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.


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.


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.


“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.




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.




“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
to dance
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.


I know you little libertine. I know you’re a cannonball. CBR9 Review 52.

UnknownAs some of you might be aware, I recently started a new job. My first real job since Bunnybean was about a year old…and she’s 13 now. So, its been a while. The great thing about this job, is that I’m not in an office — I’m out driving around and visiting elementary schools, and talking about books. I know! Books!

In my first week, my new boss gave me 9 brand new books to read. It was amazing. And then they showed me the warehouse, as big as a city block, and filled with books. My brain went into overdrive thinking about my brand new employee discount!

The first book I picked off of the pile was a cute paperback called The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which won the Newbery Medal this year, along with a huge list of other awards. And it was well deserved.

This is the story of a world filled with bogs and volcanos. All things in this world were born from the bog, including Glerk, the poetic bog monster, who is older than even he can remember. He lives on the edge of the forest with Xan, an old witch, and Fyrian, an impossibly small dragon.

Every year, Xan travels across the forest to a strange town where babies are left in the forest to die, for no reason that Xan can figure out. Xan picks up these precious babies and brings them to the cities on the other side of the forest to be loved by new families. On the way, she feeds them with the magic of starlight. Thus, the babies are known far and wide as the “star children.”

But one year, when Xan makes the journey to pick up the newly abandoned baby, she accidentally feeds it moonlight, which “enmagicks” the baby, and causes Xan, Glerk, and Fyrian to fall madly in love with her. Unable to give her away to a new family, they adopt her as their own and name her Luna.

Meanwhile, we find out exactly why these babies are being left in the forest. The citizens of the town have been told by their local leaders that every year, the witch of the forest DEMANDS a sacrifice, and that she eats the babies. The citizens live in fear of the witch, and never question this rule, as long as it means they can live in peace.

Until Luna’s mother. Luna’s mother loves her baby so much, that giving her up simply breaks her. And a young man named Antain, who is training to join the elder leaders of the town, begins to question just why this practice is allowed, and why these babies are given up so easily.

As Luna grows up and becomes more and more magical, Xan and Glerk worry about how to manage her powers. As Luna grows stronger, the magic inside Xan seems to be withering. And the more Antain questions what is going on in his town, the more uncomfortable the leaders of the town get.

Let me just say that although this is a book targeted toward 8-12 year olds, I literally couldn’t put it down. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking story about what makes a family. It made me laugh and it made me angry and it made me sad.

And there was certainly some gorgeous and mature writing here (let me clarify — nothing mature like “adult” or untoward, but mature, as in, not pandering to children. this author treats her audience as intelligent readers across the board.) For instance, when Glerk realizes that his beloved Xan is growing weaker as Luna grows stronger, he sorrowfully thinks:

Death is always sudden…Even when it isn’t.

And when Luna begins to realize that maybe there is more to her family’s story than her beloved Xan has told her, she wonders:

I had a mother once, Luna though. I must have. She frowned. And surely, she must have asked about it, too, but she seem to remember doing so.
Luna made a list of what she knew in her head.
Sorrow is dangerous.
Memories are slippery.
My grandmother does not always tell the truth.
And neither do I.

Not exactly the sentiments you expect in a book for elementary students, right?

The story doesn’t have a “and they lived happily ever after” for all of the characters, but it does have the right ending. Highly recommended. I’m glad it was the book I chose to write about for my seventh (SEVENTH!!!) cannonball.


Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish. CBR9 Review 51.

imagesOnce upon a time, I read Wizard and Glass for the very first time, and thought that there could never be a greater book in the world. I was swept up in the world of Mejis and horses and Roland and Susan and the Big Coffin Hunters. I didn’t mind being apart from Eddie and Jake and Susannah (and Oy!) for such a long time, because this story was EPIC!  It was romantic and tragic and IMPORTANT to the plot of the overall series. I wanted more and hated leaving young Roland and his friends when the story was over.

I just finished listening to Wizard and Glass, and I think this was my fourth time though this book (I reviewed it for CBR4 and see that my sentiments are eerily similar). And I mostly find myself wishing it were different. I was annoyed that we were yanked away from Eddie, Oy, et al, for so many hundreds of pages. I just wanted to get back on the path of the beam and get moving to the Callas in the next book. Yes, we get a look at how the events of Roland’s youth shape the man that he becomes, and that’s of great value to us constant readers. And I’m glad we get some insight into his friendships with Alain and Cuthbert, his OG Ka-Tet. But I really just needed to move on.

Don’t get me wrong, its still a great book. In between descriptions of counting nets and dead snakes, there were plenty of amazing scenes, like Roland’s trip into the world of the pink ball* (which reminded me an awful lot of Stuttering Bill’s meeting with the Turtle in IT) and the events leading up to the big finale in Eyebolt Canyon.

And the writing is gorgeous. Who would have thunk that Uncle Stevie could slip something like this into a book about glorified cowboys on an epic quest?

So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely if ever crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.

It just isn’t my favorite anymore. Maybe because I know what’s coming in the next installments and I just need to get there? I don’t know.

But as much as I complain about what we do get in this book, there’s plenty in this one that I almost wish we knew more about.

Instead of pages and pages about Susan’s lovely hair or the places where they met to have sex, how about more about:

*Maerlyn’s Rainbow. We know what the pink ball does, and SPOILER we find out more about the black one from Pere Callhahan, but I’d love to know about the other 11 balls. What powers did they have and what happened to them?

*Eldred’s origin. While we spend pages and pages in the past, why not tell us how Jonas got from being a boy sent West to becoming a hired gun for John Farson’s people?

*Sheemie. SPOILER I know we find out what happened to him eventually, and that the comics tell about his journey to Gilead, but what about everything else?  He’s a fascinating character, and I’d like to know more about how things go for him in Gilead.

I’ve already started listening to The Wind Through the Keyhole, so it won’t be long until I get back on the path, slowly heading toward Thunderclap and the Tower.

*SPOILER Let’s talk about that vision in the grapefruit for a minute. I literally gasped out loud when I heard the part about the bumbler impaled on the tree. That was almost too much for me to take.



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