27
Nov
17

Some books I got for free that weren’t all that great. CBR9 Review 60-63.

Unknown-1Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky (lucky?) enough to receive a whole bunch of books for free. Some from work, some from ARCs, and some that I won in contests. None of them were terrible. But none of them were terrific.

Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Maddie is about to turn 18, and on a whim, she buys herself a lottery ticket. She wins millions of dollars and suddenly everything changes. Her parents don’t fight quite so much anymore. Her depressed brother might get off the couch and go back to college. She has more friends at school and a shiny new car. Everyone is treating her differently, except for her friend Seth Nguyen, who she works with at the zoo.

As Maddie and Seth fall for each other, she struggles to figure out who her real friends are and who is just interested in her money.

Look, the crush between Seth and Maddie was cute. Seth seemed like a cool kid. BUT EVERYTHING ELSE infuriated me.

The fact that not a single adult tried to get her to manage her money in a responsible way literally gave me anxiety. When she bought a corvette and had a party on a yacht, I could barely keep reading.

Her parents and her brother were the worst. I hope at the end of the book she decided to emancipate herself from them and live with her money all alone.

Two stars.

Girl in a Bad Place by Kaitlin Ward

This was the most interesting of the free books I picked up. The execution wasn’t top-notch, but the story was interesting.

Mailee and Cara live in Montana and are planning for college. They’ve always been best friends and have always planned to move to Los Angeles after high school. Until Cara falls in with a new crowd, a bunch of young people who live out on a commune in the countryside. Mailee gets a weird feeling from these new friends, especially their bizarre leader named FIREHORSE, but Cara continues to spend time with them instead of with her friends and boyfriend.

In time, Cara decides to move to the commune, which of course, is clearly a kooky cult. Blah blah blah, can Cara save her friend in time? Yes, of course she can, but not without a whole bunch of unbelievable (meant as in, I really did not believe any of it) stuff happens.

Once again, the adults in this story weren’t award winning. They didn’t seem to mind that the girls were hours away at some weird commune with a conspiracy theorist named Firehorse. This annoyed me.

Two stars.

Kissing Max Holden by Katy Upperman

This had glimpses of a good book inside of it. But Max Holden was simply too much for me in the end.

Jilly and Max have been neighbors forever, but they’ve grown apart over the past few years. Max’s dad is sick and Max spends all of his time drinking and hanging out with his truly horrific girlfriend. Jilly spends most of her time with her gay best friend (also the star of the football team, so kudos for that one) and her dad and step mother who are about to have their first baby.

Everything changes when a drunk Max crawls through Jilly’s window one night and kisses her. Then they suddenly can’t take their hands off each other and struggle with what to do about it. Max continues to drink and make simply horrible decisions and Jilly continues to forgive him because its been hard for him.

Meanwhile, Jilly’s dad is an asshole and her step mother isn’t so bad.

Some of this book worked better than other parts. Max was just TOO MUCH. He was too much Judd Nelson in the Breakfast Club. All trouble and smoldering good looks. And Jilly’s dad made me want to throw the book and break something. He was the worst.

Two stars.

A Match Made by Chloe by TB Pearl

This was my least favorite. I did not care for it.

Chloe has a special ability to make romantic matches. She can see “fate” and the matches she makes last forever. And we never find out how she can see this or why or anything and it frustrated me beyond belief.

Anyhoo. When Chloe matches up a star NY pitcher and his gorgeous new bride, some stupid magazine wants to write up an expose on her, with the end game being that they find out she is a fraud. Ian King — THE FAMOUS AND HANDSOME AND PULITZER PRIZE WINNER, NATCH — is assigned the story. He lies and says he is an architect who just wants to settle down. She takes him on as a client. Blah.

The one thing in this book’s favor it that the ending did surprise me. I expected things to go one way, and they didn’t. Not that the real ending was better, it was just unexpected.

What I hated most about this story was the made up lingo that the author clearly thought was totally endearing. It wasn’t. It was annoying and grating. If I had been her editor I would have run out of red pens.

One star.

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27
Nov
17

I wish the alphabet had more letters. CBR9 Review 59.

