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.



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…




Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 30: The One & Only by Emily Giffin

Unknown-1I dare you to read this book and not picture Kyle Chandler in your head for all 433 pages. Go ahead. I dare you.

It can’t be done.

And really, that’s fine with me. It only made the book more enjoyable for me.

The One & Only is the story of Shea, a 30-something woman in a Texas town that is all about it’s local college football team. Shea works in the athletic department at Walker, her alma mater, and never misses a football game. She lives and breathes football, much to the confusion of her best friend, Lucy. Oh, and Lucy just so happens to be the daughter of Coach Carr, the winningest coach in Walker football history.

When Lucy’s mom dies suddenly from a fast-moving cancer, Shea starts to re-examine her life. Is working in the athletic department all she really wants in life? What about her love of writing?

Can she do better than her stoner boyfriend, Miller, the former Walker back up quarterback? Or should she move on to Ryan James — former Walker QB and now Dallas Cowboys superstar? He’s shown interest in her, and everybody just adores him.

And what about Lucy and her family? Will they be ok after losing their mom, who held their family together? Will Shea’s complicated friendships with Lucy and with Coach Carr make it easier for them to move on?

Like in her previous books, Giffin tells a pleasant story, and often dances around difficult social situations. Here we deal with adultery, grief, and domestic violence, but I never really found this to be a “difficult” book.

And then we have Coach Taylor. I mean Coach Carr. If you aren’t rooting for him to have a happy ending at the end of this book, well, then I guess you haven’t watched Friday Night Lights before.

I guess the biggest compliment that I can give this book is, that after 433 pages, I was disappointed there wasn’t more. I could have read about Shea and Coach for another 433 pages.




Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 29: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

UnknownIn the summer of 2004, I found myself at home on maternity leave with a newborn baby and a lot of sleepless nights. After I went through my entire Tivo’d cache of The Issac Mizrahi Show (seriously, the best talk show ever. I mourn it every day.), I was dying for new TV to watch. And I was rescued by my friend Amy, a tv critic, who had a pile of DVD screeners for the upcoming fall TV season that she was finished with. I can’t remember most of them, but I definitely remember my two favorites: House MD and Veronica Mars.

I was a huge fan of Hugh Laurie, so it was no surprise that House would become a favorite. But Veronica Mars? I had no idea and wasn’t all that excited about it. It was on UPN, for god’s sake. Wasn’t that the annoying girl who had been on Deadwood for a minute? And her dad was the guy from Just Shoot Me? Eh, no thanks. I kept putting the DVD at the bottom of the pile.

And then one day I watched the whole thing. And then I watched it again. And that was that.

Yes, I own all three seasons on DVD. And yes, I gave money to the Kickstart campaign. I have my T shirt, and my movie script. I watched the movie on iTunes as soon as it came out. And while I thought it was a bit Logan-heavy and a bit Keith-light, I still loved it.

So really, was there any doubt that I would be reading and loving this book?

Do I even need to write up a complete review?

I do? OK. Well.

The book picks up a few weeks after the ending of the movie. Veronica is back in Neptune, running her dad’s office while he recuperates from the big car crash in the movie. It’s spring break in Neptune, and all hell breaks loose when a young girl goes missing. Veronica is hired to investigate by the Neptune Chamber of Commerce, and gets her friends Mac and Wallace to help her out. So far, so good.

And then things get interesting. Another girl goes missing, and this one has a connection to Veronica that she didn’t expect. I won’t spoil it for you, but it creates the necessary conflict, and it moves the story along nicely.

The book completely worked for me: it has plenty of Veronica’s trademark wit, lots of cameos from our favorite Neptune residents, and builds on the loving relationship between Veronica and Keith that I adore. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, and hope this one comes with a lot more Vinnie Van Lowe than we’ve been given. You really can’t have too much.



Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 28: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Unknown-1Jane Austen is a big player in the Cannonball world. We love her books and her movies, and we can’t stop ourselves from reading stories based on her work.

Sometimes (Bridget Jones, Clueless, Bride & Prejudice), the new stories and movies that are based on her stuff are fun and worthy of a comparison to the original.

And sometimes (Austenland, Death Comes to Pemberley, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), they aren’t great, but we don’t mind that much, because we love the original so much.

And yes, sometimes they are terrible (The Trials of the Honorable F Darcy comes to mind).

And yet, I keep on reading them.

This one falls in to the worthy category, thankfully. I picked it up at my new, favorite, local book shop, and the book was sitting right out front (I found out that Peterfreund is a local author), with a gold star on it that said, “A delightful take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion set in a post-apocalyptic future”. I couldn’t give them my money fast enough. Persuasion is my favorite Austen book, and my favorite movie. Captain Wentworth is my favorite Austen hero. What could possibly go wrong here??

Very little, it turns out. FDSTS (my new, clever acronym) takes place in what seems to be New Zealand, far in the future. The world has been mostly destroyed (or has it?), after a war between The Reduced and The Luddites, causing almost the entire global population to be wiped out. The Reduced were the majority of the population — they had discovered ways to enhance their DNA, to create super-humans. But their tinkering backfired on them, creating generations of humans with little speech, slow reactions, and few options in life. The Luddites were those who resisted the DNA manipulations, and technology, in general. Their faith and religion left them to believe that they were as God meant them to be, and that was good enough. Now the Luddites rule what is left of civilization, but The Reduced working the land and serving The Luddites. And now there’s a third group to contend with, The Posts (post-reduced), children of Reduced who are born without any defects, who are normal.

