Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #11 - Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

Full Disclosure: I've been lax with my disclaimers.  I really should be including these with my posts on books I received for free.  Not only is it legally expected, it's also just good form.  I'd like to thank Heidi Metcalfe at Harper Collins for providing me with a copy of Men, Women, and Children; as well as Alicia Samuel at Simon and Schuster for providing me with the review copy of this very book under review.

Blame my father for making me a James Bond fan.  He owned all the movies, and ever since he was a kid he'd been a big fan.  If it wasn't for him owning the movies, I'd have thought that 007 was a rather neat video game character, instead of a cinematic icon of suavity and danger.  And if it wasn't for the films, I'd have never taken enough interest to start collecting and reading the Bond books over the years, which would have meant I'd missed out on being introduced to Ian Fleming's sterling prose.  Which would mean that I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the quality of this book versus the previous attempt at resurrecting Bond, Devil May Care, as compared to the Fleming texts.

Devil May Care was a disaster.  A formulaic fill in the numbers "tribute" to Ian Fleming's writing, that failed to capture me the way Fleming himself did upon the first read.  Truthfully, the only reason I own the book is for completion sake.  When I heard Carte Blanche was coming up, I seized the opportunity because I figured that if it was good, my faith would be restored.  (And if it was bad, then I'd have a good time writing a negatively scathing review.)  I am happy to announce that Carte Blanche succeeds in rebooting the franchise, and giving us readers something to look forward to.  James Bond truly is back.

Bond, now a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is a young 00 agent at the Overseas Development Group (ODG for short), a front for an organization loosely connected to MI6.  If Six needs something done, but has its hands tied with the regulations, the ODG's O-Section goes to work with their carte blanche privileges.  So long as it's overseas, it's theirs to do whatever they need to in order to get the job done.  It is with this directive that our favorite agent of mystery and intrigue hops the globe in order to avert a disaster only known as Incident Twenty.  It's set to happen in five days time, and James Bond will not only have to outsmart the enemy, but also bureaucratic hurdles within his own government, to stop the man who's at the head of it all...recycling magnate Severin Hydt.

This is the first Deaver book I've read and honestly after reading what he did with Bond, I ran out and picked up a copy of his other recent release, Edge.  He knows his British slang enough to be convincing, he knows the economy of story masterfully enough to keep the book moving at a thrilling pace, and he knows the Bond formula enough to stay true when he has to and to innovate when the audience wants to.  Literally, reading the last chapter of the book there was a moment I was afraid he'd sink into a typical Bond moment...and he didn't.  He is obviously a fan of the new, gritty Bond reboot films...which also means he is a true Ian Fleming fan.  What's even more impressive is that for an initial installment of a series reboot, Deaver forgoes the typical style of front-loading set-up and short changing actual action.  As far as events are concerned, this reads more like an entry that confidentially trusts its audience knows the world enough that it doesn't have to hold their hand and introduce them to everyone.  It lets them work the room and make its own introductions.  It's a Bond book written by a Bond author.

It's rare that I gush over a book this much.  Usually it's in the middle, with a couple quibbles here and there.  Frankly, I can't think of any quibbles with this book at the moment.  I think it's because the Bond formula is so comfortable that it's ok to follow it.  However, in order for it to truly work, you need to put your own spin on it.  Deaver does just that, and he does it admirably.  If there's justice in the world of Spies, Simon and Schuster will continue to produce Bond novels with Deaver at the helm.  Here's hoping that as always...

James Bond Will Return

Up Next: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #10 - Men, Women, and Children by Chad Kultgen

Rarely does an audience get to witness the evolution of a writer, and rarely is such an evolution carried out so artfully.  With most authors settling into a niche or a particular way of telling a story, it's so easy to just do what you've been doing.  While the subject matter of Men, Women & Children: A Novel isn't new to Chad Kultgen, the scope of the story is.  With The Average American Male: A Novel, Kultgen started with first person, singular focus.  With The Lie: A Novel, he stayed with first person storytelling, but told the stories of three different characters.  With Men, Women & Children: A Novel, he makes the jump to the third person and utilizes even more characters.  Even more of a change of pace is the fact that instead of using characters that are college aged, he decides to explore his recurring themes of sexuality (and its influence on social interaction) with the two demographics he's steered clear of...Middle Schoolers and Middle Agers.  The result might be a little uneven (and a little underwhelming when compared to The Lie: A Novel) and a little redundant (when compared to the themes of Tom Perrotta's Little Children: A Novel) but nevertheless this new work shows that it's an exciting time to be a Kultgen fan.

