09
Sep
17

I know you little libertine. I know you’re a cannonball. CBR9 Review 52.

UnknownAs some of you might be aware, I recently started a new job. My first real job since Bunnybean was about a year old…and she’s 13 now. So, its been a while. The great thing about this job, is that I’m not in an office — I’m out driving around and visiting elementary schools, and talking about books. I know! Books!

In my first week, my new boss gave me 9 brand new books to read. It was amazing. And then they showed me the warehouse, as big as a city block, and filled with books. My brain went into overdrive thinking about my brand new employee discount!

The first book I picked off of the pile was a cute paperback called The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which won the Newbery Medal this year, along with a huge list of other awards. And it was well deserved.

This is the story of a world filled with bogs and volcanos. All things in this world were born from the bog, including Glerk, the poetic bog monster, who is older than even he can remember. He lives on the edge of the forest with Xan, an old witch, and Fyrian, an impossibly small dragon.

Every year, Xan travels across the forest to a strange town where babies are left in the forest to die, for no reason that Xan can figure out. Xan picks up these precious babies and brings them to the cities on the other side of the forest to be loved by new families. On the way, she feeds them with the magic of starlight. Thus, the babies are known far and wide as the “star children.”

But one year, when Xan makes the journey to pick up the newly abandoned baby, she accidentally feeds it moonlight, which “enmagicks” the baby, and causes Xan, Glerk, and Fyrian to fall madly in love with her. Unable to give her away to a new family, they adopt her as their own and name her Luna.

Meanwhile, we find out exactly why these babies are being left in the forest. The citizens of the town have been told by their local leaders that every year, the witch of the forest DEMANDS a sacrifice, and that she eats the babies. The citizens live in fear of the witch, and never question this rule, as long as it means they can live in peace.

Until Luna’s mother. Luna’s mother loves her baby so much, that giving her up simply breaks her. And a young man named Antain, who is training to join the elder leaders of the town, begins to question just why this practice is allowed, and why these babies are given up so easily.

As Luna grows up and becomes more and more magical, Xan and Glerk worry about how to manage her powers. As Luna grows stronger, the magic inside Xan seems to be withering. And the more Antain questions what is going on in his town, the more uncomfortable the leaders of the town get.

Let me just say that although this is a book targeted toward 8-12 year olds, I literally couldn’t put it down. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking story about what makes a family. It made me laugh and it made me angry and it made me sad.

And there was certainly some gorgeous and mature writing here (let me clarify — nothing mature like “adult” or untoward, but mature, as in, not pandering to children. this author treats her audience as intelligent readers across the board.) For instance, when Glerk realizes that his beloved Xan is growing weaker as Luna grows stronger, he sorrowfully thinks:

Death is always sudden…Even when it isn’t.

And when Luna begins to realize that maybe there is more to her family’s story than her beloved Xan has told her, she wonders:

I had a mother once, Luna though. I must have. She frowned. And surely, she must have asked about it, too, but she seem to remember doing so.
Luna made a list of what she knew in her head.
Sorrow is dangerous.
Memories are slippery.
My grandmother does not always tell the truth.
And neither do I.

Not exactly the sentiments you expect in a book for elementary students, right?

The story doesn’t have a “and they lived happily ever after” for all of the characters, but it does have the right ending. Highly recommended. I’m glad it was the book I chose to write about for my seventh (SEVENTH!!!) cannonball.

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05
Sep
17

Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish. CBR9 Review 51.

imagesOnce upon a time, I read Wizard and Glass for the very first time, and thought that there could never be a greater book in the world. I was swept up in the world of Mejis and horses and Roland and Susan and the Big Coffin Hunters. I didn’t mind being apart from Eddie and Jake and Susannah (and Oy!) for such a long time, because this story was EPIC!  It was romantic and tragic and IMPORTANT to the plot of the overall series. I wanted more and hated leaving young Roland and his friends when the story was over.

I just finished listening to Wizard and Glass, and I think this was my fourth time though this book (I reviewed it for CBR4 and see that my sentiments are eerily similar). And I mostly find myself wishing it were different. I was annoyed that we were yanked away from Eddie, Oy, et al, for so many hundreds of pages. I just wanted to get back on the path of the beam and get moving to the Callas in the next book. Yes, we get a look at how the events of Roland’s youth shape the man that he becomes, and that’s of great value to us constant readers. And I’m glad we get some insight into his friendships with Alain and Cuthbert, his OG Ka-Tet. But I really just needed to move on.

Don’t get me wrong, its still a great book. In between descriptions of counting nets and dead snakes, there were plenty of amazing scenes, like Roland’s trip into the world of the pink ball* (which reminded me an awful lot of Stuttering Bill’s meeting with the Turtle in IT) and the events leading up to the big finale in Eyebolt Canyon.