UnknownThis is the second-to-last Kinsey Millhone book that we’ll probably ever get, and that makes me sad.

Eleven years ago, when I was home with an infant and a toddler and living next door to a tiny library, I picked up a ratty paperback copy of A is for Alibi on a whim. And I became obsessed. I read every single one of Sue Grafton’s “alphabet mysteries” that featured this weird, cranky PI named Kinsey Millhone. And I loved them.

I loved Kinsey’s bizarre little universe out in her tiny California town. Terrible things happened that required her attention, and the mysteries were always interesting. But I looked forward to the other parts of the story…what was going on with Henry the landlord? What was Rosie cooking up the street at the bar? How many peanut butter and pickle sandwiches would Kinsey eat?

And now I’ve finished the 25th book, Y is for Yesterday, and can’t believe there’s only going to be one more.

This wasn’t my favorite mystery that Kinsey’s been involved in. But it was still entertaining. Told partly in flashback, we learn about a terrible murder that took place 10 years prior. A high school junior named Sloane was killed because of secrets that she had about some of her classmates, including the location of a sex tape that could send its participants to jail for the assault of a minor.

In the present (which is actually 1989), one of the boys who was sent to jail for his part of the murder has just been released, and his parents are being blackmailed. And so they call up good old Kinsey for advice.

As Kinsey digs into the lives of these bored, rich private school kids who committed several upsetting crimes for no real reason, she becomes rather unsettled, and would prefer to stay out of it. But of course, that’s not how things go for Kinsey.

I didn’t like a single one of the characters involved in the murder and sex tape mystery (except for the murdered girl, unfortunately. She seemed to be the only sensible one of the bunch), but I did enjoy Kinsey and her cohorts living their lives, drinking cheap chardonnay, and eating hard boiled egg sandwiches.

I’m looking forward to the final installment in the series. But I’m also dreading it. I’m really going to miss Kinsey.

15
Nov
17

I love you, Sarah Dessen. But no. CBR9 Review 58.

UnknownThere’s nothing better than hearing that one of your favorite authors has a new book coming out. But what if that book doesn’t live up to your expectations? And even worse, what if you actually hate the book?

I’ve had a long history with Sarah Dessen. I’ve gobbled up everything she’s written about her little Carolina Beachtown universe, and have always anxiously awaited whatever comes next from her. And so it was with Once and for All. I waited and waited on the library list for weeks and months for it to finally be my turn. I was excited when l got the email saying I was finally next. And then.

Well, and then I read it.

And even though I didn’t really like it as I was reading, I held out hope that it would get better. But it didn’t. It got worse.

And now I feel betrayed. How dare one of my favorite authors write something that I didn’t like!

Here’s the deal:

Louna (just no with that name) just graduated from high school. She works for her mother’s extremely exclusive and popular wedding planning service and is very good at it. She has high expectations for everything in her life — from weddings to personal relationships.

It’s been a year since her last relationship — things with her first love, Ethan, didn’t end well (ooh, a mystery!). But her best friend Jilly and new (and annoying but handsome) wedding employee Ambrose keep putting her out there, trying to get her back out in the dating world.

SPOILERS

Seriously, I’m going to wreck all of the surprises here. So don’t read if you don’t want to know.

Ethan — the great love of her life — is dead. He was killed in a school shooting. Which, sure. I’m ok with Dessen using current events and social issues to influence her characters. But what I’m not ok with is the nature of their relationship in the first place. Louna and Ethan only spent one single night together and then texted and face timed for a few months before he died. This whole “one perfect night” situation was absolutely ridiculous and I didn’t buy any of it for a minute. They met, talked, walked, had sex, ate pie, and then Ethan went home to New Jersey, calling and texting her 900 times a day, and immediately changing all of his social media to “in a relationship”. I found Ethan’s behavior to be creepy and needy, not amazing and loving.

This was a huge problem for me. I can’t get past it.

