Monday, August 26, 2013

Texts From Bennett by Mac Lethal (CBR-V #35)

Cannonball Read V: Book #35/52
Published: 2013
Pages: 320
Genre: Humor/Nonfiction

**I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley. It is expected to be released on September 3, 2013.**

I don't read a lot of humor books, but I'm a fan of Mac Lethal's Tumblr blog, Texts From Bennett. The blog is a series of texts between Mac and his younger cousin, Bennett. Bennett is a wanna-be gangster (he thinks he's in the Crips gang) from Kansas City. Mac is actually a legit hip-hop artist (which I had no idea about until I read the book), but doesn't play into the rapper stereotype, much to Bennett's chagrin. 

I always wondered how Mac and Bennett's relationship was formed. They seem so different, including a fairly big age gap between the two (Bennet is a teenager and Mac is 30 in the book). That's where this book excelled. I went into it expecting a bunch of short stories and jokes at Bennett's expense and actually found a great story about two very different people becoming great friends. 

Bennett and Mac are cousins (their moms are sisters), but they didn't see each other much until Mac invited Bennett and his mom to temporarily live with him when they got kicked out of their house. Mac's Aunt Lillian is a super nice woman who unfortunately self-medicates with a prescription pill addiction and brings along her deadbeat boyfriend who she admits she only keeps around because he has a van. 

The story flows along well and Mac is a very good writer. It's not choppy like I'd expect a book based on text messages would be. I also liked that he didn't use Bennett and his friends as merely punchlines of a joke. Of course he describes the ridiculous, stereotypical way these kids dress (Bennett's sometimes-girlfriend Mercedes wears "gold hoops that are the size of a baby's head"), but you fall in love with these people. And I loved how the story shifts halfway through and has BENNETT actually helping out Mac with how to meet women (Bennett has a list).

Texts From Bennett is funny, but has a lot of heart as well. It's much more than just funny texts and a must-read for fans of the blog.

The Troop by Nick Cutter (CBR-V #34)

Cannonball Read V: Book #34/52
Published: 2014 (expected)
Pages: 368
Genre: Horror

**I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley. It is expected to be released on January 7, 2014.**

Scoutmaster Tim takes his troop of 14-year-old boys to a remote island in Canada so they can earn a merit badge. Unfortunately for them, the island isn't quite as remote as they thought. A sick looking man shows up at their cabin on the first evening and since Scoutmaster Tim is a doctor, he invites the man in to see if he can help. Turns out, the man has FRICKIN WORMS basically eating up his insides. As you can imagine, it all goes downhill from there. It doesn't help that one of the boys ends up being a certified sociopath. 

Don't let the Boy Scouts trick you - this is a full on horror novel. There are WORMS. And lots of blood and gore. I am terrified of most worms and the idea of parasitic worms makes my skin crawl. That may be why I found this book to be so terrifying. I read a lot of horror novels and parts of this book made me ill at times. 

The writing is actually really good. I've read some pretty awfully written horror novels, so this was a breath of fresh air. The characters are well-written, although a little cliche at times (there's the nerd, the jerk, the sociopath, etc.). I was afraid the teenage boys were going to get on my nerves by the end of the novel, but the author did a good job of making them authentic without being irritating or over the top (for instance, they told a dirty joke here and there, but it wasn't overdone for the sake of trying to prove to us that they are teenage boys). Once they are fighting for their lives, the boys get downright insightful and each boy has his own way of dealing with the terror they face. That's where the writing gets really good. I loved the juxtaposition between two of the boys tearfully trying to kill a turtle because they are out of food (that scene was so awful!) and the sociopathic boy reminiscing about the animals he tortured and killed for fun as a kid. 

The Troop actually reminded me a little bit of The Ruins by Scott Smith. If you like well-written horror, I'd highly recommend checking out this book out when it is released (and maybe reading The Ruins in the meantime).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Room 3 by Jonathan D. Allen (CBR-V #33)

Cannonball Read V: Book #33/52
Published: 2012
Pages: ebook
Genre: Scifi

Kelli Foster is living a regular small-town life as a bartender when she gets abducted one night from the street. She is taken to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and held prisoner in a room with another girl. They  are occasionally taken to the mysterious "Room 3" where they are given a drug to make them vividly hallucinate. For some reason, these hallucinations and the puzzles within are very important to the people who kidnapped Kelli. 