And the writing is gorgeous. Who would have thunk that Uncle Stevie could slip something like this into a book about glorified cowboys on an epic quest?

So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely if ever crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.

It just isn’t my favorite anymore. Maybe because I know what’s coming in the next installments and I just need to get there? I don’t know.

But as much as I complain about what we do get in this book, there’s plenty in this one that I almost wish we knew more about.

Instead of pages and pages about Susan’s lovely hair or the places where they met to have sex, how about more about:

*Maerlyn’s Rainbow. We know what the pink ball does, and SPOILER we find out more about the black one from Pere Callhahan, but I’d love to know about the other 11 balls. What powers did they have and what happened to them?

*Eldred’s origin. While we spend pages and pages in the past, why not tell us how Jonas got from being a boy sent West to becoming a hired gun for John Farson’s people?

*Sheemie. SPOILER I know we find out what happened to him eventually, and that the comics tell about his journey to Gilead, but what about everything else?  He’s a fascinating character, and I’d like to know more about how things go for him in Gilead.

I’ve already started listening to The Wind Through the Keyhole, so it won’t be long until I get back on the path, slowly heading toward Thunderclap and the Tower.

*SPOILER Let’s talk about that vision in the grapefruit for a minute. I literally gasped out loud when I heard the part about the bumbler impaled on the tree. That was almost too much for me to take.

 

30
Aug
17

Thanks, Rainbow. I can always count on you. CBR9 Reviews 49 & 50.

UnknownWhen I heard that Cannonball favorite Rainbow Rowell was joining the Marvel team, I was certainly intrigued. I’m not a huge Marvel fangirl, but I had faith that Rainbow wouldn’t sign on to a project that wasn’t worthy of her. So, at her urging, I went to the library to pick up the first two volumes of the original Runaways, written by the always great Brian K. Vaughan.

And, of course, Rainbow was right. I was immediately taken in and wanted more.*

Here’s a quick overview of what happens in the first two volumes:

A group of six kids are gathered together while their parents have their “annual charity meeting.” The kids aren’t really friends, but are thrown together every year while their parents supposedly meet behind closed doors to decide how to give back to the community. Except their parents are really a group of super villains called The Pride and the kids accidentally see them sacrificing a young prostitute for some unknown reason.

Freaking out, the kids run away from home (hence the name!).

Later, the kids discover that they each have some sort of super ability (one is a witch, one is an alien, one is a mutant, etc..), news that their parents had hidden from them. They discover mystical accessories, like a staff and bracelet and some gauntlets that help to access these powers.

Oh. And they also find a magical, sensory-attuned velociraptor, who can communicate with one of the kids via thought.

images

And all of this happens while they attempt to process that their parents are evil, and that everything they ever knew had been taken away from them in an instant. The members of the Pride immediately call their contacts in the police (it seems that nothing happens in Los Angeles that the Pride doesn’t know about) and have it staged so that it looks like the prostitute was murdered by the kids, who then went and kidnapped the youngest member of their group, and that they are all wanted by the authorities.

That’s a lot to happen in the first two volumes of a comic. And I didn’t even mention the vampire, the love triangle, and the possibility that one of the runaways is actually a mole, reporting back to the Pride.

These books are fun and exciting (seriously, did you expect anything less if Brian K Vaughan AND Rainbow Rowell are somehow involved?) and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of the series. Rainbow’s first issue comes out in September. And, I totally forgot that this is going to be a show on Hulu in November. And its going to have James Master in it as one of the parents in the Pride.  I guess I need to hurry!

*Sadly, my library only has volumes 1 and 2 of the original Runaways. I guess I’ll be hitting up the comic shop this weekend!

 

02
Aug
17

I’m not sure why AS King isn’t a worldwide phenomenon, worshipped by all who are lucky enough to read her books. CBR9 Review 48.

UnknownThis is the fifth AS King book I’ve had the pleasure of reading during my tenure as a Cannonballer…I read Please Ignore Vera Dietz way back in CBR3, Ask the Passengers in CBR6, and earlier this year I read the mind-bending Still Life with Tornado and the amazing Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. And after reading this one, I found myself wondering why teens (and parents! parents should be reading these!) all over the world aren’t universally singing the praises of AS King.*

I know. These books aren’t exactly easy reading. Not only is the subject matter often upsetting (as is life), but the story is usually not told in a linear, sensible manner. King’s protagonists have often been abused or endured and survived some other trauma. Maybe they suffer from mental illness. Sometimes they wonder about their sexuality and about how their parents will handle that. And King always makes it clear: however you feel, whoever you love, whatever you do, its ok.