Also, I really didn’t want Ambrose and Louna to end up together. It was obvious from the moment he was introduced that they would, but I wasn’t excited about it and it bugged me how they both strung other people along because they were so stubborn. I was steaming mad at how they treated their other romantic interests, especially the cute coffee guy. Sure, he’s a pretentious writer, but he’s also a friend and she treated him like absolute crap.

This book was trying to be super romantic — But it simply fell flat for me. And now I don’t know what to do about future Sarah Dessen books. This might have soured me for all time.

08
Nov
17

I totally judged this book by its cover, and I’m so glad I did. CBR9 Review 57.

UnknownOver the summer, I kept seeing this book on display in bookstores. And it pulled me in like a magnet. The cheery orange cover. The close up of the smiling girl whose face was slightly off center. The henna tattoos. The iced coffee. All of it just spoke to me. And then, like most things in my life, I got busy and forgot about it.

But…then I saw it at my library last week and knew I had to read it RIGHT NOW.

Dimple has just graduated from high school and is soon headed off to Stanford to study computer engineering. She honestly can’t believe that her traditional Indian parents have approved this momentous change in her life. She feels like all her mother wants for her is to find a smart, hard working, Indian husband, and so maybe she’ll find one at Stanford.

But Dimple has dreams of becoming a top-notch programmer and developer, and has no time for Indian husband hunting. That’s not what she wants in life.

What she does want is to attend a super cut-throat engineering program in San Francisco for six weeks of the summer. And when she casually slips it in to conversation with her parents and various “Aunties” that she really wants to attend, she is shocked to discover that her parents are ok with spending the money and letting her go.

What Dimple doesn’t know is that her parents have been secretly planning that she would go to the summer program to meet Rishi, her future husband.

Rishi knows why he is being sent to the camp. He knows all about Dimple and is looking forward to meeting her. He understands tradition and its importance to his family. He tries at all times to be the picture-perfect Indian son — he respects his family, his culture, his traditions, and the expectations that the Indian community has for him. He is willing to give up his dreams of being an artist in order to be what his family expects him to be.

Of course, Dimple and Rishi have a meet cute soon after arriving in San Francisco. He approaches her with personal information that shocks her, and she throws an iced coffee in his face. Dimple is horrified and vows to have nothing to do with Rishi.

But of course that’s not how things go.

Dimple and Rishi find themselves thrown together again and again during the summer program. And they start to realize that maybe that isn’t so bad. They encourage each other and understand each other and help each other figure out who they really are while they’re away from their families, and whats important to their futures.

I loved a lot about this story. I loved how filled with Indian life and culture it was. When Dimple and Rishi spoke to their parents, the conversations alternated between English and Hindi…and very rarely was any of the Hindi actually translated. But it didn’t matter — it gave the dialogues an authentic feeling that would have felt forced if they had been all in English. I loved Dimple’s goal of building an app to help her father and to raise Diabetes awareness. I loved the scene between her and her mother when they both end up crying.

There were a few things I didn’t love. The “Aberzombies” subplot. The fact that the college where they were spending the summer JUST SO HAPPENED to have the greatest Comic Book Art college courses ever. (Is this even a thing you can major in while in college? Am I just old and boring?). And the ending. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER. Yes, of course, I’m glad they ended up back together. But I hate endings where everyone looks for each other and misses them and then finally find them in the last place they would have though to look. NOTE TO ALL ROMANTIC COMEDIES: YOU WILL NEVER FIND SOMEONE YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IN AN AIRPORT IF YOU ONLY HAVE VAGUE DETAILS REGARDING THEIR TRAVEL PLANS.

But the good outweighs the bad here. I really enjoyed this. I look forward to reading her next book when it comes out next summer.

12
Oct
17

“Do you believe in love at first sight?”…”I don’t know,” he said. “Do you believe in love before that?” CBR9 Review 56.

UnknownApparently, I’m in the middle of a massive re-reading binge. I didn’t even realize it, but most of the books on the list of “reviews I need to catch up on” are for books that I’ve not only read before, but have also reviewed before. Attachments is one of those books — first reviewed in CBR5, it was a book I loved so much, I was afraid to reread it.

What if I didn’t love it as much as I did last time? Wouldn’t that sort of ruin it for me?

