Friday, October 25, 2013

The Dark Half by Stephen King (CBR-V #45)

Cannonball Read V: Book #45/52
Published: 1989
Pages: 469
Genre: Crime/Horror

Thad is a writer who didn't have much success until he wrote a series under a pseudonym, George Stark. After his success with the George Stark books, Thad decided to "kill" Stark and try his luck once again under his own name. Then people connected to Thad start getting murdered by someone who looks and acts suspiciously like the fictional George Stark. Is Stark a real person or just a figment of Thad's imagination? 

The Dark Half is more of a crime/mystery type book than Stephen King's usual horror. He does throw in some of his trademark supernatural elements though. As usual, King is great at creating characters, but I just couldn't get into this storyline as much as most of his books. It sort of dragged on in parts and the whole thing with the sparrows was just sort of bizarre. 

There's only a handful of Stephen King books that I haven't read yet and this was one of them. I can finally check it off my list, but it definitely wasn't my favorite. 

Call Me Cockroach by Leigh Byrne (CBR-V #44)

Cannonball Read V: Book #44/52
Published: 2013
Pages: 236
Genre: Memoir

This book is a follow-up of the excellent memoir, Call Me Tuesday by Leigh Byrne. She grew up in a very abusive home and her childhood was chronicled in her first book. The only thing I didn't like about Call Me Tuesday was the sort of abrupt ending. I wanted to know what happened to "Tuesday" (or Leigh)and how her childhood abuse effected her late teens and adult life. 

Call Me Cockroach follows her life after she leaves her home to live with her aunt. However, Tuesday ends up back in an abusive relationship by marrying a guy she barely knows at a very young age. She's also still dealing with her mother, who seems to brush all of the past abuse behind her. Her mother also only abused Tuesday and not her brothers and she never did really get answers as to why. I was also heartbroken to learn that she has little to no relationships with any of her brothers. I can't imagine how painful it would be to have your entire family basically refuse to acknowledge what she went through as a child nor offer any explanation. 

This follow-up book is basically her struggle to understand her childhood abuse. This book stands out to me because of how self-aware Leigh is. She reflects on her past with such brutal honesty. She was a victim, but she never plays the victim. She takes full responsibility for the decisions she made as an adult. Such rawness is hard to come by.

I hope that writing these two books was therapeutic to Leigh Byrne. She's a gifted writer and I truly commend her for rising above her past and wish her nothing but the best for the future.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (CBR-V #43)

Cannonball Read V: Book #43/52
Published: 2012
Pages: 390
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Cinder is a cyborg - part human, part robot. She lives with her evil step-mother and two stepsisters (this is a re-imagined Cinderella after all) in New Beijing which is on the verge of a war with the Lunar people (who live on the moon). Cinder is a mechanic and she meets the prince when he asks her to fix one of his old robots. They strike up a friendship as Cinder tries both to hide and figure out who she really is. 

This story really could have went either way, but I thought it was actually pretty good. It was interesting and never got boring. The romance was never too sappy and I felt like Cinder was a strong female character on her own (i.e. didn't need a man to define her character). I also liked that she had other relationships that were focused on, such as with her dying step-sister (the nice one of the two) and her friendship with the house robot.

However, I did think the idea of setting it in China was interesting, but it probably could have been integrated into the plot a little more. I also thought the beginning was unclear on what exactly Cinder was. I spent the first several chapters thinking she was a full on robot with no human blood at all. I'm not sure if that was intentional in order to reveal her backstory as to how she became part robot or not, but it was sort of confusing at first.

There is a second book in this series that focuses on Little Red Riding Hood, but I believe that Cinder is also a character in it. So hopefully they continue her story since it didn't have a definite ending here. 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (CBR-V #42)

Cannonball Read V: Book #42/52
Published: 2005
Pages: 576

Genre: Young Adult

Liesel Meminger is dropped off at a foster home by her mother at the onset of World War II in Germany. Her younger brother has just died and she is now dealing with her new home and new parents. Her foster father ("Papa") is a kind man who teaches Liesel to read (she's far behind the other kids in school) after she steals her first book - The Gravedigger's Handbook. 

This book was hard to get into. First, it is narrated by Death. Which is...weird. It's hard to grasp and I mostly wondered why Death cared so much about Liesel's story. It's tragic, but I'm sure Death sees thousands of tragic stories every day. It was also sort of slow and I wasn't sure where the story was heading at all. But the writing is poetic and beautiful, so I kept going.

By the end, I couldn't stop crying (and I'm not really one who cries during books/movies). This is definitely one of those books that you can't make a judgement about until you finish. The end packs a huge emotional punch and makes you realize just how much you actually came to care about these characters. 

I can see why this book is so highly rated. It's a beautiful story that will stay with you for a long time after you finish.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff (CBR-V #41)

Cannonball Read V: Book #41/52
Published: 2011
Pages: 384
Genre: Nonfiction/History

 Lost in Shangri-la is a non-fiction account of a group of soldiers stationed in New Guinea during World War II. In the middle of the island was a flat valley that was home to thousands of native tribes that had never seen the outside world. During a scenic tour over the valley, an American plane crashed into a mountainside, killing most of the passengers. One of the survivors was a member of the WOC (Women's Army Corps) named Margaret Hastings. She, along with the two other survivors, John McCollum (who lost his twin brother in the crash) and Kenneth Decker, have to survive in the jungle amidst possibly hostile native tribes until they can be rescued. On top of everything, they are doing all of this with horrific burns and injuries from the crash. 

A huge problem is that the valley they crashed in is impossible to land a plane on. Hiking miles and miles through rough terrain isn't an option with their injuries. They end up being stranded for weeks while rescue missions are figured out. The stranded trio ends up befriending some people in a local native tribe and I found those parts to be some of the most fascinating in the book. 

Although this is a very interesting story, I kind of felt like it would make a better article than book. It was fairly short, but got bogged down with boring details that seemed like filler (did we REALLY need that many mind-numbing details on the history of every aircraft that made an appearance in the story?). However, if you skim over those parts the survival story is a fascinating one that's worth reading.