Friday, September 30, 2011

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

Title: The Hunt for Red October
Author: Tom Clancy
Publisher: United States Naval Institute Press (1984)

After Michael and I both brought up Tom Clancy in our reviews last month, I guess it got our minds thinking about how nice it would be to re-visit an old favorite. So, as usual, I will share a few words about the book and Michael will tackle its film adaptation.

For better or worse, I'm in an expansive and nostalgic mood. Earlier this evening (writing on the 29th) I was at my county's annual event celebrating adult literacy learners and the volunteers who help them reach their goals. As a lifetime avid reader, it is a joy to me to help folks in my community who want to improve their literacy skills. It reminds me of the wide world and endless possibilities that are open to us through literacy and through books. I'm also approaching my 500th blog post which is an arbitrary "milestone" at best but one I plan to celebrate by remembering a professor who inspired me and took my relationship with the written word to a new level.

All of these things put me in mind to remember my first experience with The Hunt for Red October and Tom Clancy rather than review the book based off my re-reading from two weeks ago. Any regular visitor of these joint post efforts will recognize what a reversal this is. Michael is the nostalgic half of this blogging partnership and I am the one very much in the moment. But, I suppose, we all have instances of departure from the norm and trips down memory lane. I hope you'll have the patience to get through this one with me.

The Hunt for Red October is a quintessential techno-thriller (one of the first?) and launched Clancy's very successful career which now includes a video game series (this really has no relevance here but I still enjoy seeing his name on video game covers). Jack Ryan is an analyst with the CIA. His particular talent lies in assimilating data from various sources into a cohesive picture of possible outcomes. His uncanny perception leads him to suggest to his bosses that the Red October, a Soviet sub recently launched, is headed to the US for a purpose almost unthinkable: defection. Cue awesomeness and fierce action. Ok, well, awesomeness for sure but this is a techno-thriller so you're as likely to find yourself in an action scene as you are to find yourself in a room with really smart people looking at charts and specs. If you're new to the genre don't be put off: the best thing about techno-thrillers is the balance. This is not a non-stop coaster ride ending in one big climactic finish. Techno-thrillers build their plots, characters, and action with deliberation and, best of all, with a lot of smart people doing really smart things. As a teen, Clancy was my first experience with techno-thrillers. I've never forgotten it.

The Hunt for Red October was Clancy's first published novel but not the first I read. It was either The Cardinal of the Kremlin or Clear and Present Danger that I read first. I can't remember at this point but I do remember how I came to learn of Clancy. I was a sophomore in high school and my english lit teacher told me about Clancy. What is pertinent to this story is that no matter what I thought about Clancy I would have said I loved him. Please bear with 15yo Rachel and her raging crush on Mr. English Lit. I was not alone in this: any student in my school who liked male members of the species had a raging crush on Mr. English Lit. It could have been collective insanity but it was probably a little bit reality, too. I mean, this guy did model to help pay for college. Anyway, there was no need for me to manufacture any interest - I was hooked from the get go.

[Aside: I am objectifying Mr. English Lit here but he was, and I'm sure is, a fantastic teacher. Most people liked the books he recommended because he cared about his students, paid attention to who they were and helped them find works they could connect with.]

It wasn't just the fancy words, the inside views of gov't agencies, the most awesome Baddies ever (oh, how I continue to lament the loss of the Soviets as literary adversaries), the gadgets, the easy-to-root for Ryan, or the America Fuck Yeah! attitude of the books. It was the very satisfying experience of what I mentioned above: following a group of really smart people doing really smart things. You'd think this would be a staple of almost any thriller but, sadly, it is not. And Clancy had such variety! He had Jack Ryan all over the place working on problems (and probably has but I no longer keep up with Ryan's exploits). Clancy didn't shirk on the supporting characters either. Ryan wouldn't even show up til almost halfway through a book sometimes. Clancy had stories to tell and Ryan was the thread that bound them together, however, he didn't allow that thread to limit the scope of the plots.

