02
Jul
15

“So what’s a few plane crashes in the name of a good night’s sleep?” CBR7 review 39.

imageWhat if I told you that I just read a great book about a teenaged boy named Ariel? Ariel lives in an unnamed, war-torn country, and has just turned 14. On his 14th birthday, tragedy strikes, and Ariel finds himself the sole survivor in his village. Wouldn’t his tale about his travels with soldiers and regular families, about the horrors of the refuge camp, and about his new, adoptive family in West Virginia sound like something you might want to read?

Or how about if I said that I just read a great book about a strange summer camp for boys in rural West Virginia? A camp where each cabin is named for a planet, and all of the boys are there because they are addicted to being online…except for three boys in the Jupiter cabin, who happen to be there because their fathers work at the company that sponsors the camp.

Or what about a book about a failed journey to the North Pole in the late 1800s? Written in journal entry, we get the first-hand account of a ship trapped in ice, and how its crew and passengers manage the bleak and freezing environment, and an amazing discovery that they make in the ice.

Not for you? How about a book about a company that plays God, constantly tweaking both human and animal DNA? Bringing extinct animals back into the world, albeit with some strange characteristics, including a previously unseen ancient species of man. And what if that company could control these creatures with a simple remote control, and somehow turn some of these de-extinct animals into weapons of mass destruction? Would that interest you?

Hmm. What if I told you about a book about a crazy young man — dubbed The Melting Man, because his body parts are literally melting off of his body — is driving across the country in a U-Haul with an enormous bomb in the back? He hears voices in his head: a nice lady who narrates his every move, a beautiful woman who plays the accordion for him, and Joseph Stalin. Did I mention that he’s dying of radiation poisoning? How about that?

Believe it or not, The Alex Crow is about every single one of these things. At the same time. And it’s terrific. I went into it knowing nothing, and was hooked half-way through the prologue. I kept thinking “what in the hell is happening right now?”, but in a good way.

You may remember that I’ve previously dubbed Andrew Smith my Cannonball boyfriend. After the brilliance of Grasshopper Jungle and Winger, I knew I would follow him anywhere. And he does not disappoint here.

The writing is funny and outrageous and sad and frightening and real. Ariel’s backstory is heartbreaking and terrible, and his new life is strange and bizarre. The book is filled with amazing characters — the hairy legged kid, Alex the crow, the Dumpling Man, Cobie & Max, Marshmallow Jeff — that are so unlike any other people being described in YA today.

If you are looking for something completely unlike anything else out there right now, I highly recommend The Alex Crow. Smith has a new book coming out this fall — the sequel to Winger! — and the movie version of Grasshopper Jungle (directed by Edgar F-ing Wright) is in production. I expect we’ll be hearing more great things from him soon.

29
Jun
15

See the turtle of enormous girth! On his shell he holds the earth. CBR7 Review 38.

imagesI recently joined Audible, and have been trying to navigate the system — when to use a credit, when to pay, what to put on my wish list, etc. For my first book, I selected the 40+ hour-long It. I hadn’t read It since I was in high school, when I remember it scared me to death. But I’ve been on a bit of a Dark Tower Universe kick, enjoying all of the links between Stephen King’s books and trying to figure out how they all relate to Roland and his quest for the Tower. It is one of the major players in that universe. We have appearances from Stuttering Bill (in Dark Tower VII, he is a robot); Maturin, the turtle; and Gan, the creator of all. Even Dandelo, the horrible vampire that eats human emotions in Dark Tower VII, seems to be the same type or horrible creature as Pennywise the Clown.

It took me quite a while to listen to the entire book. There’s only so many hours I can spend on the treadmill or in the car without the kids (because, really, they don’t need to hear this book). And I went in to it a bit doubtful about the narrator’s ability to handle the vast cast of characters, especially Pennywise. Because, Tim Curry.

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The book was narrated by Steven Weber. And this is pretty much what I was expecting:

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But I’ll be damned if Weber didn’t blow me away here. While he didn’t really do “voices” for all of the characters, it was easy enough to differentiate who was speaking at any time. He could flip-flop from childhood fun and innocence to utter terror just in a few simple words. He was really quite good.* Brian Hackett, this was not.

I don’t really want to get too much into the plot of this one. Pretty much everyone knows the basics by now: timeless creature of evil lives beneath the town of Derry, Maine. Every 25 or so years, this creature wakes up to feed on the children of the town, wreaking havoc as he does. He (or she?) glamours his real appearance by showing himself to the residents of Derry as a clown, or as the manifestation of their greatest fears. Scared of werewolves? It will come after you as a werewolf. Are you a germaphobe? It will come to you as a leper, with dripping sores and missing flesh.

