25
Aug
16

I really don’t care where the sky is at this point. CBR8 Review 39.

Unknown-4I just came back from a long vacation in northern Washington. Lots of outdoor activities, which means no cell phone, no internet, no cable or tv at all. But lots of reading. And I read a few really good ones that I liked a lot.

But I also read this one. And I hated it so much.

Last year, I adored Jandy Nelson’s second book, I’ll Give You the Sun. I loved it so much, I went and downloaded her first book, The Sky is Everywhere, and put it aside to read later. And it really bums me out that I hated it so much.

The Sky is Everywhere is about Lennie (her real name is Lennon, like John), who is reeling in the aftermath of her amazing older sister Bailey’s sudden death a few weeks back. Lennie and Bailey were raised by their hippie grandmother and uncle in some crazy messy house with amazing gardens in some ridiculous hippie town in Northern California. Its all about flowers and rivers and running in the grass. And some stupid B&B that keeps a bedroom out in the middle of a meadow.

Seriously, this town makes Stars Hollow look like a reasonable place to live.

Their mom took off 16 years prior to go and find herself, leaving the girls with Gram. The  girls see this as some sort of amazing nomadic adventure, and imagine their mom out in amazing places doing cool things, but everyone else sees her as a deadbeat mom who couldn’t deal and took off.

After Bailey drops dead from some heart issues, Lennie can’t seem to move on and pick up the pieces. She ignores her best friend (the obnoxiously DIFFERENT Sarah), she makes the moves on Bailey’s mourning fiancé, and she acts all-around selfishly and bratty. So of course, the hot new guy at school only has eyes for her. Ugh.

The subplot, that I should have liked for its originality at least, was about being in the school band and trying to play first chair clarinet. But I found it annoying and stupid.

I couldn’t stand Lennie. I knew that every choice she made was wrong, and that they would all come back and deservedly bite her in the ass. It made turning the pages torturous.

Really, I didn’t like 99% of this book.

But here’s what I liked.

Lennie had this weird habit of writing poetry on little scraps of paper and then hiding them around town. Mostly as a mechanism for dealing with missing her sister, I think, but I really have no idea. Some of them were kind of cool.

At 4:48 p.m. on a Friday in April,
my sister was rehearsing the role of Juliet
and less than one minute later
she was dead.
To my astonishment, time didn’t stop
with her heart.
People went to school, to work, to restaurants;
they crushed crackers into their clam chowder,
fretted over exams,
sang in their cars with the windows up.
For days and days, the rain beat its fists
on the roof of our house —
evidence of the terrible mistake
God had made.
Each morning, when I woke
I listened for the tireless pounding,
looked at the drear through the window
and was relieved
that at least the sun had the decency
to stay the hell away from us.

(Found on a piece of staff paper, spiked on a low branch, Flying Man’s Gulch)

So there you go. 1% interesting.

Look, Jandy Nelson clearly improved her writing between book one and two. But this really put a sour taste in my mouth. When her third book comes out, I’m going to wait and see.

 

 

 

29
Jul
16

Thanks, CBR Book Club. I’m glad I read this one. CBR8 Review 38.

UnknownI was glad that this was the book we chose for the next installment of the CBR book club. I had been meaning to read it for ages. And while it wasn’t what I expected (first off, this book was way more “Y” than I generally expect in a “YA” book), it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Arnold “Junior” Spirit lives on a Spokane reservation in rural Washington (I think) with his mother, father, sister, and grandmother. They live in poverty, familiar with hatred and racism, engulfed in alcoholism, and surrounded by death. Car accidents, fires, gunshot wounds, and all sorts of fatal accidents (ahem…all caused by alcohol) are a daily part of life. And Junior is different from the rest of his tribe living on the Rez. He was born with excessive water on the brain, has terrible eyesight, and an enormous head, leaving him victim to bullying and ridicule from all of the other kids (and lots of adults, too).

But Junior is smarter than almost anyone on the Rez, except for maybe his sister Mary. And Junior decides that in order for him to thrive and survive as a human, he needs to leave the Rez and go to school in the neighboring “white” town.

This book tells the story of Junior’s freshman year at Rearden High School: the enemies he makes at home who call him a traitor to his people, the new friends who eventually accept him and care about him, everything he learns at school, the cartoons that he draws to help him deal with all of the changes in his life, and what he learns about himself and his people. Its also about the sorrow and blight of the Native American people, which I am not as qualified to comment on, but I’ll try.