The Hunt for Red October served as an excellent intro to just how far out Clancy would take his plots. The story opens with the newest and most advanced of the Soviet's sub arsenal leaving port. At his helm is one of the Soviet's most accomplished captains. And in the captain's mind is his plan for defection. Holy crap! Talk about raising the ante from the get-go. How truly satisfying this ambitious plot was when I first read it and how fun it was to pull it off my shelf and re-visit it this month.

So here we are at the end of my thoughts and I realize very few of them were about The Hunt for Red October and its content. I am sure I'll be back on track next month but for now I'm reveling in the memories. I'm thinking about a 2 decade love affair with all things USSR/Russia related, which has only intensified through a visit to that remarkable country and my current literary tastes. I'm thinking about how so many people grew up fantasizing about visiting London or Paris (both of which are quite lovely) but I could never get Moscow out of my mind. I'm thinking about when I first walked into Red Square and saw St. Basil's Cathedral with my very own eyes and how amazing it was. Thanks, Mr. English Lit and Tom Clancy. May our feet always follow where our minds desire to go.

Click here for an index of the joint post series

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Title: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks 
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Hyperion (2008)

I'm a bit late here. Both in that it's Wednesday, and so past SBD, and in that I read this months ago and am just getting to it now. Thankfully I read this on my Kindle so I can click on the handy notes section and read over my copious comments. And even though it's late, I'm hoping the SBD crowd will still be willing to share some thoughts because I'm the odd woman out on this one in that I didn't like it as well as others.

First, a shout-out to Kate for bringing it to my attention. I would not have read it otherwise and, even though I didn't end up liking it, I was interested by it and glad to have read it. Instead of giving a summary I'm linking to this short review because the summary is excellent and because the reviewer had a completely different reaction to the book than me so it's a good counterpoint.

The thing I liked best about this book is that I found it very emotionally authentic. I can't speak to the boarding school experience but some of the things Frankie thought/said I remember hearing from my girlfriends. That part of the book was very impressive to me as I rarely feel that way when reading books set in high school. However, the supposed girl-power aspect of the book was completely non-existent for me. I have notes in relation to this at any number of points throughout the book but the most telling is the one that says "Does Frankie even like women, does the author?" Ouch! Hard to muster up my feelings of empowerment when I don't feel like the protag or the author values women.

Here's what it came down to for me: Frankie's motivation is to attain acceptance into a guys' club (very often, specifically to get personal validation from one particular guy). As in, rather than get her own life she's trying to get a guy's.  I found this to be one of the emotionally authentic aspects of the book as I knew (and, sadly, know) many women who seek "empowerment" through undermining "feminine" pursuits and proving they are "strong" too by trying to be "one of the guys." I actually don't care what people do - whether it's traditionally seen as a "guy" thing or a "gal" thing - as long as what they do is for themselves. The entire time I was reading I kept wondering why Frankie didn't start her own secret society (or not secret, whatever) and use her cleverness, determination, and information to control the Basset Hounds. Cuz how stinking funny would that be? Instead she seemed more obsessed with Matthew not talking to her about what was going on than in being her own person and being valued for who she is.

I completely agree with Frankie that she was suffocated by a male-dominated institution. I completely agree with her that she was underestimated and marginalized by several people in her life. But, again, instead of seeking out those who saw and valued her she aligned herself with those who diminished her. When she's bitching about the way Matthew treats her what am I supposed to think but LEAVE HIM? She kept acting like he was happening to her and seeming not to realize that his presence was under her control. Also, she was often put out by his loyalty to friends he had had for 4 years. I actually re-checked the timeline and when they had been dating for 2 months she was bitching about him keeping things from her that he would only discuss with his friends. Two months!!!! Maybe I'm close-mouthed but I certainly don't start spouting off all my personal business to someone I've known for two months.


