A Stephanie Plum plot checklist. CBR9 Review 14.

unknownIs this a review? I don’t even know anymore. But I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really have anything new to say about these books. Its sort of like Janet Evanovich has a 200 page template and just fills in the blanks. Like a gigantic, best-selling Mad Lib.

I really don’t know why I still read these. I don’t like them that much anymore. But maybe I do? I don’t know!

I’m annoyed that Stephanie SPOILER slept with Ranger because she had some sort of epiphany about Morelli not really wanting to settle down. I’m all set with these three. Just choose or don’t.


Here’s the template I imagine in my head. I’m pretty sure these are most of the things that happen OVER AND OVER AND OVER in these books. Did I miss any?

√ Stephanie’s mother is secretly drinking.
√ Stephanie’s father doesn’t say much and eats a lot.
X Stephanie’s sister or her family is mentioned.
X Joe’s grandmother gives Stephanie the evil eye.
√ Lula talks about being a former ho.
√ People eat donuts.
√ People eat fried chicken. Bonus if they eat it at breakfast.
√ People eat pizza.
√ People eat meatball subs.
√ Grandma goes to a wake.
X Stephanie goes to a wake.
√ One of the crazy characters from Stephanie’s past shows up.
X Stephanie’s ex-husband is mentioned.
√ Ranger says “babe”.
X Bob eats something that isn’t food.
√ Vinnie’s sexual deviancy is mentioned.
√ Stephanie has to get a new car.
√ A car explodes.
√ Stephanie sleeps with Joe.
√ Stephanie sleeps with Ranger.
√ Rex makes an appearance.
√ Lula shoots her gun.
X Stephanie has to borrow Uncle Sandor’s old car.
√ Stephanie goes home from her parents’ house with a bag of leftovers.
√ Stephanie’s mom makes a pot roast.
√ Someone random comes to dinner at the Plum’s house.
√ Bulgari green shower gel is mentioned.
X Anyone exercises.
X Connie has any plot outside of the office.
X Grandma takes out her gun.
X Joyce Barnhart is mentioned.
√ Ranger mentions anything about his private life.
√ Eddie Gazzara is first to report to a crime scene and laughs at whatever nonsense Stephanie has gotten herself into.
√ Stephanie almost dies but is rescued at the last minute.
√ Joe calls Stephanie cupcake.
√ Stephanie still can’t decide between Ranger and Joe.

And yes, I’ll read book 24 when it comes out. And no, I don’t know why.




Note to self: Never question Rainbow Rowell. CBR9 Review 13.

51qavrpjbcl-_uy250_Last week on Instagram, Rainbow Rowell posted a photo of a book she had just finished and recommended. The cover of the book looked a bit ‘twee’ to me, and I filed it away in the back of my mind, a book for a rainy day. I went and I judged a book by its cover, instead of listening to the all-powerful words of Queen Rainbow. I’m sorry. I’ve learned my lesson.

The next day, I saw it randomly, unshelved, just sitting there at the library. It was a sign.

This book was fun. And mysterious. And suspenseful. And not realistic in the least, but I don’t care.

Like a cross between The Shining and The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Bellweather is a grand old resort in upstate New York that has seen better days. In the winter of 1997, its barely hanging on, basically surviving on the profits it makes from a high school musical convention that it hosts every November, bringing the teenaged musical stars from all over the state of New York together for a weekend of music, drinking, and sex.

But the hotel has a secret. That a horrible event took place there 15 years earlier…a bride who murdered her husband just moments after their wedding, and then took her own life. And it was all witnessed by young Minnie, who was there for her own sister’s horrible wedding.

Minnie was never the same. Obsessed with horror movies, she was never able to fit into society after that weekend. She lived with her parents, interacted with the general public as little as possible, and gorged herself on horror and junk food for the next 12 years. But in 1997, Minnie decided she needed to return to the Bellweather, and face her past.

Of course, the weekend that Minnie arrives is the same weekend as Statewide, New York’s festival for the best and brightest on the musical scene. Twins Alice and Rabbit (Bertram, but don’t call him that) Hatmaker are both there from their tiny, podunk town, along with their bizarre new music teacher, Mrs. Wilson. The Hatmakers are both looking forward to the weekend — Alice, because she only understands life when it takes place in music, and Rabbit, because he’s pretty sure he’s gay and wants to take this time away from home to come out to his sister and see what life is like outside of Ruby Falls.

Also among the cast of characters: a child flute prodigy and her controlling mother, a crazy Scottish conductor missing several fingers on his right hand, an elderly concierge who loves the hotel like its a part of his family, a douchy — but so cute — college acapella singer, and an adorable deaf dog.