Through the course of a school Football season we are told the stories of five families: the Mooneys, the Trubys, the Beltmeyers, the Clints, and the Vances.  Each family has their own story and their own issues to deal with.  The Mooneys are a Father and Son who are (in their own ways) dealing with the divorce/departure of the Mother in the family.  The Trubys have grown sexually stale and ultimately start to think about infidelity.  Mrs. Beltmeyer has a tight grip on her daughter Brandy, though not as tightly as she'd like; while Mrs. Clint seems to be the polar opposite of Mrs. Beltmeyer in terms of her daughter's interactions.  Finally, the Vances are having that age old debate: to vasectomy or not to vasectomy.  Through all of these stories, there is one connecting thread...the theme of sexuality and the Internet.  Each family in their own way touches on how computing in the modern age has made us more accessible, while making us drift more apart.  People have affairs through websites, children (and sometimes their parents) post provocative pictures of themselves on the Net for all to see, and Sexting is a second language.  All modern times for modern problems, and Kultgen doesn't shy away from being able to transition from one story to another, even intermingling some of his threads into each other.

Which brings up the ultimate criticism when evaluating this book:  it's about high time for Kultgen to either turn this novel into a franchise, or start with a new canvas and tell an epic story, particularly because this book seems to just end out of nowhere.  This is still a good book, but again it ultimately pales in comparison with The Lie: A Novel, particularly because Men, Women & Children: A Novel feels it could go on for another fifty pages and finish out the school year.  It most likely does so because the author has built a reputation for not letting any of his characters get out clean.  This reputation pretty much leads the reader to automatically assume that by the end of the course of events, there will be blood on everyone's hands.  Indeed, the final scene of the book is something akin to a P.T. Anderson film.  It ends abruptly, and with a shock; which ultimately makes for a finished product that feels like it's leading to another installment.

Another difference between this book and the author's previous work is that there's actually a pair of characters you want to see make it out with a measure of happiness.  The fact that he let them get away with the happiness they did is the only real aspect of this book that kicks the reader in the shin, otherwise everyone pretty much does what his previous protagonists have done.  Hearts and minds are broken, sadness prevails over sentimentality, and in the end everyone continues to cope with themselves.  Overall, it's par for the course; while at the same time it shows off just how versatile of an author Kultgen really is.

Up Next: Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #9 - Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk

Note: This is the second of five reviews in the Author Appreciation series, which is currently showcasing the work of Chuck Palahniuk.

Pygmy is probably one of the most brutal openers a book could ever deliver.  Within the first 19 pages we're introduced to our anti-hero character of no name (Pygmy is the handle folks around those parts brand him with) who is part of a sleeper cell of agents assigned with nothing short of the destruction of America.  Operation Havoc is their end game, an attack that will throw the nation into its final throes.  Millions are to be killed, and the entire culture subverted by any means nessicary. One major problem standing in their way...they're only about 13 years old.  The source of the brutality? Our main character (one of those 13 year old spies), who has just violated someone in a way that cannot be described in polite company.

While the dust jacket says it's, "The Manchurian Candidate meets South Park", I'd like to suggest that it's more along the lines of Fight Club meets Pinky and the Brain. (A lot of the humor is derived from Pygmy's broken English observations of our culture and our interactions with each other.)  Palahniuk has basically taken Tyler Durden's appetite for social destruction and married it to The Brain's constant mindset of, "God, what are these idiots around me doing?  I better play along, lest my true intentions be known".  It is with that combination in play that our protagonist leads us on an operation that evokes the memory of a not too dissimilar "Project Mayhem", except with fewer soliders and no bitch tits.

