Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #4 – Dodger by Terry Pratchett

I got this book as a freebie (or a cheapie) for the Kindle (sorry if I keep sounding like an advert for Kindle, but I do love it. I was solidly anti-e-reader, pro-paper book, until I started reading the Song of Ice & Fire series, which was difficult to lug around, and since I was getting the books from the library, there was the whole sanitariness issue. But I digress). Anyway, I felt like I had read Pratchett before, but it turns out I haven’t. Guess I just heard people talking about him. This book was an excellent introduction, and I kind of feel like I need to dive into the whole Discworld thing.

Part of what drew me to this book was my family’s habit of naming our pets after Dickens characters. I had a dog named Dodger. He was adorable. That, and my love for Oliver Twist. This may or may not be that Dodger. He’s a teenager living in the slums of London, making his living as a pickpocket and a tosher (a dude that rummages around in the sewers, picking up the stuff that gets swept and/or dropped down there). He comes up into the street in the middle of a rainstorm, and sees a young woman being assaulted. He saves her, because this particular Dodger is a paragon. As he’s trying to help her, they’re accosted and aided by Charles Dickens and the guy who started Punch. This begins a mystery, because no one knows who this girl is; it also begins the story of Dodger’s rise in the world.

Throughout the book, Dodger encounters real and fictional characters (Sweeney Todd, Benjamin Disraeli, and Sir Robert Peel, among others). He dodges and outsmarts pretty much everyone, while figuring out who the girl is, and solving the mystery of why she was being chased and beaten.

One of the neat things was that Dodger lived with an older Jewish man, who had been all over the world, and was respected both in the slums and by the gentry. It’s definitely an interesting take on Fagin, almost a redemption of the Dickens character.

There is plenty in this book that defies even the strongest suspension of disbelief, but somehow it all worked for me. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and would recommend it to pretty much anyone. If you like Dickens, historical mysteries, Zelig-type stories, or just a ripping yarn, then I’d grab this one.

Petalfrog’s #CBR5 #2: A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

I’ve long been a fan of the quirkier children’s books. Roald Dahl has always been my favorite. He has a way of putting kids in awful situations and bringing a wacky sense of humour and resilience to them. He introduces crazy situations, and the kids always pull through. So, when I saw the first in A Series of Unfortunate Events was on wicked sale on Amazon.com I jumped right on it.

This book certainly featured kids in an awful situation. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are three happy and life-loving kids. When their parents die tragically in a house fire, they are sent to live with their distant relative, the mean and somewhat sociopathic Count Olaf. The kids quickly realize Count Olaf is working on a plot to get to their extensive inheritance. The story is a quick read (167 pages), and I found my heart breaking for the kids throughout. Some of the situations were almost too upsetting (I am such a softie) for a kids’ book (I could see younger kids being really scared by Olaf and his meanness), and lacked the Roald Dahl wacky humour to balance things out. We’ve got some malnutrition, neglect, face-slapping, and some random (non-sexual) incest thrown in.

Overall, it’s a bizarre scenario and a sort of bizarre little story, and maybe I’m being entirely too prudish about the whole thing (I readily admit). I did feel really invested in the story and the kids, but when they triumphed (of course) at the end, I didn’t find myself wanting to cheer. Rather, I just felt a sense of relief that no more horribleness would happen to these sweet kids in this book (obviously more unfortunate stuff will happen in the rest of the series). I felt the book lacked the light airiness and whimsy required in a book where mean and bad stuff happens to kids. I just wound up wishing it was a Roald Dahl book instead…

Anastar13′s #BDR5 review #3: Diary of the Displaced by Glynn James

ImageDiary of the Displaced is a free Kindle download right now and I say get it while the gettin’s good!!  This one, folks, is really good.  The title, in its entirety, goes like this:  Diary of the Displaced Omnibus 1 Parts 1 – 4, The Journal of James Halldon.   It’s a lot and thankfully, the story itself is far less clunky.

James Halldon is a lost man, waking up one day in a grey, unfamiliar world with no memory of how he got there.  He’s the only human there, as far as he can tell, but there are zombies and demon dogs aplenty.  James records what he finds (and how he feels about it) and the result is a great story set in a fascinating world.

The story ends neatly but is set up for a series and I’m looking forward to reading more about the adventures of of the displaced.

iamnothamlet’s #CBR5 Review #5: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories by Truman Capote

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the story of a young writer’s captivation with his upstairs neighbor, an inscrutable society girl with an odd philosophy towards life.

Reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s nowadays it is impossible not to view the story and it’s most famous character through the popular, and much-criticized trope, of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The MPDG is a free-spirited young woman with unconventional ideas whose openness to the richness of life inspires the male character to open up and free himself from the constraints of society. While Capote’s precursor is more nuanced than the cliche, his creation of Holly Golightly still seems a little too preciously quirky to be engrossing.

The chief joy in the novella is in Capote’s prose-style, which is just perfect enough to be awe-inspiring without becoming airless and unnatural. Capote’s sentences flow gracefully one into the other with nary a misplaced word to be found.

This edition also included three short stories: The House of Flowers, The Diamond Guitar, and A Christmas Memory. The first two are intriguing because of the breadth of Capote’s imagination, as he writes about Haitian prostitutes and Cuban prison inmates with incredible veracity. However, the third story is the real prize. A Christmas Memory is a heartbreaking story of a young boy’s friendship with the outcast of his family, a mentally addled old woman without another real friend in the world. It’s a sweet, touching look at innocence and childhood, and it alone would justify Capote’s status as an important American writer.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #7: The Invisible Ones

A mystery novel involving gypsies, a disappearance and possible murder. The book has a blurb from Tana French – the novel has a similar voice to hers, and equally damaged narrators and characters, but isn’t as good as French’s novels. Still, not a bad pick for a rainy afternoon, but it has some flaws, mostly with the character interactions, and the pacing.

