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Showing posts from May, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #38: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated is ostensibly the story of a character named Jonathan SafranFoer who travels from his home in America to the Ukraine to try and trace back the roots of his family and find Augustine, the woman who rescued his grandfather from the Nazis. However, it is mostly told through the eyes of Alex, a young Ukrainian whom Jonathan hires to be his translator for his trip. Alex writes up a description of their journey together (along with Alex's blind grandfather who is their driver and the "Seeing-Eye Bitch" Sammy Davis Jr. Jr) through the Ukrainian countryside. Alex's portions are written in the style of a person for whom English is a second language and the thesaurus is a dear friend--they are stylistically hilarious, and (particularly in the beginning when he first starts writing) I laughed aloud at some of his descriptions. Intermingled with Alex's travelogue are snippets from the novel Jonathan is writing about his Ukrainian ancestors and their…

Cannonball Read 2 #37: The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

In 1889, the small steel town of Johnstown Pennsylvania was nearly wiped off the map by a flood. This was only partly a natural disaster--the breaking of the South Forks dam was not entirely due to an unprecedented rainstorm--the selfish behavior of rich industrialists was also to blame.

High in the hills of Pennsylvania, the rich elite of Pittsburgh--people like the Fricks and the Carnegies, for example--purchased a piece of land to create a summer club. They built a hotel and cabins. They also liked the built-in lake, but decided the old earthen dam could use some improvements...they made it lower and flatter (so they could take carriage rides across) and put in some mesh "fish-gates" so the expensive fish they stocked couldn't escape. These "improvements" would weaken the dam, so when the record-setting rainstorm came along, there was almost no chance the dam would stay intact.

In the middle of the day on May 31, 1889, the South Forks dam collapsed and sent th…

Cannonball Read 2 #36: Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec

I had seen the film Defiance and greatly enjoyed it, so when I watched the extra features, I made a note about the book it was based on. NechamaTec's work is a well-researched and even-handed explanation of a piece of history I'd never heard of.

During the early 1940s, the Jewish people of Belorussia had few choices--many were either slaughtered outright or relocated to ghettos where they lived in constant terror of the Germans. However, a few managed to avoid those unpleasant options, fleeing into the heavy forests. Danger was around every corner--the Germans were often on the hunt and local peasants were likely to be Nazi collaborators. The Soviet partisans who also roamed the forest were not always friendly toward Jews, particularly unarmed women and children. All that aside, there were the obvious pitfalls of living in a forest with very little food during the Eastern European winter. However, many groups of Jewish refugees managed to survive, and a few armed themselves and…

Cannonball Read 2 #35: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

SookieStackhouse is back, still recovering from the bloody battle at the end of her previous adventure. In her latest outing, there are vampire politics, fairy intrigue, werewolf betrayal, and another psychic. Not to mention the usual small-town interactions. When Erik's maker shows up with a special guest in tow, things go from crazy to downright insane!

I loved this book, though I did feel that occasionally the plot was in danger of flying off the rails, and there were a few moments when I wondered exactly what had happened. Luckily, I'm not nearly as sensitive about plot holes or logic issues as some people are, and was able to enjoy Sookie's drama-filled life. I'm also a big fan of Erik, and he was prominent in book #10.

On the whole, another great entry in the SookieStackhouse series. Now...how long will I have to wait for book 11 to come out?

Cannonball Read 2 #34: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Invisible Monsters is the story of Shannon McFarland, a model who was in a terrible car accident and had her jaw eaten by birds. After her disfiguring injury, she throws in with Queen Brandy Alexander and they hit the road, criss-crossing the country in search of drugs, make-up, and entertainment. Along the way, Shannon tries to figure out who she is and what her life means.

The story, as is the case with all Palahniuk's books, starts out reasonable enough. However, the chronology starts leaping back and forth through time, and soon things begin to spiral out and become more and more bizarre. Shannon's first person narration is wholly unreliable, and her circumstances are often utterly ridiculous. Just like an old mystery novel, everyone somehow manages to turn up again in the end, and who they are and what they want will be surprising.

I feel like this is Palahniuk's version of a coming-of-age story. It's about identity--where does it come from? Who creates it? Are you …