As a matter of fact, one could easily think of  Pygmyas the illegitimate sequel to Fight Club, something that the book can both trumpet and be less than proud of.  Even with its younger characters, alternate setting, and even the presense of a detailed backstory for our comrade of glorious revolution; it still manages to sometimes come off as Jack's Smirking Revenge part II.  One could even argue that Palahniuk has this obsession with tearing the walls of Humanity apart commercial by commercial, and leaving it to fend for itself in a barren wasteland where once was a proud people.  But that's only if you let yourself get caught up in the trap of comparison.  Similarities aside, this is still a work that's relevant to our modern times.  Even more so now as we wrestle with the logic of just what makes a terrorist, what makes a Freedom Fighter, and when we should celebrate or mourn their death.  (Be it literal or symbolic.)  Rest assured, this is an entertaining read where you will laugh, you will be offended, and you will sympathize with the enemy.

Up Next: Book Two in the Palahniuk Appreciation Series, Haunted

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #8 - Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

Note: This is the first of five reviews in the Author Appreciation series, which is currently showcasing the work of Chuck Palahniuk.

It's so good to be reading Palahniuk again.  Honestly, the man's one of the best authors of his time and he continues to be consistently entertaining, whether he blows your mind or doesn't.  That's not saying that his non-mind blowing works are less inferior, it's just that Chuck focuses on one of two things: the characters or the plot.  Snuff is one of those books where he focuses more on the characters, and in his doing so he makes the actual plotting seem more interesting than it would under more traditional story telling methods.

Cassie Wright wants to die...or at least that's what it seems like when she agrees to film a 600 man gang bang in a bid to secure her position in the annals of Porn Star history.  What began with a casting call lead to a room of 600 guys standing around: primping, preening, preparing, and waiting for their shot with Ms. Wright.  Throughout the day's events we're privy to four perspectives:

- Mr. 600, aka Branch Bacardi: One of Cassie's former co-stars, also looking for a boost.
- Mr. 137, aka Dan Banyan: A washed out TV star who wants to jump start his career after some sordid rumors.
- Mr. 72: a kid wants to save his mother...who's performing in the room upstairs from him.
- Sheila: the talent wrangler who put this whole show together.

Each individual contributes a rather interesting piece to the overall plot of the book, which isn't all that complex, really.  Where the complexity, and the beauty of the story, comes in is with the characters.  We see Mr. 600 reminisce about the old days and how he deals with aging.  Mr. 72's coming to terms with some rather messed up family issues, and ultimately try to resolve the impotence caused by them.  Mr. 137 talks about how fame's fickle finger found him, and how it threatens to leave him due to his life choices to chase it.  And Sheila...well Sheila's the only person who knows what's really going on, and she's playing it close to the clipboard.  Through these four people, we get to know Cassie Wright.  Her life, her times, and her ultimate place in history. 

Palahniuk knows how to write for multiple voices just as well as he does with his stories that deal with a singular protagonist.  Instead of one person's emotional baggage, we get that of four people.  Four people who constantly interlock and collide as they vie for their own personal moment of fame, which will contribute to Ms. Wright's very own fame itself.  The author explores the themes of fame and aging, as well as just how screwed up your family can make you, in parallel tracks that run at the same time, but ultimately collide in the end.  The wisdom of our parents influences us to do the things we do in life, and not only does Chuck see this, but he exploits it for all of its darkly comedic and dramatic worth.  If anything, this feels like Palahniuk's most sentimental work since I read Choke, the only difference being it eases up on the darkly comedic and veers a little more towards the dramatic.  It's not a mind blower, but Snuff is still an entertaining examination on the twisted condition that is fame, and just what it does to us (and those around us) in the long run.

Up Next: Book Two in the Palahniuk Appreciation Series, Pygmy

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Coming Soon: The Epic Summer of 2011!

Ah Summer, the time of surf, skirts, sand, and sweltering heat.  It's also the time of the year that everyone is most relaxed and at the same time most energetic.

