Mar. 12th, 2009

keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Catch-22
by Joseph Heller
463 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Historical

Um, WTF?

This was funny--not as funny as Pratchett, not even close, but still good for a few chortles. Still, I didn't get it. I kept waiting for the book to have a point, until I reached the last page and still didn't get it. I thought it was funny, even laugh-out-loud funny at times; but not hilarious or even uniformly entertaining. A novel can't sustain itself on humor alone, and the only other impetus driving me to turn the pages was an objective curiosity in what-happens-next. Now that I know what happens next, and am not impressed, I've lost all impetus. The ending left me confused and dissatisfied.

That said, for experimental fiction Catch-22 is immensely approachable. And several of my friends adore this book. The plot: Yossarian, a bombadier in presumably alter-world WWII, has lost his nerve. And he's even flown the required 45 missions--if he were in any other squadron but Colonel Cathcart's, he would have long been safely home. (SPOILER) So, after 450+ pages of random (often funny, but still bizarrely random) storyline, Yossarian decides to follow his good buddy Orr to Sweden. --That, seriously, is the entire plot of the novel. The events in between are largely irrelevant and never stuck in my mind, save for the unimportant details like Milo's complicated egg-market scheme in Malta (which I still don't quite understand).

And that's all I got, folks. Maybe you'll make more sense out of the catch.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Climbing the Stairs
by Padma Venkatraman
247 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Historical

Vidya is fifteen and wants desperately to go to college. Unfortunately, Indian girls in British-ruled India during World War II are destined for marriage, not higher education; fortunately, Vidya's appa (father) is a progressive freedom-fighter doctor. A tragic accident forces Vidya, her amma (mother), and her older brother Kitta to move to the traditional extended-family household of her paternal grandfather thatha. She finds refuge in her grandfather's library, up the stairs in the forbidden men's section of the house; and she meets a boy named Raman who genuinely cares for her (even if he falls into the typical sexist ways through habit).

I connected very deeply with Vidya, the classic adolescent protagonist struggling against cultural expectations--even more because I know that the prejudice she experienced still goes on today. People still self-censor paki because it has such racist connotations and is part of contemporary bigotry. On a craft level, I thought that Venkatraman used a different, and more realistic, way of resolving the romantic thread; however, I was a little dissatisfied with Raman's character arc, as he never stops trying to "help" Vidya. His overprotectiveness makes for an unbalanced relationship. Still, I enjoyed their romance and the family conflicts--I found the story gritty, painful, and real. This is a riveting coming-of-age story written by a woman of color about a woman of color. Recommended, especially if you are doing the [livejournal.com profile] 50books_poc challenge.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Chalice
by Robin McKinley
263 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Mirasol is a common beekeeper unexpectedly named the Willowlands' Chalice, a member of the ruling Circle second only to the Master--who is a third-level priest of Fire barely returned from the temple and not quite human. The usual power-grab complications ensue.

This was interesting but not absorbing; and I was only a little freaked out by the bees. (I'm just glad I don't live in the Willowlands, because I physically could not deal with that in real life. Fiction, though, is okay.) The societal structure appears very patriarchal--Chalice is always female, Master is always male, and the two remain unchanged, stereotypically gendered roles. I also disliked the unrounded, too-EVIL antagonist (not Deager, the Overlord). I guessed from the start that Mirasol and the Master would triumph and live happily ever after; the weird flashback-as-memory narrative structure implicitly promises a happy ending, and it would probably have worked better without cover blurb spoilers.

I hear that Chalice is not among McKinley's best works. Definitely not in the mood for fairytale retellings anytime soon, but what else does she have to offer? This one was not bad at all, just not outstanding. I did like the magic and political systems, the former twisting elemental tradition just a bit to be interesting.

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