Friday, January 29, 2010

Review Round Up

There are four books that I didn't get to review in 2009 so here is a short post about them.

Lucky One I read for my book club. Lucky One, by Nicholas Sparks, is about a veteran that returns from Afghanistan to search for a women in a photo he found there. Now I know there is a reason why I have never read Sparks books before. One book club member said it was a Harlequin romance but other members objected and said that Harlequins are better. I don't know about that but the only thing I liked about the thing was the dog.

Cane River was also a book club selection which I did not have high hopes for but I was actually pleasantly surprised. It is not great literature but at least it was entertaining and I found the characters engaging. And I found its Civil War era focus on French settlements of both slaves and gens de couleur libre interesting.

Martian Chronicle by Ray Bradbury was also a book club selection and my favorite of these four books. It was also only the second sci fi book the book club has read in its entire 10 year history. While it was certainly dated this was also part of its charm - a real time capsule into what the concerns of the late 1940s - 1950s were all about. It is really a set of linked short stories and as in all short story collections, I liked some better than others. I especially liked the ones that focused on the Martians. There was this wonderful one with a glass or crystal house with water flowing through it, and I wished there were more stories about the Martian's way of life before people from Earth showed up. My favorite was Usher II about censorship in which a man builds his own Poe inspired mansion and gets revenge on the Moral Climate Monitors in the style of horror masterpieces. I agreed with my other book club members that it didn't really fit in this story collection but I still liked it.

Venus on the Half Shell was not a book club book but I have two friends that have been raving about this book for years and so even though it is out of print I tracked a copy down to see what all the fuss was about. I had first become aware of this book back in the late 70's when I was trying to track down and read all of Kurt Vonnegut. Back then there was no internet to easily find things and I had to rely upon my local book store. Venus was then published under the author's name Kilgore Trout, one of Kurt Vonnegut's characters, and there was speculation that Venus was written by Vonnegut. Apparently now it is determined that this book was actually written by Phillip Jose Farmer. In any case, the main character zooms around in his space ship visiting different planets and having numerous amorous encounters. Although it was Vonnegutesque, I found that each story seemed to be simply an excuse to discuss a topic of interest. Lets go to a planet to consider women's rights or aging etc. I didn't find the stories or characters particularly well written or interesting.


Carl V. said...

Bradbury's Martian chronicles is yet another book I would like to read. I was talking to a guy the other day and suggested that we go on a Mars trek. There are so many books with Mars as a central theme: The John Carter of Mars series, Ben Bova's 4 book series, part of The Grand Tour, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books, Martian Chronicles, Philip K. Dick's short story: We Can Remember if For You Wholesale, just to name a few.

Moo said...

I found Martian Chronicles charming, and a very quick read. I have read the Kim Stanley Robinson mars books and while the first, Red Mars, was my favorite, I enjoyed the whole trilogy. I was extremely disappointed by his Science in the Capital series. While the premise was interesting it was just badly written. I also enjoyed his Antarctica book, but then I have an odd fascination with Antarctica. Have not read any of the others you mentioned and would love to read your reviews. Mars is a planet that just really stirs the imagination - it is so close and yet still out of our reach.

Carl V. said...

Mars is an imagination-stirring planet, isn't it. Probably because it is in that in-between area where we know a lot about it and yet don't at the same time. On some levels it feels like we should physically be there by now yet it is understandable why we are not.

Thanks for the thoughts on Robinson's books. I have not read any of his work to this point. My wife read and enjoyed Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.

With your Antarctica fascination, have you ever read The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier? I did a review:

While the second to last chapter really colored my overall impressions of the book, it was well written and the parts on Antarctica were fantastic.

Moo said...

I read Brief History when it first came out and I really enjoyed it. I especially liked the City and the role that memory played in it. I totally agree that the book should have ended sooner. Although Laura was in Antarctica, I didn't think the author really took advantage of that setting, but then again this was not a book about Antarctica - Antarctica just stood in as a proxy for total isolation.

The Kim Stanley Robinson book, Antarctica, really gives you a much better feel of what being on Antarctica is like. (I don't know how accurate, having never been there). Dark Winter and Big Dead Place are both poorly written with no literary value but give a fascinating look at what wintering in Antarctica is like. And of course the historical books about the early explorers are fascinating as well.

Carl V. said...

Anne Fadiman's book, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader contains a chapter about her Odd Shelf, which has books about polar explorers. It was a wonderful book and that chapter was particularly fascinating as she goes into some actual detail about an explorer or two. It is another one I would highly recommend.

Moo said...

I have been hearing wonderful things about Ex Libris for years. I love books about books. Now you have me really intrigued. Perhaps I will have to order that one. Thanks for the suggestion.

Carl V. said...

You're welcome, that book and the follow up one, At Small, At Large, are both wonderful books about books and reading. And they are all in chapter sized essay form so it is easy to read in small chunks to savor or to tear through and stay interested.

Whitney said...

Your book club reads some great books! Cane River is one of my favorites.