Young Elliot North is a Luddite who has grown up on a large estate, basically running it after her mother’s death. Her father is unable to manage their money or their land (he mows over an entire year’s crop of wheat to build a horse racing track), and her sister only cares about gossip and clothes. And Elliot is heartbroken. She has been in love with Kai for her entire life. Kai is a Post who lived on her estate — he was a mechanic and he was her best friend. But Kai left a few years ago, and he left her on bad terms.

Of course, Kai (now Captain Malakai Wentworth) comes back to Elliot, as anyone who knows Persuasion could figure out. And of course, they work out their differences. The story varies very little from the original, which is absolutely fine by me. Diana Peterfreund has created a world and characters that were interesting enough to stand on their own.

I’m curious to see what happens next (there seem to be a series of books based in this world). I’m not 100% convinced that New Zealand is all that’s left out there, and would like to know what Wentworth and the rest of his crew will find when they sail off on their exploration.

And with that, I’m off to watch Persuasion on my iPad.



Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 27: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

UnknownTrying like mad to get as much in before we leave today on our Summer vacation. One more review should do it for me.

A few weeks ago, popcultureboy wrote an intriguing review about a new mystery called Elizabeth is Missing. He sold me on it in his very first paragraph, in his descriptions of the extremely forgetful narrator, Maud. And I know, I’m definitely on a popcultureboy-recommended book kick these days. Thanks.

Maud is an octogenarian, living on her own, but with daily “carers” coming in to help her out. Maud is clearly suffering from some sort of Alzheimer’s-like malady and simply can’t get by on her own any longer. She starts to make a cup of tea, and then walks away. She goes for a walk, and finds herself lost. She often can’t even remember her own daughter’s name. But she does know one thing: she hasn’t seen her friend Elizabeth in quite some time. Maud is convinced Elizabeth is missing.

Maud’s attempts to find out what has happened to her friend are often heartbreaking and tough to read. Maud would write herself notes, to help remind her of the clues she had uncovered so far — but then couldn’t remember when or where she had written the notes. She would make phone calls and lists, but then wouldn’t remember that she had done it.

I’m going to be honest, Maud’s scenes in the present filled me with dread. Dread that someday I might end up like Maud, or worse, that someone that I love will end up that way.

But Maud’s detective work only makes up half of the story. In the other half, Maud loses herself in memories of her sister, sukey. Sukey disappeared in the 1940s under very mysterious circumstances, and Maud never gave up hope that she might find out what had happened to her beloved sister.

Maud’s memories of the events that took place almost 70 years prior were sharp and detailed, a distinct contrast to her day-to-day doings. But somehow, the two stories and two narrative voices blend together to paint a complete picture of Maud — who she was and who she became.

All in all, a wonderful mystery from a talented author. Difficult to read at times, but totally worth it in the end.

My one complaint? The US hardcover had none of the charm that the UK version had.


Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 26: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

UnknownRecently, bunnybean and I discovered an awesome new (newish?) book store really close to our house. It’s on a weird little side street, and we had no idea there was a whole little world down there — coffee shop, Lebanese cafe, and a book store. And we found out that Sasha and Malia shop there, and that their dad does, too. Really, it’s a great little store.

One of my favorite things there is that all of the employees make notes on all of the books they’ve read or are reading. They put little paper stars on the front of display copies, saying things like “If you think Twilight ruined vampire stories for the rest of us, check out this one” on the cover of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, or a sign over a display of Rainbow Rowell books that simply says “THESE. YES. NOW.”.

I was in there a few weeks ago and saw the following:



And so, well, I had to buy it.

I’m so glad I did. This story cracked me up. And it made me want to listen to the Rolling Stones.

Yes, it’s a dire tale about the end of the world being brought about by the stupidity of a bunch of high school jocks in Iowa. Yes, it has heartbreakingly real scenes about sexual identity and general teenage confusion. Yes, there are depressing bits about injured soldiers and alcoholic mothers. And yes, I found myself giggling throughout the whole of it.

Austin is a teenage boy who lives in Iowa. He has a beautiful girlfriend, who he very much would like to have sex with. And he has a gay best friend, who he just might like to have sex with. Austin just doesn’t know. He does know that he loves them both, more than anything.

When the world as they know it starts to come crumbling down around them, Austin and his friends quickly piece together a bit of a crazy mystery. Ages ago, their town had been home to a company creating biological weapons for the government. Among those weapons, corn that would destroy the testicles of any man who ate it, and 8 foot tall insect soldiers. Insects that only want to eat (humans taste best) and create more and more insects. This company also created an underground bunker, in which to recreate civilization when and if the bugs were ever let loose into society. Luckily, when the bugs do arrive in town, Austin and his friends know about the bunker and get as many of their loved ones there as possible before the end.

The book is written as a series of journal entries — Austin fancies himself a bit of an historian, and writes down everything that happens to him. Everything. He’s obsessed with his Polish heritage, the history of his town, and how small decisions (like kissing your best friend on the roof of a pawn shop) can change everything. I’ve read a lot of criticism (including this fine review from ardaigle) about this narrative choice, but I think it worked. I liked the perspective here: Yes, everything is terrible…BUT, maybe, somehow, we could find a way to have sex?

This book is clearly not for everybody. Some of the bug scenes are grisly and disgusting. But I enjoyed it immensely. It reminded me a lot of a book I read ages ago…Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King. The plots are very, very different, but the feeling of the book is the same. I’ll be on the lookout for more by Andrew Smith.

And yes, this was the greatest book about giant homicidal praying mantises in the history of literature.





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