23
Jul
18

This book made me want to strangle a fictional character. But it also made me want to get in better shape and listen to lots of INXS, so fair trade, I guess? CBR10 Review 30.

UnknownSomehow, this book ended up on my kindle. I don’t know if someone sent me an ARC of it, or if it was a free download somewhere that I forgot about. I really don’t remember where it came from. All I know is that last week, on vacation, I needed a quick and easy read for the beach, so I downloaded it.

I mean, I’ve been the class mom many times. I know how annoying it can be. Teachers can be set in their ways, and other parents can either be nightmares or potential new best friends. I’ve even been in the same shoes as the mom in this book — selected as the room mom because I’m older and have experience. But that’s where all similarities end.

My children were fathered by my husband, not by any deceased rock stars. My class emails were filled with dates and times, not jokes about ethnicities or potential alcoholics. And the classes that my kids were in didn’t have any fake children in them. (NB, I’m still not sure I get this plot point.)

Jen is 46 and has a son going in to Kindergarten. Her best friend is the president of the PTA, and begs Jen to be class mom for the class (QUESTION: why is Nina still PTA president if her daughter is old enough to babysit? What grade is she in? What is happening in this small town?). The teacher is new and could use a class mom with experience. Fine.

Jen is kooky. She was a groupie for INXS back in her 20s and thinks that maybe Michael Hutchence was the father of her oldest daughter. (Note to the attorneys for Michael Hutchence’s estate: please sue Laurie Gelman.) She lived a wild life and then showed up on her parents front steps with two daughters and zero husbands, fell in love with the local sporting goods guy, had a son, and became suburban super mom.

But don’t forget, Jen is kooky. Her emails to the other class parents are filled with jokes and witty comments. Which would be fine, if her jokes were funny and her comments were witty. I found them simply annoying.

Jen makes new friends and new enemies as the year goes on. She also decides to get into shape so she can take part in a Mud Run sponsored by her husband’s store. And she develops a crush on the hot-guy-from-high-school-who-also-has-a-kid-in-the-same-class. Ugh.

Meanwhile, other moms are trying to get Jen removed as class mom. And there’s a mysterious student that nobody can identify. And there’s a clique of mean moms, just because.

I really didn’t like this book. It wasn’t funny at all. The jokes are unfunny and often racist or sexist. Jen was really quite unlikable, and I didn’t get why anyone wanted to hang out with her ever.

But it made me want to listen to INXS on Spotify, which was great at the beach.

As an aside, Laurie Gelman is married to Michael Gelman, from Live!, the Kelly Ripa show. I don’t know what to do with this information, but wanted to put it out there.

 

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13
Jul
18

In which a favorite from my childhood stands up to an adult re-read. CBR10 Review 29.

Unknown-2When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do on a summer day was to go with my mom to the New England Mobile Book Fair. The Book Fair was an amazing, enormous wholesaler Book warehouse in my town (Newton, MA), where you could look up books in an enormous database (or when I was really young, a HUGE book) that told you who the publisher was. The warehouse was set up by publisher, and all of the books cost less than the list price. It was a magical place.

bookfair

I would go and spend hours in the kids sections, reading Judy Blume, and The Great Brain books, and just picking up random books that looked cool. One of those books was The House With A Clock In Its Walls. It was my first “scary” book. I read it over and over again.

I was reminded of it a few years ago when Joe Hill was talking about the books that influenced him as a writer. He mentioned this one and I looked everywhere for my old paperback copy, with the bent cover and the Edward Gorey illustrations. I made a mental note to find myself a new copy.

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And then I hear that Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are starring in a movie version of this beloved story, and the trailer actually looked intriguing. So I found a new copy and read this old favorite again.

Lewis is an orphan, his parents were recently killed in a car accident. He is sent to live with his peculiar bachelor uncle Jonathan. Jonathan lives in a huge old mansion that used to belong to a mysterious couple, Isaac and Selenna Izard. Lewis and Jonathan spend a lot of time with their neighbor, the equally peculiar Mrs. Zimmerman, and Lewis notices that his new home and family aren’t quite what he expected.

It turns out that Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are both powerful magicians. When Lewis is looking to make a new friend, he uses his uncles magic to impress this boy, but the plan backfired when the boy denies that magic is real. So Lewis raises the stakes, and attempts to raise someone from the dead in order to impress his friend.

And here’s where 9 year old me started to freak out.

As an adult, the book holds up pretty well. It has a lovely gothic feel to it, and is pretty intense for a kid’s book. Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are still delightful characters to read on the page, and I look forward to seeing what Black and Blanchett (although in my mind, I picture a young Cloris Leachman) bring to the roles.

