24
Feb
22

Why show when you can just tell? CBR 14 review 1.

Have you seen Mare of Eastown?

This is a lot like that.

But without coffee from Wawa. And without Jean Smart. Without amazing accents and bearded Roy-from-the-Office.

Oh, and without good writing or realistic characters.

If you’ve seen Mare, no need to read this.

Really, no need to read this at all.

I had the mystery solved before the first chapter had ended and tortured myself to finish to prove I was right.

Chloe Davis is an amazingly brilliant and wonderful young psychologist living in Baton Rouge. We know she is amazingly brilliant because she tells us. In the therapy sessions that are described she seems disinterested and distracted, borderline rude, but we are told she’s great at her job, so she must be.

Chloe is the daughter of one of the world’s most nefarious serial killers. 20 years ago, her father kidnapped and murdered 6 young girls in their small Louisiana bayou town. We know he was nefarious because she tells us.

And now, on the 20th anniversary of those disappearances, girls are going missing in Baton Rouge. It must be a copy-cat killer, she tells us.

And fireflies are clearly an important part of the story, because she tells us that they are.

Chloe can’t go to the police with the evidence she is gathering in her mind, because the police think she is crazy. Why? Because she tells us that they do.

Tell tell tell tell tell.

This book is full of TELLING not SHOWING. And it made me crazy.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is filled to the brim with adjectives and adverbs, and some editor somewhere must have thought that those descriptive words were good enough for explaining and showing. But they aren’t. They are just filler.

Characters are introduced simply to let you know that bad things will happen to them later in the book. Chloe doesn’t seem to have a single friend in her life, even though she tells us that she does. There is a huge party at the beginning of the story FILLED WITH FRIENDS who are literally never mentioned again, unless something terrible happens to them later.

And another thing. 

Told in the first person (which is fine), the verb tenses kept switching back and forth. “I walk to the store” vs. “I’m walking to the store” and it really got under my skin. How was this a book of the month club selection?

I really hated this book. Please don’t bother.

09
Dec
21

“Mum spent a lot of time in my formative years gently reminding me that people don’t think about us nearly as much as we think they do, because they’re all busy worrying what people are thinking about them.” CBR13 Review 17 & 18.

Imagine a high school that has zero teachers or staff, just students trying to learn and advance. When you show up the first day of freshman year you don’t leave until graduation day senior year. All you have with you is what you had in your pockets or even in your mouth — No suitcases or trunks. 

It’s a school of magic, but not like Hogwarts or Watford. 

And that school is actively trying to kill you.

This is the world that our “heroine,” El (that’s short for Galadriel, naturally) live in. She goes to the Scholomance*, a school of magic on another plane of existence entirely, and all she wants is to survive, and get back to her mother in rural Wales. The odds are against her – by her junior year, El hasn’t formed any alliances, and doesn’t have anyone to watch her back during “graduation.”

Oh, and graduation? No speeches and diplomas. You simply fight for your life against the monsters and creatures that have been waiting all year long to eat you. If you get from one end of the graduation hall to the other, and can get through the portal door without being eaten, you graduate.

Without alliances (both inside the school and back at home), you are likely to die before the end of senior year. There are hungry monsters (or mals, in these books) in the bathrooms, in the food lines in the cafeteria, even in your mattress or pillow. 

El works alone, building up the magical energy (or mana) that she needs for spells by doing sit ups and crocheting in her spare time. She could take the easy route and steal energy (or malia) from others, as she is apparently the most gifted student of her age (and maybe ever?), but she is afraid of how that power would change her.

And halfway through her junior year, El finds herself sort-of-dating Orion, the greatest mal slayer she has ever seen. Orion hails from the most powerful enclave of wizards in the world – New York City – and he is their greatest weapon. He builds up so much mana by slaying the mals around him (or that he hunts for), that his entire enclave can survive off of him, sharing his mana with cool little magic fitbits (or something like that…worn on the wrist but not really a watch?). Orion rushes around the school saving other kids from the monsters hiding in the shadows and El really, really resents him for it. Nobody wastes their own mana saving someone else. You need to look out for yourself.

El slowly makes some friends, who realize an alliance with her is a huge asset. Her spell casting is like nothing any of them have seen before, and if they stick with her, their chances for graduating are that much higher.

