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!

05
Feb
21

Reading these books is really starting to stress me out. CBR13 Review 1.

The John Rebus series has been one of my constant reading companions for the past 14 years. Ever since I watched Anthony Bourdain visit a local Edinburgh chip shop with Ian Rankin (maybe on No Reservations?), I’ve diligently read every word I could find about former detective John Rebus and his little coterie of friends solving (and sometimes causing) crimes in Edinburgh.

This latest book is the 24th full-length Rebus story. John Rebus is no longer the rogue detective he was at the start of the series: the man who never played by the rules, smoking and drinking all the time, often not above using his fists to get the information he needed. This John is a man struggling with all of the changes in his life: struggling with retirement, struggling with his health, and struggling to amend his relationship with his daughter and granddaughter before it’s too late.

Here’s how this one goes:

Rebus is called away to see his daughter up North. Her partner, Keith, has gone missing and the local police consider her a suspect. He becomes embroiled in all of the local goings-on: a strange group (a cult?) living in a co-op just outside of town, real estate dealings between the uber wealthy, and the history of World War II internment camps that were located all over Scotland. Of course Rebus doesn’t trust the local cops to solve this case and oversteps all of the boundaries set for him.

Meanwhile, Siobhan and Malcolm are working on a murder case in the city. There have been a slew of recent attacks on international students (blame Brexit’s anti-immigration stance I guess), and they are trying to determine how and why a Saudi student was murdered on the outskirts of town.

And let’s not forget Cafferty, who can’t stand not to be involved. He owns fancy clubs now, and seems to have video coverage of all of the private goings on – infidelities, drug use, back-door deals – and loves using that to his advantage.

I truly fear that we are nearing the end of Rebus and that is not a day I look forward to. His beloved Saab didn’t survive this book — which was hard enough to deal with — and I can’t imagine Rebus can survive in his poor health for much longer. I don’t want to think about how I will (or will not) deal with that.

Edinburgh is at the top of my post-COVID travel list. Following Rankin on social media, he documents his lovely city on his daily walks, and I really want (or need?) to go and see these places in person. Top of my to-do list will be the Rebus walking tour, and I will for sure have a beer or two at the Oxford Bar.

31
Dec
20

Three books I loved and one I most certainly did not. CBR12 Reviews 36-39.

More quick reviews as the 2020 deadline approaches…and yes, I’ll be including blurbs because I read some of these MONTHS ago.

The books I loved:

First off, The Overdue Life of Amy Byler.

Blurb:

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City.

Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She discovers a life filled with culture, sophistication, and—with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes quick work of Amy’s heart, she risks losing herself completely in the unexpected escape, and as the summer comes to an end, Amy realizes too late that she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

But before she can choose, a crisis forces the two worlds together, and Amy must stare down a future where she could lose both sides of herself, and every dream she’s ever nurtured, in the beat of a heart.

I…..honestly remember almost nothing about this book, other than the fact that I very much enjoyed it and was sad when it ended. 

Amy Byler is a 40-something sort-of-single mom who needs a change. Her husband abandoned her and the kids a few years prior without a word, and she’s been raising them on her own without any idea when or if he will be back. When he reaches out to her out of the blue, asking to spend the summer with the kids, Amy decides to go to New York City for a librarian conference. She can stay with her college roommate and become reacquainted with herself.

While her husband works at trying to get her to take him back, Amy is busy exploring the dating scene in NYC. She meets a handsome librarian at her conference and sparks immediately fly.

I enjoyed the various plot points here: the single mom back on the dating scene unsure of how to proceed; the college roommates realizing that they may have taken different paths, but that they are still the same people they used to be; and the librarians who just love books and want to help kids love reading. Highly recommend.

Next, The House in the Cerulean Sea. 

This book was simply a delight.

Blurb:

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours.

Linus lives in a world where magical creatures are real, and spends his days working for mysterious government agency that keeps track of any children born with magical powers. These children are sent to live in “orphanages” that are managed by the government, and Linus’ job is to make sure they are being treated well and that the children all have their powers under control.

