More from my Cannonball boyfriend. He can do no wrong, really. CBR7 Review 54.

Unknown-2I love discovering new authors and then devouring their entire bibliography. It’s like a little present, just for me.

And I’m still making my way through the early books written by my Cannonball boyfriend, Andrew Smith. So far, I’ve loved Grasshopper Jungle, The Alex Crow, and Winger. And while I didn’t 100% love The Marbury Lens, I was intrigued enough by its unique darkness to pick up its sequel, Passenger.

Passenger is just about the darkest, most psychologically frightening, YA book I’ve ever come across. And I mean that in both a good way and a bad way. This was tough reading, folks. But it was worthwhile.

A quick overview of The Marbury Lens: Jack suffers a major trauma (he is kidnapped by a sexual predator) and after his escape, is given a weird pair of glasses by a total stranger. He finds that the glasses bring him to another world called Marbury. Marbury is not a nice place, but Jack can’t stay away from it. He sees people he knows over in that other world, and works desperately to save them from the horrors of Marbury — war, disease, mutants, you name it. Jack is never really sure if Marbury is real, or in his messed up mind, until his best friend Connor comes to Marbury with him. Marbury makes them sick — physically, emotionally, mentally — but they keep on going back.

The version (or versions, I guess) of Marbury that we see in Passenger are even worse. Children killing in order to survive. Monstrous creatures that can change you into a mutant cannibal in seconds. Huge, flesh eating bugs. Ugh. So much unpleasantness that turns these regular kids from California into different, harder versions of themselves.

But what works for me is Andrew Smith’s writing. He deftly mixes all of this horror with a beautiful friendship, one worth traveling through all of these horrible worlds for. Jack and Connor travel from world to world to find and save each other. Smith touches on mental illness, suicide, and sexuality, but doesn’t let any of these important topics take control of the story. They are just part of the story, and he is so skilled at writing teenage characters, that these issues just weave into the narrative.

These two books aren’t especially pleasant experiences, but I’m so glad I read them. My Cannonball boyfriend is the best.


Open your mouth as wide as you can. I need to shove some pop culture references down your throat. CBR7 Review 53.

Unknown-1Oh dear. I’m going to keep this exceptionally short, as I don’t really have anything good to say.

Like many of you, I really, really wanted to like this one. I tried really hard to keep Ready Player One out of my mind, and I tried not to compare the two while I was reading this one.

And for almost half of Armada, I was ok. I was annoyed, and yes, I realized that this one wasn’t as good as RPO, but I was still sort of having fun.


And then everyone went to the moon, and all the stuff with Zack’s dead dad happened, and all the space fighting, and whatnot. And I was all set.

This book annoyed me. So much.

What was fun and cute in RPO was annoying and trite here. All of the unnecessary pop culture references really got on my nerves in a big way. I felt like Cline was using some sort of macro, where every 50 words or so, he would insert some pop culture, sci fi mumbo jumbo, whether it fit, or not. It was overwhelming and distracting. And just plain annoying.

And the battle scenes? Equally annoying. Made up terminology, and hard to understand battle plans. I’m no scientist, but I can’t grasp how anything — no matter how super-alien-amazing the technology is — can fly to the moons of Jupiter in a matter of minutes. Annoying.

Really, I’m just so annoyed.

Look, I’m not going to write Ernest Cline off just yet. I just think he needs to find a new hook. Not everything needs to have a nerdy soundtrack and snappy dialogue that has hidden Aliens easter eggs in it. Sometimes a story can just be a story, and that’s enough for me.


This is my Cannonball, and I’ll make it all about me if I want to. CBR7 Review 52.

411BRcu+ucL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_Welcome to a long, rambling review that’s all about me.

My love affair with the Boston Red Sox began when I was super young. One of my very first memories is of my parents leaving me with a babysitter so that they could go to the World Series game (you know, the one where Carlton Fisk hit that home run)


and they brought me home a hat. I loved that damn hat. And I loved that team, even though they completely bungled the series and constantly found new ways to disappoint their fan base.

And so, I continued to love the Red Sox, and they continued to lose. One of my father’s friends used to say about their losing “curse”, “they killed my father, and now they’re coming after me.” We sort of reveled in their losing, and we loved it.

Until, in 2004, we realized, hey, winning is great, too.

This is a book for everyone like me.
People who laugh every time they watch this:

Folks who stood up and yelled at the TV when Dave Roberts stole second base.


People who cried when Keith Foulke jumped in the air after that last out in St. Louis. People who went and visited the cemetery on October 28, 2004 to tell their loved ones that the unthinkable had finally happened. That the Red Sox had finally won the World Series.

