11
Feb
16

The last one was fun. This one felt more like homework. CBR8 Review 9.

Unknown-3Remember a few years ago when the ridiculously fun Crazy Rich Asians came out? And we all devoured it and laughed and said, well, that was crazy but it was fun, and then forgot about it?

Well, our favorite (and lots of our not-so-favorite) crazy, rich Asians are back in the sequel. China Rich Girlfriend is still the story of Rachel and Nick, and how their marriage has broken apart Nick’s family. But this book is about soooooooo much more. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way.

Not only do we revisit every single character from the first book, but we meet lots of new characters here. And we jet from Sinagpore to Hong Kong and China every few pages. And its hard to keep up. And somewhat unpleasant, to boot.

The shocking excess from the first book are still here, and even MORE excessive, if you can believe that. In this book, we meet several of the new class of Chinese billionaires — those with so much money that its honestly unconceivable. But I didn’t enjoy their tales of outlandish spending and waste. This time it was more uncomfortable than laughable.

Nick’s mother, the unbearable Eleanor, finally figures out who Rachel’s father is. And unsurprisingly, he’s one of the richest men in Asia. As Eleanor tries to weasel her way back into Nick and Rachel’s life, we meet Rachel’s new dad, his wife, his playboy son, Carlton, and Carlton’s absurd fashionista, Instagram famous, billionaire girlfriend, Colette.

And I don’t know why this story wasn’t as fun to read as the first one. But reading about someone buying out entire boutiques in Paris, and then refusing to pay for valet parking gets old after a while. This one felt more like assigned reading.

And so, I treated it like homework. Whenever Kwan mentioned something about a specific area of China/Singapore/Hong Kong, I looked it up and learned about it. For instance…the “tiny” black and white bungalows that all of the top families in Singapore live in? They look like this:

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Adorable and charming and tiny, right?

And the great lake in Hangzhou where Rachel goes to meet her friend? Stunning.

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So, I’m glad that I learned a little bit about some of the background in these books, but I think I’m just tired of the sheer, unapologetic excess. I know Kevin Kwan is still trying to make a statement about the new state of economics in Asia. But I’m just not sure what that statement is.

09
Feb
16

Story and characters pretty good. Editing not so much. CBR8 review 8.

UnknownNow that Bunnybean is tearing her way through the Lunar Chronicles books, I figured I might as well try and finish up the last book (I don’t count the new book of “related short stories” that just came out), Winter.

I wasn’t all that excited about reading it, to be honest. I loved Cinder and Scarlet, and really liked Cress. And then I read Fairest. And I despised it. It really almost ruined the entire series for me. It was so heavy-handed and annoying, I honestly didn’t care about any of it anymore.

And I have mixed feelings about Winter, now that I’m finally done.

As this is the last book in the series, I’m too tired to explain what’s going on. If you’ve read these books, great, keep reading. If not, stop reading this, and go out and read Cinder. You won’t regret it.

What did I like? Well, the basic plot was fine. We needed some closure on all of the main characters, and of course we needed to make sure that something terrible was going to happen to nasty Queen Levana. And we got all of that.

All of our main characters, plus a few new ones, stood up to various evils in order to bring down Levana and bring harmony to relations between Earth and the Lunar colony. Seriously, something terrible was thrown at our heroes pretty much every chapter, and yet, they kept at it, never stopping until Cinder (aka Princess Selene) is able to take her rightful place on the Lunar throne.

I liked that nothing came easy to this bunch, and that Cinder and her friends end up making a lot of mistakes along their way, mistakes that even end up costing the lives of some of their allies. And that they actually learned something from these mistakes, and changed their approach to getting Cinder on the throne.

And I’ll be honest…while I really didn’t much care about whether or not Cinder and Kai or Scarlet and Wolf ended up together, I was nervous about Cress and Thorne. I’m glad we got a happy ending for those two.

What didn’t I like?

Well. How much time do you have?

First of all, Princess Winter. All of it.* Ridiculous. No.

This was a character that I understood the need for, but just didn’t work for me. And Jacin? Yes, I get that they’ve been friends forever. And I understand that she’s a beautiful princess. But their romance was really just a bit icky.

*I will give Winter a pass on one subplot — the alliance of the wolves to the rebels. This was actually ok.