Her methods are strange and surreal, I’ll give her that. Glory O’Brien drank a bat smoothie that gave her the power to see the future. Vera Dietz hangs out with thousands of ghosts of her dead best friend. Sarah (from Still Life with Tornado) makes friends with different versions of herself at different ages. Astrid (from Ask the Passengers) gets her best advice from people flying over her house in jets. And it all somehow makes sense.

This time, King gives us a group of “broken” friends who are seniors in high school. One is building an invisible helicopter. One won’t ever take off her lab coat. One has magical hair that grows every time she lies. And one has swallowed herself and is now inside out. Maybe the rest of the school sees them as freaks, but together they support each other and help each other deal with what’s happened in their lives to bring them to these situations.

The book is mostly about trauma and PTSD. How do different people handle stressful and horrible situations? Some drink. Some withdraw and watch old TV sitcoms. Some become obsessed with death.  Some put themselves in dangerous sexual situations. Some are lucky enough to have the support of their friends and family to help them get better, while some have to figure it out on their own. But King shows us that help is out there, and that anyone can be saved.

SPOILERS

Stanzi’s parents really pissed me off here. Yes, I understand that losing a child is the worst thing that can possibly happen. But you have another child that you are letting slip away and she needs your help. Meanwhile, I assumed China’s BDSM mother would end up being useless. And her strength and love really blew me away.

*And, as I’ve touted before, Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell books should be government issued as well. These three authors understand life as a teen better than anyone I’ve ever come across. Have a teen? Know a teen? Are you a teen? Have you ever been a teen? If so, I recommend these authors.

21
Jul
17

These books taught me more than any middle school health class. CBR9 Reviews 46 & 47.

Unknown-2I remember the summer that I discovered the “older” section of my local library’s children’s department. It had books by authors like Paula Danziger, Lois Duncan, and the goddess Judy Blume. I tore through them all between 4th and 6th grade (and then moved on to Stephen King). And while I knew that I loved these books, I also knew that I didn’t quite understand everything going on in them. Until health class. And then I understood more than I bargained for.

Honestly, Judy Blume was so far ahead of her time, writing about subjects that nobody else would come near. Not only did she write about what it was like to hit puberty, she did it in great detail, making every kid who read her books — boys and girls — understand that they were not alone. She took regular kid problems, that lots of kids probably were afraid to talk to their parents about, and made them seem normal and manageable.

When I originally read these books, I didn’t realize how alike they were. Margaret and Tony go through really similar life changes in their books, but the stories are simply told through the eyes of a girl in one story, and a boy in the other.

Both kids move to new towns before the start of the school year. Both worry about making new friends. Both start going through puberty, and worry about the changes happening to them, absolutely positive that these changes aren’t normal but afraid to ask about them.

Most of you know about Margaret. She’s one of Judy Blume’s most famous creations. Going into the 6th grade in a new town, Margaret makes friends with her new neighbor, Nancy, and a few of Nancy’s friends. They form a club and talk about boys, bras, and periods. Like with all girls that age, there’s some interesting interactions…a little lying to each other, some friendly (and some not so friendly) competition, and lots of gossip and rumors.

Meanwhile, Margaret is struggling with her faith. Her father is Jewish and her mother is Christian, and Margaret decides that its time for her to figure out just what she is. She spends time praying and arguing with her grandmother about what’s best for her, but she just isn’t sure she’s ready to commit to either religion.

I was glad to see that the book had been updated since I last read it, and that poor Margaret didn’t have to figure out the hooks and belts on her pad when she finally got her period.

Here is the cover of the book when I first read it:

Unknown

And here’s the cover of Bunnybean’s version:

Unknown-1

I followed up AYTGIMM with Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, which I actually ended up liking a little bit better this time. I think when I originally read it, I didn’t understand a lot of what Tony was going through. Like, a lot. I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time.

Tony and his family are working class Italian Americans in Jersey City. When Tony’s dad invents an electrical cartridge (???) they suddenly find themselves exceptionally wealthy and move to a mansion on Long Island. Tony tries to fit in, makes a few new friends, but is never completely comfortable with all that comes with his family’s new wealth.

Tony also spends his time being a peeping tom and watching his neighbor’s sister get undressed every night. This bugged the hell out of me.

Meanwhile, Tony suffers from stomach pains whenever something stresses him out. His neighbor (who is even richer than he is) loves to shoplift, and Tony can’t handle it. His mother is obsessed with appearances, and Tony doesn’t like it. His brother has given up his dreams to become a teacher, and Tony thinks he’s a sell out. All of this lands him in the hospital and to sessions with a psychologist, where Tony airs out a lot of his grievances.

Tony wonders about puberty, just like Margaret. And where Margaret struggled with religion, Tony struggles with wealth. But the books are really quite alike, and they hold up pretty well.

Nobody has cell phones or texts, kids listen to records and ride bikes everywhere. And these kids admirably figure things out for themselves, and try to maneuver through their pre-teen years making as few major mistakes as possible. These are good kids, and made other kids realize that they if Margaret and Tony were normal, then they were normal, too.