And this cycle goes on and on, uninterrupted, from the beginning of time until 1958. In the summer of 1958, a group of 7 kids figure out what is happening in Derry and join together to fight It. They then make a promise to each other to come back someday, if It ever returns.

Which, of course, It does. In 1985.

The story jumps back and forth in time, from ’58 to ’85, with interludes in between that give the history of horrible events in Derry from the time of its incorporation to the present.

The book has a little bit of of the best and the worst aspects of Stephen King.

The characters — no matter how small — are all really well drawn and interesting. I liked reading how the kids from 1958 grew up to become middle-aged and seeing what personality traits they kept and how they changed (or didn’t), both mentally and physically. I really enjoyed the parts about Derry’s history and how the citizens, time and again, simply ignored the horrific events that happened there, as willed by It. The scenes of Derry’s destruction near the end were also really cool — the timeline of how the storm and the flood attacked the town and its residents was very well done.

As mentioned above, I enjoyed the links to King’s other works. In particular, the link that really stands out for me is this poem, repeated many times in the 7 Dark Tower books, and how it relates to the turtle that helps our heroes defeat It.

“See the TURTLE of enormous girth! On his shell he holds the earth. His thought is slow but always kind; he holds us all within his mind. On his back all vows are made; he sees the truth buy mayn’t aid. He loves the land and loves the sea, and even loves a child like me.”

The first time I read It, I hadn’t read the DT books yet, and the entire turtle/Gan/void stuff really didn’t work for me. This time, it didn’t work 100%, but I least I could grasp what King was trying to do. Sort of.

And then we have the bad King. Which is mostly about sex. Whenever Uncle Stevie writes himself a sex scene, you just know its going to be a bit uncomfortable. And we get that in spades here. The Ritual of Chud is something that simply did not need to exist and I felt a bit sorry for Steven Weber that he had to tell me about it.

Still frightening after all of these years, I’m glad I revisited It. Next up, Insomnia.

*Speaking of, have you seen him on iZombie? He’s pretty great there. I hope he comes back for season 2.

27
Jun
15

“Rebecca, not everything from a Monty Python movie is real…There is no Camelot nor a Holy Grail. Although the bit with the killer rabbit is true.” CBR7 review 37.

UnknownI am a big fan of the Fug Girls. While not a very fashion-forward person myself, their commentary keeps bringing me back to their site, day after day. I love their TV recaps (of course, they honed their skills at the dearly departed TWOP), and find myself watching shows I normally wouldn’t — hello, Nashville and Hart of Dixie — just so I can follow along with them.

I read, and thoroughly enjoyed their two YA novels, Spoiled and Messy, and was totally excited to find out that they had written their first adult novel, and that it was about a fictional Kate Middleton, to boot. Royal fan fiction? Pretty much irresistible to me.

I had to wait a bit for my library to actually order it, but my god, it was worth the wait. I’m not alone in the Cannonball community in saying that this is a perfect summer read. Bring it to the beach or the pool. Sit out on a patio with a cold drink. Hide out in the air conditioning. There is no wrong way to enjoy this book this summer.

Bex Porter arrives for her study abroad year at Oxford from Cornell. Her deepest wish is to spend the year painting and drawing the local architecture. Until she finds that one of the cute guys living on her hall just so happens to be the very handsome, extremely eligible, third-in-line for the throne, Nick.

American girl meets British boy, finds out his real identity, drinks an obscene amount of alcohol, watches horrible reality TV, and falls in love. I can only hope this is how Kate wooed William, with keg stands and junk food.

After years of sneaking around as his secret girlfriend, Bex and Nick decide to go public, but Bex has really no idea what that means. We then get a delightful insight into what it might be like to be Kate or Pippa Middleton, Prince William, or Prince Harry; how the paparazzi can completely get out of hand; and how being royalty is more than being part of a family — it’s also a job and a brand.

Also, this book is hilarious. And sometimes, heartbreakingly sad. I laughed out loud, but I think I might have gotten a bit choked up more than I laughed. But I’d still categorize it as being a funny book, albeit one with some very emotional family subplots.

I was pretty fascinated by all of it. The sheer amount of research that these two ladies must have done (although, I do believe one of them is British) is amazing. I adore these two and hope they continue to write for many years to come.

26
Jun
15

A super quick review of a classic novel, but as manga! CBR7 review 36.

UnknownThis was my first manga, and I honestly didn’t really know what I should expect. Would it be confusing to read a book backwards? Would it be too cartoony? I had no idea, but I was really interested in finding out. I saw this at the library — they have a whole section of manga based on classic novels, and I plan on reading as many of these classics as I can at some point.

Pride & Prejudice was actually the perfect entry point for me to take into the world of manga. I know the story inside and out, so I knew it would make things easier for me when I slowly tried to figure out how to read from right to left. (This shouldn’t have even been a concern for me, as I made an almost instantaneous adjustment to this style.)

