Friday, August 26, 2011

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Plot: As a bastard child, Ruth Anne "Bone" Boatwright is forced to grow up without either her real father or a good one. Bone's young mother marries the violent Daddy Glen and provides no protection from his abuse. Constantly shuttling from house to house as Daddy Glen is fired from job after job, Bone learns to live without a home or a safe place. Her drunkenly raucous, equally poor relatives teach her the good and bad sides of life as Bone tries to discover herself and her place in the world.

Comments: This is most certainly not light-hearted reading. It's challenging to read about every obstacle in Bone's daily life, such as missing dinner due to lack of food in the cupboards or receiving yet another undeserved beating from the terrifying Daddy Glen. Bone remains strong through it all, though even she recognizes that she steadily grows more bitter and hateful with each traumatizing episode. She tells the story with simple, poignant emotion. Though not the main character, Bone's mother, Anney, provides some thought to the story. The way she allows her husband to hurt her young daughter is questionable, to say the least, and the decisions she makes cause the reader to discover their own instinctive values and choices.

The plot wanders and weaves its way through important events in Bone's childhood and random memories that add color to the black-and-white photo that is her story. Bone's infamous family play large parts in the book, some more than others. Her grandma is mostly featured for "told-you-so"'s and forceful advice, while Aunt Raylene is absent through the majority of the book but plays an invaluable role in Bone's life towards the end. And Bone's three drunk, violent, but somehow lovable uncles manage to love Bone more than Daddy Glen ever could, giving her presents, treating her like family, and protecting her the only way they know how - by getting bloody revenge on anyone who hurts her, including Daddy Glen. The Boatwright family is complicated, always fighting, and very odd, and yet somehow they all stick together and it works. This provides a sharp contrast to Bone's immediate family, where nothing works despite a great deal of effort.

Rating: I rate this book a nine out of ten.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Plot: A fictional story of the world war against the highly dangerous zombies that suddenly infect their way across the globe. In a long series of interviews with survivors, warriors, doctors, and various military persons, a broad, vivid picture is painted of the horrors and disasters throughout the desperate struggle.

Comments: If you manage to suspend your disbelief enough to ignore the whole zombie aspect of the book, this is an incredibly realistic work of art. There are so many different points of view, from big-picture generals to third-world victims, and each individual character is portrayed colorfully through their own words and stories. Using a wide variety of viewpoints allows the reader to see the contrasting problems and better understand the impact of the zombies upon the world as a whole. Again, excluding the zombie portion, this book is very well laid out, very practical and straight-forward, and a touching piece of "history" from the eyes of those living in it.

I generally skipped the short introductions for each interviewee, as I gradually came to anticipate their dry, boring facts and uninteresting notes. Also, some accounts weren't very exciting, but that can be blamed upon the fact that I prefer recounts of the zombie attacks rather than of people sitting in a room, planning. One confusing part of reading the book was near the end of the book when the author (or interviewer, however you want to think of it) returned to several people who had been interviewed much earlier in the book. However, this time there were no introductions, merely names, of which there had been plenty throughout the story, so it was challenging attempting to remember who these reappearing characters were. The interviews were placed seemingly randomly side by side, though grouped in vague chronological order.

Rating: I rate this book a nine of out ten. Very enjoyable; both gripping and intriguing, horrifying and fascinating.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The New Centurions by Joseph Wambaugh

Plot: Told from the perspective of three young men, this story begins in a police academy and winds through the lives of new policemen in the early 1960's. Serge, Roy, and Gus individually encounter racism, sexism and alcoholism, attempt to discover their personal reasons for fighting crime, and struggle with life in and outside the job.

Comments: The New Centurions is a realistic tale of the struggles of young policemen in the 60's, and it is not to be considered light-hearted reading. The language is certainly sophisticated and slightly old-fashioned, as the novel was published in the 1971, but the content is also rather dark. After all, the policemen work in areas with desperately high crime rates and face the most terrible aspects of humanity. Therefore it follows that these young men change as they grow older and more experienced. This book marks the evolution in personality and character of these three policemen as influenced by the world around them.

It's interesting to see the stories through the eyes of each policeman. Though told in the third-person, the reader has access to the thoughts and emotions of each character, and the differences between the three are intriguing. I loved watching the men change, though it was challenging to see them developing darker sides of themselves, having quickly grown attached to them. Through the violence and choices in the riot towards the end of the book, the reader really finds an understanding of each man, just as the men find an understanding of themselves. Though there isn't a solid plot or storyline, this story gives the reader a good look into the lives of three policemen.

Rating: I rate this book an eight and a half out of ten.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

Books of The Dresden Files in order: Storm FrontFool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, White Night, Small Favor, Turn Coat, Changes, and Ghost Story (series to be continued).

Plot: Harry Dresden is the only name listed under "Wizard" in the Chicago phone book. He protects the innocent and ignorant from dangerous supernatural beings, works as a private investigator, and refuses to back down from anything. Harry is notorious for being a smart ass in front of the most horrifying monsters in existence, but his sarcastic wit isn't enough to save him from evil. The odds are always stacked against him.

First Line: "I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual."

Comments: Jim Butcher draws you in and captivates you in one of the best series I've ever read. Harry Dresden is a delightfully intriguing character, both very admirable and lovable. He's your average underdog "good guy", always striving to do what is truly right despite dangers, temptations, and his best interests. I love the way Harry spits in the face of evil and - quite often - his own looming death. He defies beings much more powerful than him with witty jokes, not-so-witty jokes, and merely by refusing to back down. Another endearing aspect of Harry is his total lack of understanding in regards to women: he tends to have relationship problems. Harry has always struck me as a very lonely soul in that despite the few friends he's managed to keep over the years, in the end Harry has to fight alone and come home to a more or less empty home. As the books progress, Harry makes more enemies, sacrifices more of himself to protect others, and slowly becomes more bitter, world-weary, and dark.

These books will make you laugh and make you cry. You will be glued to the pages and transported directly into the action. The Dresden Files will amuse you, make you think, and inspire you to be as great as Harry Dresden himself. Read this series or miss out on one of the best works of fiction ever written.

Rating: I give this series a 10 out of 10. Definitely one of the best I've ever read.