Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Non-fiction mini-reviews: Super Freakonomics and Under the Banner of Heaven

Super Freakonomics

Written by: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Published: 2009

My thoughts: If you've watched Orange is the New Black you'll remember the scene where Big Boo comforts Pennsatucky about the children she aborted by citing a study which linked the Wade V Roe case on abortion with the drop in crime 20 years later. I first heard about that link when I caught a snippet of the Freakonomics documentary and after rewatching it with Tom last year I decided I should read the actual book. We don't own the first Freakonomics book, but for some reason we do read the second (which was probably for the best since I hadn't heard of any of the studies/stories that were in this one). The book really is fascinating and super-consumable - I finished it in one afternoon only breaking to run over to Tom and tell him about the latest chapter. I found the "why suicide bombers should buy life insurance" pretty problematic because it seemed like it was essentially just racial profiling with the fancy guise of economic patterning thrown over the top, but the other stories - especially the creative approaches to global cooling - were all creative, funny and fascinating.

Under the Banner of Heaven

Written by: Jon Krakauer

Published: 2003

My thoughts: I'm conflicted with how I feel about this book. On the one hand I really love the way Krakauer writes, he has drawn me into so many stories that I don't know I would necessarily find interesting or engaging otherwise. And when he writes about the Lafferty brothers, two brothers who killed their other brother's wife and child because of a 'calling from god', I felt that same sort of pull in his writing. However amidst the story of the Laffertys Krakauer sets out to tell the history of the Mormon church and explain why there are so many fundamentalist splinter groups. This is where I struggled. I am sure there are people who will find this interesting but the history sections, whether it was the content or Krakauer's writing I don't know, just bored me. That said, I am glad I read this book. I have never really known much about the Mormon faith and the short and turbulent history Krakauer paints really lays the ground for the extremist fundamental Mormon groups that spring up every so often. It also gives a side of American history that I don't often hear, and it's amazing to think how lawless* the US was until recently. So read it? I really don't know if it was that Krakauer was tackling too big a project for a book this length and his writing suffered or if the subject just wasn't enough to engage me. If you've read it, I'd love to hear what you thought.

*In the sense that there wasn't a great deal of unification or concrete army/police forces which led to a lot of chaos,

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Book Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve (The Passage #2)

Written by: Justin Cronin

Published: 2012

Synopsis: At the end of The Passage, the great viral plague had left a small group of survivors clinging to life amidst a world transformed into a nightmare. In the second volume of this epic trilogy, this same group of survivors, led by the mysterious, charismatic Amy, go on the attack, leading an insurrection against the virals: the first offensives of the Second Viral War.

To do this, they must infiltrate a dozen hives, each presided over by one of the original Twelve. Their secret weapon: Alicia, transformed at the end of book one into a half human, half viral—but whose side, in the end, is she really on? (Via Goodreads)


I finished reading The Passage while I traveled around Europe last year, and I made a stop in every book store I found to try and find a copy of The Twelve to read on my flight home. Considering my excitement to read The Twelve, it's maybe a little surprising that it took me over 3 months to finish. But my problem (alongside my general reading block) was the same as the one I had when I read The Passage, 1. it's flipping long you guys and 2. the first half is so chaotic and disjointed that it takes awhile to get absorbed into. With that said, I understand why there is so much location and character switching at the start. In both books it sets up the action set pieces of the second half of the novel and it adds a lot of the emotional weight of the narrative, but it also makes it hard to read at a decent clip. My edition was around 700 pages, I think I spent 3 months reading the first 300 pages, and less than a week to read the final 400.

But the book itself, the book I loved. After finishing The Passage I was so excited to find out what would happen next to the rag tag group of youngsters who seem to succeed against all odds. Would they find and defeat the rest of the 12? Would they live happily ever after? Would they ever see the other members of their little community again? When I first began The Twelve I stumbled a bit because it jumps to 5 years later* and suddenly characters from the first book are dead or missing. And even though I read these two books essentially back to back, I still had to get out my copy of The Passage and see if I missed something. There's also a chapter about a completely separate group of people and I struggled to place that event in the book's timeline, only working it out when the event later becomes relevant to the narrative. So there was some rocky ground there, and if you've had a big gap between reading The Passage, it's probably a good idea to revisit the book (or the wikipedia page) before launching into this one.

Knowing that the book is the second in a trilogy also causes some issues because it does seem like some parts are stretched out and treading water waiting for the intense conclusion which is surely coming in book three. That's not entirely fair on the book because like I said, after the mid-way point this book actually takes off at a decent clip but there is something ... hesitant? ... about the story. Perhaps that's in comparison to the insanity of the first book or maybe Cronin wanted to focus more in setting up the characters and foundations so that the third book could take off from page one. I don't know entirely and I can't quite put my finger on it because it isn't like there aren't huge set pieces in this book, it just feels like it's holding back.

I know this has been pretty broad, but it's been so long since I finished the book and I'm actually a little foggy about the details. But I want to get back into blogging more regularly and I felt like getting this review out into the world was probably a good step in that direction. So sorry for the broad and vague review, trust me when I say at the end I really enjoyed the book even amidst the slow and rocky first half and hesitancy.

*Maybe? It's been awhile since I finished it now and I can't remember specifics. It's definitely a chunk of time anyway.


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