Monday, February 2, 2015

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

Disclaimer: I got this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Great Zoo of China doesn't have a super original plot: China figures out (well, more like stumbles upon) how to make real life dragons. So of course they create a giant, no-expense-spared them park and invite some important people to visit and check it out before it opens to the public? Sound familiar? Replace "China" with "Costa Rica" and "dragons" with "dinosaurs" and you have Jurassic Park.

HOWEVER, Matthew Reilly was smart enough to hit that issue head on and makes a joke about the similarities to Jurassic Park in the book. Which was pretty awesome.The Great Zoo of China may share a similar plot with Jurassic Park, but they are two very different books.

First, the characters. Our main protagonist is CJ Cameron, a reptile specialist who has severe facial scarring due to a crocodile incident a while back. She's a strong female character and even though she comes off as almost too conveniently perfect (she speaks fluent Mandarin which comes in pretty handy numerous times), she's likable. She comes along with her photographer brother, Hamish, who provides some much needed humor. Unfortunately, everyone else is fairly one-note and forgettable.

The action is great. Once everything is set up, it's pretty much non-stop until the end. I definitely didn't get bored and was having a pretty good time through the first half of the book. Then it started getting ridiculous. They lost me once CJ started having conversations with one of the dragons and jumped on his back to ride him around the park. I know, it's a book with DRAGONS, but I prefer to keep at least a little bit of realism in there.

But what bothered me the most? The constant trailing off sentences and italics to express something shocking. It drove me nuts. I don't need a shocking revelation to be in italics in order for it to be shocking. In fact, if ANY of the sentences that were in italics or used ellipsis were just written in normal font, they still would have came across just fine and as intended. It wasn't necessary and was distracting. I don't know if that's normal Matthew Reilly writing because I've never read any of his other books, but it came across as very amateur. 

Overall, I did give this book 3 stars because it was fun and engaging, but it may be closer to 2 and a half stars for the issues I talked about above. I think at the core, Reilly had a really great story, but unfortunately it got muddled with some unnecessary distractions.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Before I Die by Jenny Downham (CBR-V #52)

Cannonball Read V: Book #52/52
Published: 2007
Pages: 336
Genre: Young Adult
 Tessa is dying from leukemia and decides to make a list of things she wants to do before she dies. She enlists of one of her friends to help her and eventually brings her neighbor into the fold as she grows closer to him. Some of the things on her list are what you'd expect from a teenager - sex, fall in love, etc. But most of the things on the list were kind of weird, such as shoplifting. Who wants to shoplift before they die? 

I had a hard time with this book. Some parts of it were very good - such as her family dealing with her illness and now her rebellion just before she dies (she stays out all night, jumps into a freezing river, joyrides without a license in her dad's car - just to name a few). The ending was also beautifully written. Even though you know what's going to happen, it doesn't make it any less emotional. 

However, I didn't care for Tessa that much. I completely understand her being angry and all of the different emotions she was going through while she was processing what was going on with her, but something about the character just made her hard to grasp. In fact, all of the characters could have stood to be fleshed out a little more - they were good, but not great. I think it's just more noticeable when it's the main character.

I also was getting a little tired of the romance crap by the end. A good chunk of the book ends up being mushy love sentiments between Tessa and her new "love of her life". Plus, all I'm thinking about is how the heck does she have the energy to have that much sex if she can barely get out of bed towards the end?? I figured he was going to kill her mid-coitus. I mean, that's great that she got to fall in love before her eventual death, but once he came into the picture the rest of the story pretty much took the back-burner.

Overall, this is a pretty solid 2.5 star book. Not terrible, but not that great either.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (CBR-V #51)

Cannonball Read V: Book #51/52
Published: 2009
Pages: 391
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian

This is going to be a short review because this series has been reviewed to death already and this is a re-read for me. I wanted to read it again before I saw the movie since I already forgot half of what happened since I last read it several years ago. I'm not going to re-hash the plot, because if you don't already know it you've probably been living under a rock for the past two years. 

I was actually a little surprised at how much I forgot about this book. The middle books in trilogies tend to get forgotten the quickest, I think. Everyone remembers the beginning and end, but forgets the details on how they got from Point A to Point B. Although for a middle book, this one is actually quite strong. I know it got some flack for being a re-hash of the first book with a second Hunger Games, but I think it works for two reasons. One, they don't actually get to the arena and start the games until halfway through the book, and two, they make enough differences in the games to keep it fresh. For instance, the new Head Gamemaster (is that what he's called?) brings a new spin on things and I actually think the other Hunger Games tributes are stronger and more memorable characters in this book than the first.

This book lived up to a second read, although it does lose some of the thrill of reading it for the first time and not knowing what's going to happen. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (CBR-V #50)

Cannonball Read V: Book #50/52
Published: 2007
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult

Hannah is a high school student who committed suicide. Before she did it, she recorded 13 cassette tapes naming all of the people who contributed to her decision to end her life and why. If the people on the tapes don't pass them along to the next person the list, a second set of tapes will be made public. The book follows Hannah's classmate Clay and his experience listening to the tapes. 

I had really mixed feeling about this book. One one hand, I do get the point the author was trying to get across. You never know what is going on with someone else so try and treat people with a little decency and compassion. Unfortunately, decency and compassion aren't well-known traits among high-schoolers. 

On the other hand, I felt like Hannah was trying to justify her decision to commit suicide. Like it was okay because these were her reasons. But there is no justification for suicide. She tried to put all the blame on these other students when the blame should have been put on her obvious depression. 