When he is sent to a secret orphanage on a month-long assignment, he meets a group of magical children (in more ways than one) and their guardian, Arthur. Over the course of his four weeks, the kids and Arthur change Linus’ life forever.

I loved every single thing about this book. I originally didn’t review it, because I just didn’t eat to talk about it. I wanted to keep it in my head and in my heart. I still don’t really even want to talk about the details, but just want to say: if you are looking for a book that might make you feel better about the shit year that 2020 has been, this might just be it.

Next up, a book I very much imagined I wold like that much, but ended up enjoying quite a bit,  Boyfriend Material.

Blurb:

WANTED:

One (fake) boyfriend

Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially―and reluctantly―famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately, apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I’m going to make a secret confession: last year I read Red, White and Royal Blue. And I didn’t love it. I really wanted to, but something about it really just didn’t work for me. I know that isn’t a very popular opinion, but I wanted to come clean about it.

This book was everything I was hoping RW&RB would be. I found it charming and funny. I rooted for the main characters and couldn’t wait for them to get together. I wanted nothing but the best for them. I wanted to be in their London — going to the same restaurants, sitting on the same park benches, visiting the same museums — and was jealous every time they went out someplace new.

I loved the secondary characters — Luc’s coworkers were hilarious, in particular Alex (who was like a Jeeves & Wooster character come to life); Bridget, who seems to have one work-related misadventure after another; and the James Royce-Royces. 

I will 1000% be looking out for new books from Alexis Hall in the future. This was fun.

OK. So. Now that I’ve talked about the good books I’ve read this year, I need to take a few minutes to talk about a book that really annoyed the crap out of me.

A few years ago, I tore through a series of books about a young girl named Jessica Darling written by Megan McCafferty. When I heard that she had a new book about growing up in the 80s called The Mall, I was like TAKE MY MONEY, and pre-ordered on the spot.

UGGGGGGGGGGH.

I really disliked this book.

Blurb:

The year is 1991. Scrunchies, mixtapes and 90210 are, like, totally fresh. Cassie Worthy is psyched to spend the summer after graduation working at the Parkway Center Mall. In six weeks, she and her boyfriend head off to college in NYC to fulfill The Plan: higher education and happily ever after. 

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Set entirely in a classic “monument to consumerism,” the novel follows Cassie as she finds friendship, love, and ultimately herself, in the most unexpected of places. Megan McCafferty, beloved New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series, takes readers on an epic trip back in time to The Mall.

Cassie was the worst. She was so annoying that I couldn’t enjoy the early 90s mall vibe that I should have loved. I hated every decision that she made and every word that came out of her mouth. She was spoiled and selfish and obnoxious and she infuriated me.

So many wasted opportunities here. In particular, the cute Asian potential boyfriend who worked in the record store and the former best friend, Drea. Here’s what I would have preferred: a story about a cute Asian guy in New Jersey who likes The Smiths and Joy Division and works in a record store while he figures out what he wants to do with his future. That might be a book I would enjoy, especially the part where he meets a horrible girl named Cassie, has a fling with her, and the dumps her and goes on to live a woderful life filled with new wave music.

29
Dec
20

Not my “best of” but YMMV. CBR 12 Review 34-35.

In which it becomes clear to me that a “best of” list means next to nothing.

I’m trying (and doubt I will make it) to catch up with my long backlog list from 2020 and to actually reach my goal of 52 reviews. Putting together mini-groups to review together has made this somewhat easier, and yes, I know that some of my groupings are probably random.

Here we have two books that I thought were fine. I probably wouldn’t recommend them to friends, but if they came up in conversation I would happily discuss their merits and their faults. But I have seen them on many “best of” 2020 lists and am just not feeling it.

First up, a book that everyone read, The Glass Hotel.

Mandatory blurb:

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: Why don’t you swallow broken glass. High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

Reader, I was shocked when I saw this on a best-of list on the mothership last week. Because, to me, it was a huge disappointment.

We all adored Station Eleven, I know. I think after two readings (one in a pandemic!) it’s probably be on my top-ten list of all time, and in my top-two pandemic novels (is that a thing?). So I wanted to love The Glass Hotel, and simply did not. 