Nearly everything I know about living on a Reservation I’ve learned from TV. We watch a lot of Longmire in my house, and after just a few episodes, I had so many questions about life on a Reservation, I found myself deep in internet research. Ashamed that I was so ignorant how Reservations work, how the US government manages them (government mandated sterilization was a particular topic that had me seething), and what the quality of life is like there, I read as much as I could. And it was mostly depressing. But also a little bit encouraging.

Yes, the poverty and alcoholism are overwhelming. But the pride in family and heritage is something that is sadly lacking in many cultures. I mean, I know I’m Irish, but what does that mean in my everyday life? That I like to drink beer? What kind of traditions should I be aware of that were important to my ancestors? I wish I knew.

And this pride is evident in many parts of this book. Junior and his friend Rowdy love going to the powwows on the reservation so much, Junior is willing to risk the probable beating that he’ll receive from a drunken bully just to watch the dancing and listen to the music.

This book was much sadder than I expected. Junior has had to deal with so much at such a young age, it was infuriating. But his inner strength and his cartoons were such a wonderful way for him to deal with his pain. I was rooting for him every step of the way, even if that meant that Junior will eventually have to turn his back on his family and the Rez.

My only criticism of this book is that there simply aren’t others like it. Where are the Native American voices in fiction? I’d be eager to read more if anyone has any recommendations. Thanks for choosing this book, fellow Cannonballers. It only took me an afternoon to read it, but every minute of it was time well spent.

28
Jul
16

The best book you’ll read this year with a lead character trapped in a blowhole. CBR8 Reviews 36 & 37.

51G1O4GNqzL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Hundreds of books ago (way back in CBR4), I jumped on The Rook bandwagon. I adored the story of the bizarre supernatural government bureau, the crazy powers that its members and employees have, and its high-ranking official who wakes up one day surrounded by dead bodies and no clue where — or who — she is.

When I hear that the sequel, Stiletto, was FINALLY coming out, I realized that I desperately needed to do a re-read of The Rook. It was so full of amazing details and characters, I really didn’t want to miss anything.

And you know what? I loved it even more the second time. I thought it was funnier and crazier and I enjoyed the hell out of it. While I was reading it I hit up Amazon and sent copies to a handful of friends who I thought might appreciate it. And every single one of them was blown away by it.

Quick overview:

Myfanwy Thomas is a Rook (a high-ranking official) in the Checquy, the UK’s secret government agency that deals primarily with the supernatural. Made up mostly of agents with unexplainable powers and abilities, the Checquy handles every crisis that the regular government cannot explain or handle. Her secret ability is that she can control other’s minds.

One rainy evening, Myfanwy finds herself in a park, surrounded by bodies, with no idea who she is. Her entire memory is gone. But in her coat pocket, she finds a few letters addressed to herself, from herself, explaining her situation and what her next steps might be…to go to the bank, cash out, and live forever on a quiet, tropical island, OR, to adopt Myfanwy’s name and life, and find out who the hell did this terrible, unspeakable thing to her.

New Myfanwy opts to investigate and find out what led her to this horrific point in life. And then the fun begins.

We meet all sorts of bizarre — seriously, so weird and imaginative — characters and Myfanwy finds herself in some absolutely crazy situations. Like being sucked into a mammoth cube of flesh, or attacked by a living house. As you do.

New Myfanwy takes her new world in stride, and actually makes some positive changes at the Checquy. She’s a much more bold person than old Myfanwy, more willing to speak up, more likely to use her secret ability, and just an all around more confident person.

SPOILER

At the end of The Rook, Myfanwy finds herself in an unlikely alliance with the Checquy’s greatest enemy — The Grafters of Belgium. And this is where Stiletto begins.

I’ve read some reviews of Stiletto that are somewhat critical. And while I agree that I didn’t ENJOY this book as much as the first one, I think that’s simply because this one just isn’t as fun. Not that it isn’t as good.

I wasn’t laughing to myself while reading it, and didn’t feel the need to ship copies to my friends immediately. But it was still a decent sequel. It just wasn’t the sequel that I wanted.

I wanted a fun romp through the world of the supernatural with Myfanwy and the Grafters butting heads and saving lives and generally kicking ass all over the UK.