As a kid, I had no idea that there was an entire series of books about Lewis and his magical adventures. I’ll keep an eye out for the future entries in the series. It was a fun blast from the past.

13
Jul
18

I’m pissed I didn’t like this more. CBR10 Review 28.

UnknownI’ve been sitting on this review for quite a while, not 100% sure what I wanted to say about this book. I was only about half finished with it during our book club discussion, but reading all of the comments, I knew I just didn’t feel as strongly about this book as most of you did. And I was pissed.

I really wanted to love this. I was so fired up to read it. But maybe there was just too much hype, that when I found it to be “just fine,” I felt like I missed something. Why didn’t I love it as much as everyone else?

WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?

Of course the traumatic experiences that Dana had bothered me and stuck with me, and of course I wanted to strangle Rufus for his complete ass-ness. And of course I went into a panic when Kevin was stuck in the past alone.

But I never really connected with Dana. And after some thought, I guess that’s ok. None of my life experiences are comparable to Dana’s. I can read about the awful things that happened to Dana and everyone else at the plantation, but I can never completely understand what that was like.

I can try to imagine being beaten to unconsciousness. I can try to imagine being separated from my children for capricious reasons. I can try to imagine not being allowed to learn how to read or write. But I can never, ever really understand that reality.

There was a lot that I liked about this book, however. I just didn’t love it as much as I expected to. I liked Butler’s concise writing style, where every word was carefully chosen and nothing is extraneous. I liked the fact that she pretty much threw all of the rules of time travel out the window — she let Dana change the past as it benefited her survival. I spent a lot of time obsessing about Dana’s ballpoint pen and wondering how it might change the future, but finally I realized I was wasting my time. Dana needed her bag of stuff because she NEEDED it, not because it was some Chekhov’s Gun plot point.

Most of all, I liked that she started the story with the end of the story. That gave me a weird sense of comfort, knowing that even if Dana goes through the trauma of losing her arm, that she ends up at home with Kevin, even if she and Kevin aren’t the people that they used to be.

I wonder how I would have felt about this if I had read it without hearing anything about it, without reading all of the 5 star reviews. I really wish I was one of the reviewers who adored this book and had lots of amazing and insightful things to say about it. I guess I’ll just have to deal with the fact that I liked it and thought it was fine.

29
Jun
18

“If blood inside you is on the inside of someone else, you never want to see it outside of them.” CBR10 Review 27.

UnknownAnother brilliant book told in verse (similar to those by Kwame Alexander), Long Way Down takes place in a single elevator ride over 60 seconds. I was doubtful that this could be pulled off successfully, but my god, what Jason Reynolds does here is extraordinarily effective.

Will is mourning the sudden shooting death of his brother, Shawn. According to “the rules” of his neighborhood, Will must now plan to take his brother’s gun and shoot the boy who he thinks killed his brother.

THE RULES

There are three: don’t
cry, don’t snitch, and if someone you love
gets killed,
find the person
who killed
them and
kill them.

As he takes the elevator down to the ground, it stops on each of the 7 floors below his apartment. On each stop, someone from his past enters the elevator — each of them know and have followed “the rules” and they all give him advice regarding the task he is about to carry out. Some of these people are close to Will, some of them are strangers, but they all have something to share with him.

AND YOU KNOW

it’s weird to know
a person you don’t know

and at the same time

not know
a person you know,

you know?

This book is an amazing accomplishment. We learn about Will’s entire life and all of the events that have led him to this point, all in a single elevator ride. We learn about who he has loved and who he has lost, and how where he lives has shaped him as a person.

Shawn was a great brother and Will’s role model, and Will loved him. But that doesn’t mean that Shawn was a clean living, law abiding citizen. Will wasn’t surprised that Shawn was murdered right in front of him, and doesn’t think twice about seeking revenge. And Will seems like a really smart kid, illustrating just how messed up the entire situation is, not just for Will, but for thousands of kids like him.

The suggested age range for this book is grades 7-9, but I disagree. I think mature 6th graders could — and should — read it, as should anyone older than 9th grade. We should all be talking about this book’s ending, or lack thereof — does Will follow The Rules, even if his target isn’t the right guy? Will the cycle of violence ever end? Or does Will rise above The Rules? I honestly don’t know.

 

 

21
Jun
18

This is a fake book by a fictional character, which I don’t completely understand, but I’m totally on board. CBR10 Review 26.