What better way to commemorate the Summer than to have another special reading project!  From June 1st until August 31st, it's going to be nothing but epics here at TBK.  For the sake of tracking, here's my definition of an epic:

"A huge story, sprawling wide expanses of distance, time, and/or cast, that is AT LEAST 700 pages."

That in mind, throughout those three months I will be reading nothing but epics.  (Except for a couple of possible comic breaks and the latest Chad Kultgen and Lev Grossman releases.  Have to stay timely somehow.)  There isn't a definitive schedule in the works, but the three tentpoles that are going to hold this marathon up are:

The Passage: A Novel

Infinite Jest

Gone With the Wind

Other than that I've been considering others such as The Stand, A Game of Thrones, Under The Dome, and Drood.  (However, suggestions are welcome for entries in this epic undertaking.)  Epic Summer becomes Epic on June 1st.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #7 - The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard

This isn't Kings of Colorado, I know.  After overloading myself with Jersey Shore literature, I could hardly settle myself into a story of redemption through horses and hard time.  So I moved onto JWoww's book, in hopes that I may slay that beast and be done with the Jersey Shore kids for good.  That didn't happen either.  I couldn't even get through James Franco's short story collection, due to the fatigue I had put myself through.  After the sprint I'd done for the beginning of this quest, I needed something simple.  Something light that would alleviate me of the weight that I had taken on.  In the words of a good friend of mine, I needed something borderline trashy.  What I went with was The Secret Year: a book that's not so much trashy as it is steamy, and even then it is mildly so.

Undoubtedly there is sex in the book, but it's not so smutty that you need to take a shower after reading it.  Our narrator throughout the story is Colten "Colt" Morrissey, a teenage boy who confides to the audience about his secret year long relationship with Julia Vernon.  It's not that Colt and Julia don't like each other, it's just that Colt comes from the poor side of town and Julia is from the rich side.  Now before you say, "Hey, I've read this book before", the book's description itself even sells the book as follows:

"Take Romeo and Juliet. Add The Outsiders. Mix thoroughly."

It's the perfect summary for the story that unfolds as Colt recalls the events that occurred after Julia's death in a drunk driving accident.  Shortly after her funeral, he receives her secret diary, consisting of letters all written out to him.  These letters give Colt insight into what Julia was thinking about during the span of their relationship, as well as how she really felt about him.  What he sees is a portrait of a girl uncertain as to whether she should stay with the boy she truly loves, or continue to date her boyfriend.  As Colt reads on into Julia's thoughts, personal developments end up spurring sociological developments, culminating in a big "rumble" towards the end of the book.

Which is precisely why I can say I like the book, but I don't love it.  For starters, The Secret Year really sells itself on the love story aspect, when it really comes off as a more uneven blend of Hintonesque social tension and romantic entanglements.  That's not to say that the book isn't an enjoyable read, but it's not exactly the most consistent in tone and story.  Also, the book moves so fast that by the end of the novel, I was expecting at least another 10 to 20 pages wrapping things up.  Instead, the book just kind of ends, which is fine if you're trying to use that as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of Julia's life.  By the end of the book, it's as if we truly are in Colten's shoes: we've hit the end of the text, we want to know more about what we've just finished reading, and we're surprised it ended so abruptly. 

The Secret Year starts with a forbidden love, but ends with a rumble, and somehow two plot lines feel like they should have been separated into their own books in order to truly flourish.  It would be nice if Ms. Hubbard could revisit this world, because while it isn't the most polished product (it is a debut novel, after all), it has enough flashes of depth that it would be fun to see her further hone her craft and deliver more tails of The Black Mountain kids and The Flats kids.  If anything, I would like to see her give a little more resolution to poor Colt, because the kid deserves it.

