17
Oct
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 41: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

UnknownThis one is a bit tough to review. I really liked it, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I’ve had nothing like the events in the story happen to me, and yet, I felt that the plot hit close to home. Does that make any sense?

Lorelei Bird is a free spirit, to say the least. She and her husband live in a beautiful cottage somewhere in the Cotswolds with their two daughters and twin boys. Every minute of life in Lorelei’s world is to be savored — you might never see a rainbow that beautiful or eat a leg of lamb so delicious again!

But Lorelei has a problem. She’s so afraid of forgetting all of these “special” moments that she never, ever throws anything away. And over the years, she becomes the greatest hoarder in the entire UK.

But the story isn’t really about hoarding. It’s about how one moment can change everything for a family, and set the paths that each individual will take for their entire lives. Tragedy strikes the family, and each person deals with it in their own way, ultimately driving the family apart for many years.

The dysfunction of this family wasn’t something that I could really relate to (thankfully! some of the plot developments are CRAZY!). But the hoarding…well. My father was never the most organized guy in town, but when my mother died, he started to hold on to things that didn’t make any sense to the rest of us. He was unwilling to throw away news clippings or clothing that was outdated, or really ANYTHING. He was trying to preserve her memory in time, and I get that, but it made things really hard for those of us who were trying to help him. He never got to the point of being a hoarder, but this book had me thinking back on that time, and gave me a bit more empathy for Lorelei than I may otherwise have had.

Lorelei was an interesting character. Some of her decisions and actions really infuriated me. But she had her moments, when her shining personality and sunny disposition won me over. The story of the Bird family was tough, with a lot of ugly occurrences and plot lines. But the story was beautifully told and described. Yes, Lorelei’s house was filled with junk and papers, but every once in a while, she’d notice something special poking out of the mess — a drawing of a Dalek that one of the boys made when he was four was one thing that stuck out in my mind, as I have a five year old (named Lorelei, no less) that draws LOTS of Daleks. And that was the simple beauty of this story…it found a way to notice the loveliness of everyday life, even when it was surrounded by a huge mess.

I hadn’t heard of Lisa Jewell before this, but I’ll make a note to be on the lookout for some of her earlier work.

 

 

14
Oct
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 40: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Unknown-1Sometimes, a book comes out with a lot of hype attached to it. The writer is supposedly the next “big thing” and there’s a huge buzz for months after the book’s release. Jonathan Franzen. The Dragon Tattoo books. The Hunger Games. Gone Girl. And these books (yeah, I hated The Corrections) don’t always live up to the hype for me. I’ve read tons and tons of rave reviews about Station Eleven over the past few weeks, and I was so worried that it would fall into the disappointing category.

But this book, you guys. This book.

Station Eleven is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It’s about a flu that wipes out over 99% of the world’s population within weeks. It’s about the nature of celebrity, and how it changes people. It’s about the undying appeal of Shakespeare. It’s about graphic novels and Star Trek. It’s about humanity, the good and the bad. And it’s about the survivalist instinct, and the frightening moment when you, as an individual, have to decide what your own personal survival is worth.

And I adored it.

The book flips around in time, and is told from various perspectives. In present-day Toronto, a movie star collapses on stage during a performance of King Lear — dead of a heart attack. And later that night, a mysterious flu begins to tear through the city.

We learn more about the man who died on stage — Arthur Leander was a big star with several ex-wives and a son who lives half a world away.

We meet Jeevan, a man training to be an EMT, who runs up on stage and tries to resuscitate the fallen actor. Jeevan gets a tip from the hospital about the flu, and locks himself up in a tower apartment with his brother, slowly watching the end of civilization.

And we meet Kirsten, a young girl playing one of King Lear’s daughters on stage that fateful night. And 15 years later, a member of a traveling Shakespeare troupe, walking from town to town in the new world, being in music and drama to the other survivors.

There are very few scenes of suffering from the flu (unlike The Stand, where we got lots of gory details), but we still understand the tremendous feeling of loss for the survivors. Many details about the very first months and years after the flu are lest purposefully vague, as if too painful to remember.

The writing is simply beautiful. I felt for each and every character and what they had and lost in life. And yet, while the book sounds like it should be depressing, it was actually quite the opposite. I closed this book with a feeling of hope for the characters inside it. Highly recommend.

