19
Nov
19

Finally trying to learn more about the suffragette movement than what I was shown in Mary Poppins. CBR11 Review 46.

downloadMy friend and I recently went to Book Club night at our local — and amazing — book store, One More Page in Arlington, where they discussed Bringing Down the Duke. We had a fun night with a great group, and hope to be back for a gathering in the future.

What was interesting to me was that we all agreed that the book was a quick, engrossing read, and that we all liked it. However, most people agreed they probably wouldn’t read the next book in the series (honestly, she really picked a clunker of a couple to talk about for next time), and almost all of us had voted that we wouldn’t have cared if the main couple had ended up together or not.

So that left me wondering. Did I really like the book? Or did I like the fact that it was a quick and easy read that distracted me from current events and work?

From Amazon:

England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke….

SEMI SPOILERS

I guess because this book can be found in the romance section of your bookstore or library, it was only fair to assume that Annabelle and the Duke would find a way to make things work, propriety and politics be damned. I never doubted that they would both make sacrifices in order to be together. I knew they would have their happy ending.

But I never really felt that their “happy” ending was all that deserved. I wanted Annabelle to head off and go on the dig with her goofy professor. That’s what she was passionate about. I needed more than to be told how much they had the hots for each other, how many times the Duke was going to clench his fists, and how beautiful they were.

As far as debut novels go, it certainly wasn’t bad. Dunmore had clearly done her research into the historical era, and into the suffragette movement. But I never felt completely sure what era I was reading about, until Queen Victoria or Benjamin Disraeli was mentioned by name, or a reference was made to the Duke’s estate having gas lighting. I think I otherwise assumed that this story was taking place in the Jane Austen era…Pride & Prejudice in particular. I also thought that the suffragette storyline was not as well developed as it could have been. Annabelle seemed to be forced into the suffragette storyline, and her lack of passion for the cause was a little bit annoying.

Bottom line: didn’t love this, didn’t hate it. Was glad I went to book club and met some new book friends!

 

 

 

28
Oct
19

In which I struggle to understand the reasoning for risking everything you hold dear in life for the guy from Dude, Where’s My Car? CBR11 Review 45.

downloadCBR11bingo #TrueStory

First off, this was not a book I would have ever read on my own. My book club chose it for October. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a celebrity memoir, I just don’t have any feelings one way or the other about Demi Moore.

Or at least, I didn’t. Now I guess I have a few.

Demi “tells all” in this book, which starts off with a drug overdose, complete with an out-of-body experience. She definitely knows how to hook the reading audience. With immediate promises to spill all the dirt about her marriages, her kids, and life in the Brat Pack, she makes big promises – which she mostly keeps.

Demi had a ridiculously chaotic childhood. Filled with alcoholism, paternity secrets, infidelities, and constant cross-country moves, Demi had trouble fitting in and making friends at school (she was never in the same school very long). She also had a chronic kidney problem, keeping her in the hospital frequently. Eventually, Demi’s parents split up and she lived with her mom in Los Angeles.

After starting a random friendship with Nastassja Kinski, Demi decided to try modeling and acting. She got a few modeling gigs, and soon moved out on her own. It should be noted here that Demi’s decision to move out is based upon her mother’s HORRIBLE and UNFORGIVEABLE parenting. Demi was on her own and living with an older man when she was only 15 or 16, already drinking hard and experimenting with drugs.

Demi gets married, gets discovered, and starts making movies and taking ALL of the cocaine. By the time she is hired for St Elmo’s Fire, she is divorced and known as such a hard partier, that the production puts her in mandatory rehab or she can’t have the job.

Demi drops a lot of names – Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Jon Cryer, Charlie Sheen. She describes going to a random party one night and meeting Bruce Willis, the start of their whirlwind courtship and marriage, with the birth of Rumer Willis not long after.

She talks a lot about her body and the clear eating disorder (while never named) she had for many years. She talks a lot about her relationship with drugs and alcohol. And it was clear that she would replace one addiction with another – replace drinking with exercising. Replace drugs with intense parenting. She did not do anything half-assed. She was all in on whatever was going on in her life.