Also, so many of the characters in P & P — Mrs Bennett, Mr Collins, Lydia, Bingley — are already pretty much cartoonish. The manga drawing style really brings out their ridiculousness. I mean, come on. Look at Mrs. Bennett here:

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I don’t think the style worked 100% of the time. Lizzy comes off as a bit more flighty and as silly as her younger sisters — the big eyes and the modernized sarcasm are a bit much. Darcy is drawn so that we immediately know he’s a villain, and we never really see his softer side. There isn’t a turning point for him here, where the reader says, “Ah-ha! Darcy’s not a bad guy at all!”. We just simply take Elizabeth’s word for it. Yes, he still helps Lydia with the whole Wickham situation, but we don’t see his smoldering puppy dog face that tells Lizzy, yes, I did this all for you. He still stands there awkwardly with his impossibly long legs, wild hair, and bad-guy eyes.

Minor complaints, really. This was still a fun, quick read. I think I’ll try The Scarlet Letter next.

23
Jun
15

In which I compare a lovely YA writer to the master of horror. CBR7 review 35.

Unknown-1A few Cannonballs ago (CBR 4?), I went (OK, I tore) through a massive Sarah Dessen phase. I read every single one of her books and pretty much loved them all. And I wondered to myself, hey, where are all of the other Sarah Dessen lovers? Why aren’t my Cannonball protégés reading these books? They would love these books! They are smart and funny and real (sometimes, to a fault), and filled with tough heroines who figure out how to improve their lives. What’s not to love here?

And then, I’ll be honest, I kind of forgot about Dessen. I had raced through her entire catalog so quickly, I had nothing more to read until she published something new. And thankfully, she recently published Saint Anything, bringing me back to worship her and the world she has created.

Thankfully, Saint Anything was worth the long wait. Sydney has lived in the shadow of her prefect older brother, Peyton, her whole life. And when Peyton gets into some serious trouble with the law, and finds himself in jail, nothing changes. Sydney is still the one that her parents don’t notice or look out for. They are so busy worrying about and trying to help Peyton, that Sydney just sails quietly through life, unnoticed and never rocking the boat.

When Sydney meets some new friends, everything changes for her. For the first time in her life, she realizes that she is special, she is important, and that she isn’t as invisible as she thought she was. She becomes wrapped up with the enigmatic Chatham family — exuberant Layla, handsome Mac, troubled Rosie — and finds that she has just as much to offer them as they give to her.

What I like about Dessen’s heroines is that they are extremely human. They make mistakes and learn from them. While trying to repair her relationships with her parents and brother, Sydney makes lots of mistakes. But they help her to grow and to become a better version of herself. No longer will Syndey sit quietly on the sidelines, and she shows her family — and the reader — how much she has to offer. When Sydney and her friends spend a quiet night out in the woods near an abandoned carousel, you want Sydney to try and reach for the brass ring — both literally and figuratively.

And yes, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes Dessen’s writing is a little too real. She writes about drug and alcohol abuse, infidelity, unrequited love, depression, sexual assault, and lots and lots of disappointment in your parents and the adults around you. But these heavy issues don’t ever feel like a “very special episode” of Sarah Dessen. They are real — albeit unpleasant — things that happen to real teens every day.

In a previous review, I went out on a limb and compared Sarah Dessen to Stephen King, and I’m going to double down with that comparison here. Like King, Dessen has successfully created her own fictional universe where all of her books take place and interact with each other. However, unlike the horrible Maine towns of Derry and Castle Rock, life in North Carolina’s Colby and Lakeview is much more ordinary. Everyone lives near “the U”, the rich kids go to Perkins, the poor kids go to Jackson. They all summer at the same beach, they all go to see the same bands at the same clubs. When you read a Sarah Dessen book, you’re constantly on the lookout for any “Easter eggs”, or any ways that characters and places might be referencing something that we’ve read before. It’s the ultimate inside joke, a reward for being the “constant reader”.

I love being invited back to Dessen’s world every once in a while, and I fervently hope that she will continue to extend those invitations for a long time to come.

16
Jun
15

Two great graphic novels wrapped up in one less-than-stellar review. CBR7 review 33 & 34.

imagesHere’s the deal. I’m apologizing up front for these two reviews.

I’m currently sitting in an elementary school gym, typing away on my phone’s wordpress app, waiting for the chorus to come out and perform their spring concert. Selections include “Payphone” by Maroon 5 and “Treasure” by Bruno Mars. Things have really changed since I was a kid and the craziest we ever got was singing a song from Pippen or a medley of commercial jingles. But I digress.

I read two great graphic novels, thanks to my Cannonball friends, and want to tell everyone how great they were.

