These two books are so good I really don’t even have anything to say. Just read them. CBR7 Reviews 58 and 59.

FullSizeRenderI just finished reading Carry On, literally seconds ago. And just before that, I had the pleasure of reading Stand Off. Not only were these the two best YA books I’ve read in ages, but they were just two of the best books I’ve read. Ever. Full-stop.

Nobody out there can touch Cannonball favorite Rainbow Rowell and Andrew “my Cannonball boyfriend” Smith right now, as far as I’m concerned.

Many people have touted Carry On before me. And I”ll gladly jump on that bandwagon, waving my Rainbow flag.

I’ll admit, I was nervous about this book. The Simon Snow parts of Fangirl were not my favorite. I was afraid that this was going to be the book that finally disappointed me. And unsure about the whole meta-ness of a book about a book in a book. But my god. I loved this damn book. I loved every single thing about it. Except for the fact that it had to end.

From the first handful of pages — when Penelope says that she likes wearing magical capes with her school uniform because it makes her feel like Stevie Nicks — I was all in. The characters, the plot, the magic and the “normal” all together was simply perfection.

Rowell’s ability to write real dialogue and thoughts is simply amazing. Taking something as mundane as:

…I wish I knew what he was thinking…

I don’t know what I’m thinking.

and giving it heat and emotion and making every single person who has ever fallen in love know exactly how both characters are feeling? So great.

Even Rowell’s throw-away lines and descriptions are little treasures, like when Simon first met Baz’s brothers and sisters:

They all look like Baz’s stepmum: dark hair, but not black like Baz’s, with round cheeks and those Billie Piper mouths that don’t quite close over their front teeth.

Or when Agatha finds herself in the Mage’s messy office:

…There are books everywhere, in stacks and lying open. There are pages ripped out and taped all over one wall. (Not taped — stuck to the wall with spells.) (And this is exactly the sort of thing I’m sick of. Like, just use some tape. Why come up with a spell for sticking paper to the wall? Tape. Exists.)…

Come on.

Really, the only writer out there who comes even close to breathing life into characters like this is Andrew Smith. You may remember how I ranted and raved about the heart-wrenching Winger earlier this year. That book made me ugly cry. And I loved it for its beauty and its honesty. Stand Off is the sequel to Winger.

Did Winger need a sequel? Maybe not. It had a strong ending. But I was so happy to come back to Ryan Dean’s world, to make sure that he was OK. I really just wanted to check in on him, give him a hug, tell him I was here if he needed me.

And poor Ryan Dean. He was not OK. Stand Off is all about his senior year at Pine Mountain boarding school, his relationship with his beautiful girlfriend, Annie, and the aftermath of last year’s vicious hate crime.

Ryan Dean makes terrible mistakes in his day-to-day life. But he knows it. He has panic attacks at night. He’s losing weight. He’s terrible to his new roommate, and things aren’t going great with Annie. But how does a teenage boy get over the death of his best friend?

The dialogue is real, and my favorite bits are when Andrew Smith just lets Ryan Dean go on a rant, just like a real teenager would.

Okay. So, you know how when sometimes a person who you think is an okay guy tells you something you know he’s been holding inside for a long time and it makes you feel really bad for him and you try to think of a thousand things you could do or say to make him feel better, but there’s just nothing you can do at all — which is why I now understood how none of the rugby boys at dinner wanted to talk to Nico — so you just feel awkward and sad and stupid because you really think the other guy (who you think is an okay guy) probably just needs a hug from a friend and to hear a friend tell him “none of this bullshit matters,” but you don’t think you can do anything like that, so you just keep your hands in your pockets and you say nothing and you feel like a massive pile of shit and you know he feels like shit and there’s, like, this huge, incredible, growing shit supernova swallowing you up and making you both feel so terrible and you’re not really looking where you’re going because it’s dark and you’ve just cut through the woods and your toe gets stuck beneath a goddamned tree root (screw you, goddamned tree) and you fall down in wet tree mulch and get a cigarette butt stuck to your forehead because your hands were in your pockets and this happened to be the — air quotes — assembly hall — end air quotes — for the Pine Mountain Nicotine Club and then the guy you think is an okay guy is laughing, and that makes you feel better, because of all of the things you thought about that might make him not feel so shitty, gravity was not on that list?