EXCEPT for her marriages and relationships.

Demi admits that she was so busy always being who the man in her life wanted her to be that she never got to be herself.

She and Bruce split up after 3 kids, but stay friendly, living across the street from each other in Idaho.

And then she meets Ashton. And this is where I started yelling at her through the Bluetooth in my car.

She was not only in love with Ashton, she was addicted to him. And it caused her to make some crazy mistakes which ended up ultimately ruining her marriage and damaging her relationships with her children and Bruce.

It seems like Demi is in a pretty good place right now, so I assume getting all of her story out was cathartic for her.

I guess her story was interesting, if only because most of it took place in the public eye. Vanity Fair! StripTease! GI Jane! Emilio! Bruce! Ashton!

But I wasn’t all that enthused about it. I had issues with the writing – while I never doubted that this was Demi’s story, I had trouble believing that she “wrote” this book. And I so disliked her after her disastrous decisions while married to Ashton that I had trouble staying invested in the rest of the book. I’m glad she seems healthy and happy now, but I’m in no hurry to stream any of her old movies and relive her glory days.

10
Oct
19

If Uncle Stevie’s name is on it, odds are I’m going to read it. CBR11 Review 44.

downloadCBR11bingo #TheCollection

Its no secret that I am not a huge fan of flying. I understand that it is the safest way to travel. But I usually choose to drive if I can. I like to be able to choose my own route, to leave when I want to leave, to stop when I want to stop. I like to be in control of my journey. I think the lack of that control in an airplane is part of what makes me uneasy. Oh, and the fact that I’m in a metal tube shooting across the sky is another part.

So the odds were good that this book about the potential horrors of flying was going to get under my skin. And some of it did, quite a bit.

Here is a list of what is included in this collection:
Introduction by Stephen King
Cargo by E. Michael Lewis
The Horror of the Heights by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson
The Flying Machine by Ambrose Bierce
Lucifer! by E.C. Tubb
The Fifth Category by Tom Bissell
Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds by Dan Simmons
Diablitos by Cody Goodfellow
Air Raid by John Varley
You Are Released by Joe Hill
Warbirds by David J. Schow
The Flying Machine by Ray Bradbury
Zombies on a Plane by Bev Vincent
They Shall Not Grow Old by Roald Dahl
Murder in the Air by Peter Tremayne
The Turbulence Expert by Stephen King
Falling by James Dickey
Afterword by Bev Vincent

I listened to this audiobook on and off over several months, and to be honest, can’t even remember what some of these stories were about without looking them up…but I’ll do my best to try and figure out which one was which.

Highlights for me included:

Cargo, a story about a young guy in the military who was assigned to the cargo plane that flew the bodies of the Jamestown victims – mostly children — home after the mass suicides. What happens on the plane might even be worse than what happened with Jim Jones. This story was narrated by the great Santino Fontana, and he really made me feel for the young officer and the other military members on the plane.

The Fifth Category, which was suggested for the compilation by Owen King. Those Kings know their stuff – this one creeped me out. A former intelligence officer, infamous for his involvement in places like Guantanamo, wakes up completely alone on a plane. What was real? What was fabricated? And why?

Diablitos, a mesmerizing and horrific tale about a poor young idiot who decides to make money by smuggling South American artifacts back home to sell to rich Hollywood art collectors. Things do not go well for this guy, and for everyone else on his flight. And probably the rest of civilization.

You Are Released, by Joe Hill, who I’m finding has more and more to say about the state of current affairs. Like his dad, he isn’t afraid to name names and point fingers. In this short story, North Korea nukes Guam and the US retaliates, all while this small group of characters is on a flight. Unsure of where they are going and what they will find when they get there, this one scared me beyond belief.

And of course, we have to talk about the all-time classic, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. There’s a reason that Richard Matheson is so respected and revered by authors like King and Hill. His ability to create a feeling of horror – in a story that literally EVERYONE knows – is unmatched. So much creepier than either the Shatner or Lithgow Twilight Zone versions. David Morse reads this for the audio version and he truly becomes Robert Wilson.