The first book, A Deadly Education, is the story of El’s junior year, the beginning of her relationship with Orion, and the creation of her alliance with her new friends. The second book, The Last Graduate, is all about senior year, and how El and her friends plan to graduate.

I freaking adored these books. 

They were funny and scary and slightly unhinged. I could not put them down. At the end of the first book, I only had to wait a few days before the second, preordered one, came in the mail. At the end of the second, I said “WHAT?” out loud and then realized it will be months, if not years, before the third book comes out, and that was not a great feeling.

I loved that Novik explained some things, but didn’t explain everything about this world. The first page just dumped us straight into the story, with very little introduction. Figure it out on your own, reader. 

I can’t wait for the third book, The Golden Enclaves.  

*I was today years old when I learned that the term Scholomance is an actual term from folklore. From Wikipedia:
The Scholomance[a]  was a fabled school of black magic in Romania, especially in the region of Transylvania. It was run by the Devil according to folkloric accounts. The school enrolled about ten students to become the Solomonari. Courses taught included the speech of animals and magic spells. One of the graduates was chosen by the Devil to be the Weathermaker and tasked with riding a dragon to control the weather.

The school lay underground, and the students remained unexposed to sunlight for the seven-year duration of their study. The dragon was kept submerged in a mountaintop lake, south of Sibiu, according to some accounts.

05
Dec
21

“Why, oh, why did you have to give birth to a son who hasn’t given us a moment’s peace since the day he was born?” CBR13 Reviews 12-16.

I know I have written about this magical place before, but I need to reiterate that for a kid who loved to read, there was no greater place on earth than The New England Mobile Book Fair. It was a huge wholesale book warehouse in my hometown, and my mom’s favorite place to go. While she browsed the aisles looking for paperbacks by Ngaio Marsh, Barbara Pym, Dorothy Sayers, and MC Beaton, I would sit on the concrete floor, way in the back corner of the building, where the kids book series were (and also tons of those awesome invisible ink “yes and no” books. Those were amazing.) I bought box sets of paperbacks by Judy Blume, EB White, Daniel M Pinkwater, and John D Fitzgerald. I didn’t always know the books before I picked them out, but I figured if they were being sold in a set, they must be pretty good.

And that’s how I discovered The Great Brain. I had the box set with the first five books in the series: The Great Brain, More Adventures of The Great Brain, Me and My Little Brain, The Great Brain at the Academy, and The Great Brain Reforms.

These books are about John “JD” Fitzgerald, the youngest of three brothers (and later older brother to an adopted fourth brother) in rural Utah in the late 1800s. JD lives in the shadow of his brother Tom, “the Great Brain”, who he sees as a great thinker and problem solver, but who the rest of the town sees as a smart kid who is on his way to being a con man.

I loved these books. I can remember reading the first book at least 50 times. I was obsessed with one part in particular, when the boys’ friend Andy Anderson (I know!) steps on a rusty nail, has his leg amputated, and wants to die, because his dad thinks a boy with a peg leg is worthless. As a kid, I thought Tom’s solution to Andy’s situation was absolutely amazing.

As an adult, I was horrified by the whole thing. Tom conned Andy out of the one thing in his life he loved, his brand new erector set. He taught Andy how to walk, run, and balance himself, sure, but he still only did it for selfish reasons. Meanwhile, while Tom was trying to teach Andy how to relearn everything he already knew, JD was trying to help Andy commit suicide. Wow. I didn’t remember it being so dark.

And that’s pretty much the experience I had rereading these first 5 books.

Sure, Tom solves lots of problems, and even saves a few lives, which is great. But he only helps out for selfish reasons, usually involving money. Tom is obsessed with money and will do anything for a few dollars. He takes and takes and takes, and is shocked when, in the fifth book, all of the kids who have previously been cheated and swindled by Tom put him on trial and refuse to be his friend any longer. I only vaguely remember that part from my childhood, but it was most certainly my favorite part as an adult. Tom is, quite frankly, the worst.

Over the course of the books, here are a few of the “good deeds” that Tom does for the town: he saves two young boys who get lost in a cave, he finds his way home after his dad gets the boys lost on a camping trip, he saves the town from being completely ruined by a couple of real conmen, he organizes a funeral for the town’s beloved stray dog, sure, he does a few good things here and there. But most of the time, we find out after the fact, that Tom had selfish reasons to do so. Usually involving money, or the chance to make money.

