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.

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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.

04
Jun
18

This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. CBR10 Review 23.

UnknownI am ashamed to admit, that although I have read pretty much every single word ever published by Stephen King, and most of Joe Hill, and even some of Owen King, I had honestly never even considered reading Tabitha King.

It wasn’t until PattyKates wrote a review of One on One back in 2015 that I ever really even thought about reading Tabitha King. That review convinced me to order a used paperback copy, which then sat on my TBR shelf until last weekend. I needed something to read at the pool, so I grabbed it. I had no idea what it was about.

I settled in to my chaise and opened it up.

Cut to: six hours later. I haven’t put the book down yet.

Long story short, my apologies to Tabitha King. The woman can write. Like her husband, she excels in portraying small-town life (yes, its in Maine) and its particular inhabitants. She understands what goes on in kitchens and coffee shops and high school hallways. She really gets how people actually talk to each other, which is a skill that many writers can’t grasp.

This is a story about a basketball team at a tiny high school in rural western Maine. The boys are the reigning State champs, and they have star Sam Styles leading them. The girls are good, but not quite as good as they could be. Their star is Deanie Gaultier, aka The Mutant. Deanie has a shaved head, piercings all over her face, and tattoos. And she plays basketball like a woman possessed.

Deanie and Sam butt heads a bunch of times, and eventually fall in love. (NOT A SPOILER, its right on the cover of the book!). But the path to their happy ending isn’t a clear one — there are tons of obstacles in the way. Sam’s family is struggling financially. His brother is fighting in the Gulf War and his sister is a deadbeat druggie. Deanie lives with her drunk mother and her horrifically abusive stepfather. Deanie gives her body away in exchange for drugs. Getting high helps her to make the rest of her life a little easier. When they first start spending time together, neither of them really knows why it feels right, but it just does. Soon, Sam realizes that Deanie is much more than the facade she presents to the world, and Deanie finds that Sam isn’t just a big, dumb jock.

I’ll admit, this book didn’t need to be over 500 pages long. But it was never boring and it kept surprising me. It was not your average teenagers-in-love story.

Lastly, because you can’t not mention her husband, I definitely appreciated Tabby’s little winks to Uncle Stevie’s writing. Greenspark Academy plays basketball against rival teams from Derry and Castle Rock in Maine, and it takes place just months before Mr. Leland Gault opens up his new shop called “Needful Things.”

 

22
May
18

“The past is relevant only as data.” CBR10 Review 22.

UnknownOne of the great things about joining a reading community like The Cannonball Read is that I’ve really broadened my reading horizons. I’ve tried genres that I would never had read before, with a lot of positive results.

Altered Carbon is a book that I never would have read before joining up with this group. Sure, I would have watched the Netflix show, but I wouldn’t have really cared about the source material, saying something like “that’s not really in my wheelhouse.”

We were watching the show (and really, not having much of a clue as to what was going on), and I saw a bunch of other reviews for this, so I decided to read it. And guess what? I wasn’t really in my wheelhouse.

At an unknown point in the future, when humans are living on other planets besides earth, it becomes possible to live for as long as you can afford. Once your physical body dies, your memory and your general being (your soul) can be transplanted into a new body (a sleeve) at any time. Everything is kept on a chip located at the top of your spinal cord. If that chip is destroyed, then so are you.

Unless you are super duper wealthy, and run constant satellite backups and keep clones of yourself for just-in-case reasons.

Or if you are Catholic. They don’t believe in re-sleeving. When you’re gone, you’re gone, and that’s it.

Takeshi Kovacs wakes up in a new body on a new planet and finds that he’s been hired as a private investigator by one of the wealthiest man on earth to solve a murder…his own. Laurens Bancroft refuses to accept the results of the police investigation into his recent death, and so re-sleeves former UN envoy (and current hired gun) Kovacs to solve the mystery for him. The police think Bancroft committed suicide, but Bancroft can’t understand why he would do that.

And so Kovacs dives into Bancroft’s and finds that underneath the shiny layer of sunshine and money is a world of dirty sex, drugs, and general disgust. He also realizes that there is more to his new body than anybody told him. His sleeve has a lot of enemies around Bay City (a future version of San Francisco) and Kovacs has to watch his step.

Some parts of this I really liked. I appreciated the future world as described by Morgan, with the AI Hendrix hotel (although I preferred the Netflix version of the Poe hotel), and the ability to have secret meetings that all take place on another plane of existence, and the refusal of the Catholics to take part in this new normal of humanity. I also like the book versions Kovacs and Ortega WAY more than I did on the Netflix show. (Yes, Joel Kinnaman is nice to look at, but the chemistry between Joel and Martha Higareada was zero. She was not great.) I really felt for them and the weirdness of their relationship.

