Monday, July 12, 2010

Cannonball Review #4 The Divine Ryans by Wayne Johnston

The Divine Ryans follows the story of Draper Doyle Ryan, the youngest member of a once prominent family in Canada. The Ryans are known as "Divine" in their town in Newfoundland due to the high number of nuns and priests in the family. The other members of the family run the town newspaper and the funeral home.

Draper Doyle is coming to terms with his father's death in while trapped in a family of oddballs. His mother is down for the count, allowing his Aunt Phil and Uncle Seymour to decide what happens to Draper Doyle. This includes Aunt Phil putting is urine stained underwear on the bullietn board for all of the family to see as a sort of bizarro punishment, and Uncle Seymour forcing him to join his "Number," a troupe of boys who sing, dance and box other good Catholic boys to the glory of God...and Uncle Seymour. Since Draper Doyle can do none of the three, and habitually messes the underpants, he's something of an outcast. He's even more so due to the strange dreams that mesh his naked mother and naked sister into a monster named Momary (Mom and Mary) who is always after him. Oh, and he's seeing his dead father everywhere.

This story has won many awards and, according to Wikipedia, has been made into a movie. I can't imagine how that worked out. The book really has too many elements going on to focus on any one story line. As a result, I never felt compassion or closeness with any of the numerous characters. In addition to the things stated in the previous paragraph, there is a crazed hockey rivalry between the Ryans and a neighboring family that involves calling and hanging up on one another when "their" team scores. There is a side note about how the mother is being looked down upon by her deceased husband's family, and her struggles to cope with the father's death and take charge of her own family. The Catholic priest uncles somehow come across as really creepy and intimidating, like they might harm you. These things all boil down to a bunch of mess that is somehow solved by a hallucination involving Momary and the dead father. And their is another uncle upstairs who is also strange, but in a way that runs contrary to the rest of the family. Too bad the whole book isn't about him.

I guess nothing says family like incest-dominated dreams, tormenting youngsters and ghosties. It's hard to even root for Draper Doyle, or anyone in the family for that matter, since their oddities leave no room for charm or sympathy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cannonball Review #3: Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand

"Little Women and Werewolves" is a bastardization of the original. Except people keep referring to it as a "monsterization" which sounds a lot more exciting than it is. This all follows on the trend started by "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." I googled this sort of thing and there are a literally (not literally) a million of these type of books out there. There's even one about Little Women and Vampires. I don't know about you guys, but I'm starting to get a little monstered out.

The story is relatively the same, if you know it...The March family were once well-to-do, but have fallen on hard times due to the philanthropic tendencies of the parents. Their are four daughters who are growing up with Father away, battling during the Civil War, along with doting neighbors the Laurences. The story follows the injustices, struggles, joys and delights of their childhood and early adulthood.

Much the same is going on in the retelling except almost everyone is a werewolf. At first we are introduced Laurie and Mr. Laurence as werewolves. As if this wasn't distressing enough to someone who revered the classic, nearly everyone else is a werewolf as well. Friends and family are all in peril from the Brigade who hunts not only the wolfs but their sympathizers as well.

In introducing these elements many parts of the story were glossed over or forgotten, making all of the girls seem vapid and spoilt. Also there are some entirely creepy moments later in the book with Beth and Mr. Laurence, which were completely irrelevant and made me feel...a little nauseated to say the least.

I threw this book down many times in disgust, and finished it disgusted in myself. I really want to like some of these re-imaginations, since I like the classics, and hell, monsters are always cool...but it this just feels like they are destroying both elements.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cannonball Review #2: Lamb by Christopher Moore

I have some serious issues with religion.

I was raised in the South, in a Pentecostal Holiness/Primitive Baptist church family and then in a family that doesn't acknowledge church on anything like a regular basis due to a falling out with those respective churches. We went from my mom putting holy oil on my head to cure an illness to a preacher yelling at her for divorcing my dad in front of my sister and I. Having been in and out of all sorts of churches since, I have seen a lot of awful (and to be fair some good) in organized Christian religion. The good just seems to be so grossly eclipsed by the awful that I feel distressed thinking about it.