But my major problem with this book was the editing. This book was over 800 pages long, and it felt like it. There were plot points that were repeated again and again (really, how many times can characters wonder about whether or not they should escape in tunnels? Or how many times do we need to be told that Levana is using her lunar gift to manipulate the masses? SO MANY TIMES, I GUESS.), and entire scenes that were completely unnecessary. If it had been half as long, I think I would have liked it a lot more.

Sloppy details bugged me so much. On one page, we have Scarlet, recently rescued from the menagerie. She hasn’t bathed or done laundry in ages and her trademark red hoodie is filthy. When she meets up with her friends, she is constantly fidgeting with her hoodie strings. They offer to wash her dirty sweatshirt, and then put it in the laundry. Over the next few pages, Scarlet is STILL described as playing with the hoodie strings in great detail. And then the clean sweatshirt is given back to her. So messy and such bad editing. If Scarlet had just left her hoodie alone, we could have cut 25 pages.

Sad that such a wonderful story ended on such a low note. I’m glad I read Winter, but wish it had been a stronger entry in the series.

 

 

29
Jan
16

News flash: Something actually happened in this book. CBR8 Review 7.

UnknownI’m not quite sure exactly how many of these Stephanie Plum books I’ve reviewed for CBRs over the years. Five? Six? And every time, I tell myself I’m not going to bother reading the next one. But I do. And every time, I’m angry that literally NOTHING happens to propel the plot or the characters, and that all they do is drive around New Jersey eating junk food and blowing up cars.

But the library had this when I went in before SNOWZILLA hit last week, and I figured it couldn’t hurt.

And I’m going to say something I’ve absolutely never said about a Stephanie Plum book before, and probably won’t ever say again:

I really enjoyed it. And some real-life stuff actually happened to the main characters.

Yes, of course Stephanie and Lula drive around in various cars and eat fried chicken, donuts, pizza, meatball subs, onion rings, and delicious New Jersey deli food. Of course Stephanie gets in over her head, and destroys at least one car. And yes, there were some ridiculous scenes with Grandma Mazur at the funeral home.

But also? Stephanie actually figured some stuff out about her life.

Spoilers? Maybe? Does it matter at this point? After all, this is the 22nd book.

Joe breaks up with Stephanie. Which really upsets her much more than she ever thought it would. When Ranger hits on her, she can’t even reciprocate, because maybe she loves Joe more than she knew.

Stephanie also realizes that maybe being a bounty hunter isn’t the best career option for a single 30-something woman looking to settle down and have a family someday. She considers learning to bake — and she figures out how to make a cake all on her own, which, honestly, I thought she was totally going to f-up. But in the end, she realizes that she’s good at what she does, and that she enjoys it. Good for her.

This story was a bit more violent than usual, and I was actually nervous at times. I KNOW. THIS IS A JANET EVANOVICH BOOK. I should never be nervous about anything except maybe how high everyone’s blood pressure is from eating all of those donuts. But I was. The main plot had a crazy person, per usual, but this guy was even more sadistic and insane than the usual Evanovich nutjob. His goal was to seek revenge against the college where he worked (because reasons? tenure? I don’t know) and to release thousands of genetically modified fleas on campus in order to spread the bubonic plague and kill everyone in his path. This was unpleasant. And while I was never really worried about Stephanie (and she really did get banged up in this story), I did worry about the lives of some of the characters around her.

In the end, we find out that Joe broke up with Stephanie because he was sick and thought he was dying. He wasn’t. He had some stupid allergy that made him think he had colon cancer. But their separation made them realize how much they love each other and (I think) they decided to become engaged to be engaged. No ring, but a promise of sorts. I hope it holds.

Lastly, I need to talk a bit about my favorite part of this book. Finally, Evanovich decided to do something with Mrs. Plum other than make her iron and cook and sneak shots of bourbon. She kicked ass and it was a glorious delight. I’d totally read a spin-off book about Mrs. Plum driving around Trenton and attacking all of the men that had hurt her daughter over the years.

Was this book still ridiculous? Yes. I read it in one sitting, it wasn’t much of a challenge. But I like the fact that for a few hours, I can just slip in to this stupid world and forget about the 36″ of snow that will end up keeping my kids out of school for over a week.