UnknownDoes anyone else watch the extremely binge-worthy Younger? I didn’t give it a chance at first, mostly because it’s on TVLand, which pretty much makes me think of old Taxi reruns and that Betty White sitcom Hot in Cleveland. As much as I adore Sutton Foster, I just assumed it was dumb.

My tv critic friend convinced me otherwise. Her tweets about how funny and charming this show was made me realize I was missing out. So on a trip to Cape Cod last summer, I quickly made my way through the first few seasons.

And reader, I loved it.

It’s hilarious and charming and dirty and addicting. Sutton Foster plays Liza, a suburban divorcee in her 40s whose daughter is off to college. She decides she needs to go back to work (she worked in publishing in her 20s) but nobody is interested in hiring her. She’s too old, too stale, too much of a mom. So Liza pretends to be in her 20s, gets a job, gets a hot Brooklyn boyfriend, and lies to everyone she meets about her double life.

images

She has a magnetic attraction to her boss, Charles, who is tall, handsome, rich, and also married. Charles’ wife is estranged from him, she disappeared over a year ago, abandoning him and their two young daughters and their Upper East Side lifestyle. Of course, just as things between Charles and Liza are heating up, she appears. She writes a book about her year away, Liza becomes her editor, and their lives become even more entwined.

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Marriage Vacation is the pretend story of Pauline’s year away, written by a character who doesn’t exist in real life. Similar to the book that Jane Villanueva wrote on Jane the Virgin, this is a fun new trend in books — ghost writing books written by fictional characters.

I have no idea who really wrote this book, but I know it wasn’t Pauline Brooks or the actress who plays her (the lovely Jennifer Westfeldt. And on a side note, im so glad she’s not with Jon Hamm anymore.)

On a weekend trip to a friends wedding in California, Pauline realizes that she is increasingly dissatisfied with who she has become since she married Charles. She is a wife and a mother and the manager of their home and social lives. But she isn’t a writer. And that was always her dream.

Somehow, her weekend away turns into a few more days. And then turns into a sudden trip to Thailand, planned in a drunken haze with her flighty college roommate. The roommate never shows up, but Pauline stays in the Thai jungle for almost a year, writing and working in a Burmese refugee camp.

As time goes on, Pauline rediscovers herself, but finds her marriage dissolving and her relationship with her daughters more distant with each phone call. But Pauline keeps extending her trip, even while realizing that every day she stays away will make things worse when she finally gets home.

This book was fun, for sure. A breezy, summer read. But I have issues.

While I get that being the wife of a high-powered NYC publishing guru is demanding and that high society life probably isn’t the best use of her writing degree, I really hated how she deserted her children. I get that motherhood is hard and that marriage is hard. But leaving your VERY YOUNG daughters for a year without warning? I can’t work with that. She deserved to be served with Charles’ divorce papers. She abandoned her family. Unacceptable.

Of course I’m glad that she came back happy and healthy and writing. And that her time away made her realize how much she loved Charles. But leaving the girls was a hurdle I couldn’t get over. A year is a very long time when kids are that small.

Also, Jennifer Westfeldt is adorable. But never in life would I believe that she just spent a year roughing it in the jungle and working at a refugee camp. She looks petite and perfect, more like she had been enjoying Canyon Ranch for the past year.

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I don’t know how things are going to go on the show…I don’t know if Charles will end up with Liza or Pauline or hell, even Diana Trout (who is a national treasure).

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But i feel like the end of this book is a pretty unlikely outcome — I think the damage that Charles and Pauline did to their marriage is pretty much irreparable. And I think they will both come out stronger and more aware, better partners for their future matches.

And yes, I realize these are characters on a tv show.

And for those who do watch the show, yes, page 58 is kind of hot.

 

18
Jun
18

You’ll never think of vegetables the same way again. CBR10 Review 25.

Unknown-4Who among us would ever have thought that Reese Witherspoon would end up being one of the most supportive voices in the world of women authors? It turns out that now I’ve read three of her picks, and ended up really impressed with two of them. Well done, Reese.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows was her pick for March, and it really wasn’t on my radar until leedock reviewed it last week, but after reading that, I went out and got it the same day. I read this in two sittings, and honestly, could not put it down.

I didn’t just want to know what was going to happen, I NEEDED TO KNOW.

Nikki is a young sikh girl living on her own in London, much to her mother’s annoyance. Her parents raised her fairly modernly, much different than the majority of young Punjabi women living in the UK, who would never have the opportunity to live in an apartment or have a job of their choosing. Nikki dropped out of law school and is working in a pub, still trying to figure out just what she wants to do with her life.