A blizzard is expected that weekend, maybe the biggest snow storm New York has seen in years. And this year, Statewide just so happens to take place on the 15th anniversary weekend of that horrible murder/suicide many years before. What could possibly go wrong?

Kate Racculia has put together a page-turning mystery, sometimes very dark and sometimes funny, filled with colorful characters that I sometimes rooted for and sometimes pitied. There’s a lot of darkness here: murder, adultery, mental illness, sexual confusion, and child abuse, but then someone breaks out into song and dance, so that the darkness never overwhelms the story. The light and dark are very well balanced.

I’d never heard of Kate Racculia before. She’s written one other novel, which I’ll be sure to add to the list soon. Thank you Rainbow. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.



“Life is made of these moments – of one’s physical being moving through time and space – and we string them together into a story, and that story becomes our life.” CBR9 Review 12.

unknownHere’s something weird. I read this book a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t put it down. I kept talking about how great it was and how much I loved it. And then I kind of forgot about it, and just moved on to the next book. Which, considering that Noah Hawley is mostly known as a TV writer, sort of makes sense: Finish up one episode, and get ready for the next.

You may know Noah Hawley as the mastermind behind the amazing Fargo. Or maybe from his cult series The Unusuals. He also wrote for Bones and a few other shows, and is behind the new Marvel show Legion that starts soon. (Tonight? I think?). He’s great at presenting regular people in unusual situations and showing how they react, both positively and negatively, and how their decisions may or may not affect their lives and the lives of those around them.

And that’s pretty much how Before the Fall plays out. A bunch of semi-random, semi-famous people get on a private jet on Martha’s Vineyard, for a quick flight to New York. Completely normal. Only this flight crashes into the Atlantic and only two people survive, a struggling artist and the 4 year old son of a cable news tycoon.

What brought these people together? What actions led them to getting on this plane? Was the crash an accident or something more sinister? What happens to the survivors? What makes a hero? And who gets to decide? These are the questions Hawley attempts (and mostly succeeds) to ask and answer in the chapters that follow the plane crash.

The book moves quickly and grabs you immediately. But it is impossible to forget that Hawley works in TV. Almost every chapter reads as if it is being presented as an episode of television, and that Hawley’s book is simply the precursor to his screenplay for his next series. This stylistic choice is both a criticism and, at the same time, a compliment.

The book moves quickly and the reader constantly wants to know what’s going to happen next. The POV changes frequently, and it jumps around in time from before the crash to after the event constantly. There are characters we love and others that we hate. This book is nearly impossible to put down.

And yet, the fact that it was written like a screenplay was constantly at the back of my mind. Why didn’t Hawley simply go to FX and say, hey, I’ve got an idea for your next show? I’m not sure I get it.

While I’m not 100% sure I’d seek out another novel by Hawley, I’ll continue to watch anything he produces on TV. And I’m sure we’ll be watching this story soon enough.





Blah blah blah…great book…great characters…BRAD PITT CAN’T RECOGNIZE FACES…CBR9 Review 11.

unknown-1Seriously, I’m not sure I can even get past the news that Brad Pitt has a disorder that prevents him from recognizing faces. According to Holding up the Universe, one in every 50 people has this disorder, and I’m overwhelmed with this information.

Brad Pitt must be so surprised every time he looks in the mirror! Or when he sees his handsome friends, beautiful children, or gorgeous ex-wives.

I really can’t get over this.

Like Brad, one of the two narrators of this book has prosopagnosia, otherwise known as face blindness. Cool guy Jack Masselin tries to keep his problem a secret, but its hard. He has trouble recognizing his friends at school, and recently found himself in hot water when he was found kissing his girlfriend’s cousin at a party. He didn’t mean to kiss her, he thought it was his girlfriend. But he never tells anyone that. He just takes a lot of screaming and yelling from his not-so-nice girlfriend.

Our other narrator, Libby Strout, was once a YouTube sensation known as the World’s Fattest Teen. After her mother’s sudden death, Libby found solace in food and became anxious whenever she left the house. So she didn’t. Until one day she had a panic attack and had to be cut out of her own home and lifted by a crane into a rescue truck. Since then, Libby has lots several hundred pounds, but is still fat. But she’s ready to face the world again, and let everyone know that there’s more to her than just her weight.

Jack and Libby meet under questionable circumstances on the first day of school, and are forced to spend time together by the principal and guidance team after an incident involving both of them. Jack opens up to Libby and Libby tells Jack everything on her mind.