Lady Cordelia #CBR5 Review #06: The Snowman by Jo Nesbø

imagesThe Snowman is a crime novel set in Oslo, Norway, starring maverick police detective Harry Hole.  Harry is one of the traditional breed of detectives; you know, the ones with a drinking problem, failed relationships and in constant clash with authority.  That said, it still worked for me.

The Snowman starts with a flashback to 1980, where the psychosis of the killer is formed and then picks up again in 2004.    Women have been going missing at the time of the first annual snowfall, with a snowman being found at the scene each time, though this has been dismissed as irrelevant.    Harry is the one who sees the pattern and suspects a serial killer.   Working with a small team, Harry follows the trail through a number of false leads until finding the real killer, which, looking back, was nicely foreshadowed.

I enjoyed the number of fleshed-out characters and all the possible plausible suspects as to who the killer was.  At times, there were little oddities to the language (which I assume comes from the Norwegian translation) but I found this to be a good read.

This is the seventh of the Harry Hole novels (they start with The Bat) but I didn’t feel lost picking this one up first.   I haven’t read many of this recent groundswell of Scandinavian crime novels, but I enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre.

Yours truly, Lady Cordelia

Emalynn’s #CBR5 Review #01: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I started reading Cloud Atlas a few months after seeing the movie, with the full realization that my impressions of the book would be colored by what I already knew. I was surprised to find, however, that though conversations had been copied directly, often seemingly word for word, from the text and that many other details were identical, my impressions and the meaning that I took away from the novel were entirely different.

Cloud Atlas is a series of connected stories focused on six different characters in six different times and places.

  • Adam Ewing, a young lawyer on a voyage across the Pacific in 1850
  • Robert Frobisher, a composer and a disgraced English aristocrat, working in Belgium as an assistant to an old and dying but famous composer in1931
  • Luisa Rey, a young journalist caught up in a dangerous nuclear conspiracy in California in 1975
  • Timothy Cavendish, a vanity publisher on the run from  gangsters, accidentally trapped in a nursing home in present-day England
  • Sonmi-451, a genetically modified “fabricant” slave in a highly advanced future Korea
  • Zachry Bailey, a villager in Hawaii after the fall of civilization, living in fear of attack by savage tribes

Each character is explicitly tied to both the previous and subsequent character. Zachry Bailey’s tribe considers Sonmi a god;  Sonmi describes watching a film of Timothy Cavendish; Timothy reads a manuscript of Luisa’s adventures;  one of Luisa’s informants in Robert Frobisher’s former lover, and Robert Frobisher reads an old diary written by Adam Ewing.  In the movie, parts of each of these stories were interspersed, with bits scattered throughout the duration, but the book is arranged as a Matriyoska doll, folding out symmetrically. It starts with Adam Ewing, working its way out into the future gradually, leaving each story only half told, and then doubles back on itself- a conceit that I must admit delighted me.

Walking away from Cloud Atlas the film, my impression of the meaning was that we are all connected in unexpected and wonderful ways, and that we have a responsibility to each other. This theme was also present in the novel, but not as obviously. Instead, the meaning that I took away from the book was the universal nature and destructive power of greed.

This started small and grew steadily bigger- first Adam Ewing is poisoned by another man for the contents of his trunk, then Robert Frobisher is blackmailed by a conspiracy of a husband and wife. Luisa Rey faces down corporate greed; Sonmi-451 contends with societal greed on an unimaginable scale, leaving  Zachry, dealing with the fallout of the greed of past generations and grappling with greed in the present in its purest form: savagery.

I really liked this book and would recommend it without hesitation, regardless of what anyone thought of the movie . Each story benefited from the additional room to breathe that the novel’s length afforded, and the sections about Sonmi-451 especially achieved a richness that was not present in the film. Though Cloud Atlas was not quite the life-changing experience I was promised, it was a very good novel with quite a bit of food for thought.

Fancypants42′s #CBR5 Review #2: The Chamber of Ten by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon

the-Chamber-of-TenThis book caught my eye for two reasons: it’s about Venice and it’s co-written by Christopher Golden. I first discovered him as an author when I read one of his Buffy books. I was hooked. I branched out and tried his non-Buffy stuff and I can’t get enough. He has a way of enveloping you in the fantasy worlds he creates in the midst of our own realities. And I’ve always loved Venice and couldn’t wait to be transported to Golden’s vision of it.

I don’t know much about Tim Lebbon or how the cowriting process works. I imagine it’s different for all authors – Neil and Terry, Stephen and Peter, everybody probably has their own unique groove. I always imagine two authors sitting at a table together passing a manuscript back and forth. (I know that isn’t how it works, but it’s just how I picture it.) It wasn’t clear to me which passages were Golden’s and which weren’t. The tale was cohesive, full of magic and wonder, and quite suspenseful.

A team of archaeologists uncover a secret hidden room that could have been Petrarch’s library so many years ago. Hidden within that secret chamber is another. Once it is opened, a string of events is set into motion that no one could possibly be prepared for. The leader of the research team finds that her lover is possessed by the mind or spirit of a man who died hundreds of years ago and he’s using this body to do unspeakable things. But things aren’t always what they seem and villainy isn’t always black and white.

I couldn’t put this book down. It was gripping and emotional and entertaining. Venice is the star of the story, with lush descriptions of an exquisite city in danger of being lost for all time. It’s romantic and wonderful, but scary and frustrating at times as well. I certainly ran the gamut of emotions with this novel.

Apparently it’s part of a sort of series because the jacket says “A Novel of the Hidden Cities”. I need to check out more Hidden Cities novels. I’m such a sucker for magic, history, love and suspense all rolled into one.