibly to try and persuade him to fill out a survey for research purposes. Dr. Lector quickly begins a cat and mouse game with Starling, and hints to her that he knows the identity of the serial killer "Buffalo Bill" who is plaguing the FBI by kidnapping and skinning young women. The story continues as Clarice tries to balance using Dr. Lector with being used by him for his own purposes. It also follows the hunt for "Buffalo Bill" and the struggles of his latest hostage.

The book is quite captivating, and the character of Clarice is very well drawn. However, the star of the novel is definitely "Hannibal the Cannibal," arguably the most fascinating fictional psychopath in literary history. His interactions with Clarice are very much a highlight of the book--in fact, at several points I found myself longing to skip ahead (past the procedural hunt for the at-large killer) to their next meeting. Although Lector is not "on-stage" at all times, his presence is felt at all times. The relationship between the two main characters is much more fascinating than the question of whether or not "Bill" will be captured before he kills his hostage.
I have read Harris's follow-ups (both sequel and prequel) and frankly compared to Silence of the Lambs they are both okay, but nothing particularly special.


It's difficult to read this book without considering the Oscar-sweeping film version starring Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins. It is amazing to me how closely the film follows the novel--though some small changes have been made and a few minor things left out, the movie doesn't suffer in the slightest. The performances (particularly Foster and Hopkins) are stunning and deserving of the accolades they received. Foster is excellent as Starling, a hard-nosed young woman desperate to make something more of herself than her white-trash small town past. And Hopkins is stunning as Lector; he is the epitome of courtly menace, of a brilliant mind corrupted yet still sharp. The entire supporting cast are equally good in their parts, particularly Ted Levine as the totally disturbing "Buffalo Bill."

I'd highly recommend both the novel and the film to anyone, though those who are delicate about violence should probably skip them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #18 - 20: Sookie Stackhouse books 5 - 7 by Charlaine Harris

(I'm pretty sure this format doesn't really measure up to the true Cannonball rules, but since I didn't qualify to get in, who fucking cares?)

These books are crack. CRACK.

There's werewolves and and shape-shifters and faeries (and Sookie might maybe be partly fairy) and one of the faeries is actually her fairy godmother because she's trying to become and angel and Sookie and Bill break up FOR GOOD THIS TIME and Sookie gets the crap kicked out of her and almost dies like five more times and she dates a were-tiger and meets the Queen and perhaps murders somebody and gets kidnapped and meets up with fellow telepath Barry the Bellboy, and there is intrigue and politics and some witches and a guy who accidentally gets turned into a cat and Jason is a werepanther and he gets married and moves out to weird inbred Hotshot and Arlene joins the fellowship and Sam is still hot in a vague non-threatening way and Sookie's house catches fire and there's an assassin and a pirate and vampire trials and a for-real Ballroom Blitz, and there are trips out of Bon Temps and and hurricane aftermath and a vampire convention and there are MURDERS and EXPLOSIONS and TERRORISM and HOT VIKING VAMPIRE ERIK and IT IS ALL JUST TOO MUCH BUT I LOVE THEM SO!

And I've ordered number 8 but numbers 9 and 10 are on pre-order and they don't come out for a while and I am going to have wait and i'm not sure that i can stand to wait to find out when Sookie and HOT VIKING VAMPIRE ERIK get together because they are so going to get together because how could they NOT....

oh Charlaine Harris, why can't you just write Sookie stories 24-7 instead of writing the, like, 5 other series you also write?

MUST HAVE MORE SOOKIE GODDAMMIT!

*twitch twitch twitch*

*drools*

*faints*

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #17: Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

While I await with baited breath the arrival of my new Sookie books, I got hold of a book from another of Charlaine Harris's series, this time Grave Sight from her Harper Connolly mysteries.

Harper Connolly, like Sookie Stackhouse, has a dubious gift: after being struck by lightning as a teenager, she has the ability to sense dead bodies and see what killed them. She's found a way to use this talent to make a living, travelling the country with her step-brother Tolliver, locating bodies for both law enforcement and private citizens. The trouble in this story begins when she and Tolliver arrive in the small town of Sarne, tasked with locating the body of a wild young girl thought to have been killed by her boyfriend. Harper finds the body, but doing so sets in motion a deadly series of events in Sarne. It seems like everyone in town is involved somehow, and Harper and Tolliver will be lucky to get out of town alive.

I liked the character of Harper, though I think she will likely become better developed as the series goes on--I felt like there was a lot of exposition to this book, a lot of setting up a life that will be explored later on. The mystery was relatively good, though I figured it out about 50 pages before the end. I'll definitely read more of Charlaine Harris's work, since everything I've read so far--while not particularly edifying--has been highly entertaining.

Cannonball Read 2 #16: Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History by Denise Gess

In October of 1871, a variety of circumstances combined in an unforeseen manner to create of of the most deadly quasi-natural disasters in American history. On the same night as the Great Chicago Fire, a small town in Wisconsin just north of Green Bay named Peshtigo (as well as the surrounding small villages, woods, and farmlands) was struck by a five-mile wide wall of fire, containing within it flying balls, waves, and tornadoes of flame. Between 1200 and 2500 people died, and 1.5 million acres of land were laid to waste.

The book tells not only the stories of the survivors of the disaster, but also of the men and women who heroically took charge to help out, the barons of industry whose greed made the conditions needed for the fire possible, and the men of the US's fledgling weather service whose warnings went unheeded.

The book is very well-researched, and includes a great many reference notes in the back which add to its informative nature. Although I found the book slightly less personally-effecting than previous fire books I've read, it was an interesting glimpse into a period and regain of American history that I'm not especially familiar with. The going can be a bit slow, but on the whole I'd recommend it to any history/disaster buff.