But for the most part, this book was a miss for me. It was messy and confusing. At times, the violence was unbearable (the torture scenes were absolutely sickening). I wanted to know more about the Catholics and why their faith was still so strong when it seemed like the rest of the world didn’t care about religion. I know there are a few more books about Kovacs and his adventures in re-sleeved bodies, but I don’t care enough about him as a character or about Morgan’s future to follow up.

 

 

 

 

 

13
May
18

This was a lovely and well-written story that I REALLY didn’t like. CBR10 Review 21.

UnknownThis book was everywhere last year. Everyone I knew was reading it for book clubs and raving about it. One of my book clubs finally chose it for our April pick, and I’m just finishing up (its long!).

The verdict in my book club:

Most did not finish.
One finished and hated it.
One finished and put it in her top 5 books of all time.
And what about me?

I was just annoyed.

This is a nice story for the most part. Amor Towles clearly did his research about Russia in the early 20th century. And the writing is lovely. But really, all I wanted was to find the author and grab him by the lapels and shake him a bit. I found the whole thing totally pretentious and heavy handed and it was most definitely not for me.

At the beginning of the story, a young man named Count Alexander Rostov, is found guilty of writing an anti-bolshevik poem and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. He is moved from his elegant suite up to the servant’s quarters on the highest floor. He can barely fit half of his lovely furniture taken from his grandmother’s extravagant country estate, and can’t fathom how he could possibly live that way.

But, of course, he does figure out how to live that way, as the bulk of the story takes place within the walls of the Metropol Hotel over the course of 30 years. Count Rostov adapts to life in the hotel and thrives there, making life-long friends who become his family. While life outside the hotel changes dramatically we move from the Russian Revolution to World War II and Stalin to Khrushchev and the Soviet Union, Count Rostov does the same thing more or less every single day.

He wakes up and does 15 squats (which over the years become 10 squats, and later 5). He drinks coffee and has a biscuit and fruit. He goes down to the lobby and reads the paper. He goes to the restaurant and has lunch. He gets a haircut. He dresses for dinner. He goes to the bar. He talks to anyone and everyone he comes in contact with, as he is extraordinarily charming and knows how to control pretty much every social situation. He beds beautiful women and is amazingly suave all the time.

He ends up befriending a young girl named Nina who also lives in the hotel. They have lots of adventures exploring and spying on people. Nina grows up, but still checks in on the Count from time to time. Nina ends up giving the Count two gifts that change his life forever — one is a key that opens every room in the hotel, and the other…well, the other is a massive spoiler so I’ll keep it to myself. But it changes the way the Count lives every single aspect of his life and redirects his future.

The way that Towles describes the various stages of life in Russia is fascinating…the description of the architect who has nothing to do because everything being built in Moscow is prefab and identical…the scene in the wine cellar when Rostov sees that every single label has been removed from over 100,000 bottles of wonderful wine, because no wine should be better than another…those little insights were dramatically effective.

But for the most part, I found the flourishing descriptions of every little thing to be repetitive and annoying. By the time the book ended, I really didn’t care anymore, and just wanted it to be over. The Count is charming, but after so many instances of being told how charming he is, I started to find him stifling and obnoxious.

Apparently, this is going to be a movie or a miniseries (?) starring Kenneth Branagh. He’s perfect for the older version of the count. I’ll watch for him.

 

 

 

01
May
18

“I want to be the hero in my story.” CBR10 Review 20.

UnknownLast year, when I started my new job, one of the first books I was given to read was Kwame Alexander’s Booked. I read and devoured it in a day. And then tracked down The Crossover, and loved that one, as well. Rebound is a prequel to The Crossover — it tells the story of Chuck Bell, the father of Jordan and Josh Bell, the twin basketball stars who tell their story in prose in The Crossover. Chuck’s claim to fame was that he played in the NBA for a hot minute, and is a bit of a neighborhood hero.

SPOILERS FOR THE CROSSOVER

Heartbreakingly, Chuck dies in The Crossover. He has a congenital heart problem and ignores all of the signs of heart disease. His father dropped dead when he was a kid, and Chuck lives in fear that the same might happen to him. And it does.

