Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A True Blood Post: Because I am Possibly the Biggest Dork Alive

Unfortunately, neither The Boyfriend nor Starbucks Queen are even the slightest bit interested in True Blood, and most of the people I know who are have either only read the books or only seen the show or are behind on the show because they're watching it on DVD or whatever. Therefore, I am spewing out all my opinions here because I can't keep them to myself any longer.

Reasons the Books are Better than the Show:

1. Sookie is a lot less annoying when you can't hear her. I like Anna Paquin, and think she mostly does an okay job with the character (though this season the writing for her has been weak at best) but sometimes she has a voice like a dental drill. Particularly when she is shrieking "BEEEEEEEEEELL!" every 38 seconds.

2. In the books, Alcide is a hottie and he and Sookie have crazy chemistry. On the show he has all the personality of a garden hose, and he and Sookie seem to barely like one another. He's been underused this season, but I'm not exactly sad, because the actor playing him is a significant disappointment.

3. The books are a little more focused than the show, allowing the Sookie character to be more important. They're told from her point of view, so reader can find her character more sympathetic.

4. The fairy Claudine is more awesome and interesting and involved and less "Whoo, I'm mysterious and pointy-faced in my fuzzy-filtered Stevie Nicks world!" Her character personality-wise is much more similar in the books to what Maryanne was last season. In the books, Claudine is an active and vital force for good out in the world rather than the twinkly, whimpering doom-whisperer she's been thus far on the show.

5. There is a lot less Arlene in the books. I find Arlene and her storyline sort of annoying this season, though I think the actress is doing the best she can with the little she's been given. She's a shrill character, and I wish she'd been improved instead of turned into a whiny stereotype and easy doorway for witchcraft to enter the show.

6. Calvin Norris is an interesting and complicated character, instead of a deranged meth head who shouldn't have even showed up until season 4. I was extremely disappointed at how he's been used in the show, since his character in the books is another option for Sookie--a slightly more "normal" guy who wants to give her a more "normal" life. I mean, aside from being a panther, obviously.

7. Bubba! I know why they can't use him on the show, but I do miss him.

Reasons the Show is Better Than the Books:

1. Lafayette doesn't die! In the books, he's a throwaway character who gets murdered at the end of book one. In the show, he is just a huge bowl of awesome and Nelsan Ellis should get an award or a big check or something. He's an effeminate-looking gay tough guy, who has a lot of great lines, and I'm happy that he finally has someone to appreciate him, though I'm not sure I like where this Jesus thing is going.

2. Jason is a better character. In the books he's kind of a selfish jerk, whereas in the show he is sometimes self-involved, but sweet...though not very bright. Often, watching Jason try to puzzle out what's going on around him and figure out what the appropriate response should be is the funniest part of the episode. I am admittedly rather unimpressed with him and his whole wannabe-cop, dating the meth-girl story line this season. He's a much better brother than he is in the books, though, and I have liked his interactions with Sookie.

3. Although this season the side characters have gotten a little out of control, in the past I have enjoyed how some of the very minor book characters have developed their own lives and personalities and story lines. Terry Bellefleur is a great example of this--he's mentioned in the books in passing, but I have liked his character and become invested in what happens to him (frankly, his relationship with Arlene and falling out with Sam has me very concerned at the moment). Sam is another character that is not nearly as important in the books as he is in the show. It's interesting to see him have his own life, though I could have happily done without his creepy white-trash family. (Also, the dude who plays him is adorable and apparently not shy about getting naked a lot.)

4. Jessica! She's a completely new invention from Alan Ball, and she's great -- a young vampire, a counterpoint to Bill, Eric, Pam, and all the other vamps we know who are centuries old. She's a modern girl trying to figure out how to behave and where her place in the world might be. The interactions between her and Bill (her unwilling surrogate dad, who--we're led to believe--is nicer to her than her real dad ever was), her and Sookie (both a surrogate mom and an older sister, helping Jessica see how a nice--but not stiflingly sheltered--girl behaves), her and Hoyt (one of the cutest relationships on the show), and her and Pam (who shows her how a BAD girl behaves) are all great and show different sides of familiar characters.

5. As many have been mentioning this season, Dennis O'Hare's Russell Edgington has been campy fun all the way around. Although his storyline is very different than it was in the books, he's been a delight to watch in every episode. He's another person who deserves an award or a large check (particularly since I think his character doesn't have much longer to live.)