Did any of those things happen to you? Then you should read this. This is a small volume of poems about the Red Sox and Fenway Park. Told mostly in rhyme, we have entries about everything from Ted Williams and the Green Monster to David “Big Papi” Ortiz. The most famous of these is “Teddy at the Bat,” written for Ted Williams just before he died. But my favorite was about Dave Roberts and his famous stolen base.

…There was cheering there was singing,
And heroes filled the place.
But it never would have happened
Had not Roberts stole that base.

Yeah, so. We aren’t dealing with poetry that’s going to change the world, but if you are a fan, it hits you in the heart.

And now, more about me.

My main reason for selecting this book, and then saving it for my Cannonball entry, is because of the author. Dick Flavin is not only the Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and stadium announcer, but he’s my friend. If you grew up in Boston, you might remember him from TV, where he became somewhat famous in the 1970s and 80s for his satirical political commentary on Channel 4.

But here’s how I know him. He and my father were best friends for almost 70 years. Growing up, our family spent pretty much every 4th of July and every Christmas Eve with his family. His brother (a priest) married me to Mr. Scoots, he christened all three of my kids, and he presided over both funeral masses for my parents (where Dick gave beautiful eulogies at each mass). He’s more or less a member of our family. And most recently, he was ordained by the state of Massachusetts for a day in order to marry my brother and his lovely bride.

He’s the reason that one of my other favorite baseball books exists (I also love Faithful by Stephen King and Stuart O’Nan, but sadly have no personal ties to that one). He was the guy that drove Dom Dimaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr to Florida back in 2001 to visit their friend Ted Williams who was dying. This inspired the wonderful Teammates by the great David Halberstam. It also inspired Flavin’s most famous poem — and the impetus for this book — Teddy at the Bat (a take on the famous “Casey at the Bat”).

Oh, somewhere in this land of ours the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.
And they’re going wild at Fenway Park ’cause Teddy hit one out!

Look. If you don’t love baseball, or the Red Sox, this probably isn’t for you. But you could do worse than to watch a game and read a short poem that makes you remember what made you love baseball in the first place.

We love Dick and couldn’t be happier for him to be experience this renaissance in his career.


How many guys in their 70s get to make the New York Times bestseller list with their first book? Awesome.

Finally, here is a picture of my hand with Dick’s 2013 Championship Ring. I love that this guy gets to wear this around every day, and that his job for the team is to more or less be their bard. More teams should have an in-house poet,right?



Revisiting a favorite from when I was 10. CBR7 Review 51.

UnknownWhen I was a wee Scoots, I had a few authors that I loved. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Judy Blume. John D. Fitzgerald (seriously, The Great Brain books were the best). And when I could get my hands on his books, I loved Daniel Manus Pinkwater. His books were just so crazy and weird, I couldn’t help but love them.

Fat Men From Space. The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. The Avocado of Death. These books were really unlike anything I had every read before. And Lizard Music is stranger than the rest of them.

Daniel Pinkwater is a strange guy. Here’s what his Amazon bio says about him:

Daniel Pinkwater has written about one hundred books, many of them good. Lizard Music was almost the first one he wrote, and remains his personal favorite. It is entirely his own work, and the story that it was discovered as a manuscript inserted in a bale of banana leaves, probably to increase the weight, is merely legend, and without foundation in fact.

But I”m glad that he is such a unique spirit. I’m grateful that I had the chance to read some of these books, and that they clearly helped open my mind to different genres of fiction.

Lizard Music, in a nutshell:
A young boy named Victor finds himself alone for a few weeks during the summer when he is 11. His parents have left him with his older sister, while they visit a resort in Colorado to try and save their marriage. Meanwhile, his sister isn’t all that interested in spending two weeks at home with Victor, and so she leaves with her friends for Cape Cod. Victor doesn’t mind much — he has a pile of cash, a freezer filled with TV dinners, and unlimited access to the TV.

Victor starts having some strange things happen to him. He meets a man on the bus who calls himself the Chicken Man. The Chicken Man keeps a trained chicken named Claudia under his hat, and has her perform tricks for their fellow bus passengers. Victor also notices that suddenly he see lizards just about everywhere. On the evening news. On posters advertising the zoo. And — the most strange thing of all — late at night on tv, after the late movie, he sees a band of lizards playing music every night.

So Victor decides to find out what’s going on. Who are these lizards that can play musical instruments? How are they being broadcast on to his tv? And why doesn’t anybody else seem to know about this or care?

Victor and the Chicken Man (and Claudia, of course) find some answers, and they are all crazy. An invisible island, populated by Walter Cronkite-worshipping lizards, the size of men, all named Reynold. Is that weird enough for you?

I hadn’t read this book since I was about 10 years old, but my 9 year old joemyjoe was finishing it up before school started, so I thought I would revisit it and see if it was as odd as I remembered. And yes, yes, it was.