And then we get to the most frustrating scene in the book. It's the end, her shenanigans have been discovered (shenanigans which were awesome and hilarious, btw) and she's having it out with Matthew. At this point I'm so disgusted by the attitude that I felt was pervasive throughout the book that I about died when Matthew, the guy, gets to make a valid point. Now, it should be said that I don't like Matthew. Maybe one day he'll figure things out and turn into someone decent but he's immature and self-centered for the entirety of the book (I thought less of Frankie for dating him much less for working so hard to get his attention) so he's not exactly someone you ever want to be siding with but when he asks who/what she was being loyal to he's making a good point. He's saying it badly because he's immature and self-centered but the point remains: when she's doing all this behind his back why does she think it's something that will impress him? (Why he describes it as sick and psychotic I have to assume is because his pride is hurt because what she did was brilliant. It's the motivation that drove me nuts.) Conversely, how upset can I get when Frankie feels like he's been lying to her all this time? He's a jerk, break up with him. Also, they hadn't been together all that long, he's had these other friends forever; what is the big deal about him having something with them that he does not have with her? People should have their own lives; Frankie should have got her own life. I for one would have enjoyed her antics much better had she been doing them for herself.

I have so many notes and comments and annoyances here but I was trying to stay concise and mostly be brief which I hope doesn't mean that I ended up not really conveying my point at all. One final comment: At one point I found the undervaluing of the feminine so intense that I thought maybe the author was getting around to that lesson. Frankie learns at the end that to define herself and her value by the men and system around her (a system she identifies as broken) isn't a productive path to empowerment. But no. To me, it seemed that she learned that she needed to have done better at being an imitation guy. *sigh*

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Monkeys make everything better."

And the fun doesn't have to stop here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Reading Roundup

I haven't done a reading roundup since May!! So it appears that as summer passes us by I continue to eschew my digital life for my outdoor life. To show for it I have a horse capable of suspension at the trot. For many horses this is not that big a deal but for a horse with my horse's conformation it is exciting indeed. Hurrah for unexpected talents. I might even get around to doing some Dressage Tests this Fall. And speaking of Dressage, if you haven't seen Moorlands Totilas you ought to.

But I'm here about books. Because the list will be long, I'm dividing them by my enjoyment level (leaving out books that I've done full posts on or that have been or will be posted at Sacramento Book Review).

For details on my enjoyment level here's the link again on how I dole out stars.

5 stars -


4 stars -

Shibumi by Trevanian (highly recommended)
The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
The Main by Trevanian
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (highly recommended)
Adulthood Rites by Octavia E. Butler
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (highly recommended)

3 stars -

The Loo Sanction by Trevanian (recommended)
Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov
Imago by Octavia E. Butler (recommended)
The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer
Charlie All Night by Jennifer Crusie
Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer
Black Moth by Georgette Heyer
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer (recommended)
False Colours by Georgette Heyer
Arabella by Georgette Heyer (recommended)
The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

2 stars -

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
--This is the top of my list for an actual post and I hope to discuss it with the SBD folks.

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
Whirlwind by Joseph R. Garber
The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer

1 star -


Unrated -

False Angel by Edith Layton
--I can't stomach a hero that strikes the heroine. Remove this and this book is fantastic. Keep it and I can't forget it. (Plus it was totally out of character.) Anyone else have something that will immediately ruin a book?


Louisiana: The First 300 Years by Joan B. Garvey
--Not rigorous enough in its research and presentation.

The Proud Breed: A Three-Generation Saga of California
by Celeste De Blasis
--Too dated in its sentiments.

The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer
--Turns out I really don't care about troop movements.

Red Glove by Holly Black
--You're better off reading White Cat again.

I hope to report soon on the book review sites being up again and with that I'll include a few more books that I had for review.

What have you been reading lately over the past few months?

sgwordy asks...

sgwordy: Doesn't that make you want Axe?

Dr Musacha: I don't know what it makes me want. To secede from humanity, maybe?