When a friend (actually 3 friends) gave me 3 copies of Lamb for my birthday a few years ago, I was skeptical. A comedy about the life of Jesus? There is a part of me that still worries about things like blasphemy but I was reassured that I would love it, even by my one and only church-going friend.

The book starts with future BFF Biff seeing Jesus bring lizards back from the dead to amuse his little brother. Jesus (Josh) knows he's the Messiah, but doesn't know what to do about it at all. So Biff and Josh leave their friend Maggie (Mary Magdalene) and their families behind to seek out the Wise Men and figure out what the heck Josh is supposed to do. Along the way harlots are hired, kung-fu is learned, demons are battled, corpses are reanimated, sarcasm is invented and cafe lattes are created. Oh and there are a lot of hot chicks, if you're into that sort of thing.

We all know how this is ultimately going to end, but the ride getting there is pretty amazing and hysterical. About two-thirds through, the laughs sort of die down, because there's absolutely nothing funny about seeing your best friend be in peril, regardless of the whole Messiah thing.

From someone who has given up on and come back to religion many times, this offered an interesting view on what could have been the life of Christ. I think this sort of thing is often skipped over in churches...the idea that Jesus was an actual person, with wants and needs and desires. Someone that you could identify with somehow, who knows how hard life is sometimes. Even though it's only satire/comedy/whatever you want to call it, I think this book makes some valid points that could be a learning experience for a lot of people.

EDIT: I've also learned that this can be a good asshole detector. A few dates in (I am reluctant to call them dates) a (non?) friend and I decided to trade books that we liked in effort to have something to talk about and get to know each other better.

Yeah, a few dates in we already had nothing to talk about. I know, I know.

Anyway. I gave him Lamb and he never got around to giving me anything...which is telling, in retrospect. We met up at my house for pizza and he gave me back the book and told me I was going to hell. In a non-joking manner which he tried to play off as joking later to mutual friends. I'm pretty sure I might try this trick again and avoid months of hanging out before I find out the guy is a jerk.

Lamb=Time Saver.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cannonball Review #1: Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LeZebnik

I am finally (almost) out of school and can actually read something that is not a Marketing textbook.

*throws confetti*

Since I couldn't take anything remotely serious, my first book of the summer is "Knitting Under the Influence" by Claire LeZebnik. This book was lent by a lovely friend who knew that if I read something that I actually had to think about, I might throw myself off a bridge.

The plot is thus: Three girlfriends in L.A. meet up once a week to knit and drown their sorrows in cocktails. At one point they are actually doing this in a bar, which seems highly unlikely. I can't even count the number of things I've had spilled on me in a bar, and as a stitcher, there's no way in hell those drunks (or me drunk) are getting anywhere near my yarn (which is surprisingly expensive).

At any rate, the girls all have problems. Lucy is a lab researcher who kills rats for a living, but feels really bad about it since she apparently had some childhood dream to become a vet and save animals. Is this what passes for irony? Next there's Sari, a do-gooder who works at an autism clinic. Enter the good looking jock who used to pick on her autistic brother in high school. Shocker, he's got an autistic kid now and needs her help. And then there's Kathleen, who is completely dependent on her movie star sisters, and rebels by...running away from home? At 27? Seriously? All of their "problems" ultimately boil down to men-folk troubles. Lucy's boyfriend is being targeted by some PETA people, and he's a real a-hole to everyone, Lucy included. Sari wants the high school jock guy, and Kathleen is...planning to marry for money, and actively working (scoff) toward this goal.

In the end each character gets exactly what they want and everyone is all smiles. Because, of course, what else would happen? God forbid we have emotional growth.

Overall, I feel like I am being more harsh than this book really warrants. The writing is...well, not good. But for a summer-coming off of 4 years of college-beachy read, you could do a lot worse. You will finish the book not really caring about the characters (in fact, I had to look up their names for this post) but the good news is that you won't exactly hate them either.

And there are cocktail recipes in the back that are based on the knitting projects in the book. Because why not?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cannonball Read

For some information on what in the world is going on here, you should check this out.