I wasn’t quite finished with it when we had our online book club discussion, and was glad to see that I wasn’t alone in my disappointment.

I did love a few things about the story. Its been a while since I read this, so apologies for the fuzzy details.

The hotel seemed like a beautiful place to visit. If it existed in real life, I would put it at the top of my vacation list post-pandemic. I liked the character of the caretaker who decides that he could happily live out the rest of his days at the hotel, simply to be surrounded by peaceful beauty.

I was fascinated — and horrified — by the plot with the shipping executive who lost everything in the Ponzi scheme, and ended up living out his retirement in an RV doing odd jobs in various locations. And it was about this time that I first saw the trailer for the new Frances McDormand movie, Nomadland, which seemed to be about a similar situation. I had no idea (which is on me for being uniformed) that this was a common thing and it made me so mad.

That’s pretty much it.

I disliked the main characters. I LOATHED Paul. I didn’t care about Vincent at all. 

I was furious at everyone involved with the financial scheme. I am aware that they hadn’t signed up for what they ended up with, but still. I felt sorry for their children and families. Not them.

The Shakespearean use of the ghosts in the prison didn’t quite work for me, and I disliked Jonathan so much that I didn’t care.

One last tiny gripe: I usually enjoy shout outs and call back to other works. I always enjoy the Easter eggs that Stephen King drops into his books, linking everything to Derry or the Dark Tower. But I was so annoyed that Miranda from Station Eleven showed up here. I have no idea why that rubbed me the wrong way, but I literally said “NO” out loud.

The next book is on a billion year end lists. And while the writing is good…I maybe just didn’t get it?

Memorial is about family — both the kind that you are born into, and the kind you make for yourself. It’s about loss. It’s about the beginning and the ending of relationships. So many people that I respect in the book world raved. And I was like, ok?

Blurb:

Benson and Mike are two young guys who live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson’s a Black day care teacher, and they’ve been together for a few years—good years—but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. There’s the sex, sure, and the meals Mike cooks for Benson, and, well, they love each other.

But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates, an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted. Without Mike’s immediate pull, Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life and have the goods to get it.

Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or fracture everything they’ve ever known. And just maybe they’ll all be okay in the end.

To be honest, I wish I had read this blurb before I read the book, as it provides a much more optimistic view of the story than the one I came away with.

It was a weird story. Mike taking off to see his dad in Japan that he hadn’t seen in years, and ditching his mother in Houston with his probably-soon-to-be-ex boyfriend. Meanwhile, Benson’s family has a crisis, Benson doesn’t know what to do about anything , Mitsuko has a million secrets, and everyone cooks all the time. While all of this is going on, Mike is finding out some truths about his parents, learning how to run a bar, and getting to know the city of Osaka.

The writing was amazing. I loved the details about Houston and Osaka. I could picture Mike’s father’s bar in a tiny dark alley, filled with the regulars who made it their second home. I wanted to eat everything in this book — the homemade recipes that Mitsuko taught Benson, the Houston street food that Benson and Omar would eat, Mike’s makeshift recipes that he practiced for work — and I wanted to wash them down with a cold beer or two.

I really wanted Mike and Benson to become better people and have an AH-HA moment. Maybe they did? A tiny ah-ha? But it wasn’t enough for me to get past some of the cruel things they had done to each other while their relationship was struggling. It was painfully realistic, and maybe that’s not what I was looking for in my fiction?

Maybe my issues are my own. Could just be the wrong book at the wrong time for me, and in a non-horrible year, I might have felt differently about it. No doubt that Bryan Washington is tremendously talented and I wish him all the success in the world. I’m assuming that this will end up as a small Tom McCarthy-type independent film, that I would absolutely see. 

23
Dec
20

A disappointment, a pleasant surprise, and an I-should-have-known-better. CBR12 Review 31-33.

Continuing with my year-end wrap-up of books that I didn’t feel like reviewing earlier, this post will feature three “sequels” to books I have previously read and reviewed.