Things That are Ties:

1. Tara in the books is a minor side character who is not very interesting. I really liked her character in Season One, but she all of season two and most of season three weeping around. I miss when she was feisty. I did enjoy her recent conversation with Sam, but she seriously needs to stop getting all the "victim" stories.

2. Sam's brother, a recent addition, could go either way. I'm not sure if the show is better because he's in it or the books are better because he's not. Although I like that he's kind of scrappy, and his crush on Jessica is kind of cute, he can be a pain-in-the-ass for no reason. Like, okay, you are uneducated and have daddy issues and mommy issues and class issues. Stop treating Sam like trash and let him help you out, pitbull face.

3. The Queen is not interesting to me in the books or the show. She is just dull and mostly used as a plot point rather than a real character.

4. I'd really like to see Sookie's friendship with Pam develop as it does in the books, but so far, Kristen Bauer has done a great job being icy and sarcastic and yet deeply attached to her maker on the show.

5. Eric is awesome no matter where he is. I really don't know how he could be improved. Then again, I am a sucker for a saucy viking.

Any other thoughts?

Cannonball Read 2 #52: Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

Whoohoo! I managed to complete the Cannonball Read goal this year with two whole months to spare! (I actually probably would have finished sooner, but I haven't been as good about blogging as I could have been. I'll get around to writing those blogs eventually.) Even though I wasn't chosen to actually compete in CR2, I'm proud of myself that I managed to do 52 books in one year. Since I started my first Cannonball Read way back in December 2008, I feel like I've done an incredible amount of reading for pleasure -- something I had let fall by the wayside in college. Anyway, I want to take this moment to thank all the little people (ha ha) who helped me get where I am...my faithful readers, including fellow Cannonballers Jen, Mike, Figgy, and Doc Spender. It's not easy to keep up something like this without the encouragement of being part of a group. And thanks to my other readers, who read my (often bizarre) ramblings purely out of friendship.

Anyway, on to book #52! Flags of Our Fathers was written by James Bradley, whose father John "Doc" Bradley was a Navy corpsman in the Pacific theater of WWII, and one of the men in the iconic photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Doc always tried to avoid the publicity that came with being a part of that photograph, and in tried to forget everything that happened during his military service. After his death, his son James went in search of the story behind that photo and how it had impacted his father's life. He also sought answers about the other men involved -- who were they, why were they there, and what had become of them?

The book traces all of the "flag-raisers" from childhood, to the Marines, to Iwo Jima, and beyond. Of the six, three were killed on the island, one was destroyed by everything he experienced in the Pacific and died in an alcoholic accident ten years later, one lived a life of disappointment, always trying to recapture the fame he'd had from being part of that photogenic moment, and one lived long and quiet life as a mortician, avoiding interviews and memories. James Bradley does a great job of researching the men and trying to figure out what kind of people they were and what brought them together in their historic moment.

Although I at some times thought the author focused a little too much on himself and his views about his father, it also serves to bring the book to a personal level. I thought it was both well-written and extremely interesting. The horrors the young men experienced are compared and contrasted with the government's exploitation of them afterwards, travelling the country trying to sell war bonds to a public desperate for tangible heroes.

I'll be interested to see Clint Eastwood's movie based on the book, and will let you know how that is. (I'm guessing that since one of the characters is Native American, Adam Beach will be in it...since he is apparently the ONLY NATIVE AMERICAN ACTOR IN THE UNIVERSE anymore. Seriously, Hollywood, there must be Native American actors, and besides, Beach is really not very good. TRY HARDER, PLEASE.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #51: Plague of the Dead by Z. A. Recht

This was great as far as zombie books go. Unlike World War Z (which is an incredible book) this is more personal -- we are introduced to a set of characters whom we follow as the world collapses.

In this book, zombies are caused by a disease. It's spread through blood contamination, and it first kills, then reanimates its victims. The American government tries to keep the public in the dark, but an Army scientist and a daring reporter (two of the main characters) break the story, and have to suffer the consequences. The other group of survivors are a military group, and include a wild private, a beautiful young Red Cross volunteer, a worldly photographer, a hardened military leader, and several other terrified refugees. This group escapes from Africa on a ship and lands in the Pacific Northwest, trying to make their way east while avoiding the hoards of the undead. The scientist and the reporter also have to try and make their way to a safe place to meet up with the other group.