And here are a few of the misguided, and awful things that Tom does: he prints a newspaper filled with nasty gossip and hearsay, he gets a teacher fired (by setting him up as an alcoholic) because the teacher was mean to him, he charges kids money for absurd things like looking at flushing toilet in his house (the first installed in town) or playing basketball in his yard, he swindles kids out of their most prized possessions just because he can, he cheats at games so he can win money, he lies to priests who are mean to him… Good god. I could go on and on.

All of the things that I thought were cool when I was a kid just infuriated me as an adult. And Tom’s parents annoyed me, too. Time and time again, Tom would assure them that he was “reformed” and “doing the right thing,” and they always believed him, until it was too late, and they realized he was conning them too.

The books are a fascinating slice of life at a certain time. The Fitzgerald family were Catholic in a mostly mormon area, and had to send their boys away to Salt Lake City after 6th grade in order to get a catholic education, and there was little to no understanding of other cultures or religions. There was a lot of fighting and name calling that would not be seen as acceptable if written today. Indoor plumbing and telephones were brand new. Taking a train was a big deal. Girls had to wear dresses all the time. And kids who didn’t do their chores or disrespected their parents, well, they got “whipped.”

The books were really interesting to reread after so many years. There were tons of parts I remembered vividly: JD getting the mumps on purpose so he could force his brothers to get them, too. The warning on the train to Salt Lake City that if you opened the window, you could get a burning cinder in your eye. Tom making a key out of a bar of soap and a whittled piece of wood. The Fitzgeralds getting a toilet installed in their house and being the laughingstocks of the town. Tom teaching the new kid from Greece how to be a real, American boy. Tom rubbing liver on the bottom of his shoes so that the dogs he was with would be able to find their way out of a dark cave. And JD learning to swim by his brothers just throwing him off of a diving board into a deep swimming hole.

But I really didn’t remember the big trial at the pinnacle of The Great Brain Reforms. Tom gets an idea to run a rafting business, so he and JD build a raft and charge kids for rides down the river. When it is clear that a storm is coming and the river levels are dangerously unsafe, Tom ignores all of the warnings, keeps running trips, and has a terrible accident, where a few of his friends almost die. After that, all of the kids from the previous books come together to complain about how he cheated them or stole from them, or caused them to be beaten or otherwise punished by their parents. They put on a makeshift trial, Tom is found guilty, and he returns everything that he has swindled from the other kids in town: sports equipment, coonskin caps, knives, air rifles, and assorted other toys and games. And Tom makes a big speech about feeling remorse and changing his ways, but we all know that those are just words, and Tom’s ‘great brain’ is already planning his next scheme.

I honestly can’t remember if I ever read the next two books in the series: The Return of the Great Brain and The Great Brain Does it Again, but I’ll try to see if I can get them on my kindle. I kind of need to know what happens to Tom after the trial and his “reformation”.

I’m so glad I resisted these classics. While I viewed them differently than I did as a kid, I still loved them. And I love the memories that the books brought back to me, the days shopping for books with my mom, and coming home with something new that I had discovered at the Book Fair.

03
Dec
21

What the Smuck? CBR13 Reviews 10 & 11.

While I have been COVID telecommuting, I have tried to get out in the early afternoon for a nice 45 minute walk. I’ve been listening to a bit of Stephen King while I walk — I’ve already read all of his books, so listening (even to the scary stuff) is somewhat easy and comforting. If I lose my train of thought, no big deal. The story just goes on.

This year, I listened to two books I had previously read, Lisey’s Story and ‘Salem’s Lot.

I first read Lisey’s Story when it was released in 2006, and thought it was pretty much the worst book King had ever written. But when Apple TV announced they had adapted it into a miniseries with Julianne Moore, and that King himself was working the screenplay, I decided to give it another chance.

Guess what?

Still the worst book King has ever written. Although King states that it is his favorite. I guess Uncle Stevie and this constant reader will just have to agree to disagree on this one.

I could have handled it if it had simply been a straightforward story about love, grief, fame, terror, abuse, and insanity. I could have even handled a story about a secret world that only some people had access to just by thinking about it (similar to flipping to The Territories in The Talisman, or using the doors in The Dark Tower).