OF COURSE THEY FALL IN LOVE. Honestly, that’s a given.

But because this book is written by Jennifer Niven, who made me ugly cry with her debut novel, All the Bright Places, its not going to be easy for these two. There’s going to be bullying, mean girls, embarrassing and upsetting instances of mistaken identity, and general teenage angst keeping these two apart.

Its worth it, though. The writing is realistic — funny and sad and upsetting and uplifting all at the same time. I loved Libby bursting into tears during Drivers Ed, realizing that she has so much freedom in her life, and isn’t a prisoner in her own mind anymore. I was really moved by Jack’s love for his little brother, Dusty, who carries a purse to school and can’t deal with people “who are shitty.”

Did everything work? Of course not. Jack’s Queen Bee girlfriend was a bit one-note. I didn’t love Libby’s big purple bikini scene — I know it was meant to be liberating, but it kind of fell flat for me. I didn’t buy that popular, beautiful Bailey would suddenly have two social outcasts sitting at her cafeteria table every day and not even question it. And I had no need for Jack’s dad and his whole mess of problems.

But Libby made Jack a better person, and Jack made Libby realize how great she was. And that’s good enough for me.


I swear, Ian Rankin, if you kill John Rebus, I will come after you. CBR9 Review 10.

unknown-12017 marks the 30th anniversary of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series, one of my favorite literary detectives. Like Harry Bosch, Kurt Wallender, and even my beloved Bill Hodges, Rebus is a cop who’s very life revolves around his work. His family and non-police friends have mostly disappeared. He drinks and smokes too much and his diet isn’t exemplary. He thinks outside the box, and is often criticized or even punished for going against the rules. But he gets results. And he does it all against the beautiful backdrop of Edinburgh, Scotland.

I first heard about Ian Rankin and John Rebus back in 2007, where twice in one week I came across references to the series: once from James Ellroy, who called Rankin “tartan noir”, and then from Anthony Bourdain, who went to a chip shop with Rankin when he was visiting Edinburgh for whatever show he was on at the time. Ellroy and Bourdain were good enough for me, and I took Knots & Crosses out of the library.

And now here we are, in 2017. Rather Be the Devil is the 27th installment in the series. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all 26 novels, and have only missed one book for short stories (which is sitting on my TBR shelf). John Rebus isn’t just a character to me, he’s like a grumpy uncle. I’m always excited to find out what’s going to happen next to John, Siobhan, Malcolm, and even Big Ger.

John’s getting older. He’s still officially retired, but he just can’t seem to stay away from police work. Constantly inserting himself into whatever cases Siobhan and Malcolm are working on, Rebus still gets results, even if he sometimes had to break the rules (or even the law) to get them.

But this time, there was more to the story than Rebus solving a few crimes. This time, Rankin threw in a health scare for Rebus as well.

And I’m telling you right now, that’s not ok. Rebus has quit smoking, he drinks less, he eats better, he even has a dog to walk. He knows he has to make changes in his life, and he’s working on it. And its all very real. He sits in his favorite bar and savors a half-pint of IPA now instead of downing pint after pint. He’s making some real progress.

But there’s a shadow on his lung and he’s coughing up blood. And I was petrified that whatever it was, it was going to stop Rebus for good. And I commiserated with Rebus while he dodged phone calls and messages from his doctor, instead keeping on with his investigations and research, believing that if he didn’t know the details, he could just ignore it for now. Sad to say, that’s pretty much what I would do in his shoes.

I’m hoping that Rankin isn’t through with Rebus yet, and that Rebus will have more crimes to solve soon. And I hope that Big Ger Cafferty, suddenly finding himself back on top of the Edinburgh crime scene, will be there to antagonize him for years to come.




She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes in shape no bigger than an agate stone on the forefinger of an alderman…or at least that’s what Simon LeBon told me. CBR9 Review 9.

unknownMy interest in Shakespeare came from watching a Duran Duran video when I was in the 8th grade. The song was Waiting for the Nightboat, and watching it led me to reading Romeo & Juliet for the first time. Who was this Queen Mab? And why was Simon LeBon so afraid of her? Junior High me needed to know.

All of this came back to me while listening to my Audible boyfriend James Marsters read Summer Knight to me last week.

In the fourth installment of the Dresden Files, we find our friend Harry still struggling with the loss of Susan, who has left town. Harry is working non-stop to find a potential cure for her vampirism, and has been ignoring work, friends, housekeeping, and hygiene. He’s a disaster, and has little to show for it.

