01
Oct
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 37: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

UnknownEarlier this year, I was one of many who fell under the spell of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. I cried my eyes out at tragic, yet somehow still uplifting, love story. And I loved Moyes’ familiar, comforting writing style. Conversational and realistic. I was a big fan.

One Plus One is Jojo’s new book. And while the book doesn’t have the same emotional punch as Me Before You, I still recommend it. I mean, come on. We can’t cry about everything.

Jess is a single mom in Southern England, struggling to get by. Her husband took off two years ago, moving in with his mother, and unable to pay child support. She works as a house cleaner and a bartender, but she never seems to have enough money at the end of the day. Her step-son is constantly being bullied, and his medical bills are starting to add up. And it turns out that her daughter is a mathematical genius, and has been offered a spot at a local, prestigious, private school. But of course the tuition is far more than Jess can swing on her own.

Ed is a computer genius, who has made a lot of money over the past few years. His new software is about to launch, potentially putting Ed in place to make a lot more money. Until a bad relationships turns on him, and he finds himself in deep legal trouble, accused of insider trading. Ed could lose everything, so to drop out of sight for a while, he leaves London for his beach house.

Where of course, he crosses paths with Jess.

Yes, of course, this is an “opposites attract” sort of story. But there’s more to it than that.

There were some really tough bits in here. Major instances of bullying, attempted rape, cancer, and a sick dog. But that doesn’t mean the book is a wholly depressing one. Moyes writes smart characters, and she writes realistic scenes from life, oftentimes filled with humor. And a smelly dog. And while I didn’t break down in tears this time, I found myself wiping my eyes once or twice in the last few chapters.

I still haven’t read her two other books, but clearly, I need to.

23
Sep
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 36: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

UnknownHere’s how I would break down 2014: BDF and ADF.

That’s Before Diana Peterfreund (January – June), and After Diana Peterfreund (July- today).

Back in July, while shopping for books to bring on vacation, my favorite book-seller recommended For Darkness Shows the Stars to me. She promised I would like it, and I was helping support a local author, so I picked it up AND IT WAS AWESOME. A futuristic, dystopian re-telling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, I ate it up and told everyone I knew about it. And somehow, I missed the fact that there was a companion book (a sequel, of sorts), this one set in the same world, and a re-telling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Because I hadn’t ever read The Scarlet Pimpernel, I was a bit worried that I might not like this book as much as the first. And so I picked this one up, slightly nervous that I would be disappointed.

Happy to report, I’m not. At all. This book kicked some serious Cannonball ass.

If you’ve read bonnie and Malin‘s wonderful reviews, you know that while the world in this book is the same as its predecessor, but with a new cast of characters, and a new setting. I don’t really want to get into the details of the plot — yes, the world has been decimated by the Reduction, the same genetic “war” that was described in For Darkness Shows the Stars. But in this book, Reduction has been cured. The citizens of New Pacifica (two neighboring islands, Albion and Galatea), haven’t seen a natural-born reduced in generations.

But a new evil has been created — a “reduction” pill to use as punishment against those who speak out against the leaders of Galatea, who are in the midst of a revolution. The wealthy “aristos” are warring against the “regs”, and these pink reduction pills are being used on anyone who dares to commit treason.

Meanwhile, on neighboring Albion, the current princess is simply a placeholder until her toddler brother comes of age. She’s gets little respect from her advisors and is insulted to her face constantly about her inability to rule. Over on Albion, only men have power. Women can busy themselves with fashion and gossip, but would never be taken seriously as a leader.

Aristos and Regs on both islands are worried about revolution and reduction, as well as a potential war between the islands. Out of this confusion and conflict, The Wild Poppy is born. The Wild Poppy is an Albian spy who travels in secret to Galatea, to rescue aristos who have been captured and reduced and bring them to Albion for asylum, as well as for medical treatment. The identity of The Wild Poppy is a secret that very few know — but most assume that the spy is a brave, strong man.

Enter Persis Blake, a beautiful, rich, teenager from Albion. Best friend to the princess, she also just happens to be The Wild Poppy. When she isn’t dressing up in outlandish outfits to entertain at court, she’s breaking into Galatean prisons, risking her life to save others. Her secret double life was fascinating. Having to act like a ditzy teenage girl, while secretly plotting to rescue families in peril, and risking her life in secret can really take its toll.

Then we get some adventure, lots of action, and a little bit of romance, too.