And yes, there is a “new” story by Stephen King in here…and it is fine. It feels like an old story, one that he wrote decades ago, but pulled out of a drawer and tweaked to add modern vocabulary and technology. It wasn’t that scary or threatening, but I still liked it. It reminded me a lot of Everything’s Eventual – a mysterious organization paying excellent money for someone to not really do anything at all, and it somehow makes a difference between life and death for everyone involved.

The absolute scariest thing in this collection was learning that James Dickey’s epic poem was based on the true story of a stewardess who was sucked out of a plane in 1962 and fell to her death. I can’t even imagine the terror of that poor woman.

None of the stories were bad, I just didn’t feel like they all belonged in the same collection. Yes, they were all about flying, but they didn’t all fit together too well. We had hard scifi, classic who-done-it tales, a lyrical poem, and zombies. Overall an interesting bunch of stories, but the lack of cohesion brought it down a star for me.

03
Oct
19

“He still woke up some days and believed for fifteen seconds or so that he had something to do, until he remembered he didn’t. The sixteenth second was a killer.” CBR11 Review 43.

downloadCBR11 Bingo: #pajiba

I hadn’t heard of this lovely book until Dustin wrote about it over the summer. And then I saw it EVERYWHERE. On every list. In every store. Every day on every social media platform. Apparently, I had to read it.

I’m quite glad I did.

Evvie Drake has been widowed for about a year. She has barely coped since her husband died — she doesn’t leave the house much, she doesn’t really socialize with anyone (ecxept for her best friend, Andy), and she hasn’t been working. But her isolation isn’t caused by the reasons we might think, like sadness, grief, or despair.

Evvie doesn’t know how to handle the fact that the night that her husband — the town’s golden child — died, she was in the process of leaving him and his incessant emotional abuse.

Scrambling to make ends meet and to keep up the payments on the enormous home her husband bought (without asking her or showing her!), Andy convinces her to rent out the downstairs apartment to a friend of his, a former Major League Baseball pitcher named Dean.

Dean has had recent troubles of his own. He’s a World Series winner and used to date Hollywood actresses and models. But now, he’s got “the yips,” which according to wikipedia, is:

The yips is the loss of fine motor skills in athletes. The condition occurs suddenly and without apparent explanation, usually in mature athletes with years of experience. It is poorly understood and has no known treatment or therapy. Athletes affected by the yips sometimes recover their ability, which may require a change in technique. Many are forced to abandon their sport at the highest level.

The yips manifest themselves as sudden movements at crucial moments, and occur most often in sports in which athletes are required to perform a single precise and well-timed action such as golf and darts. The condition is also experienced by snooker players, bowlers in cricket and pitchers in baseball.

Dean thinks that maybe, a year hiding out in rural Maine, not thinking about baseball, might help him figure out what’s wrong with him, and what he can do next, now that he can’t do the one thing he’s always done.

And so, Evvie and Dean are brought together, and quickly make a deal: she won’t ask him about baseball and he won’t ask her about her husband. Evvie and Dean grow closer and become friends, with the possibility of “something more” when Evvie is ready, but they can’t tiptoe around the forbidden topics of baseball and husbands forever.

I adored this book.

It works as a story about small-town Maine. It made me want to get in my car and drive however-many hours to Portland, to enjoy some beer and lobster and whoopie pies.

It also works as a story about friendship. Andy (and Monica, his girlfriend) was not just a supporting, stock friend character. We knew and cared about his life and his daughters, and when things got sticky between him and Evvie, they couldn’t work things out fast enough.

It works as a story about baseball (or really, and professional sport), and the fascinating time period when an athlete suddenly isn’t an athlete anymore. What happens next?

It works as a story about dysfunctional and abusive relationships, and the PTSD for the survivors of such treatment. Tim was, pure and simple, an abusive asshole. Evvie’s inability to share the truth of her relationship with Andy or her dad (who was adorable) was raw and real.