 

15
Jan
16

My journey to the Dark Tower might never end. These are some seriously long books. CBR8 Reviews 5 & 6.

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Last year, I told myself that I was going to try and re-read as many of Stephen King’s Dark Tower-related books as possible. I pretty much only got through It. I forgot how incredibly long (LONG. SOOOO VERY LONG.) some of these books are. And because of the way I read*, it takes me forever to get through some of these.

Last week, I finished listening to Insomnia. I had only read this one once before, way back when it came out. I remember being totally confused by it, and only picking up on the Dark Tower references when Patrick Danville shows up in book VII.

Insomnia takes place in Derry, about 10 years after the events of It. Ralph Roberts is an aging widow, missing his wife, and suffering from insomnia. As his sleeplessness gets more severe, Ralph starts seeing things. He notices colors that nobody else can see. He can see a person’s aura (a color around the person, with a balloon string going up into the sky) and tell if they are happy or sad, excited or angry, healthy or sick.

And then he starts to see the doctors. Two little bald men with giant scissors who appear outside the home of a sick (soon to be dead) neighbor late one night. And while the two little doctors seem to be “good”, they have a third counterpart who is most definitely bad. And Ralph can see him, too.

With the help of his friend Lois (who has also been suffering from insomnia), Ralph works with the good doctors to stop a terrorist attack at a pro-choice rally.

Yes, really.

This book is still mostly a mess.

But.

There’s also kind of a great story underneath all of the mess. The story of what it means to get older and what it means to be alone. This time around, these are the parts of the story that really got me. Ralph Roberts is a very fine hero for the King universe, and I was sorry that the majority of his bravery was muddled down with all of the nonsense with the little bald doctors.

How does it relate to the Dark Tower?

*The doctors take him to different “levels” of his world, explaining that all worlds are simply different levels of a very tall tower.
*The Crimson King is here, too, urging on our villain, Ed Deepneau, to blow up the Derry Civic Center.
*I’m guessing Ed Deepneau is probably somehow related to Aaron, one of the founding members of the Tet Corporation.
*Ralph’s job is to save young Patrick Danville, valued above all others.
*Patrick draws a picture of Roland Deschain and the tower.
*There’s lots of Dark Tower lingo here: Ka, Ka-tet, death bags…

And then, I finished The Talisman, which was co-written by King and Peter Straub. I fondly remember this as one of my favorite books when I was younger, and probably read it two or three times over the years. But it had definitely been a while since I visited it.

The Talisman is about Jack Sawyer, a 12 year old boy who finds himself at a weird hotel in New Hampshire with his dying mother. His father is dead, and his father’s business partner Morgan wants Jack and his mother to come home. But Jack stumbles into an adventure and finds himself on a journey to save his mother.

Jack finds that there is another world called The Territories, very similar to our world, that he can “flip” to, and that the Queen of the Territories, who happens to look exactly like his mother, is also dying. And Jack is sent (by a gunslinger, no less) to find something called The Talisman, which will not only save his mother and the Queen, but will right all wrongs in all worlds.

And Jack sets off on his way, across both our world and the territories, to California. Along the way, he meets some horrible people and some great ones. He sees the best and the worst that all worlds have to offer.

I loved this book back in 1984. 1984 me loved Jack, loved Wolf, and wanted to drive around in a limousine blasting Run Through The Jungle.

2016 me? I liked it. But I didn’t love it as hard as I used to. Yeah, I still got choked up when Wolf gets sent out to the shed at the Sunlight home, and yeah, lots of the stuff about Jack’s trip and the general awfulness of people was still spot-on. But all of the stuff at the black hotel was a garbled mess. And I just couldn’t deal with that big of a mess after such a long story.

And how does this mess tie to the Dark Tower?

*The territories are an alternate world on another level of the tower. When Jack gets his hands on the Talisman, he flips through level after level of the tower, worlds that he’s never seen and will never see again.
*There’s a theme introduced here that most everyone on our level of the tower has a “twinner” in the alternate level. Jack’s mom and the Queen are twinners. Jake Chambers and Bobby Garfield (from Hearts in Atlantis) are twinners, too.
*In the story, The Little Sisters of Eluria, Roland finds himself back at the pavilion where Jack first sees the Queen.