Room 3 is written in a journal format from Kelli's point of view. She begins each entry with her current circumstances (running from someone) and then writes down things she remembers from her captivity. Eventually, the two stories intertwine with each other and we find out why Kelli is running and who her companion is. I love the format because it allows the reader to slowly piece things together. 

I also loved the characters and Jonathan D. Allen really has a skill making his characters come to life. Kelli was a fighter and she never gave up on trying to escape. She had two roommates at different times and they were both great characters as well. I actually didn't notice until after I finished the book that the author is male - his female characters are great!

The reason I only gave the book three stars is because of the ending. I got some hints earlier on that it may be heading into the supernatural/sci-fi direction, but I was in no way prepared for that ending. It was so out in left field that it almost soured everything I had already read. However, I think it wouldn't have been nearly as bad if I wasn't expecting a more realistic ending. The reviews I read warned towards an unexpected ending, but I still wasn't prepared for sci-fi. It reminded me a little of the TV show Lost - the ending sucked, but the journey to get there was amazing and worth re-watching (or re-reading in this case). 

The Descent by Jeff Long (CBR-V #32)

Cannonball Read V: Book #32/52
Published: 1999
Pages: 598
Genre: Horror

The Descent started off really strong with several stories that hinted of the underground horror to come. The first (and strongest in my opinion) followed a group of explorers headed by a guy named Ike who take cover in a cave from a snowstorm. Then they find a creepy-as-hell dead body with disturbing writing all over it in the cave with them. That probably should have been a sign not to further explore, but they descend through the cave anyways hoping to find a way out and they all end up slaughtered. There were a few other opening stories that introduced us to Ali, the sort-of nun (she's supposedly a Nun, but besides helping lepers in Africa, there's not really much else that would categorize her as a nun) and Elias Branch, a military officer. Basically, they find out that a bunch of mutant freaks live under the earth and have for millions of years. They're savage, but based on some of their dwellings may have been more advanced than humans at one time in history. Humans are trying to eradicate the "Haddies", as they are called. 

After that, it all pretty much went downhill. It was super disappointing after such a strong opening too. The book just continues to get more and more ridiculous as it goes on and keeps introducing more and more characters that are so under-developed that they are hard to keep track of. If it had kept the three major characters (Ali, Elias, and Ike) that it started out with, I think it would have been a much better book. The actually did enjoy the part where a group of scientists, including Ali and Ike, are sent on a several thousand mile trek through underground tunnels. Maybe the book should have focused more on that plot line instead of some of the more ridiculous ones (like maybe the Haddies-can-infiltrate-our-brains one, for instance). 

I had planned on reading the sequel to this book, but I don't think I will now unless the reviews say it's MUCH better. I'm only giving it three stars for the awesome opening and the underground trek sections of the book.

Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman (CBR-V #31)

Cannonball Read V: Book #31/52
Published: 2011
Pages: 444
Genre: Nonfiction

I'm officially burned out on Scientology books. I actually bought this one before Going Clear, but figured since I already bought it, I might as well read it to. I figured it would be pretty redundant since Going Clear was so thorough, but I was surprised to find some new stuff in Janet Reitman's book.

I'm just going to say this again: Scientology is scary. I don't really care what religion people want to believe in, but when a religion refuses to allow people to leave that's when it starts crossing the line over into cult territory (at least for me). Although Scientology constantly is refuting the claims of abuse from ex-members, I'm finding it really hard to believe it's not true with all the first-hand accounts. And those are just from the people they haven't scared or paid off to keep quiet. 

That said, the history of Scientology and it's founder, L. Ron Hubbard is pretty fascinating stuff. While Going Clear was a very dense book full of facts and figures, Inside Scientology is a more personal account. It's written more like a magazine article than a term paper (Janet Reitman is an editor for Rolling Stone). Both books were great accounts, but this is probably the more "user friendly" of the two books. The journalistic approach makes for easy reading in Inside Scientology.