And it works as a romance, although I wouldn’t qualify this book as a “romance” per se. Evvie and Dean are intelligent adults, both working through their own crap, who know that they want more out of life. They just need to figure out how to get what they want.

I was sad when I finished this. Now I just need to wait for the sure-to-be-disappointing movie version that can’t possibly live up to the standards I’ve set in my mind.

26
Sep
19

Huzzah! CBR11 Review 42.

downloadA few weeks back, I saw the good folks over at One More Page Books showcasing this book on their social media. It looked really cute, so I popped over on my way home from work and bought it.

Reader, it was an absolute fricking delight.

I have never been to a Renaissance Faire in my entire life. I still don’t ever plan to go to one. But my ignorance and inability to personally relate to the theme of this book in no way deterred from my enjoyment of it.

Emily (who was beyond relatable) moves to a small town in the middle of podunk, Maryland, to help her sister after a terrible car accident leave her unable to work or drive. Emily, who is much younger than her sister and not all that close to her, jumps at the chance to be useful to her sister and her niece for the summer. It seems that Emily has just been dumped by her long-term jackass of a boyfriend, and now has no where to live and nothing to show for the past 7 years of her life. Driving her niece around and helping manage doctors appointments sounds pretty good.

Caitlin (the niece) signs up to work (volunteer? I don’t quite know) at the local Ren Faire…a small fair compared to the huge one on the other side of Maryland, but big enough to somehow be a big fundraiser for the high school. When you sign up you have to promise you’ll be available for weeks and weeks of rehearsals, all of the weekends of the fair, and that you must have an adult sign up with you. (DON’T QUESTION IT JUST GO WITH IT. The PTA event coordinator in me was CRINGING at this.). I guess nobody in this town needs a summer job? ANYHOO.

Emily gets roped into signing up with Caitlin. She makes new friends, she practices being a tavern wench, and she meets Simon. Simon is an English teacher during the year, and the Faire is his baby. He took it over from his older brother, who had started it up from nothing years ago. Simon is all seriousness, glares, and disapproving scowls. Emily is not all that pleased to meet him. But her new tavern wench persona, Emma, is most definitely pleased to meet Simon’s alter ego, a dashing and flirtatious pirate captain.

Because you have all read books before, I don’t really need to tell you the rest of the plot. Just know that its fun and cute and I liked it a lot.

What I do need to tell you is that Emily and Simon are both complicated and realistic adults. Emily is filled with self-doubt and definitely lacking confidence and self-worth after the treatment she received from her ex. Simon lives in his brother’s shadow and has never felt that any of his ideas matter or that he has anything to offer. They make mistakes, and they are human.

No, I didn’t really buy the BIG FINISH. But I don’t care. I loved it all anyway. Huzzah!

Jen DeLuca’s birthday is September 14. #birthday #cbr11bingo

 

 

 

24
Sep
19

Running late with my #SummerRead pick. CBR11 Review 41.

downloadIts too bad I didn’t find out about this book until Labor Day weekend, because it really was perfect for the CBR11bingo #Summer Read square.

Annie is an aspiring screenwriter who lives with her uncle in Columbus, OH (clearly, the hot spot for screenwriters). Both of her parents died when she was young, leaving her with her childhood home, memories of a perfect love story, and an obsession with Romantic Comedies, particularly those starring Tom Hanks.

Annie hangs out at the local coffee shop, filled with quirky friends and regulars, watches a ton of Netflix, and compares every single date she’s ever had to While You Were Sleeping or You’ve Got Mail. Needless to say, Annie’s romantic life is not thriving.

Neither is her professional life. She writes freelance content for websites (been there!) and works on a Rom Com of her very own. But she doesn’t work very hard on it, because she never plans to leave her house, her uncle, or Columbus.

Suddenly, the town and the coffee shop are all abuzz because a for-real Hollywood Romantic Comedy is going to be filming in their quaint neighborhood. Directed by an award winner WHO JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE HER UNCLES COLLEGE ROOMMATE. Ahem. I feel like that would have come up in conversation before he arrives in town, but whatever. Annie’s uncle makes a few calls and suddenly Annie is the director’s new assistant.