Famous Galatean Justen Helo (his grandmother invented the cure to Reduction) decides to ask for asylum in Albion. He’s also a scientist (and has a few secrets, himself), and he discovers that while an aristo who is given a pink reduction pill will be able to recover, a reg who is given the same pill will never be the same. This discovery sends The Wild Poppy into a frenzy — her goal is to save as many Galateans as possible before anything tragic can happen.

Yes, there is a love story here. Of course there is. But it really took a back seat to the rest of the plot. First and foremost, Persis was a selfless hero, not a lovestruck girlfriend. I liked that. This was a book that I plan to set aside for my own daughter to read when she is old enough, so that she can see a book about a strong group of young women (and yes, young men) that isn’t all about some stupid love triangle, about changing for a boy you barely know, or about girls being mean to each other. The girls in this book supported and cared about each other, they were brave, they were intelligent. They were impressive all around.

Now I’m off to read the original Scarlet Pimpernel…I enjoyed this way too much to not know more about the original source material.

 

 

 

16
Sep
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 35: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Unknown-2A few weeks ago, I read and enjoyed The Vacationers by Emma Straub. And upon finishing my review, promised myself two things. One, that I would seek out more of Emma’s work, and two, that I would solve the mystery of whether or not Emma was related to Peter Straub, one of my favorites. (Have you read Lost Boy, Lost Girl? No? Stop reading this right now and go read that, I’ll wait. It was awesome, right?)

And now, here we are, two weeks later. I’ve read another of Emma’s books, and I’ve solved the mystery. Yes, Peter Straub is Emma’s father. How do I know? Because, the proud dad that he is, he commented on my blog post. SERIOUSLY. The greatest moment in my short blogging life so far.

Anyway, back to Earth. Back to Laura Lamont.

When I was a little kid, I loved to watch old movies with my dad. We loved watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dance, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell talk incredibly fast, and Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis do crazy things. But our favorite was always Singing in the Rain, the lavish musical about the struggle in Hollywood to turn from making silent films to “talkies.” I loved the inside look at movie making and celebrity. And that’s what my mind kept going back to while I was reading about Laura Lamont. (Hey, the antagonist in Signing in the Rain is even named Lena Lamont. Just realized that!)

Laura Lamont, born Elsa Emerson in rural Wisconsin, moves to Hollywood as a teenager, hoping to act. She quickly becomes a star — she wins an Oscar, she marries one of the top guys at the studio, she’s a huge success. And then she takes some time away from the spotlight to raise her family, and struggles to regain her spot on the celebrity ladder. This is the story of how movie stars were made and ruined, and how the movie studios made the decisions that would make or break you for the rest of your career.

I loved the details in this book. I could almost picture the bustling studio lots, the enormous sound stages, the costumes, the hair, the night clubs, the cars, and the houses. ≈

And I really enjoyed reading about Laura/Elsa’s journey. But by no means is this an uplifting story. Laura’s life is filled with heartbreak: suicide, parental difficulties, divorce, death, drug addiction, depression, bi-polar disorder, and alcoholism. But her life is also built around the love that she has for her children and her husband, and her life-long friendship with TV star Ginger (a Lucille Ball type).

The ending of this book definitely surprised me, and I enjoyed the last few chapters, seeing Laura change course, and finally seem happy again.

I’ve read some criticism that this book is somewhat boring, that it isn’t an action-packed, and didn’t have a ton of plot. But it was the story of a life, and of a time. And to me, the Hollywood of the 1930s and 40s could never be boring.

I still have one more novel by Emma Straub to find. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

 

09
Sep
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 34: Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

UnknownI just looked through my old reviews, and this makes the fifth Stephanie Plum novel that I’ve reviewed since I became a Cannonballer. And I really don’t have anything new to add to anything that I wrote in those earlier reviews.

Stephanie eats and Lula shoots her gun accidentally. Grandma goes to a viewing at the funeral home and does something inappropriate. Something bad goes down on Stark Street and someone tries to blow up Stephanie’s car. And yes, Stephanie is still trying to figure out what to do about Ranger and Joe.

I usually enjoy these books, and sit down and read them in about two hours. They are light and breezy and fun. But this time, I was annoyed. Stephanie needs to grow up, and her shenanigans are really wearing thin. I read this book a few weeks ago, and I had to look up the plot, I honestly couldn’t remember what happened in it.