It's a great book, and I found it totally engrossing. It would also make a great movie, as it's suspenseful and focused. However, it's the first book in a trilogy, and although the second book has been released it's out of print, and unfortunately the young author passed away before completing the final book. Although his family has apparently said they are going to get the third book completed and published, I'm still trying to decide if I should put myself through the torture of getting hold of the second book only to be waiting indefinitely for the finale. I guess I'll have to see just how badly I want to know what happens!

Cannonball Read 2 #50: Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose

The full title of this book is Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. It's a well-written, well-researched book detailing the experiences of the men on the ground in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during WW2.

Stephen Ambrose has once again created a book crammed full of facts and first-person experiences, much like his Band of Brothers. This book is less specific, in that Band of Brothers followed just one unit, while Citizen Soldiers is more of an overview of the entire ETO. He explains the troop movements and what was going on at the top, but most of the story comes directly from the enlisted men who were there, explaining what their day-to-day lives were like, and what kind of conditions they were surviving in.

There are chapters dedicated to many different types of soldiers and types of units. There are chapters about the Air Force, detailing what it was like to be a pilot or a gunner, as well as about the effect the American Air Force had on the war. There are also chapters on medics, mechanics, and other rear-echelon personnel. Ambrose includes a chapter on the service of African Americans, but it is fairly short. This book has a lot of fascinating information about things like how supplies got to the front, and how this enabled the allied forces to continue their push through Europe.

The book is well-researched, and Ambrose has interviewed many soldiers of the time, including British, Canadian, Russian, and even German in order to get as many perspectives as possible. Although it is a lot less focused and therefore slightly more confusing than Band of Brothers, it is an extremely informative and interesting book that should be read by anyone with an interest in World War 2.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #49: Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connolly

I saw the movie based on this book a few weeks ago and immediately purchased the book to see if it was equally interesting. To be honest, I was surprised how closely the movie resembled the book -- it's a good adaptation, and for the most part, the things that were left out or changed were an improvement.

The plot is the same as the film -- Frank Pierce, a NYC ambulance driver/EMT is in the middle of a breakdown. His past is haunting him constantly, and the madness that surrounds him is starting to be more than he can handle. The book spans about five days in Frank's life, starting with the night he and his partner save an elderly man named Mr. Burke from cardiac arrest. This brings the patient's daughter, Mary, into Frank's life. Mary is the one thing that seems to make sense to Frank, and they continue to run into each other for the next few days as Mr. Burke lingers in the hospital. Frank careens through the night with various partners, answering a variety of calls. However, the circles of his life keep getting smaller and smaller, until he can't help but run into his own past.

On the whole, this is an interesting, dark, and often funny book. I recommend it to anyone who likes edgy fiction narrated by an unreliable anti-hero.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #48: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon

I have not seen The Wire. Yes, I know--every time I turn around, someone is insisting that I MUST see it, that I would LOVE it and how can I possibly have NOT SEEN THE WIRE BECAUSE IT IS SO AWESOME. Unfortunately, the more people push me, the more I balk. It's just the way I am. However, I am reconsidering my position because David Simon's book Homicide (on which The Wire, as well as the old show Homicide are partially based) was so good I may not be able to resist him.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is a non-fiction account of David Simon's time shadowing a shift of Baltimore homicide detectives for the calendar year of 1988. He follows them as they work on cases, process evidence, testify in court rooms, and interact with one another. It's a fascinating study of the way the job of a homicide detective works, and Simon's writing style is totally engrossing. The personalities of the detectives come alive, and as a reader I really cared about each of them. They were all so distinct, but each contributed something different to the squad. The story is not really about the individual cases--some of the biggest of the year go unsolved--but about the men who work them. Simon touches on the politics of the work, noting how the solve rates can be manipulated and how politicians and the upper level brass pressure the men on the street to make things look better than they are. He shows the way the job can be tiring, frustrating, and at times completely futile. Simon has chapters that elaborate on court trials, the medical examiner's office, the beat cops. This is an incredibly detailed and fascinating book.

I recommend this to anyone who is interested in the way a homicide division operates. Although the technology today is light years beyond what was available in 1988, I'm sure that for the most part, the job of an ordinary homicide detective in America probably hasn't changed all that much in the 22 years since this book was written.