Up Next: Author Appreciation Marathon #1- Chuck Palahniuk.  In no particular order...
 - Snuff

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #6 - Here's the Situation: A Guide to Creeping on Chicks, Avoiding Grenades, and Getting in Your GTL on the Jersey Shore by Mike Sorentino with Chris Millis

Mike Sorrentino, aka "The Situation", made a name for himself...and sold the shit out of it.  Using his nickname/catch phrase, he rode to the front of the Jersey Shore cast, being matched only by everyone's "favorite" diminutive dimwit Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi.  Not content with merely being on people's TV screens, "Sitch" decided to "drop the knowledge" on the public in print form.  With his assigned collaborator, he set out to create, "the Bible to the Situation Nation".  I for one can honestly say that if this is the Bible to an entire nation of people, I'm all for starting a good old fashioned crusade.

With only 133 pages to its name, one would assume that this would be a simple book to just walk right through.  That assumption couldn't be further from the truth, as it is the most painful 133 pages I've ever had to read.  Catch phrases, shitty drawings, fake "ab facts", and of course "Real Life Situations"...all are yours for the perusing in this handy volume made for you to "crush".  By the end of this book, the only thing that was crushed was my soul, and that was because of the fact that somewhere, out in the major population sprawl of America, someone thought this was a good idea.  Someone allowed this book to be written.  Someone would have eventually bought it. Scariest of all, someone might actually take this at face value as the "Psychology" book it's being categorized as.   (Here's hoping it's properly reclassified as "Humor" in a couple of years.")

Sorrentino's writing comes off as a blend of pretentiousness and stupidity, making him out to be the biggest bonehead with narcissistic tendencies in quite some time.  (The only competition he'd ever have is if Charlie Sheen writes his autobiography, "Winning".)  It occupies a rather inconvenient middle ground: it's too stupid to laugh at, but it's too funny to completely trash it.  All you really need to take away from this book is one quote: "You can nail the GTL, and the GTL Remix, but you can't fake being a class act."  Oh've proven yourself correctly, if only to your own detriment.  I usually try to keep it classy around here, writing off only the books that deserve it...and this book deserves it.  It's misogynist, it's repetitive, it's the biggest monument to the "Cult of Me!" that most reality stars subscribe to.  If you've asked me to get to the point, I'd sum my feelings up in three words:  Fuck This Book.

Up Next: Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #5 - Across the Universe, by Beth Revis

Science Fiction is an easy genre to screw up, simply because while it's easy to create fiction, the science isn't always there. Teen fiction is an easy genre to screw up because while you're writing for a certain audience, you also have to try and keep your fingers on the pulse of a rather fickle demographic. To combine the two is a tricky situation, because if done wrong it can irrevocably trigger animosity of the highest regard. (I'm looking at you, Ms. Meyer.) Needless to say a lot of authors get it wrong, and we have a marketplace flooded with stories of how some plain teenage girl is in love with a mythical beast and how her life is going to change because of it.  (The Oatmeal has a comic covering this exact phenomenon.)  However if you do it right, then you'll have something that ranges from "a decent read" to "excellent beyond expectation".  Across the Universe is the first Teen Fiction book I've read from someone not names John Green that has given me hope for the genre, as it masterfully blends both genres into something that reads as wonderfully as it sounds.

Amy Martin is part of an expedition to another planet...a planet not unlike Earth.  It's sometime in the future, and things are pretty frakked.  So much so that we've decided to build a generational ship, freeze the essential crew (plus one non-essential family member, Amy herself), and ship them out into the deepest reaches of space on a 301 year mission.  Not a lot of fun, especially when James Cameron got cryo sleep wrong in Avatar.  Not only do you dream, you dream so much that you tire of dreams.  Unfortunately for Amy, she's going to be woken from her dreams about 50 years early, and under mysterious circumstances.  When awoken she meets a boy around her age by the name of Elder, the future leader of the colonists aboard the Godspeed.  Under the tutelage of Eldest, he will learn to lead strong, lead fair, and lead without hesitation.  Or love.  Naturally these two join forces and not only try to solve the mysterious de-frostings, but also the most elusive force of nature ever: teenage hormones.

For a debut author, Beth Revis knows not to overdo the romance or the Sci Fi aspects of her story, thus widening her audience appeal.  By being a more inclusive writer, Revis makes Sci Fi geeks, Teen Romance geeks, and casual readers feel so comfortable and invested in her world that they can hardly tell which genre is taking focus at the time.  And thank gods she wrote her characters like actual people!  Gone is the neutered teenager from the moment Elder sees Amy naked under the ice.  He knows he's attracted, and his mind starts to wander toward some rather naughty thoughts.  (Nothing too bad though, this IS YA lit after all.)