But what I couldn’t stand was the language. The made up nonsense words that Scott used in his everyday patois. Smucking. Boo’ya Moon. Bool. Ugh. No. And the constant use of the term “baby love” just about drove me crazy.

I only lasted two episodes when I tried to watch the miniseries. I will not be revisiting it.

I had the complete opposite reaction to my reread of ‘Salem’s Lot.

I first read this so long ago, I can barely remember it. I’m pretty sure it was the third or fourth King book I ever read…so I’m guessing 8th grade?

We all know that ‘Salem’s Lot is about vampires. But what I had forgotten was that the vampire action doesn’t even start until halfway through the book. The first half of the story is filled with with King does better than just about any other writer out there today: descriptions of everyday life and regular people in a small town (in Maine, naturally). We get to know dozens of characters, and become familiar with the minutia of their lives. Some we like, and some we don’t, just like real life.

Which makes it all the more frightening when people start dying.

Its funny, the little bits that I remember from the first time I read this were only about the vampires. I didn’t remember anything about the town or its residents. My most vivid memory is of Danny Glick, hovering outside Mark Petrie’s window, begging to be let it. If I guessed, I would have said that scene happens at the beginning of the story, right after Barlow and Straker move to town. But that scene is more than halfway through the book. Strange how memory works.

I was also interested to read about Father Callahan, a major player in the Dark Tower books, as I couldn’t really remember what he was like in his life before the Calla. He was quite an interesting character. A man of god struggling with his faith and his sobriety, who joins the fight against Barlow and the vampires without a second thought, and fights bravely, until he is bested by Barlow, causing him to flee ‘Salem’s Lot and leaving his friends behind.

Its obvious that this book was written in the 1970s. There is a lot of sexism and many utterings of slurs that aren’t exactly considered politically correct these days. And the smoking! Everyone had cigarettes at the ready! But other than those relatively minor quibbles, the story holds up. And its still scary as hell.

24
Nov
21

Sometimes a Short Story is Just Enough, but Sometimes it Leaves You Wanting. CBR13 Reviews 7-9

I have been a very bad reviewer in 2021. I have been an amazing reader, with a list longer than any year I can remember. But sitting down to review has not been easy for me. I thought maybe I would try writing “bundles” of reviews, putting similar items together and knocking a few paragraphs out. Lets see how that goes.

In order of least liked, to most:

The Prince and the Troll. Blurb:

It’s fate when a man accidentally drops his phone off the bridge. It’s fortune when it’s retrieved by a friendly shape sloshing in the muck underneath. From that day forward, as they share a coffee every morning, an unlikely friendship blooms. Considering the reality for the man above, where life seems perfect, and that of the sharp-witted creature below, how forever after can a happy ending be?

I’m honestly not even sure what was going on here. A guy (we find out his name is Adam) drops his phone off of a bridge while he’s walking to work, and it is retrieved by a nice female troll, who happens to live in the muck beneath. They have a nice talk, and he starts to visit very day while walking to work and brings her fancy Starbucks drinks.

There’s a lot of allegory going on here. The water under the bridge is drying up, and the troll (and all of the other living things beneath the bridge) is drying up along with it. The ROAD over the bridge is to blame. Adam works on the ROAD, bringing progress to his world, while taking away from hers.

They drink a lot (A LOT. How much money does Adam spend at Starbucks?) of fancy coffee drinks while they talk and there are wizards and crows and I really don’t even know.

The story has the traditional Rowell fun banter, but it was heavier (see above: ALLEGORY) than I was expecting. Usually, when I finish a Rowell book/story, I want more. But this time, I was ok with it being done.

Second story: The Deal of a Lifetime. Blurb:

A father and a son are seeing each other for the first time in years. The father has a story to share before it’s too late. He tells his son about a courageous little girl lying in a hospital bed a few miles away. She’s a smart kid—smart enough to know that she won’t beat cancer by drawing with crayons all day, but it seems to make the adults happy, so she keeps doing it.

As he talks about this plucky little girl, the father also reveals more about himself: his triumphs in business, his failures as a parent, his past regrets, his hopes for the future.

Now, on a cold winter’s night, the father has been given an unexpected chance to do something remarkable that could change the destiny of a little girl he hardly knows. But before he can make the deal of a lifetime, he must find out what his own life has actually been worth, and only his son can reveal that answer.

