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review 2017-09-03 18:32
The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman
The Discreet Hero: A Novel - Mario Vargas Llosa,Edith Grossman

This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.


After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.


The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).


Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-05-05 20:24
The Stand - Stephen King

My favorite part of this gigantic King novel is the beginning: seeing how the superflu wipes out humanity and how the remaining characters survive and come together. After that, things got dicey for me. So much time is spent in the Free Zone that I wondered what was happening in Vegas, and when we got to Vegas in the last part, things were already falling apart. There's such a build up of some storylines that I think it was hard to make them pay off (perhaps the slimmer version of the novel worked better in that regard). Nadine's story in particular ended rather abruptly, and she was one of the more fascinating characters. In addition, Flagg is felt to be such a huge threat, but in the last part his power is already fading, and you know things will basically work out all right. I suppose pacing in general didn't work for me in the second half. By the end, what unfolds feels anti-climactic, and Stu and Tom's journey home dragged.


The other central beef I had with the book was the characters. I can't say I had a favorite or cared overly much for particular characters. Women in particular are generally given short shrift and stereotypical roles. I liked Dayna, the spy, but she's killed off quickly. Otherwise, the game ends up being in the hands of men, whose characters develop noticeably over the course of the narrative. I wish more post-apocalypse stories resembled The Walking Dead, where women aren't relegated to being only mothers or victims.


There were moments and sequences where I was thoroughly engaged, excited, horrified, frightened, but not enough for me to love this book. I don't read as much King as I used to, but I always wanted to read this one. I'm glad I finally did despite not liking the book as much as I'd anticipated.


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text 2015-04-02 16:39
Reading progress update: I've read 43%.
The Stand - Stephen King

Does anyone else feel like Flagg's eye searching for Mother Abagail et al. is kind of like the eye of Sauron from LotR?


Characters have met up and are traveling to Mother Abagail. At this point there are definitely characters not included in the miniseries, so I'm excited for that.


Still kinda sexist though. Twice now a man has slept with a woman and afterwards hated or been repulsed by her (Larry and Rita; Nick and Julie).


Also definitely a pro-life agenda happening with Franny's father's diatribe about abortion and Mother Abagail's outlook on birth control.

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text 2015-03-22 16:01
Reading progress update: I've read 35%.
The Stand - Stephen King

There've been some harrowing, chilling scenes (there'd better be, amirite?)--Larry (and Rita) in the Lincoln Tunnel, the chapter where the country is basically going to hell, those left alive who die by other means, being trapped in a prison cell--and it's exciting because the characters are beginning to meet.


Still put off by some troubling depictions of race and gender, though.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-04-17 21:22
The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
The Strain (Strain Trilogy #1) -

I adjust my expectations when I read genre fiction, but I generally am able to have fun as a reader. Depending on the genre, I do look for certain qualities, but I additionally recognize that I have particular tastes and responses (for example, it's hard to scare me, but I value being disturbed more anyway).


However, some things I'm never going to accept, and one is shoddily drawn female characters and sexism. That's my biggest beef with this book, and it's part of a larger issue that develops near the story's end, which is that it gets more cliche in general as it goes on. One of the reasons I decided to read it when I did (I've had the book for a while) was that I learned it had been adapted into a TV series set to debut this summer. The way the climax is reached and unfolds, it felt more like a summer blockbuster.


The book shifts (third person) perspective between many characters, but in the end, it's three men who team up to fight the Master--Eph, Setrakian, and Fet. Eph's primary motivation is finding his ex-wife, Kelly, who's missing and likely taken by the Master or his vamps. Kelly was one of the characters whose perspective we're given throughout the story; she and Eph have a son, and they've been fighting over his custody. Eph is a CDC doctor who learns that the plague he's fighting is vampirism. He warns Kelly to take their son and leave immediately; however, she doesn't at the behest of her boyfriend, Matt. In other words, Kelly is vindictive and stupid who is then made a damsel in distress; at the end of the book, she is literally demonized.


Then there's Eph's fellow CDC team member, Nora, with whom he also has an ill-defined romance. Nora's along on many adventures but may as well be window dressing for as much as she's characterized or has any agency. She "stays home" with Eph's son during the final confrontation with the Master. Ugh.


My favorite part of this book (because I did actually enjoy some of it!) was the beginning--unraveling the mystery of the plane and its passengers. It was creepy and strange. I also like what one of the book's blurbs points out as a unique take on the vampire, likening it to 28 Days Later in that a virus is involved; there is a biology.


I hope the TV show on FX does a better job fleshing out the female characters.

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