First up, Well Played. Truly, a disappointment. I was so looking forward to this one, a follow-up to last year’s fun and charming Well Met.

Still set in the weird little Maryland town that obsesses over a summer Renaissance Faire, this time we focus on Emily and Simon’s friend Stacey, who worked as a pub wench with Emily in the last book. She’s looking for love and constantly regretting the fact that she still lives at home (in an apartment over her parents’ garage) and missed out on her big chance in New York when her mom got sick a few years ago. She has a fling with a hot, kilted singer during the Faire, and then drunkenly emails him when his band moves on to the next town.

Stacey and “Dex” start to email back and forth, flirting and getting to know each other. Soon enough, Stacey really thinks she might be in love with Dex and can’t wait for him to come back to town.

And here’s where I’m going to spoil this book:

Stacey is not emailing with Dex. She is emailing with his cousin, Daniel, who is in love with Stacey, and pretends to be Dex all year long. This is a crappy premise and I didn’t care for it.

Honestly, I only finished reading to see how the whole nonsense was going to be resolved, and to see if Daniel would admit that what he did was not OK. He didn’t really, so big miss for me. 

However, I am a glutton for punishment, and I will most likely read the third book, Well Matched, when it comes out this year.

Next up, a delightful sequel to an ok book from last year .

Not Like the Movies takes everything I really didn’t love about Waiting for Tom Hanks — Annie, her obsession with romantic comedies, her movie star boyfriend, her career — and ditches it for a real human being with real problems, Annie’s friend Chloe from the coffee shop.

Because Annie is the worst, she has written and sold a screenplay about Chloe and Nick (her boss at the coffee shop who clearly is into Chloe), which is so obviously about them that they both start to wonder if the screenplay is right, and if they are supposed to be together.

Annie has other things going on too — her dad’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse, her brother has suddenly returned to Ohio from Brooklyn after years away, her serious attitude toward her business classes and her dream to open up her own bakeshop. She doesn’t really have time to worry about whether or not she and Nick have good banter or who is flirting with who.

I really like Annie and Nick as the leads here. They are normal, sensible, regular human beings. They mess things up before they figure out how to fix them and move forward. They talk and they learn things about each other. Their relationship plot has a lot more going for it than a simple meet cute, spill coffee on a movie star plot. 

I still rolled my eyes every time Annie popped in to the story, but the writing is so fricking charming that I didn’t really mind.

Lastly, here’s where I should have known better. Not really a sequel, but sort of — Recipe for Persuasion is about Ashna Raje, a minor character in last year’s Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors. Ashna is a chef who grew up living with her cousins from the last book — her father and their father were brothers who grew up as Royalty in India. 

Ashna is obsessed with saving her father’s restaurant, which has fallen on hard times since his death 12 years ago. Her friend China (who I’m sure will be the star of book three) is a producer for The Food Network, and convinces her to be a contestant on a new show about cooking with celebrities, which will be hosted by DJ, Trisha’s boyfriend from the last book.

Ashna gets paired with Rico Silva, the most famous footballer in the world. And, her first and only love, who she hasn’t talked to in twelve years. Rico only signed up for the show in order to get closure with Ashna, as he hasn’t been able to love anyone like he loved her since then.

WHY DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?

One reason only: I am a sucker for anything related to Persuasion. You can take your Darcy and your Tilney. I am 100% #teamwentworth.

But guess what? This story, while sort of following the plot of Persuasion, really isn’t a retelling of that story. And the only time it even references Persuasion, when China tells a little joke about Captain Wentworth, it is followed up with a quote from Sense & Sensibility and then China says OOH I LOVE PERSUASION and I got so mad I could’t see straight.

Apparently, I expected all of the issues that I had with P&P&OF (AND DON’T FORGET THE BOLLYWOOD BRIDE) to have magically disappeared and self-corrected. 

Spoiler alert: They did not. 

22
Dec
20

Thanks, Beth O’Leary, for making 2020 a little less cruddy. CBR12 Reviews 29-30.