Yeah. That’s what happened.

And screw you, gravity.

Not as heart-breaking as Winger, but still lovely. This book made me laugh and cry. Just like real life.

Seriously, if you aren’t reading Rainbow Rowell yet, what can I say? What’s wrong with you? GET THEE TO A LIBRARY! And Andrew Smith? So good. Go out and read Grasshopper Jungle before the movie comes out. His books are crazy and amazing and non-stop everything.


No. Just no. CBR7 Review 57.

Unknown-1You know how sometimes modern adaptations of our favorite classic novels turn out great, and quickly go up on the shelf alongside the original? Bridget Jones. Clueless. For Darkness Shows the Stars.

And then there are some that aren’t great, but are ok, and that’s good enough, because it makes us think about how great the original was. Death Comes to Pemberley. Emma: A Modern Retelling.

Of course, there are lots that are just lousy. But for some reason, that doesn’t stop me from reading them. Jane is one of these books.

It wasn’t good.

But I couldn’t stop reading it, mostly because I needed to know how ridiculously the second half of the book would pan out.

Jane Moore is a mousy college student, forced to drop out after her parents die, leaving her pretty much nothing. Her brother and sister were very well taken care of, but Jane was always an afterthought, and treated as such. And acted as such.

Jane was such a wet noodle.

I wanted to shake her sometimes. Yes, her mother was horrible and her brother was a monster, but that doesn’t excuse her non-existent personality. Just being socially aloof isn’t enough to show me that there’s anything else going on inside.

Jane gets a job as a nanny for a huge, famous, crazy rock star (who’s cool rock star name I can’t even remember, so let’s just call him rock star) who has custody of his French daughter, courtesy of his messed up ex wife, a French model and pop star. Of course this guy has tons of baggage: a failed first marriage due to drugs and general excess, thousands of groupies, a horrid second marriage, and now general snottiness and attitude. Oh, and a terrible temper. He’s such a good time! And he has no clue how to raise his own kid, other than to spoil her with gifts.

And somehow, beyond all things sensible, this rock star falls in love with the wet noodle. And I can’t.

Jane is so blasé. So boring, so milquetoast. Everything she says annoyed me.

Of course there are shenanigans concerning the loud noises coming from the forbidden third floor of the mansion, and of course the rock star never tells the truth about what’s going on up there. And yes, their hasty city hall marriage is interrupted for very REASONS, forcing rock star to tell precious Jane THE TRUTH about what exactly is going on up on the third floor.

Jane takes off for New Haven and is taken in immediately by the two St. John sisters, who never show me a clear motive for their kindness. I guess they are just really nice? Or something? And yes, they have a super hot brother, studying at the divinity school, who pretty much is a walking poster for aspergers. This whole section drove me batty.

One weird day, after a huge fight with aspergers brother about moving with him to Haiti, Jane goes to the movies and randomly finds herself watching a documentary about her rock star. She gets all verklempt when she finds out that he has never stopped searching for her (seriously, she never even left Connecticut. His people assigned to searching must not be very good.). The end of the movie has a weird epilogue tacked on explaining that rock star was recently critically injured when there was a fire at his house, killing his mysterious third floor resident, and burning his estate to the ground.

The fact that this information is passed on to Jane while watching a documentary in a movie theater nearly drove me to throw the book in the trash.

And yet I kept reading.

Jane and rock star meet again. She leaves the kind, supportive St. John sisters without even a word of thanks and heads back to her jerk. And everyone lives happily ever after.

This was just the worst.

The end of the book included an excerpt of the authors new book, Catherine, a modern Retelling of Wuthering Heights. I’ll pass, thanks. Although admittedly, if I started to read it, I would probably finish it. My bad.


“I’d made the vampire cry. Great. I felt like a real superhero. Harry Dresden, breaker of monsters’ hearts.” CBR7 Review 56.

UnknownOne of the things I like most about doing the Cannonball every year is getting recommendations from other ‘ballers for books I might never have heard of otherwise. Honestly, I can’t believe I had never heard of Jim Butcher or Harry Dresden before, and for that I am sorry. And I also can’t believe that its taken me this long to get around to the first of the series, Storm Front.

I’m going to admit something to you about Storm Front. I had taken it out of the library at least twice before, started it, put it down, and returned it.

But then James Marsters happened.