13
Oct
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 39: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Unknown-2I’ll be honest, ghost stories are not my thing. Every once in a while, I’ll give one a try, and for the most part (major exception for Lost Boy, Lost Girl by Peter Straub, one of my favorites), they leave me wanting. Anna Dressed in Blood was the October pick for my book club, and is not a book I would normally choose to read.

And I didn’t love it.

I really don’t have much to say, so let me just hit a couple of quick points.

Here’s what I liked about it:

Like Buffy (the Vampire Slayer, of course), Cas, our protagonist, has little choice over the fact that he has been chosen to “kill” troubled ghosts. It’s in his blood, and he’s following in his father’s footsteps. Cas and his mom travel from town to town, taking care of spirits who are causing trouble and murdering the living. I liked the fact that Cas had pretty much accepted his destiny without a lot of whining and complaining, and that he stepped up to difficult situations, even when he knew he could potentially be killed in the line of work, like his father was.

Also like Buffy, Cas had a strong support group. His mother was a witch and his godfather was also familiar with the spiritual world. And when Cas and his mom moved to Thunder Bay, he met some new friends who were brave and bold. Like the Scoobies.

Here’s what I didn’t like about it:

Going in, I had no idea that this was the first book in a series. UGH. The ending really bummed me out, because it left so much unanswered, and I didn’t like it enough to read the new, follow-up volume.

I also didn’t care for the really specific references to pop culture that were constantly thrown into the story. I realize the author was going for a modern-day ghost story, but these references will really date the book a few years from now. They really annoyed me.

And I really hated the romance angle thrown into this story. I don’t think I’m spoiling much by telling you that Cas falls in love with his target ghost. Sure, I feel badly for her and what happened in her past to make her so evil. But. She is a murderous ghost. THERE IS NO NEED FOR ROMANCE HERE.

Lastly, don’t make fun of Buffy. Ever.

 

13
Oct
14

Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 38: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Unknown-1There was a lot of talk about We Were Liars a few months back (see popcultureboy’s review from earlier this year), and about the surprise ending. The buzz on the book was huge, and the tagline in the publicity for it said, “and if anybody asks you how it ends, just LIE.” This piqued my interest. And so I went into it cautiously, hoping that the “twist” didn’t detract from the storytelling. Thankfully, it didn’t.

We Were Liars is about a girl named Cady (short for Cadence), a member of an extremely wealthy, WASP-y, Boston family. Her grandparents own their own island off of the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and over the years built four large summer homes for themselves and their three daughters (a nod to King Lear?). The entire family would spend the whole summer on the island — grandparents, daughters, grandchildren, and husbands (but those didn’t stick around for too long).

Cady and her cousins spend their first 14 summers on the island, along with “outsider” Gat, the nephew of her aunt’s boyfriend. They call themselves “the liars”, and over time, Cady and Gat fall in love. But everything changes when they arrive for their 15th summer on the island. Gat has a girlfriend back in New York, yet can’t seem to stay away from Cady, and Cady’s beloved grandmother has died. The aunts are fighting non-stop over any potential inheritance, and Cady’s grandfather manipulates them all with his massive fortune.

And at the end of that summer — the 15th summer — “something” happens. Cady has an accident and suffers a traumatic brain injury. She doesn’t remember much about that summer, and nothing at all about the night of the accident. And she stays away from the island for an entire summer. When she returns, for her 17th summer, she tries to piece together everything that she can’t remember. She talks to her aunts, her cousins, her grandfather, and the rest of the liars. They aren’t very willing to talk about that summer. But she gets bits and pieces, and her blank spots slowly start to return to her memory.

Yes, the ending surprised me. I kept thinking I knew exactly what was going to happen, and found myself wrong over and over again. But the story is much more than a M Night Shyamalan trick. The choice to use a somewhat unreliable narrator — a VERY dramatic teenager with amnesia — really worked for me. But I know that it didn’t work at all for many others. My book club read this in August, and most folks didn’t like Cady’s dramatic, over-the-top way of storytelling. I don’t think the twist would have been as successful without Cady’s drama and annoying hyperboles.

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.

 




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