Someone wants Ranger dead, and will do anything necessary to bring him down. Of course, Stephanie gets thrown into trying to save Ranger, and of course mistakes are made and Stephanie is in GRAVE PERIL.

And of course it all works out in the end, because that’s what happens in these books. They all eat a nice pot roast and say, hey, wasn’t that funny how you were almost brutally murdered by the Russian mob? Ha!

And I guess I’m just tired of it. I need something new to happen, and I need it soon. I hate to give up on a series so far into it (see: my Seinfeld “bad sub” theory), but I’m not sure I really like any of these characters any longer. Sorry, Janet.

05
Sep
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 33: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

imagesThis has never happened to me before. Never have I finished a book and wanted to read it again, RIGHT AWAY. But it happened to me last night when I read the last page of Landline.

I picked it up yesterday morning, after waiting forever on the library list, and drove to the Toyota dealership to get my car fixed. And I started reading. And I didn’t even notice that I was stuck in that disgusting waiting room for two hours, because Rainbow was with me, and everything was OK.

Was this my favorite of her books? I have no idea. Do I prefer sleeping or eating? Both are things I need to do to survive, but it’s hard to choose one that you like better. That’s how it is with me and this small collection of books, all written by an author I hadn’t even heard of two years ago.

What’s Landline about? A magic phone, you say? Harumph. That sounds so silly!

I know. It does. But it isn’t. Not at all.

It’s about growing up, and love, and family, and the mistakes we make along the way — some of which we can fix, and try to make better, and some of which we can’t. It’s about the beginning of relationships, when everything is shiny and perfect, and you can stay up all night, just talking. It’s about the middle of relationships, when you might be in a bit of a rut, but you can still see the shiny bits sticking out once in a while. And it’s about the end of relationships, when you feel like you’re drowning — and bringing your partner down with you — and don’t know what to do.

Georgie and Neal have been married for 15 years and have two daughters. Georgie is a pretty successful TV writer, along with her partner, Seth. Neal stays home with the girls and Georgie’s work has become all-consuming. She and Seth are about to sell their own show to the network, and need to work non-stop for the next few weeks. Oh, and it’s Christmas, and they are supposed to be taking the girls to Nebraska to visit Neal’s mom.

Of course Georgie stays home with Seth, and of course Neal flies off, and doesn’t even look back at Georgie when he leaves.

But then, Georgie finds out that she has a magic phone. A phone that can call her husband in 1998, right before they got married. Presently, he isn’t even speaking to her, and won’t answer any of her calls on his iPhone. But in 1998, he’ll answer his landline and talk to her all night, about anything and everything. And these conversations with the Neal-of-the-past open Georgie’s eyes to the way things have been going for the past 15 years, and the way that things might be if she doesn’t change something about the present.

Yes, yes, the story is wonderful. But it’s the language, the characters, and the writing that really get me. That’s why I need to read it again, right now, to go back and savor all of the bits that I might have missed because I really just needed to read it and put it into my brain as quickly as possible. How can you not love a book that describes that a new haircut might “feel like velvet one way and needles the other”? And a heroine named Georgie McCool? And these fully-realized supporting characters, like Kendrick, and Allison the pizza girl, who don’t have a lot of page-time, but make the most of it with little bursts of amazingness? Awesome.

Last night, when I was going to bed, I told my husband about the book. And then I told him that I was jealous of all the people out there who haven’t read any of Rainbow Rowell’s books yet, because they can still experience them for the first time. He isn’t a fiction guy, but I have him convinced to give one of them a try. (I think it will be Eleanor & Park, if only for the music references that he’ll really relate to). And I’m jealous that he doesn’t know what’s about to hit him.

 

28
Aug
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 32: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Unknown-1I had no idea who Emma Straub was until I picked this off of the new release table at the library last week. I assumed that maybe she was Peter Straub’s daughter, and thought I was getting myself a fun horror story for the end of the summer.

Well. I don’t know if she is actually related to Peter. Maybe?

And this was actually a pretty fun book. I’d compare her writing to Jonathan Tropper — telling a difficult story with humor and wit. And while I think Tropper might be funnier, Straub is a better writer, and her characters are much more realistic.

The Vacationers is the story of two families and their problems. Franny and Jim; their son Bobby and his cougar girlfriend, Carmen; teenage daughter Sylvia; and Fran’s best friend, Charles, and his husband, Lawrence. They all decide to rent a house is Mallorca for two weeks, putting aside their domestic and personal problems, and hoping for a vacation that can save their relationships.