And we sort of got that. But we also got a story of an unlikely friendship, and a story about terrorists, and a story about home-grown prejudices. And that was good. But not what I wanted.

So when I put aside my selfish wants, and realized that the story I was given was actually pretty good, I actually enjoyed it a lot more.

Told in alternating narratives between Myfanwy; Odette Leliefeld, a young, but very high-ranking member of the Grafters; and Pawn Felicity Clements, we are told the story of how — and if — the Checquy and the Grafters will eventually join forces.

We see what its like for Odette to be plainly despised by everyone she comes in contact with in the Checquy, simply because of who she is, not because of what she does. She’s a brilliant surgeon, but her skills are not welcome because she’s a Grafter.

We learn how hard it is for Pawn Clements to be paired with Odette. Guarding a Grafter goes against everything she’s ever been told. Plus, Odette is young, rich, and beautiful, which also annoys Felicity.

And we see how “new” Myfanwy works to hold everything together, even after London begins being attacked by some sort of supernatural terrorists, who don’t care if innocent civilians get in their way. Someone wants the talks between the Grafters and the Checquy to fail, but we don’t know who, and we don’t know why.

As a standalone story, I liked this very much. I just didn’t have as much fun reading it as when I read The Rook. I started out angry that it took Daniel O’Malley such a long time to give us a sequel, and then that sequel was different from what I expected. HOW DARE YOU, TALENTED AUTHOR…WHAT ABOUT WRITING THE BOOK THAT I WANTED???!!!??? But once I gave in and just went along for the ride, I found that I couldn’t put the book down.

I hope Daniel O’Malley keeps writing about Myfanwy and her world. And I’m sorry I was so quick to judge Stiletto. If you loved The Rook, give this one a shot. It isn’t The Rook, but that’s ok. Its still an imaginative and exciting read, filled with crazy characters and situations. I promise it will be the best book you’ll read this year with a lead character trapped in a blowhole.

25
Jul
16

Even without David Tennant, these books get a big thumbs up. CBR8 Review 35.

imagesLike everyone else in the world who has Netflix, my husband and I binged Jessica Jones last year. And we loved it. I’m not a huge Marvel person, so to me, that was a big deal.

I’ve only seen one of the Avengers movies, I hated the two Thor movies that I saw, thought the first Captain America was a bore (although, I quite liked the second one), and have abstained almost completely from the X-Men ouevre. And I hated Daredevil on Netflix. Couldn’t even finish the first season. I wanted to like it, but it was just too dark (literally, too damn dark) and I didn’t really care about any of the “amazing” characters. It was just too comic book-y for me.

But here’s what I do like about Marvel: I loved Deadpool, and I adore the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. I find I’m much more of a DC kind of gal.

So yes, it was kind of a big deal for me to fall for Jessica Jones.

I loved that Jessica was a tragically flawed figure. She drank and she had sex in order to feel something. She wasn’t a particularly nice person, but she was amazingly loyal to those that she loved. Plus, David Tennant was the best worst person ever.

Unknown

So last week, while on vacation, my brother threw the first three volumes of Alias: Jessica Jones at me and told me to enjoy. And I did.

The Alias version of Jessica is quite different from the Netflix version. She is still a drunk, but it doesn’t seem to affect her everyday life quite as much. She still sleeps with Luke Cage, but it seems like only a one-time thing so far (she finds out that he’s a “cape chaser” which is a huge turnoff for her). Her lawyer is Matt Murdock and her best friend is Carol Danvers, so she has strong connections into the world of the Avengers. She talks quite a bit about her life as a super hero, but she has no regrets about hanging up her supersuit.

Jessica is smart and strong (not just “super strong”) and she generally wants to do what’s right, even if that means bending the rules or the law in order to do so. She has no time for people who think she — or others like her — is an abomination because of her mutant abilities, and that includes well-known characters like J Jonah Jameson, who really comes off as a bit of a racist ass here.

And this version of Jessica is gets set up on a blind date with Ant Man, which is kind of fun.

But Jessica makes a lot of mistakes. She’s not a terribly trusting person, and pushes people (like Malcolm, who just wants to help) away constantly. But she has integrity. When she catches Captain America’s secret identity on video, she refuses to sell it to the highest bidder, as she has been set up to do. And by doing that, she gets an ally in good old Cap.