I can’t think of anything by Fredrik Backman that I haven’t enjoyed. This was short and satisfying. (Bonus points for excellent narration from Santino Fontana).

A short snippet of life about a man who wasted his life obsessed with his career and money, while ignoring his wife and son. When he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he starts to realize that perhaps there were better ways he could have lived his life. In the same hospital ward, there is a little girl, also with terminal cancer, who lives the life she still has only to make others happy.

The man comes in contact with a grim-reaper stand-in (the woman in the grey sweater), who offers him a deal…his life for the little girl’s life. And not just his life, but his entire existence. His son would not be his son. He would never know this man, would never have been disappointed by him, but still…they were father and son, and to completely disappear from the entire world’s memory is not something the man takes lightly.

As usual, with all of the Backman I’ve read, the characters are real, vibrant, honest people. Their lives are sometimes messy, but there is almost always a happy ending. This was a little less amusing that most of the Backman I’m familiar with (although, I would hardly call the Bear Town books hilarious), but it was poignant and emotional, and I recommend it.

My favorite of the three was If the Fates Allow, the brand new short story from Rainbow Rowell. Blurb:

Social distancing came easily to Reagan. Maybe a little too easily. She’s always liked people better from afar. But Reagan doesn’t want her grandpa to be alone for Christmas this year—he’s already spent too much time on his own in 2020. So she heads back to her hometown with a dish of holiday Jell-O salad, hoping they can have a little normalcy. Hoping it will be safe…

She isn’t expecting to run into the boy next door. Mason is all grown up now. He’s considerate. He’s funny. He doesn’t mind how prickly Reagan is—he maybe even likes it. And it makes Reagan feel like her defenses are falling. She needs her defenses, doesn’t she? In a time when six feet is close enough, how long can they keep their distance?

A COVID Christmas story featuring Reagan from Fangirl? YES, PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

Reagan was one of my favorite things about Fangirl. I loved her brashness and her unlikely friendship with Cath. Here we see how Reagan’s life has gone since she graduated from college (and we also get a snippet of what’s up with Cath and Levi). She works as an accountant and owns a house. She has few friends and has recently lost her beloved grandmother.

And then, COVID. Reagan locks down at home, unlike most of her family and friends. But she doesn’t want her grandfather to be alone for Christmas, so she quarantines for two weeks, masks up, and goes to his house for dinner, with her grandmother’s famous Jell-O salad in tow.

I could have read 900 pages about Reagan and COVID. About how mad she was at her family who didn’t distance or vaccinate, about how Mason was afraid of her in high school, and about what exactly goes into various Jell-O salads.

I spent a good deal of time googling recipes last night, and while I’m not in a hurry to try the green one she brings for Christmas 2020, I would for sure try the pretzel one she eats in 2021.

04
Jul
21

This is not the Deadspin writing I was expecting, and I am a million percent ok with that. CBR13 Review 6.

CBR13Bingo: Rep

Daniel lives in Athens, Georgia. He has a job working in customer service for a regional airline, which lets him work at home and set his own hours. He likes his routine: visits with his best friend, football tailgates, and nice mornings out on his porch before work starts for the day.

Early one morning, while out on his porch, Daniel sees something strange. He sees a young woman — he assumes she is a student — who doesn’t seem sure about where she is going. She waves to him in greeting. And then a car pulls up, the driver says something Daniel can’t hear, and she gets in and drives away. Daniel isn’t quite sure why he thinks that was out of the ordinary, but when he hears that a veterinary student from China has gone missing, he knows that was the woman he saw.

Daniel becomes obsessed with finding her, and with understanding who she is, where she came from, and why she might have gotten in that car.

Oh. 

And by the way.

Daniel has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (he calls it Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but for kids). He can’t walk, eat, or talk. He’s in a wheelchair, and can only move one hand well enough to steer, to type on his iPad, and to work on his computer.

In the afterword of the story, Will Leitch explains that his son has a friend with SMA, a disease he previously didn’t know much about. After getting to know his son’s friend, Leitch did a lot of research on SMA, and it shows. 

The details about the disease are both fascinating and heartbreaking. We know Daniel will never get better, and will probably get a little bit worse every day. But we also know that kids who are born with SMA today have a better chance at life than kids born just a few years ago. The treatment protocol is always improving, but its too late to help Daniel.