Perhaps the most telling aspect of Ms. Revis's story telling is the usage of split perspectives.  Each chapter alternates between Amy and Elder's perspectives, ultimately weaving the story together so well that while the point of view changes, the story flows perfectly.  The only negative beat I'd give this book is the ending.  There's a big revelation as to the plot of the book, and it's fine that we find out what that twist is.  It's just the revelation of the twist between characters could have been saved for the next book in the proposed trilogy.  All she had to do is end it with the twist being revealed to us, and we'd get a nice cliffhanger to latch onto for the next book.  Nevertheless, it's not a big enough gripe to spoil the enjoyment of this fine book.

Across the Universe makes me further believe that Teen fiction isn't just a wasteland of neutered, brainless shells for readers to populate and live vicariously romantic lives through.  It's books like this that make me feel literature in general is still very much alive and kicking.  In the parlance of the book's society, anyone who doesn't at least read the first few chapters of this book is a frexing idiot.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #4 - A Shore Thing; by Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi

"There's 'The Truth', and 'The Truth!'" - Lionel Hutz, Esq.

As anyone who knows me knows, I'm into politics.  It's an obsession really, what with the election cycles, the media conflictinator, and the general fate of the American public in the balance.  But one of the things I love the BEST is the Double Talk.  Pushing one message whilst secretly advancing another, mostly by omissions, euphemisms, and good old fashioned lies.  As such I would ask that you, the audience, allow me to practice my Double Talk skills with this book review for A Shore Thing, written by New Jersey's latest literary powerhouse* Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi.  (*Powerhouse of subpar fiction)

The Truth!:
For a first time author, Snooki has a decent story on her hands, and she tells it as well as she can.  For what we were expecting out of her, this isn't all that bad.  It's just a tale of a couple of girls looking for fun, fashion, and fucking on the Jersey Shore, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The Truth:

Before I get into analysis of the text, I ask that you all refer to the picture on the top left; the one that depicts the cover art.  Do you know what that is?  It's the only way Snooki could get anyone to look her in the eyes, because let's face it...she's not playing on the same level as Kindergartners much less the rest of us.  If her public persona wasn't enough of an indicator of this fact, then the "book" she's "written" is more than ample proof.  (I seriously think Valerie Frankel, her "collaborator, who helped translate [her] ideas onto the page" should be credited as a co-author, because there's some "big" words in here I doubt Snooks would ever use.)

So the book.  Funny story actually.  No, I'm not saying the book is funny because it doesn't even perform on a "so bad, it's funny' level.  It's actually a "so bad, it's shitty" level of entertainment that puts the value of its entertaining factors in the negative.  If you want to skip reading the book, here's all you need to know:  Take "Spice World" and mix it with "Crossroads" (The Britney Spears picture); throw it into a Jersey Shore rerun and bake it with a Twilight covering.  That's "A Shore Thing", a book that's written as if Peter Griffin started telling one of his bullshit stories that rips off something he saw on TV, except it goes on for 289 pages.  (288 too many, if you ask me.)  Don't believe me?  Here's the main point of the book, as summarized by a paragraph of dialogue:

"But, then again, who knew what made love last?  It was a game of chance, luck, destiny, experience -but not too much hard work, as far as Gia could tell.  How hard could it be to show the person you loved that you cared?  All you had to do was smush every chance you got and treat them with kindness and respect.  Easy."

Is now a good time to mention she named her fictional surrogate after one of her pets?  Yeah, Gia is one of the pets that she thanks in her opening acknowledgments, and that just happens to be her fictional surrogate's name.  "Gia" and "Bella" (JWoww's fictional surrogate) are "down the shore" for Summer vacation in order to escape the dramas of Brooklyn.  In trying to avoid drama, they only create further drama and "comedy".  Throw in a couple of Trust Fund douchebags who want to bang JWo...I mean "Bella", a couple of mean girls who are out to get Snook...erm, "Gia", and a divorced couple thrown into the mix, and you've got exactly what this book is about. 