And even though Ant Man is more or less her boyfriend, she still sleeps with other men. But she doesn’t talk to them, or let them get to know her. She just uses them for sex and companionship. She only lets Scott (the current Ant Man) get close.

The art in these books is really quite amazing. The contrasts between dark and bright colors is frequenly jarring, and used to good effect. When Jessica thinks back about her days as an Avenger, the art is usually much brighter than her day-to-day life.

Sadly, I only was able to read the first three, so I didn’t get to the Kilgrave story. I’ll be on the lookout for sure, and might even buy these for my own collection.

19
Jul
16

This is the only version where I don’t want to murder Lydia. CBR8 Review 34.

Unknown-7I’m not sure just how many different re-tellings I’ve read of Pride and Prejudice. At least six  — Bridget Jones’ Diary, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Death Comes to Pemberly, a manga version of P & P, Longbourn, and Eligible — but really, I might have read a few more. I probably have.

But this one stands out a bit for me, because I really felt like I knew the characters from watching the youtube videos. For those who are unaware, there was a delightful web series a few years ago, in which the entire story of Pride and Prejudice was modernized and presented as two-minute video blog entries told from Lizzie’s perspective. I loved it so much, I was hiding from my kids when I was trying to finish watching it. It is absolutely binge-worthy and just a huge amount of fun.

This book is a tie-in to that web series, telling pretty much the same story, but with added detail. For instance, in the videos, we never get all of the details about Darcy’s letter telling us how much Wickham sucks. But in the book, we get the whole sordid story. And it really was presented like a diary, with little bits of paper (like Darcy’s letter) taped in, and showing us that the entire story — from meeting Darcy, to hating Darcy, to loving Darcy, took an entire year.

In this version, Lizzie is a grad student studying communications, with her best friend Charlotte Lu. For her term project, Lizzie decides to create a video blog and talk about her life and her family, including her sisters Jane and Lydia (Kitty is an actual kitty cat, and Mary is the dour, goth cousin). As she meets new people, like handsome neighbor Bing Lee and his friend Darcy, we hear all about them, but mostly just from Lizzie’s perspective.

Eventually, sleazy swimming coach George Wickham comes to town, and sets his eyes on Lizzie. When Lizzie realizes that George and Darcy hate each other, she makes assumptions and accusations on her vlog, and then feels horrible when she realizes that she was wrong.

And poor Lydia.

Not this nut-job.

Unknown-4

Or this boy-crazy kook.

Unknown-5

This Lydia is just trying to figure herself out. Yes, she makes mistakes, but she’s smart and strong. I really loved this Lydia. And I felt horribly for her when she gets herself in over her head with Wickham.

Unknown-6

 

This version of P&P is the only one since Bridget Jones that I’ll probably ever revisit, so that’s gotta count for something. If you haven’t seen the web series, go watch it. You’ll love it. I swear. Darcy’s a hipster in a bow tie. How could you not love that?

images

23
Jun
16

Its just like Jane Austen, but with reality TV, Cross Fit, anorexia, and tons of premarital sex. CBR8 review 33.

Unknown-5Eligible is not a 5-star piece of literature. But I enjoyed the hell out of it. I could not put this sucker down.

I’m sort of sad that I’m now caught up with all of the books thus far written for The Austen Project (see my previous reviews of Emma: A Modern Retelling, Northanger Abbey, and Sense & Sensibility) and this one is by far my favorite.

Liz Bennet is in her late 30’s, living as a magazine editor in New York City, having an affair with the ghastly (and married!) Jasper Wick. She and her sister Jane (almost 40, a yoga instructor, undergoing IVF treatment to get pregnant with no boyfriend on the scene) fly home to Cincinnati when their father has emergency heart surgery, and move back in to their childhood home with their three ridiculous younger sisters and their intolerant of everything mother.

At a 4th of July barbecue at their friend Charlotte Lucas’ house, they meet Dr. Chip Bingley, a former contestant on Eligible — just like The Bachelor– who was infamous for being a cryer, his horrid sister Caroline (who also happens to be his agent), and Chip’s friend Fitzwilliam Darcy (a talented neurosurgeon new to Cincinnati and not loving it). Of course Chip and Jane immediately hit it off, Caroline is a shrill bitch, and Darcy is a standoffish jerk.