Never fear!

Not only did I still love it, I might actually love it more than I did the first time. Callooh! Callay!

Yes, Lincoln’s inability to stop reading Beth and Jennifer’s emails is still a touchy subject for me. But he owns up to it and he apologizes sincerely for it. And really, it started out as part of his job, and that job was ridiculous. So, I forgive him.

And I forgive Beth for being generally creepy in her obsession with him. Following him to the movies and to his house. And for her super forward behavior towards him at the movies near the end. That was kind of weird. But I forgive her.

Because the rest of the book is so absolutely perfect that I don’t mind. I know this is super short, but let’s face it: most of you who are ever going to read this book have already done so. A few words from me probably isn’t going to sway you either way. Its romantic and funny and honest and sad and PERFECTION. It made me sigh out loud. Read it.

I was working in a big office at my very first job in 1999, waiting for Y2K to come and cripple our computer systems. I assume that at the time, some tech person was reading my emails to my friends. We sent around 90210 and Melrose Place episode recaps filled with profanity and tawdry details. I hope that tech person enjoyed them. I didn’t ever get in trouble, so maybe they did.

 

 

11
Oct
17

Life lesson from Uncle Stevie: You always — always, always, always — fall from the topmost grid of the ceiling that you’re using for a ladder in the hall of the maximum security prison that has gone sliding down the unstable remains of a former coal mountain. CBR9 Review 55.

UnknownSleeping Beauties is a gigantic, door-stopping tome that tells the story of a world without women. What would happen if suddenly all of the world’s women were suddenly asleep, and the men were left to their own devices, without supervision and guidance from the fairer sex? How long until guns are used to make every single decision?

As it turns out, less than a week.

Uncle Stevie and his son Owen are trying something interesting here, but it mostly didn’t work for me. Here’s what I loved:

  • As usual, the first third of the book is just an introduction to the characters and the town where this bizarre story takes place — a small Appalachian town in West Virginia called Dooling. We see the handsome pool guy cleaning out pools and giving garden advice. We sit with some high school kids arguing about whether or not they should go to the Arcade Fire show. We are introduced to some strung out folks doing meth in a trailer (with their very own meth lab in the shed outside!). We peek in on the lives of the women who are incarcerated at the women’s prison just outside of town. And we meet Sheriff Lila Norcross and her husband, Dr. Clint Norcross (who just happens to be the psychiatrist up at the prison). There’s nobody out there that does this kind of writing better than King. He doesn’t just introduce names and characteristics — by the end of the first section of the story, you really feel like you know these people and the town that they live in.
  • I also enjoyed the general mystery of the story: a sleeping sickness called Aurora suddenly sweeps across the globe. As women fall asleep, they immediately become wrapped in cocoons of unknown origin. Some women fight it for as long as they can, using drugs and exercise to keep from falling asleep, but some women gladly welcome this mysterious slumber as a way to escape their day-to-day lives. If anyone attempts to cut the cocoon off of a sleeping woman, they are met with immediate and gruesome violence. These “sleeping beauties” just want to go back to sleep. DO NOT DISTURB. But what happens to them when they fall asleep? Will they ever wake up?
  • I liked seeing some of the characters redeem themselves. A meth addled plastic surgeon becomes one of the story’s most trusted voices of reason. A crazy (really. much too crazy.) prison inmate becomes a brave defender of womenkind. A woman so addicted to drugs that she prostitutes herself turns into a wise, horse loving, leader of women.
  • I loved that he wrote this with his son. I read Owen King’s book Double Feature a few years ago, and I didn’t love it. But like the books that King wrote with Peter Straub, the story was told smoothly and seamlessly. It was impossible to tell who wrote what.

Sadly, I think there was more that I didn’t really like.