It's fitting that JWoww's fictional surrogate is named Bella, because Snooki's basically written Twilight for Guidettes whose attention spans are shorter than their poufs.  Her main characters stumble into everything they want with minimal effort, are popular even when they're awkward, and end up landing the "hawt juicehead gorillas" they've been wanting to bang...only to leave them and declare that they want to be single anyways!  They build towards what you think is going to be a cookie cutter ending (by using all the other cookie cutter parts) and ultimately puss out on the ending.  JUST...LIKE...TWILIGHT, except instead of one Bella (which is fucking bad enough), you get TWO!  This book is so frustrating, I found myself throwing it across the room after finishing it.  What's sadder is you KNOW MTV is going to want to cash in on the fame of this midget famewhore and should Jersey Shore ever end, you know this is going to be the "launching pad" Snooki will inevitably try to use in order to cross over into feature films.  (Basically, this'll be the next "Jackass" franchise if we're not careful.)

That being said, I think Snooki should write another three books in this series.  Why not?  She clearly has a wellspring of ideas, or has at least seen enough movies and been through enough on Jersey Shore that she could rip off some ideas.  She should embrace the Twilight connection and end the series with Gia and Bella giving birth in a vat of pickles, whilst doing shots of Hornitos and Patron and listening to shitty techno...all on the dance floor at Karma!  (Wardrobe by Ed Hardy.)  Do it, Snooki!  You won't!  I fucking dare you!  NO BALLS!  Sorry...I got a little wound up.  Needless to say, this review has exorcised my demons and this mind is indeed clear.  I'd like to close with another quote from one of the antagonists who basically sums up why people like myself hate Snooki and her Jersey Shore pals.

"I hate you because the world is at your friggin' feet."

At least with Snooki's height (much like the current state of Pop Culture), it's not that far of a fall.  Thank you for this book, Snooki.  If anything, it's inspired me to read the books of your other housemates and rip them apart much more viciously than I did yours.  Thank you for setting the bar so low.

Next Up: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #3 - I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President; by Josh Lieb

This book has been on my reading list for a while, seeing as I fell in love with the concept merely with the title alone.  You see, I am a genius of unspeakable evil and I was class president (Class of 2002, Howell High School...I have the varsity jacket to prove it), so naturally it was a given that I read this book.  For varying reasons, I hadn't fit it into my reading schedule until recently.  My girlfriend's car broke down, so that meant I had to drive her to her shift at J.C. Penney's.  Not content to just drop her off at the mall (only to have to go and pick her up again), I wandered around Borders and found this book in the Bargain Bin for the third time.  The other two times I'd managed not to succumb to the pressure of purchase, but the third was too much to ask.  I opened the book and started reading it, just to make sure I could justify the shelf space.  Needless to say, we know how that story ends.

However, if I were as evil as Oliver Watson, I could have just taken the book.  You see, Oliver has everything he could ever dream of.  Water fountain that covertly dispenses Root Beer and Chocolate Milk?  He's got that.  A zeppelin?  Owns one and uses it to relax.  A Pit Bull trained in the Basque language to possibly maim or kill an enemy?  He calls her Lollipop.  All of these things are simple to acquire when you're the third richest person in the world.  But as Oliver finds out, there's one thing that's hard to buy while making it look like you didn' election.  You see while Oliver is a genius to himself and his audience, his parents and his peers think he's...well, rather dim.  It's the perfect cover to hide behind if you don't want anyone catching onto your extracurriculars, but it does make achieving goals rather difficult.  Still, Oliver is about to give it his all, and his all might not be good enough.  Which would mean it's time to rig things and take what he wants anyway.