But Daniel can still help to find the missing woman, Ai-Chen. With a little help from Reddit, his amazing caretaker, Marjani, and his best friend, Travis, Daniel won’t stop investigating until he knows that Ai-Chen is safe.

And here comes the cliche: Daniel is so much more than what people see when they look at him. While he may be physically limited in any/all of his daily activities, he does not let SMA define him. When people — like Travis’ girlfriend — get to know him, they realize he is kind, smart, charming, and funny. You can’t help but root for him.

I really enjoyed this one, and it was not at all what I had expected. All I knew about Leitch before reading this was that he used to be the Editor of Deadspin. I expected some “Tom Brady is a fancy dog” jokes, some outlandish lacrosse guy names, a breakdown of the holiday Williams Sonoma catalog, and maybe a story similar to that of Manti Te’o and his made-up girlfriend.

But this was not that. This was not only an excellent mystery, but had great characters, was sometimes hilariously funny and other times heartbreakingly sad, and taught me about SMA, which I most definitely was ignorant about. Thanks to Stephen King for his late-night tweet congratulating Leitch and recommending it, which led me to download it right then and there.

30
Apr
21

“There is still a real life to be lived, there are still real things to be done.” CBR13 Review 5.

I knew nothing about this book when I bought it. I saw it on a list of new releases, thought the cover looked kind of cool, and added it to my cart from my local book store. I had never heard of Patricia Lockwood, had no idea what kind of writer she was (SPOILER ALERT: I STILL DON’T REALLY KNOW), and didn’t know anything about the plot.

I started it, struggled hard with the format and writing style, and put it down. The streaming train of thought and lack of the regular book structure — paragraphs, chapters, plot — made it hard for me to stick with.

Then I saw Vel Veeter’s review and decided to give it another try, and am glad I did. This strange little plotless book ended up bringing me to tears.

Our narrator earns her living by being some sort of internet/twitter/meme guru. There is something called “the portal” which seems like a combo of twitter and YouTube and virtual reality, and people are completely addicted to it, spending more time “in” it than in their real lives. The narrator (I’ll call her “she”) once made a joke in the portal that got a ton of likes and turned her into a mini portal celebrity.

Once I got used to the way Lockwood was telling the story, I tore through it. Commentary on everything: how social media created MAGA, on celebrity and cancel culture, on length of the news cycle, and the hive mind that the internet has created.

Her references are random and from all walks of pop culture. For instance, after a police-related incident:

“Every fiber in her being strained. She was trying to hate the police.

‘Start small and work your way up,’ her therapist suggested. ‘Start by hating Officer Big Mac, a class traitor who is keeping the other residents of McDonaldland from getting the sandwiches that they need, and who when the revolution comes will have the burger of his head eaten for his crimes.’ But this insight produced in her only a fresh wave of discouragement. Her therapist was more radical than her?”

So weird. This is a world where going viral is the most important achievement someone can make.

I would have happily kept reading the strange societal observations for a few hundred more pages, but halfway through the book, the story changed. And reader, I did not expect this.

Her sister gets pregnant, but (and this is not a spoiler) something goes wrong. This suddenly becomes a story about unconditional love, living live to the fullest — particularly outside of the portal, and grief. She and her sister and their extended family go through hell, but make sure to remember and appreciate every detail and every minute. The feelings and emotions she has are all real and raw — and hers. There is no hive mind in this grief.

This passage really moved me. It was both ridiculous and heartbreaking:

“The things she wanted the baby to know seemed small, so small. How it felt to to to a grocery store on vacation; to wake at three a.m. and run your whole life through your fingertips; first library card; new lipstick; a toe going numb for two months because you wore borrowed shoes to a friend’s wedding; Thursday; October; “She’s Like the Wind” in a dentist’s office; driver’s license picture where you look like a killer, getting your bathing suit back on after you go to the bathroom; touching a cymbal for sound and then touching it again for silence; playing house in the refrigerator box; letting a match burn down to the fingerprints; one hand in the Scrabble bag and the IIIOUEA; eyes racing to the end of the Villette (skid the parts about the cretin, sweetheart); hamburger wrappers on a road trip; the twist of a heavy red apple in an orchard; word on the tip of the tongue; the portal, but just for a minute.”