A lovely little treat for any book lover. CBR7 Review 50.

Unknown-2This afternoon it was hot as blazes out and the kids wanted to go to the park. So first, we stopped at the library, and I picked up this slim, little volume. I read the entire thing while they ran around, and am now thinking about heading back to the library so I can get my hands on Hanff’s “sequel,” The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

Helene Hanff tells a simple story through letters that she exchanged with a Frank Doel, a book dealer in London. She writes to him asking for specific books in good condition, he writes back and lets her know the price. As they get to know each other a bit, their letters become more and more familiar. She jokes with him, he slowly begins to reciprocate.

In time, Helene becomes somewhat entangled — from thousands of miles away — into the lives of most of the employees of the book shop and their families and friends. She exchanges letters with not only Frank, but his wife, his colleagues, his neighbor, and eventually, his daughters.

She sends hams, eggs, chocolates, and nylons to the shop — all things that were still being rationed after World War II. The shop sends her gifts, as well.

Sadly, Helene never makes the trip over to visit the shop. She and Frank (and everyone else) talk about it for years, but it just never happens. Something else always comes up.

You might wonder just how a tiny little book of letters can be so engrossing. Just trust me. By the end, you’ll feel as if you’ve known these people for all of their lives, and a little bit of your heart will break.

As a side note, the edition that I read had a forward written by Anne Bancroft, who starred as Helene in the movie (which I’ve never seen, but now have to add to the list). She talks about how a stranger gave her the book, how she loved it and it changed her life, and how — in a completely romantic gesture — her husband bought her the film rights as an anniversary gift. Lovely.


I can’t really review this with the detail it deserves. But trust me, it was really good. CBR7 Review 49.

Unknown-2A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…I went on vacation and read a bunch of wonderful books. And I am still struggling to catch up with those reviews. Sadly, the two book reviews that will suffer the most from my lack of reviewing effort are two of the best — Red Shirts by John Scalzi, and this one.

A few Cannonballers have already read this (honestly, I’m shocked that this hasn’t been more of a “thing”): you can read excellent reviews from narfna and ElCicco that are way more lucid and detailed than anything I might come up with. But we all agree that this first entry (into what I can only imagine will be a TRILOGY) into Sabaa Tahir’s world really works.

It has everything: a strong, young (and of course BEAUTIFUL) heroine, willing to do whatever it takes to keep what’s left of her family together; a brutal society that values strength and brutality over knowledge and learning; a handsome and skeptical hero, who isn’t quite sure what it is he’s fighting for; and subtle instances of magic, but no so much that it overwhelms the story and crosses directly into Fantasy.

Because I am old and my memory is for crap, I’ll give you this blurb from Amazon:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I really enjoyed it. I’ll admit, it starts off slowly. But once Laia is focused on her mission and how she can help her brother, I was all in. Yes, the book was brutally violent, and at times I questioned it’s YA label. It reminded me a lot of Red Rising — both authors have clearly done their research on the Roman Empire — which was not YA (remember the great debate we had about that?). But it was strong, and I’ll definitely continue with the series.

Sorry, Sabaa Tahir. You deserved better than my Amazon-heavy recap. I promise to do better next time.


“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.” CBR7 Review 48.

UnknownI’m amazed that this book has been out for so long and is still being discovered by so many enthusiastic readers. I’m sure that the upcoming — and pretty amazing looking — movie has something to do with it, but really, I think mostly its because this is just a damn good story.

By now we all know the basics, so I’m going to keep this short.

Mark Watney, astronaut on NASA’s latest mission to Mars, is injured in a wind storm and left for dead by his crew. But Mark isn’t dead, and finds himself struggling to find a way to survive until the next scheduled mission lands on Mars…in four years.

How will he eat? What will he drink? Will he have enough oxygen? Is there a way to let NASA know that he’s alive? And just how will he get himself from his base camp to the future landing site, thousands of kilometers away? So many questions, and all of them are answered with an entertaining mix of science and humor, a credit to Andy Weir’s breezy, yet never flighty, writing style. Even when I got to a section of the book that contained pages and pages of “Mars science”, I never skimmed or skipped. You never know when you might miss a good joke about Aquaman or duct tape.

I also really enjoyed all of the stuff that happened down on Earth. The NASA sections of the book were equally as fascinating as the survival story. I wanted to know more about every single character in the book, both on Earth and in space, which is really a testament to Weir. I love him and promise to read every single thing he decides to publish in the future. He’s getting added to the Stephen King/Andrew Smith/Rainbow Rowell/James Ellroy/Ian Rankin/Christopher Brookmyre list of automatic reads, no matter what (after I get my hands on Armada, I’ll let you know if Ernest Cline gets to put his name on this list). Congratulations, Andy.


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