  • Most of the male characters were horrible and unredeemable. They had issues with women in positions of power. They had anger problems. They beat their partners. They sexually abused the inmates. They drank too much. They solved all of their problems with weapons.
  • I don’t really want to get into a feminist rant here, but the whole basic plot is somewhat problematic (WOMEN ARE ALL THAT IS GOOD. MEN ARE BAD AND LIKE GUNS.) in that it was written by two men. Yes, these two men in particular have some wonderful, strong women in their lives. But come on.
  • There was a young girl named Nana. I cannot accept this as a name. I apologize if you or a loved one is named Nana. Unless its your grandmother. That’s fine.
  • I know that King LOVES to kill off your favorite characters Joss Whedon-style, but I hated when and how SPOILER Garth Flickinger died. He was quickly becoming one of my favorite King characters of all time.
  • While I sort of liked the fact that the women of Dooling (I GUESS THIS IS A SPOILER?) had been transported to a mystical Dooling of another world to re-start society, I really, really, really didn’t like the character of Eve Black, who apparently brought Aurora with her when she came to our world. She was too magical, too quirky, too beautiful. Ugh. (But I did like that she was supposedly the inspiration for Shakespeare to write the Queen Mab speech in Romeo & Juliet. Anything that gives me the opportunity to post this:
  • Lastly, I get that Uncle Stevie has a lot of power in the publishing world. But this book could easily have been 200 pages shorter. Cut the entire plot about the moronic drug dealers with the rocket launcher and the arm wrestling guard, don’t describe every single inmate in the prison, and we would be good to go.

And yes, in case you were wondering, this book suffers from Stephen King ending syndrome.

 

 

23
Sep
17

“The poems were cool. The best ones were like bombs, and when all the right words came together it was like an explosion.” CBR9 Reviews 53 & 54.

UnknownI’m still making my way through the constantly growing pile of books I need to read for work. I need to be able to comment on some of our “new and noteworthy” books picks, so if parents or teachers want recommendations, I can easily help them out. Oh, your kid likes dark fantasy and Neil Gaiman? Try The Girl Who Drank The Moon. You say your kid likes sports, but really isn’t much of a reader? Well, then get some books by Kwame Alexander. And get them now.

These books are my first foray into reading stories told in prose. I wasn’t quite sure how it would work, and to be honest, I didn’t think it would work for me. These are books about middle school boys who play sports — how could I possibly be interested in that?

I’ll tell you — when the writing is good enough, you can be interested in anything.

Crossover was Alexander’s Newbery Award winner from a few years ago, which tells the story of twin brothers Josh and JB, basketball stars at their middle school, and sons of a former NBA player and local legend.

Their whole lives have been about basketball and each other. But that all changes when JB gets a girlfriend for the first time. Josh is jealous and angry, and he takes it out on his brother, both in and off the court. Josh has a lot to learn about what makes a champion, other than just skill.

A loss is inevitable,
like snow in winter.
True champions
learn
to dance
through
the storm.

We follow the boys and their family through their basketball season, right up through the playoffs. And I am not ashamed to admit that this book made me cry. Sob. Weep. I was bawling at the end. Seriously. A poem about basketball brought me to a complete stop and caused me to lose it.

The second book I was able to read was Booked — a story about a boy named Nick who’s whole world is soccer…until his parents decide to separate and his mom moves out of state.

He and his dad aren’t especially close. His dad spends all of his time writing a new type of dictionary, which he expects Nick to read…ALL THE WAY FROM A TO Z. He doesn’t understand his dad, who doesn’t understand his son’s love for soccer. They love each other, but don’t quite get each other.

“It’s just hard to love someone who cancels the cable right before the Walking Dead marathon.”

Nick leans on his friends, his awesomely geeky rapping school librarian, his teammates, and his new “special” friend, the lovely April to help him through this weird time in his life, in which Nick says he is:

“as confused
as a chameleon
in a bag
of gummy worms”

And I can’t help but love a character who wears a shirt that says I LIKE BIG BOOKS AND I CANNOT LIE. Seriously, that guy was the best.

These are two wonderful coming-of-age books that both sports and non-sports fans will like. I see the 5th and 6th grade boys at our school checking these out all the time, and now I totally get it. But hey, these books are for girls, too! Girls play soccer and basketball and have families and go to middle school, JUST LIKE BOYS. The life lessons in these books are for everyone.




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