The ending of this book absolutely destroyed me. I wept. But in between the tragedy and the sadness, I still laughed at some of her commentary.

“After the meeting, she wandered through what looked like a gift show, full of brass urns and memorial collages, pocket watches and Swarovski roses, granite slabs sandblasted with the faces of bygone Lindas.”

Will I read another Patricia Lockwood? I have no idea. I’m not much for poetry or memoirs, so we’ll see. But I’m quite glad I read this.

10
Mar
21

Not a bad way to spend a few hours, but I really could have done without those last few pages. CBR13 Review 4.

Like The Colorado Kid and JoyLand before it, Later is one of King’s Hard Crime Case releases – paperbacks made to look like pulp paperbacks with vibrant cover art (that doesn’t always match up to the story), that all come in on the short side for King, maybe about 250 pages.

The main reason that I don’t think this one was quite as successful as the other two is that this one takes place pretty close to now. The main character, Jamie, is a young man telling a story about his life in the early 2000s. Jamie plays Xbox and he has a cell phone that his mom tracks. He and his Professor friend try to figure out what’s going on by using Google and emailing each other. Which is all fine, because its life, but I just didn’t think it worked for the pulp style story it was trying to be. Why not put the story in the 1970s – King’s sweet spot – and have everyone have to go to the library?

Jamie lives with his mom, Tia, in a swanky apartment in NYC. She’s a single mom who works hard to manage her inherited publishing business, and they have a pretty nice and normal life. What’s not normal is that Jamie can see dead people. Yes, he tells Constant Reader, sort of like Haley Joel Osment. When his neighbor’s wife passes away, Jamie can see her and talk to her, and finds out that right before she had her stroke, she hid her diamond rings in the hall closet, which is how Jamie gets his mom to believe that he has this ability.

When Tia’s number one client dies before finishing the books he had been paid in advance for, Tia gets an idea – drive up to his house and have Jamie talk to him so that she can literally ghostwrite the book and save the company. Jamie and Tia are joined by Liz, Tia’s new “friend” who just so happens to be a cop, and is extremely doubtful of anything and everything Jamie and Liz are talking about.

It is clear from the first minute she appears on the page that Liz is not a good cop and that she is going to cause problems for Jamie down the line. Why not use Jamie to solve murders and other crimes? Who cares if it might cause damage to him mentally if she can put a good word in with the department? Yeah, Liz was a bad seed.

I had read a few reviews of this that danced around the fact that this book had a bonus plot line for Constant Readers. I’ll admit, I was hoping it was Dark Tower related. I mean, wouldn’t it have been awesome if Jamie’s mom had been Irene Tassenbaum and his out-of-the-picture dad was Roland? Or that he had somehow been involved with seeing Jake in New York City?

Sadly, the plot line was not from The Dark Tower. And I could have done without it. And I think the book could have done without it as well. But I just sort of ignored it and turned the page.

A pretty good little mystery-horror novel — Better than Blaze. Not as good as the Bill Hodges books — until the last five pages. WHY? Clearly Uncle Stevie still struggles with his endings. Why did the last five pages even need to happen?

02
Mar
21

“It is sad to forget. But it’s a lonely thing to be forgotten.” CBR13 Review 3.

When Adeline LaRue was a little girl in early 18th Century rural France, she went on a trip to the city with her father. And suddenly Adeline realized that there was so much more to life than just her little village, her house, and the life she is supposed to lead. As Adeline grows older, she understands that the life she is supposed to lead holds little interest for her. And she begins to make offerings to “the gods,” asking them to hear her pleas for something more. On the day she is supposed to marry an older, widowed father of several children, she reaches her breaking point, and calls to the gods for help. One god — a god of darkness — answers. Adeline had always been told not to pray to “the gods that answer after dark,” but she had no choice. She needed a different life.

And Adeline — now Addie — got one.

Her dark god, who she comes to think of as Luc, gives her eternal life in exchange for her soul (whenever she is ready to trade). The only catch: she will never be remembered by anyone she meets. Her parents and friends have no recollection of her existence. She meets the same people over and over, and for them, it is always the first time.

Impossible to get a job, or settle down, Addie moves from place to place, person to person, night to night. Only Luc remembers her and their agreement. He comes to see her every year on the anniversary of their deal, and asks if she is ready to trade her soul yet.