Rebound takes place in 1988, just months after 12 year old Chuck’s (now known as Charlie) father has passed away. To put it simply, Charlie cannot deal. He breaks out into a cold sweat whenever he hears sirens, reminding him of the ambulance that took his father to the hospital. He can’t communicate with his mother, who is hurting just as badly as he is. She’s busting her butt working to keep the income coming in, and he can’t understand why she won’t buy him Air Jordans instead of ZIPS.*** His two best friends, Skinny and CJ, want to help him, but don’t know how. Charlie doesn’t know how to ask for help, and when he starts getting in trouble, his mother sends I’m away to his grandparents for the summer.

When Charlie gets to DC for the summer, he finds that his grandparents expect much of him. He has to do work around the house. He has to go for long walks with his grandfather. He has to say “sir” and “ma’am”. And he has to watch his cousin Roxie play basketball every day. Charlie hates basketball. He’d much rather stay home and read comics or go to the arcade and play Pac Man.

Of course, living with his grandparents and hanging out with Roxie is incredibly therapeutic for Charlie (now warming to the nickname Chuck). He starts playing ball with Roxie all day, every day. He discovers that he’s almost pretty good.

Losing a parent is the worst thing a kid can go through, and Kwame Alexander handles it with grace and respect. AND, he does it all in gorgeous, age-appropriate prose.

Sometimes, I wish

I were a superhero
so I could fight back
against all the
doom
and the gloom
that’s trying
to destroy
me.

I wish I could torch
all the trouble
in our world
like Johnny Storm.

I wish I could
thrash
the heartache
like Ben Grimm.

I wish I could
make the sorrow
that’s in my life
invisible
like Sue Storm.

And I wish
I could stretch
my arms
like Reed Richards
all the way
to heaven
and hug my father
one more time.

Just. One. More. Time

Kwame Alexander is an amazingly original voice in Children’s Literature today. The prose doesn’t seem like poetry — it tells a story that most kids can relate to in some way. I never expected to like these books so much. I never expected for all of them to make me cry.

***Personal memory time. When I was a kid, my dad was in advertising and public relations, and my brother and I were in a bunch of commercials. Including this ridiculous one for Zips sneakers. Poor Chuck, trying to be a baller in these.

25
Apr
18

How can you give us the gift of a crazy character named Rando Thoughtful and then just as suddenly take that gift away? We need to talk, Uncle Stevie. CBR10 Review 19.

imagesDear Uncle Stevie,

Having just finished the entire Dark Tower saga for the third time, I have a few things I’d like to discuss with you. I know you say you’re done writing these books, but I’d like for you to reconsider. Here are some suggestions for further entries into the Dark Tower series:

**A novella about Rando Thoughtful, and his journey from managing a mall in upstate New York to guarding the castle of the Crimson King. And how he went from being called Austin Cornwell to becoming RANDO THOUGHTFUL. This is an all-time great crazy Stephen King name. I’m going to need more information.

**A short volume (similar to The Wind through the Keyhole) detailing everything that happened between Deepneau, Cullen, and Carver, and exactly how The Tet Corporation works. I’d love to know more about what’s going on at that strange ranch out in New Mexico where all of the telepaths are working on gathering information pertinent to Roland’s quest for the Tower.

**A huge, enormous series of books dedicated to Irene Tassenbaum and the asses she continues to kick as she lives her life in New York and Maine. I absolutely adored her and was so sad to see her sent off back to Maine with her stinking copy of Insomnia (seriously, WHY INSOMNIA? WHY NOT THE STAND? OR IT? OR THE TALISMAN? I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS.)

Honestly, I get why Patrick Danville was included in the story, and that perhaps all of the gratuitous mentions of Insomnia got some constant readers to go back and re-read this mess, but of all of the Tower-related books, why did it have to be this one? Couldn’t Dandelo have held Stu Redman or Jack Sawyer or Mike Hanlon?

I would 100% read about Irene getting into her little Mercedes and driving around the Northeast, doing gunslinger things, while also shopping for deli meats and planting roses.

**A series of graphic novels about Oy. Make this happen.

**A short story about what happens to Dinky, Ted, Dani, and the banker guy when they get to the Callas. I can’t imagine that the kind folks of Calla Bryn Sturgis would send a young girl like Dani away, but it would be fascinating to see how the new folks assimilate into their rural lifestyle.

**A written apology from you for driving me crazy by constantly writing about Susannah dreaming about “Hot chocolate, the good kind, mit schlag”. I hated this description. Just stop it.

I think those should be ample ideas for you in order to get started. As long as you keep writing about this world, I’ll keep reading about it. And I hope that someday, you get the tv series about Roland and his ka-tet that they deserve. I love Idris, but that was a complete hot mess.

Your Constant Reader,
Scootsa1000

 




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