Annie has a meet cute with the super-hot star of the movie, Drew, but she thinks he’s obnoxious and insufferable (for reasons I never quite understood), and she treats him somewhat rudely.

But of course, he eventually shows her how nice and down-to-earth he really is, and she realizes she misjudged him. Meanwhile, she’s being bombarded with requests from paparazzi and gossip columns for dirt on Drew, and she starts to see what his life is really all about and why he acts the way that he does. He’s kind and intelligent and she really, really likes him. But he’s leaving to go back to Hollywood in a few days, so she doesn’t think she should do anything about her growing feelings.

Annie was not particularly likeable. At no point in this book does Annie behave like a reasonable adult. Her obsession with Tom Hanks movies is a major obstacle to her living a normal life. Her friends all tell her she needs to face reality, and she just ignores them and hopes she can meet a man with a houseboat, like Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle.

The entire story was silly, the last 40 pages were ridiculous, everything about it was unbelievable.

But it was just so, so cute, I couldn’t put it down. An easy, feel-good read that I devoured. Looks like there will be a sequel about Annie’s quirky best friend and the owner of the coffee shop, and I’m completely on board.

I would also happily read a companion novel about an obsession with young Hugh Grant. Just saying.

 

 

12
Sep
19

“Monsters aren’t born, ever. They’re made, piece by piece and limb by limb, artificial creations of madmen who, like the misguided Frankenstein, always think they know better.” CBR11 Review 40.

414myiFEQNLCBR11 Bingo: #history/schmistory

Vox was an interesting reading experience. I was completely absorbed by it, but really only liked about half of it, and very much hated the ending. And yet, I think I would recommend it…but not to everyone. Does that even make sense?

In a potential future (or is it now?), our extremely conservative right-wing religious government decides that they’ve had just about enough of women. All women are ordered to leave their jobs in order to maintain their homes and take care of their families. Even worse, all women (AND GIRLS. EVEN BABIES!) are government-issued a tracking bracelet that monitors the number of words they say on a daily basis. All females are given a limit of 100, after which they receive an electric shock that gets stronger and stronger every time the word limit is passed.

Of course, the horrible president who put these laws into practice has a personal emergency when his brother has a brain injury, and he needs the greatest neuro-language-brain specialist in the whole world, who just so happens to be a woman, our heroine Dr. Jean McClellan. A woman who’s husband works for this horrible president, and while he doesn’t support these new laws, certainly doesn’t do anything about them.

When Jean is approached by the horrible president’s people about joining their elite team to cure the president’s brother, they don’t even have the courtesy to call her Dr McClellan. They address her as Mrs McClellan, and pretty much leave all of the details of her return to work and the removal of her (and her daughter’s) tracker to her annoying husband. Why would Jean’s knowledge of language and brain function be so critical to the team, yet her ability to sign paperwork is questioned and left to the men in her life? Awful.

The entire plot about keeping women at home, monitoring speech, and sending troublemakers (women who rebel, homosexuals, women who have sex outside of marriage, women in inter-racial relationships) to work camps after publicly shaming them infuriated me. Yes, it was absolutely outrageous, but sadly not too far from the realities that we face today. And the men just got to sit back and watch it all happen. It was this part of the book that kept me reading.

The subplot, where Jean and her team try to figure out what’s really going on in the lab, was just too much. So many dumb coincidences that really ruined the reading experience for me. OF COURSE her husband worked for the president. OF COURSE her research team included the hot Italian scientist she had been having an affair with. OF COURSE the people on her street had been (or were going to become) national news for their misdeeds. OF COURSE her son was going to turn from a normal teen to a Nazi in training.

It really bugged me that the idea of the book was such a strong one but that the details (and the end. My god, the end) were so sloppy. How in the world did the government – after removing 50% of the work force – find the people to fill all of the jobs previously filled by women AND find people to monitor the word trackers AND run the work camps AND manage the new girl-only schools? This made no sense to me. But the original (frightening and realistic) idea of the story was strong enough to keep me invested.

 




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