The concept, if in a typical Childrens/Teens author's hands, could falter very easily and would probably be deemed too simplistic.  This isn't the case with Josh Lieb's writing, and I wouldn't doubt him for a second.  This may be his first novel, but he's been Executive Producer of a little cable news show you might have heard of called "The Daily Show", so one could assume his writing prowess would assumably be matched only by his wit.  I'm pleased to say that he not only meets those expectations, he exceeds them swimmingly.  Don't be fooled by the book's setting or marketing, because while this is a story of a young kid's drive for world domination it's written in a style that seems like it has Adults in mind as well.  Also, this book really is laugh out loud funny. 

Between smatterings of Pop Culture references (FYI: Your kids will ask you who Captain Beefheart is.  It's unavoidable with this book.), details of the various machinations young Watson uses to get what he wants, and some hysterical visual aides, it's hard not to like this book for what it is: a really good, family friendly comedy.  Six words I don't utter too much around these parts pretty much sum this book up.  In fact, as soon as I finished the book, I handed it to a friend.  Upon seeing the title, he laughed his head off just like I did.  Ultimately, that is the true sign of a good book:  it's good enough that you'd hand it off to someone else to read instead of just letting it gather dust on the shelf.  If I have anything to do about it, I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President will not be sitting on my shelf for long in the coming months, simply because it's too good to hide in a Bargain Bin.

Next Up: A Shore Thing by Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi

The Cannonball Read III - Osaka Slide: #2 - Oogy, The Dog Only A Family Could Love; by Larry Levin

Full Disclosure: My good friends at Hachette Book Group provided me with a review copy of this book, upon my request.  Special thanks go to Valerie Russo, for facilitating the procurement of this book.

Household pets are amazing.  They're resilient, they're cuddly, and they're capable of things that even you wouldn't understand.  (For the life of me, I don't know why my kittens nibble on the edges of books, outside of my theory that they are indeed trying to read them.)  The language barrier between an owner and their lovely companion is never a problem, as both understands the other through an evolving process of discourse.  Some pets pick up good behaviors, some pets pick up bad behaviors.  Put a pet with the wrong owner, and they would most likely pick up traits and commands that the right owner wouldn't exactly approve of.  Abuse a pet, and they may never trust a human again, thus leading to a long chain of shelters, aborted homes, and the growing probability of being euthanized, the ultimate sign of giving up on an animal.  However, not all animals who have suffered at the hands of cruelty are unfriendly "beasts" that will never have a home.  Oogy is living proof.

According to Larry Levin's chronology, Oogy was two months old when he was used as a "bait dog": easy competition to train up tougher dogs willing to fight.  The bigger dog presumably latched onto Oogy's face and shook him so hard he fractured his jaw severely and turned his face into a bloody mess.  After lackluster care at an emergency veterinary clinic that assumed he'd never have a home or survive to even have hope of doing so, Diana Klein rescued this dog and brought him to Ardmore Animal Hospital in Ardmore, Pa.  Once he was on his feet, the staff of AAH learned that Oogy, despite his rough and tumble beginnings, was still very much a love sponge.  He loved all, and all loved him, and even if he never found a home he'd always have Ardmore to fall back on.

Meanwhile, Larry Levin and his family were preparing to say goodbye to their family pet, a cat named Buzzy.  The day he and his two sons brought the cat to the vet's office, they met Oogy.  In customary fashion, he sniffed and licked and loved his way into their hearts.  They had found their new pet and they knew it was fated to be.  Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love is a story of love and redemption, as Levin chronicles his family's adoption process (he and his wife adopted their twin boys, as well as Oogy), the daily routine around the house, and ultimately the process of getting Oogy adjusted to his new home.  Jumping back and forth between past and present, Larry ultimately weaves a tale of how where you come from doesn't always determine who you are.  It's the people you surround yourself with, the people you develop with, that truly make you who you are.

As a pet owner, and as a reader, I enjoyed this book immensely.  It's not a page turner, but that's not a knock against its natural pacing.  It'll take a little while to read it, but ultimately it's worth the trip.  Personally, I'd like to hear more about Oogy and would love another volume of Levin family stories to go along with all of the heartwarming antics of this extremely lovable dog.  For now though, I'd strongly suggest picking up Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love.

Next Up: I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to be your Class President by Josh Lieb