Thanks, Judy.

 

17
Jul
17

“Stay away from windows. And if you see people with tentacles, stay away. Don’t let them touch you.” CBR9 Review 45.

UnknownWould you believe me if I told you that I just read the strangest, most disgusting, horrifically violent, semi-apocalyptic book of all time, and that it cracked me up and I loved it? Most of you cannonballers would, since you are the nutjobs that recommended this one!

The Library at Mount Char isn’t easy to explain. But I’ll try.

One summer day in the 1970s, disaster strikes at a neighborhood barbecue, orphaning 12 kids and leaving them to be raised by “Father,” an older man from down the street who was always a little bit peculiar. He takes them home to his “library” and it begins their formal education and upbringing.

This is no ordinary library. Each of the 12 librarians is given a subject to master, with access to thousands or even millions of books. The librarians are not permitted to share their catalogue knowledge, and really don’t understand much about what the others are working on.

But wait, you might say. That doesn’t seem all that weird.

Throw in kids being cooked alive in barbecue grill shaped like a bull, a psychotic killing machine dressed in a blood-drenched tutu, a duo of kick-ass lions who want revenge on those who have done them wrong, tentacled creatures roaming the highways, and a man being castrated by his sister before being sent to suffer for all eternity while tethered with a rope to his big toe, and it starts to get weird.

So many others have reviewed this book in 2017, I honestly don’t have much more to add.

It was crazy and original and foul and funny. I was grossed out and shocked and I enjoyed almost every second (I did cringe at the castration). I loved Naga and Steve and Erwin (“Erwin gave no fucks.”). I loved the chapter titles (the best being “About Half a Fuckton of Lying-Ass Lies”). I loved the outfits…tutus and army jackets…bike shorts with leg warmers and Christmas sweaters…bathrobes and cowboy hats. It was so weird and yet exactly the way it was supposed to be.

It was like nothing I’ve ever read before and I hope Scott Hawkins continues to surprise and shock us for years to come.

17
Jul
17

Honestly, by the end of the trilogy, I was nauseated. CBR9 Review 44.

UnknownI really liked Crazy Rich Asians. I’ll still see the movie. I have high hopes. It was a mostly fun look at the immense level of wealth in Singapore, and how these uber-wealthy families live their lives out in the world.

And I had some trouble with the second book, China Rich Girlfriend. All the details that had been amusingly shocking in the first book were now just shocking and a bit disgusting. The sheer waste of money on things like clothes and jewelry and handbags was just overwhelming and perplexing to me. And the attempted murder? No thanks.

But I was willing to give Kevin Kwan the benefit of the doubt for the new book, the last in this crazy trilogy. It did have some moments when I actually felt some sort of empathy for a few of the characters, but for the most part, it just made me feel like I had eaten something bad.

Seriously. This book made me sick.

I couldn’t stand reading about the excess and greed and all-around snobbery. There were a few characters I still hoped would have a happy ending, but there were an even larger number of characters that I felt ill will toward. Eddie Cheng? I wanted to punch him in the face every time he opened his mouth. Nicky’s mother and her bible club? The worst people in the world.

There was an interesting story somewhere underneath all of the excess. I’d like to know more about Singapore during World War II and what happened with the Japanese. I’m curious to know about how the real estate market works in a country like Singapore that has such a small amount of land and such a large number of wealthy people. I want to know more about the islands of the Philippines, and exactly how one goes about purchasing one.

The one positive thing I can definitely say about these books is that I spend more time googling architecture and natural wonders than with any other books. I love reading about parts of the world that I’m unfamiliar with, and Kevin Kwan sure does an excellent job in making me want to travel throughout southeast Asia. He also makes me want to eat. I was googling all sorts of rice dishes and noodles and tropical fruits and teas. He’s the best at making you desperately want to try something you hadn’t heard of five minutes before.

I liked Kwan’s writing style. And I enjoyed about 45% of this crazy ride that he took me on. Yes, I understand that there are actually people in the world like this, and that this is a satirical look at them. I just don’t find them to be all that funny.

STUPID, ANNOYING SPOILER TO FOLLOW

My biggest gripe with this entire book was a throwaway line in the last chapter. After Nicky, Rachel, Colin, Minty, and Kitty (along with a few other friends and cousins) figure out how to save Tyersall Park, suddenly the unbearable and money obsessed Kitty has become a loving, hands-on mother. She turns away from her friends to go and breastfeed her three year old son, which is fine. My annoyance is due to the fact that I don’t think she ever breastfed him a single time for the first 2 1/2 years of his life. Simply deciding that you want to be a mom who nurses doesn’t make the milk magically appear.

That bugged me.




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