I saw on Audible that Storm Front was on sale for something crazy like $4, so I downloaded it, pressed play, and from the first paragraph, I was all in.

I know I’m supposed to write about the book, so I will do that very briefly. Really, what I want to write about is James Marsters.

Quick book synopsis:

Harry Dresden is a wizard living and working in Chicago. He gets involved with all sorts of horrible things when a couple is found murdered in a hotel room with their hearts ripped out of their chests. The police bring him in as a paranormal advisor, and then all hell breaks loose. Gigantic scorpions! Hilarious, talking skulls! Faeries who like pizza! I loved every minute of it, and really look forward to reading (ahem, I mean, listening) to the next book as soon as I can.

And now, my thoughts on James Marsters.

Yes, I am a Spike girl, and I love him for that, but this was something completely different (except for the long, black duster coat. That was completely the same.)


Marsters really brought Harry to life for me. His reading was incredibly human — it was as if the real Harry was just telling me a story about something that happened to him once. It was filled with humanity, humor, horror, sarcasm, and sex (the voice, not the story. Harry doesn’t seem to be too lucky with the ladies just yet.) It made me want to know more about Harry, which I guess is the biggest compliment you can pay to the first book in a long series.


So thank you, James. You got me involved with a series that I’ve been meaning to get involved with for quite some time. But I couldn’t have done it without you.

Strangely — or not at all strangely — this is the song that ran through my head the entire time I was listening to this book. He’s truly a man for all seasons.


What am I going to do when Sue Grafton gets to Z? CBR7 Review 55.

UnknownOne rainy afternoon, about 9 years ago, I went to the local library. I had a toddler and an infant, and the library was right next door to our apartment, so we used to drop by a lot. And I would wander around and pick up random books that looked interesting for me to read while I was up with a cranky baby all night. One of the books I got on that rainy day was a dog-eared paperback called A is for Alibi.

And then I read as many of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone books as I could get my hands on. And these days, I get a little bit excited when a new one comes out. There’s nothing new here, but that’s ok with me. I’m not looking for these books to rock the literary world. I’m just hoping to visit Kinsey’s little world for a few hours, and see what — if anything — has changed since our last visit.

I like Kinsey Millhone, in spite of herself. Kinsey is sort of a pain in the ass, but she really doesn’t care. She understands that she’s a bit prickly and demanding of people, she has a hard time letting people get close to her (unless they are over 85 years old), and she has terrible luck with men. She has a terrible diet, she can’t be bothered to care about her appearance, and she’s cheap. But she considers wine and toilet paper to be the only things that really need to be on a shopping list, and that’s good enough for me.

I also love the fact that these books take place in the 1980s. Kinsey doesn’t have a computer or a cell phone. She uses micro-fiche and goes to the library or town hall to get research done. And she talks and listens to people. So much more interesting than just doing a google search.

In this book, Kinsey is juggling a few things at once, per usual. First off, she is hired by a wealthy woman to find the son she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager. But this woman isn’t exactly who she claims to be, and Kinsey starts snooping around to get to the truth. Between the art heists, secret identities, and crazy divorce settlements, this plot was my favorite of the three.

In addition, Kinsey finds herself caught up in a case from over 20 years prior that her colleague, the late Pete Wollinsky, was investigating. She gets in over her head with this one, and the outcome was both frightening and disturbing.

To balance the upsetting bits, Kinsey also gets involved with her new neighbors — an elderly couple that she immediately dislikes, but her landlord Henry does like. This plot was somewhat ridiculous, but I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed Kinsey’s reaction to every little thing the neighbors got up to.

I love Kinsey’s little day-to-day rituals. After 24 books, we know that she’s going to jog for three miles every day. We know that she only wears turtlenecks and jeans. We know that she wants a chardonnay at the end of the day, usually at Rosie’s tavern with Henry. I was disappointed that Kinsey only ate one peanut butter and pickle sandwich in this book, but was glad that she made up for the lack of that delicacy with a fried salami and pepper jack sandwich that she was drooling over. The lady likes her sandwiches, for sure.

I definitely look forward to each new entry into Grafton’s alphabet series, and I’ll be said when she finally gets to Z. Reading these books is a comforting feeling — you know what you’re going to get, and you enjoy it, like slippers on a cold day, or a nice cup of tea when its raining.


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?



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