Long story short, these two books aren’t my favorites. But I’m glad I revisited them. I’ll still continue with Black House (the sequel to The Talisman), and see if that one has improved at all since my one and only time reading it. If I remember correctly, that one has some direct ties to the Crimson King.

*Here’s a brief view of what I’m reading right now:

from the library: Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson
for the gym: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
on my iPad: Sand by Hugh Howey
on my phone: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushness
on my nightstand: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
audible in my car: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
audible out of my car: Black House by Stephen King
on my kindle: The Regulators by Stephen King

 

08
Jan
16

No matter where you go, there you are. CBR8 Review 3 & 4.

51LS6AYpDaL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_About six months ago, Mr. Scoots and I were looking for a new show to binge on Netflix. We tried Daredevil (we really wanted to like it, but just didn’t), we tried Bloodline (I’m sure it gets good, but we were just way too bored), and then we tried Longmire. And Longmire’s the one we stuck with.

No, we aren’t exactly the Longmire demographic. I’d like to think we are still a bit younger than most of the audience. But still. There was just something about it that felt comfortable and we knew after 2 episodes that we were in it for the long haul (horrible Graham from Buffy notwithstanding).

Longmire is about Sheriff Walt Longmire in fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. Walt is a widow, still grieving the sudden (mysterious!?!?) death of his wife. He has sheriff-y adventures with his deputies Vic and Ferg (I’m not talking about Branch); his daughter, Cady; his receptionist, Ruby; former sheriff and all-around nut job, Lucian; and his best pal of all time, Henry Standing Bear. The scenery is beautiful, the stories are mostly compelling, and the guest stars are mostly excellent. (seriously. Why isn’t Gerald McRaney in everything?)

When we finally finished the end of season 4, I decided to go ahead and pick up one of the many (many) Longmire books by Craig Johnson, just to see how they stack up against the show.

Verdict: I think they are better than the show for the most part.

Here’s what I like better about the books:

  • Walt just isn’t so mopey. Yes, he grieves for his wife, but in general, he’s a jovial, interesting guy that people seem to like. He loves his job and his daughter and his friends. He honors his job and is willing to risk his life for it. He honors the way of the Cheyenne people and has a great respect for their rituals and beliefs. And he has a secret major crush on Vic. Walt has nice relationships with most of the town — Dorothy at the cafe, doctors at the hospital, judges and lawyers, etc. Most people seem glad to talk to him and happy to help out with a case if they can. TV Walt just isn’t as friendly.
  • Vic curses with abandon. I’d like to see Katee Sackhoff say some of the flowery profanity that comes out of book-Vic’s mouth. We know more about Vic’s family life, and about why she became a cop. None of the crazy Witness Protection stuff from the show.
  • So far, I like Walt’s deputies better than the ones on the show. Sancho and Double Tough are a huge improvement on Branch, for sure. The verdict is still out on Ferg. I think I like TV Ferg better.
  • Lucian is a completely unhinged crazy person. With one leg. Just imagine what Peter Weller could do with this role if they would let him.
  • Cady is actually a good lawyer.

Here’s what I like better about the show:

  • Henry. I don’t know if its the way he’s portrayed by Lou Diamond Philipps or not. But I just prefer this looser version of Henry.
  • Mattias. This character doesn’t exist (yet?) in the books, but you can’t not appreciate Zahn McClarnon.

Here’s what both the book and the show do well:

  • Both are pretty honest about what life is like in modern-day Wyoming, both on and off the reservation. Poverty, drug use, and racism are not topics that are shied away from.

The first book, The Cold Dish, is about a terrible rape of a mentally-challenged girl from the reservation by some local teenagers. The boys are suddenly showing up dead — murdered one at a time. This was an episode of the show, but the killer was completely different on TV. As an introduction to a series, it worked. We got to know almost every main character (except for Cady), and started to understand how Walt goes about his job.

[As an aside, I thought I had finished this book in 2015, but saw it on my nightstand the other day, with a bookmark still in it. I hadn’t read the epilogue yet! Hooray for 2016!]

The second book, Death Without Company, jumped right into the action. Taking place just days after the end of The Cold Dish, Walt and his team are thrown into another high-stakes case, the possible murder of an elderly Basque woman with strong ties to one of the main characters.