My 2020 was all about comfort reading. I bought a bunch of well-received mysteries and horror novels and then, when I started reading them, I just couldn’t deal. My brain wasn’t up for anything that wasn’t a happy ending. So I’m glad I discovered Beth O’Leary. 

Last year around this time, I was in London, and I saw ads for The Flatshare in all of the tube stations and at all of the bookstores. Not knowing anything about it, I bought it, threw it in my suitcase, and promptly forgot about it when I got home. And then a few Cannonballers started to review it…and I remembered I had it, and there was much rejoicing.


A quick blurbing:

Tiffy and Leon share an apartment. Tiffy and Leon have never met.

After a bad breakup, Tiffy Moore needs a place to live. Fast. And cheap. But the apartments in her budget have her wondering if astonishingly colored mold on the walls counts as art.

Desperation makes her open minded, so she answers an ad for a flatshare. Leon, a night shift worker, will take the apartment during the day, and Tiffy can have it nights and weekends. He’ll only ever be there when she’s at the office. In fact, they’ll never even have to meet.

Tiffy and Leon start writing each other notes – first about what day is garbage day, and politely establishing what leftovers are up for grabs, and the evergreen question of whether the toilet seat should stay up or down. Even though they are opposites, they soon become friends. And then maybe more.

But falling in love with your roommate is probably a terrible idea…especially if you’ve never met.

CUTE, right?

I really liked the fact that these characters were capital-A Adults, who had real, important things going on in their lives. It wasn’t just a meet-cute, fall in love story. It was a story about two people who find each other, support each other, and make each other’s lives better.

Leon’s brother is in jail, serving time for a crime he swears he did not commit, and Leon spends all of his free time trying to help get him home. Leon’s very practical girlfriend thinks this is a waste of time and effort, which leads to many disagreements between them.

Tiffy is pretty much suffering from PTSD after her last boyfriend. She just needs some time to figure that out. She has lovely friends who have been trying to help her through her breakup, but they just can’t seem to get her to see just how bad things were when she was still with her boyfriend.

Of course Leon and Tiff become the supportive friend that they each needed at exactly the right time. 1000% expected and yet not in the least disappointing. 

I really enjoyed it and was so pleased to see that she had another book, The Switch, out in paperback, which I ordered from my local bookstore and had delivered to my doorstep later that day.

Blurb, part two:

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some long-overdue rest. 

Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

So they decide to try a two-month swap.

Eileen will live in London and look for love. She’ll take Leena’s flat, and learn all about casual dating, swiping right, and city neighbors. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire: Eileen’s sweet cottage and garden, her idyllic, quiet village, and her little neighborhood projects. 

But stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected. Will swapping lives help Eileen and Leena find themselves…and maybe even find true love? In Beth O’Leary’s The Switch, it’s never too late to change everything….or to find yourself.

This one was also quite cute. I love any book that takes place in a quaint British village filled with CHARACTERS. But I didn’t quite love it as much as The Flatshare.

I very much liked Eileen, and was glad that she was out finding herself (and dating!) in London, but didn’t necessarily buy any of her “lets fix up the lobby and create a seniors club” plot. I enjoyed how she bonded with all of Leena’s friends, and that none of them seemed bothered at all to be hanging out with an octogenarian.

I didn’t quite love Leena as much. Yes, she had PROBLEMS she needed to work out, and the countryside seemed to be helpful in that regard. But her whole plot just seemed forced in order to offset Eileen’s. I feel like the book was supposed to be about Leena, but I thought the real star was Eileen.

Leena seemed to have created most of her own problems. I mean, clearly she couldn’t have prevented her sister’s death (NOT A SPOILER), but she was so stubborn her relationship with her mother that so easily could have been fixed in two seconds. And the same with her boyfriend, who really, absolutely, was the worst. She should have sent him on his way the minute he didn’t have time to visit her in the country.


Nevertheless, cute shenanigans in a wacky small town, a big goofy dog, and cute kids in strange costumes will always win me over in the end.

Glad to see O’Leary has a new book coming out in a few months. Can’t wait to go out to a real bookstore next year and buy it.




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