Addie lives this lonely life for three hundred years. Through wars and famines. In Europe and America. Alone.

Until she meets Henry in a bookstore in Brooklyn, and something strange happens. He remembers her. But why? How?

The story is told by jumping from time to time and place to place. Once Henry is introduced as a character, sometimes we get his story, and sometimes the story is Addie’s to tell. But I was never confused, and always just wanted to know what would happen next. I wanted to know more about Addie and Henry. About Addie and Luc. About what happened in New Orleans. And why Henry remembered.

The story telling was beautiful and engrossing, and I was ok with this book, until I wasn’t. Until this page broke me:

And this, he decides, is what a good-bye should be.
Not a period, but an ellipsis, a statement trailing off, until someone is there it pick it up.
It is a door left open.
It is drifting off to sleep.
And he tells himself he is not afraid.
Tells himself it is okay, he is okay.

Reader, I cried at this part.

I imagine that this book will stay with me for quite a while. And I’m glad. I think this story was exactly the one I needed right now: it made me forget real life for a few days. No worries about COVID or my kids missing out on school or when I might have to go back to work. Just a story about a girl who wants to be remembered.

02
Mar
21

“As any magician knows, it is not the smoke and mirrors that trick people; it is that the human mind makes assumptions and misunderstands them as truths.” CBR13 Review 2.

I got this book as a holiday gift from a friend whose book taste I trust implicitly. She told me she hadn’t been able to put it down when she read it. I was skeptical — I’m just not really a non-fiction person. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was my first-ever memoir written by a non-celebrity. I usually just want to sit with a story and not think about real life. Why would I want to spend my precious book time reading about someone else’s real life?

Well. Crap. My friend was right. This book was INSANE. 

Blurb: 

On a hot July night on Cape Cod when Adrienne was fourteen, her mother, Malabar, woke her at midnight with five simple words that would set the course of both of their lives for years to come: Ben Souther just kissed me. 

Adrienne instantly became her mother’s confidante and helpmate, blossoming in the sudden light of her attention, and from then on, Malabar came to rely on her daughter to help orchestrate what would become an epic affair with her husband’s closest friend. The affair would have calamitous consequences for everyone involved, impacting Adrienne’s life in profound ways, driving her into a precarious marriage of her own, and then into a deep depression. Only years later will she find the strength to embrace her life—and her mother—on her own terms.  

Wild Game is a brilliant, timeless memoir about how the people close to us can break our hearts simply because they have access to them, and the lies we tell in order to justify the choices we make. It’s a remarkable story of resilience, a reminder that we need not be the parents our parents were to us.

This memoir — which read more like a crazy novel than an autobiography — fascinated me. It annoyed me. It infuriated me. It exhausted me. But yes, I couldn’t put it down.

At 14, Adrienne became a co-conspirator in her mother’s affair with her step-father’s best friend. She never realized she was doing anything wrong — she was just simply so happy to have her mother’s attention and spend time with her. Adrienne would have done anything for her mother. 

As the affair goes on over the years, Adrienne gets more and more involved. She lies to everyone in her life, creating detailed and elaborate deceptions to keep the affair a secret, all the while distancing herself from her friends and family (except for her mother), and sinking into a depression. But she never questions any of her decisions, because her mother’s love is totally worth her questionable actions.

Oh man. Adrienne’s mother, Malabar, was a huge piece of work. If this was a movie, she would be played by Glenn Close (older version) or Rosamund Pike (younger version). Alternating hot and cold with her affections, only showing love if you agree that her needs are more important than yours, always.

As a parent, Malabar’s selfish view of the world absolutely angered me. However, it was clear that Malabar had lots of problems — she was mentally and physically abused by her own mother, well into adulthood, and Malabar had also lost her first child at a young age, which of course, she never got over.

But the way that she manipulated EVERYONE in her life, including her poor daughter, was simply unbearable to read about at times. There is a bizarre subplot about a necklace — and Malabar always using it as part of an emotional blackmail scheme — that made me want to scream.

I really felt for Adrienne as she looked back at what her life had become. I’m glad Annie sent this to me. I never ever would have read it if she hadn’t. But whoa. I’m going to need a few palate cleansers and comfort reads next!




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