I’m disappointed that this one hasn’t been turned into an episode yet. I’d love to see Peter Weller’s ascot-wearing Lucian* take law into his own hands and attempt to bring wrong-doers to justice while highly intoxicated.

Yes, I plan on reading as many of these mysteries as I can get from the library. I like the comfortable feeling that characters from an ongoing series of books can give you. I’m glad I discovered these, especially as I’m all caught up with Sue Grafton and almost caught up with Ian Rankin these days. Walt can fill the holes that the absence of Kinsey Millhone and John Rebus will undoubtedly leave in my literary life.

*  Please keep in mind that although Peter Weller’s Lucian mostly looks like this now:

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I prefer to think of him as he was in his salad days, when I first saw Buckaroo Banzai:

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05
Jan
16

I liked this one quite a lot, actually. CBR8 Review 2.

51CK--MXNsL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_The other day, while finishing a book on Kindle, and wondering what I was going to read next, I read a review from Ellepkay about a book I hadn’t heard of, but seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, Ellepkay. I really enjoyed this one.

Richard Troy is the greatest stage actor of his generation, hailed as the second coming of Olivier. He’s currently starring in a West End drama, but because of his off-stage antics (temper tantrums and the like), ticket sales are down. And thus, his manager and publicist come up with a plan.

One of his co-stars is the newly single Lainey. Lainey is polite, funny, charitable, and just a pleasure to be around. And it is strongly suggested to her (along with a promise to make a large donation to the pediatric cancer charity that she runs) that she and Richard act like a couple in order to save his reputation and the show.

Yes, yes, yes. Of course I knew where this was going. And I didn’t care. I had fun along the way. I wanted to know more about the life of the theater — the long hours and the camaraderie (or whatever the opposite of camaraderie is). I wanted to see more of Lainey’s family, and understand more about her personal loss. I pretty much wanted more of just about everything. Plus, Doctor Who jokes! Right up my alley!

The only thing I wanted less of? Lainey’s ex, and other co-star, Will. Every time his name showed up on the page, I basically groaned. I understand that Richard needed a foil, someone way worse than he appeared at first glance, but Will was just too much.

Other than that? A fun, extremely well-written way to get to know a new author. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from Lucy Parker.

04
Jan
16

Sarah Dessen, Jr. CBR8 Review 1.

51+h+LjKIhL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_A few weeks ago, I got my BookBub email of the day, which included this book. The description said, “for fans of Sarah Dessen,” and I said, “hey, I’m a fan of Sarah Dessen. This must be for me.”

And I downloaded it.

Yesterday I read it in pretty much one sitting during all of the football games that were on in my house.

And yes, it had Sarah Dessen-like qualities. But Sarah Dessen is the master, and Robin Benway is just her student. Still learning the ways of Dessen.

It certainly wasn’t a bad book. The characters were fairly well drawn, and the plot was original (mostly). But I felt like part of it had been filled in with a template — add gay character here, insert overbearing parents here, activate first kiss on page 85.

Emmy and Oliver were born on the same day and live next door to each other. Their parents are best friends and so are they. They do everything together for the first 7 years of their lives. Until Oliver is kidnapped by his father and everything changes.

Oliver’s mother begins an all-consuming quest to find him. Emmy’s parents become crazily overprotective. Emmy has nightmares and never quite gets over the hole in her life left by Oliver.

And then, one day, Oliver comes back. Emmy is now a senior in high school. And Oliver isn’t 7 years old anymore. While everyone involved is thrilled to have him home, the transition isn’t easy on any of them. Not his mother (and her new family), not Emmy, not any of their other friends, and not Oliver.

While I bought into a lot of it — Oliver’s pain and confusion about his parents, Emmy & Oliver’s friendship, Oliver’s relationship with his new sisters — I had issues, too. Emmy’s parents were just too much. Her sneaking around and lying about literally everything in her life was just too plot-convenient for me to deal with. Is there a college student in the world that would put up with a 9:00 PM curfew? Please.

But for $1.99 on kindle, I give it a thumbs up. Not a bad way to spend a chilly Sunday. Keep at it, Robin Benway. Maybe someday you’ll grow up to be Sarah Dessen.




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