The book did go into much more detail with several stories that were skimmed over in Going Clear. For instance, the tragic story of Lisa McPherson. Lisa was a scientologist who was declared "clear" by David Miscagive himself. Being "clear" is when a person is declared free of negative emotions and past trauma and a huge thing in Scientology. David Miscagive has been the head of Scientology since L. Ron Hubbard died in the 80's. Lisa had a mental breakdown very soon after being declared "clear" and it was a public relations nightmare for Scientology. In trying to cover it up and "cure" her, Lisa McPherson ended up dead. Enough witnesses have come forward since then to paint a pretty good picture of what happened. 

The overall picture of the religion was pretty much the same as any other book I've read on the subject, but this book definitely took a more journalistic approach and included stories from many ex-members. I would probably read this one before Going Clear and if you are still interested, read it for a more in depth look at the religion itself.

The Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey (CBR-V #30)

Cannonball Read V: Book #30/52
Published: 2013
Pages: 608
Genre: Dystopian

Wool is one of my favorite books that I've read so far this year. Shift is a prequel of sorts to Wool that explains why people were living in underground silos with almost no knowledge about the world outside. It's hard to explain too much about it without giving too much away, but the book starts before the silos were even built. A politician with an architect background is commissioned to work on a top secret project and from there the story switches back and forth between his life before the silos and his life afterwards. Because of deep freezing technology, we can follow the same people over hundreds of years. Simply put them in deep freeze and wake them up a century later! I have to say, that is a pretty interesting way to move the story forward to the far future without having to introduce totally new characters. 

The book is actually a compilation of three novellas. They all featured Donald (the pre-silo politician), but we were also introduced to the characters of Mission and Jimmy. Mission is a messenger (he runs packages and messages from floor to floor in the silo) who was born illegally in his silo. Because he was conceived without his parents winning the birthing lottery, his mother was killed in his place once he was born. Jimmy is the guy we knew as Solo from Wool. He was a teen when his silo had an uprising and we see how he survived and why he was the only one left when Juliet found him.

My only complaint about this book was that the explanation for what happened outside and why everyone was in the silos was a little anti-climactic. It wasn't BAD, but I guess I was just hoping for something a little more unconventional from such a great writer. 

Overall, the book was great. I'm looking forward to Hugh Howey's third book in this series, Pact, that is supposed to be out later this year.

Under the Dome by Stephen King (CBR-V #29)

Cannonball Read V: Book #29/52
Published: 2009
Pages: 1092
Genre: Science Fiction

Under the Dome is a monster of a novel, clocking in at almost 1100 pages. I'm kind of a sucker for long, epic novels, so I decided to tackle this book for a second time. I read this book when it was first released in 2009 and loved it. I wanted to re-read it before I watched the TV show that just came out based on it. 

The basic premise is pretty simple: An impenetrable dome falls over the town of Chester's Mill, Maine. No one knows what it is or where it came from. The outside world is just as baffled as the people inside the dome. 

As with most of Stephen King's longer novels, there are a LOT of characters to wade through. Fortunately, you have plenty of time to sort everyone out with 1100 pages. One of the main characters is a guy named Dale Barbara, or Barbie. He's an ex-military guy who was a cook at a local restaurant. He was trying to leave town when the dome fell and trapped him inside. He was leaving town due to a pretty nasty, unfair fight with a guy named Junior over a girl. Junior is a sociopath who didn't fall far from the tree. His father, "Big Jim" Rennie is a local used car salesman who uses the dome to his advantage as he tries to take over the town. Big Jim is involved in a bunch of unethical things (with one of the town pastors, no less) while hiding behind the facade of being religious. 

There are tons of other characters and plot points that would take forever to go into, but I still really enjoyed this book. The second reading was a little slower due to already knowing the somewhat disappointing ending, but the interesting characters and story arcs make the journey worth it even if the ending wasn't great.