Her sister, Mindi, is slightly more traditional. She is considering an arranged marriage, and wants Nikki to help her put up her personal ad at the Sikh temple in Southall, which is an enormous Punjabi community just outside of London. Nikki doesn’t agree with her sister’s decision, but decides to help her, and she heads off to the temple to post the notice.

When she gets there, she sees an ad for a writing instructor to teach a writing course for the women in the community. The ad says that the women will be encouraged to write stories which will then be collected and hopefully published. Nikki thinks this sounds like a fun thing to put on her resume, and applies for the job.

Her first night of class, however, she realizes she has been deceived, and that none of the women in class — all widows — even know how to write. They are more or less completely illiterate. And the widows aren’t interested in learning their ABCs. They want to tell stories and have them written down. And they want to tell stories about sex and pleasure. Just because they are widows doesn’t mean they don’t have needs and desires.

This classroom is the only place in their lives where they can speak honestly and be heard. It is a revelation for them to be able to tell these stories, and a revelation for Nikki when she realizes that they’ve never felt so free.

Their stories are fun and alive, and it teaches the reader a lot about the particulars of the Sikh community, and the restrictions that still exist for women. Nikki ends up learning a lot about tradition and appreciating so much of what she took for granted while she was growing up. She also makes many unlikely friends, who ultimately save Nikki’s life

The book also has a sub plot about a young woman in the community who recently died under mysterious circumstances, and the lengths that some people in the neighborhood went to in order to cover up the details.

I enjoyed both halves of the book immensely. I’ll continue to turn to Reese for book suggestions, and hope that she keeps finding amazing female authors.

15
Jun
18

Thank you, Julie Murphy, for continuously not sucking. CBR10 Review 24.

Unknown-2I’m sorry to say that Meet Cute was my biggest reading disappointment of 2018 so far.

It had everything I thought I wanted: how-we-met short stories from some of the best YA authors out there — including Julie freaking Murphy — and a recommendation from Rainbow Rowell. I assumed it would be a delight.

And some of it was.

I had never heard of Ibi Zoboi, but her story “Hourglass” was my favorite of the bunch. She told a story about Cherish, a tall African-American girl in a small town filled with white people. Her best friend is kind of a jerk, she’s about to graduate high school, and she can’t decide if she wants to go to the prom or not. And even if she did go to the prom, she doesn’t have anything to wear, since her podunk town doesn’t have anything fashionable for big girls with style. All Cherish wants is to get out of her tiny town and go to college in Florida, but she isn’t quite sure how her family will manage the cost. This was the only story in the book where I needed to know what happened to the characters after the last page —ESPECIALLY because the “meet cute”didn’t happen until the very, very end.

I also liked Julie Murphy’s story, “Something Real,” and was only slightly disappointed in it, because I wanted to love it and I just liked it. June and Martha are contestants on a reality show, trying to win a date with a Bieber-esque douche of a pop singer. One girl is heavy and quirky but good at all of the skills needed to win the date. The other girl is beautiful and sad and a complete disaster on the show. Throw in some food poisoning and a cute ending, and voila, a perfectly nice short story. I’m not sure I would have liked a full novel about these two girls, but a story was just fine.

There was one story I hated, “Say Everything,” by Huntley Fitzpatrick. It’s about a girl working as a waitress in a diner and a rich boy that asks her on a date. Fine so far. But when we find out why he targeted her and where he brings her for their date, I wanted to reach through the book and strangle him. This was not a meet cute at all. It was a meet gross.

The rest were just fine. Whatever. Nicola Yoon’s futuristic story about getting a second chance at love was really original. And Dhonielle Clayton’s take in an island world where your romantic fate is predetermined by special bands that appear on your hands as you get older was cool.

My main issue was this:
I am all for having as much diversity as possible in fiction, especially in YA fiction. I want to read about people from different backgrounds and sexualities and ethnicities and religions and genders trying to find out who they are and who they love.

And this book had a shit ton of diversity. Yay, right?

I wish. I felt like many of the authors were simply filling in blanks in a story that had already been written, like a “diversity mad libs”. If writing about two girls falling for each other is not something you really get, don’t force it. If telling the story about a trans girl fighting to use the girls bathroom in her rural high school is important to you, great, but don’t tell her story just because she’s trans and that’s cool these days. Tell it because it means something to you and you have something to say about it.

To me, too many of these stories felt like the writer gave us a diverse character just because that’s what books are supposed to have these days. Like shoving a square peg into a round hole, it will eventually fit, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit.

I appreciate what these stories were trying to do, but the majority of them just didn’t work for me.

But I’ll keep reading anthologies like this, they are a great way to find new authors and catch up with old favorites.




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