But here’s the thing…in this version of Pride & Prejudice, Darcy just isn’t that bad. Liz is WAY worse then he is. She’s often rude, sometimes crass, and always gossipy. Her younger sisters Kitty and Lydia are absolutely AWFUL. Jane seems sort of dim. Her mother is a racist with a shopping addiction. And her father is sort of a jerk for never doing anything about any of the nonsense he sees going on around him. Mary shows a bit of personality (I know. Right?), and Lydia is almost redeemed in the end, but I really just didn’t like Liz all that much. Yes, Liz looks after her family and tries to help them sort out their various issues, but she sort of went about it with a martyr complex. Meh.

And yet, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. EVEN THOUGH I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT. Weird, huh?

I enjoyed Cousin Willie, the Silicon Valley millionaire who comes to town to attempt to woo his step-cousin, but settles for Charlotte instead. I loved that Darcy was always spotted at Skyline Chili. I liked how Sittenfeld brought Cincinatti alive, showing that it isn’t just a boring Mid West city. And I really enjoyed the relationships that both Lydia and Kitty ended up in.

What I didn’t really care for was Liz’s obsession with the obnoxious Jasper, nor her initial treatment of Darcy. I get that Liz is a grown woman, but the way that she used sex and used her partners really annoyed me. I thought Darcy deserved better, and I was glad when she realized the same.

I also could have done without all of the spiders.

While this isn’t quite as fun as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

 

 

21
Jun
16

Damn you, Uncle Stevie. I’m not ready for these books to end. CBR8 Review 32.

Unknown-4The adventures of Retired Detective Bill Hodges and his friends have come to an end, and I’m sad.

I didn’t expect a whole lot when Uncle Stevie announced that he was working on a trilogy of mystery novels a few years ago. But I adored Mr. Mercedes, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. And I really liked 99% of Finders Keepers…it was only that 1% about stupid Brady Hartsfield moving things around with his mind that bugged me. So, I was kind of irked when I found out that End of Watch was about Brady. I just wanted Bill, Holly, and Jerome to keep kicking ass all over town, taking down bad guys, and not worrying about stupid Brady Hartsfield over in the traumatic brain injury ward of the local hospital. I thought I was all set with him.

But folks, this Constant Reader has been proven wrong.

End of Watch is almost COMPLETELY about Brady Hartsfield, and the obsessive evil that lives inside of him. And I couldn’t stop reading it. I NEEDED to know what was going to happen on the next page.

A brief, hopefully spoiler-free synopsis:

Brady Hartsfield isn’t as brain dead as you might think. He’s on some experimental drugs that just might have turned him into a telekinetic powerhouse. And he’s hell-bent on taking revenge on Bill Hodges for ruining his plans to blow up that concert a few years back. He wants to take Bill and Jerome down for the way they hurt him — and if he can get a slew of teenagers to commit suicide while he’s taking down Hodges, that would be just great, thanks.

Using some old video games that have the power to hypnotize their users, Brady sets a plan in motion that could not only ruin the lives of Bill, Jerome, and Holly, but of every single young girl that was supposed to die at the concert.

And of course, the local police aren’t buying that a “gorked out vegetable” like Brady is responsible for anything other than sitting in his chair and drooling. But Bill and Holly know better. And they start putting all of the pieces together from the various crime scenes that they are invited to by Bill’s old partner, and are willing to believe the unbelievable in order to stop Brady.

It wasn’t my favorite of the trilogy, because there was a little too much Carrie-esque, telekinetic, supernatural, magical brain stuff going on for a detective novel. But it still worked.

And it hit me in the feels, folks. We’ve gotten to know these characters so well over the past three books, that saying goodbye to them was not something I wanted to do. I want to know what’s going to happen to Barbara and her handsome new boyfriend. I need to know what Jerome is going to do when he’s finished volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. And Holly? What in the world is going to happen to someone like Holly if she isn’t out in the world solving crimes all day long? And I’m going to miss Bill Hodges. I’m going to miss the way he solves crimes with old-school methods, how he completely doesn’t understand technology, and how his unlikely friendships with Jerome and Holly made him a better man in the last chapters of his life.

These are things I stay up thinking about at night, Uncle Stevie. Thanks for creating these characters and telling their stories. I can’t wait to find out what you’re working on for us next.

 




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