First off, I read Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale.

To be honest, I had little memory of what Archie comics were all about. When I was a kid, I maybe got an Archie comic in my Christmas stocking, or watched the old Archies cartoon on weekends (they had a band? And sang “Sugar Sugar?) But I don’t remember much about Riverdale other than everybody loved Archie, including two beautiful girls — Betty and Veronica. He had a friend named Jughead, and he drove an old fashioned car that I think they called a jalopy.

But really, you don’t need to know much more about Riverdale than that to enjoy this graphic novel.

It starts off ominously. Poor Jughead, his dog has been killed by a hit-and-run driver, so he calls his friend Sabrina, the teenage witch. Against the orders of her aunts, she helps her pal out, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go very well. Poor Hot Dog is now a member of the barking dead, and things go from bad to worse very quickly.

From a zombie outbreak at a high school Halloween dance to seeing our gang holed up in a fortified mansion, we see just how quickly the entire town is decimated by the zombies. We see friends and family, teachers and coaches, and even pets die violently, and come back to life, thirsty for brains.

Yeah, I still don’t get what’s so special about Archie, but he did have a few nice moments here. Daring to leave the mansion, he tries to find and rescue his parents. He isn’t 100% successful, and we really feel his pain. He also has a heartbreaking flashback to the time his parents bought him a puppy, and it’s really quite effective.

The gang decides to seek shelter elsewhere, and we leave them trudging through town, attempting to sneak out without attracting the attention of any more undead. Easier said than done, for sure. Especially when there may be someone infected in their group…

I’ll definitely be on the lookout for future issues of this story. I really didn’t expect it to be as strong as it was, really a powerful addition to the zombie genre.

Right on the heels of Archie, I read the fantastic Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal.

I have to tell you, I wasn’t that fired up for this one, but picked it up solely because of strong Cannonball reviews. I loved this book. I’m buying a copy of my own and giving it to Bunnybean to show her that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, in all colors and religions, can be any age, and can be any gender.

In this case, our unsuspecting hero is a teenage girl in New Jersey named Kamala Khan. Kamala’s family is from Pakistan, and they are fairly devout Muslims. Kamala rarely goes out at night with friends, unless it’s to an event approved by her mosque. She doesn’t drink, she doesn’t smoke, she doesn’t date. She’s a good girl. She spends much of her time writing Avengers fan fiction and hanging out with her friend Bruno who works at the convenience store down the street.

And then, one night, everything changes, and she finds herself in possession of some strange powers and abilities. She doesn’t understand them at first and isn’t quite sure how to manage her sudden ability to grow to super size, shrink to the size of a bug, or use her giant hand like a hammer. And while sorting all of this newness out, she makes mistakes. A lot of them.

But she learns from them, and never does she stop being Kamala. What’s important to Kamala is also important to her new persona, the re-born Ms Marvel. Kamala loves her family, and wants to do right by them, but also realizes that her new powers are something bigger than she every dreamed of, more of a burden than she could have possibly imagined.

Kamala is awesome, and I hope every young girl disappointed by what Disney/Marvel has done with Black Widow hears about this book and reads it. This is the hero we’ve been waiting for.

04
Jun
15

Just a big pile of blech. CBR7 review 32.

UnknownI was fairly certain that I had already read my least favorite book of CBR7, the horrid pile of stink called Seating Arrangements. But sadly, I was wrong.

This was worse. And so disappointing, as I’ve read — and mostly liked — all of Gayle Forman’s previous books. She’s a decent writer, as she proved with If I Stay, and good at developing characters that you want to know more about (proof: the companion book to If I Stay, Where I Went, and the combo of Just One Day/Just One Year).

Gayle Forman, I am begging you. Do not write a companion piece to this book. The characters were awful people that I never want to revisit.

I Was Here starts off well enough. Cody, recently graduated from high school in rural Washington, is attempting to deal with the suicide of her best friend, Meg. Meg was away at college in Tacoma, and her death came as a shock to everyone back home.

When Cody heads to Meg’s apartment to gather her belongings, she finds out that maybe Meg had some secrets, and that maybe her death shouldn’t have been such a shocking surprise.

Look, I appreciate Forman’s attempt to tackle issues as serious as mental illness and suicide. But the characters that I was supposed to care about were the worst. THE WORST.

Cody was simply a bitch. I’m sorry her friend died, but she was a very unlikable protagonist. There was nothing about Cody that made me see why the awesome Meg would be her best friend, or why the amazingly hot Ben would be so taken with her. Her mother was a monster, and all of the characters at the college were really quite two-dimensional.

Gayle, I’m willing to give you another chance. I really hope your next book is better. Please don’t turn into Lauren Oliver, torturing me for years, waiting for your next book to be as good as your first.




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