Fran and Jim have big problems. Jim has recently been fired for sleeping with an intern at work, just before their 35th wedding anniversary. Franny, shockingly, isn’t handling this very well. Jim wants to be forgiven, but Fran isn’t sure what she wants. Jim is jumping through hoops for Franny, and Franny is more or less just ignoring Jim.

Bobby, a real estate broker in Miami, has his own problems. He and Carmen (his older girlfriend, that nobody seems to like), are in a rut, and Bobby has some major financial debts piling up. His goal is to spend the vacation buttering up his parents in order to ask them for a huge loan.

Sylvia is off to college in the fall, and glad to be rid of her high school friends and away from New York City for a few weeks. And she has a “bucket list” for her last summer at home, and the number one item on the list is to lose her virginity. Enter Joan, Sylivia’s super hot Mallorcan spanish tutor…

And lastly, Charles and Lawrence, a married couple trying to adopt a baby. Charles and Franny have been best friends for ages, and Lawrence and Jim have never been able to compete for their affections. Theirs was the story I enjoyed the most, and found to be the most realistic and intriguing.

The story is filled with upsetting, yet familiar, situations. And for the most part, Straub makes it work. To be honest, not all of it worked for me. I totally could have done without the quirky bits where Jim follows Franny around Mallorca on the back of a motorcycle owned by a British pediatrician. Ugh. But the rest was fun and real. We all know the mom who makes too much food, as if feeding people will make their problems go away. We’ve all gotten drunk and done something stupid that we wish we could take back. And every family has the relative who is dating someone that makes everyone scratch their heads and go “huh?”

I’ll look for more work by Straub in the future (I guess she has one other book, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures). She has a lot of talent, and this was pretty impressive for such a young novelist.

 

20
Aug
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 31: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

UnknownLast year, my kids did the swim team at our pool. That meant I had HOURS of time for reading, just sitting pool-side, and I got through the first three GOT books. This year, one kid had a broken arm and we also ended up going away for a month. This meant very little time for me to dedicate to George Martin. But I did manage to plod my way through book 4 (and jeez, I just picked up book 5. WHEN AM I EVER GOING TO HAVE TIME TO READ THAT ONE?!?!?!?).

Like many of you, AFFC was not my favorite of the series. There were many characters I really didn’t care about at all. Anybody with the last name Greyjoy? Yeah, I don’t care. Samwell and Gilly? Don’t care. The Faith of the Seven? Yes, I should care, but no, I don’t.

But. There were many things I actually did like about this book. (And yes, there are minor spoilers below.) For the most part, I really liked reading Jaime’s continuing transformation. I know, there was a ton of anti-Jaime sentiment because of certain acts on the HBO show this year. I much prefer book Jaime to TV Jaime. He’s a deeply flawed, not very good man, but I liked a lot of the choices he made in this book. Especially his last choice, regarding the plea for help from his sister in King’s Landing.

And his subtle transformation to becoming a new man was just one of many character transformations in this volume: Arya becomes Cat, Sansa becomes Alayne, and Samwell briefly becomes a man who is free to love Gilly (but I didn’t care).

Also interesting was reading chapters from Cersei’s POV. Her thirst for power and her obsession with protecting Tommen, no matter what the consequences, were like a car crash. I knew it would end badly, but I couldn’t look away.

And while the Iron Islands bored me to tears, I (mostly) enjoyed time spent in Dorne. I look forward to reading (and watching, I guess) more about Dorne and the dysfunctional Martell family.

This volume didn’t have a “WOW” moment like in the previous entries — Ned’s killing, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Tyrion’s escape, Lady Stoneheart’s appearance — and I kept expecting one to jump off the page and surprise me. Sadly, I didn’t get one, but maybe I just need to readjust my expectations when reading Martin. But he did leave me perplexed at the very end, by the re-appearance of Pate (yes, I had to flip all the way back to the prologue to see if Pate was the character introduced there). I’m intrigued, George RR.

My last comment about this book is more a comment/question for any of you who watch the show and read the books. On HBO, Brienne (and Gwen Christie) is such a kick-ass character, I can’t help but love her. If the show decides to follow her plot line from the book (not like they have thus far), I’ll be distraught. But when reading if I didn’t have the vision of Gwen Christie in my head, I wonder if I would have been as upset at what happened to Brienne. Brienne as a book character is fine, but she’s a wonderful TV character.

Taking a little break before I pick up book 5…

 

 




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