He meets a new client, who turns out to be the one and only Mab, Winter Queen of the Sidhe, and it seems that she has purchased his services from his godmother in the Never Never. She tells him that if he does three favors for her, she will release him from his debt, and she asks him to solve a murder investigation for her, of a local artist named Ronald Ruehl.

It turns out that Ruehl was the acting Summer Knight, working for the Summer Court and the Summer Queen, Titania, as well as the Summer Lady, Aurora. His mantle was stolen, leading to a potential shift in power in the Fairy universe.

And so Harry, along with a rag-tag bunch of werewolves, pixies, and changelings, travels across the Chicago of our world, as well as the Chicago of the Fairy world, to find answers.

Meanwhile, the wizard court is still pissed at Harry about what happened between him and the vampires at the end of Grave Peril, and aren’t very excited about helping him out in his quest. Most of them would rather see Harry dead or expelled from the rest of the wizards.

I really enjoyed this one, even though, at times, I had no idea what was going on. I’ve mentioned previously that Marsters’ narration is a bit hypnotic, and at times I lose myself while he’s talking and I’m driving, and that I’ll miss a minute or two of detail. I can’t help it! His voice is mesmerizing.

I love Harry hanging out with Billy and the rest of the werewolves. I enjoyed the little pizza eating pixies. I was glad to know more about Harry’s youth — about Ebenezar and Elaine and what happened to Justin. I liked the world’s created both above and below Chicago, where the Fairies ruled. I liked the new changeling characters (poor Meryl). And I was happy to see Murph back in bad-ass action.

But it wasn’t all good. I really didn’t care for Elaine. I didn’t buy how quickly Harry solved the mystery regarding the stolen mantle. There wasn’t nearly enough Bob in this book. And it drove me crazy when I was listening that I couldn’t differentiate James Marsters saying Mab or Maeve, which was a lot.

Hells bells, the bottom line is that this book was much more fun than the previous three. And I look forward to letting James tell me more about Harry and the magical world of Chicago.





I don’t know if I liked the book or not, but I’d definitely see the movie. CBR9 Review 8.

unknown-1Sometimes, when you read a book, you can’t help but picture the story in your head, almost as if it were a movie. And sometimes, you get the feeling that a book was pretty much written so that it could eventually become a movie. That’s not a knock against the writers who produce books like that really. I just feel like some books are written so that they can someday be watched instead of read.

And I fell like The Sisters Brothers is one of those books.

So evocative of a specific time and place in our world, I could picture every scene up on the big screen.

And then, I saw this in the acknowledgements page:


And from then on, I pretty much knew who would be starring in the movie version playing Eli Sisters in my brain. This guy:


Who better to play a killer with a potential heart of gold? (And sure, go ahead, if Will Ferrell wants to play Charlie, why not?). ***

Eli and Charlie Sisters are a pair or notorious assassins during the age of the California Gold Rush. Their primary employer is a horrible, incredibly wealthy criminal simply known as The Commodore. The Commodore hires Charlie (and Eli, by default) to ride down to California from Oregon City, find a prospector named Hermann Warm, take his “formula,” and kill him. And this is the story of their journey to find and kill that man.

Nothing on their journey goes as expected. Eli gets sick. Charlie gets drunk. They get in fights. They kill everyone that gets in their way. And Eli starts to think about his life and what’s next for him. He thinks that maybe this will be the last job for him, and that he might like to open up a mercantile in a quiet town somewhere, with a good woman at his side. Eli starts to worry about being too fat, too angry, too controlled by his brother. And Charlie constantly tells him that he’s never going to be a leader, and that the Commodore only keeps him on the payroll as a courtesy to Charlie. That maybe Charlie will go out and find himself another partner that’s easier to work with. One that doesn’t give him a hard time about his drinking or his attitude.

Eventually, once the brothers reach San Francisco, where Hermann Warm is supposed to be, the story changes from a classic men-for-hire doing what they were hired to do, to a story about taking a chance to change your life for the better and getting revenge on the people who did you wrong.

I liked the story. I liked Eli as a character, even though he really wasn’t a very good man. I liked that he always wanted to brush his teeth or lose a few pounds — it made him very human. But I was also bored by the story. I couldn’t read more than a chapter at a time. It just wasn’t all that compelling.

But as a movie? Shot like a Coen Brothers western? I’d be all over that.

***OK. So I just looked on IMDB and it seems that John C Reilly is going to play Charlie and Joaquin Phoenix is supposed to be Eli. WTF? I’m not down with that.




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