I'm not trying to downplay how serious of an issue suicide is. It's terrible and awful for the people they leave behind. However, I didn't really feel that Hannah's high school experience was that abnormal. There were some rumors that spread about her and SHE made some bad decisions as well that ended up with consequences that she felt guilty about. Sounds like a pretty typical high school experience to me. 

Basically, I wish the book had focused more on the signs of suicide she was showing (change in appearance, giving away possessions, etc.) and why no one noticed. She even talked to the guidance counselor and showed some pretty disturbing signs of extreme depression. But no one thought to get her any help? The suicide probably couldn't have been prevented even if every single person on that list behaved differently. It might have been if someone had noticed Hannah's signs and gotten her real help. That was the real tragedy here. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (CBR-V #49)

Cannonball Read V: Book #49/52
Published: 1925
Pages: 177
Genre: Classic

On my quest to read more classics, this one was high on the list. Mostly because it's short. It's no secret that I generally don't get into the classics very well for some reason. I usually find them extremely slow and boring. The Great Gatsby started out that way, but by the end I was pleasantly surprised.

If you don't know the plot, the story is narrated by a man named Nick who moved into a small house on Long Island, NY. He notices that his neighbor always holds elaborate parties at his mansion next door, but is rarely seen himself. Eventually Nick and his neighbor, Jay Gatsby become friends and Nick finds out that Gatsby has been in love with his cousin Daisy for years. Daisy just moved back to the area with her husband. 

It was sometimes hard to keep all the relationships and extra-marital affairs in order, but once I got into the rhythm of the book I really did enjoy it. I'm also a sucker for tragic endings and I definitely didn't see the ending of this one coming. The writing was really beautiful as well.

I'd recommend this as a starter to someone who, like me, finds it hard to get into classics. It's short, easy to read, and should have enough drama and twists to keep most people interested. 

Born to Bleed by Ryan C. Thomas (CBR-V #48)

Cannonball Read V: Book #48/52
Published: 2011
Pages: 184
Genre: Horror

I loved Ryan C. Thomas' The Summer I Died and I had no idea there was a sequel until recently. I picked it up despite the mediocre reviews and unfortunately came to the same conclusion: disappointing. 

This books takes place 10 years after the horrifying events in The Summer I Died. ***SPOILERS FOR THE SUMMER I DIED*** Roger ended up surviving after watching his sister and best friend die at the hands of a maniac. ***END SPOILERS*** He's obviously still very traumatized and barely functioning after he moved to southern California to be an artist. He's out painting at a lake one day when his co-worker at the galley he works for, Victoria, and her boyfriend mysteriously vanish. After finding their car still there with blood on the ground, Roger goes all detective to track down a suspicious SUV that was there earlier and that he thinks might be the kidnappers. 

***MORE TSID SPOILERS***I loved seeing Roger come back and how he was dealing with the events from the first book. I also thought it was interesting to fast forward to 10 years later when he's 30 years old instead of it taking place weeks or months after the first book. ****END SPOILERS***

Now for the bad: I wanted to like this book, but it was just no where near the caliber of the first. The relationship between Roger and Victoria was virtually non-existent. One of the best parts about TSID was the close relationship between Roger and Tooth. 

Also the whole wolf cult thing was terrible. The "bad guys" had kidnapped Victoria to sell her to a cult of cannibals. Yes, it's as bad as it sounds. It was also completely unnecessary because the cult was never really explained that well. Crazy guy in a house in the woods who tortures people in his basement = much more believable than rich people in a wolf-worshiping cult who buy people to eat them. It was just so ridiculous that it ceased to be scary.

The ending really made me mad because it almost ruined the first book as well. In it, Roger escapes most of the torture due to constantly winning a dice game. It almost always went in his favor and caused Tooth to lose and get most of the punishment. I liked just leaving it as extreme blind luck, but in this book it's kind of explained at the very end. I won't spoil it, but it did not make me happy.

Apparently there is going to be a third book in this series as well. I just hope that the author took some of the critical reviews into consideration and makes it more like the The Summer I Died than Born to Bleed.

The Green Mile by Stephen King (CBR-V #47)

Cannonball Read V: Book #47/52
Published: 1996
Pages: 548
Genre: Mystery

Having read most of Stephen King's books, I'm not sure how I managed to never pick up The Green Mile. I've also never seen the movie (yet...working on that), so I went into this book only knowing the basic plot: It takes place on death row and there's a giant guy who may or may not have done the crime that landed him there. 

Paul Edgecomb is the narrator who is in a nursing home type place writing down this story that happened when he was a prison warden in the 1930s. He saw a lot of people die while working on death row, but John Coffey stood out to him. He was brought to the prison after being convicted of raping and murdering two little twin girls (but did he actually do it?). He's a strange man - absolutely huge, but gentle and soft-spoken and seems to never stop weeping tears. Turns out, John Coffey has some special healing abilities as well. 

I really liked this book. It was originally released as a serial in several parts, so I think that's what made the pacing so good. The characters were great and I loved how King humanized the death row inmates. The wardens weren't always the good guys and the inmates weren't always the scum. I never thought I'd start liking some of these people who were imprisoned for doing awful things. Delacroix, for example. He and his pet mouse almost made you forget the fact that he was a murderer. Then King would remind you what they did just to throw you off. 

This is a great Stephen King book for people who may not be into some of his more horror or supernatural themed books. It has a touch of the supernatural, but it's mostly a character- and emotion- driven novel.